Consider adding a physical element to any virtual event. This could be as simple as sending a gift to someone’s home, coordinating a time to open a special surprise, doing a wine tasting together, or even a magician that you can interact with.
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 Bob Marsh.
Bob Marsh is the chief revenue officer at Bluewater, a design-forward technology company that helps craft moments that connect and inspire. Specializing in live and virtual events, retail fixtures and displays, branded environment and exhibits, and audiovisual integration, Bluewater works with some of the industry’s top brands, including Walmart, Ford, and Rocket Mortgage. With more than 20 years of experience across various technology companies, Bob works with customers to find creative new ways to use technology to grow their business. He has spoken at several industry-leading events, including Dreamforce and INBOUND, and has been published in Fast Company, Inc. Magazine, and Harvard Business Review.
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”?
I was born in metro Detroit, which is also where I live now and has always been “home” for me even though I grew up in Orchard Park, New York, which is outside of Buffalo. I started playing golf in middle school and became very passionate about it, and then played competitively in high school and college. I learned so much from that experience of getting good at something, being part of a team, and balancing the mental and physical training it takes to be a good golfer.
Can you tell us the story of what led you to this particular career path?
My dad was always in sales (sales leadership in particular), so I picked up a lot along the way about being a good listener, being empathetic, and helping people solve problems. My first job in sales was selling golf equipment during my summer and winter breaks in college, and I had a knack for it. After working there for a couple of years, the store manager told me I was the best he’d ever seen. It was funny because I always felt like I was helping people make good decisions about the kind of golf equipment to buy. Still, he observed that I was selling more than anyone else — an excellent example of the importance of being genuine.
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 my first job out of college, I worked for Xerox, and I would visit prospective customers to do a “check-in.” That’s the worst idea, and one customer told me to stop wasting his time if I was just coming to say hi. I quickly learned the importance of bringing value to every conversation.
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?
“The Five Dysfunctions of a Team” by Patrick Lencioni is a great book when you move into a management position. It helps you understand how teams work, how so many issues stem from poor communication, and the importance of building plans as a team. The book is all about building purpose into your plans that a full team can get behind. I also love the movie “Miracle” and have watched it with my team as an example of overcoming obstacles, doing more than you think you are capable of, and the power of getting a team to function cohesively.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Josh Linkner says: “Someday, someone’s going to come along and put us out of business. So it might as well be us.” It’s a great frame of mind for innovation as well as your career. Think of your archenemy and what they would do if they were trying to beat you. That will keep you sharp.
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?
I ran some events on my own and learned the importance of very clear objectives and a highly specific run-of-show in terms of the experience for participants. The more time you put into planning every little detail, the more the audience will notice it, appreciate it, and give you attention. Plus, it will provide you with more confidence.
Can you tell us a bit about your experience organizing live virtual events? Can you share any interesting stories about them?
Over the past year at Bluewater, we have run hundreds of virtual events. It’s a very cost-efficient way to run an event, but not everyone realizes it still takes quite a bit of production to do so well — which is even more important with a remote audience that is easily distracted.
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?
We’ve been working with Anheuser-Busch, and I’ve been impressed with how thorough the company is and how much it focuses on engaging its audience. In a recent event we did for its team, Anheuser-Busch coordinated daily entertainment to build into the program schedule for everyone to do together. This built-in entertainment is so much better than just watching speakers all day.
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?
The two main things we see include those who think a virtual event is just a Zoom meeting with many people. Although you can do that, the production value is lacking. And with a large audience and an important message, you just won’t get the results you need.
The second one is companies that are starting to plan for post-coronavirus events and feeling like they need to decide whether those will be entirely in person or fully virtual. For the foreseeable future (and probably the long run), events will always have an in-person element and a virtual element running parallel. Building a great experience that embraces the two — where they complement each other — is key.
Which virtual platform have you found to be most effective to be able to bring everyone together virtually
Well, I’m a little biased on this answer because we have our own virtual platform called Parallel, and we designed it specifically to run events with in-person and remote participants together. There are a lot of great platforms out there, though. In particular, one we have used with some of our clients is Swapcard. It’s a great solution, and they’re a great company.
Are there any essential tools or software that you think an event organizer needs to know about?
Don’t forget the fundamentals of live events, such as strong equipment and creative for videos and livestreams.
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.)
Virtual events will get a lot better when there is a portion happening in person that remote participants can view and be part of because they can tap into the energy of the entire experience. Remember when we started watching basketball and football early in the pandemic and there was nobody in the crowd? It was so much less exciting! Whenever we watch a sporting event from home, we’re a remote or virtual attendee — but the energy on location is a big part of what makes it a great experience, whether you’re in the crowd or not.
The five things to know to successfully run a live virtual event include:
- Don’t skimp on production. A simple Zoom view won’t work for a highly important message.
- Prerecord sessions when you can, as it allows for the perfect message to be delivered. The audience won’t know the difference if you do it right.
- Use a combination of speakers, panels, videos, and open Q&A. A bunch of presenters is just too boring.
- Consider adding a physical element to any virtual event. This could be as simple as sending a gift to someone’s home, coordinating a time to open a special surprise, doing a wine tasting together, or even a magician that you can interact with.
- Invest in strong creative presentations and visuals — they go a long way!
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?
First, think about who the audience is and the key message you want that audience to take away. Then, think about the key presenters and where they’ll be presenting. From there, reach out to a reputable live event company to help you build a more detailed plan together.
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.
Listen to each other — really pay attention. It’s hard to do when people are on Zoom, and it’s so easy to be distracted by what’s on your phone or another monitor at your desk. Decide you’re going to commit to the meeting and be fully present.
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.
George Bush. I’ve always been amazed at how he develops himself, makes time for his faith, and takes care of himself with exercise. And now, he’s become a painter! He just keeps developing himself and prioritizing what’s most important.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.