Ask your audience what they want to see: I can’t stress this point enough. Don’t assume you know what your audience wants to hear or learn about — ask them. In my opinion, this is the most important step in creating an engaging event or any form of content, for that matter.
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 Datis Mohsenipour.
Datis oversees HeyOrca’s Marketing operations and is responsible for helping agencies discover how HeyOrca can help them save time on managing social media and client approvals. During his downtime, you’ll find Datis getting his foodie fix, taking hikes with his partner and pup, and partaking in adrenaline-pumping activities.
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 and raised in Vancouver, British Columbia to parents that immigrated from Iran. When I was three years old, my parents enlisted me in swimming classes, martial arts, piano, and eventually I was enrolled in a French Immersion school.
While I hated martial arts during the first few weeks — my dad would have to join the classes to warm me up to it — it ended up becoming my number one passion. My dream was to become a professional Muay Thai kickboxer. In my early 20s, I had to make the decision to either pursue my career in Marketing or continue fighting competitively. There was just no way I could balance both. So here I am today, 11 years into my Marketing career.
While I do miss competitive Kickboxing, I love what I do, and I couldn’t be happier.
Can you tell us the story of what led you to this particular career path?
Like many folks making the transition from high school to college, I didn’t have a particular career path in mind. I knew I wanted to be involved in “business”, but that was about it. I started taking general business courses at a local University and really enjoyed the Marketing courses.
At that time, I had made friends with a guy named Max at my Kickboxing gym who was running an event promotions business.
I was quite the social butterfly and had made a lot of friends around the city during my childhood and teen years — I was also an early adopter of Facebook and highly active on social media platforms like MySpace, Hi5, and Nexopia prior to joining Facebook.
Circling back to Max — I saw an opportunity to try and work with him. We both had large networks of friends with very little overlap. I pitched the idea of combining our networks together and throwing a New Years Eve party. He was into it. In 2007, we launched our first party together — “Welcome to Oh Oh 7” — it was the most successful party Max had ever thrown and thus began the start of our partnership.
After that, Max and I both enrolled into a Marketing Management program at BCIT. It was four-year program condensed into two years. Super fun! We somehow continued hosting events during those two years and managed to pay our way through college, while having fun, through this business.
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?
I’d be lying if I said I didn’t make a lot of mistakes along the way. But I’m grateful for the lessons I learned through these errors. After graduating, I took on a Marketing Assistant role at a tech company that specialized in CRM for Martial Arts Schools and Yoga studios.
They had built a community of Martial Arts School owners on a platform called Ning. In my second week, I was tasked with deleting some inactive posts on one of our influencer’s groups in the community. Instead of deleting the posts, I accidentally deleted her groups. Oops. This was a big deal as she had amassed over 2,000 followers and 100s of posts.
My boss was furious. I worked with the influencer to rebuild her group and she was very understanding about the mistake, although she was quite ticked off at first.
Since then, I always triple check any “are you sure” pop-up warnings. 😅
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?
As I was transitioning into a leadership role, a mentor of mine recommended the book “Multipliers” by Liz Wiseman. Reading through this book, I felt like I was reading through my memoirs of having worked with Diminishers and Multipliers.
It outlined the exact impacts I felt when working with both types of leaders and solidified my pre-existing desires of never wanting to be a Diminisher. It also allowed me to work with my reports to help harness their skills and amplify their impact.
I can’t recommend this book enough.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Growing up, I was an insecure individual. I was terrified of being wrong and making mistakes. In my early twenties, I started realizing how powerful of a tool “failure” really is — as long as you learn from it, that is.
“I never lose. I either win or learn.” is a Nelson Mandela quote that really resonated with me and provided me with a transformative life lesson.
On a similar note, while reading the book “Smarter Faster Better” by Charles Duhigg I was really drawn to one particular lesson which, I guess, could be considered a quote. In chapter four, the book talks about the Head of Israeli Military intelligence, Eli Zeira, and a costly decision he made during the Yom Kippur War.
Normally, Zeira would carry a note in his pocket that read “and if not” which he used as a reminder to question his decisions and the impact they could have on his goals. I absolutely loved this practice and have made a habit of always asking myself “and if not” when making decisions.
As a leader, your job often involves making critical decisions and it is easy to fall victim to your own biases. This phrase prompts you to question your decisions and the impact they will have on your goals. To look at the other side of the coin objectively and avoid falling victim to confirmation bias.
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?
When I started my first job out of college, I was responsible for marketing and moderating our monthly webinars. At a certain point, I ended up hosting my own webinars. My first webinar held the record for the highest number of webinar registrants and attendees in the history of the company. I also managed our trade show events and was later tasked with coordinating our annual flagship conference.
After that, I worked as an Online Conversion Manager for a company that provided CRM software to Parks & Recreation facilities. My job was to coach our customers on how to optimize their marketing efforts and generate more online registrations through our platforms. I decided to host monthly webinars as a way to generate demand for my consultations.
In my last role, I worked for a Team Building & Training company. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, we had already started offering virtual solutions, however the pandemic forced us to pivot to only offering virtual services for remote teams. My team and I worked closely with the events team to create content on how to run virtual team building & training events for remote teams.
While I’m still relatively new in my role at HeyOrca, I’ve had the opportunity to work with our CEO to launch our inaugural Life In Social Workshop Series and hosted another webinar alongside our Product and CX team.
Can you tell us a bit about your experience organizing live virtual events? Can you share any interesting stories about them?
It’s interesting looking back at how things have changed over the past 11 years, especially this past year with the pandemic. The technology has evolved significantly and the noise has increased. Everyone’s hosting virtual conferences and webinars.
It is more important than ever to understand your audience and provide value through your virtual event to cut through the noise. But, promoting your virtual event is only half the battle. Once you’ve generated registrants, you need to get them to attend — once they attend, you need to keep them engaged.
I think this all boils down to understanding your audience as well as the competitive landscape. What kind of value can you offer your attendees that your competitors aren’t? What topics or lessons are going to justify the hour(s) your attendees will lose from their day?
I have a funny story/lesson I can share to anyone who is new to the world of hosting virtual events: Turn off all notifications when you are sharing your screen.
In my early days of moderating webinars, I was moderating a webinar and left my Outlook account open. During the Q&A session, I was sharing my screen and a colleague of mine sent me an email. The notification popped up in the bottom corner of my screen with the subject line “VIDEO: Savage Street Fight.” I dismissed the notification with cat-like reflexes and thankfully none of the attendees had the chance to see it. Since then, I’ve made sure to shut off all notifications when hosting live events.
While I’ve never made this mistake myself, I’ve attended virtual events where hosts have forgotten to turn of their mics and said some things that weren’t intended for the attendees or could be heard breathing throughout the presentation.
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?
Substituting an in-person event with a virtual event comes with many challenges. One of the biggest challenges being that it is hard to replicate the networking opportunities and organic discussions that come from in-person events.
While I didn’t have the chance to attend this particular event, I was listening to the Neil Patel podcast where he discussed the lessons he learned from the various iterations of his virtual summits. He collected feedback from attendees at each of the events and discovered that his attendees felt that the first summit felt more like a webinar than a “conference.” In his next event, he incorporated break-out rooms between each session with roundtable discussions on the topic attendees had just learned about. This resulted in a much higher NPS score and created a “conference-feel” in a virtual environment.
I think this is a valuable lesson and one that virtual conference hosts should incorporate into their events.
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?
A common mistake I see all-too-often with virtual events is that folks try too hard to promote their services. Your attendees will expect a certain level of self-promotion, but you should resist your urges to use virtual events as platform for hard product sells. Push too hard, you’ll lose engagement from your attendees and there’s a high likelihood that they’ll skip out on future events.
Tech issues are another common mistake I see in many of the online events I attend. Have your speakers join the event at least 15 minutes before the start time to go through technology checks. The last thing you want is to spend the first 10 minutes of your presentation fumbling to get your audio working.
Lastly, I’ve attended a number of virtual events where the presenter simply regurgitated everything that was displayed on the slides they were sharing. This one surprises me. As an attendee, why would I spend an hour of my day watching you read through slides that you’re going to send to me after the webinar? With all the competition out there, you really need to focus on engaging your audience, providing them with value, and interacting with them throughout the presentation.
Which virtual platform have you found to be most effective to be able to bring everyone together virtually?
Throughout my 11 years of using virtual meeting platforms, I’ve used tools like GoToMeeting, WebEx, Adobe Connect, JoinMe, Microsoft Teams, and Zoom. Zoom has been my favorite platform by far in terms of simplicity, reliability, and cost.
There’s a reason why “Zoom” has become a commonly used term for video conferencing.
Are there any essential tools or software that you think an event organizer needs to know about?
It’s easy to underestimate the number of individual tasks that come with planning a virtual event. I can’t stress enough how important it is to use a project management tool to ensure none of these tasks are missed. One missed step can lead to a ton of disaster, whether you’re planning an in-person or virtual event.
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.)
- Know your audience: Like anything else in Marketing, you need to understand your audience to engage them. Survey your email list, ask questions or launch polls in your social channels, join groups that your audience frequents and solicit feedback, or simply jump on calls with your customers. Understanding your audience is the first step in creating an engaging and memorable event. At HeyOrca, we have a Facebook Community called Life In Social. We launch polls in our group to help us understand what kind of topics our audience wants to learn about. We also scan through other groups to see what kind of discussion topics are frequently coming up.
- Collect feedback and act on it: In my opinion, the best way to make your virtual events more engaging is to simply ask your audience “how can we make our event more engaging?” After all, you’re hosting the event for them. Once you’ve collected the feedback, figure out how you can implement it. There’s nothing worse than asking someone for their opinion then doing nothing about it. Every time I host a virtual event, I learn new things through the surveys I collect. In doing so, I’ve also realized that strategies that work for one type of audience might be completely useless for others.
- Interact with your attendees: Keep your audience engaged and stir up discussions in the chat by regularly asking your audience questions. At HeyOrca, we like to start off our webinars by asking our attendees where they are calling in from. This serves as both a sound check and a way to kick-off the session with some fun discussions. Throughout the webinars, we will pause to ask the audience questions related to the topic of discussion.
- Tell them what you’re going to tell them. Tell them. Tell them what you’ve told them. This is a fundamental strategy that a mentor of mine taught me when I was getting started with virtual presentations. Start by introducing your topic, cover the topic in detail, then provide a summary of what you discussed. The intro gives folks a reminder of why they are there, and the recap serves as a reminder of all the valuable lessons you covered. I recently forgot to provide a recap in a webinar, and someone requested it during the Q&A session. I had to scramble to go back to our summary slides and walk them through all the topics we had covered during the session. Rookie mistake.
- Replicate organic elements: Like I mentioned earlier, Neil Patel made a good point of creating that “in-person conference feeling” by hosting break-out rooms for round table discussions after each session in his virtual summit. Try to replicate those key benefits that you gain from in-person events in a virtual setting to create a more memorable and engaging experience. Host a cocktail hour with the speakers, create round-table discussions, run a virtual team building event, or throw a fun kick-off party. You’re never going to achieve the same results that you would expect from an in-person event, but you can come close.
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?
- Research all the logistics for planning a virtual event: There is an abundance of resources available online to help you map out all the logistics of planning an online event. One misstep can unravel your entire event. Take the time to plan out your event and map out the tasks.
- Don’t wing it: It’s especially important to test out your tech before the event. A lot can wrong with a live event regardless of whether you’re hosting it online or in person. You can never be too prepared. Platforms like Zoom allow you to do dry-runs before starting the event — take advantage of this.
- Ask your audience what they want to see: I can’t stress this point enough. Don’t assume you know what your audience wants to hear or learn about — ask them. In my opinion, this is the most important step in creating an engaging event or any form of content, for that matter.
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.
My folks have always taught me to be kind to everyone I meet. We live in a world where we are constantly bombarded by negative news and divisive content. Whenever possible, I try to perform at least one good deed a day. Whether it’s calling someone to tell them I love them, shouting out a colleague for a job well done, shoveling snow on a neighbor’s driveway, providing a meal to someone in need, or simply holding the door open for someone… I try to do at least one thing daily that’ll put a smile on someone’s face.
You’ll be surprised by how little effort one small gesture might take and how big of an impact it could have on someone’s day.
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.
There are a lot of celebrities that have been met with good fortune. Some choose to spend their riches on unnecessary objects, and others use their riches to make a difference in the world. Going back to my roots in Martial Arts, I’ve become a big fan of UFC fighter Dustin Poirier. He’s a phenomenal fighter and one I enjoy watching, but what I love most about him is that he uses his platform to raise funds for those in need. He sells memorabilia from his fights and donates portions of his fight earnings to various causes around the world through his foundation, The Good Fight. He’s also inspired other fighters to become more charitable.
I would love to have lunch with him or, better yet, train with him in the gym then pick his brain about how we can inspire more athletes and celebrities to follow in his footsteps.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.