Episode 23 – designing events for rich connection – with Robbie Samuels
Robbie has been recognized as a networking expert by NPR, Harvard Business Review, Forbes, and Inc, and as an expert in virtual event design by JDC Events.
His three books that have collectively received over 600 5-star reviews - a couple of them being mine, and I wouldn’t be surprised if his fourth is about how to effectively launch a book, or the bigger topic of how to effectively engage your fans to not only build your business but to also support your charity of choice.
Since 2016, Robbie has also hosted the On the Schmooze podcast and, since March 2020, the #NoMoreBadZoom Virtual Happy Hour.
For some of us, Zoom went from saviour and social glue in March of 2020 as to virtually satan in March of 2023 with far too much tedious time looking at faceless black rectangles.
Enter the latest book by networking enthusiast, Robbie Samuels: Break out of Boredom - Low tech solutions for highly engaging zoom events. Robbie had me at low tech, but what really drew me to this book and to everything Robbie does is his naturally inclusive spirit and chronic generosity.
The point of this podcast is to celebrate the design of inclusive performance and I can think of no one who thinks about welcoming people as intuitively as Robbie does. So think of this book as not only a guide to Zoom events, but way beyond that to small things you can do to have big impact #littlebigthings in creating a culture where people feel safe & comfortable enough to contribute.
00:05:39 Where does your warmth & grace come from?
00:10:37 The difference between being invited and feeling welcome
00:13:10 Achieving content & connection in a virtual world
00:15:04 What is an unconference?
00:19:50 The origins of book two: Small List, Big Results
00:20:14 From No More Bad Zoom to book three
00:29:30 The value of cueing transitions
00:35:20 Advance slides behind the scenes
00:36:10 Speak to each point on a slide
00:39:30 Adding music...or not
00:41:03 Universal design
00:41:55 Building community
00:43:12 Neurological safety
00:45:23 Purpose-first design
00:46:04 High-performing teams pay less attention to tone, but at what cost?
00:47:42 Continuous improvement - get 5% better every time
Robbie Samuels Ted Talk - Croissants are the Key to Inclusive Networking
Happy Space Podcast episode 2 - How to Design with Sensitivity in Mind
IMAGE CREDITS (see images on Youtube video)
Susan Roane headshot - credit Susan Roane
“Croissant vs Bagels” by Robbie Samuels book cover - credit Goodreads
Dorie Clark headshot - credit Mark Thompson
“Small List, Big Results” by Robbie Samuels book cover - credit Goodreads
Person using phone - credit Elements Envato
Hotel Lobby conversation - credit Elements Envato
Food on table - credit Elements Envato
Butter on croissant - credit Elements Envato
Speak & Spill group - credit Speak & Spill
Closed group of people - credit Elements Envato
Open group of people - credit Elements Envato
Person in wheelchair - credit Elements Envato
Closed vs. open feet posture - credit Elements Envato
Pause slide - credit Robbie Samuels
Subway map - credit Elements Envato
Clare's Zoom Room waiting - credit Clare
People laughing - credit Elements Envato
Annoying gif - credit Elements Envato
Screenshot of podcast launch party - credit Elements Envato
Clare with Leslie at resort - credit Clare Kumar
“Community” by Peter Block book cover - credit Goodreads
Ron Friedman headshot - credit website
Learn more about and follow guest(s):
Highly sensitive executive coach and productivity catalyst, Clare Kumar, explores the intersection of productivity and inclusivity continually asking how can we invite the richest contribution from all. She coaches individuals in sidestepping burnout and cultivating sustainable performance, and inspires leaders to design inclusive performance thereby inviting teams to reach their full potential. As a speaker, Clare mic-drops “thought balms” in keynotes and workshops, whether virtual or in-person. She invites connection through her online community committed to designing sustainable and inclusive performance, the Happy Space Pod. Why? Because everyone deserves a Happy Space.
Believing that productivity is personal, the podcast is produced in a variety of formats so you can enjoy it in the medium you prefer:
Listen to the audio right here or on your fave podcast platform.
If you prefer to watch video, check out the episode on YouTube.
If you prefer to read, please see the transcript below.
Ready to learn more, or want to find out more about coaching with Clare or hiring her for your next engaging event? Contact Clare here.
If you enjoyed this episode, please leave a heartfelt review as this will help other listeners discover the podcast. Please invite your colleagues, friends, and family to listen as well. Together we can design a more inclusive world where everyone can make their richest contribution.
And don't forget, everyone (including YOU) deserves a Happy Space.
Audio and Video Editing: To Be Reel
Production Assistant: Luis Rodriguez
Song Credit: Cali by WatR. from Pixabay
Robbie Samuels: Now more than ever, we need to be thoughtful about how we design in-person spaces, because if I thought there was a difference between people's intention around networking and their follow through before the pandemic, we are so out of practice now.
Clare Kumar: You are listening to episode 23 of the Happy Space Podcast, and today we're exploring how to design events for rich connection with networking expert, Robbie Samuels.
Welcome to the Happy Space Podcast, where productivity meets inclusivity, and everyone gets things done. Hello, I'm Clare Kumar, highly sensitive executive coach, speaker, and your host studies show that diversity leads to better business outcomes, so doesn't it make sense to invite everyone's richest contribution?
Yet, too many people are invited to “burn out or opt out”, and we are squandering talent. On this show, we'll explore a two-part solution. Part one, cultivating sustainable performance, the individual design of work and life to preserve our energy so we can keep contributing. And two, designing inclusive performance.
The design of spaces, cultures, products, and services, which invite the richest participation. I hope you enjoy these conversations and find inspiration and encouragement for everyone deserves a Happy Space. This is going to be a little unorthodox start because I want to introduce you to Ellie, who I have tried to relocate.
He's purring incredibly loudly. I hope it's not going to break through and be disturbing. But he is determined to be here for this intro, and I'm kind of glad he is because he was here for most of the interview itself as well. You know, for some of us, Zoom has gone from saviour and social glue in March of 2020 when it really held us together to now with countless tedious hours spent looking at little black squares with no face and maybe if you're lucky, a name and where somebody's from, to being almost a virtual Satan for us.
Enter now, just in the nick of time, Robbie Samuels' book. It's called “Breakout of Boredom: Low Tech Solutions for Highly Engaging Zoom Events”. Now, Robbie is a networking enthusiast and has really built a career following this thread of really thinking about how to invite people to perform and welcome them and make them feel safe.
So, Robbie had me at low tech, but what really drew me to this book is that everything that Robbie does is his evidence of his naturally inclusive spirit and chronic generosity. You will absolutely get ideas of what I'm talking about in this interview. The point of this podcast, as you know, is to celebrate the design of inclusive performance.
And I can’t think of no one who thinks about it so intuitively, this welcoming of people and making them feel safe and comfortable the way Robbie does. So I want you to think of this book as not only a guide to Zoom events, but way beyond that to small things you can do that will have big impact. I call them little big things in creating a culture where people feel safe and comfortable enough to contribute.
I know that is a hot topic leadership issue right now. How do we start to foster this culture when we're dispersed? While Robbie has all the answers, I can tell you Robbie has been recognized as a networking expert by NPR, Harvard Business Review, Forbes and Inc. He's been noted as an expert in virtual event designed by JDC events.
His three books have collectively received over 605 star reviews, a couple of them being mine. And I wouldn't be surprised if his fourth book is not just how to effectively launch a book of which he could definitely tell you all you need to know about how to successfully launch, but it's the bigger topic of how to effectively engage your fans, not only to help build your business, but to support your charity of choice.
It's that continuous chronic generosity that I was talking about. Since 2016, Robbie has hosted the “On the Schmooze” podcast. I think it's over well over 300 episodes now. And since March 2020, after having an idea, I think on a Thursday evening, the next Friday, he started the very first, No More Bad Zoom virtual happy hour.
I hope you'll enjoy this conversation with Robbie as much as I did. He's just a treat to have in my world, and I'm happy to share him with you today.
Robbie Samuels, thank you so much for joining us today. I'm excited for listeners to hear from you on so many things, but I want to start with the fact that ever since I met you, what struck me about you was your incredible, calming, warm, inviting energy, and I'm pretty sure we met first in a Zoom room. And your warmth and grace infuses everything you do, and I want you to share with us where does that come from?
Robbie Samuels: You know, I got asked years ago, to write an opening welcome series, you know, like as a business owner to think you do. And I felt really challenged by this project because they say, you know, write about how you've always had trouble with X and then you figured out Y and now you can do Z, you know, and I was like, I've never been the shy, introvert, wallflower, but I keep attracting all these people and I've never been, well, an entrepreneurial woman in my fifties.
I'm getting close to my fifties. But the, you know, so like what is it that I'm doing? Like how do I explain this? And I'll answer you with what I came up with. And I had someone call me to walk me through this. When I was a kid, I went to day camp. And I somehow just didn't really jive with my fellow campers.
You know, like 8, 9, 10, 11, 12 particularly. I remember like the 11, 12, I was hanging out with the counsellors. I made friends with the office staff. I made friends with the kitchen staff. It's one summer. I'm 12 years old and not old enough to be a counsellor in training you to be 13. I spent so much time doing non-camp activities that they wanted me to stay on longer. I wanted to stay on longer. My parents said, yes, but we're not paying for it. I ran the arts like, you know, Shaq, when the teacher disappeared for two weeks, they only realized it was happening because I asked for more supplies. I ran, you know, messages, the front office. So there was something about how I was showing up where the adults were all interacting with me fine, but I remember walking up to some peers, so there's campers standing in a circle.
Now, my camper self thinks they saw me and they were avoiding me. My adult self realizes they probably didn't even know I was there, but their body language was, well, we all can picture it, right? You're going into an event, people are standing in those tight clusters, those shoulder to shoulder huddles, impossible break into, and you're like winding around the outside hoping someone's going to let you in.
Catch your eye. So there was something about me that I didn't know what it was, and I wasn't terribly worried about it either. I was finding other ways to thrive. I learned how, for instance, to cut a watermelon. Do you know what I mean? I know I knew how the bug juice was made. I mean, I just knew stuff as a 12-year-old, I was setting up the Commodore 64s for the computer lab, like I was doing fine.
But getting all of my peers, I wasn't quite getting. Now, years go by before I realize I'm queer and then I years later figure out I'm actually trans and like I didn't, this, these are core identity pieces that, again, were not front and center. I can't say that I struggled my whole life with it. I didn't because I found other ways to show up and be appreciated.
But that feeling of difference of being othered, of not fitting in, of wondering whether you belong and thinking people are talking about you, and you're probably not the topic of conversation. Even though I am an outgoing extrovert who, you know, thrives in a lot of spaces that will make other people miserable.
And even though I'm male presenting and have all the male privileges afforded with that, I still get that. I get what it's like to feel like other, and that sometimes the thing we feel othered about is not visible. That it's not always something that we can say, oh look, we have two of those people in the room, therefore we have achieved diversity.
They're fine. Sometimes the thing that those people are looking for is something that is not as visible and they're not able to find it therefore, so I just feel like I have a sensitivity that there's a difference between inviting and welcoming. And I am guilty of doing the former a lot.
My twenties were all about running groups that we were inviting, inviting, inviting, inviting, inviting, and then talking about how, how do we get these people to, and the, the, these people, young people, old people, people of color in a prevalently white space, look, whatever it was, right? You know, what if you teach all of your regulars to create a welcoming space, the people who truly need it, the demographic outliers, are going to be welcomed and that started me on this journey.
So I started designing in-person events that really fostered a community connection. And in the first five feet of the event, you met four or five people intentionally. And you walked away from those five having a name tag on you paid your door fee, you had an icebreaker bingo sheet in a pen. One of the squares was already filled out. You had an asking about tag on and I'm looking for a tag on, and someone pointed you in the direction of the bar.
Clare Kumar: So you felt like you belonged immediately? I went to an event. I went to an event I know it must be easily three years ago now.
When there were events. And I met somebody, a fellow speaker at the event, and she came up and she said, “oh, you must know everybody here.” Like, no. Later on she told me, I made her feel so welcome. I always knew there too, and no idea. So there's, I had never thought of it until you mentioned it.
Now, this difference between being invited and feeling welcome, can you expand on that like a, a little bit? What, what's the difference and nuance there.
Robbie Samuels: I'm, I'm going to use a black woman as the example, 'cause I think there are a lot of organizations that purport to want to add this diversity to their ranks.
But they do it in like, in ways that just feel, I mean, diversity is a metric, right? And that's not what we're talking about. We're talking about inclusion, we're talking about belonging. So if this black woman walks in the room, signs in, circles the room, no one talks to her, she might leave.
And then, you'll have a conversation as the team organizing the event saying, well, how do we get more people like that, quote-unquote, that, right? Whatever the, that is, in this case, black woman, how do we get more black women to attend? And I think the question should be how do we get more people to stay?
It's always easier and less expensive to retain membership than to find new members. So one of the things I ended up doing was working with organizations to help them design these events that were really about, including, and retaining membership, and now I'm doing it more virtually. But the essence is still the same.
People go to events for a mixture of content and connection. Right. And if they're not finding the connection, they don't really need to go to your event. Like they can find the content elsewhere. I mean, they can stay home even before the pandemic. You know, we, by the way, books are really old. We've had access to knowledge for a long time, but we have the internet, we have podcasts, we have.
You know, web webinars and webcasts. We have a lot of ways to learn. People make the effort to leave their home and travel in order to find their people. And then when virtual became synonymous with events, I needed to figure out a way to make virtual, not an exception to the rule that I've answered by content connection.
So my approach to zoom and virtual platforms. Really stems from this quandary I was in March, April, May of 2020. How am I going to achieve these results and get this sort of promise met in a virtual space? And so my most recent book is the answers that I figured out in the last three years.
Clare Kumar: I'm so excited to talk about all of it. Let's, because you brought it up, let's talk about the most recent book. But I do want to go back to the first book as well, and we can even talk about the book in the middle if you want. But let's start with the most recent one.
Robbie Samuels: Well, you know, I actually will tell you them in order, if that's okay.
Okay. Cause I think that you build on each other. So, before the pandemic, I spent over a decade working to be recognized, a networking expert. And half that time I was employed organizing fundraising events. And I was also running this group, which is a meetup group called Socializing for Justice. We ran easily 25 events a year for my job and 24 events a year for my meetup. And then I was voluntarily putting together, unconferences for fun. So I was really in the event space.
Clare Kumar: So hang on a second. Just elaborate on unconference, just listeners are like, what?
Robbie Samuels: I debated by that to say the word cause I knew that would be a question.
All right. On conference is an awesome model where you decide everything logistically except for the content. And everyone gets to that morning and they write down a piece of paper what topics they would like to share and speak about or facilitate. And then we do a process to figure out which ones go up on the board.
I ran that twice where we would pull together a team of volunteers 10 weeks before the event. And then the 10 weeks we planned. I mean, the first time we didn't even have a location, so, So I have a lot of experience about, I mean, I think that the, in some ways the process of running the event was as much the experience as the event itself.
Clare Kumar: It sounds fun to me. It suits my need for novel stimulation.
Robbie Samuels: So I leave my day job. I go full-time entrepreneurship in 2015. I subsequently launch a podcast, “On the Schmooze”, which I'm still hosting all these years later, my first book comes out, “Croissants Vs Bagels: Strategic, Effective and Inclusive Networking At Conferences”, because I am working to recognize the networking expert with a focus on networking at conferences, I do a group coaching program.
I write for Harvard Business Review about networking, and I do a TEDx Talk, which was hate networking, stop bageling and be the croissant, which featured my most memorable and sticky concept around networking, which was about body language. So that that video for TEDx came out January of 2020, and in a lot of ways, I was going to be an overnight success.
10 years in the making. And then two months later, nobody needed any of the skills or accolades that I had acquired in the previous 10 plus years. I need to find a new way to show up and offer value. So I ended up actually meeting with my mastermind and they kicked me in the pants and reminded me that for me, networking wasn't about in person.
I had built like a global network over five years. So they said, go help people do that. So I wrote 1’Nine Ways to Network in a Pandemic” as a blog post, you know, email type thing. And I shared it on March 12th, and I looked at it that night. And number three was host your virtual happy hour. And I went to Dorie Clark's community, which I was been a member of for years at that point. And I said, “Hey, if I host something tomorrow at 5:00 PM Eastern, would anyone come?” And I got a couple of quick responses. I mean, I didn't come up the idea until eight o'clock at night on a Thursday.
So I didn't do market research to come up with the time and day. It was literally the next time on my calendar that seemed like a reasonable time to have a happy hour. I ran that Friday event for two years, weekly a month in, it became known as the No More Bad Zoom Virtual Happy Hour it had, you know, nomorebadzoom.com.
I got the url. I also, that same day in mid-April, bought fivepercentadvantage.com, which was this pilot I was going to launch in May, about how to design events and how to become more competent using Zoom. Mind you, March 13th, I didn't know I had access to breakout rooms. Just to give context, right? So 15 people signed up for the program, $500 a piece.
It's a four week program. I ran it four months in a row. The third month it becomes a certification program, and by the summer, organizations were reaching out. By the fall, I had a docket of event clients who were looking to help me have, I was helping them bring their events online with less stress and greater participant engagement.
Now, I wrote about that journey in my second book. Because at the time I was coaching about a dozen entrepreneurs a week on behalf of this company, and then they asked me to take on this cohort of 120 students going through an online course about how to launch an online course, which is very meta.
And I said yes, because my business had sort of disappeared, right? Like in-person was gone. That ended up being a very full-time role and I had so much data, people, you know, I was meeting with so many people, plus all my network who were picking my brain. Yes, Robbie, help me with this. Robbie, you seem to notice something about Zoom, right?
So suddenly I was just busy and I turned those conversations into research calls because as a coach I would never tell a client you just fill your calendar with like social calls, right? Like my extrovert self would be happy to just have social calls because I mean, the idea of talking to people I wasn't in charge of feeding was in itself just really exciting.
So I had quick success and by November 2020 I had a thriving six-figure business and my second book, “Small List, Big Results: Launch a Successful Offer No Matter the Size.” Your email list addresses the process that I did and like basically what I was working on with all these coaching clients. So fast forward, we're now three years from the Pandemic and I have come up with a new book.
What happened was a year ago, a traditional publisher reached out to me about writing a book on Zoom, and after four months of discussing things, it turned out they wanted me to write about Zoom in the workplace. And I don't know that, that's not my plate. I don't do that, but I basically have an assistant who's like, you already wrote the book, all the materials already here, you order the videos.
Where are there transcripts? So shout out to Paya for helping me commit to this. So June of last year, I committed. Last fall I started working on it. It ended up being a much bigger book because breakout rooms, for example, are such an amazing possibility that we all squander. So that ended being 10,000 words of a 64,000 word book, and it was like the first section that I really jumped into.
And so I thought it was just going to be like, you know, half or less that size this book. But the book came out and it, and it, and it came out on the anniversary of March 13th, 2023.
Clare Kumar: Well, there is a beautiful story. And what I love, because I know you, and I hear about your business a lot is your initial work.
You know that 10 years is still a fruitful mind. It's if people are coming back to you for this essentially timeless content. Now that we are actually getting back together again, and we're going to have both.
Robbie Samuels: Well, the interesting thing is that, that TEDx that went, you know, to the scrap floor, the, you know, it's the cutting room floor, right, is a scrap in the fall in late September, October of, of last year of 2022, N P R came across it and asked to interview me about the content of my first book in my TEDx talk.
Yeah. Which was wild because it was, you know, I was so removed by then. Yeah. But you're right. Like it is timeless. And now more than ever, we need to be thoughtful about how we design in-person spaces. Because if I thought there was a difference between people's intention around networking and their follow-through before the pandemic, we are so out of practice now. There was a study years ago by the International Association of Exhibitions and Events that found that 76% of the people they surveyed said that networking was a top driver for why they attend an event. But you and me, we can't think that 76% of the people attending events leave having made even three of the perfect connections.
Even three. Because, either they're hanging out with the people they already know. They're hanging out in their room, they're hanging out in the front row, not talking to anyone. They're skipping the networking and the organizers think we'll just have more networking hours, because that's what people are asking for.
But unstructured networking doesn't really cut it. So yeah, I actually do work now again with in-person, and I have all these small. minor micro adjustments even that the speaker and host and volunteers can do before and after the session. That help people find each other. And then there are of course is like, how do you design a session itself to be more engaging?
But I just think there's so many missed opportunities for when people, you know, the vibrant, chaotic hallway that not everyone loves. Right. So you duck into the next session. And you sit as far as you can from everyone else and get on your phone. But those are the people who actually, those are your people.
They also like came to the same session, came early, ducked out of the hallway. Like even if you met one of those other people it's a more likely connection than like meeting people at the Starbucks in the hotel lobby. So I work on helping people with those, sort of be more thoughtful about that.
Clare Kumar: So don't leave people to their own devices. They will kind of shrink and just do their own thing and they won't, they'll miss the opportunity that you're laying out for them, but maybe not welcoming.
Robbie Samuels: It's a subtle thing. My wife's a shy, extrovert, which means she likes being around people, but you wouldn't really know she was there and she happens to also be a great host.
So if she was walked into a room and there was a table tent that said, here's the question that you all can chat about before the session begins. She would more likely than not say, oh, hey, there's this there's this question here. What do you, what do y'all think of this? And she, she would jump, she would like, welcome people to the table.
Like she would jump into that role if she was just given even a little nudge in that direction.
Clare Kumar: You know what I've liked at a party, it's like, Ooh, there's food. Let me take the food around. Gives me something to do. I feel so at home then. So I'm like, how about you go meet people with the food?
So much wisdom in there. I'm sure people are like croissant versus bagel and coming right back to that. Do you want to just explain that because you could just be thinking about croissants and be happy because of all the butter involved or…
Right. But maybe you want to share that because. So that's when I first met you. Was there, and seeing you talk about that on stage actually. That's where I first met you. And I was like, gosh, that's a great idea. And I've done that ever since. I've been in a networking group physical, I reposition myself croissant-like.
Robbie Samuels: All right, we have to talk about the concept and I also want to talk about that day. I'll just say that we were at an event with professional speakers that I did not know many people, and I thought the people, the names that I knew in the room I looked up to, I didn't think they knew me for Hole in the Wall, but I thought, wow, I am with a really cool group of speakers.
This is awesome. Oh my gosh, probably everyone's feeling that, but I was definitely feeling that and I got invited to come up on stage and share this tip. And it was a rare thing that the host actually left the stage and he left his wife, who normally is never on stage by herself to sit with me and like, I don't think they'd ever done that before.
Yeah, it was like a big deal. So here's the concept. We talked earlier about how I was approaching those campers and they were in that tight little cluster, that cluster. Everyone's visualizing their own cluster. That's the bagel, right? Cause it's an impossible break into, but if one person in that circle shifts their body language to open, then that's the croissant.
So people will kind of naturally stand certain ways, but if you walk in a room, if you kind of scan how groups are standing, you might see some natural openings, and those are just going to be easier to break into than the really shoulder, shoulder huddles. And if you're in a space and you're in that circle, what can you do to remember, like you're there to meet people.
How can you position your body language even one-on-one? How can you position your body language? Now, sometimes you want to only have like the attention of that one person for a moment, but the default seems to be to always be closed. But you're at, you left your house, you put on hard pants and real shoes.
Come on, hard pants. That's something I learned recently from women Breakfast cracks me up. yeah. So I think just, you know, it's a mindset shift, but it's so funny, like small percentage of the room, having that awareness can really open things up. And I've met people who are wheelchair users and I will say it actually helps them as well.
I know we're talking about a standing thing, but for them it is literally about shifting their chair. To be more or less open or closed. It is, again, it's a body language. So for them, the extension of that would be the chair. So I know we're talking about standing, but honestly it's just, again, it's a mindset of like, how do I include people in this conversation or am I not?
And it's it's very sticky. People years later, point to their feet and tell me, look, look, croissant, croissant, and my TEDx I had people come up on stage with me to actually demonstrate this. I broke all the rules. I set out of the circle. I brought people up on stage.
Clare Kumar: It's the Robbie Show. We're going to do, but well do it ourselves. So what I think your, one of your great skills is noticing these little, I call them little big things, right? It's a little thing, but the impact is monumental and life-changing really.
Robbie Samuels: Someone called them small, big ideas. Yeah. Because they were, they were little ideas, but when put into place, they like had big implications. That's right. Exactly. They were little, little things, little tweaks. You know, like in person, we know the order that people are going to go around the room because it's evident, but online that's not clear.
So I always do an on-deck. Yeah. So that people know who's coming up next. They're not cut off guard, so they know to unmute. They're prepared so they know to listen to what the previous person do.
Clare Kumar: I gave a talk this morning on understanding and embracing neurodiversity, and one of the things that I talked about was our need for clear wayfinding.
And smooth transitions. And so you do that with the queuing, right? So and so is on deck or so-and-so is up and then you are ready next, Barbara or whatever. So it's this sense of I can be ready. I'm not startled. I feel safe. I feel safe. I feel safe. I can speak.
Robbie Samuels: I didn't know I had this skill. March 13th, I host this event, and I had been trained to do masterminds virtually. So I actually had some virtual, some training for virtual facilitation. But I, at that point, wasn't giving it a lot of weight or importance. You know, I didn't realize it was a skill and when we sat around, it was pretty casual.
It was 20 of us. But no one was caught off guard. Everyone knew who was going to go. I didn't say like, wait, wait, who went last? I lost track. I didn't do any of that. Which, you know, we then spent months living through that. And people were like, wow. And I thought, oh, but the bar's so low, you know, like, you don't, but then it turned out like that was a really basic thing. And I now believe that structure is a feature of belonging, that the lack of structure when speakers abstain from structure. I was on a call recently at where,, the host just kept saying I was producing. so if anyone else is anything going to say, just go ahead. Go ahead unmute. I mean, would you do that in person?
Clare Kumar: so for the blurts, the people that blurt like me…
Robbie Samuels: but like as a, but no, you wouldn't be invited to, but like, no, you know, it would be “okay. now it's time for questions or comments”
Yeah. You know, it'll be Absolutely some, some queue. So, Structure, giving people a, here's the agenda, here's when the breaks are keeping to the breaks. Here's how to ask questions. Here's how we're going to address questions. These are wayfinding like you said. And then, you know, 'cause you witnessed me do this in a training, I have these two slides that I'm now, I'm so happy that my community helped me, came up with the realization that this was part of it, but one I call a pause slide, which has got a little pause button and it says, jot down your takeaways and put your questions in chat. So the takeaways is for themselves. And in person, they'd be writing their takeaways and their questions in their own notes so that they were prepared for the Q&A later.
And then the next slide, after I pause and I basically let them do that and I take a drink and I look through the things happening in chat. Gives me a breath. I address anything that's urgent. Any clarification questions? Mostly I hold things till later. Next slide. It's the agenda again, but there's a different color for the upcoming topic, so you know, it's like a train.
Yeah. Here's where we're going next. We've done all that. Now we're going here. I've heard from people who are dealing with traumatic brain injury, neurodiversity, ADHD autism, highly sensitive, just people who are easily distracted for any number of reasons. Life, kids, dogs, pets, you know? Who is like, oh well that's nice.
And the pause. This is very interesting for virtual. We never pause on virtual. Right. Like we, if we pause it’s awkward. Right, right. But it's powerful because it gets everyone's attention 'cause they think they lost their internet.
Robbie Samuels: So they snap to attention. When I get to that thing, I go, okay folks, this is your chance to. And then I just stopped talking for a moment and like everyone, I think has a jolt of, and then I go, and now here we are. This is where we're going next. And it's funny, like you can yell into a microphone to get attention or you could be super quiet to get attention.
Clare Kumar: It's a little circuit interrupt from what our expectation is and we notice that. Yeah. So we're like,especially because the internet sometimes is kind to us and sometimes, sometimes is not. I remember really appreciating the pause I, it's something I invite my clients to do in their day, but as a speaker, I've always thought, I'm leading this thing.
I got to just keep delivering value. I got to keep just pumping stuff out, right? And what a gift it is to invite everybody to catch a breath. My, my invitation to the. So the welcome card, the landing page to the zoom room is, is basically, you know, you, you're in a waiting room and it's like, here's a little chance to catch your breath.
I'll be right with you. Yeah. You know, and it's just meant to feel like, Ooh, you just got a little, you just got a little exhale in your day. Which we all need a little bit of the hat.
Robbie Samuels: That's what, well, I'm a person who talks really fast. I'm raised New Yorker, you know. And so I, and I love giving away knowledge, like it's my jam, so I could just fill the hour and the pause, it helps me kind of reset, right? It's a reminder to me, and I also makes me think, well, how much content can I truly put in this?What are the key pieces, like what's important? And so I just did the same. I've now done the same presentation in a full hour, including Q&A. And I just did it for 90 minutes and we took the full 90 minutes. Same, right? Same slides. It just said, I allowed more, more pause, more Q&A, more storytelling. And so for the 90 minutes, I often was turning off my slides and speaking right to the camera and telling a story and then advancing the slides behind the scene and bringing it up again.
And now here's a tip about advancing the slides behind the scene. If you don't, which is fine, and this is about getting 5% better, our brains are automatically going to read what's on the screen. Yes. And it's what they already read. And there's this moment of like, have I seen this before? Oh yeah. Oh, now with new information.
Okay, now I'm going to read this. Yeah. And meanwhile, you're talking the whole time as a speaker and they're now having to cognitively do a lot of interpretation, which none of us notice. But it's all these subtle things and the cognitive load of being online at all. Plus we are surrounded by screens and temptations.
So if these are little things we can do to help people who are processing maybe at a different pace, you know? Right. Advance the slide behind the scene. Pause when you get to the slide for a moment, and then speak to each point on the slide in case people aren't able to see it and that the reasons for not being able to see it could be any number of things from line to driving their kids to school.
But speak to all the main points. Describe my friend who's, blind talked about how there was a presentation where the punchline was visual. Oh. And she still, to this day has no idea why everyone was laughing. That's not inclusive. And I have a whole section actually in my book, I've memorized the page number 'cause it's not in the table of contents.
Oh. It was one of my, one of my concerns, I was upset about this. I had all these detailed subsections of the table of contents and I got convinced. A nine-page table of contents wasn't a good idea. Are you sure? I was like, oh. But they could have gone like, so I, right. I did just like the, you know, the higher level topic and the section on accessibility and presentations, which is page 1 0 5 is within the section on doing a lecture and doing, creating content, but Right.
I, there's a lot to consider. And of course, we only come at this from our own perspective. So we might be sensitive like you would never design something. The blots of movement and things flashing in.
Clare Kumar: you've heard me on a call where I'm like, huh, I can't. Yeah, I can't even watch because there were multiple gifts on a, you know, moving and I'm, even now I'm getting, there's a pod fest, pod just finished yesterday.
And every email they send out has a gif at the top. I have to move it off my screen so fast because I can feel my blood pressure rising.
Robbie Samuels: That you're really aware of, but then there's something else that you wouldn't be aware of. And so yeah, I aim still to get 5% better every time I Zoom, whether that's speaking, hosting, or participating.
Clare Kumar: And it benefits everybody. I mean, so listeners, you're getting an idea from all that Robbie said so far that he's got a lot of wisdom and a lot of thoughtfulness. So definitely if you are planning an online event, I can speak personally to Robbie hosting an event Robbie hosted. And designed as we worked on the flow together of my podcast, LA Launch parted for this very podcast.
So he's watched this grow into a show and so I'm very happy to have you on here, Robbie. But just noticing your thoughtfulness, and having music so that it's not dead air. I was, I gave a presentation this morning and the dead air at the beginning just felt uncomfortable. I wanted to fill it, but I was the guest speaker, so I felt like I would be overstepping the host if I was like, “Hey y'all, how is everybody? Hey Ben. Nice for joining in it.”
Robbie Samuels: what, it's so interesting for you to bring that up because I think how we welcome, right? We're talking about welcoming. I got invited in, it was a parent's call for this group that we were on, and my wife and I joined on separate devices.
The room was silent. They didn't even wave at us. They didn't acknowledge us. They didn't put anything in chat. And then finally he unmutes like two minutes in, okay, we're going to wait another couple of minutes to see if anyone else is coming. I'm like, what? What a weird thing. Anyway. Now music there I like because we're not speaking over it.
The purpose is set a tone. I don't recommend any longer putting music every time you ask people to do an activity on their own. And I think this is a very common thing, like even in person. Everyone journal, everyone create a list, you know? And I think analog meaning like, Paper and pen activities on Zoom are pretty cool.
Again, it's an unexpected thing. But then, because most people don't know how to modulate the volume of their music, which is a thing Yeah. That people don't even know. They play music and it's really loud. And then you, you know, and I, I don't even want to hear it and I'm like, I'm lowering it. And now I'm like, well, I got to have it loud enough that I can hear 'em when they unmute and start talking.
Clare Kumar: Yeah. It's so personal though, right? I, I had a writing retreat in December and I met Leslie, who I've worked with for, we've known each other only through Zoom for two years, and then we finally met in person and had this wonderful four days writing together. We learned she can write by the pool with the music going.
I, even with my noise-canceling headphones, could not get it quiet enough. So I asked them to turn it down. She could no longer write there. She was like, oh, that's it for me. And who knew? Right? Such wildly different, you know, same objective, right? Just could not function in the same space at all with this, you know?
So it, I think she put her music on in her headphones, but I couldn't get it quiet enough. It was just, It's it's a
Robbie Samuels: And that where struggle, universal design is so important because in this instance she was able to design to her own specifications. Exactly. But the universal design was that the volume was low enough that you could enjoy a space too.
Yeah. So we had sort of recognize it's different in accessibility. Like ADA compliance here in the United States is about, you know, wheelchair access and that kind of thing. But it doesn't take into account that the wheelchair user might be the person who's interpreting in the front of the room or the speaker in the front of the room. Right. And it may be that there's no way to be in the front of the room using a wheelchair with the way that room is designed, but there's a couple of spaces in the back of the room.
Robbie Samuels: And the same thing like another way to think about this is if you go into a room and the chairs are all set up, classroom style.
I read this great book years ago called “Community, the Structure of Belonging” by Peter Block. And he basically premise from that, that I took, which I can't say specifically the wording, but it was essentially don't use a space the way it was left the night before by the janitorial staff
That just because you walk in a room and it's set up with classroom style chairs, if you feel like something else would be better, you either requested it in advance or you just do it yourself. You either ask for the round tables with a 10 10 top. Or eight tops so that no one has to sit with her back to the stage.
Right. You decide those things in advance. Yes. Or maybe you just get in. Like I've always, when I would present in person, I would be rearranging the room into circles. yeah. So don't,
Clare Kumar: or like my last room, let's pack 40 people in a room with, that's designed for 24.
Robbie Samuels: not ideal?
Clare Kumar: How safe is that?
Robbie Samuels: So universal design is a, is another interesting concept. I think just, you know, you asked me where does this all come from? I'm. I'm really curious about community building, and I feel like community building happens when people feel safe enough to bring more of their selves, more of their true selves into not, maybe not all right?
We always keep a little something to ourselves, to our family, but we can bring more of ourselves into a space. We're more likely to, to find our people.
Clare Kumar: And you know, we talk about, psychological safety a lot. But we haven't talked about neurological safety. And this is something I really encourage, and I think you actually intuitively think about how someone feels in the situation, physically, emotionally, all of it.
And you create that safety, the nervous system can relax the pauses, the, you know, the wayfinding, all of that. It's not really well talked about. It's starting to be. Google has a great initiative on designing events for neuro-inclusivity. Kay Sargeant episode two, talking about neuro-inclusive design.
I'm very excited to see more places understand this so that we can have more people participating and contributing and feeling connected.
Robbie Samuels: A hundred percent. Yeah, a hundred percent. And I, I'm always excited to discover there are people doing this work. When I read that book by Peter Block, community Structured Belonging, I was in a plane on the way to a conference and it was, It was the work that I had been doing, but I didn't know that it was out there.
I didn't know there was a whole body of work and a community of people. I was by myself on a plane. I was so excited. I was about to like elbow the person next to me to be like, look at this thing. So I just remember that big moment. And when you just said that piece just now about neurodiversity sort of safety and neurological safety, again, I haven't been using those terms, but to me, you know, thinking about belonging, connection, rela true relationship building, not transactional networking.
This is all these pieces I've tried to break down into the components of what the objectives are, you know, and then just if you, it's, it's like if you, even if you don't really understand it if you can just follow a few basic tenants and then kind of build from there. Yeah. You know, one is the question of whether you even need to meet.
And then you need to meet. Yes. You know, people come in feeling, thinking or underdoing one thing. Yes. And at the end of your time together, they're going to be thinking, feeling underdoing, another thing. And the in-between is a transformation. So what are those objectives? And then every design question is, will it help people achieve those objectives?
That's purpose first design, which applies to in-person and all virtual programming. Any meeting you're ever going to have. So just really understanding those basic concepts and getting you and your team clear on that it, I mean, it changes the question of whether or not to have music at this point. Not just because you know how to do it suddenly, but because it actually serves a purpose.
Clare Kumar: You know, I've been saying to leaders in workshops, you know, we need exactly what you say content, and we need connection, and they need to be fused together in everything that we're doing. I've been asking leaders. How much do you think about the connection piece? It's, we're so task-focused.
Hustle. Just knock it off. In fact, I'm kind of annoyed I have to, I, I think I did reach out Ron Friedman, who I interviewed before on the other podcast, he wrote Decoding Greatness and he does a lot of productivity stuff. He shared research from his organization, I think it's Ignite 80, and he said that the high-performing teams actually do not spend time crafting the email and looking at emotional tone and the high-performing teams just like knock-off communications and get shit done. My bad word. I'm like, dude, at what cost? At what casualties? What are like, I want to like, it hurt me so much to read that that was the outcome about the, the research, because I have so many questions of things that probably weren't measured.
Robbie Samuels: Like burnout, like emotional exhaustion, muscle exhaustion. I know people who are on wellness leave for racial stress, you know? We don't care. We're just going to throw things out there, have an impact and those who deal with the impact aren't the people who design the system. Like the people who design the system. It works for them. Yeah. But somebody is getting the impact. And if they can't find a way to live with that impact, which they probably do in some way all the time, they move on,
Clare Kumar: there's a cost. I say we pay tax all day. We pay tax all day in different ways. And the more we can design these experiences that feel good, the less tax we're paying.
Robbie Samuels: It doesn't cost a lot either. Doesn't cost a lot in time or money. Once you understand the concepts, It's just like practice. Yeah. And I really want to go back to the idea of continuous improvement, the idea of 5% better, which I later learned about Kaizen, the Japanese concept.
I love when I stumble across, I'm like, oh my gosh, this is like an ancient concept that I'm now been talking about. So here, you know, no new thing has ever been decided in this world. Just a matter of how we talk about it. So, 5% better. My wife heard me say that my program was going to be called the 5% Advantage Program.
This, this Zoom, you know, training that I was doing. And she said, who wants to get only 5% better? And I said, no, no, no. 5% better every time you speak or host, because it's that continuous improvement model that makes you leaps and bounds better over a very short period of time. So if we just said, okay, every meeting that we have, we have this weekly meeting, we're going to try one little tweak and then see how that works. I mean, even if you didn't do it every meeting, even if you did it once a month, you tried a new thing for a month.
Robbie Samuels: I think unfortunately what we end up doing is having meetings that don't have pre-planned agendas so that the people like me who don't need to know what we're talking about to speak on it benefit.
I don't have a problem with that. I know what's going on. I don't even know what the question is. I can just start talking. But someone else who needs time to be thoughtful is quiet, and then people think they're not participating because their participation is not visible. But they are participating. They just need space to contribute after.
Clare Kumar: Your latest book is about Zoom meetings. I think this is actually a leadership book. If leaders are concerned right now, which they are, how do we build culture? This is the how-to, to build culture.
Which is so nuanced and so thoughtful. You just pick a few of these things, you're going to start to see the difference in that, creating that welcoming space and all of a sudden you're going to have a culture you're proud of.
Robbie Samuels: You know what's funny about that, and I love this conversation we're having 'cause it's different than all the interviews I've been doing lately and I really appreciate that.
I love coming at things in a way that's a little subterfuge because if you come at people directly they're like, we don't need that. But if you can solve a little problem that they know they have and they're willing to admit, everyone's willing to admit they don't do Zoom well because they don't feel judged by that.
Clare Kumar: So you don't think I should open with “you're squandering talent, leaders”, please pay attention to what I'm saying because you've been screwing up all this time.
Robbie Samuels: Instead you have to say, you know, like something about the money they've invested in their talent program, not being, not achieving the outcomes they had desired. And then they're like, oh yeah, we don't really like that. And, and you say, I didn't know that specifically about you, but I've, I've heard this from a lot of organizations I've worked with So I'm wondering if you've had this happen too. So anyway, I agree that the people who read this book are going to be learning the art of how to do more thoughtful design and inclusion and all that. It's not like I'm banging them over their head to do that. Like I'm offering them a way in that is really something that they can, they can understand. I mean, Zoom became a four-letter word. Yeah. If you're still using it, then you got to get better at it.
Like if you've decided that this is not part of your business model. Yeah. Your company's not doing virtual programming, that's your loss. You've made a decision. But if you're still doing it and you've chosen not to get better and you now know there was a possibility of getting better, What are you going to do?
You kind of now think, well, when we read this and there's enough ideas that you can DIY in the book, to make subtle changes. And then of course, as a coach, you know, as a consultant, I'm like, I'm available, but I have to make the case that there's a bigger problem than they realize they had. Like, they don't who wants to pay for my services if they don't even think they like Zoom.
So they have to first get to the point where like, Zoom's no longer the issue, it's the design question, right? And then it's like, well, then we got to get that, oh, Robbie's that design guy, and he'll even produce the event for us and he'll train our speakers to not look like they're little tiny heads on a screen.
I call that shrimping. So it's, it's good as a practice to help close the gap when you're creating material for your participants and your prospects to go from the little pea problem to the big pea problem. 'cause the thing you're trying to sell them, the solution is for the bigger problem.
Clare Kumar: Robbie, you have the best sidebars.
Robbie Samuels: I just, I'm, I love that I get to see you all the time and I'm excited that we're sharing this book in this particular context because I think the work you're doing in the world and the, and what's in this book, I think it does dovetail together quite nicely.
And, you know, I brought in accessibility inclusion consultants to help review sections of this book. And I, you know, mentioned them for further research and, and understanding there is, there's, I feel like there's a lot of sort of tangential communities that this book could be brought into to help surface the things they're trying to do better and bring it to people's attention in a different way.
Clare Kumar: That's why you're here because it's, it's, it's full of great stuff people need to know now. And so I hope after you're listening, you've found great value in this conversation and I urge you to check out Robbie's books, the croissants versus bagels small list, big results and break out of boredom. yeah, yeah.
For not just the Zoom insights, but really how to build a, a connected culture. That feels safe and welcoming, which is priceless. So Robbie, one last thought, just toss out where people can find you most easily.
Robbie Samuels: I love this opportunity. I will tell you that I do a lot of things and I'm a multi-passionate entrepreneur, and they're all available at robbiesamuels.com. The book and the bonus content for my latest book is at breakoutofboredom.com. The bonus content is available even if you don't buy the book, it's just there for you. It includes checklists, step-by-step guides, 30 plus videos. There's even a little bonus thing that's not mentioned in the book, but the steps are in the bonus, the little Easter egg.
So there's a lot of information. Again, I want everyone to elevate, there's zoom, because zoom should not, not just zoom, but virtual should be not just an option, but is often now an optimal option if only we understand how to use the platform.
Clare Kumar: It's the inclusive option many times, right? If, if the number of reasons we have that are valid not to be able to make something in person…
Robbie Samuels: I missed some of my big event clients. That's what they've kind of come to as a realization that instead of having two events like Northern Southern California, they could do one event online and get speakers from around the world.
Clare Kumar: I mean, all we have to look at is New Year's Rock and Eve. Okay, that's all we need to look at. There are people in Times Square, there are people at home. Let's figure it out.
Robbie Samuels: So that is the grandest hybrid-like event ever.
Clare Kumar: And we've got chat going on Twitter like we've got, we got it all going on in different forms.
Robbie Samuels: And we've had that first, I mean, super Bowl. That's another example of that. People are there, people watching the Oscars? People are there before watching. I know, right? They're community events. They're all these examples of both audiences. They're having different experiences. This is where hybrid is very confusing as a term. Yes, they're both having different experiences, but they're feeling served. They're not trying to have the same experience.
Clare Kumar: It's totally fine. Yeah, it's totally fine. It has to be thought through, and so if you're struggling to put an event together and you want the best ideas and wasting up to 5% better, Robbie is your source for all of that. All of that insight and beautiful intention. Thanks so much for this, Robbie. I appreciate having you.
Thank you so much for listening. You can find all of the Happy Space Podcast episodes over at happyspacepod.com. That is also where you'll find a link to our online community. Please leave a review over at Apple Podcast, Spotify, or wherever you tune in, and if you like what you heard, please share. After all, doesn't everyone deserve a Happy Space?