This transcript is from Episode 29 of The Savvy Event Planner Podcast
To listen to this podcast, please visit: http://SavvyEventPodcast.com/29
Interview transcript only
Tom: Jacob Morgan, I want to thank you very much for coming onto the Savvy Event Planner Podcast today.
Jacob: Oh, my pleasure. Thanks for having me.
Tom: Now, you are a bestselling author, you are a speaker, a futurist. Tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do.
Jacob: So all those things that you said are correct. I am in this space, because I had bad jobs working for people after I graduated college. And so since then, I've become very fascinated with how the workplace is changing. And so part of what I do, with the book, I do probably around 40 keynote talks a year at conferences around the world, speaking in front of organizations, in front of a large conferences to help people understand how the workplace is changing. I also put a lot of content, so I have YouTube videos that I do, I do podcasts, I do articles, just sharing lessons and things that I've learned from interviewing and speaking with organizations.
I interview a senior level executive every week on The Future of Work Podcast, and I run something called The Future of Work Community, which is a…I guess you can think of it as a global brand council of some of the world's forward-thinking brains and senior leaders that are a part of those brands that talk about challenges that they are faced with, what they are thinking about, what direction they are looking to take their organizations in, and I host a couple of events for those guys as well. So basically, my job is to understand as much as possible about how the workplace is changing and to share as much information as I can with people around how they can future-proof their careers and their companies.
Tom: Very, very cool. So you went from bad jobs into speaking. Let's talk about that transition a little bit if we can.
Jacob: So it wasn't directly from bad jobs to speaking. It went from bad job to search engine optimization, to writing articles for $15 an hour, to blogging, to doing all sorts of weird stuff just to prove that I didn't have to work for somebody else, and that I could be fine on my own. And slowly but surely, that just evolved into a blog, which evolved into guest contributions, which evolved into focusing on social media, and at the time what was known as social CRM, which evolved into collaboration, and what was called social business.
And just through more of writing and building up a network, I was able to get a book deal, then I was able to get another book deal, a Forbes column. My first book actually was called Twittfaced. It was a published with a very small publisher that probably nobody has ever heard of, and that was probably 2009, 2010. It was years ago. And things just built on top of each other, and this concept of The Future of Work evolved from all of these different things that I was doing. I had no idea this is the direction that I was going to go in, but here I am.
Tom: So when you started speaking for events, talk to us a little bit about the types of events you work for.
Jacob: Well, the events that I did today versus the ones that I did when I first started are very, very different. I remember when I first started speaking…well, first, I should say that, when I went off working for myself, I didn't think that I would be speaking. My goal wasn't to one day become an author and to speak at events. That didn't even pop in to my mind. The only goal I had at the time was, do not work for someone else, because these jobs are terrible. And I remember at the time, I would speak oftentimes for free, smaller events that were in the Bay Area, meetups, tweetups, you name it, and I was just trying to get my face in as many places as I can. It was a necessity for business.
And then after that I started to learn that, “Hey, wait a minute, people are out there charging for speaking? What's going on here?” And I would talk to people, and I started charging maybe like $500 and just whatever I could to see what I could get. And it grew and evolved from there. And where I am today in my professional speaking career is very, very different than where I was years ago. In fact, I was looking at old speaking proposals that I used to send out where I would say something that I would speak for even maybe $2000 or $2500, and people would say, “Nope, sorry. We don't have a budget for that.”
Now, I speak at events where multiple times that amount, and it's just amazing to see how I went from free events to $500, to charging what a normal professional speaker should charge. So that always baffles me.
Tom: Well, let's talk about when you go into an event to speak. Since you've done so many of these, are there any tips you can provide our audience or event planners on ways to make things easier on the speaker.
Jacob: Sure. Well, I've had mostly all good experiences. I've had a couple of bad stories. One of them was you show up to an event, it's a sold out conference, and you don't have a hotel room. And that's happened to me twice actually. Once in India, and once I think it was in Florida. And so definitely making sure that you have the accommodations confirmed and set up for your speaker is a good thing, all right? Making sure that they have a hotel to sleep in is a great start. And giving as much information as you can about your audience.
I know another time I spoke at a conference, and they wanted me to speak about eight trends that were shaping freelance work, because they said that that's what their audience cared about. But then after the talk, I realized that the talk wasn't a good fit for that audience at all. And so sometimes, and this goes to the speaker as well, sometimes it's up to the speaker to make sure they ask the right questions to get the right information to create a good talk. So know who your audience is, and give that information to your speaker. Make sure the accommodations for your speaker are taken care of, and being as open as possible when it comes to communication.
Every time I land in a different city, I always text the people and let them know that I am there. We speak for months before the talk even takes place. So I, at least as a speaker, love that communication and interaction. I know that there are a lot of other speakers out there that may act like prima donnas, where they just show up and may leave right after their talk, but that's not me.
Tom: Excellent advise, and that's for both sides of the field there. So fantastic. Now, some of your speeches that you do fall under CMP trading, and a couple that really stood out to me as possible topics for this episode, most notably, engaging employees in the new world of work. Now, engagement is key for events. I thought maybe you could offer some insights that we could talk about on how employers engage employees and how that could maybe translate to events.
Jacob: Sure, so engagement is, of course, the topic de jour nowadays, and it has been for a little while, and it's this concept of, “How do we make our employees happy?” And there are a lot of interesting articles that have been written on this, but for me, the number one way of keeping employees happy is, don't let them become unhappy. In other words, oftentimes when employees start working in your company, they are already happy. They are excited to be part of your company. They are just starting. They are excited. They are in that go mentality. They start off in a positive mindset, happy, engaged, excited, ready to get to work.
And what happens is over time, that engagement starts to disappear, and companies then say, “Well, how do we give them that kind of adrenaline shot to boost engagement back up?” So instead of letting engagement fall and then trying to boost it back up, I think companies need to spend more time capturing that initial enthusiasm, engagement, and happiness that employees have when they start and figure out how to keep it. And keeping it means listening to the voice of the employee. Look at what they care about. Look at what they value.
I spend a lot of time talking about this concept of designing employee experiences. And employee experiences are they have three components to them: the physical space, the cultural space, and the technological space. So give employees the right tools they need to do their jobs. Create a physical space where they actually want to show up, and create culture where they feel a sense of purpose, and they want to be there. And if you do that, from the get-go, I think you will find much high levels of engagement. The same thing can definitely be applied to events. When you host an event you have the cultural space, you have the technological space, and you have the physical space.
Physical space is the food that is provided. It is the way that everything is set up. Is it in a dark dimly lit room or is there going to be some natural light? Is the food going to be decent or is it going to be unhealthy kind of potato chips and all sorts of stuff with mayonnaise in it? Nowadays, a lot of people want these healthy options. They want to sit in a room for hours where they don't feel like they are in a movie theater where they are going to fall asleep. So thinking about how the physical environment is going to impact the event that you are hosting, I think, is crucial. And the same goes for the cultural environment.
The cultural environment is: What is your event like? Is it very stuffy? Is everybody in a suit and tie? Is it more relaxed? Are people friendly? Are there people greeting and saying hello and good morning all the time, or does everybody look like they are a zombie walking around? So everything matters.
And the technological environment is the tools, the stage, the screens. Is there interactive polling? What sort of technologies are being integrated into the event, and what that looks like? So I think those are three things that conference organizers need to think about; the physical space, the culture or the vibe that you are trying to create from your event, and any technologies or tools that are going to be used to enhance the event that you are putting together.
Tom: That's some good information, Jacob. Thank you so much.
Tom: Now, let's go on to another speech that really stood out to me, and we didn't talk about this in advance, so I hope I don't throw you off with this. You had a speech called Innovations Ecosystems and Five Types of Innovations. And I thought that would be perfectly suited for the event environment. So I am hoping you could share some insights on how the systems vary and what systems that an event planner might be able to incorporate to be innovative with their events.
Jacob: The concept of designing innovation ecosystems came from this concept that innovation is changing. Innovation no longer comes from people that are just within your organization. And so the innovation ecosystem looks at a couple of different ways of how innovation can get done. The first is we still have employee innovation, so coming up with ideas just from people that work there. Customer innovation, which is looking at ideas from customers. Partner and supplier innovation, competitor innovation, and then just innovation from the general public, so these are people that are not associated or transacting or interacting with your brand, but they might have some feedback for you.
And so we can definitely take a lot of these concepts around innovation and apply it to events. So in other words, if you are looking to host an event, don't just rely on information from employees that are helping put together the event as far as the agenda, and themes, and anything like that. Reach out to your customers. Find out what they are interested, what they want to see. Reach out to your partners or your supplier and find out what they are focusing on. Look at your competitors' events and see what they're exploring.
And you can also use information insights like Twitter, Facebook, Google Trans to see what topics and themes are bring popular. And so you can look at all sorts of different places, whether it'd be competitors or whether it'd be customers or partners, and look at what is trending, what's popular, what ideas other people have. And use that to create a really kick-ass event.
Tom: Very cool. Great tools to offer, too. Now, I want to take us away from this now. I know I'm dropping around a lot here, but I think you've got so many different speeches and so many topics that you covered. I want to touch on a lot of them. One of the speeches you had was Wearables In The Workplace. What is the impact of that? And is there a way that an event planner can make use of this?
Jacob: Sure. Wearables in the work place are pretty much what they sound like, a device that you wear that collects information or data. So the easiest example of wearable device is a Fitbit. I wear a Fitbit on my wrist all the time that counts my steps. It looks at my heart rate. It looks at calories burnt, so that's a classic example of a wearable device. There are other wearable devices. Google Glass was very popular before Google, I believe, shut it down, so anything that you wear that collects data. Even smart phones nowadays with Apple Health, they have their own little pedometer in there.
So these wearable devices basically collect data that you can then see about yourself; how you've walked, how you've slept, how much you've worked, all sorts of really cool fun stuff. So you can definitely incorporate this into events. I've definitely spoken at conferences where they do fitness challenges, where they see walks the most during an event, and they have leader boards that they display. It's just kind of a fun thing, so you can absolutely incorporate stuff like that.
Personally, for me, I'm really big in the health and fitness. So every time I go to a conference to speak, I will always work out while I am there. I always try to eat healthy while I am there. I always try to stay away from unhealthy foods, and snacks, and whatnot. So at least for me, health and fitness is a big part of my life, and I think we are moving to a life where that's becoming true for a lot of people. So having these types of challenges with devices like Fitbits, I think, are a great way to encourage movement, a great way to encourage people to see more of your conference instead of being planted in one area. So I definitely encourage stuff like that.
Tom: That's great stuff. People do, at least I do. I tend to learn better when I'm exercising, when I'm moving, when I'm not stagnant. So I can see how pulling those in would be great stuff. Now, I'm going to take you back into something you said you there, where you eat healthy at these events. When you are traveling around, how do you do that? Because I'll be honest with you. I've been doing this for over 30 years, and I'll be darned if I can figure out how to eat healthy when I'm on the road.
Jacob: Well, for me, unfortunately, this means not eating a lot of conference food. As a speaker, you get your travel expenses covered in addition to your speaking fees, so you can go to restaurants and select the meals that you want. So as much as I like to be part of conferences and spend time with attendees, for me, as somebody that's speaking, I need my energy. Oftentimes these events are in the morning; keynote talks that are either opening keynotes or closing keynotes. Sometimes they are lunch keynotes. And people don't realize that speaking takes up a lot of energy, especially for 45 minutes to an hour, plus you want to interact and speak with attendees afterwards.
So for me, having that level of energy is very, very important. So as a speaker, and this is something that conference organizers should want as well, you want your speaker to have energy. And for me, if I eat processed foods, if I eat foods that are very greasy or oily, I don't have that energy. I can't deliver a good talk. I can't do book signings. I can't meet and greet. I just feel exhausted.
So for me, it's always very, very crucial to eat healthy, and like I said, unfortunately, oftentimes when you go to conferences, I'm seeing more of a trend towards offering some kind of healthy options, but you don't want to eat salads that are covered in dressing. You don't want to eat sandwiches that are splattered with anise on them or meats that are drenched in some sort of cream sauce, because that, at least for me, exerts my energy.
So when I travel, I always take a couple of Quest Bars with me. I always try to eat a lot of protein, not a lot of very fatty, greasy, oily foods. And I can for the most part eat the same way that I would at home while I am on the road. The biggest challenge for me is in the airports, when we are in long flights. So typically, at the airport, I'll have to get something to take on the airplane with me, so that if it's an international flight or a cross-country flight, I don't starve to death.
Tom: I can definitely relate to being on a plane and being grateful that I had a snack bar with me. So excellent points. And Jacob, I really appreciate you pointing out the fact that a lot of events don't have healthy dietary choices. And in episode 27, I interviewed Tracy Stuckrath. Tracy is a dietician and a food advocate for healthy foods at events. So folks, if you have not listened to that episode, please check it out at savvyeventpodcast.com/27, which is the episode number. Jacob, one of your speeches is called 12 Habits of Highly Collaborative Organizations. And collaboration plays a major role in creation of a successful event. So I am hoping you can share with us some of those habits and how event planners can use them to create better events.
Jacob: Sure, so this topic actually came up from my first book that I wrote, called The Collaborative Organization. That came out in 2012, and interestingly enough, this has still been a very popular theme at a lot of organizations. In fact, I was just in Buenos Aires and Chile. And in Chile, this was actually the theme of my talk even though the book came out three years ago. And so I don't go through what all 12 of these principles are, but some of them are looking at things like strategy before technology, learn to get out of the way, lead by example, being persistent, creating a supportive environment.
So a lot of these themes can certainly apply to conference organizers as well. So for example, number three that I have is, listen to the voice of the employee, which in this case, we can move a little bit, and instead of employees, this could be the attendees. So listen to what your attendees care about, what they value, what themes they are interested in. Usually conference organizers do a very good job of that as it is. Another one that I think makes a lot of sense is create a supportive environment of the theme that you want to encapsulate during your event. So if your conference is all about collaboration, if your conference is all about technology, then you want to make sure that the physical space that the environment that you are creating is all about that.
So in other words, if you have a conference about collaboration, and there is no collaboration happening at the conference, nobody is talking, everyone is sitting separately, that's little weird. So you want to make sure that the themes align with the broader experience that you are trying to create aside from the speaker being on the stage.
Another principle that I have on here is, adapt and evolve. Sometimes things don't go perfectly well, and so you need to jig things around a little bit. As a speaker, this is just as relevant. I gave a keynote talked to hundreds of people recently, and while I was speaking, the presentation cut off. The Prezi stopped loading. The clicker stopped working. Of course, the people knew that this was going on, and the guys backstage were working on trying to fix it, but as a speaker, you can't just freeze and stare at people and say, “Oh, well, I got nothing.”
People know what's going on. I try to make fun of it and have a good time with it, and you just roll the punches, not everything is going to go perfectly. So this is just as true for speakers as it is for people that are hosting events. Things happen. Mistakes happen. You just got to keep going and go on with what you got.
Tom: Fantastic advice. And then I can relate to what you were talking about there. Now, you've been to a lot of different events. You've flown around the world to talk with attendees at these events. Is there an event that really stood out in your mind as being exceptional, and can you share a little bit about that with us?
Jacob: Sure, so there was an event that I actually spoke at recently. Well, there are a few events that I really like, but the one that I have recent memory that recently stands out was a conference that I spoke at called EMS Live. And EMS Live was hosted in, I believe it was, Orlando, Florida at the Marriott, and I believe somewhere around a thousand people that were there, and the company that hosted it was called EMS software. And I spoke there, and I was absolutely blown away. So this is a smaller company, EMS software. I think they have 100, 150 employees, if I'm not mistaking, something like that.
And they put an event that was better than events that companies hold that have hundreds of thousands of employees. It was beautiful. They had great food. They had healthy options. They had people singing and dancing before the event started. The stage was beautiful. They had great music. They had technology integrated throughout where people could easily see the sessions that were coming up and what the themes were. It was just overall very well designed, very put together.
And I think in recent memory, that is probably one of the best events that I have went to. It was super easy for me to communicate and coordinate with everybody. I texted with the organizers when I landed. Open communication with people, and it was great. Everything went very, very smoothly, and that was in recent memory probably the best event that I have attended.
Tom: Now, a lot of companies or a lot of event planners will spend money on food. They'll spend money on tech. Was there something about this event, obviously, the open communication, but was there just something that made this extra special?
Jacob: I've said that overall environment that they created. When I first showed up there, their welcoming party was outside. And if anybody has been to this conference area, you'll know that it's a very special venue. It's by water. They had a pool out there, and they had these little food stations for around a thousand people. They had a live band. So even before the event started, there was a lot of good, positive, happy, engaging energy that was going. It was very casual. It was very collaborative. People were meeting each other. And right when I showed up, the conference organizers met me, they took me around, they introduced me to some other folks on the team.
So it was a very friendly, “Oh, we're so excited you are here,” really kind of collaborative mindset that they were creating, this collaborative culture, this vibe that they had. And so that really just started off very, very well. They had a lot of really, really great food options that were healthy snacks, which were great healthy food. And the stage that they had was also beautiful. It was a gorgeous stage. They had all the latest and greatest technologies that were there. It felt modern. It felt like an event for 2015, and I can honestly say that I've been to some other events before where it feels like…and this is true for a lot of conferences, right? Sometimes conferences host events, because they have to.
So when you are a vendor, and you are hosting an event for your customers, you want to do a really kick-ass job, because it's for your customers, it's for your partners. You are personally vested in that. But sometimes you go to a conference where it's not a vendor, it's a conference company, and they have to host eight events a year. And at that point, I feel like sometimes there isn't as much personally invested, and it's just kind of running through the motions at that point sometimes, or it's like, “Do we have a stage? Check. Is there food? Check.” It no longer becomes about, “Well, how was this stage set up? What kind of food are we offering? Are there healthy options?” It's just kind of going through the utility aspects.
So I would always encourage conference organizers, vendors, whoever is putting these events, don't think about your conference as a utility. Don't think about it as something that you have to put on, because it's just something that people expect. Think about it from that experience perspective. Think about as if you were personally vested in the event. You want everybody to just have a good time. It's like you have a having a party, and people are coming over to your house.
When you go to somebody's house for a party, you don't just want food and people there, and you don't just want a roof. You want to go to a cozy environment. You want to go to a place where people have something to talk about. You want to go to a place where the food is tasty. So you want to think about it from that perspective of, “What is the experience going to be like when these people to into our house? How do we want them to feel?”
Tom: That, my friend, is a perfect answer. That gave so many insights in that brief conversation there. Hey, Jacob, if people were interested in learning more about you, your podcast, your books, how can they reach out to you?
Jacob: There are a couple of ways. Of course, you can email me. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org. If you visit my website thefutureorganization.com, you'll see the navigation bar there, access to podcast, all sorts of fun stuff. And I'm very active on Twitter and Facebook as well. My twitter handle is @jacobm, and Facebook, again, if you go to my website, you'll see in the top right corner access to all my social profiles there.
Tom: Excellent. Excellent. I appreciate your time so much today, Jacob.
Jacob: My pleasure. Thank you for having me.
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