Just because people physically are not sitting in one place in one room, doesn’t mean they are not together in one place, okay? Actually, when people are in the comfort of their own room, and they’re live at the meeting online, together, all of them are in the meeting.You have to make sure that they are paying attention to what’s happening. So one of the things that we do, we make sure that we ask all the audience members to keep their cameras on.
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 Iman Aghay.
Iman Aghay, a high successful entrepreneur, international speaker and six-time #1 best-selling author. He is best known as the founder of Success Road Academy, and has created over 50 courses that help coaches, authors, speakers and entrepreneurs grow their business aligned with their life purpose.
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?
So I was born and raised in Iran. And as I was growing up, I always had different opportunities to be able to be in front of others. I was a really good writer when I was a kid, competing in writing competitions, and I won several awards, for which I needed to present what I wrote so I needed to be on the stage. And also, one of the things in my family is that my, my parents and my sister were a lot into music. And because they were into music, they put me in music classes. Now, I wasn’t that keen on playing music myself. But for years and years, I played different musical instruments, and ended up being on the stage and doing concerts. By the time that I was 18, I had done 54 concerts. And that had positioned me to be in a place that was always in front of people.
Now, an interesting thing, though, is that I’m an introvert. And I am not necessarily the most comfortable person being in front of others and being on the stage, or necessarily want to get out there to be in front of others. But I think over the years, just being on the stage over and over and over, it made it more and more comfortable for me to be able to do this. So years later, when I heard that one of the biggest fears in life is the fear of public speaking, it actually hit me really hard, because I never realized that it had turned into second nature for me, after growing up and practicing it so much, so many times. And I think that’s one of the things that we need to know is that being on the stage and that nervousness, and it just goes away, or doesn’t go away necessarily, but you get used to it, and it just kind of becomes less and less important, and sharing your message and life becomes more important than that nervousness at the beginning.
Can you tell us the story of what led you to this particular career path?
As I was finishing my MBA program, I started working with the same university that I studied at as their marketing consultant, to help them to sell more of our MBA program and recruit more students. And as part of the marketing campaign that I designed for them was that they had to run some ads in the newspaper, this is back before the internet was a thing so we used to run ads in the newspaper. People would register for an in person seminar and then we would come to the seminar and at the seminar, they would hear a talk that was about the MBA program, and then people would sign up for the program. Now I created this model for them to use to promote themselves. And what happened was that on the first day of the first talk, I went to the Dean of the university and I said, Are you ready to deliver your talk? And he said, I’m not doing the talk. You’re doing the talk. And I said, No, no, no, I’m the consultant. I prepared the plan for you, but you have to do the talk.
And long story short, he said, I can’t do it. He was not available to do it. And I realized that I have to get on the stage and I had no idea how to prepare a presentation. I had never done a presentation of this level before I had never, I didn’t know how to use PowerPoint, or anything like that, for that matter. And I just found myself in a position that I needed to present in front of 100 people in about 30 minutes. So I sat there, thought about what I’m going to talk about and I decided to use the brochure that we are giving to people and use the PDF of the same brochure.
So I got on the stage. And with a very weak voice, I started my talk to people. Hello. I hope everybody is doing well today. And I continued the talk. And as I started explaining the program, because it was the program that I had studied, I started telling the stories of my classmates and the stories of other friends that I knew of the program and it turned into a conversation with the people in the room. And I spoke for three hours. And after three hours, 20 people came to me and said they would like to sign up for the program. That began my career that night. I came down the stage and I said I loved what just happened. We just sold 20 programs and these people’s lives are going to change. And I love the fact that I sat on the stage and I told the stories of how this program can make a difference in people’s lives. And I want to do this for the rest of my life. And so that’s how I started being on stage and doing public speaking. From there, I had to take lots of classes, had to learn how to do this properly, and got better and better over the years.
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 2008, my wife and I decided to move to North America, because I wanted to become an international professional public speaker. In 2009, I landed in Vancouver, BC.and I had to learn English because I didn’t know how to speak English. So my career hit the reset button to go and start from scratch again. In 2011, I got my first big English speaking stage. The stage was supposed to be 50 year old plus business owners who don’t know how to use social media so I prepared the talk of my life. And I went on that stage and delivered a great talk. And when I came down and went on Twitter, which was a thing back then, I realized that a lot of people in that room hated my talk. I didn’t know why. So I went to the organizer.
And I said, Hey, do you know what happened?
And he said, I think the kids didn’t like you?
I said What do you mean the kids didn’t like me?
And he said, yeah, we weren’t able to sell tickets to 50 year old plus business owners so we ran a special for colleges, students who are studying media in college.
I said, so you’re telling me, I just presented for an hour in front of 19 year old college students and told them what a Facebook post is?
And he said yes.
So that led into a huge problem on Twitter and that made me one of the most hated public speakers with 450 negative Tweets in one hour. I trended number one in Canada as the most hated speaker. Over 2 million people saw how I crashed and burned on the stage live.
But what that taught me was that always the day before your talk, just contact the organizer, and make sure that what they discussed with you ahead of time is still what’s happening at the event. And one thing that I learned was that you just move on, you just learned the lessons.
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?
Yes, one of the books that I enjoy a lot, and I do my best to listen to it once a year to the audiobook version is the success principles by Jack Canfield. And even in the book, it says, read this book twice, read this book for the first time, just to understand all principles and read for the second time to be able to implement it in your life. And I have a feeling that most people only read this once and I do my best to be able to listen to the book, and which is I think 19 hours or 20 hours. I really enjoy it is because it talks about some really amazing and yet basic ideas that we tend to forget. When we forget those basic foundational things, we start doing some complicated things, to get some basic results and listening to success principles. Always go back and simplify, simplify my life, which always has resulted in far better results in my life. So I always say as entrepreneurs, we have a tendency of complicating the crap out of everything. I think success principles always puts things in perspective for me, and it simplifies to get the best of the best of the best results with doing the right things at the right time.
Can you please give us your favorite life lesson, quote? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
My favorite life lesson code is it’s not about how hard you hit, it’s about how hard you can get hit. And as an entrepreneur, probably I have failed more times than I care to care to talk about. Honestly, I feel like every day as an entrepreneur, we fail and everyday we have some success. But the most important thing is that every day we continue going, making a difference. And all those little successes add up on top of each other and create the bigger successes that there were deals
The reality is that maybe 95% of things we do fail. But the beauty of it is that nobody remembers the 95% failures and everybody remembers the 5% that succeed. And the reality is that the 5% success is much, much bigger in terms of quality, that does kind of outweigh all the failures. But I totally agree that life is not about how hard you can hit, it’s about how hard you can get hit and still continue.
Okay, thank you for that. Let’s now jump on 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.
As I said, I’d moved to North America to become an international professional public speaker. I was beginning my journey, I started a group called Entrepreneurs International Network with the first chapter of it being Vancouver Business Network. I started organizing one event every week for years. At one point, I decided to do bigger events so I started to do a big yearly annual event called Marketing Mastery Summit. We ran a Marketing Mastery summit in 2011, then we ran another one in 2012. And I realized I really enjoyed doing this. So in 2013, I decided to do four of these events. By 2014, I was holding about 200 live events every year. This is anything from 90 minute evening events, all the way to one day events all the way to three day events. I realized that I was constantly traveling, I was always on the airplanes and in the hotel rooms and that I needed better life balance so I decided to go online. But I decided to take my content online, instead of being online myself, doing live online events. We tried to do live online events a lot.
But then we couldn’t do three day live virtual events where hundreds of people would come. People said that they don’t want sit for eight hours or nine hours on the chair, which never actually made sense to me, because I was like what when you come to an event in person, the hotel, what do you think you’re doing? Sitting on a chair for eight hours or nine hours. But that was their story back then.
We turned a lot of our content into online content. I think in 2017, I started doing something that I call a hybrid event, which meant that many of our events were in person, but then we’re broadcasting them live online. For those events, we had half of the audience showing up in person, and then half of the audience showing up online. And so people had a choice back then.
Can you tell us a bit about your experience organizing live virtual events? Can you share any interesting stories about them?
So as I said, we’re doing lots of live in-person events and hybrid events. And then when COVID hit in March 2020, we decided to cancel all our in-person events just because of the laws and the rules. But then in April 2020, we realized that, to succeed in business, we needed to be able to recreate our events entirely to become virtual. Now, there is a big difference between hybrid events and virtual events because in hybrid events, our whole team was in one place. But now with an entire virtual live event, our team was not also in the same place. We never had the experience of this.
I remember it was April 14 2020. We’re in a team meeting and we said let’s do a live virtual event for the first time. And back then very few people had done live virtual events, so there was no playbook. We said, let’s do an event and let’s figure it out, let’s actually build the system ourselves. And in 17 days, we’ll put together a 500 person live virtual event. Being our first one, we made so many mistakes but at the same time, when people came to the event, they said, this was one of the best events they’d attended, giving us so many amazing reviews and feedback. They were like, you guys have to do this over and over and over again, this is the best thing ever. Suddenly, all those like worries that oh, I can sit for eight hours on a chair, all of those went away. And people realize how much better live virtual events are compared to the in person events for networking opportunities, which is really interesting, because the biggest thing that you’re saying is that they want to network with each other. And that’s why they didn’t want to be virtual. But then the way that we were running the virtual event, it actually improved the networking opportunities for everyone, and the quality of it.
So that’s how we started doing lots of events. And ever since we have done about 100 virtual events.
In your opinion, what is an example of a company that has done a fantastic job of creating live virtual events? What specifically impresses you? What can one do to replicate that?
There are not lots of companies that are doing good, live virtual events. But definitely the one person that is doing phenomenal, phenomenal, live virtual events is Tony Robbins organization. And I love the fact that they’ve been able to take that high energy of their live in person events, and take them to live virtual events. And that’s actually one of the top things for us as well. When we wanted to start doing the live virtual events, wanted to make sure that that high energy of our in person events get transferred to our virtual events, and with a lot of energy and thoughts rate, and seeing how Tony Robbins, was able to go online and, and deliver with that energy that was very impressive. And obviously, they were able to get amazing results. So that’s great.
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?
So there are several mistakes. Number one is running it like a meeting, as opposed to an event. An event is a very different style, has a different structure and the event has intro videos, outro videos, break videos and music. It has entertainers. It has activities. It has networking opportunities. It has a lot more stuff than just the regular meeting people right now have zoom fatique, or meeting fatigue — they are just tired of going to yet another boring meeting to just talk to each other. They just simply don’t want to do that right? They want entertainment and fun while they are doing what they’re doing or while they’re learning what they need to learn. So that’s one of the biggest pieces.
The other thing is that many times virtual events don’t have a hub. Now a hub is a platform where you have all the links, all the resources all the downloadable, everything on one website. So when people are attending this event, they can actually get access to all their information in one place, as opposed to when people are attending a meeting, then they don’t need those things, but then definitely for an event, you need to put all of them in one place that will help people to avoid to get distracted by so many different links. So, for example, if you’re going to an event and the event is supposed to have a directory and a directory submission form, and the links through the coaching zone and the link to booking appointments, the length, all of those things should be all in one place, as opposed to people needing to go to so many different links or wanting to share all those links in a chat box, or even in an email. So that’s the second thing I definitely want to do.
And then the third thing is not using the right tools. So many times people want to do virtual events. But as I said, they are doing the vitual events in a way that people can communicate with each other, they can’t even see each other or talk to each other or there is a limitation of the activities they can have. Now, if you’re doing your webinar, that might not be a bad idea. But if you’re doing an event, then you have to be able to give people that opportunity to connect and network with each other. Because it makes a big difference in their experience.
Which virtual platform Have you found to be most effective to be able to bring everyone together virtually,
I would say for an event, definitely, Zoom has been one of the best ones. Hands down zoom has been the best one for organizing an event we’ve tested for many other platforms as well. But none of them have been able to come anywhere close to the features that zoom has for being able to run it now. The thing is that if you have more than 500 attendees, for an event, you may want to choose to have multiple zoom rooms. Instead of having 5000 attendees in the Zoom Room, you may want to have 10 with 500 attendees in their own room to make it easier to control and to administer and everything. That’s what we like to do.
Now question, are there any essential tools or software that you think an event organizer needs to know about?
There are actually some really good tools out there right now that create great entertainment for the audience. One of the ones that we use a lot is called Wheel Of Names (wheelofnames.com). It’s a free platform that allows people to create a wheel of names and do random draws, and give away gift cards or whatever like different types of prizes. So that’s something that I highly recommend.
If you are going to have coaches to be dedicated to every person who is attending, then you will need a system to be able to book people in a round robin. For that, I recommend using Acuity Scheduling as it creates a round robin up to 50 coaches that will allow you to book people in the same group. So that’s actually super cool.
The other tool that I really like is called Mentee Meter. And with the mentee meter, you can get live results or live feedback from the audience and present them in a very beautiful way in like kind of word clouds or bar graphs. .
For the platform that you’re using for your hub, we use Clickfunnels in our business but then I also know that there are some newer platforms coming out that allow the system to be gamified.
Okay, 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 in their own homes? What are the five things you need to know to successfully run a live virtual event? And why?
That’s actually a great question. And as I said, the energy and bringing all the events together in one place is very important it.
Number one -Just because people physically are not sitting in one place in one room, doesn’t mean they are not together in one place, okay? Actually, when people are in the comfort of their own room, and they’re live at the meeting online, together, all of them are in the meeting.You have to make sure that they are paying attention to what’s happening. So one of the things that we do, we make sure that we ask all the audience members to keep their cameras on. And beforehand, when we are sending the logistics email for the event, we always make a big deal out of this. Imagine that you have flown to a city in a hotel room, and you are physically attending this event. And for the entire three days, make sure that you don’t have distractions of your kids, or pets, or other things you’re attending this event fully, to be able to get the best results, and make sure that you dress up and you show up on camera. Okay, so that’s one thing is that the first thing is making sure in the logistics email, you give people a heads up. And when you ask people to be on camera, and make sure that your team always shows up on camera. And your emcee, master of ceremony keeps reminding people to be on camera. And also, every time that you’re doing anything at the event, you point out to being on camera, which I’m going to also address in a few seconds.
Number two, make sure that you have random draws at different times of the event that active people at the event can win. So for us we use Wheel of Names for that matter. When we put all our attendees names in Wheel of Names and we do random draws once or twice per session. And then when the names come up, the person who wins it should be on camera and should be attending the event. So their name comes up and they win a $500 amazon gift card or $50 amazon gift card or $25 amazon gift card then we look at the person to see if they are attending the events and if they are there, are they on camera. Okay? So that’s a very important thing for us to be there and to also give them other reasons. So number one, make sure they’re on camera number two, make sure that you have random draws at different times of the day. And you value engagement.
Number three is to have an entertainer during the event. So for us we have an entertainment act right after lunch. When we come back we’ll bring a person that does a session called “drom”. That’s like drumming and yoga together — it’s like an exercise. We give a gift to the most active, a funniest person that is actually dancing on camera. So that just kind of creates this community.
Number four, making sure that you have networking happening at the event multiple times a day. And the power of networking is that for people to network, they have to be on camera, they have to talk to each other, and they have to be active. And a big reason for attending in person events, is actually the networking opportunity. So when you are doing the networking opportunities online, then that will allow people to get to know each other to talk to each other to communicate with each other. And the more people talk with each other and communicate with each other, the more excited they are. So you want people to participate, you want people to also talk. The other thing is that if you don’t want to give them an opportunity for networking, but you can give them exercises that they can do on their own, and then put them into smaller groups to pair and share with each other. So again, they’re still one on one communicating with each other. But they’re not in a networking style conversation, they are in sharing our visions, or goals or dreams, or whatever the exercise that you gave them was. And that makes a huge difference that now people are producing the content for each other in one on one conversations with each other. And that that makes a big difference in the way that they’re going to attend the rest of the event.
Number five is to use that chat box. I mean, in the first 90 minutes of our events, if we have 200 people at the event, we usually get about 1000 chatlines of saying good morning by getting them to go to the chatbox to say good morning to each other to say tell us where city you are from, or using the hashtag of the event, or getting them to the chat or sending them to the chat box to share their life purpose with each other in the chat box and anything else that it is about the exercise and about the event. And they make a big difference. In one of our events of 200 attendees, we got about 20,000 20,000 chatlines in a three day event. And this was, by the way, a networking event where most of the chat lines were not counted as part of this to 20,000.. Maybe we had over 50,000 chat lines for only 200 people. But that shows engagement, that shows energy, that shows power of the community. So if you get all those things in order, then that’s the time that you have a very solid solid event.
Let’s imagine that someone reading this interview has an idea for a live virtual event they would like to develop well the first few steps that you would recommend that they take.
It depends on the size of the event they have in mind. Definitely if they have in mind anything over 50 or 100 attend the event. I highly recommend them to work with a professional team technical team that can help them with putting together the event. Especially a professional technical team that their job is organizing virtual events, I recommend the company called Let Your Nerd Be Heard https://letyournerdbeheard.com/. They are the company that helped us also run lots of technical parts of our event. And one of the reasons for that is because if you work with the correct company, the correct company creates something called the production sheet for them. And the process of creating the production sheet which is a sheet that has a minute by minute structure of the event, it makes a huge difference of knowing what exactly needs to happen at the event. Also, there is something else called the event Master Plan, which kind of is the first thing they need to put together, which is what’s the name of the event, what’s what’s, what’s the promise of the event and what their ticket sales strategy and if they are selling anything at the event, what is the thing that they’re selling at the event, if they’re not selling anything at the event, and do they get sponsors, or there’s so many more things that they need to figure out and those things need to happen in the master plan. So, again, if they work with a proper team, the proper team can help them with creating their master plan and then can help them with putting together proper structure and strategies and production sheets and then they can take it from there and they can develop much, much better events. Now, if they are doing under 50 attendees, then I would just recommend to them to create a detailed plan of what the event is going to be and set their marketing strategy.
The most important thing that can get you the best results is doing it. Don’t get scared. It’s not a big deal. It’s just another event and just doing them over and over just gives you better results.
This was very meaningful, thank you so much! We wish you continued success!
I will say thank you for having me here.