15 Lessons Learned from Converting a Multi-Day Conference to a Virtual Online Event

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Mon, Apr 06, 2020 @ 10:04 AM


What a month it's been!  Not only how the Covid-19 virus has changed our lives and sent us to work from home, but how we are conducting our businesses from home.  Green screens, virtual backgrounds, video calls and meetings, team chats, video team huddles, a blur between days, working hours and relaxing hours, and more.  In today's article I'm going off topic so that I can share how we converted Objective Management Group's (OMG) 4-day Boston International Sales Experts Conference for OMG Partners, to a 3-Day Virtual Event on short notice, as well as the lessons learned so that you might be able to accomplish the same things that we did.

  1. It's a Broadcast, not a webinar.  People have preconceived notions about webinars and you don't want them thinking for even a second that this will be a boring, one-to-many presentation of a slide deck.  Why?  It.Can't.Be.That.
  2. It's more like a Television News Channel with shows scheduled every hour - some that are opinion shows, some with guests and some with panels.  All of the presenters from OMG's team had consistent, branded, virtual backgrounds with green screens to give the broadcast a professional appearance.
  3. You'll need a team of "Engineers."  You won't be able to do this yourself!  For our event there were at least four of us at all times monitoring chat and Q&A, announcing questions to the presenters, monitoring hand-raising, and promoting attendees to panelists to get them on camera
  4. Platform - we chose Zoom Webinar.  That allowed us to have 2 hosts and unlimited panelists, branding, but more importantly, pre-registration and approval of those registrations, microphones and cameras off by default, and the high-quality play of videos embedded in our slide decks.
  5. Balance - we made sure that we stopped sharing slides the moment the presenter was going to discuss any topic so that no one slide stayed on screen and became the focal point and the speaker/presenter became the focal point.
  6. Slides - speaking of slides, this event required more slides, not fewer.  As a matter of fact, when all was said and done, this is what we included.

  7. Panelists - There was one particular session that I found most difficult to convert to virtual.  In this session, I planned to distribute a handout consisting of an 80-page slide deck, break the attendees into groups of five, have them work as teams and have team answer one of seventeen questions.  Instead, I posted the deck on Bloomfire (our knowledge base/content sharing platform) ahead of time, asked for 17 volunteers and shared the 17-question assignment.  As people volunteered, I assigned them to one of the questions, and asked them to email their work and one-minute presentation to me for review and approval.  Then, five minutes before that session, they were each promoted to panelists and as their turn approached, we were able to seamlessly turn cameras and microphones on and off to have them appear on screen as the presentation progressed.  It was just like a news show!
  8. Video - We included 22 movie clips to break things up, keep things light, and keep attendees entertained.  You can't hope to keep people engaged for 8-9 hours per day if you don't break it up.  We included everything from an interview of Kobe Bryant to a scene from Forrest Gump to a youtube video called Stay the F**K at Home.  And all 22 videos were in the context of the topic we were discussing at the time.
  9. Attendance - There were 135 OMG partners/associates registered to attend our event in Boston but with no conflicts, travel  requirements or costs to attend, 250 registered to attend the virtual event and we consistently had around 200 people in attendance through the two nine-hour days.  Attendees were from the US, Canada, Mexico, Jamaica, The Netherlands, Sweden, Finland, Denmark The UK, Ireland, France, Germany, Poland, Hungary, Romania, Lebanon, Morocco, South Africa, India, Australia, New Zealand, Brazil (and the countries I forgot to include).
  10. Awards Banquet - We weren't able to host our annual two-hour awards banquet but we did have an awards presentation that consisted of a 50-slide deck that honored each of the 42 award winners in less than 5 minutes.
  11. Polls, Q&A's and Chat - At a live conference you'll ask people to raise their hands, you'll get feedback on what you introduced, and they'll have lots of questions.  We pre-built poll questions that we could open and share at pre-determined times in the virtual conference to get the feedback that we wanted.  Starting with the 5-minute intro video on the first day, the chat never subsided as attendees were sharing their thoughts, insights and takeaways for two straight days.  We had two people monitoring chat to pull out and share the golden nuggets that passed by.  And one person monitored the Q&A and came on camera to share the best questions with the presenters.  It was a  great team effort!
  12. Attendee Tutorial - We took five minutes at the beginning of day one to put up some slides on how to use the Zoom controls for the best experience, including, but not limited to:
    1. Changing screen size
    2. Muting and unmuting
    3. Camera on and off
    4. Gallery view versus Speaker view
    5. Side-by-Side mode
    6. How to contribute using chat
    7. How to ask a question using Q&A
    8. How to separate the chat and Q&A from the Zoom window
    9. How to raise their hand
    10. And for panelists, how to share their screen
  13. Fluid Schedule/Agenda - At a hotel, you need to stick to the schedule to make sure it coordinates with meals, beverage breaks and the group's need to use rest rooms.  Not so with the virtual event.  If they had to use the bathroom they could go and nobody would be the wiser.  If they got hungry or thirsty they could eat or drink and nobody would know.  We were able to go longer on sessions that required more time and simply change the schedule as we went along.  On both days we skipped presentations and moved them to the end of the day and nobody cared or got upset.
  14. Networking - In the end, this is the only thing that people wanted that we couldn't deliver.  At a normal conference, they mingle and talk before and after presentations, network at meals and some really crave that aspect of a conference.  We offered a virtual happy hour on Saturday after the final presentation but only 20 people showed up.  Oh well.  You can't please everyone all the time.
  15. Results - the overwhelming response seemed to be that considering everything, our virtual event was as good or better than our hotel-based event!  We worked hard to make it that way but there were other factors.  They didn't have to leave home, they could spend evenings with family, it didn't cost them anything to attend, they had comfortable seating, wore comfortable clothing, ate what they wanted, when they wanted and didn't have to be "on" for the sake of others.  A good time was had by all.

And finally, OMG introduced some spectacular new tools, features, and insights that were as well-received as if we had presented them with a stage and an audience.  I'll write more about this in the days and weeks to come.

You can do this too!

Topics: Dave Kurlan, Sales Force, omg, conference, keynote speaker, sales assessments, virtual

The 10 Keys to Effective Group Sales Presentations

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Mon, Jun 09, 2014 @ 06:06 AM

keynote speakerWhen you speak at as many events as I have over the past 3 decades, you come to expect certain things.  As you consider each of the following scenarios, try to make a comparison as to how it might compare with the sales calls and presentations you make to groups:

Scenario 1: When I am the keynote speaker at an event, people have much higher expectations of me as a speaker, the entertainment factor, and the potential take-aways from my topic.  It's my job to exceed those expectations.  Compare this scenario to a customer or client whose business you already have, but it's yours to lose...

Scenario 2: When I am one of many speakers at a conference without breakout sessions, I know that people are not there to hear me per se, may have little interest in my topic, and might skip or, if they attend, tune out.  Compare this scenario to presentation day; you are one of many salespeople who will be paraded in and out of a conference room to present to a group of influencers and decision makers - some of whom couldn't care any less about you...

Scenario 3When I am leading a breakout session, the people in that audience are there specifically to hear me and/or learn more about my topic.  I must first listen to them, let them share what's on their mind, and assure that they get what they came for.  Compare this to a sales call where you have a champion who brought you in, talked highly of you to everyone in the meeting, and you are favored to get the business...


Scenario 4When I speak to a group who is old school (an industry that is slow to change or a demographic who missed the opportunities to change), I know I'll get a lot of pushback because it's not the way they do things in their world.  Compare this to the sales presentation where the group assembled is currently doing business with someone else and, despite your presence, is reluctant to change...

Do you know what the common denominator is in all four of these scenarios?

Hint: It's not you or me.

Answer: It's your ability to do the following 10 things effectively:

  1. Get their attention.
  2. Develop some rapport.
  3. Ask questions.
  4. Listen. 
  5. Connect.  Watch this 1-minute video that explains the listen-connect concept.

  6. Challenge their thinking.
  7. Help them believe in you and your ideas.
  8. Get them to agree with an idea, initiative or concept.
  9. Get them to agree on a next step.
  10. Get them to commit to something.

The only difference between speaking to dozens, hundreds or thousands, and presenting to groups on a sales call, are the number of believers.  It's our job to find a way to get as many people as possible to believe in us, our ideas, our capabilities, our value and the impact we can have on them and their business.

Image Copyright: flynt / 123RF Stock Photo

Topics: Dave Kurlan, speaking, conference speaker, sales presentations, keynote speaker

Is the Concept of Sales Process Really Antiquated?

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Mon, Dec 16, 2013 @ 13:12 PM

antiquatedWe read about yet more school shootings, abductions, madmen dictators' plans to rule the world, and any of the other recurring events that must be the work of pure evil.   Do you get to the point where you say to yourself, "The world is going crazy!"?  I do.  I also think the sales world is going a bit crazy too.  

For me, it began two months ago when I posted, Now That You Have a Sales Process, Never Mind, in rebuttal to a stupid article about sales process being the cause of long sales cycles and low closing ratios.

Then, in response to those who are proponents of demo-based selling, I posted, We're Back to AIDA and You Should be Scared.  The controversy continues to escalate, especially in some private LinkedIn groups, where comments are on the rise to Why Win Rates are at an All-Time Low and What is the Most Difficult Part of the Sales Process?.

To make a long story short, there are QUITE A FEW people in sales, sales management, sales leadership, and even sales consulting who believe sales process is the problem.  I would like to put a stop to that nonsense once and for all.

When I read claims that sales process is responsible for lost sales, many of the claims are actually examples of bad scripting rather than bad sales process.  Sales Process is milestone-centric, while manipulative tactics, negative outcomes and strong pressure tend to be script-centric.

There are some people who still fail to comprehend what a modern, effective, relevant, optimized sales process looks like.  Most people equate sales process with a bunch of scripted steps, and in companies where there is a sales process, it tends to fit that antiquated definition.  Continued...


Join Top Sales World CEO, Jonathan Farrington, and Selling Power CEO, Gerhard Gschwandtner, for the Top Sales & Marketing Awards Ceremony and learn who won the awards for 2013 Top Sales & Marketing Experts of the Year in 16 categories!  Tuesday, December 18 at 1PM ET.  Register here.


A properly designed, staged, optimized process is all about the customer-centric conversation.  This sales process also includes a sequence of milestones that build upon themselves.  Sales processes that fail to provide consistent, desirable results in these modern times are typically built around qualifying questions rather than a consultative, customer-centric conversation. 

Many proponents of anti-sales process movement use their own, personal results as support for their position.  However, one of two scenarios are usually in play:

  1. They are successful without a process, but they have intangibles that can't be duplicated, taught or transferred.  What's working for them, won't work for anyone else.
  2. Their concept of successful is flawed.  They are more successful than their peers (who are also working without a process) in that when compared to the general sales population and, more specifically, the elite 6% or top 26%, they compare very unfavorably.

You'll know whether or not you have an effective, optimized sales process if it consistently yields predictable results, is duplicable, repeatable and transferable, works in multiple industries and verticals, and variations of it prove effective even among different sales roles. 

It's really not sales process itself that is antiquated; it's most people's perception of sales process that is antiquated.

Topics: Dave Kurlan, sales process, sales cycle, lost sales, top sales award winner, keynote speaker

10 Tips for Great Keynotes and Better Sales Presentations

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Tue, Dec 10, 2013 @ 09:12 AM

PresentationRecently I was searching Google for a Keynote Speaker for Objective Management Group's (OMG) upcoming International Conference in April.  In addition to the many speaker bureaus listed, I also read through a number of articles where the authors shared their secrets to great talks.  While a few were pretty good, most weren't, and the secrets were certainly not very well kept.  I thought I would share some tips that you could incorporate into your group sales presentations, lunch and learns, conference talks and appearances to make them more effective.

  1. Slice It Up - Every presentation should have three sections - an attention-grabbing opening, a memorable ending, and the middle, where you make the points you want to make.  Example of the middle.
  2. Bring the Database - When possible, back up your findings with data and science.  Example
  3. A Picture is Worth All Your Words - I rarely include bullet points on my slides.  Just pictures.  Warning: My approach is not very useful if you need others to present your slide deck, but the "pictures only" approach helps to hold people's attention.  Black/blank slides are good too, when you want them paying attention to only you.
  4. Bring the Popcorn - Before technology cooperated, I told stories for my opening and closings, but these days I show compelling and relevent short clips from popular movies and tv shows.
  5. It's All about Them - It's tempting to be the center of attention, but the reality is that if you want to be a top speaker or presenter, it's all about your audience and how well you connect with them.  Example
  6. Get it Backward - Most presenters end with Q & A, but I believe that makes for a momentum breaker.  I like to talk for 5-10 minutes about my topics and then get the audience involved to learn what's on their mind, what they would like to hear, and focus the rest of my talk to what's important to them.  Example
  7. Know Your Role - They need you to be humorous, especially at your own expense.  Your humility should be in direct disproportion to the success you've achieved.  They need you to be entertaining, dynamic and animated.  If that's not you, then get some coaching or you'll suck at being a great speaker/presenter.  Vintage example
  8. Expertise is a Subtlety - Don't tell your audience how much you know.  Demonstrate expertise through the questions that you ask of the questioning audience members.  Explain your answers in the context of their world, not yours.  Help them figure out what they should do, instead of telling them what you would do.
  9. Curious Challenges - If you don't challenge their thinking or get them to think about something in a different or new way, you've wasted their time and an opportunity for you to differentiate yourself from everyone else.  Do so with questions, more than with answers.  Example
  10. Timing - Be a closer and end on time!  There's nothing worse than a speaker or presenter who continues beyond the end time.
I invite speakers and presenters, with tips of their own, to add them in the comments section.  All concise tips are welcome!

Topics: Dave Kurlan, sales, sales management, event speaker, motivational speaker, memorable event, keynote speaker, guest speaker

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Best-Selling Author, Keynote Speaker and Sales Thought Leader,  Dave Kurlan's Understanding the Sales Force Blog earned awards for the Top Sales & Marketing Blog for eleven consecutive years and of the more than 2,000 articles Dave has published, many of the articles have also earned awards.

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