Being A Keynote Speaker In A World of Virtual Events: An Interview With Brian Fanzo

Brian Fanzo The Experience Maker Show

There’s a lot going on in the world, but as my grandmother used to say this, this too will pass. And when it does, we’ve got to be ready to go back to business and really start moving things forward. Brian Fanzo is a guy who is always moving things forward, a good friend of mine, a digital futurist and the founder of iSocialFanz. Brian joined me for The Experience Maker Show live on LinkedIn and Periscope.

Dan Gingiss: Fanzo, I have to start with your title. What is a digital futurist?

Brian Fanzo: I don’t have a niche per se right? And I always say, I’m “Team No Niche.” But I always caveat by saying I’m a big believer that if you have a niche, you should double down and own it. It should be your thing. If you don’t have a niche, if you’re selling that like me and you have lots of different passions, talks about lots of different things, you can still be successful. You have to do things differently. And one of the things that you really have to do differently if you don’t have a niche, is you really have to have some way for people to talk about what you do – that either opens up a dialog or makes it easy to separate you from other people. And so for me, although the last couple years I pivoted into speaking full time, someone saying Brian’s a millennial keynote speaker doesn’t really provide anything other than saying that’s what he does.

A digital futurist is this idea of connecting innovation, creativity and digital with a synergy of humanity. It’s understanding, this is where we’re going in the future. This is what we need to be doing now. Here are the things that we need to do to make that happen. One of the things that I really enjoy about the digital futurist landscape is that it’s more than technology; I believe part of it is psychology. I’m not a big believer in jumping on every shiny object, although I do it so that I can help others decide. I’m not a big believer in saying that you have to be everywhere for everyone. And so part of what my job is I test things out and I come back and say, here’s what the value is. Here’s the reason that some people are using it and hopefully let others decide what is right or wrong. It’s not my job to tell you when you should jump on TikTok if you’re a brand. It’s my job to say this is what’s working on TikTok. This is the psychology of the creators. This is the value-add. This is the demographic. Here is that information.

Gingiss: I’ve seen you come such a long way from a brand-new speaker to really be one of these stellar in-demand speakers. And I’ve noticed that your message, while always being about digital and social and FOMO, is also honing in on being human. To me, that’s what’s so interesting because that’s the customer experience part in my mind. It’s not just about throwing content out there. It’s about how do you engage with people, how do you listen to your fans and then deliver what they want. So talk to me about how you’ve evolved and how you’ve taken, even though it’s not necessarily a niche, but this idea of customer experience, engagement, having a relationship with your customers and clients, and built it into what you do.

Fanzo: I think it has something to do with my dad who instilled in me “the importance of a handshake”. Your word is bond. If you say something, you deliver. You don’t burn bridges. Those are things I grew up on. And I think as digital, as technology, as this world has evolved, a lot of people have lost sight of those core values. And for me, those core values are still what matter the most to me. They’re also the things that can help businesses move the needle.

What if I can be the person that can always provide a perspective focused on relating to my audience? That’s why my job as a podcaster, as a keynote speaker, even the work I’m doing from a virtual event perspective right now, it’s like, “I understand this is what you are doing and this is what the audience wants. But let’s switch our perspective to the human side and the consumer side.”

Gingiss: The corporate role that got me started on this journey was my last role with Discover where I was the head of digital customer experience. I was recruited to this role having no digital background and no customer experience background. And I remember having a talk with the chief digital officer who hired me and asking, “why did you pick me for this role?” And he said, “Because I’ve noticed something about you, Dan. Every time you’re in a meeting, you are wearing the customer’s hat. You are sitting in the customer’s chair and you’re thinking about it from their perspective. And we really need that from a digital perspective.” So I hear what you’re saying with thinking through the perspective of an audience, or if you’re a business, through your customer, because we spend so much time figuring out what it is we want to tell people or what it is we want them to do, and not nearly enough trying to figure out what is it that they want from us and how can we help.

Fanzo: Digital gave us the data that every marketer has always wanted and it gave us the direct line of communication to the customer that we’ve always wanted. Yet for whatever reason, the distance continued to grow. I think we can come back to it. I really do think this is where we’re at right now with this whole coronavirus piece, the idea of building trust and only focusing on your current customer base, not trying to add new customers during this time period. I think is more important than it’s ever been. And that whole customer experience element is going to have to be shifted to every marketer, every sales team, every PR team. It’s the mindset of, how do you put yourself in the shoes of your customer?

Gingiss: I totally agree. I think it is more important right now than ever before, not only because I don’t think people are particularly open to being sold to right now, but also because customers are looking to companies for that confidence and for that comfort that they’re not necessarily getting from the media or from our politicians. And so they’re looking to some other authority.

It is not a great time to be a public speaker right now. Our industry, like many others, has been completely upended. You are taking advantage of some of your background, which includes a lot of video and virtual you’ve really been doing from the beginning. Talk about how you’re adapting your own business and what it is that you’re seeing.

Fanzo: I had 14 speaking gigs booked over the next 75, 90 days and all but one of them were canceled. For me, the interesting thing is that there’s a reason virtual events have never replaced or even tapped into the market of offline conferences. And it’s because I don’t believe virtual and digital ever will replace the synergy, the serendipity, all the things that exist in the offline conference, especially in a world where we’re on our screens more. I’ve always been a big believer that as the screen dependency increased, we would also increase our desire to travel to events that would force us to be off our screen.

As soon as this all happened, I saw lots of events announcing that they were moving virtual and going digital. My first concern was, and it happened immediately, was that back-to-back webinars is not a digital event to replace an online conference. Just doing a live video to Facebook Live or LinkedIn does not replace the idea of doing an offline conference.

As you know, there are some great YouTube creators that if you give them a stage, they are not great. For some speakers and a lot of great speakers, some of the speakers that I’ve looked up to, when you put them in front of a camera without the live audience, without the stage, without the environment that they’ve worked on for 10, 15, 20 years, they become a robot. They can’t figure out where to look. They start reading a teleprompter and you’re like, wait a second, you are the most captivating live person I’ve ever seen.

So for me, part of it was, how can I leverage [my background]? I mean, I’ve done a little over 3,500 livestreams since March of 2014. I’ve worked with some of the largest brands in the world to launch live video. But how do I help us all as a world now that we’re kind of forced into this social distancing environment, to restructure and reinvent what a digital event is.

One of the things that I’ve been working on is trying to build what a digital event should look like from the digitally-distracted audience perspective. So thinking about it from the format and content structure, what should the interface look like, and what should the options be. If everyone learns differently and everyone prefers to engage differently, forcing every attendee to be on video doesn’t make sense but providing different options for different people does. I’ve kind of built out what I call like your “choose your own adventure” version of virtual events.

Gingiss: As a speaker, you know one of the things about being on a stage is you can look into people’s eyes and you can see reactions. And which stories that you’re telling are people laughing or smiling at or reacting to. I always take that visual feedback every single time I’m on stage and do something with it the next time. And I think that’s going to be an interesting challenge in virtual. And the other thing is that an actual conference has breaks where you go and mingle with people and you get snacks and coffee and you shake hands, and all of that goes away virtually. So I agree that it’s not about a series of webinars, but how do we kind of recreate the magic? And hopefully what happens is we recreate it in a way that’s sustainable even after this year and when you’ve got in-person events.

Fanzo: I think that even allows us to redesign the future offline conference to leverage some of the components. Virtual events will be the components for really innovative offline events when we move back towards that environment, if we do this correctly.

The interview was edited for length and clarity. Learn more about Brian at www.brianfanzo.com. The Experience Maker Show airs live on LinkedIn and Periscope every Thursday at 4 PM Eastern; replays are also available.