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With the pandemic forcing many businesses to shut down in-person conferences and events, companies have turned to a different avenue: virtual meetings. But tapping into technology requires a different approach than in-person event-planning if you want good engagement from your virtual attendees.
Vasil Arazov of Growth Blazers is a growth marketing and startup event entrepreneur, who has produced over 500 in-person and virtual events, as well as built a 90K+ network of tech entrepreneurs and marketers. Formerly, he was also the founder of the Growth Marketing Conference, one of the leading growth marketing events in the industry. Now he is building Growth Blazers, a community for modern marketers.
In our latest episode of The Long Game, Vasil shares his expertise on building a quality event experience, transitioning from in-person to digital, and how to build an online community that lasts.
- Take advantage of unexpected opportunities
- Focus on your agenda
- Get to know your community
- Offer interaction to prevent webinar fatigue
- Encourage conversation within the community
Check out Growth Blazers
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10:08 – Build a strong foundation
When you set out to plan an event, don’t focus on marketing to your potential audience or securing a high-profile speaker. Build your foundation first, then fill in with the details.
“The right way to plan events is not to pay $50,000 for a keynote speaker like Richard Branson or whoever would it be in the entrepreneurship world, and then think that magic will happen and people will just attend the event. It really starts from building the foundations, or the analogy of thinking of it as a story, just think about the script. So who is going to be your reader? Who is going to be your attendees? Who are the stakeholders of the events: speakers, your partners, your sponsors, your attendees? You can think of it as a product. You can think of it as a movie. And before you pick the actors, before you figure out where you’re going to shoot the movie, you have to think: who is this movie for? And what is the core? Why are you doing this? The same thing for the event. The first question is: why are you doing this event in the first place? What are your business goals? What is something that you stand for as an event producer? So when you have those questions answered, then the rest is almost like building the script.”
20:30 – Take advantage of unexpected opportunities
You can’t just recreate in-person events online. Instead, use virtual options to your advantage so you can reach a wider, at-home audience.
“Everyone was trying to say that, ‘Okay, what we’re doing, we’re just recreating the same experience that you would get in-person in a virtual event.’ It’s just impossible. You cannot do that. But that being said, there are definitely some benefits of the virtual events that in-person events would never have as well. I’m seeing that virtual events will never go away. They’re here to stay, but again, going back to that idea of writing your own script for the movie, for the product, for the community that you’re building, just understanding what are you building exactly? You can utilize virtual and in-person, maybe even a hybrid component, by providing value to your community, to your audience in different environments. For us, for example, what we realized, now people would show up to a webinar, they would show up to a virtual event if they find the content super relevant to them, and they have the speaker who they really want to catch for the Q & A, or for the interactive interview, something along those lines, that would happen more likely than people would travel for a conference.”
24:14 – Focus on your agenda
Your agenda takes the most time to design, so focus on that before diving into the details. Make sure you plan your content in a way that’s convenient for the audience to consume.
“If you would ask me what took the most time overall, it’s really planning and designing the agenda, which might seem counterintuitive because logistics of course takes a lot of time, and maybe my event manager would disagree with me, but I think it’s really understanding why people are showing up live for these events. And in our case it’s content, 100%. And designing this in a way that is convenient for the audience to consume. What we did, for example, going back to learning, something that we haven’t done in the previous virtual events. So now we grouped all of the content in the segments of a two-hour, very relevant, focused content, for example, B2B focused on specific industries, or we have a product-led growth segment, or we have thought leadership keynote, building your growth team, career growth, interviews with senior marketers and CMOs. So we would encourage attendees to bookmark their calendars for these segments, because let’s face it, nobody will stay for the virtual conference for the entire day.”
26:01 – Get to know your community
If you know your community well, you can cater to their wants and needs better and help people connect with one another.
“As much as you can, get to know your members. Not just by the company size, all of this, like where they leave. But if you have information about their specific challenges, you can get them into small groups and you can send recommendations to watch a specific session, almost like a watch party with a group of attendees who face a similar challenge. This is actually the best way to build the community down the road, because if people were able to connect over experience, then they would want to continue that conversation in small groups or something along those lines. We took a first stab at it. We didn’t do a good job, we did an okay job on it. So it’s something that we’ll be improving on, but this was one of the biggest lessons, that we got some positive feedback just by trying to do that.”
28:10 – Offer interaction to prevent webinar fatigue
Webinar fatigue is a reality, but with new technology it’s easier than ever to change things up and give people a different experience.
“I want to quickly comment on the webinar fatigue, and that webinars are dead in general. I think the fact that what COVID enabled us with is the new technology. We have so many new players that came into the space, including Zoom, even though Zoom started before that. But really now, you can turn your webinar into interactive Q & A with attendees by, for example, limiting attendance to 50 people, and then after the interview is done, you can break everyone down into groups of five so they can discuss key takeaways. So this format wasn’t at least popular, maybe it was possible before, but there are so many technology solutions that now emerged that help us make these webinars more interactive.”
31:17 – Encourage conversation within the community
Quality conversation promotes an active community, so engage with your people however you can, whether that’s a newsletter, a Slack channel, or a social media page.
“You don’t really need necessarily to have that space or platform to have a community. You can have a newsletter, and if it’s really engaging, it might seem like it’s a one-way communication, but community is about a sense of belonging and also about utility in a way. And it’s about your community members helping each other. And it doesn’t necessarily have to be shown and displayed, put on for public display. So I would say that the value of community doesn’t have to be measured by the number of Slack messages or engagement on Slack, because different communities will interact differently. What’s the most important part is the cadence and the depth of all of these conversations. So, I agree. Some people are challenged. I’m a part of tons of Slack groups. We created our own Slack group and we eventually shut it down because the engagement died after the conference. The most active communities are where the right people are added to that community at the right time with a purpose, and there is also enough critical mass for them to engage.”
38:42 – People are your product
Growth marketing practitioners don’t sell a product or a software. It’s their experiences that make them a valuable commodity at events.
“If you have to interview someone who’s an expert, you actually challenge yourself to dive deeper in the subject matter and prepare for it. So that’s why I slowly started to do that. But to answer your question, maybe because people would agree to speak at all of these events because there is no one strong, big brand behind it in a way, like a strong personality maybe. But rather than trying to enable all of these speakers, very often competitors have those who have different points of view, but what unites them all is the fact that they are growth marketing practitioners, all sharing the stage. And also the fact that there is no other product for our community. There is no software product. We’re not a customer conference, besides the product is actually a conference and the community.”
42:27 – Find your core objectives
When planning an event, first figure out your core objectives. Once you know the fundamentals of your event, you can reverse engineer the timeline on how you’re going to get there.
“So my number one advice would be again to understand why. Why are you doing this? What are your core objectives? And it’s okay if you are generating revenue from it, do you want to just throw one event and make money, which is absolutely possible. Or if you’re thinking about it as an event series and then have a long-term play for the event transitioning into the community. So my number one advice is to clearly understand what are your goals, and the way I would do it. Okay, I’m building this event to, let’s say, connect and empower content marketers, for example, and we are planning to organize this event six months from now. You need to have a date. And we want to get 300 people in-person in Boston. So when you already have this clear understanding, ‘Okay, why are you doing this?’ ‘When is the event?’ ‘How many people?’ Then you reverse engineer the timeline on how you’re going to get there.”
43:48 – Make your event unique
Decide how your event will stand out from the competition. Don’t get distracted by potential speakers or sponsors before you figure out what your event is really about.
“I would ask the question, how this event would be different from all other events that cater to the same audience. Experience is really important for the in-person event. And when you nail down that unique value proposition, what is the event all about? Who is it for? Only then should you start thinking about everything else like speakers, sponsors, marketing website. All of this is secondary, which I see that beginner event organizers tend to start with that. Like, ‘Oh, somebody wants to sponsor this event. Why don’t we do events because they want to sponsor?’, or, ‘I just met that great speaker who agreed to speak. Why don’t we invite him and build the event around it?’ So this is the wrong way to start thinking about it. Or ‘Let me blast my email list about the event when I don’t even have a concept of what I’m going to put together.’”
53:52 – Don’t be afraid to take a break
You can’t always push through challenges. Sometimes, after you try your best, you need to sit back and trust that the work you’ve put in will come to fruition.
“In my early years as an entrepreneur, I was always very impatient and trying to push through challenges. And when something didn’t work, I would just try harder and harder and harder. And the most impactful advice was actually from a founder of the first events company where I learned the ropes and learned about the events. Sometimes you have to push, push, push, and then just wait and take a break and recharge. And all of that energy that you spent pushing that boulder up the hill, that energy is there. So you just have to recharge your battery and wait. And a lot of these initiatives that we start, you can see the results much later in the game, but you cannot be pushing all the time. So I keep reminding myself, especially every single time something doesn’t go the way I want to, even though we are crystal clear on the goals, but something is not working. But as long as you’re doing your best and put energy towards it, at some point, you just take a back seat, relax and trust that the work that you’ve done will pay off eventually.”
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