21 secrets to guarantee a kick-ass virtual intensive
A few weeks ago, my team and I were invited to teach the faculty of a world-renowned university, for entrepreneurs, how to create powerful virtual events.
In a moment, I’ll tell you just what we taught them—the specific tools and ideas that we utilized over the past eight months, as we transitioned from live Intensives to virtual ones.
But first, let me tell you about this meeting because there are important insights around coaching, leadership and imposter syndrome to draw out…
You see, if I’m honest, I felt pretty intimidated talking to the well-known leader of this university and his senior team. But over the years I’ve learned an important—and counterintuitive—distinction around imposter syndrome.
Stop trying to get rid of Imposter Syndrome. Get good at it.
In fact, if you don’t feel like an imposter, you’re not playing big enough…
We got on the Zoom call, the CEO thanked us for being there and immediately asked us to share our insights.
It’s been almost 20 years since I first trained as a coach, so a coaching approach is deep in my bones.
The moment this leader tried to jump into gathering information—“Tell us everything you know…”—my internal red alert came on.
“I can do that easily,” I replied. “But let me ask you a couple of questions first. You see, without that, I’ll be telling you what we know. And what’s far more important is that I first discover what you want—and need—to know…”
He agreed and I asked him a future pacing question, “Imagine the event is now over and it has turned out to be the best event you’ve ever run… Tell me what made it so great…”
After he answered, I followed up with, “Now imagine the opposite. It was an unmitigated disaster! Tell me, how did you make that happen?”
There are only two things you need to know about a potential client—the dream and the fear.
With his answers to my two questions, we had both the dream and the fear on the table.
So now all that was left was to get real…
Finally, I said, “This may feel a bit personal but I have a background coaching high-level leaders, just like you. And I’ll be honest, you look exhausted…”
And that’s when the truth came tumbling out. He was worn out from working so hard. And was a little afraid about all the money on the line, if they couldn’t pull this off.
“Thanks for sharing so openly,” I replied, “That helps me and Wendy give you the information you need, not the information we have.”
Wendy is our CMEO. That’s not a typo. I hate boring job titles. I like ones that describe what someone actually does. And I love titles that are fun to own. Wendy is our Curator of Magical Experiences!
The moment I heard the fear in the room that the university could lose hundreds of thousands of dollars from commitments to hotels for their live event, I knew that I needed to let Wendy speak before me.
You see, we too, had thousands of dollars committed—and even already paid—to hotels for our upcoming events. And Wendy had been masterful at re-negotiating with them, after lockdown had begun.
Once Wendy had shared her insights, you could feel the hidden tension in the room begin to ease.
And then from that place, we were able to teach them what they really needed to know.
How to create world-class virtual Intensives
We’ve built a reputation for running world-class live Intensives, for over a decade. Here’s how we’ve taken all that wisdom and shifted into creating kick-ass virtual experiences:
1. Offer bite-size teaching sessions. You can teach for 8 hours a day, at a live event but 90 minutes max on a Zoom call. Get creative. Offer 23 minute, 17 minute or 42 minute sessions. No one said that everything needs to fit neatly into 60 or 90 minute segments.
2. Spread out your teaching. Instead of a 3 day in-person event, offer a 1-3 week experience. You don’t even need to teach every day. People love the breaks, for insights and learning to truly sink in. They love the breaks because in between they can handle day-to-day realities like childcare or business.
3. Teach for insight, not agreement. Without guidance, most of your participants will be listening for agreement (I like that… I don’t like that…) There’s actually little value listening that way as it simply reinforces the way you already see the world.
Invite your audience to listen for insight, instead. Invite them to listen carefully for the one idea that will change everything. Invite them to listen for ideas they disagree with and ask, “But what if it was true?”
4. Connection tops information. You know where people have the most fun at live events? In the lobby! You know why? Because we’re humans and we love connection. I speak as an introvert. I’m not less interested in connection than my extrovert friends, I’m just interested in deeper connection with fewer people.
Our virtual events have something we call Connection Corner, led by two members of my 4PC community. It’s an optional session before every teaching session, where you can come along just to connect. Sometimes they’ll lead a discussion, sometimes they’ll schedule breakout sessions so you can get to know 1-3 participants in a deeper way. And sometimes they’ll play games or lead a dance party. Everyone connects differently.
5. Teach people how to connect. At every event you ever attend, there’s a person who is going to change your life… Maybe there’s your future business partner, maybe there’s someone who will ask you a life-changing question, or maybe there’s your future husband or wife! But you need to be open to this possibility for it to occur.
(By the way, this isn’t a wild theory… I met my wife at a workshop, I met my co-author at a coaching event and I met my business partner at a conference.)
In my experience, the most interesting person is often someone who really irritates me, the first time I see them… It’s the way they dress, the way they talk or just their energy. They bug me, they remind me of an old boss I hated, or they’re just plain weird!
So, at every event I run, I tell people to go find their weirdo!
Seriously, teach your participants to reach out to people on the Zoom chat or the Intensive app (see #13 below) to say hi or to ask a question or to get to know someone better. It might just change their life
6. Don’t teach the way that you learn. Teach the way that others learn. Everyone learns differently. There are visual learners, audio learners and kinesthetic learners. Some people need to see pictures and images to help them learn best. Some prefer to listen. And others need to move their bodies to learn. Some like detailed information and others prefer outlines and summaries.
Some people are high in interpersonal intelligence—they listen beneath your words to understand your intentions, motivations and desires. Some people are high in intrapersonal intelligence—they listen to understand their own desires, fears, motivations and intentions.
Mix up your teaching styles. Use images, video, songs, poems, dance and movement. On a Zoom call, try not to ever let anyone sit for more than 25 minutes without some kind of movement break.
7. Never be the most exhausted person in the room! Constantly ask questions. Use the Zoom chat feature. Use the Zoom poll feature. Ask the participants to constantly share their insights in the chat. Put them into breakout rooms to answer questions together, to coach one another, or to share insights and ideas. We have people write the word QUESTION in caps, if they have a question for me and the word INSIGHT in caps, to capture their insights as I’m teaching. I have a live Google doc in front of me as I teach and a couple of members of my team are scanning the Zoom chat for interesting questions and insights that they post for me to see in the moment.
8. Read the room. Pay attention to your audience, just as if you were on stage. Watch people’s body language. Notice when people are still and when they are restless. Keep an eye on the chat—not to see what people are writing—it’s a clue to the energy in the room. Get the biggest monitor you can, to display as many people’s faces, as large as possible.
9. Teach the way that surgeons are trained. Watch it… Do it… Teach it… Have the participants watch you. Then have them model or practice the skills you’ve taught between sessions. And then have them teach these skills to a colleague or friend. It’s a paradox but the best way to learn something is to teach it.
10. Give assignments and challenges. With at least 24 hours between sessions there’s a great opportunity for people to do things between teaching sessions to reinforce their learning. So challenge the heck out of them. They’ll love it! And it makes the learning real.
11. Create time for reflection—in community. Some people love to learn alone. But reflection with others is a great way to capture insights. At our Intensives we have Connection Corner before every teaching session—we also have Reflection Corner at the end of each session. If Connection Corner is like hanging out in the lobby, Reflection Corner replicates hanging out in a coffee shop, or the bar, at the end of the day.
12. Diversity rules. Make sure your facilitators and your leaders for Connection Corner and Reflection Corner represent real diversity—from experience, to gender, to ethnic background and even seek a diverse sense of humor and energy.
13. Make use of tech to create and deepen connection. We use an event app to create connections between participants (there are plenty of ready-made ones you can purchase). We post interesting questions in the app. We post resources, books, quotes, etc. from the teaching sessions. We even give fun challenges, like posting a fun or embarrassing photo of yourself as a kid—it’s all about deepening connection.
14. Get to know people before you begin. Create a questionnaire for every participant to fill, in at least two weeks before the program begins. Ask the most interesting coaching questions you know. Make sure that every interaction with you is transformational, even if you are not in the room. You could use their answers to filter them into specific groups.
15. Create intimacy. Whatever size your event is, find a way to regularly split people into smaller groups—from as small as 2 to as big as 10. Create groups randomly or experiment with putting the most fascinating participants into groups together. Make sure the groups with the most fascinating people in the room are led by the most fascinating people you know!
16. Service is the best seat in the house. Invite your favorite clients or the leaders of your community to lead your small groups. It’s a gift to the participants and an incredible experience for the leaders. When you show up in service of others, you always receive 10X more in return.
17. Create a Source Team. We call our team the Source Team because they are literally sourcing the energy of every single participant. Our team meets for months prior to an Intensive. They set personal intentions for how they will grow as a result of this role.
We don’t have a bunch of inexperienced people to support us. In fact, the entrance requirement for our 4PC Source Team is that you could be a member of 4PC. In a previous career, one of our Source Team members was the right-hand person to a family of billionaires. Another was a special forces operative.
For years, I used to say with a smile that being on our Source Team was a $10,000 leadership training. One day my team said to me, you’re right! And now we charge thousands of dollars for the leadership experience and insider knowledge you’ll gain, when you join our Source Team.
18. Have one person who’s entire attention is on you. When you run an event—live or virtual—you’ll spend hours, or even days, in service of others. Make sure that one person is in service of you alone. If they can’t come to your home to set things up, make sure that they have you taken care of, in advance. Healthy snacks have been ordered. Meals have been ordered. Maybe even massages have been booked. It takes an incredible amount of energy to hold space for the transformation of ten people, let alone a couple of hundred. So, before the Intensive begins, make sure that you will be taken care of.
19. Pay people to do nothing. Have one or two of the best people on your team whose job is to watch everything from a 30,000 foot view. It will be the hardest thing they’ve ever done! But from that viewpoint they’ll see things that no one else can see. They won’t be pulled into handling minor problems, so they’ll spot major ones before anyone else does. And they won’t be able to lead, which will free other team members to take on leadership roles.
20. Create cocktail hour. Invite your VIPs to virtual cocktails with you. Create a special experience for the most fascinating people in the room, in really intimate groups, led by you.
Send them special invitations (that feel more classy than an email). Paperless Post is one way to do this.
Then give them such a powerful experience of working with you at a high-level, that becoming a client is simply a matter of when, not if. And you never have to sell them anything.
21. Advocate marketing.
- Get introduced. Ask someone to introduce you, at the beginning of your Intensive, by speaking of your impact on them. (When you are running your own event, no one needs to hear about your qualifications or your backstory in an introduction.)
- Turn your clients into superheros. Run what we call Brilliance Sessions—where your clients can teach the best of their wisdom to your community.
- Create an Ask Us Anything session, run by your top clients. It showcases them, it lets people ask real questions and—most importantly—your dream clients love to talk about your impact on them. They’ll do all the marketing you ever need!
And that’s it. Oh, wait…
I know I said I’d share 21 ideas but I recommend you always keep something back as a surprise for your participants, that they weren’t expecting!
So, here’s my final tip. Invest in the best audio, video and lighting equipment you can afford. You see, you’re no longer a coach. You’re what they call in Hollywood, “talent.” Your job is to educate and to entertain. Pay to install an ethernet cable (it will always top the best wifi). And make sure you have a professional looking background behind you.
Ok. Your turn. Tell me the best idea you’ve seen, experienced or used, during a Virtual Intensive.
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