Tech Is Cool, People Are Cooler: Creating Meaningful Virtual Presentations With Kassy LaBorie

Penny ZenkerTake Back Time Podcast

Take Back Time | Kassy LaBorie | Virtual Presentation

 

Tech is cool, but what’s cooler? People. In virtual presentations, it’s important not only to understand the technology but also to make every participant feel valued. In this episode, we have Kassy LaBorie share her journey of success in online engagement. She discusses the mistakes people make when hosting online meetings and presentations during a lively conversation about the evolution of virtual training. With her experience, she shares tips on connecting with others online to make everyone feel important. Kassy reveals two crucial principles that are effective for online interactions. Throughout the episode, she stresses the importance of encouraging audience participation and challenges hosts to ask themselves, “What could my audience say or do instead of what I am saying or doing?” Tune in now and learn why people are cooler than tech!

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Tech Is Cool, People Are Cooler: Creating Meaningful Virtual Presentations With Kassy LaBorie

I am so excited to talk about virtual presentations and how we can create more connections regardless of where we are. I have a wonderful expert and good friend, Kassy LaBorie, with me. She is an expert in this space. She’s a professional speaker, author, and the original virtual training hero on a mission to rid the world of boring slides, reading lectures, and passive virtual participants. She’s the Founder and Principal Consultant at Kassy LaBorie Consulting, certifying L&D professionals to become virtual trainers, designers, and producers around the globe every single day. Kassy, welcome to the show.

Thank you for having me. What an excellent read of that tongue-twister bio.

Let’s talk about the original because I didn’t expand upon that. What makes you the original?

It’s time and position. I started doing virtual training in the late’90s when no one cared about virtual training or meetings.

Why did you?

I lived in San Francisco. I now live in Upstate New York. At the time, it was a cool Silicon Valley job to have. I was a Microsoft trainer teaching people how to sling Word documents and fill out spreadsheets. I was driving down the 101. For anyone in the Bay Area, it’s a nice busy freeway from San Francisco down to San Jose, and I saw a big billboard featuring RuPaul. It was an ad campaign with Webex, and it said, “We’ve got to start meeting like this.” “What’s the next cool Silicon Valley job that I could have?” I joined Webex right away as a product trainer. I got a boa and a beach ball, and the rest is history.

You could feel that this was a calling for you from the very beginning. You saw a billboard, and you were like, “I have to be there.”

I wanted a cool job because at that time, in Silicon Valley, there were a lot of cool hot tech jobs, and that one caught my eye because of their creativity with that campaign. I wouldn’t say that I knew what the heck I was getting into. It’s 1999. Fast forward two years, the world changed in terms of how we feel about travel with 911. I knew then, “This cool job that I have doing this cool stuff with this technology is impacting the world differently.” We go on with the things that happened with an economic downturn in the mid-2000s and then the events and our reaction to it in March 2020.

In March 2020, our world changed as we all know. In February 2020, I wrote a speech, and it was called The Virtual Trainer’s Guide to Becoming a Hero. All I did was follow Joseph Campbell’s storyline. I thought it would be a fun speech to do. I live in Rochester, New York. I went to RIT, the Rochester Institute of Technology, and got a 2D animation student who was graduating because I needed some original artwork because prior to March 2020, trying to get any imagery around being in an online meeting was like you would grab a computer image, put people, try to superimpose those people onto the computer, find a microphone, and make your own.

I wanted cartoons and things. We came up with the concept of the hero that I wanted. I named her Virtual Viv, and I had her draw them up for me. I have a couple of heroes, friends, and frenemies. There were also some villains. I did this whole speech in February 2020. When March 2020 happened, I had all this great artwork, and I was like, “I’m going to start using it to encourage people.” I started posting a hero tip a day throughout the early parts of those months, which ultimately led to an eBook that you can still get ahold of on my website. The hero became more part of the brand, and I started using that artwork because I had it. It was helping people have a bit of fun during some rather dark times.

We don’t have a lot of attention from people these days. I know that things have shifted. Let’s go from where the current state is. There are still some things we’re doing wrong that we were doing wrong before, and we’re still doing wrong. We’re still having too many meetings. What do you think are the biggest mistakes that people are making? Let’s go from there and understand why we’re making them and what we do about it.

The mistakes that we’re making are slightly different than the mistakes we were making before everyone went online. Before, it was like, “You could also do this online,” but it was always an afterthought, or maybe another department in the organization is doing that, not us, “I don’t want to have to.” That’s where all the conversations were before.

Where we are now though is that we have been online, and we know how to use these features but we’re not using them. I wholeheartedly believe and have noticed as I coach people and help them to become more effective that we still approach being online as a less-than experience. What I mean by that is that people still approach a Teams meeting, a Zoom meeting, or a Webex meeting as if it’s this option that we have to do because we work remotely now, “If we were in person like we were before, it would be a better experience but since we’re online, let’s do this and get through it.”

All kinds of things start to happen from there because we have this mindset, “If we were in person, it would be better but now that we’re online, we will just do this. I’ll lecture through the first part, and then you can have your questions at the end,” which we know in person that you need your questions in the beginning and throughout. We don’t make you wait until the end.

To your point about, “We will do this,” energy is everything. It’s what we create. If we go in thinking it’s a less-than, it’s like going into a negotiation thinking you’re going to lose.

We have a lot of fun when I’m coaching presenters and trainers, and we play with our voices. Your voice is arguably your most important tool online and maybe everywhere but especially here. Let’s play the role of the presenter who wants to get out of here and hear what that sounds like. It’s so fun.

That’s a good exercise. “We’re talking to Kassy LaBorie and she’s going to talk to us about virtual training.”

“Let’s try to get through this. We have ten minutes. Can you see my slide? Wait. Let’s move forward.”

“Can you hear me? I apologize about my dog.” Let’s stop apologizing. We’re used to it now. I get it. We need to stop those things. Tell us how we can shift that mindset. How do we know? How do you know? These meetings can be interactive and connective as if we’re in person.

We need two things. They form the two main principles that are the two main guidelines for myself and what I like to share with people. The first one is to ask yourself, “What am I saying or doing that I could let my audience say or do instead?”

I started to embrace that even on stage as a speaker. Where can you let others fill in the gap, finish this sentence, or things like that?

Do I have to do all the saying and the doing? Let’s add thinking. Do I have to do all the thinking for you? What we want to do is begin the process and then let you say, do, and think for yourself. How can we bring that to our online environments? What we tend to do online is we want to get it over with, “Nobody is listening anyway. They’re not on the camera. I have 150 slides. Let me do it real quick. The faster I read them, the faster you will learn them, and we will be done.”

We take this approach for a lot of reasons, which is going to lead me to the second principle to be effective with the first one because when you’re online and you’re letting other people say and do things, they’re chatting. They are going into breakout rooms to work in small group activities. They are using the annotation tools and other applications you might combine. A lot of that is pretty tech-heavy and can be a barrier to entry to the usage of that. The second principle that I have is equally important. It’s number two because we talk about it second, not because it’s chronological in any other way. Number two is you have to learn the tech, use the heck out of the tech, and then get over the tech.

Take Back Time | Kassy LaBorie | Virtual Presentation

Virtual Presentation: You have to learn the tech, use the heck out of the tech, and then get over the tech.

 

Get the heck out of the tech.

You have to use the heck out of it but then get over it. Do you remember when we first got our cell phones? For me, that goes back to flip phone days. I remember getting one and calling my mom. She’s like, “What’s up?” I’m like, “Nothing. I just have a new phone. I don’t need anything.” She’s like, “That’s awesome.” It sounds funny because we don’t do that anymore, and that’s what we need to do with all these digital tools that we use to communicate. If you’re still fussing with it, it’s in your way. If it’s in your way, it’s a less-than experience for you. It’s too nerve-wracking to let your audience or your participants be part of it because you don’t know how to be part of it.

That happens a lot. We don’t prepare enough. We haven’t tested the tech to make sure that it works and that we’re ready to go for a meeting. There’s a certain level of professionalism that brings down the session or whatever it is that you’re doing when you’re fussing with it. You should know exactly what to press, instructions to tell people what to do, and all of that.

It’s a part of your credibility. You have to earn the right to present online by being able to manage the space. This is a funny way to think about it. What if a presenter came into a room, we were all in person, and they didn’t know how to use the stage or the podium? They didn’t know what a chair was for. They didn’t understand why people were sitting on them. They didn’t know how to be in the space. It seems absurd for me to even bring that up but let’s translate that to online, “I don’t know how to share my screen visuals. Don’t use the chat. I’ll be distracted by that.” I’m the opposite. If you don’t use the chat, I’m distracted because you haven’t.

Me too, “What’s wrong? Why aren’t people engaging here? Pop this into the chat.” There’s a balance. There are also people who misuse and find that as a forum to get all yappy.

You have a responsibility. I’m glad you brought that up because we have a responsibility to take the lead and step into our role as the presenter, the facilitator, the coach, or whoever is leading the meeting. We have a responsibility to the audience. If things are getting out of control as they would in person, you would not let it happen. If you do let it happen, then you’re not quite ready to lead. You have to be able to reel it back in.

Whoever is leading the meeting, we have a responsibility to the audience. Click To Tweet

What a lot of people will do online is 1.) They will invite thousands, and then 2.) They will disable things because they can’t control it. I would suggest, “Why do we have thousands here? If you have thousands, why does it need to be live? Why is it not a recorded situation that can be controlled?” Rather than disable, why don’t we manage and set the bar high for how we are going to act and how we can respect one another? That has a lot to do with letting the audience know that you see them and care about them and that their active participation and their membership in this environment are propelling us forward, “It matters that you are here.” When people know that they matter, they act differently.

That makes a lot of sense. I didn’t think of it that way. You disable people. They’re going to shut down, turn off, multitask, and do other things. If you engage them in a thoughtful way, you also don’t get that type of thing. One of the things that I do is finish this sentence. That way, I get everybody’s feedback but we don’t get long paragraphs, “Give me one word that tells me how you’re feeling about this.” I do that in person too on stage because we want to get a pulse from people. There’s a time for discussion, and there’s a time to check.

They’re looking to you for leadership. I used to work for Dale Carnegie, and I love this quote. I’ve carried it with me forever. I loved it before I worked there, and I carry it now, “People will support a world they helped to create.”

I’ve heard, “People support what they create,” the short version of it. That sticks with me as well all the time when we think about engagement of any kind, whether it’s online or the whole caboodle of how somebody shows up in the culture.

If I matter, then it will matter. I have to matter first. I went to a training that was to be conducted online, and they were adamant about everyone being on the webcam and being on time. You can’t miss anything. It’s fine. I read everything ahead of time. I’m a good online ahead-of-time student. When I got there, they had 117 people. We were all required to be on camera. They disabled all the chat and then lectured at us for the first 30 minutes of the session while also managing tech problems. There were questions, “If we’re late, what do we do?” All of which had been sent to us ahead of time.

Take Back Time | Kassy LaBorie | Virtual Presentation

Virtual Presentation: If I matter, then it will matter. I have to matter first.

 

I unenrolled from the program because I said, “Why are you making me be on the camera when you cannot see me?” I teach people to be on camera. I get it. I can get on a whole soapbox on webcams. That’s a whole thing. I was like, “I can’t send chat messages. You want me to sit and look at the camera yet I don’t feel like I matter here. You matter. You need to see me on camera, and you need me to not disturb you in the chat, none of which align with my needs.”

I love that perspective because it’s real. It’s true. People who are leading these meetings do not understand that. They don’t recognize that. It constantly comes back to our need for control, fulfilling our needs, not being in service, and seeing what needs everybody else has. That’s helpful.

We need to earn that respect, earn that right, and earn their trust so that we can have an engaging experience but it’s not about me showing up and telling you what to do. Who gets to do that? There are some people in the world who may be like, “Tell me what to do,” but they have long before earned the right for me to even be open to that. We have read them and seen them speak and they have already earned it long before that moment. I’m like, “Tell me what to do. I’m finally here.” That’s not most of us.

In that same context, it’s not that we need to make people feel like they matter once in a while. In everything that we do as leaders, that needs to be the guiding principle. It’s to create that connection so people feel like they matter every single day.

That’s such an important point. It doesn’t matter if you’re online or in person. I know it to be true. Working remotely for the last 25 years, online and in person, but primarily online has made me more effective in person because I’ve had to focus strategically on what I am having you do because otherwise, you will completely disengage. If I’m not paying attention to that, the X in the top-right corner is very powerful. I have to pay attention to that. It makes me go, “Why wasn’t I doing this in person?”

People let you get away with things in person because they’re there all day. What else are they going to do? They have already traveled to the site. They have already committed. There are donuts down the hall. You’re probably only going to talk in our moments. I’ll be able to network with these other people in between that time and forget that I didn’t care about what you said or how you said it.

I saw a statistic. I’m going to butcher it because I saw it very briefly on my scroll-by but we would save something like 45% of our productivity if we reduced our meetings by something like 35%. I butchered the numbers but some significant amount of productivity would be gained by reducing a third of our meetings. We were going to see twice that in terms of productivity.

People can only take in so much. In learning and development, before we were all online as much as we are, we were in this trap of Monday through Friday from 8:00 to 5:00, generally speaking, give or take, 5 days, 4 days, or 3 days. They had to be off the schedule. They had to fly and travel in. We had to fill the time. Even though brain capacity wasn’t going to work, we had to fill it, build in breaks, and make sure they had great food. They weren’t going to be able to remember all the things. It had to be an overall experience. We’re still operating from that.

While we used to have all this content, it was all filler content. We have such an opportunity now when we stop comparing what we did in person to what we are able to do online. I say in the keynote that I am delivering this time, “We can get rid of what we did not need in person or that we were forced to do in person like being there for 8 hours in 5 days. Let’s lose the bad stuff about being online when we were all forced online before we were ready. Let’s make space for what the future holds.”

Let’s strategically and with intention choose the best mode, the best content, and the best moments for each one because sometimes we do need to be in person. I love the togetherness that we can create that comes from human connection, and then we don’t need it as much though as we think. There’s so much more we can do online. Let’s make space for all the cool stuff and get rid of the bad all the way. We don’t need to go back to normal. We get to move forward with intention.

To wrap this up, is there anything that I didn’t ask you yet that you feel is important to share with the audience?

We have so much great stuff covered here. Thank you. The only thing would be to not be so hard on yourself too. I’ve said a whole lot of things here, “You need this and that.” At the same time, we’re all doing our best. Give yourself a break. You have an opportunity here to learn some things. One of my favorite ways to learn is to get together with other people and see what they’re doing and how they’re using the tools. I try a few new things. I don’t do everything all at once, “I’m going to be a chat master for the next four meetings and be great at chat. I’m going to use annotation every time for the next five meetings, and the next thing you know, I’m good at both of those things.” Give yourself a break. You’re doing your best. Don’t give up.

Give yourself a break. You're doing your best. Don't give up. Click To Tweet

Don’t do it all at once. That goes for the tech and all of this. It’s so applicable in every area of our lives. We do tend to take on too much. We tend to have a list of things that we need to do that are this big. It comes down to focusing on a couple of core things. It’s the same thing when you’re talking about mastering these online meetings.

Take a moment to reset, “I’m good at chat. I’m going to reset.” Let it sink in, “I’m on a journey to get good at annotation.” The next thing you know, you’re doing all the things. If you can get specific, give yourself that break, and take a break throughout, it will be all right. Another thing I always think about too is that even if I’m good at all this, they’re going to add a new feature I haven’t even thought of yet, and I’m going to have to learn that thing too. There’s your reality. Try to have a good time.

Each reset or each pause enables us to think about what worked and what didn’t. What can we learn to apply it? Often we’re not taking a beat to reflect on what was working and what didn’t so that we can do more of what’s working and then work on the things that aren’t.

Don’t give up too. If it doesn’t work, don’t give up. Look at the way other people are using it at that moment that you’re taking that pause and resetting. Maybe it didn’t work in the way you tried it. Try something else. Other people can help or maybe a new release of the feature.

You can query people to see that so you can use even more technology to do that.

With a focus on the human connection side of it. I’m like, “Tech is cool but do you know what’s cooler? People.”

I like that. That’s a good quote. Tech is cool. People are cooler. There are a lot of fantastic nuggets. Where can people find out more about you? Tell us where they can get ahold of you.

You can find me floating around LinkedIn. I’m very active on LinkedIn. You can also find me at KassySpeaks.com.

Thank you so much for being here.

Thank you for having me, Penny. It was a pleasure.

Thank you all for being here. This is an important session. You think you know it all when it comes to online, you’re done with it, or wherever you are. There were some bombs in there. Remember that strategies are cross-contextual. Some of the things that you heard here that are applicable online are applicable in person too.

It’s about how we connect better and how we engage at that level of people understanding that they matter. As leaders, we are in service to help people bring out the best in themselves. In turn, we bring out the best in ourselves. With that, thank you for being here. Thank you, Kassy. We will see you in the next episode. Take care, everyone.

 

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About Kassy LaBorie

Take Back Time | Kassy LaBorie | Virtual PresentationKassy LaBorie is the founder and principal consultant at Kassy LaBorie Consulting, LLC. She is a professional speaker, author, facilitator, and instructional designer who specializes in virtual engagement for learning and development professionals and business owners who get to use web conferencing technology to connect with people around the globe. She’s known for believing that “being online is certainly equal to, and in some cases, better than, being in-person!”

In her previous role at Dale Carnegie & Associates, she was the director of virtual training services, a corporate consultancy that partnered with organizations to help them develop, design, and develop successful online training strategies. Kassy also served as the product design architect responsible for developing the company’s live online training product and experience, leading a team that built a $4 million dollar business in 4 years.

At the beginning of her virtual training career dating back to 1999, she was at the forefront of early online training strategies by serving as a senior product trainer at WebEx, where she helped conceptualize, build, and deliver virtual training for WebEx University.

Kassy is the co-author of Interact and Engage! 75+ Activities for Virtual Training, Meetings, and Webinars (ATD Press, Second Edition, December 2022), and author of Producing Virtual Training, Meetings, and Webinars (ATD Press, January 2021).

A frequent speaker at industry conferences since 2006, she has presented at Training Magazine’s yearly conference and TechLearn; the Learning Guild’s DevLearn and Learning Solutions conferences; Chief Learning Officer symposiums; and each of ATD’s conferences both online and in-person including TechKnowledge, Core4, and International Conference & Exposition (ICE). She also keynotes ATD Chapter events and partners with many chapters to offer her Virtual Facilitator Certification to their members.

See what Kassy is up to next by connecting with her on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/kassylaborie/ and following her at KassyConsulting.com

 

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