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The Community Club

AMA with Robert Gelb

cole profile image Cole with Rob Gelb ・1 min read

Join us for an AMA session today at 12pm ET with Robert Gelb!

Robert is the CEO of HeySummit, a virtual event platform for communities. Before his time at HeySummit, Robert founded Kindaba, a messaging application, and directed Bus52, which was a fifty-two week trip around the United States in a school bus seeking inspiring stories of overcoming obstacles in communities all over the country.

For this AMA, Robert is here to answer any and all of your questions related to communities and virtual events!

The AMA will happen in this post, so feel free to start posting questions now!

Discussion (14)

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katrine_129 profile image
Katrine • Edited

Hi Robert, thank you so much for participating in this AMA! A question I have is when a team is planning a large virtual event, in your opinion what are some "must-have's" leading up to the event to ensure success?

And do you have any predictions as to how the virtual events industry will change as more and more companies shift to being completely remote?

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gelb profile image
Rob Gelb Ask Me Anything

Hey Katrine - great questions!

The must-haves - Knowledge and a plan. It sounds simple but there are a few questions that I'd always encourage organizers to ask themselves at the very beginning:
1 - Why am I doing this? What are your objectives? Is it an awareness campaign, an opportunity to activate an audience, a conversion opportunity, is the objective to make money, etc? At the end of the day you're running an event to achieve something, so understanding that first and foremost will help you start off on the right foot.

2 - Who am I serving? So often I speak with event organizers who can't answer the question "Who is this event not for?" Any event should be like any other business endeavor - you should know who is and crucially who is not your customer.

If you are clear about both of these points then it becomes easier to craft an event bible - I always suggest this for larger events that haven't happened before. Create an 'event on paper' - I like to use Whimsical instead of paper but you do you. When you create your event on paper, you start with your attendee persona and what they are looking to achieve with this event. That should lead you to being able to make decisions like what talk subjects are needed, what formats work best, etc. After you have that outline, you'll be able to put any question, any decision through its paces and have confidence that you're serving your audience in the right way rather than getting carried away.

In terms of how the industry will change - I think online events have been around for a while, but what we're starting to see more of is a willingness for people to devote more time, energy and budget to seeing them as an effective way to grow and learn. I don't think in-person events are going away, but I think you'll start to see a blending, and a requirement that an event not only serve as a gathering place, but also a focal point for you to engage with throughout the year. More than 2/3 of our customers run more than 2 events a year on HeySummit and many run talk-series, summits, or other events each month and quarter to grow their audiences and keep them engaged.

Hope that gave a few ideas!

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alex profile image
Alex Angel

Hey Robert, thanks so much for doing an AMA today!

I'd love to hear your thoughts on what sort of changes you've seen in online events over the past couple years, and where you think things will trend for community events in the next couple. I think most of us have seen at least a small shift in how we approach events within our communities, but curious what you think coming at it from a platform perspective.

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gelb profile image
Rob Gelb Ask Me Anything

Hey Alex - thanks for the question :) I think the biggest change has been all the awesome ways you can engage with your audience in a way that suits the moment in time. For example, the rise of awesome experiences like Remo, Teamflow, Spatial.chat, Airmeet, Toasty, and more allow you to craft an event experience that fits different attendee mechanics.

I see online events as simply an extension of one's community, and an opportunity to grow one's audience while also giving them an opportunity to share their expertise.

I also have absolutely loved to see the innovation when it comes to the types of events that people run in terms of niche subject-matter. For example we have a writing coach who teaches people how to craft amazing stories. Instead of creating 'Author Con 2020' he decided to do a summit all about Plot. Even though it sounded niche, it still served his audience immensely and was extremely popular. It then gives him an opportunity to craft his next one around the subject of Setting, or another topic.

We've also seen what we call 'bridge' events starting to become more popular with communities - having a quarterly summit where all the speakers are members of the community. The community is served by each other, and the summit is used as a lead-generation opportunity for new members.

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gelb profile image
Rob Gelb Ask Me Anything

Excited to be here and thanks for having me!! Happy to answer anything you'd like, however here are a few subject areas that I find are pretty common for those interested in organising online events, especially to activate communities:

  • What are good indicators of success?
  • How to pick the best experience?
  • Do I go niche or broad in terms of subjectmatter?
  • What are the tools that are most effective when planning your first event?
  • What are the benefits and drawbacks to organizing online events from a marketing efficiency perspective?
  • How can I best maximize the content?
  • Speaker recruitment questions
  • Sponsorship recruitment questions

Alright! I'll dive in! 🀿

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benregier profile image
Ben Regier

Hey Robert! Stoked you're doing this AMA. Thank you!

Bus52 is a super fascinating idea! What are some of the most impactful lessons you learned or experiences you had directing this?

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gelb profile image
Rob Gelb Ask Me Anything

Aww I loved that project. The stories were incredible and these people who were just doing their thing not for any fame, but because they wanted to help others really resonated with me. I think one of the biggest lessons I learned was that we stand in the way of our own ability to make impact on the world. If you can see the impact that someone makes simply by deciding to, you can't help but feel like there's absolutely no excuse for you or anyone else to make creating impact a central part of anything you do.

I really did love most of the stories we covered, but I think my favorite was "Girls at work" - a general contractor who taught girls who were the victims of abuse and violence how to use power tools. It was heartbreaking, inspiring, and uplifting all at once - definitely check it out - youtube.com/watch?v=XkkcCmAH5rg

With organizing the project, it taught me about diving in and figuring it out as you go. We didn't really have any idea what we were doing, we set arbitrary KPIs and just rolled with it. It taught me so much in terms of running a business, producing a large project, and getting better at interviewing people. I always suggest to new grads that if you don't know what you want to do, figure out a project, figure out how to get it funded, and throw yourself into the deep end if you can.

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cole profile image
Cole Ask Me Anything • Edited

Hey Robert, appreciate you taking time for this AMA!

What's one negative and one positive change you see happening to the community/event industry over the next 5 years?

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gelb profile image
Rob Gelb Ask Me Anything

Hey Cole - thanks for asking :) I think the negative is probably an initial overwhelm that will take place because of how easy it is to launch and grow events and communities. I think the biggest positive change is rooted in the same thing - when we start to get to equilibrium we'll all be far better served as a result. Every time there is a reduction in barriers, it results in a lot of energy, opportunity, and not all of it works, but the overarching result is music stemming from the noise.

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sagi profile image
Sagi Kadosh

Hey Robert! with 'virtual fatigue' on the rise, are there any tactics community builders can employ to keep attendees engaged at their events?

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gelb profile image
Rob Gelb Ask Me Anything

Great question Sagi! Fundamentally you need to first remember who your audience is and why they are taking part. What are they looking to get out of this event? Is it learning? Access to an expert? Workshops? Different motivations require different formats and you shouldn't feel pressure to throw everything and anything at the wall if your attendees would be served better with simplicity.

It's also important to remember that an online event isn't an in-person one so the attendee mechanics need to be different. It's not really reasonable to expect someone to be jazzed sitting in front of the computer at full attention for 8 hours live. You're competing with their email, with their work, and with a dozen other distractions. Instead of thinking about it from the point of view of an in-person event, think instead of it as a journey you're taking them on in order to get them to a destination and take advantage of the fact that it's online. Instead of 8 hours over 1 day, why not make it just the mornings over 2 or 3 days? If there's a lot of content that doesn't need to be seen live, give them access to watch it over a month instead.

Finally, formats and novel experiences are amazing tools that we don't use nearly enough. Introducing fun games like slide emoji bingo, networking challenges, or lunch and learns are great ways to jazz people up. Having different ways to engage with speakers like offering office-hours are great low-effort ways to deliver more value as well.

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gelb profile image
Rob Gelb Ask Me Anything

Thanks for having me everyone. Feel free to get in touch directly through the community if you have any more questions. After hosting 6,000+ events and serving over 3 million attendees last year, we regularly run talks about different tactics when it comes to event marketing, building compelling events, and mixing and matching tools like Zoom, Remo, Restream etc to deliver the type of experience that's most impactful. Feel free to check us out (heysummit.com) or get in touch!

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kirstib profile image
Kirsti Buick

Hi Robert! Love what you mentioned about maximizing content. I'm specifically interested in post-event content strategies, if you have any guidance to offer there? 😊

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gelb profile image
Rob Gelb Ask Me Anything

Absolutely Kirsti - creating an event is basically determining a date and then driving a bunch of people's energy into creating a bunch of content and have it ready in time. It's one reason why larger online events end up being so efficient when it comes to the sheer amount of content they result in. There are a few things I'd keep in mind in terms of how best to use that content going forward:

1 - Keep the event open/available for reg if you can - not only for SEO, but in order for new people to discover the content after you're all done

2 - If you're pre-recording talks, also pre-record other collateral as well. If you're scheduling time with me so that I can record my presentation (a great hack to make sure you get your presentations in on time!), also ask me to record a 5 min, 2 min, and 30 sec summary of what I'm going to be talking about in the same session so that you can use it in the lead up!

3 - Re-purpose content using other channels. Each talk can be converted into a blog post, or each recording could be turned into a podcast episode. Both could then be dripped out throughout the next year/month/quarter to get folks excited for the next event.

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