Ask for Feedback. Most focus on the prep and live event, but what about the follow up? I find it extremely helpful to ask for feedback post-event. You may not like it, but it will make you better. Welcome it.
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 Scott Asai.
Scott Asai helps tech companies close the soft skills gap so they can maximize performance and retention. Through speaking, providing workshops and coaching he focuses on improving communication, leadership development and boosting emotional intelligence (EQ). Scott’s partnership with GA hosting bi-monthly events spans over 2+ years. He thrives on presenting, facilitating and recruiting speakers on an ongoing basis. Scott’s professional background includes: B.A. in Psychology, M.A. in Organizational Leadership, Certified Professional Coach, Certified Strengths Coach and TEDxSpeaker.
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”?
As a kid I enjoyed taking charge. Seeing my parents at points in their career as business owners imprinted in my mind.
My supervisor at my first full-time job out of college asked me, “Where do you see yourself in 5 years?”
I responded, “Not here.” At that point I knew I wanted to own a business one day.
Less than 4 years later, fresh off a Masters Degree in Organizational Leadership I took the leap by opening my own coaching practice. It’s had its share of peaks and valleys and eventually I transitioned into becoming a keynote speaker where I am today.
Can you tell us the story of what led you to this particular career path?
My first introduction into coaching was as an assistant coach for a youth basketball team. At the time I was in college and thought it would be fun to do on the side. Over time what I realized is I enjoyed identifying individual strengths in players and figuring out how to maximize them in a team setting. Years later as a Youth Director at a church (first full-time job out of college), I hired a coach. I loved how he worked at my pace, with my goals and pushed me to achieve faster than I would on my own. After an eighteen month partnership, I inquired “how can I become a coach?” Basically he told me there isn’t a formula, but to pick a niche and find ways to get paid clients. In the past 13 years I’ve done executive coaching, career coaching and leadership development before stumbling into public speaking. Growing up I used to fear speaking in front of people, but one day I realized the negative self-talk was becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy so I decided to change it. I worked for a year to land a TEDx Talk and fortunately did so in February of 2020 (Saving Soft Skills From Extinction). That experience was both exciting and nerve-racking, but ultimately was the validation I needed to start my career as a keynote speaker.
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?
Not sure if I’d consider it funny, but no one likes to watch video recordings of themselves. I used to avoid watching myself on camera until I realized the disfluencies such as “um,” “like” and “you know” were quite distracting. Nowadays I watch my recordings to look for ways I can improve. I doubt I’ll ever be fully comfortable observing my presentations, but it does reveal blind spots I can work on since we tend to most critical of ourselves.
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?
Simon Sinek’s “How Great Leaders Inspire Action.” To this day it’s still my favorite TED Talk. I am a visual learner so the idea of learning through viewing an object lesson helped me internalize it. I’ve always been more of a big picture thinker, so starting with “why” and planning from there resonated with me at a deeper level. When I get lost in a project I try to start with the end in mind and flush out the process from there. It’s a great reminder to start with why in order to capture the audience’s attention and connect through storytelling.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“I can live with failure, but I cannot live with regret.” Not sure I can take complete credit for the saying, but once I was asked that on an interview and it just came out. Entrepreneurship is about failing forward. Any successful business owner fails more than the average person. It’s his/her response to failure that makes them successful. My motivation for owning a business has always been for the freedom and flexibility to spend time on my own terms. As a father and husband, my role is to serve my family. Looking back on my TEDx Talk, I wanted my family to know it’s important to stay persistent on a goal especially when the outcome is mostly about personal growth. Speaking on stage was a thrill, but honestly it took the back seat to having my family in the audience watching (it didn’t hurt we flew to Hawaii for the performance either). When I look back on my life I don’t want to have any regrets of not trying. We learn best through trial and error so making mistakes is part of the process. I’ve never looked at starting something in terms of success and failure. For me, it’s about following through with what I set in my mind. I can live with the results regardless.
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?
Hosting events is something I’ve always enjoyed. As a Youth Director, I’d plan out the calendar year for students, parents and staff ahead of time. During actual events I thrive on organizing tasks and people amidst stressful situations with a time restraint. When I became an entrepreneur one of my ideas for lead generation and marketing was to create a monthly network event. I took it upon myself to recruit speakers, find venues, acquire sponsors, track attendees and follow-up with people. It was a lot of work and as someone who is more introverted it takes transitioning into an extroverted role once the event goes live. For the past 2 years, I partnered with General Assembly (a tech school) to host in-person (pre-lockdown) and virtual events. General Assembly helps with registration and marketing, but I still have to network to find speakers and host the events myself. Hosting virtual events is harder than in-person because it’s much easier to lose engagement because of the lack of feedback. It’s a new skill I’m refining and have come to really look forward to.
Can you tell us a bit about your experience organizing live virtual events? Can you share any interesting stories about them?
Virtual events were cool at first, then we experienced Zoom fatigue. The hardest part is to get people to turn their video on and observe people’s engagement through body language, eye contact and participation. I find the most helpful advice is to stick to a topic you’re passionate about. You’ll never choose a theme attendees will all love, so the next best thing is to speak with conviction about what you believe and experienced. When someone asks me post-event, “how did it go?” I find that difficult to answer. My opinion doesn’t matter as much as the people in the audience. I try my best to follow up via newsletter and LinkedIn afterwards, but most people you’ll never see again. With so many factors out of your control, focus on what you can do: be punctual, plan ahead and respond in the moment. For example, during one of the events an attendee was sharing a business idea he had which had nothing to do with our discussion. Although I was temped to cut him off our speaker for the night engaged and encouraged him. At a certain point I jumped in before it got too long, but pausing for a moment was helpful to allow the situation to resolve itself. Overall I knew everyone was looking at me to step it, but before I let my ego ruin it I decided to let things play out and trust my intuition. It ended up being the right call.
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?
Not too long ago I spoke at a conference called Unscripted by Harness. They did a great job at creating a live Q & A during the presentation. I prefer to speak live versus record it ahead of time, but in this case it worked because I was able to be present and answer questions real-time from people who were watching my talk with me. I’m not exactly sure what program they used to create the design, but based on the connections I’ve followed up on it was an innovative way to host a virtual event with higher engagement than normal.
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?
Most are logistical such as slides not working, audio cutting out and the structure not flowing. In my opinion this comes down to lack of preparation. I believe attendees give you the benefit of the doubt as a host, but too many errors become distracting and unfortunately leave a bad taste in your mouth. To avoid these mistakes test out everything in advance with as many participants you can. Make sure your internet connection is fast enough, go through a time-tested run through of your slide deck and work on your transitions and timing to make things run smooth. Basically you can tell if someone lacks experience. With technology mishaps are bound to happen, but it’s how you anticipate and respond in the moment (sometimes with humor) to help everyone get back on track. Be professional and adaptable at all times.
Which virtual platform have you found to be most effective to be able to bring everyone together virtually?
I can’t say I’ve experienced much outside of Zoom. I think the platform works nicely as long as you understand the functionality and limitations (depending on which plan you’re on). It’s the host that brings people together not the platform. I’ve seen tech-savvy people lose their audience as well as technologically-challenged people thrive with minimal experience. I’d love to test out more options, but if you depend on the technology to keep people interested, you’re in for an uphill battle.
Are there any essential tools or software that you think an event organizer needs to know about?
Photo backdrops, professional lighting and a clear webcam are essential. Poor quality will turn off viewers immediately. Virtual backgrounds aren’t reliable, so I’d recommend purchasing a physical backdrop set up in an area you can consistently record from. If you don’t have good natural lighting (that’s the best) an external light source near your face makes a big difference. Lastly most laptops and desktops have decent webcams, but if the image is blurry or grainy there are inexpensive external webcams that are worth investing in. Virtual events are here to stay, so improving the quality of your stream will help you stand out from the rest.
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. Be Passionate. Your energy either positively or negatively impacts the audience. Be a thermostat and set the mood for the event and you’re off to a good start!
2. Come Prepared. Tackle all the details ahead of time so you can actually be present with your audience during the event. Expect things to go wrong and anticipate solutions to get back on track.
3. Test Ahead of Time. Initially do run-throughs to make sure the event flows. Over time you’ll know how to adjust to the audience’s engagement level (or lack thereof). See point #2.
4. Over-Communicate With Everyone Involved. It’s better to over-communicate than under-communicate in general. If you’re not sure, ask. If you want to make sure, reach out. Don’t assume, clarify with everyone involved.
5. Ask for Feedback. Most focus on the prep and live event, but what about the follow up? I find it extremely helpful to ask for feedback post-event. You may not like it, but it will make you better. Welcome 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?
First, why do you want do to the event? What do you hope to accomplish? Next, who do you need to recruit to help you in areas you’re not familiar with or are shorthanded with? Lastly, put a future date and time to your event. What gets done gets measured. Ideas are overrated. It’s the outcome that people remember.
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 think critical thinking has become an endangered species. The cancel culture tends to push a narrative and if you don’t fall in line with that type of thinking you’re a conspiracy theorist. We need to get back to having discussions where we can agree to disagree. I’d love to see a forum where people can meet in person, have moderators if things get too heated or personal and encourage sharing of ideas freely.
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.
Lately I’ve noticed the best leaders are outspoken regardless of the backlash. Two leaders I really respect for their knowledge and wisdom are Jack Hibbs and J.D. Farag.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.