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How to Run a Virtual Event and Fast-Track Business Growth (Episode 9)

Virtual events are a hot topic due to the pandemic. In this episode, you will learn the secrets of one of the world’s top experts in launching and running online conferences and lead generating digital summits.

Liam Austin is a virtual event strategist, having launched over 15 virtual summits and online business networking events. He has hosted over 400 speakers whilst educating 100,000+ business owners through his programs. 

As the co-founder of Entrepreneurs HQ, Liam is a specialist at making it easy for people to create their own online summits to grow their email list, authority, impact, and revenue with his online training “Virtual Summit Academy”.

What you will learn 

  • The future of online events
  • How to run a business from anywhere in the world during a pandemic 
  • That success is not an overnight event
  • How running an online dating site can help you run virtual summits
  • That love stories have happy endings and also successful business outcomes
  • How to design a business for your life
  • The importance of testing and data for business success
  • Why using online summits to generate leads is a powerful marketing tactic
  • The biggest issues with putting together a virtual event
  • The benefits of virtual conferences over live events
  • How to use virtual events to pitch your startup and raise funds

Transcript

Jeff Bullas: Hi, everyone, and welcome to the Jeff Bullas Show, and I'm Jeff Bullas. Today, I'm with Liam Austin, and before Liam and I have a little bit of a fireside chat, I'm going to introduce what he's been doing over the last few years.

Jeff Bullas: So Liam is a virtual event strategist, having launched over 15 virtual summits and online business networking events, hosting over 400 speakers, while educating 100,000 plus business owners through his programs. As the co-founder of entrepreneurshq.com, Liam is a specialist at making it easy for people to create their own online summits and virtual conferences to grow their email list, authority, impact and revenue.

Jeff Bullas: So, welcome to the show, Liam, it's great have you here. And the last time we met was I think in Sydney, about five or six years ago. So great to have you on the show. And what a time to be actually having a chat with you, about running virtual events, in the middle of this global pandemic. I know we're chatting about this right now, which is going to date this show, but it really doesn't matter.

Jeff Bullas: What you've been doing over the last five, six years is incredibly relevant today, because we can't catch up in person, we can catch up virtually and here we are catching up virtually. So thank you for coming on the show, Liam, and it's great to have you here.

Liam Austin: Jeff, yeah, thanks for inviting me on, it is interesting times We've been running these virtual events now, since 2015, as you said, and you were a guest speaker on our first virtual conference that we ran. And then again, we met up in Sydney and met face-to-face, post the virtual event, which is cool that these virtual meetings can end up leading to a podcast interview years down the track and even meeting up in person.

Jeff Bullas: And that's really what I love about this is, I can actually have a chat with you and find out more about you. Because, sure, we caught up with you and Sarah back then and we had a great chat, but I think we've got more to actually uncover today. And that's what I want to try and find out.

Jeff Bullas: So can you tell me, so you were actually, in early 2000, you actually went and did a degree at Macquarie University, which was a Bachelor of Commerce and Economics degree. So that's I suppose the start that led to the career or the careers that you've had since then.

Jeff Bullas: So tell me a little bit about who Liam is, and you're obviously an Aussie, because people might recognize the accent here. So Liam was obviously born at a very early age. So where were you born? How'd you get to go to Macquarie University?

Liam Austin: Yeah, sure. So born in Sydney, raised in the same house for over 20 years in Putney, a great little neighborhood, great suburbs, really enjoyed Sydney. Miss it a little bit, because I'm now living overseas.

Liam Austin: But studied at Macquarie University, which is kind of a north ride, not too far away from the Sydney Olympic Stadium, for the international people who may have known in Sydney in 2000. I live not too far away from that. So it was like a 10, 15 minute drive to get to university.

Liam Austin: But that was a really interesting period of my life, because there was a lot happening. I had just signed my first professional contract as a soccer player in Wollongong, which is about an hour to an hour and a half south of Sydney. I was commuting there and training there five days a week, as well as including the game day. And on top of that, because we weren't full-time professional then, we were still part time, the league didn't really pay enough and didn't have enough sponsors and exposure via media.

Liam Austin: So that also meant that I was working as well. I was working in a startup called Soulmates Technology, and they were a dating app back in the year 2000, which ended up exiting to match.com in 2004. I think I was the fourth employee when I joined, and so I was able to see that journey and go through it.

Liam Austin: And that was my first taste to an online business and seeing people matching and meeting up virtually and going on and getting married was just an amazing experience for me at the age of like 19, 20, to see that process. And then I knew that an online business, working virtually was something that I wanted to do.

Jeff Bullas: So that was I suppose a bit of an insight for you into this new virtual, digital world, where people met virtually before they actually caught up in real life.

Jeff Bullas: I have a confession to make. I've been dating online over the years on and off from 12 years ago. And for me, it's much better than meeting at bars, after a few drinks, and I found it very successful. In fact, I had a relationship for over 10 years with a lovely lady that I met through internet dating.

Jeff Bullas: So it's a very different world to what our parents grew up in, isn't it?

Liam Austin: Yeah, it's amazing. Back in 2000. I was at university, right? I was playing soccer. And then I was telling people I was working in an online dating or internet dating. And back then, it was a bit like, what are you doing? Why do you need to be doing that?

Liam Austin: People just don't realize the power of the internet and the connection, I don't think, back then. But obviously now, it's cool and everyone's doing it. But back then, it was a little bit, I felt like a bit of an outsider. But just seeing in the back end, all those people that were meeting up, that were writing us emails saying, look, we're getting married, we'd love to... not necessarily me, but the founders were invited to their weddings. And it was just having such an impact on people's lives, it was such a massive feeling.

Liam Austin: I knew that was the direction I wanted to go, in terms of an online business and connecting people.

Jeff Bullas: Right. So after that, you'd been inspired by the power of the web and digital. So then you moved on to CNET Technologies. So tell us a little bit about that.

Liam Austin: Yes, so after university, Soulmates had been sold, unfortunately I wasn't a founder or anything of the business. So I didn't get any equity or any benefits from that. But it was an amazing experience. I won a lot more, I think, off the back of that.

Liam Austin: And so out of uni, I wanted to look for an online job. I was trying to do my own entrepreneurial stuff on the side, but none were really getting much traction. So I went to CNET Technologies, which is a media company reporting on internet technologies or just gadgets and tech. So it was a very good kind of place to be, really at the forefront of pushing technology and what it could do, as well as being an online media organization.

Liam Austin: So at that business, I was in sales, selling media sponsorships and advertising packages for the website. So banners, as well as our emails.

Jeff Bullas: I remember actually reading, seeing it, I think .com or .au or whatever the actual URL was back in those times that I was reading, but I certainly got a lot of information from there, rather than blogs then. So it was I suppose the transition between, I suppose traditional magazines, going to online magazines, and then we became, with the rise of social media, we turned into a whole different, splintered media scene, didn't it?

Jeff Bullas: So you moved on from CNET. Then you joined Conexia Publishing. And I think that was the first time you went overseas. Tell us a little bit about that.

Liam Austin: Yeah, I ended up in Barcelona. So the reason I left Sydney was that the Australian national league for soccer shut down and there was no national competition for two years. The government got involved and did a whole inquiry into why there wasn't enough crowds or sponsorship or exposure in the media. And so they shut down the national league for two years and I thought, okay, well, now's a chance to go traveling.

Liam Austin: I went to the World Cup in 2006. I traveled around Germany and all the surrounding countries, had a great time and then came back to settle in Barcelona with a girl I met in Sydney prior to leaving. I worked with Conexia Publishing, which was a 70 year old print publication. So kind of going everything that I'd done into a 70 year old print publication, which was a UK publication called International Trade Today.

Liam Austin: I was tasked with bringing the business online. I had to look at, okay, how can we bring the magazine into the digital age? How do we bring on sponsorships, advertising for the portal? As well as we were running a national awards program in the UK called the International Trade Awards, which culminated at the House of Lords. Big Ben, for anyone that doesn't know. So we all had to get invited by lords. So we got a special invitation from a lord to attend this event in Big Ben, which was a really nice experience in London.

Liam Austin: And then I was working there in Barcelona for two years, prior to coming back.

Jeff Bullas: So you sort of bounced around obviously the publishing industry a bit. So that's interesting. And then you sort of jumped into a couple of other roles. One was Empowered. Tell us a little bit about Empowered, which was the next role you had.

Liam Austin: So coming back to Sydney, I had a great experience in Barcelona. I was running a UK business from another country. I was flying back and forth between the UK and Barcelona, doing meetings and was able to bring on board HSBC as a major sponsor for the event. I think in the first year and the second year it was Royal Bank of Scotland, RBS.

Liam Austin: So I got some really good I suppose experiences and wins on the board there. Came back to Australia and I was really looking for the right opportunity, and at the time, there was Myspace. I was in my third interview with them and pretty much was ready to sign the contract, but the department was saying, oh, we've just got to put things on hold for a moment. I wasn't quite sure why.

Liam Austin: So in the end, it was because they were failing as a business and they were about to crash and go down. So I was lucky I didn't go there in the end. I chose Empowered, which was an up and coming startup, small business, which was selling email advertising.

Liam Austin: I had noticed throughout my career that email was super important. When you would build your email list, it was really the median that would drive the revenue, would give you so much returns, and give you that interaction with your audience too. So this was an email focused media company. That's really all they did. They did everything via email.

Liam Austin: And so we were selling email packages to all the big brands, consumer targeted brands. And there was 500,000 people on the list, on average, throughout the few years that I worked there, which was a pretty great target audience to go out there and sell against. There wasn't many media companies with that size email list, which opened up a lot of doors to bring in and work with a lot of interesting consumer brands.

Jeff Bullas: So that was your first insight into the power of email, you're obviously working in media and also content obviously was very important. So then we'll quickly go into the next steps before we leap into what inspired you to start Entrepreneurs HQ and also Virtual Summit Academy.

Jeff Bullas: So you did Fit Warrior. So Fit Warrior sounds like a little bit of a sideshow to what you were doing I suppose as an athlete in football.

Liam Austin: Yeah, I've always just been entrepreneurial, I suppose. And when I got invited to be part of Fit Warrior, I was like, yeah, this is a good time to do something entrepreneurial and stay fit at the same time. And as I mentioned before, played professional soccer. I was really into my fitness.

Liam Austin: And this was an outdoor group training program for people who liked obstacle racing. So like Spartan races, Tough Mudder, those types of races. We were helping prepare people for those types of races, which was actually really fun, because we got to do some things that maybe the ordinary trainers would not take their students or their clients through.

Liam Austin: So we were like having people crawl through mud, crawl through bushes, over trees and over walls and just have a full, natural body movement versus just the really up and down, the bicep curl type stuff. So it was really great to be involved in that, which was really just... A session would start at 6:00 a.m. and we'd be done by 7:00 or 7:30. And I could go off and work on my other businesses.

Liam Austin: So worked on that, just in the mornings with a few mates and had a lot of fun along the way. Unfortunately, it didn't work out in the end, the guy who started it decided he didn't want to continue it and it wasn't my primary objective. I had other focuses.

Jeff Bullas: So you've basically been in and out of startups, you worked in publishing companies, and so 2015, so you started Entrepreneurs HQ back then or was it Virtual Summit Academy? They're both together, one is a training part of the company, is that correct? And the other one is the actual mothership. Is that how it's structured?

Liam Austin: Yeah, this is really the start of the current journey that I'm on. I met Sarah, who's my partner in the business as well as my partner in life and we realized that we needed to create an online business, in order to facilitate our lifestyles. And by that, I mean she was from Sweden, I was from Australia. She just finished studying at Sydney University, and was going to go home to Sweden, because her visa was running out. And we really needed to decide then, well, how are we going to make this work? How do we move between Europe and Australia, see each other's families, and stay happy? And an online business, and it's the natural choice there.

Liam Austin: So I'd started a LinkedIn group back in 2008 called the Small Business Network. And I didn't really do too much with it. When I created it, I knew a little bit of SEO, I thought, okay, I'll start this group on LinkedIn. LinkedIn is starting to get a bit of popularity and they'd just launched this group feature. I'll create this group called the Small Business Network. I'll throw in some keywords to attract people. And it's grown into the largest group on LinkedIn for small business owners, which has been the catalyst to creating this business.

Liam Austin: And so I said to Sarah at the time, look, I've got this, this group on LinkedIn, there was just under 100,000 members of that community. I wasn't doing anything with it, although I was receiving a ton of messages and emails from members of that community, asking me why I wasn't doing anything with it and suggesting things that we should or could be doing.

Liam Austin: I interviewed and surveyed those members to figure out, okay, well, what is it that you want? And it turned out that they were looking for connection, as well as an ability to network with each other, but learn from each other as well. So we started bringing in and inviting people from within the group, as well as outside the group to do training sessions or webinars at the time to that community. And we were receiving probably around about 100 registrations each week, because we were running these webinars on a weekly basis.

Liam Austin: And you could see, like it was a slow, incremental growth there with 100 people registering each week. But we noticed that whenever we invited someone to talk about LinkedIn, having the group focused on and grown on LinkedIn, it was the most appealing topic. And we got the most amount of registrations, as well if someone was selling something off the back of the webinar, we would make quite a bit of income from that.

Liam Austin: I thought, okay, well, this has some potential, but it's just growing too slow and it's not making nearly enough for Sarah and I to live this lifestyle that we want to do and then travel and sacrifice not going to a 9:00 to 5:00 job. So we found this model which was running a virtual event or a virtual conference, so which is really just a... if you've ever gone to an in-person conference where there's a series of speakers, there's maybe some exhibitors, and it's an all day or multi-day event, maybe during the week or whatever, a weekend. And we could replicate that in person event and pull it online.

Liam Austin: So that's what we did with our first event in 2015. I can go into the details about how we set that up.

Jeff Bullas: Okay, what I really like about the initial start of the story you've been telling is that you met a girl, she lived in another part of the world. And you wanted to create a lifestyle, you wanted to design a lifestyle that works in this digital world. And so you said, let's start an online business together, so that you could keep seeing the girl.

Jeff Bullas: I think that's a fantastic story. I have a little bit of a parallel myself. I met a backpacker who was from Sweden a long time ago, who became my wife and the only way I could actually get to continue to see her, because her visa was running out. And the only way I could stop her leaving, so we'd be together was actually to ask her to marry me and we got married in Sweden.

Jeff Bullas: So yours, you used a different tool, you decided to launch an online business with her. I can totally understand, because the power of love actually is pretty important in terms of motivation, and it looks like that was the inspiration for you starting. I think that's just a fabulous story.

Jeff Bullas: And I never knew that, Liam. I'm sure there's quite a few people around the world that have fallen in love, whether it's been on the other side of the world where they've been traveling, or they've run into someone who's passing through and the rest is history for a lot of people. And that's such a great story to hear from you.

Jeff Bullas: So you've been inspired to do this online business, you discovered the power of virtual. And obviously, when you invited these experts to come on, you were, I suppose, sharing some of their online products and doing a revenue split out of this, is that correct?

Liam Austin: Yeah, so we'd been doing this individually, like almost on a weekly basis with a variety of different topics and speakers. We noticed that LinkedIn was working the best. So we thought, well, why don't we bring together all the world's top LinkedIn experts, as well as LinkedIn influencers, who had been chosen by LinkedIn to be an influencer on the platform, to speak about their experience on generating leads and sales online?

Liam Austin: And a lot of those speakers had their own online courses or training or consulting businesses. And so we just said, look, we'll put together this event, we'll give you exposure, we're hoping to get a few thousand people to the event. And off the back of it, we can look at promoting your products and services. So you get some leads coming your way as well.

Liam Austin: But that event ended up having 15,000 attendees, which compared to an offline event, a small startup working from home, to have a 15,000 person event, it was really powerful. And we had some of the top LinkedIn experts in the world speak at that event, which would have been impossible if we did it in person as well.

Liam Austin: Just logistically trying to bring them all to one location and get the attendees to that one location, would have been impossible just with the availability of calendars and the cost involved of flights, accommodation. And so for someone to create 15,000 new leads in a business, but to also build the relationships with the audience and the experts and the top influencers in their market, at such a low barrier to entry, really allowed us to generate $50,000 in revenue and that was in US dollars, most of our audience from the LinkedIn group was from the US. So we structured everything for the US market. And we made $50,000 in a matter of under three months, from starting to formulate the idea and the concept through to actually finishing the event. So that $50,000 meant that Sarah and I, the love story there, we could stay together, we could travel and this was the start of a journey around the world really for us.

Jeff Bullas: Okay. So you were inspired by a girl and falling in love, you were driven because you had a pretty strong motivation. So you've started, now along the way, what was the mentors and inspiration that sustained you and gave you more guidance? Was there any aha moments or people that inspired, not inspired you but sustained you and gave you guidance?

Liam Austin: Yeah, definitely. There's been quite a number of people throughout the journey. But I think the thing that really changed it for me was that event in 2015, where we brought together these experts, and the way that I ran it at the time was, we did interviews with these experts. I got to ask these experts questions that I wanted to know the answer to. So it was almost like a second university degree.

Liam Austin: I feel like this journey that I've been on for the last five years has been better than that degree that I did at Macquarie. But each one of those people I've seen as a mentor along the way. We've had over 400 experts speak at our events over the years. We've done 15 of these events. And when I say these virtual conferences, they're 20 to 30 speaker events. We aim to get around 10,000 people per event and we've had over 100,000 people and small business owners is our target audience. So 100,000 small business owners and entrepreneurs come through our events, many of them coming to multiple and some of them all of our events, which is really nice to see.

Liam Austin: And there's been individuals within those groups who maybe I've connected with a little bit more, and there's been masterminds that I've been involved with, where I've got deeper relationships with those people. And even a couple of them, where we've gone through and invested in their business, as well as we've got on the phone and just supported each other along the way to share ideas, concepts, what's going on in the world, and trying to just help each other out whenever we've got an issue or a problem to be solved.

Liam Austin: So the virtual conferences enabled me to invite people that I respected, that I wanted to connect with who had a ton of value to share with the world and the audience, which I could bring in a way that was scalable, and we could reach as many people around the world. It doesn't matter their location, it was free. So there was no cost, which meant there was a big impact that we could have.

Liam Austin: And so just going through that, and meeting those people and eventually going through to meet these mentors, if you like, face-to-face and build relationships with them over time has been probably the most valuable thing about hosting and organizing these virtual conferences.

Jeff Bullas: So what I'm hearing from you then is that the most powerful thing you've gained from running these is actually the relationships you've built by literally just having a chat and talking to and hanging out and shining a light on the experts and the industry globally. And at the end of the day, relationships open the doors, they are just such a fabulous way to do business.

Jeff Bullas: And one of the reasons I'm doing this podcast is to actually sit down and have a fireside chat with people I've met before and new people we're going to meet during this podcast journey. And it's just really interesting to hear from you that the thing you've got most from this is being, the relationships that have been nurtured and the opportunities that have come out of that for you.

Jeff Bullas: But obviously, your goal is also to add value to the world and help people become better small business owners and entrepreneurs, which is great. So being an entrepreneur, this is what you've done, and also you've been in other people's businesses, but it's not an easy journey, is it? So it can be a lot of challenges along the way.

Jeff Bullas: So what are some of the biggest challenges you struck on this path?

Liam Austin: Yeah, where do you start? There have been so many. Back in 2000, working that startup and seeing all those connections happen and seeing them go through to exit the business, and so seeing all that happen, I wanted to try to see if I could replicate that myself. I started many businesses and what was it, 15 years before I started this current one, before I got really any success. So there were so many failures along the way.

Liam Austin: The biggest lesson I think that's inspired me, that's kept me going this whole time was that initial success with Soulmates Technology and just seeing that journey and being in the back end and seeing how we were bringing together people from all around the world virtually, and like hundreds of thousands of them. We were working with Microsoft, Yahoo, powering their dating technology, sections of their websites.

Liam Austin: So I could see that big business corporations were wanting to get in on this as well and it was really inspiring and inspirational to go through that. So that was the big lesson there, was just like this can be done. This is possible. The internet is super powerful, connecting people, having an impact, making money, the relationships, all of that was super inspirational.

Liam Austin: So then it was like, okay, how do I go out there and continue this journey for myself? When I was at Soulmates Technology, I was actually given a white labeled website. So we were white labeling for Yahoo, Microsoft, as I mentioned, and each one of the staff there got their own white labeled dating website.

Liam Austin: I had my own dating brand online that I was marketing. I was using that to learn SEO. I was learning how to change the design of the website and the colors. And most of the back end stuff, like the email marketing was done by the company itself. So it was really just me being an affiliate partner, if you like, just a white label partner of, okay, drive traffic to this website and we'll handle the rest.

Liam Austin: I was doing that and I was making a bit of money on top of the job. So this was exciting. I could see how I could drive traffic via SEO to this website and start making money myself. So this is pretty good, I'm enjoying this. And then Overture at the time, which was similar to what Google search terms, Google Ads is now, Overture got bought I think by Yahoo at the time, and I was paying for ads on Yahoo and some of the other websites, so search ad placements.

Liam Austin: So as I said, similar to Google Ads now, and I was one of their first customers. I learned about search advertising really early on. That must have been 2002, 2003. So this gave me a building block, a bit of a foundation of seeing what was really possible.

Liam Austin: And one of the big lessons from that was learning to watch my numbers, because one of the big mistakes I made then was, I was advertising on Overture, I threw a bit of money at it, and it was probably a bit more than I was comfortable with, but I also had my biggest month in terms of revenue. And I wasn't looking at my numbers enough to decide, okay, this is something that I can scale, if I keep throwing this money at it, I can keep generating this amount of revenue.

Liam Austin: I stopped doing that search advertising, and that probably set me back quite a bit, because I could have grown that a lot more. So that was a big lesson, just learning to watch the numbers a bit more closely and analyze those. And all the way through till 2015, I realized how hard it was to create a startup, to get success. Like it is tough to make money online. Even if... I felt like I knew what I was doing. I had some experience. I'd made money online, and I'd seen the insides of a really successful internet startup, but I couldn't replicate it myself, until I did my first virtual event.

Liam Austin: I had that success. 15,000 people, 50,000 in ticket sales. And from there, I was just like, you know what, we need to replicate this, and see if we can do similar numbers, see if this is not just a fluke, but it's something that can be replicated and we can grow from there. So we did our second event quite quickly after the LinkedIn Success Summit. And that was the Email Success Summit.

Liam Austin: And the reason we went from LinkedIn to email was that a lot of the experts were talking about how LinkedIn was a great place for prospecting, to meet new people. But if you want to convert them into customers, into clients, you need to take them off LinkedIn, get them into email or get them into a meeting, whether it's a virtual meeting or a face-to-face meeting.

Liam Austin: So we ran the Email Success Summit. From that event, I think there was 13,000 people. We managed to get to that virtual conference and we made similar money, but from that journey, I was like, okay, let's see how we can replicate this, how we can grow it. I was meeting all these successful internet marketers and online entrepreneurs and learning from them, building relationships. I felt like I'm getting my degree, even if we don't make money out of this I'm getting free education.

Liam Austin: So we realized, and now you mentioned before, like Virtual Summit Academy, how that came into it. We realized from doing these first few events that we wanted to survey our audience, to figure out, well, what do you want to learn next? How do you want us to improve these events to make them better?

Liam Austin: And that's another big lesson, you could say, where we had this group on LinkedIn, they were not really getting much help from the organizer, the owner of the group until I surveyed them. And they told me that they wanted to connect, they wanted to learn from each other.

Liam Austin: So then that led to our first virtual conference. From there, we would survey them again and they'd give us feedback that, okay, these are the type of topics we want to learn. This is what we're struggling with. So we've got that information, we were able to make decisions on, well, what are the other events we want to do? What other types of services or products could we provide that would solve some of their major problems?

Liam Austin: So that led to Virtual Summit Academy, with a lot of the audience we had, could see the success we were having with our virtual summits. We were building an email list. As I said, now, it's well over 100,000, we're able to grow our brand or my authority as the host, which enabled us to increase our conversion rates for any sales that we were making, because we had a more trusted brand. People know, like and trust us.

Liam Austin: We had relationships with these experts that we could lean on for support when we needed it. We could also help them when they needed it and grow that partnership and that relationship. We were able to have a massive impact on the people that we were servicing, because we were putting on these events for free. There were certainly some upgrades that we made available.

Liam Austin: But by and large, most people were able to get access to speakers and content that only normally they'd be able to get access to if they paid to go to an in person event. So they would have to pay for the ticket, flights, accommodation, time away from the family, and so forth.

Liam Austin: So we saw that all coming in. And then on top of that, the revenue that these events were making for us, and so all of the audience were recognizing this journey that we were on as well and how these virtual conferences were making a big difference to our lives. We were traveling from Sydney to Thailand, to Sweden, to now living in Malta, and many countries visiting in between and working from these countries, whilst you send me on holiday.

Liam Austin: They were asking us, well, can you teach us how to do these virtual conferences ourselves? I was pushing back at the time, because as we've gone through this journey, talking with you and you bringing up my history, I have worked a lot in media organization. So I thought that I wanted to create a media brand. I wanted to create a large audience and bring in advertising and sponsorship. That really had been my life prior to that.

Liam Austin: However, I realized quite quickly that as a team, we didn't really have the resources to go out there and find advertising and sponsorship for what we were doing and some of the data and algorithm or the automatic advertising that was out there, wasn't really bringing in the revenue to make it worthwhile. So we had to kind of put that to the side. And that's maybe another lesson as well, you tried some things, they don't work but you've got to be ready to move on and look for other opportunities and keep testing and learning as you go along.

Liam Austin: So the next one was really about, okay, let's listen to how audiences are saying that they want... they want to learn how to do these virtual conferences. So let's give it to them. So we started teaching people through Virtual Summit Academy, which is our online course how to do the conferences themselves, teaching them via a six week boot camp, with some extra training materials, scripts, templates to make it super easy for people to replicate what we'd been doing for the last few years for themselves and getting similar benefits for their business.

Liam Austin: And then from there, we've come to a place where we've found out again, from listening to our audience that, hey, we don't want to be doing all the tech setup ourselves. Can you just do it for us? So now we do a lot of “done for you” services, where we actually help build, create, plan and strategize people's virtual conferences and integrate it into their existing business, if they have it in their existing upsells and higher priced products and services, but also for businesses that are just starting.

Jeff Bullas: Yeah. So your timing at this point in world history, which we're going to look back on down the track, going, this was a moment in time that is going to transform the world. And you've actually created a whole skillset and a training program to actually run virtual events, because every live event now has literally been canceled globally.

Jeff Bullas: I think the numbers I've heard in America, there's 33,000 conferences a year just in the USA alone. Now, almost all of those are not going to operate, especially over the next six months, and maybe even longer, three months, six months. We don't know. So you're providing the expertise and as we know, well, a lot of us don't know, is that because a lot of us don't know what we don't know.

Jeff Bullas: And the reality is that what you're dealing with, when you're running a virtual conference, there's a lot of moving parts. For example, I've put off launching this podcast for over three years, a slight bit of procrastination. I had the equipment sitting in the cupboard and it never saw the light of day until earlier this year.

Jeff Bullas: I knew that, because I've been working this digital space as well, since I launched the blog and the website back in 2009. I knew there's going to be a lot of moving parts. I'm going, this is going to be tough to manage. So today, I have a team that can help me do that.

Jeff Bullas: And what's great here is that you can actually provide a done for you service that helps people launch these events, because you've been through all the pain of a speaker starting to talk and that's not actually working or their audio doesn't work or their video doesn't work or the email you sent out just didn't get delivered or something. I'm sure you've struck an enormous amount of challenges and problems over the years.

Jeff Bullas: What are the biggest issues you find for people that want to launch a virtual event?

Liam Austin: Yeah, there's a few different parts to pulling together one of these virtual conferences. Mind you, there's a lot less organization than an in person conference, but at the same time, there is a lot of moving parts to make it work.

Liam Austin: Compared to an in person conference, we don't need to a book conference hall or a meeting room well in advance, we don't need to organize the catering or the staff. All those expenses like up front, we don't have them virtually. So we can really spend that money towards maybe marketing and creating an awesome experience for the attendees.

Liam Austin: Now, for us, we've been running events since 2015. We've been using Zoom for most of our pre-recorded stuff. But when it comes to a virtual conference, you can have other elements to it, other than just pre-recorded content. You can have live sessions, for instance. And those live sessions can come in various different forms. They may be just a live Q&A with one speaker. It could be a panel discussion with a series of speakers, with maybe some interaction with the attendees as well, asking questions. There can be, say, a speaker doing a presentation with slides. There can be maybe an interview style session.

Liam Austin: And then you've got the interaction between the attendees as well, so it can be again a live Q&A, so interaction between the attendees and the speakers. But then there can also be many breakout rooms or roundtables, where people can gather together in groups, based on similar interests or locations and brainstorm and mastermind.

Jeff Bullas: So what sort of technology platforms are you using to do those breakout sessions and roundtables and masterminds? So obviously, Zoom is good for pre-recording and that's what we're using right here, right now. So what are some of the tech platforms you've been using? I'm sure they've changed over the years. But what are you currently using?

Liam Austin: Yeah, there's been some interesting developments on the tech side of things, that's for sure. Zoom now has breakout rooms. So you can provide these live elements within breakout rooms of Zoom. But there's a couple of other technologies that allow you to network with each other. Remo.co is one, hopin.to is another.

Liam Austin: And so that enables not just people to network and move around to different tables and actually see each other, but some of those allow speed networking as well. So kind of going full circle here. Back to the dating side where speed dating is a really successful event based on a real person, but that's now gone full circle. And now we're all in lockdown. People can do speed dating online, where you're you've got three minutes with each person and then you're rotated through to the next.

Liam Austin: And we can do that now with our virtual conferences, so people can actually meet each other via the speed networking. So we can match, say, founders with investors. And so the 10 founders and 10 investors can go through this speed networking event, each having a three minute pitch, meeting each other and deciding whether at the end of those three minutes, whether to exchange virtual business cards by both people need to click on yes or both need to swipe right to say they like each other.

Jeff Bullas: That's very cool. So what platform are you using for that?

Liam Austin: Hopin is one great one. And there's another one that we've just came across. But they're kind of in stealth beta at the moment, and they look like they're going to do some really cool stuff as well. They've got some technology that I've tested out. I think in about two weeks time, we'll be able to do an actual test with our own audience to see how that one works.

Liam Austin: But just during this time, everyone's locked indoors, there seems to be every man and their dog coming with event ideas and technology with us. And so I've been skeptical. I like to really try these technologies before I recommend them out to the audience, because it's similar when you want to learn something, you were talking about mentors before. If you want to learn how to do one of these virtual events, there's a ton of people jumping up now saying, yup, I'm an expert at these.

Liam Austin: But I think you really want to just study their background. Ensure that they have the right experience and they're the best possible person for you to learn from, for whatever goals you might have. Whether that is to increase your audience or make more money via these conferences, just make sure that you're learning from the right people and you're interviewing the right people and making an informed decision about who you want to go with.

Liam Austin: But there's so many interesting technologies coming at me now. I can't wait until we get out of this phase that we're in, this lockdown phase and we see some of the new developments, ideas and concepts that people have come up with, whilst they had nothing better to do whilst in lockdown.

Jeff Bullas: That's right. I think what we're experiencing is the evolution of virtual conferences and meetings, along with many other things. But it's interesting your observation that you're not chasing the shiny new toys, you want to make sure they work well before you actually leap and use them. You want to make sure you're using the right people that actually have got the expertise to teach and train as well.

Jeff Bullas: So what do you see as the future for virtual meetings?

Liam Austin: I think as we come out of this, the world has changed forever. So there's people that would never have considered a virtual meeting before. I know that there's corporations right now and friends of mine whose bosses said, no, you cannot work from home. It's just something that I'm not considering, for whatever their reasons may be.

Liam Austin: And now they've been forced to try it, try working from home, try these virtual meetings. People who were running offline conferences are now being forced to try virtual conferences and virtual events, and they're seeing that it may be a little bit better.

Liam Austin: Why do I say maybe it's better? There are some positives and negatives on both sides. So if you've got an in-person event, you get to shake the person's hand, you get to have that interaction, that physical contact that you wouldn't necessarily have at a virtual event.

Liam Austin: But let's just talk about the virtual events, because that's what I'm really an expert at. When you're meeting someone at these virtual events, before you walk up to them at the bar, or walk over to that group and introduce yourself, you can actually look at their online profile and decide, is that the group or is that person someone that I want to talk with? So what you want to be doing now is really looking through the list of attendees at the event, because you're virtual, you can see them all. And you can identify, okay, here's prospective customers, here's prospective partners, suppliers or investors and just go with a purpose at these events, specifically to the people who are going to impact you and your business.

Liam Austin: Most of the time, the reason why you go to these networking events is because you want to meet people who you can develop relationships with, business relationships to grow your business. And virtual just makes that so much easier. Because you can identify who you spend your time with, who you go and speak with.

Liam Austin: I think in that respect, it's a lot better. It's not so much of a time waster and that's where I see maybe virtual events going in the future, is that people are going to decide, okay, do I do an in-person event or a virtual event? We can scale these virtual events. We're not locked into the size of a physical room, this physical room, we can get maybe 1,000 people, 30,000, we have to rent that stadium down the road, but virtually we can get 30,000 no problem. 100,000, even some of the tech where you can do these networking and virtual events together with over 1 million people, which is just incredible at really low costs.

Liam Austin: And with all those people that are coming through, they can all be tracked, every single one of their interactions. So you understand what they're doing, why they're doing it, and serve them content and information that's going to be helpful and useful for them, so they get a better experience at that event. And you can actually take that data away post-event too, and look through all that data to, again, help and support those attendees post-event, but also use that information to help you improve your future events.

Liam Austin: And so all those data points you get access to, with a virtual event, you just don't get or you don't know with the in-person conferences. So I see many more corporations, small business owners, people who just want to bring a community together, that are doing maybe these in-person events, will consider doing both an in-person event and a virtual event. Or, if they're looking to build a global community, they can opt for just doing a virtual event, whereas prior to this, they may never have considered it.

Jeff Bullas: I think you've really raised some valid, very important points. And I do like going to conferences, because you actually can get to meet people physically, break bread with them, share a drink or a coffee, whatever you want to do. But sometimes I've been to 15,000... in fact, I've been to Salesforce or Dreamforce in San Francisco, 175,000 people. It's almost overwhelming.

Jeff Bullas: I don't know if this person that you walk past or you sit next to or meet with is actually a value to either of you. I think what's happening now is, and as the technology even improves, like you talked about doing breakouts, what was the one you mentioned? Pop In or Drop In?

Liam Austin: Hopin.

Jeff Bullas: Hopin. That's very, very cool. Last week, I started using Zoom and even FaceTime more because we can't get out and meet. I shared virtual drinks with a couple of friends of mine, he and his wife. And what really I found fascinating was that the virtual meeting drinks we shared, where we joked, laughed, gave each other a hard time as we do in Australia, it was so close to what I'd normally experienced. In fact, some of it was even better. I went, wow.

Jeff Bullas: And as you said, I think the world's going to be changed forever. I still want to meet people in person. That's what I love about the world, travel, hopefully I'm going to drop in and say hi to you and Sarah in Malta at some stage, if you're still there. I might track you down. You might be in Iceland by then, we don't know.

Jeff Bullas: But the reality is that, yes, it has changed forever. I think you're in such a fascinating place and it's going to be really, really interesting to see how the next two or three years pans out for conferences, meetings, even selling online, building relationships online, raising venture capital online. I think there's a whole bunch of things that are going to happen. We just don't know. This is uncharted territory and that's rather exciting.

Liam Austin: I think the idea of just pushing people or forcing people who never would consider virtual before, maybe it would take a few more years to adopt this. People are being fast forwarded through time, if you like, to adopt these technologies faster than they normally would. So it's going to be, as you said, just interesting to see the ideas, concepts and where we go from here. And in-person conferences definitely, I don't think will disappear.

Jeff Bullas: No, they won't.

Liam Austin: We're going to be all meeting in person and that's one of the major benefits and the best things about these in-person events.

Jeff Bullas: Yeah, we're in the middle of a time in history of high speed human evolution and the intersection of technology is creating exponential growth and change. So just I'm aware of your time, I don't want to hold you up too long, because I'm sure you've got a few things to do in Malta like run three virtual events today.

Jeff Bullas: You've learned a lot of the challenges. You're an overnight success after 15, 20 years. You're in the right place at the right time, at the moment and that's just great to see and running this to talk to you now, I'm actually going to maybe push this up the publishing priority list. Because I think people need to know this.

Jeff Bullas: So just to sum it up, what are the three things that you would like our listeners to take away from our chat today?

Liam Austin: All right. Well, I think from this chat, it's really the opportunity, when there's opportunities put in front of you, follow it. If people are telling you something and if your audience is telling you something, even more important to listen to them. Go with it, test it, try it, because you never know where it's going to lead you. So that would really probably be the first one, look for those opportunities, listen to your market and start testing to see whether that works.

Liam Austin: The next is virtual events. Test them, try it, it's really low cost of entry. Just make sure that you strategize and plan your event, so that it aligns really well with your existing business. How do you do that? Just very quickly, you want to look at, well, what is the main product or service that you're selling, that high ticket item?

Liam Austin: And now we work our way back from there. So we know the high ticket item. Hopefully, it's existing, it's selling really well. We know who our ideal target market is for that. And then we work our way back to say, all right, well, this virtual conference, how do we attract our ideal prospects for this high ticket item?

Liam Austin: So we plan and strategize the topic, the agenda, the speakers that we invite and the marketing and the copy, so that we use that as the tool to prospect and invite people into our community, into our world, into our funnel, ultimately to sell them to that high ticket item. So that would be probably the second one, look at making sure we plan and strategize our virtual events really well, and that we actually do try out one of these virtual events or conferences for ourselves.

Liam Austin: The third one, maybe we should talk about, love since this has been really a love story or a story about relationships. Yeah, there's going to be some people that are in lockdown now that are tired of their spouse or getting frustrated by your kids running about in the household. I think once we come out of this, I think we're going to be having better, deeper relationships.

Liam Austin: So, again, just take the time to figure out solutions to problems that may come up in your personal relationships. And you can always figure out a way, whether that's to get married, to not let them leave the country or to create an online business, so that you can stay in the same country together. I think those are probably the three main takeaways.

Jeff Bullas: Great. That's great to hear. So number one, you're talking about going and basically follow the green light first, if something's working, double down on it, and actually then use data to make sure to test to see if it works. Number two, have a clear plan and a strategy. And number three, make sure that you nourish and nurture the relationships that matter.

Jeff Bullas: I think that's what we've all learned from the last few weeks is that I've spent a lot more time keeping in touch with people, and we've come to realize that being human is not just about the money. It's very much about nurturing and loving people. I think saying we actually love you and I think that's what we need to say a lot more and hold each other closer. And it's so great to hear.

Jeff Bullas: And thank you very much for sharing your insights, Liam, it's been wonderful to have a chat and discover a lot more about you that I didn't know. And thank you for sharing your wisdom with the world and my listeners.

Jeff Bullas: And how can people find you, Liam, if they want to learn a bit more about running virtual meetings and conferences?

Liam Austin: Sure, well, entrepreneurshq.com. If you go to the website, you can figure out all about how to run a virtual event for yourself and the benefits of that. Once you create one of these virtual events, you can have social media content for an entire year. So you don't have to worry about posting on Facebook or Instagram or LinkedIn for the whole year. And we talk about that, as well as how to create or set up your back end product. So that high ticket item, to sell on your virtual event, which really brings in the most amount of revenue.

Liam Austin: So a lot of resources there. There's a virtual conference guide that I have on that page as well, that you can... it's really in depth and you can print that out and read it, it's 23,000 words, which will give you a good idea of how to maybe go out and do this yourself. Or, if you want to learn from me, we've got Virtual Summit Academy, which again, you can find from entrepreneurshq.com, or you can just email me and let me know. You might need some help with our “done for you” services, and happy to see how we can help you in that regard.

Jeff Bullas: Great. Thank you, Liam. It's been an absolute joy to chat with you. I think a lot of our listeners are going to take a lot away from today's actual chat. Thank you very much. It's been an absolute pleasure.

Liam Austin: Thank you, Jeff. Appreciate it.

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