Welcome your audience. The welcoming moments into your experience are just as vital to the online experience as they are at your in-person event. Have some background music, have trivia wallpaper going, have someone welcome people, whether it’s in chat or via voice-over as people join to let them know they have been noticed and you’re glad they’re here.
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 Liz Lathan, CEO Haute Dokimazo.
Liz Lathan, CMP is a marketing strategist dedicated to bridging the gap between sales and marketing. She’s a professional virtual event emcee, Haute Dokimazo facilitator, and corporate event & experiential marketer who’s obsessed with applying modern marketing principles to a segment of the marketing industry that has historically been an afterthought — live events. Liz has led event marketing strategy and teams at Fortune 500 companies and consults with small and medium businesses on how to optimize their events within their broader marketing program. Liz is CEO & Co-Founder of Haute Dokimazo and co-owner of Haute Companies, a collection of human-centric businesses that includes Haute Dokimazo, Haute Rock Creative, Haute Spot, Haute Rock Entertainment, and Swag Hub.https://content.thriveglobal.com/media/3a66db5bd3fa204b652993d6b178399d
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 grew up outside of Atlanta, Georgia. My mother was a former teacher and sometimes-wholesale sales rep for gift stores. My father was in the copper industry, traveling nearly 300 days a year to manage the business and sell large mining equipment around the globe.
Can you tell us the story of what led you to this particular career path?
My parents often hosted house guests from all over the world thanks to my dad’s global colleagues — He favored inviting them into our home over having them stay at an impersonal hotel. Southern hospitality was ingrained into me from a young age. As an only child, I grew up joining them at the grown-ups table for dinners, learning about their customs and hearing stories about their families. Luckily, my dad racked up the frequent flyer miles and took us with him on business trips every summer — often staying with his colleagues as they returned the favor. We explored while he worked and stayed in some incredible homes! Thanks to this, I’ve always had a wanderlust for travel and wanted a career that would let me travel and have friends all over the world, too. He also went to a lot of trade shows and used to bring me bags full of show floor giveaways. And my mom worked the booth at the Atlanta Gift Show selling her company’s products to gift shops; she would bring me along to help set up the booth and take orders from customers. The buzz of the show floor and managing the experience people had when they came into our booth was something I always loved doing.
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?
When I was a young journalism student interning with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, I was in charge of producing a district magazine that was distributed to about 3,500 corps members. I wrote and curated human-interest stories and shared district news and what we referred to as The 3 B’s (birthdays, babies, and ball scores!). I ran the editorial calendar, wrote most of the content, and managed the editorial workflow all the way through printing. One month, the General came to visit and give an inspirational speech to our district, so I covered that story and was quite proud of my portfolio-worthy article — and the magazine itself that month with a great photo of the General on the cover that I had taken myself! The magazine went through proper editorial channels as was published and mailed. A day after it hit mailboxes, I received a VERY angry call from the General’s office… “HOW DARE YOU PRINT A PHOTO OF THE GENERAL ON THE COVER OF YOUR MAGAZINE WITH HIS FLY DOWN!” And that’s when I learned that when you “own” something, you “own” everything. Oops.
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?
Funny enough, I wasn’t a big reader in my youth because I was such a good reader that my teachers forced harder and harder books on me until I just hated reading. But in 9th grade I was introduced to the then-brand-new book Jurassic Park, which captured my imagination and brought me back into the wonderful world of written word. Perhaps it was the adventure of hospitality gone wrong, but that story continues to impact how I think about creating customer experiences today.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“In the end, we only regret the chances we didn’t take.” This quote has led me to try new things, make big changes, and trust myself and the experience that comes with each new adventure.
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?
My background is primarily in corporate events and association conferences. I was part of the team that created Dell World in 2011 and helped consolidate multiple IBM conferences into one mega conference called THINK in 2018. I’m created events from 10-person C-level hospitality experiences up to 40,000-person multi-venue conferences.
Can you tell us a bit about your experience organizing live virtual events? Can you share any interesting stories about them?
I have created virtual extensions of our events since 2012, so I was already familiar with some industry vendors and how to optimize an event for a digital audience. But in 2020 when in-person events went away and everything went virtual, we got extremely creative with our experiences! Since March of 2020, we have created LIVE virtual experiences that literally could not have happened in person — we’ve done a live shark dive for 300 people in the Maldives where we could communicate with the divers as they were underwater with the sharks. We’ve done live skydiving events for 20 people where we got to feel the adrenaline rush of the jump through the jumper’s body cam as he leapt off the plane. We’ve explored more than 24 countries, including walking on the rooftop of the Grand Bazaar in Turkey, zip-lining in Mexico, enjoying Mate tea on the top of a mountain in Patagonia, and so much more!
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?
Well, we are doing some pretty innovative things in this space, so I have to say we have! But I loved how SnapChat used augmented reality in their company keynotes to put their executives in cool places. I loved how Salesforce turned Dreamforce into an in-home experience with Dreamforce-to-You boxed mailers. I think the most important take-away from the success stories is how the experience designers thought through the end-user experience and how the content would be viewed and interacted with from a computer or phone.
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?
I think the saddest thing I’ve seen is when people try to call their gathering an “event” but it’s really just a pre-recorded video that is pushed live at a certain time. If there is no interactivity, engagement, or networking, is it really an event? Or is it just a broadcast? I’d argue that it’s a broadcast — but that leads me to the next mistake which is thinking that your slides and talk track are compelling in any way. If you change your mindset and can then define your event as a broadcast, then you can view your content as a “show” and produce it as such.
Which virtual platform have you found to be most effective to be able to bring everyone together virtually?
We do 90% of our events on Zoom. But I do like InEvent, Gatherly, Airmeet, QiqoChat, and Hopin.
Are there any essential tools or software that you think an event organizer needs to know about?
Not really. I know that’s a terrible answer, but I think everyone has to figure out their tech stack based on what they are trying to accomplish. I use so many different tools for different purposes — Zoom, Trello, Wrike, Whatsapp, Slack, Google docs, Excel, Outlook, Splash, Aventri… just use whatever makes your life easier!
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.)
- Welcome your audience. The welcoming moments into your experience are just as vital to the online experience as they are at your in-person event. Have some background music, have trivia wallpaper going, have someone welcome people, whether it’s in chat or via voice-over as people join to let them know they have been noticed and you’re glad they’re here.
- Staff correctly. This isn’t a one-man show. Virtual events are a team sport. If you have breakout rooms, you need a room administrator in each room. You need a host/emcee to welcome everyone, and you need a host/administrator to “personably” manage the technical aspects of the experience for the attendees (this is a combination of customer support and technical administration). And have an extra room administrator in case one of the primary folks lose internet, ditto if you have notetakers in the rooms — have a few extra people!
- Provide interactivity. Polls, annotating, whiteboarding, Muraling, or even an old-fashioned thumbs up to the camera; make sure you are pausing to involve your participants and get feedback along the way.
- Vary the presentation formats. Include slides, conversation, and chat. A meeting that is all “Brady Bunch” view is great for conversation, but not for delivering actual content. Participants are looking for someplace for their eyes to go. An event that is all presentation, on the other hand, provides no eye contact or ability to feel the humanity through the screen. Do both.
- Don’t over produce it. Right now, authenticity is the name of the game. A good home setup, or a nice home studio is amazing, and good lighting (even if just from a selfie ring light) is required, but in our current economic time, using a fully-built studio may come across as wasteful spending, and in lock-down situations, it’s comforting to know that people are staying home. Take a cue from John Krasinski’s “Some Good Things” and go lo-fi. Make no mistake, though, that video was NOT underproduced. The set design/lighting, the content, those guests, and that incredible script were craftily designed and executed. So yes, you still have to produce your content, just don’t OVERproduce it.
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?
- Clearly identify who the audience is and if they will connect with the content naturally or if you will have to help them connect through an experience. How many of them will be on the event live
- Decide what kind of experience you want them to have. Watching a show? Networking with each other? Learning something?
- Determine the “vibe” of your experience. Is it fun and irreverent? Is it serious and business-like? Is it scholarly?
- How much money do you have to spend on the event?
- How will participants get invited to the event and what is the call-to-action for them and your follow up plan for post-event?
- NOW you can start crafting the experience and looking for the right platform to achieve your goals.
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.
I would teach our Haute Dokimazo framework that my co-founder Nicole Osibodu and I created to help people build more genuine business and personal relationships. We call it The Five C’s. Care, Collaborate, Co-Create, Converse, and Connect. Through genuinely caring about the people you are with, you can ask questions to learn more about them. Through collaborating on ideas that you uncover through your caring questions, you open up the ability to co-create solutions together. Through conversation, you uncover shared contacts who can bring your ideas to life and join your solution quest. And through that process, you will create genuine connections with others. Most people try to shortcut straight to connecting with people, but you have to do the first four to make that connection genuine. Imagine doing this at work, during a meeting, at church, at your school’s PTA meetings… at Davos! This is the magic formula for conversations that connect and I want the world to learn it, know it, and use it for 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.
On behalf of my co-founder Nicole Osibodu (Instagram handle @Virginsbiggestfan), I am compelled to say Sir Richard Branson. As for me, I would love to have a conversation with Joss Whedon about storytelling, threading together a multiverse, and character development to create emotional connections with an audience — he’s just brilliant and I would love to hear how his brain works!
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.