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Press This Podcast: Hosting Virtual Events with WordPress Virtual Event Organizer Jan Koch

Welcome to Press This, the WordPress community podcast from WMR. Here host David Vogelpohl sits down with guests from around the community to talk about the biggest issues facing WordPress developers. The following is a transcription of the original recording.

David Vogelpohl: Hello everyone and welcome to Press This the WordPress community podcasts on WMR. This is your host, David Vogel Paul, I support the WordPress community through my role at WP Engine, and I love to bring the best of the community to you hear every week on press this as a reminder, you can find me on Twitter @wpdavidv, or you can subscribe to press this on iTunes, iHeartRadio, Spotify, or download the latest episodes at wmr.fm. In this episode we’re going to be talking about hosting awesome virtual events. That’s a popular topic these days. And joining us for that conversation is mega WordPress virtual event organizer. Mr. Jan Koch. Welcome to Press This.

Jan Koch: thank you so much for having me, David.

DV: So glad to have you here. I’ve gotten to know you personally and the community over these last few months. Maybe you’re not even, but really was looking forward to having you here today. So for those listening what Jon’s gonna be talking about today, it really he’s been doing this for a very long time organizing WordPress virtual events. He’s with virtual summit mastery, which we’re talking about here a little bit. It really hits me in organizing these events since 2015 a year over 10,000 attendees together from over 110 countries. And so he didn’t just figure out the virtual events for the lockdown like most of us have. It’s actually been doing this since before he was locked down. So really looking forward to hearing his story here today. gonna kick us off the first question I asked every guest, which I’ll also ask you is briefly tell me your WordPress origin story?

JK: Yeah, absolutely. It didn’t start with virtual events. I say so much. I was working as a business consultant. And in 2013, I remember in 2013, I had the first contact with WordPress, building a website for my employer back then, To cut a long story short, I decided to start a master’s degree in IT security quit that after six months, because it wasn’t the best fit for me. And I decided to become self employed by building WordPress websites, because by then, that is, end of 2013. I already fallen off with what WordPress can do. And since I have a little bit of a coding background, I knew how to work my way around WordPress, let’s say and started building websites for local companies right here.

DV: And that’s cool. So your first exposure was building it for an employer. Then in 2013, after having some time with it, you really kind of started doing it full time and like a freelance and agency type capacity working for other businesses. That was I guess, three years after custom post types and custom meta fields. So that would have been when WordPress had matured quite a bit into a CMS. That was an exciting time to be around. Yeah. I mentioned earlier that you’re with virtual summit mastery. You tell us what that is all about.

JK: Absolutely. And that is something that I’m super excited about. Because literally just a week before we are recording this, this deal got got settled that I can take over which was summon mastery, and it is one of the leading coaching programs for virtual events. That was originally run by my good friend Naveed molasses. He founded that in 2014. And he and I were good friends from the very beginning, we started our companies in the same mastermind group and he coached me for the first virtual events that I was running as part of his pilot program. And now he wants to move away from just coaching and wants to shift his business model and the reason he asked me to take over the brand, because he saw what I’ve been doing individual assignments based over the past years. And we figured out a pretty good deal on which I can continue evolving this program to really reflect what has been happening over the past year with the pandemic and all the software tools and stuff that came up.

DV: I like it the student has become the master. So you kind of started there with him coaching you and now you know you You’re now kind of taking over and leading that coaching. So So again, very appropriate for the topic at hand here. You know, because I know a lot of people are going to be tuned in to listen, think about their own strategy. I mean, I know at least for us in WP Engine we’d had our first virtual then about two months ironically before the lockdowns again. So we had like some practice outside of things like webinars. You And it was it was a crash course for sure. Even though we had just had a little bit of practice, I think getting some some insights is definitely something folks are interested in here. So I guess my next question is, why did you get into virtual events? And you talked about the fact that you were building sites for others. And he kind of got involved a little bit with the gentleman, originally, virtual summit mastery. And then, like, why did you first get involved in that? What kind of events? Have you written since 2015? Kind of leading up to this takeover virtual summit mastery?

JK: That that is a really good question. And the answer really, is that if I’m brutally honest with here, I, you know, sometimes hurts to admit when you didn’t do the best you could, and the business wasn’t doing so well, and stuff like that. I hit a plateau before I ran my first event. So I felt that my freelance business was stuck at a certain point, and I was having a hard time escaping the roller coaster, if you will, like most agency owners just know too well, when you have these feast and famine cycles. I was tired of those really. And by then beat was already running his first summit. And he brought on 88 speakers for his first event, which was insane to just begin with. And I saw how well he was doing with that. So my next best move was to ask him to coach me how to run a summit tailor to WordPress professionals, if you will. So that is where the WP summit in 2015 originated. And since then, I’ve just been focusing on running virtual events in the WordPress space. Eventually, that WP summit turned into the WP agency summit. Because that’s more of the target market that I am familiar with. Like I’m running an agency and most of my friends run an agency, we log around the same Facebook groups and all that good stuff. So I knew what challenges those agency owners had to face. And I knew the people who had overcome them. And if I didn’t know them, personally, I would be able to get an intro to the most influential speakers in our space. Just as you David, when we did the webinar for the web agency summit last year, that was super interesting. And it is just I think what made me gravitate towards the WordPress community is the supportive nature that you have like, even if we were talking or if I’m talking to my real passion from def rakes, or if I’m talking to Brett who now from delicious brains. Like these guys, they could charge 1000s of dollars an hour to just share what they learned over the past years, because it’s just so valuable what they have to say. But they all agree to jump on for free so that the virtual summits that I’m running, were able to provide free access to all the interviews that I’ve been doing.

DV: Okay, so that’s interesting. So like, you got started, you kind of hit this plateau in your freelance or business, you’re kind of pulling your hair out with the feast or famine, as you mentioned, and I’ve been there done that, myself, I’m very much familiar with that. So you thinking about it at the time is like a vehicle of monetization, like I want to I want to get in a different kind of business or want to expand my business in a different kind of way. And virtual events was was a vehicle for you to do that.

JK: really sorry to cut you off, it was really just a vehicle to make some noise in the space. To be honest, I wasn’t really sure how to monetize them back then. I think I made like, a couple of 1000 like 3000 or something like that. nothing extraordinary. But it put me on the map of some bigger names and some other agency owners that I could then partner up with later on for my agency so that I can bring on a little bit more of the predictable recurring revenue.

DV: Yeah, okay, I got it because that was gonna be my question was like, was it a mechanism for, you know, creating a virtual event that earned revenue itself? Or was it a vehicle to drive growth in your existing business? It sounds like maybe it’s a mix of both but more of a tilt towards driving value in your existing business, which I think is how you know, of course, most people think about virtual events, I think at least on the whole anyways, particularly during the lockdown when obviously these in person events aren’t there yet, because some of them want to kind of pick apart the strategy a little bit though of leveraging events to virtual events, drive growth and an existing business. We’re gonna take a quick break and we’ll be right back.

DV: Hello, everyone. Welcome back to press this WordPress community podcast on w Mr. This is your host, David mobile Paul. I’m interviewing Yana virtual summit mastery about online events. Yawn before the break, you were talking a little bit about how when you first launched WP summit as well subsequently web agency summit It was really about networking in a sense, meaning, you know, how could you meet new and interesting people that might have had insights? Or even direct partnerships with the freelance agency business to help it grow? How do you think about virtual events? in their context? Is it good for that? Is it just a means to collect email addresses that you email later? Like? You think it does, virtual events can result in like a material business outcome other than just building an email?

JK: Yeah, I think they absolutely can. And to be honest, with all the work you have to put into a solid virtual event, as you well know, with the WP Engine event that you ran a couple of months ago, it is a lot of work that goes into hosting organizing these things. So the main takeaways I see from virtual events are obviously growing email is if you decide to make the content available for free, you at least capture the email so that you can then send the links to the specific sessions out to the attendees. And then it is your challenge. And it’s your job essentially, to nurture those relationships to build build relationships with the attendees to earn their trust, and to showcase the thought leadership that you want to demonstrate in the field. But then on the other hand, depending on your model, you can obviously build relationships with the speakers. And you absolutely should, even before you reach out and invite them to be a speaker, I think you should be able to kind of get in front of their eyes and make them at least recognize your name when you’re starting to pitch them to speak. And then and then if you want to bring on sponsors as well, like I usually do, you have to work very closely with those companies to make sure the sponsorship of your vendors who have their money and their time because those companies also invest time and manpower in your event. And so those are these three sources of valuable relationships that you can grow from running a virtual summit.

DV: So it’s not just you know, the size of the audience and some marketing message you email ever put in front of them. But it’s also that conversation and the partnerships for those that might speak at the event. And that certainly rings true for how we think of events and those that participate in our sessions, you know, virtual contacts. That definitely rings true. I guess my next question is maybe a little bit more tactical. So you know, one of the challenges with putting on a live event is getting live speakers to actually be why. And I’ve done a lot of live events into lockdown began some organizations hold on wonderfully. Some do not so wonderfully. But like no matter what, it’s always this like, very stressful situation. So like, like one of the things we’ve considered is like, pre recording more of the sessions, doing more like live QA with the speakers via chat during the session, but like what are your thoughts on that, like should people actually be why does it actually matter as long as they’re available for like, q&a And

JK: I think it’s a good mix that you have to have one more signature summit. So for my events, I do most of the talks pre recorded. And then I asked the speaker to be available when the talks there. I also sprinkle in live webinars and discussions with hosting panels and stuff like that, so that the attendees get to speak to the people on video live. It is, as you mentioned, an organizational challenge, though, because given our global nature, in the WordPress community, or online marketing space, at least, the biggest challenge, I think, is to orchestrate all the different time zones that you have. So in planning your summit, I would say you have to be very, very clear about where most of the attendees likely will come from. And then I would rather cater the life events to those hours when they are available. Maybe the US hours for the WordPress market, for example, I would rather focus on those hours, then hosting live events at 2pm, Eastern German time where it’s like 6am in the morning in the US and nobody can attend because they’re also

DV: it’s interesting, because like on the pre recorded sessions, I found that it’s actually easier with time sets, because the speakers themselves we need, especially for busy people, they don’t have to show up on a certain day at a certain time and really schedule the recording. And so that, you know, I’ve found anyway, since then, I’ve liked the volume of speakers that might be available even to speak here.

JK: Yeah, that’s true. And that’s also another point, what you can do with the pre recorded sessions is you usually would keep them available for like 48 hours of something when the event is live, so that people can watch them at their convenience no matter what timezone your attendees are in, give any

DV: tips for getting like, because like one of the things I’ve experienced in the past is like this recorded sessions actually don’t get you to why even he any tips on like getting this recorded sessions after the event to actually get views or is it just a matter of like promoting it with email and paid traffic or something like that or anything give us like a no real strategy with them.

JK: I wish I had the magic key for this assault. So having good content, I would say it’s a given if you bring bring on a qualified speaker, then that should result in some form of a valuable conversational presentation. You mentioned promotion, which is really important. So what I like to do with my events, I encourage all the speakers to promote their sessions specifically. And I give them like custom graphics and custom swipe copy that they can use for email and Facebook and stuff. And one mistake I see many visual ventos made is rushing the event and not giving the speakers the time they need to promote because if you think about it, when you bring on a list of speakers, like for example, let me bring on Matt Mullenweg, for example, on a virtual summit, not that he would ever join one of mine, but he has a full schedule, and he has his contents good for for when which email has to go out and when the the blog posts have to be published and stuff like that. So as a summit hosts, you have to factor that in. And you have to give your speakers enough time and even the option to add your promotional materials to their marketing schedule, which sometimes when you just want to run an event in two months, that in itself is the killer that results and not enough promotion, and then no real views on the pre recorded sessions.

DV: Yeah, I don’t have time. That definitely sounds like a big mistake. Okay, good. I imagine you’ve seen the other mistakes like what are the other things people are doing wrong, they should.

JK: Another very common mistake I see is not making it enticing for people to see the replays. So what you can do, for example, is in the preparation phase of the summit, when you’re talking to the potential speakers, you encourage them to run some form of giveaway during the session. Even if it’s pre recorded, you could ask them to give away like the lead magnet or one of the cheaper tripwire products that they usually have. And what you then can do is you can announce that giveaway is running during the pre recorded session at a certain time. And what you then do is you ask the attendees to share their most important takeaways from that session in the chat box. So you would usually have a live chat where the speakers present in this situation. And then you are the speaker gets to choose one of the participants to share the feedback and who therefore demonstrated that they’ve seen

DV: yes That’s really interesting. So you’re kind of thinking about it through the lens of like providing incentive to engage, but also to consume the content. And sounds like you can really do that as a mistake, because I guess it’s such a big opportunity that if people forego it, of course, they’re missing out. What about like, what about like facepalm facepalm. You image is like, Oh my goodness, I can’t believe they made that mistake kind of mistake. Things like just like basic stuff, like caption but I’ve,

JK: I’ve done the big one myself in the last summit, and I’m using myself as a guinea pig, I really like to test things out. And before I talk about that, I want to thank you for bringing on accessibility feature. So captions and transcriptions and stuff like that. I think, transcriptions more than captions are really important. These days, captions can get very expensive, depending on how many speakers you have

DV: our guest Muriel will probably advocate heavily for captions.

JK: Yeah, and all the rights to do so. But it’s also it’s a it’s a decision that has to be made by the host on whether it’s monetarily feasible. So for example, with my web agency summit last year, I was paid around $4,000, just for the caption just for the captions, and then I would have to have my VA, double check everything.

DV: The high level that like another mistake is not paying attention to accessibility, or running and getting locked down reacting so quickly enough. And not thinking about that, like, well, how are people going to consume our content? we’re shifting into most of our content in this way. We’re not putting that eye towards accessibility in that content in addition to our web, that we’re really doing a disservice to our audience that probably our obligations even as a company. super interesting. I have some more questions for you. I want to talk about virtual networking. We’re going to take a quick break. We’ll be right back.

DV: Hello everyone welcome back to press this the WordPress community podcasts on WMR. This is your host David Vogelpohl interviewing Jan with virtual summit mastery about hosting virtual events. On right before the break, you’re giving us some examples of mistakes people make planning their virtual events. We’re going to kind of shift gears a little bit I think like at least for me anyways, like the reason I actually get on a plane to go to an event is to talk to people. The contents great I do learn a lot at the event but like just be real. I’m there to talk to people and networking and virtual events. I’ve been to a bunch since since a lockdown started, like some doctor out of a pyre and then similar just like is had a really great time, like VR and networking there and really getting expensive slack. Like how do you think of networking during a virtual event? Like what are the winning strategies people should consider

JK: networking is super important. 100% agree with you there. Um, what I found. What makes most networking area successful is giving attendees different ways to network because thinking back to like physical webcams, for example, there are introverts and extroverts amongst the attendees and I’m definitely nobody who will jump onto a table with eight people and then be the ninth one trying to hijack the con rather sit there for myself, wait, wait for some familiar faces are running around on their own and talk to them. So you have to translate that into the virtual world, if you will. And what I like to do is I like to give the networking areas, call them on the summit, various platforms and techniques to engage with each other. So there is video chats, use, like no consumer jitsi. For example, you can even go as far as some work to do and build VR environments for the networking area, which is insane to see more of that. But then I would highly advocate to also offer written networking. So text based networking opportunities that could be a group chat could be something as simple as like, live chat, where are the networking, or the attendees can network, select group could could be anything really, that forces people to not show themselves on camera that allows people to not show themselves on camera, because I’ve spoken to many attendees of my events, who are either not comfortable in front of the camera, or they don’t even have, like what they consider an appropriate setup to even join the networking area because they see some of the speakers in there. They see some of the people who regularly do video calls and have the appropriate set up. And they don’t want to compare themselves to those people or even be fluent in written or speaking in spoken English. That’s also a big, big concern that some people had when I was talking to them. Like, I don’t feel comfortable joining these conversations because my English isn’t good enough.

DV: Yeah, written communications easier when English is a year if the events in English and this isn’t your first language. You know, thinking about the virtual events, I’ve been thinking about what you just said about having multiple ways to interact. I you know, I’m an Austin local. So unfortunately, I’m going to have to use that as an example. I really loved that. Austin just really knocked out the park and thinking about through what you said they had to be our which was amazing. If you’re interested in do we are now working through that. For k Boston uses a piece of technology called Zola hubs. It’s open source and free. So check it out. But they had the VR experience, which was cool, because you could walk around the event and have group conversations and individual conversations and see people you’d recognize and stop and talk to them. Black Hole slack account or channel set for it with tons of engagement there in the YouTube video chat. And that was I walked out of that camp feeling like I’d gone to a real word camp. I had random conversations, I got to talk to people with a lot of different contexts it was it was a very real feeling. But it really boiled down to that networking component. Yawn. I wish we had more time but we’re kind of reading writing to the end here. This was really, really helpful and valuable to hear your point of view here. And I think coming from a place of having done it for so long and not just reacting to it like pretty much everybody else. I think it was super valuable for you today. Thank you so much for joining.

JK: Thanks for having me, David.

DV: Awesome if you’d like to hear more about what Yon is up to or maybe get your own coaching for virtual events you can visit virtual summit mastery calm like to thank everyone for listening to this WordPress podcast with me. This has been your host David. I support the WordPress community through my role at WP Engine.



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