Bring value. Always think about the outcome and why you are doing this event, be clear on the objective for you and the audience. State it even when you start.
As a part of our series about “5 Things You Need To Know To Successfully Run a Live Virtual Event”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Chiraz Bensemmane.
Chiraz Bensemmane is a nomad entrepreneur and expert in sales, business cooperation & project management. She has been working, selling, and supporting companies for over 10 years in more than 12 countries for over $3 million worth of products and services.
She is now the Founder and CEO of Pitch World Fast, a business development consultancy & project management company created in 2015 supporting its clients especially for exports & cooperation projects in Africa & emerging markets.
Among her projects, she has supported companies going to new markets such as Uruguay, Nigeria, Algeria and government authorities such as the Ministries of Health of Algeria with projects to benchmark best practices and improve their healthcare systems — those projects took the form of round tables.
However, with Covid 19, those round tables had to be postponed and she had to pivot part of her business. It is in this perspective that she launched in 2020 the Africa Webinars initiative, a platform for ministries to meet, exchange their experience and work together to improve their healthcare systems and economies. These webinars became/are monthly meetings with the key authorities and stakeholders in Africa.
As she believes in the untapped & underestimated potential of women in some emerging markets, such as her home country Algeria, she launched the Algeria Hive Women Leadership Program in 2019 and helped 5 women launch their projects and keeps in contact with these women to support them and guide them when needed.
End of 2019, she started her second company, Coach Tribe, a platform for online coaching, counting today more than 30 coaches from 15 different countries who can coach on personal development, business, career, leadership, mindset among other things and this is 15 different languages.
With the covid 19 situation and the first confinement, Coach Tribe coaches and Chiraz launched the “Coach Tribe webinar series”, 25 online webinars and events to support their community around the world regarding business, personal development, and mindset.
Chiraz thinks that more than ever businesses and individuals should think about giving back and cooperating to have the greatest impact to improve our societies, that is why in addition to running her companies she is supporting and part of the Human Health Education and Research Foundation, whose ambitious vision is to promote better health for human beings as well as the president of the association “The Sorority Foundation”, working toward supporting women and protecting from harassment and violence.
Chiraz can be found wherever her clients need her, mostly between planes (when there is no pandemic going on). She currently lives between Marseille, France, and Algiers, Algeria.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a bit about your “childhood backstory”?
International from the get-go I’d say. I was born in Tunisia, grew up in Algeria in Annaba, a city close to the Tunisian border, till 1999 when we moved with my sister and mother to Marseille, France.
We lived in Algeria during the black decade, which for all Algerians have been challenging & traumatizing years, a civil war where you would not know who is killing who, as it was Algerians against Algerians. Our parents did their best to protect and we were living in a bubble but we all had someone from our family or people we know that were threatened or killed. My dad was actually in the Palace of Culture (Qasr eThakafa) the first row when our president Boudiaf was killed, while I was a kid at a time I do remember till this day the shot as the event was broadcasted live and that 48 h wondering if my dad was alive or not as nobody was allowed out of the building to try to catch the perpetrator.
When we moved to France, in 1999, it was first only my mum and my sister (my dad joined us in 2004) and we were all starting over. I’d remember when we were on the plane and my mom announcing to us that we weren’t going to go back to Algeria and that we weren’t leaving only for the holidays.
We were all starting over, new languages, new school, new people. I wasn’t the most welcomed in my school when arrived and was bullied the first two years, haven’t had any friend till 2 years after when another foreign kid joined and as I didn’t want her to live the same thing well I became friend with her.
When I look back at those years, I honestly do not hold any grudges they are part of who I am today and it is because I lived all that that I ended up focusing much more on my studies and had this fire in me to prove them all wrong, always go one step further to learn even more and prove that I’m worth it.
While it was initially to prove to “others”, when growing up “others” had less and less importance but it showed me that if I put my head to it I could.
From 0 in French when arriving to winning a prize in French 5 years later and getting accepted to the best public high school in Marseille, proud till this day!
We are the ones shaping our stories and kinds can be horrible and mean, so it is up to us to make most out of it.
Can you tell us the story of what led you to this particular career path?
Honestly if we would have met 15 years ago when I was still a student and you would have talked to me about entrepreneurship, I would have laughed.
In my business school, we had the opportunity to major in that and I always saw it as something way too vague and too risky. I’d describe myself more as someone who is risk averse.
However we all change, we grow, we learn, we expand our perspectives.
I chose and went on the “golden road”, did a business school in France, landed my dream job right after my master allowed me to travel, discover new cultures, learn to pitch & sell, and meeting amazing high-level people.
This experience not only expanded my horizons and taught me a lot but also allowed me to demystify some positions and people. Not that a CEO or a Minister isn’t a big deal per se but at the end of the day we are all human with our experiences and we can learn from each other, whoever we are and from everyone.
I knew that as this is how I live my life, being open to everyone and all experiences but it also helped me to see that I too could bring value to people, that my journey and experience, while might seem normal to me would support people. What is normal and comes naturally to me isn’t the case for everyone and I could support them and help, share what I had learned, and keep on learning.
My previous job as I mentioned allowed me to meet directly CEOs, general managers, country managers and they could see that I was good at what I did and some would offer me jobs on the spot during our meetings and this is when at some point I had my AHA moment because while I loved talking with them and working with them, I couldn’t see myself working FOR them.
Remember I am risk-averse so when I had the idea of Pitch World Fast, I first discussed it with an export manager from the Chamber of Commerce of Strasbourg whom I knew from my business school years and asked if my business idea could be of interest to companies and he said Yes.
This is actually how I started all out, I was still working for my employer, getting started on all the administrative aspects so that once I had quit, I was all up and running!
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
In November 2016, I organized my first round table for the Ministry of Health of Algeria, we had invited the authorities, the private and public stakeholders as well as the press. It was a round table discussion of Algeria as a biotech hub and we had invited speakers from around the world: Singapore, Cuba, Ireland, Spain, France.
During the morning break, we had the press going and interviewing the different people and they came up to me and asked me if I was the organizer. I remember doing my best to give them the hardest answer because I didn’t want people to know it as me, I didn’t want people to know that I had launched my company and what I was doing — it is very much linked to my culture as well and nobody in my family living in Algeria knew that I had started that entrepreneurial journey — So I ended up saying “yes but no, it is the ministry of health with me, so you should see with them”.
I remember the journalist having a weird face as I didn’t answer her question and she got really confused. Makes me honestly laugh till today.
However, years after if I had to redo it, I would embrace this opportunity and not think about if I was worth the coverage and think that my work would speak from itself. On the opposite, I needed and need to be my best ambassador. Visibility is good for you and your business especially when you are doing the work and we should for sure less worry about what others would think and just embrace our own journey.
Is there a particular book, podcast, or film that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
There are quite some books and movies that I’d love to share such as “The art of Uncertainty” from Dennis Merritt Jones especially if you are a bit of a control freak like me.
However, I’d like to Highlight the movie “Remember the Titans” with Denzel Washington. I watched that movie the first time when I was in High School in my English, till today it is still my all-time favorite because it shows you and teaches you resilience, how to keep on pushing through even when it is hard, the importance of working together and understanding each other, learning from each other and reinventing yourself to be who you truly are.
This movie moves me every single time, it is all about learning and we learn so much throughout the movie, about our differences and this is something that I apply in my everyday work but also when serving my clients.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Someone else’s success is not your failure” — Jim Parsons
This hit me hard and is something that not only I remind myself when needed but wished someone would have emphasized and taught me younger. We are so used to be told to compete, to be the best, to be the number one that when we are not it is because someone else’s got that first place and therefore we failed. It is when we see things in a linear one, one perspective only.
However we are all in our journey and someone’s success should be seen more as what are the possibilities that are out there, examples of what can be done, journey’s to take to achieve X goal we have for ourselves, and an extra push to give 20000% ourselves to be where we want to me.
We should celebrate each other’s win and remember that it was done, which means we can also do it and if it wasn’t yet, why not do it. We are our limits so we should and I try to do things daily to push through those limits and expand them more and more.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. For the benefit of our readers, can you tell us a bit about your experience organizing events in general?
While I’m not an event organizer or even an event company per se, however, I have organized some round tables for the Ministries of Algeria since 2016 as well as training for private companies and supported the organizers of some fairs for their events, mostly on the aspect of coordination with participants.
These are more whole projects that as I don’t believe in one shot but follow-ups. I have organized more than 15 round tables for the Algerian authorities since 2015 with international speakers as we were focused on benchmarking international good practices. We were responsible for the event/project for the whole logistics — venue, catering, hotel accommodation, plane tickets, speakers coordination — research, contact, visa coordination, content, communication, and follow-up. It is a round-up project from the program to the conclusions
I have also supported the organizers of the biggest agricultural fair in the Maghreb region, SIPSA-FILAHA with the organization of B2B meetings and their event as well as Merinova, a Finnish cluster with the organization of a conference in Algeria on renewable energy and trade missions to name a few.
Can you tell us a bit about your experience organizing live virtual events? Can you share any interesting stories about them?
We started our first virtual event through our Coach Tribe webinar series with Coach Tribe, where we were organizing 3 webinars per week for 8 weeks with 13 different coaches. We had to learn how to use the tool and moderate at best these events as you want to make sure that your audience is engaged as well as have the right communication stream.
When we first launched those webinars we were still in beta testing of the platform, the community was still small but people showed up and showed interest.
Our second experience is with Pitch World Fast where we launched the African Webinars on Healthcare and Economy, these are targeted mostly at government authorities (they are part of the panelists in addition to the experts) and key decision-makers. Here the goal is different as it is about sharing experiences and these webinars became monthly meetings and a platform for exchange. These events are both done in English & French, which means that we deliver simultaneous translation
For me one of the most interesting part, especially with the African Webinars, is seen live authorities from countries discussing collaboration and talking about what they can do, taking our event as real training opportunities, and forgetting about, among other things, the language barriers, being genuine, forgetting about the politics and talking actions. While sometimes our webinars last around 4 hours, all our panelists & government authorities stay throughout the program.
It showed me how even a small private company like ours could have a great impact and have the support of renowned international entities such as UNECA, WHO, OECD Research Center, government authorities, and the like because we are providing value and filling a gap.
In your opinion, what is an example of a company that has done a fantastic job creating live virtual events? What specifically impresses you? What can one do to replicate that?
I’d like to cite MWEA Events, especially regarding their Telehealth MENA event. While we, and a lot of actors, focused on webinars and the interaction, MWEA Events have created a full platform for both webinars and exhibition and created it so that it is easily duplicable and easy to replicate for all their events.
I love how easy not only it is for the user to navigate through the whole platform but also for companies to be seen and exhibit as at the end of the day for companies it is about visibility.
To replicate it I think it is important to focus on what is your objective and what does your target expects. You do not have to reinvent the wheel, you can partner with companies that already have created those platforms that you can use but you need to be clear on what is your objective and what your audience/clients want.
For us, exhibitions weren’t our goal or target because this is not what our live events are about. If you aren’t about commercial promotion maybe you shouldn’t go that way, it isn’t about doing just for the sake of doing what others are but staying clear on what your clients want and how you want to serve them
What are the common mistakes you have seen people make when they try to run a live virtual event? What can be done to avoid those errors?
While running live event technology access is key especially when you are the host, therefore you have to make sure that you are ready and prepared for any internet issue. If you have multiple people on your team and if they are not based in the same place make sure that to have your backup host/moderator so that the meeting doesn’t stop and that you can still run smoothly. Also if we look at the speaker side, you can look at having some registered speeches if need be and if it fits with your goal and what your webinar is about/aims for.
Besides, you have to make sure that your speakers, panelists are “trained” and know how to use your platform before the event, not on D-day. Make sure to take time before going over it with them, try all the different tools they have before, and open the floor to them at least 30 minutes before to do the last minutes tests so that when your event starts you only focus on the content.
Lastly, some events while promoted to speak on a topic can end up off-topic should the panelist decide to go off the rail. It is again important to make sure to clear with all panelists and speakers about the audience, the time they have, and what they should talk about. I’d recommend sending out a list of questions, expectations, bullet points to help them guide their talk and have a call with them to answer any questions.
It all boils down to preparation and keeping your eye on the target and objective of your event.
Which virtual platform have you found to be most effective to be able to bring everyone together virtually?
Personally, Zoom has been my go-to platform from the get-go. I started using it in 2019 for meetings and then last year for webinars, it is straightforward and gives you the ability to reach as many people as you’d like, share on your social media as well but also keep some exclusivity when you want.
I have participated also in some even on Swap card, Teams, Streamyard or Google Meet however I felt that Zoom provided me with the best personalized while simple & intuitive platform. Might be also a question of habit
Are there any essential tools or software that you think an event organizer needs to know about?
Once you have chosen the platform to host your virtual webinar, the other tools are related to communication and organization, I use Trello to organize with the team -have visibility on the tasks to do, who is responsible for what, the progress of the projects — it is a great project management tool.
I combine it with WhatsApp & zoom for communication as we are a remote team and dropbox/google for all documents to be shared and used
I’d recommend also Eventbrite for ticketing, very easy to set up and can allow reaching to a greater audience.
Also not to forget, have a dedicated website or sales page, WordPress allow you with a very simple theme to set it all up and you can integrate woo-commerce to have also tickets sales on the platform. All very simple to integrate
Ok. Thank you for all that. Here is the main question of our discussion. An in-person event can have a certain electric energy. How do you create an engaging and memorable event when everyone is separated and in their own homes? What are the “Five Things You Need To Know To Successfully Run a Live Virtual Event” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
1.Bring the energy you want to see & have in the event : While we might think that we can only communicate our energies in person, it is clear that we can and should make sure to set the tone for our events.
You have to be the one who brings the audience and panelist to your energy, communicates with them the emotions & energy you want them to feel.
During my webinars, I will always smile, have a strong voice, and have real interaction with the audience, the panelists.
Everyone appreciates good energy, so let’s give it to them and it can be as simple and easy than a smile.
If your event is less serious I’d say that mine (working with authority), put some music while people are waiting on the sessions, stay on brand but bring that little extra for which people will remember your event by.
2.Break the routine & monologue: We are not meant to stay and listen for 1 person speaking in a monotonous way for 1 hour. So make sure to engage with people, have polls, ask questions, summarize what speakers have said, bring a different point of view so that you can have an actual conversation thus having energy in the room/event.
The African webinars I organized are in English & French, therefore we have simultaneous translation however whenever I come to speak I do it in both languages, it keeps the audience on their toes and changes the rhythm.
3.Make your event special. You need to create a special value, a special process that is your signature like a painter does on his painting. Something that people would remember you by.
They would remember your event by. It can be starting the session with a song, taking pictures during the sessions, have surprises. Whatever is on-brand with you, your company, and the event. Something that would make people keep on showing up and enjoying your webinar.
During our webinars, people know that they will be meeting other authorities from Africa, it is a networking event as well as a learning evening, this is why they keep showing up because they get to meet some of their counterparts they wouldn’t have met if it wasn’t for the even and they will learn from it on a specific topic. Plus everyone gets his time in the spotlight.
4.Be prepared and test. Nothing beats preparation for any task in business. Prepare what you will say, how it will happen, be prepared for some glitches and how to react at best to it, test with your team, with your speakers, test even the special joke/song so you see how it will unfold.
The more you are prepared the better because you will be relaxed, you will be in the moment and you will bring the energy you need nothing stressing over what if. You would have done everything you can to make the even successful then if it is alive even, well there will always be some potential glitches but that is what make is a live event and special.
I test with every speaker & panelist during set times the even, I explain again to them how the event is going to be organized, I prepare myself and my presentation (practicing out loud always) and then when the time comes, I open the event 30 minutes before so that I have room for last-minute technical testings and then the show is on, and yes there has been some internet issue but nothing that could have been prevented or predicted so we smile, laugh about it and continue.
5.Bring value. Always think about the outcome and why you are doing this event, be clear on the objective for you and the audience. State it even when you start.
Don’t do an event just to do it, be clear on your X factor, what differentiates you, especially in the time of online events where are there so many of them.
Always have the why in mind.
If your event is sponsored, what is the value for the sponsor (if I have to put another point to consider to have a successful live even I’d add that point, be clear on your revenue/business model)
For our coach tribe webinar, our why was clear: bring support to our community and help them develop the mindset, business, and life and we built a coaching webinar journey around it. People knew what they were going to get out of it, how, why, and when.
Our objective: give support and bring awareness to our community
The objective for our audience: grow personally and professionally
Let’s imagine that someone reading this interview has an idea for a live virtual event that they would like to develop. What are the first few steps that you would recommend that they take?
- Why do you want to organize this event?
- What you want your event to be about?
- What will separate your event from others?
- What is the value you will be bringing
- Who is the audience (panelists & attendees)
- What would be the objective for them, for the participants? What outcome would you like to see for your ad your company?
- When would you like to organize it?
- Which format (webinar, meeting, exhibition)
- How would the even be articulated?
- Which platform will you use?
- Will you make people pay to attend or have sponsors?
- What would be the business model?
- Who is part of your team and what is the role of each?
Super. We are nearly done. Here are our final questions. You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
A be bold movement.
Helping people take that leap of faith to say, do something that scares them but pushing them to do it anyway as long as the “What would be the worst thing that could happen” would not be harmful, literally.
We all live so much in fear, fear of rejection, of failure, of what people think/would say; when to live our best life and create it the way we want it, we need to own it, be in choice, own the mistakes, the choices we made and keep moving forward.
Honestly someones it is just being bold to say to the ones we love or care about that we do, wouldn’t that feel good?
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
It is a hard question but today I would go for Bill & Melinda Gates as I’d like to learn from them, from their experience from their foundation, how to have a continental influence, how to have people backing you, have people taking actions and especially when you are just starting. How would they have done it differently if they weren’t Bill & Melinda Gates, already had the name & the Microsoft experience.
As I launched my African webinar, I’d love to have their take on it to see how to take this initiative to the next level but keeping it very much about action.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.