Managing the risks of virtual events

Australia is currently dealing with its second wave of COVID-19. And event organisers, many of who were hoping to ride things out until we return to normal, are facing the realisation that ’normal’ may be a long way away.   

Of course some have seen the current environment as an opportunity to explore alternatives. According to Eventbrite there has been a 2,000% year on year increase in online events. Yet others have been waiting on the sidelines, hoping it will all blow over. At a C-Suite level, the most common reason to avoid online events is the perception of risk. 

Following is a breakdown of the four key risks of online events and how we help clients overcome them.

The risk of attraction
The risk of attraction is the risk associated with marketing our event and getting people to attend. How can we promote and sell tickets to an event when it doesn’t have a track record? When we don’t have footage or testimonials from last year’s event? Or when deep down we’re not even sure ourselves how the event will look and feel online?

Attraction risk also extends to sponsors. How do you entice sponsors to support an event when you don’t know how many people will attend? How do you translate old branding opportunities such as a banner in the foyer into online space?*

*The value proposition of virtual events for both audience and sponsors is actually very attractive. We do a lot of work with clients to help them understand that proposition and articulate it. We often go so far as to produce promotional videos to market the event and hold education sessions with event sponsors. 

Although attraction risk is a very real short term problem, over the long term it’s the least significant risk. Over the long term, the answer to attracting both an audience and sponsorship is simple.

Deliver an event that’s amazing.

If you do that, your audience will rave about it and sponsors will come flocking. But the inverse is also true. If you deliver something average it’s incredibly easy for your audience and sponsors to go elsewhere. 

The risk of attention
Fundamental to delivering an amazing event is keeping people’s attention. The risk of attention doesn’t have the biggest consequence, but it definitely has the highest likelihood. Why? Because most seasoned event organisers aren’t yet familiar with the nuances of online events. 

Maintaining attention online isn’t easy. Every minute of your event you are competing with a world of fine-tuned distractions. There are emails to check, text messages going ding, YouTube videos to watch, and Zoom calls to attend.

We encourage event organisers to think of their event in terms of TV. TV programming has evolved over decades to capture and maintain our attention. But online events can be even better than TV. Unlike TV, online events provide an opportunity for your audience to contribute and shape the content. To do this, events need to be live, your audience needs to be engaged, and your programming needs to be spot on. 

The risk of execution
We often see this as the biggest risk. This is the technical risk associated with getting the event up and ensuring people can access it. Over the last few months we’ve all been exposed to webinars, Zoom calls, and other online events that didn’t go to plan. 

There is also execution risk when it comes to physical events. A power outage, a fire, a missed flight…or a pandemic can all wreck havoc with our event.

Understanding the underlying technology, how it works and how it connects is incredibly important. Not only to give you the reassurance that risk is manageable but also to ensure you have plans in place should something go wrong. 

The risk of inaction
“A bend in the road is not the end of the road…Unless you fail to make the turn.” – Helen Keller

All this talk of risk might have you thinking ‘Why bother? Let’s just wait for this to blow over’. But the biggest risk right now is the risk of inaction. 

Given the current roller coaster we are on, how sure are you that we will be back to ‘normal’ next year? Or in two years, or in seven? And how sure are you that within that unspecified time frame your audience and sponsors will wait for you? 

The risk of inaction is the result of two aligned forces. First, the longer this goes on the less likely people will want to go to the types of events they previously went to. They will be cautious about travel. They will be forced to wear masks. They will avoid networking and unnecessary social interactions. And second, online events will keep getting better. The technology will improve. New approaches to networking will be devised. Programming will get better. 

As I’ve previously written, inaction can turn operational risks into strategic ones. You might avoid the risks of attraction, attention and execution but in doing so you create a new risk — the risk of irrelevance.

Zoom’s legacy

As social isolation restrictions start to ease across Australia, there are many who are looking forward to getting back to the office…or perhaps more accurately, getting out of the house. There has been much talk about the impact of Zoom (or Teams/Skype/Meet if your organisation is otherwise inclined) on how we work. Most recently, that talk has turned to Zoom fatigue. The feeling that we are all Zoomed out and looking forward to meeting people ‘face to face’ again…or perhaps more accurately ‘body to body’ (as Zoom does faces quite well).

But before we collectively throw away our webcams and relegate our virtual backgrounds to the bin (Mac) or recycling (Windows) let us pause for a moment and consider the legacy that Zoom will leave.
Over the last couple of months everyone has suddenly become very comfortable with videoconferencing. They’ve done it because COVID-19 required flexibility in terms of where people can work from, but its legacy will be much greater than that. Organisations are realising that apart from flexibility, videoconferencing can dramatically reduce travel cost. This is less evident when we talk about getting coworkers together when we could have used the meeting room down the hall but incredibly evident when we think about meeting with geographically dispersed customers or running training workshops for a sales team.

My live streaming studio

Zoom’s adoption might have been driven by a need for flexibility but its legacy for organisations will be reduced cost, better customer service, and more timely conversations (there is also the potential for a positive legacy for employees, the ability to work remotely and yet still maintain the ability to effectively communicate and collaborate has meant improved work life balance and greater autonomy).

So far, most organisations have been happy to deliver an MVP-Q (Minimum Viable Production Quality) when it comes to videoconferencing. This can be excused because of the operational scramble of the last few weeks, but don’t confuse a proof of concept with the final product. If your business wants to tap into the huge lead generation and cost saving opportunities that videoconferencing can deliver, they will need to lift their game. We have all been inundated with low quality Zoom webinars (I spoke to one colleague who is currently getting 20 invitations a week) and organisations are going to have to get good quickly if they want to stand out.


And if you want to get good at video quickly, you might be interested in the Digital Champions Club. We’ve helped a bunch of organisations get self sufficient in video building the in-house capability for high quality video conferencing, webinars, live training events and content marketing. If that sounds interesting you should get in touch.

How small changes create big value

In 2008, UPS upgraded its routing software to discourage drivers from turning right across traffic (or left in the US). It was a small change that created massive savings in time, fuel, car accidents and money. In fact, UPS estimates this one change saves them more than $300 million per year.

You might not run a courier business or invest as much in technology as UPS but the same principles still apply. Using technology, small changes can create big improvements in efficiency and service quality.

Through the Digital Champions Club (DCC) we help growing businesses use a ‘small changes’ mindset to take their technology to the next level. And each quarter a small number of guests get to come and experience the program first hand. The next opportunity is on Friday, March 6 in Melbourne.

“The hardest part was making it think more like a driver and less like a computer.”

Jack Levis, UPS Senior Director of Process Management.

You do not have to be a technology expert to join the DCC. We support both business people to get technology and technology people to get business.

If 2020 is the year you want to move your business from an ad-hoc to systematised approach to technology please get in touch.

The Paradox of Growth

Alongside profitability, growth is seen as a cornerstone of organisational success. Growth implies market fit — it indicates that the world wants more of what you do. Growth is generally seen as a desirable objective for CEOs and business leaders but there is an underlying paradox to business growth: the more you grow the harder it becomes to grow.

Initially, growth makes things easier. Organisations gain certain benefits as they scale (sometimes referred to as economies of scale). For example, materials can be bought cheaper, machinery and people can be better used, and overhead costs such as rent and utilities can be spread across greater output. All these factors serve to lower the cost of doing work, which in turn makes an organisation more competitive and, as a result, improves profitability.

These benefits generally kick in quickly but then slowly dissipate (you might get a 20% discount if you double an order but you don’t get a 40% discount if you quadruple it). On the other hand, the challenges of growth start slowly but then rise rapidly. These challenges (sometimes referred to as diseconomies of scale) include maintaining communication as an organisation grows, the problems of coordinating the work of more people, more layers of management and slower decision making, and the need for more reporting, checks and balances to ensure the right work is being done in the right way.

Research suggests that as organisations grow, they reach a tipping point where complexity starts growing faster than revenue which leads to decreasing productivity, falling profits, overworked employees, and growing frustration for business owners. Eventually, they reach a point where the cost is greater than what people will pay and there is no point in the organisation growing further.

Unless…

…it can push out the point where things get harder. Obviously some organisations grow very big and very profitable, but they don’t achieve this using the same systems and processes they used when they were small. If an organisation wants to grow to its full potential it will eventually need to rethink how it does its work. Key to this renewal is bringing in the technology solutions that automate, simplify, and streamline work, allowing for further growth without increased headcount and the complexity and challenges it brings with it.

Ideally, this isn’t done when everything is already broken but done on a continual basis. Rather than identifying and fixing the things that are already broken, a continuous approach allows organisations to prepare in advance for the processes and tools they might need in the future. Perhaps the biggest challenges for growing organisations is finding the time and resources to do this proactively. This can be a real challenge when people are already feeling stretched, but committing the time up front is almost always less costly than dealing with the consequences later.

If your organisation is experiencing growing pains and you want to do something about it, consider the benefits of joining The Digital Champions Club, a community of practice that shows you all the tools you need to leverage growth through better technology use.

Digital Champions Scholarships: Half the cost, twice the value

Twelve months ago, I decided to offer a series of scholarships to my Digital Champions Club. The decision was based on conversations with my good friend Mykel Dixon who strongly felt that the people who most deserve to be in a program are sometimes people who can’t afford it. With the support of my fellow coaches, Kate Fuelling and Gabe Alves, we offered two half and one full 12-month scholarship to the program.

The outcome has been A-MAZ-ING

Not only have we had the opportunity to support three incredible Not-for-Profit organisations, their champions have delivered back to both their organisations and the program in spades. Their enthusiasm has been infectious and their energy levels have been off the charts. It’s as if the scholarships have provided them an opportunity and they aren’t going to waste it. They might be paying half the cost (or none of it) but through their effort and commitment they seem to be getting twice the value.

It is for that reason Kate, Gabe and I are pumped to be launching our scholarship program for 2020. Scholarships are open to Australian Not-for-Profits and other values-driven organisations (you don’t need to have any particular status, you just need to be doing meaningful work). Applications open on the 1st October and run through until the 31st of October but if you’re interested in applying (or know someone who is) we encourage you to start the ball rolling earlier rather than later. Joining the Digital Champions Club requires a significant internal commitment and the sooner you get started the sooner you’ll be ready.

To make it easier for potential applicants, we’ve created an information pack that can be sent to your inbox, printed (if necessary), and shared with potential sponsors and other stakeholders.

Finally, if you don’t work for a suitable organisation but you know someone who does I encourage you to forward this email on or use the share buttons below to help spread the word.

Let’s get this message out to the people who deserve it the most!

Just in case you need any further motivation check out this testimonial video from Julia Gregg from Contemporary Arts Precinct Ltd.

PS – If you’ve already signed up to receive updates on the scholarships we will shoot you out a copy of the Information Pack via email.

IT is not a cost centre

I have ranted before about the shortfalls of budgeting and how budgeting encourages us to think of projects in terms of cost rather than in terms of value creation. This is particularly troubling for parts of the organisation known as Corporate (or Shared) Services. Corporate Services generally include areas such as Legal, Human Resources, Procurement and IT. These services are necessary for the smooth operation of the business, but unlike Operations, they are generally not considered to be income generating. As they aren’t directly involved in income generation, they are often seen by the rest of the business as a necessary evil where their cost (and often their involvement) needs to be minimised (for IT this challenge is often particularly acute because in many large organisations the Head of IT reports into the CFO).

The problem with this approach is by focusing on cost minimisation, organisations inadvertently also reduce value generation.

In the modern workplace, technology improvements have become an increasingly fertile ground for innovation but ‘innovation’ is often in direct conflict to the IT department’s primary objective of platform stability and security. Perhaps the simplest definition of innovation is ‘change that creates value’, but change both contradicts the goal of stability and also necessarily comes with attached risk, and risk is often viewed in conflict with the goal of security.

This perceived conflict has created a certain inertia in how IT departments operate that somewhat ironically results in more but different types of risk. Organisations might think they are reducing short-term operational risk by focusing on stability and security, but in doing so they are creating medium-term implementation risks (as change shifts from being small, relatively simple and continuous to large, relatively complex and sporadic) and longer-term strategic risks (as competitors identify and implement technology innovations at a faster rate).

An alternative is to re position IT (and perhaps all corporate services) as innovation catalysts. Rather than passively waiting for people to tell them what they need, IT could be proactively engaging with the business to find out what could be done better (and then working in partnership to make it happen). I often talk of IT as being Digital Champions but like many terms that have entered our collective lexicon, its familiarity has led to it losing some of its meaning. A Digital Champion is someone who keeps abreast of emerging technology opportunities and then champions its potential within the organisation. Championing something is unavoidably and unashamedly proactive. It requires constant engagement, education and ultimately a sense of (shared) service.

If this feels like a seismic shift, it doesn’t need to be. Like any change it is best if it’s started small. It should not be focused on investing in or developing new platforms and instead aim to unlock the latent potential in the platforms an organisation has already invested in. Perhaps the biggest change requires is a change of mindset. Like other Corporate functions, IT are often treated as second class citizens, and as a result many have come to believe it. But by giving the IT team the tools and training, and subsequently the belief that they can drive innovation and add ridiculous amounts of value to the organisation, we can change this perception.

At the end of the day, the best way for IT departments to change the perception that they’re more than a cost centre is to prove it. All they need to do is take the time to understand people’s challenges and then share the know how they already have.  Person by person, team by team, department by department.

I’ll be hosting a two-day intensive program on 15-16 October in Sydney where we will take your champions through the process of identifying, investigating and delivering technology improvements with sustainable success. As a special offer, use the promo code INTENSIVE20 to avail of a 20% discount on the ticket price. Click here for tickets and further information on this insanely practical event.

What is the minimum rigour?

When it comes to getting technology projects approved in organisations, there is almost always a detailed process to follow. This process is designed to ensure that each project is rigorously assessed and the right projects get approved. But is it possible to have too much rigour?

The difference between making things and improving things
Most project assessment processes are designed for making new things. Project management methodologies such as PRINCE2 and PMBOK provide lengthy processes for identifying stakeholders, collecting business requirements, creating business cases, getting project approval, assembling the project team and planning the project…all before anything actually gets done. Now it’s not to say that these processes don’t have value, but for smaller ‘improvement projects’ they can also add unnecessary complexity and friction.

Rigour makes things rigid
Long convoluted approval processes that define projects to exacting requirements can in fact make projects unnecessarily rigid. Not only can excessive planning make us option-blind (unable to see previously unconsidered but potentially beneficial courses of action) research also suggests that increased planning is not necessarily correlated with greater value generation. There is a real risk that too much rigour means we’re developing worse outcomes, not better ones.

Rigour adds friction
The secret to promoting certain behaviours within an organisation is to decrease the friction associated with more preferable behaviours and increase the friction associated with less preferable ones. If we assume that organisations want to be more innovative, and that a simple definition of innovation is just ‘change that creates value’, then we need to decrease the friction associated with identifying and approving change initiatives. If we make it hard and time consuming for people to identify and implement improvements in how they work (or with the technology systems they use) then their most likely response to a new idea is ’stuff it’.

Rigour is often opaque
The process for getting a project approved is often unclear, and sometimes intentionally so. In fact, there are often vested interests in saying ’no’ and maintaining the status quo (for instance this might happen where the value of a project accrues to one part of the organisation, such as marketing or operations, but the cost of implementing and maintaining the project falls on a different part of the organisation, such as IT). The more complex the approval process and the more variables to consider, the less transparent the process becomes.

In praise of minimum rigour
If we were to apply the Pareto principle, we could estimate that 80% of the risk of a project can be removed by applying just 20% of the rigour. What’s more, reducing the amount of effort (and ‘sunk costs’) that go into the assessment process means that even after a project has been approved, we are less likely to feel beholden to it if conditions or information changes. So what exactly does minimum rigour look like? Well this might change from one organisation to another but there are certain characteristics you might look for

  1. It fits on a page – The plan on a page approach is common in improvement methodologies such as Lean Manufacturing. I’ve seen the ‘plan on a page’ concept extended to two sides of an A3 piece of paper but my belief is that a good plan can be presented on one side of an A4 page.
  2. It answers the big questions – There should be some clear questions that need to be answered as to why the project is being done (including a clear value proposition), how the outcome is going to be achieved, and what is going to happen.
  3. Anyone can use it – As soon as you require a Business Analyst or some other specialist person to complete the project plan, you have added unnecessary friction. The process should be available to everyone and the process for getting to ‘Yes’ should be quite clear.

The Digital Champions Framework teaches an approach to minimum rigour for IT improvement projects based on just nine questions. If you’d like to learn the approach and understand how it can be applied check out our upcoming two-day intensive training programs in Perth, Melbourne and Sydney.*

*Up until the 30th June you can also use the promo code EOFY20 to get a 20% discount on DCC event tickets.


Digital Champion’s Two-Day Intensive Upcoming Dates

14 – 15 AUGUST | PERTH
4 – 5 SEPTEMBER | MELBOURNE
15 – 16 OCTOBER | SYDNEY

Click here for information and tickets


See Simon Speak

Simon will be joining a panel of five awesome speakers who will be presenting at the Getting Sh!t Done Events on the following dates:

11 JUNE | CANBERRA
13 JUNE | MELBOURNE

Between the suggestion box and shadow IT

What is your organisation’s approach to identifying technology opportunities? One common approach is some form of suggestion box. Just pop your idea (somewhat ironically) onto a piece of paper and drop it in the box. At some later undefined date, an ‘expert’ will assess the idea and determine whether it is valid (often with little understanding of the person or job that it relates to) and affordable (often including an assessment of cost but rarely an assessment of value).

Then, assuming it meets the required criteria it will then be added to the backlog of other projects that the under-staffed IT team is currently trying to wade through. When it finally gets to the front of the queue, it will then take another indeterminate amount of time to write and approve a requirements document and scope of work which is the precursor to getting something done.

Unfortunately this approach is slow, opaque and full of friction. This in turn results in people not bothering to use it, even if they have genuinely good and easy to implement opportunities. In fact, the friction of the suggestion box method is a major contributor to another method, commonly referred to as ‘shadow IT’.

Shadow IT is when technology products are procured and deployed without the knowledge of the IT department. It involves individuals identifying a problem themselves and then playing around with a few different apps to see if one can help fix it. After signing up for half a dozen free trials and testing each of the apps with potentially sensitive corporate data, they then select their preferred solution, enter in their credit card details and the work is done…unless of course they didn’t test their requirements completely and they then find out the app didn’t work as they hoped.

Clearly, this approach also has its shortcomings. Not only is there no real consideration for information security, there is also a complete lack of rigour. These issues mean that most organisations don’t generally condone the shadow IT approach.

So what sits between the suggestion box and shadow IT? Could we add a little rigour and process to the shadow IT approach or potentially improve the speed, transparency and effectiveness of the suggestion box? Could we perhaps bring those two things together and get the best of both worlds?

The Digital Champions Framework provides a way for your citizen experts (those people in your organisation who are digitally savvy but sit outside the IT team) to identify, investigate and deliver simple yet valuable technology improvements. Not only does the development of internal digital champions facilitate the delivery of technology improvements without unnecessary burden on already stretched IT resources, it also creates ‘bottom up’ support for larger digital transformation projects.

To find out more about the Digital Champions Framework my Digital Champions Club is running a series of two-day intensives in Perth, Melbourne and Sydney. I will also be running an introductory breakfast event in Sydney at the end of this month where you can find out more about the framework and how to implement it successfully.

*Up until the 30th June you can also use the promo code EOFY20 to get a 20% discount on tickets.


Digital Champion’s Two-Day Intensive Upcoming Dates

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14 – 15 AUGUST | PERTH

4 – 5 SEPTEMBER | MELBOURNE

15 – 16 OCTOBER | SYDNEY

Click here for information and tickets

Automate the task, not the relationship

One of the biggest challenges with the constant barrage of new technologies is making sure we look past the novelty of the new to find meaningful use. This is particularly the case when it comes to automated marketing and communication.

It makes sense to automate low value repetitive tasks that no one enjoys doing. But we need to be very careful that we don’t allow technology to take over the personal and the meaningful. Don’t ever confuse a blog post sent out to your 3,000 followers as a relationship building exercise. That’s just information sharing, real relationship building is far more intimate than this.

Our ability to create meaningful relationships is also incredibly limited. Research suggests that we struggle to maintain more than 150 meaningful relationships which forces us to chose who we want to have each of those relationships with. But these limitations are core to us seeing value in the relationships we have. If we could automate relationships and have as many as we wanted, they’d just become worth less.

This is basic forces of supply and demand at play and this is why we ultimately value the things in life that can’t be mass produced. So embrace technology, embrace automation, but also be very careful you don’t accidentally take something that is meaningful and valuable and just make it cheap.

This blog has been lifted from an interview I did…

Three indicators your current approach to technology isn’t working

‘We operate in a conservative industry and suddenly it became really fast paced. We knew we needed to use technology to drive efficiencies and be competitive but we didn’t know where to start. We didn’t know what to do.’

The above quote comes from one of my clients. We were having a conversation recently and this is how he responded when I asked him why he joined the Digital Champions Club. I’m not sure he realised it at the time but in just a couple of short sentences he identified three excellent indicators of whether an organisation’s current digital transformation approach is serving them.

In fact, if any one of these things is true for you, it’s probably time to step back and make sure your approach is keeping you on track.

Things are getting faster, faster than you are

This particular client runs an accounting and business advisory practice. Accounting is not one of those industries that you’d generally describe as dynamic. Yet over the last few years, a combination of cloud and mobile technology, outsourcing and, more recently, A.I. has started to dramatically change the way the industry operates. If you’d describe your industry as generally conservative and yet you’re finding that things around you are starting to move faster than you are, it’s probably a sign you’re not keeping up with technological changes.

Your margins are being squeezed and you’re facing more competition

Two of the biggest benefits that organisations achieve from successful technology projects are improvements in quality and increased efficiency. Both of these have the potential to dramatically shift an organisation’s value proposition. In addition, the shift of work away from individual premises and onto the cloud is removing geography as a barrier to competition.

You don’t know which technology project to do next

Often not knowing what to do next is not because you can’t identify opportunities but rather because you have more opportunity than you can possibly manage and you may also lack the internal expertise to manage the projects well. This is particularly the case for small and medium sized organisations who don’t have the scale to justify a full time Chief Digital Officer or other technology innovation type role. Instead, often relying on a more traditional IT function whose primary focus is to ‘keep the lights on’ and lacks the expertise in innovation and change management to identify, prioritise and implement new technology solutions.

I have four events coming up where I will be talking through my game plan for successful digital projects. If you’d like to find out more check out the links below.

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Next week I will be presenting two events in Perth. If you’re available on either the 9th of April for 5:30pm or 11th or April from 7:30am you might like to come along and find out about my Game Plan for Successful Digital Projects.

  • Use the promo code ISUBSCRIBE to get half price tickets

I’ll be one of the keynote speakers at the Getting Sh!t Done Club on the 11th June in Canberra and again on the 13 June in Melbourne. Tickets won’t be released until after Easter but if you’d like to be one of the first to know, send us a message and we’ll keep you up to date.