How HMRC runs engaging webinars


In this article we will briefly look at the current state of webinars before we analyse a webinar run by HMRC (the UK tax office), and how you can replicate that on your own webinars.

We’ve all been on more webinars that we can remember, yet few of them were probably memorable. That’s because the format that most webinars run by is truly horrid. But in a recent experience that I had, I have discovered you can learn a good deal about running a highly engaging webinar from HMRC. Continue…

‘Small and social’ vs ‘big and broadcast’


Last night I came upon the phrase ‘small and social’ while reflecting on Brennan Dunn’s DYFConf in Europe.

Brennan ran a very different type of conference, which as you would expect, was an immersive, engaging experience and therefore very transformational.

Yet, this happened in some part by accident, because initially he wanted 100 people to be at the conference. It became clear to him as he was marketing the event and fewer bookings were coming in than he expected that he would have to adjust his expectations to a smaller group… and yet… this worked to his advantage.

In his own words:

Lesson 3: Keep it small
Like I mentioned earlier, I didn’t sell nearly the amount of tickets I was expecting to sell.

And for a conference organizer with fixed expenses, that’s not a good thing.

But next year will be the size of this year’s conference — because it was the perfect amount of people.

We didn’t have a speaker room. Nor did we even have a speaker dinner this time around. The speakers were really just attendees who happened to be up on stage, sharing something that they’re deeply familiar with. (This also came from Amy Hoy and Alex Hillman’s BaconBiz.)

I have a bad penchant for hanging out in my room during certain talks, or at least grouping with a few others in the hallway throughout the event.

This didn’t happen at DYFConf.

So why was it that the event was better smaller? What is it about small and social that makes for richer engagement? I’m so glad you asked!

Small and Social

Let’s start by clarifying that people go to events primarily for two things: learning and networking. (Thank you to Roger Haskett for telling me that.) So it would be in the best interests of event organisers and the like to create spaces where people can do those two things in the best way.

If you think back to school, the way that this was done by classrooms of around 30 people in size. In business, workshops are normally best with around 20 people in attendance. Famously, Jesus had 12 disciples that he trained. The unit that the military works in practically on the ground is in squads of 8 to 12.

What’s in common with these numbers? Well, compared to most conference or community ambitions, what’s in common is that they are small!

Yet, though they be small, they are of such a size that people can actually learn and network.

This in stark contrast to…

Big and Broadcast

Any event organiser has one objective: sell tickets. Almost every church leader I know wants a bigger church. Speakers want to talk to large audiences. And now with TED, we have attached the apotheosis of speaking to being in front of a large crowd.

What drives this is the sense of wanting to matter, to feel like you’re where the people are, to experience the emotion of when hundreds or thousands come together. Now, there’s nothing wrong with that – indeed it’s beautiful – but, if we want people to learn or to network, it is not effective.

In Brennan’s example, the need is to sell lots of tickets to make the price work (and to make it cheaper for people to attend). And as is almost always the case when running events, the way you get lots of people to come is to have big name speakers and use social proof by showing that everyone else is coming.

And again, I don’t have a problem with this, but… if we want people to learn or network, it’s not effective!

The reason why big and broadcast doesn’t work for learning is because as I like to say, if you’re not talking, you’re not learning.

Edgar Dale’s cone of learning illustrates this:


The Marriage of Small and Social and Big and Broadcast

What is to be done, then? Are we have no more big events?

I don’t think so. I think we can still have big. The way I see it, we have two options:

  1. Only be small and social. Make your event small and make it social.
  2. Be big and broadcast, with lots of pockets of small and social.

How can we have pockets of small and social? Quite easily! In a conference setting these would typically be called ‘breakout sessions’ or workshops. But don’t do what is now common practice and make them on a separate day to the plenary sessions, as if they are a lower grade of content! Make each day a mix of learning styles: some big and broadcast talks, followed by some small and social workshops, followed by some more big and broadcast talks.

Even a talk in front of thousands can create small and social pockets inside it. As a speaker you could have a moment where people turn to the person next to them and discuss a point you’ve made. Yes, it might break up your flow – but if you really want people to learn or to network, this is far better for them!

The most masterful communicators have the ability to do a big and broadcast talk, yet it is full of small and social moments. This is done by invoking the hearer’s imagination so that they literally see themselves as the object of your talk.

Anyway, I digress.

The point is that small and social wins the day on what people actually want from events, and it doesn’t mean you have to ditch being big and broadcast.


I recommend that you follow the people who have influenced my thoughts in this post.

Thank you to Brennan Dunn for the example. Also, the photo at the top of this article is from DYFConf. If you are a freelancer of any kind, his website is the number one resource for increasing your sales:

Thank you to Jeff Hurt from whom I first learned of Edgar Dale. His blog (along with Dave Lutz) is my favourite for meeting design:

And thank you to Roger Haskett for teaching me that people go to events to network and to learn. More from Roger and his incredible work here:

Rethink public speaking: 5 ways to get off the stage

Are you as good at public speaking as you think you are? Or do you on the other hand think you could never talk to crowds of people? Then this quick post is for you.

I am always looking out for great speakers to come and impart their expertise at Like Minds, and one of the ways that I do this is by reading a lot of blog posts by a range of different people. It’s easier to find an expert on an issue by searching for text than video. However more often that not – in fact, around 90% of the time – I find that the great writers I research turn out to be very poor at speaking. Continue…

Presentations vs Participations

We learn by engaging, asking questions, getting our heads around an issue, right? Then why are conferences full of one way presentations?

I clipped this article over a year ago and was re-reading it today, called Presentations vs Discussions. In it, Fred Wilson makes the case that those exceptional class room experiences, those board room meetings that really change the direction of the company, those conferences where the light bulb really goes on, are not the result of presentation, but – to use my language – participation. Continue…

If you’re not talking, you’re not learning

In preparing for our Like Minds itinerary this year, I’ve been thinking again about how people learn and how events should help them learn. In particular, I’ve been thinking about a diagram I blogged about almost a year ago now:


This is the cone of learning by Edgar Dale, which says that we remember 10% of what we read, 20% of what we hear, but 70% of what we say and 90% of what we say and do. Continue…

Not A Presentation, A Participation!

I had one of those conversations this week with my dear friend Robin Dickinson. You know what I mean. Where your brain gets turned over in your head and the game plan changes in every way possible.

This conversation was about the presentation I’m giving next week at the International Youth Conference Festival in Pakistan. My speaker notes are here. What Robin basically did was take my own medicine and feed it to me. Watch:

So it’s no longer a presentation I’m giving. It’s a participation. Continue…

Learning About Event Design From Church

We’re running the He Saved The Day Men’s Conference tonight. I wanted to share some of the thoughts behind how we’ve changed the format to make it more about learning and connecting.

A lot of this comes from what I’ve learned from Jeff Hurt and Dave Lutz at Velvet Chainsaw. It seems like common sense that an event should be about talking and learning rather than just listening, but it’s not that common because of the ego issue.

The reality is that most times speakers (in church and without) like to hear their own voices and get the promotion that comes with speaking more than they want people to learn. Or, they want people to learn but incorrectly think the key to is people listening to their wisdom, more than discuss with them. We discussed this in Let Attendees Be Participants, in which I also reference Edgar Dale’s Cone of Learning. Continue…

Lessons from Helsinki: Kill the Speaker / Attendee Divide

The best bit about Like Minds Conversation Helsinki was when the panel got up and crossed the invisible divide that separates speaker and attendee, and began chatting with the people in the crowd like equals. Because guess what, that’s what they are: equals.

Almost a year ago, when I was forming the ideas for Like Minds, I knew that ‘attendee’ would never be a word in our vocabulary. Everyone at Like Minds is a participant – whether they stand and delivery a keynote, turn to the person next to them and share their experience, or help guide a group a discussion.

The reason for this is quite simple: people are smart. The speakers are smart, and the listeners are smart. Continue…

Let Attendees Be Participants


I wrote a while ago about the issue with Social Media events being that they aren’t Social. I suggested a few reasons why this is – but they really boiled down to two core problems:

  1. Ego
  2. Ego

Ego in the first instance is like speakers like to hear themselves talk, and Ego in the second instance is that we love to say we heard ‘so and so’ speak. (Thank you, Jeff Jarvis, for inspring me to tell the truth, and use the word Ego here.) Unfortunately, these aren’t conducive to effective learning. Continue…

A Better Way For Event Sponsorship: Partnership

I talked a little with Amber Naslund (Director of Community at Radian6) at the end of last week on a new way to look at event sponsorship, after she sent our a rather wistful tweet, saying she was looking for a “better way.”

I agree with her. Let’s put ourselves in Amber’s shoes (and indeed the shoes of many companies) – as the figurehead of Radian6 she has conferences asking her all the time to sponsor their event. This means Radian6 give them cash, and the conference organiser slaps the logo on their website, plus gives them a few mentions on the day. Continue…