Storytelling with Thought Leadership | Adam Zuckerman, Mary J. Cronin, Michelle Mellon, and Christopher Brace
Connecting storytelling to thought leadership. A compilation of advice for using storytelling for…
How does a public speaker deliver a message without a stage?
Speaking events screeched to a halt when the pandemic put an indefinite stop to in person events. To find out how speakers moved forward, we’ve invited Mitch Joel, the Co-Founder of ThinkersOne to chat with us about the future of the speaking industry. Mitch is a visionary, digital expert, community leader, and author of Six Pixels of Separation.
Mitch shares how a speaker must split their attention when doing a virtual event, and how they must control music, slides, and other technological aspects as opposed to having a crew to handle those needs. That can put a distance between speaker and audience, making presentations feel slapdash or hesitant. It’s hard to do all that, and still be “in the moment” with the content and audience.
While the pandemic has had many effects on our global culture, Mitch adds another term to the discussion: The Great Compression, which happened among many trade associations and even organizations. He explains that an amplification happened where many began to realize the need to be more diverse becoming a content provider and not just a conference. Second, everyone learned to become more digital. Mitch explains how this was not a revelation — we already had the technology in place, we just hadn’t been forced to adapt to use it.
Another consequence of the pandemic was forced innovation. That pushed many to discover new business models in order to stay relevant, and connect with their clients. Now that the world is slowly returning to normal, many are forgoing those new ventures. We discuss finding the will to scale business to include both the old ways that worked for years, and the new methods that were developed for the pandemic and continue to be relevant today.
Finally, we discuss the hard task of developing community and relationship online. While in-person conferences have started to return they are not back to normal and might never be. Mitch shares his thoughts on the fundamental need to gather in person and how that need is forcing speakers to elevate the quality, relevance, and actionability of the content or they might find the audience wishing they were elsewhere.
If you need a strategy to bring your thought leadership to market, Thought Leadership Leverage can assist you! Contact us for more information. In addition, we can help you implement marketing, research, and sales. Let us help you so you can devote yourself to what you do best.
Peter Winick Hey there and welcome, welcome, welcome. This is Peter Winick. I’m the founder and CEO of Thought Leadership Leverage and you’re joining us on our LinkedIn Live. And today my guest is Mitch Joel. Now, normally, if you listen to the podcast or any of the podcast or any of these things that I do, I rush through the intros and the bios because they’re all kind of world renowned, this world renowned that, you know, whatever cured cancer Nobel Prize. But I was going through this morning getting prepared for this, Mitch’s bio. And I’m actually going to read it because I think it’s awesome. So here we go. Bear with me. So Mitch Joel is the founder of Six Pixels Group, an advisory investing and content producing company that is focused on brands, ecommerce community and what’s next. He’s been called a visionary, digital expert and community leader. He’s an entrepreneur, investor, author, trusted advisor, chronic reader and passionate speaker. I’m going to fast forward a little prior to Mitch spent close to two decades building, running and selling his agency to WPP, one of the world’s most valuable marketing communication holding companies in the world. He was most recently president of Europe, a global marketing agency. Since 2005, he’s been doing 40 to 60 keynotes a year. B2B and B2C. And since COVID has kicked in, he has done over 80 virtual presentations. He’s written a bunch of books. He’s on the 100 coaches. He’s on The Thinkers 50 radar list, columnist for Harvard Business Review, and on and on and on. So here we are.
Peter Winick Mitch, you’ve obviously lowered your standards to spend some time with us today, so I appreciate that.
Mitch Joel And yeah, I mean, I’m going to take it as a slight that I’m not world renowned and I haven’t done all those things. Maybe, maybe I try to write my bios without adjectives as my main goal there.
Peter Winick An adjective less world. So let’s start with, you know, a couple of things. So you’ve been in this game of thought leadership for a long, long time in various iterations. Let’s rewind the tape back a little bit to what life was like two years ago versus what it’s like today, right? So that you still have a message to deliver to an audience. But the way you do that and how you do that. So how have you sort of experimented and landed in ways that are working for you and your clients now?
Mitch Joel Well, it’s a funny question because when the world went sideways, I found that there were a lot of my fellow speakers who would, like get a webcam and a ring light and cry out that they invented the wheel.
Peter Winick Yeah, for – 80 bucks.
Mitch Joel You’re talking to somebody who has, you know, if not the one of the longest running podcasts in the world. Somebody does weekly radio hits and there’s a lot of broadcasting and had all the gear maybe not assembled here in my house. Maybe this fits in my house and, you know, my office, which is it’s a short walk actually down this hill here. So for me, you know, it was more about figuring out what works in the content in relation to a broadcast versus when I’m physically there. Your patter, your jokes, your movement, the size of the of the images, how they play and how they’re reflected on a stage is really different than when you’re just throwing it to the world, you know, waiting for feedback. You know, I always say that if I’m in a room and someone coughs, I can give you the temperature of the room pretty quickly because of how comfortable and used to that I become in live environments and, you know, talking into staring into a webcam or a camera and doing this again, nothing new for me. It was the nuance in between making sure that the stories still resonate in that format and how they can resonate. And so sustained, it’s.
Peter Winick Either permanent image. So, you know, people that keynote have mastered the craft. Right. If we go back to two years ago when you walked into the ballroom or wherever the event was, there’s a tone that’s being said. There’s lighting, there’s music, there’s visuals, there’s the way you walked in and you know what you might use as an icebreaker or not use an icebreaker, you know.
Mitch Joel Opening lines and stuff.
Peter Winick Yeah, you’re opening lines. The physicality, which was typically a little bit large and not over the top of you, need to be big to get the attention, you know, all these sort of things. Yeah. And it took people years and years and years to get really good at it. And quite frankly, almost none of those things work in the world of we’re all living in a box that’s this big on a screen. So I think there has been more, you know, the content or the message is more naked, right? You’re not wrapping it in theatrics or whatever. And I think it’s delivering content in a way that’s more impactful and not wrapped in the music and the lighting and the PowerPoint and the slides and all that.
Mitch Joel Well, I could push back on that. I’m going to push back on that because, you know, what you’re seeing is me looking into a camera. What you’re not seeing behind the scenes is the multiple computers, the different types of mics, the audio rig, the video rig that I have over here, everything within touch that if I did it like this, you wouldn’t see that I’m actually doing it right. Like, I can hit audio cues and I can do a whole bunch of things from here. And when you go back to stage, which I’ve done, I’ve been on physical stages of not also being the HIV person, the leg person, the videographer, the person. I mean, there’s a lot of roles that I found myself doing that you find yourself doing when you’re doing live video that are really alleviated when you get on a physical stage. I’m on a physical stage. I can really just bask in the content and the moment when I’m doing sure video know I’m not the person on stage. I’m the person at front of the house doing the sound person, the videographer, the person behind I’m doing and controlling everything. And that’s all while worrying that the Internet connection is somewhat stable. So I would even argue that, you know, when done properly and done well, to me, the physical stage, it was more of a reality of doing so much video that the physical stage is really easier in terms of an entire. That’s interesting, cohesive production. Absolutely. Way more so probably.
Peter Winick Less of a cognitive load on your multitasking, you know, when you do a web based presentation. Yeah. Thinking about all these other variables when you’re on stage, you can there’s more flow, there’s more in the moment.
Mitch Joel There’s more. Yeah. I’m not worried that if the lights go out, the video screen goes out of the I don’t have any of those words and definitely doing one job even. Right. Enjoying doing four jobs. And I think when your brain is given the space to just focus on the content, it’s a different experience than when you’re currently going, okay, make sure you’re looking at the camera. Make sure you’re still showing up down here. Sure. Make sure this mic is still like there’s a lot of moving parts that even though I’m comfortable and confident, it’s going to work and I’ve set it up that way, it’s still a cognitive low pressure.
Peter Winick Yeah. Yeah. So what are you seeing or feeling or sensing relative to clients? Right. So when we think about it, I think a lot of people froze when COVID hit and said, Oh my, I’m a keynoter. And words matter if you define yourself as a keynoter. And that definition meant I need to be in front on a stage and an event or whatever, and that world didn’t exist for a while. That’s a holy cow moment. Right? And I think you sort of have to redefine who you are and how you deliver value to clients. What are you finding clients are looking for that’s the same. And what’s different in this market.
Mitch Joel About I don’t know if anything, my perception and this is a marketable one. So take it with what ever grains of salt you like is that this idea of an event, we’re going to get our clients together, we’re going to get our entire team together. We’re going to be a part of the association and industry. Create and gather people. Hasn’t changed. Sometimes they’re doing it physical. Sometimes they’re doing it virtually. The case study, I would tell you as I recently spoke for a rather large, large trade association and we were talking about disruption, innovation, which is my keynote stuff, and they were rambling on about how they’re really based off of this one event a year. They’re doing these 45 digital events. And so what’s the analogy? The analogy is you went from being a conference producer to content creator. Yeah, really? That’s what you’re seeing some of them do, being the digital person that I am. Why weren’t you doing this before this? No. Well, so. So you stay.
Peter Winick With that for a minute. I think a lot of these you know, when you look at you look under the hood, at the business side of speaking, right. There are corporate events. Company X brings you in to talk to their people, their clients, whatever. And then there were association events and then there’s the open events, but that was B to C believe that for a moment. But the associations, when you look at their business model, you’re exactly right. They tend to be fairly small businesses, with some exceptions with a typical staff. And pre-COVID, whether business was up or down five or 10% a year, they might blame the venue, the weather, a little bit of the marketing, but it wasn’t these radical shifts. And if the event went well, which they typically did, because that’s what they do, rinse, lather, repeat. And you know, it’s interesting to your point that it took this to get them to rethink how else can we convey our message, deliver value, engage our audiences. So, you know, I mean, you’ve done content across so many modalities. Give us some insight there.
Mitch Joel Well, I mean, you know, if I go back in my tenure, I sat as the chair of the board of directors for the Canadian Marketing Association, which is a fairly large association up here in Canada, where I live. And I mean, we’re going back over a decade. And even then they were realizing we can’t rely on this big national convention as the only thing. And they really started expanding on their education programs, our online programs, the webinar programs, and they were in a position when COVID hit, I believe, based off of the marketing. I’m out. To really keep the community together. I think where it impacted many organizations and we’re going beyond trade associations and corporate ins, just regular business is really not that this was an acceleration or a realization of technology and all the opportunities. I really think what happened at a macro level during the pandemic, and I call it the great compression. So what happened is great compression is one, there was an amplification. So this is stuff we knew. Again, other associations have been on this path for over a decade. It amplified to everybody. We need to be more diverse. We need to think about ways in which we service people. Are we just a conference or are we a content provider? So that amplification was very obvious. And then what you have is a distribution model. And attribution model is just, well, everybody from our youngest of young kids, if you were fortunate enough to be able to go to online learning, we’re suddenly digitized. And then you had your class of elderly, whether you were sliding iPads under their door to face time with them or teaching them how to order food, they’d become digitized. And then we saw, because of business closing and the realities of that, that everybody realized, Oh, people can work from home and can work on their mobile devices and can and can and can’t. So to me, this wasn’t some great revelation. It wasn’t some continuance of speed, of technology, adoption. We had it. It was simply this amplification and distribution. So you saw maybe some of the trade associations that were too reliant on one model, recognizing that often through forced innovation, you find new business models.
Peter Winick So stay there was forced integration so now let’s go to your world your domain expertise on innovation and I like the concept the language around forced innovation because when we talk about innovation in the workplace, we usually think about we control it, right? We’re going to come up with a new innovation to serve our clients better or go to market differently or whatever. But ultimately, COVID is a forced innovation, right? Like, we don’t this concept of going to the office 9 to 5 Monday to Friday rug pulled out from under us this concept of kids going to school at 8:08 a.m. you know, every day every day pulled out from under the underdog. And humans are pretty, pretty resilient.
Mitch Joel I think going as a as an adjective isn’t where my headspace is. When I think about forced innovation, I’ll give you a real tactical example. We have a local sushi restaurant where the chef is like Iron Chef celebrity books. Everyone knows them, wants a self. Sure, 50 seat restaurant, you know, two servings a night, maybe. But the whole point is to have the experience there. Sure. What’s plated, how it’s presented, how it comes out. So everything is orchestrated like a symphony. So Covid comes and they’re shut down. Now suddenly they start doing takeout and delivery. Is this how the chef would like their food? No.
Peter Winick But they’ve got a brand.
Mitch Joel That they’re forced to do this. So that’s one aspect, too, is they started doing a thing called sashimi sando, where you could do a subscription model and every Sunday you would get a package delivered very, very fresh to your home that you could get you could prepare. Then on top of that, they started showing up this chef in a zoom, basically like a virtual greet to teach people about or just a hangout. So you’ve got delivery and free pickup. You’ve got online learning scripture description model. That forced innovation came with three new models of, of, of ways in which to engage your community to do business. Now that the tragedy of the moment is as things open up, do you collapse those three, take them away, or do you run with them understanding that these are new ways to connect my brand or my business with its audience or its customer. And so my mind is less about, you’re going to work, you’re not going to work. It’s more about how did you interact with that customer throughout this experience? Did they like it and would they like to continue it? I’ll give you another really quick example. Did I sit on the board of the local library? Very good that I love it. So we were doing curbside pickup, right? Right. Forced innovation. All right. Librarians got to run around the library, find the books for the people to run them out to their car or whomever. Then when they bring it back in the sanitation of these books. Sure. All that stuff. And now we’re in a place as we reopen where it’s not feasible to do it. And I’m fighting hard to say keep it. People liked it. And so they’ll be probably a median, you know, a median of certain times.
Peter Winick You can do it that way or something.
Mitch Joel Or there’ll be a table out front and be sure they’re just come in and grab them so they’ll be something that’s done. But it’s a new way for them to engage with their audience.
Peter Winick Right? So net it’s this forced tests and experiments, right? Libraries are not known for being particularly creative, innovative.
Mitch Joel Or actually they are, you know. But.
Peter Winick Okay, well, just more back you go. Yeah, but my point is of all these new bells and whistles and ways and you mentioned the sushi restaurant. There’s, you know, you know, telemedicine, all these other things, which one of these will become permanent? Fabric of the way we now interact with our doctors. I can’t imagine going back to the default system, being the waiting room. It sucks for the patient. For the doctor. Yeah.
Mitch Joel Yeah. People are racing against the vaccine passports up here in Canada. We’re very accepting of it to see that in my Apple wallet and then to think that I could have my other vaccines in there or a health record, or if I’m going to see a specialist, they have access or I can give them access to see history. And I’m not waiting for doctors to fax or paper. So, I mean, my passion for that whole telemedicine as well is just simple automation. Like, why would anybody sit in an office with other sick people in a waiting room? Just text me and I’ll be there like so.
Peter Winick So I think those things will obviously be covered. So I think there’s some obvious things that will become permanent in the way we do things, where we’ll look back in ten or 15 years and say, Yeah, remember when you feel good, need to go to the waiting room and sit next to a bunch of sick people. How stupid was that? Or, you know. And the doctor was always behind schedule and he was stressed out. Or she was stressed out or whatever.
Mitch Joel Appointment based was huge to him and we had the passport office shut down and all you wait hours, the passport office here you would call seemed bizarre and they would call you back, you’d make an appointment. And I walked in on my day and time. I was in Mountain 10 minutes and my reaction was, maybe everyone’s mental health would be better, maybe it’ll be a bit slower. Maybe it’ll be frustrating for some who need access. Maybe you can then layer in premium payments, which they sometimes have, or you pay more to get access. Sure. So all of these provide tremendous opportunities. And the question on the opportunities is, will they be maintained because the human aspect of it can’t be denied? And when we really think about what’s been happening, it’s not like people aren’t going to concerts now because they realize they could watch it streaming on YouTube. It’s not like people aren’t going to restaurants because they started getting really into Uber eats. So the question mark that I’m constantly pushing out in my socials or in conversation for my podcast is around this idea that it’s funny to me. I use the word funny. It’s funny to me that we have some sort of perception that work is going to be the one that’s fundamentally changed. Like now we’re not going to go to office that well. Everything else that we reopened and changed our habits on, we completely raged back to. And I’m really curious to see. I mean, now we’re in a bit of a holding pattern because of varying worlds that there’s been a lot of articles recently, not just on the great resignation, but on this idea that basically every major corporation is quote unquote, canceled back to work until they really see where things are going. Yeah, but when work does come back, the conversations I’ve had with people who are working on more of a skeleton crew at the office, they say that the people who are showing up are definitely benefiting from being there in person, and it’d be hard for me to argue with them because you’re fighting against centuries of optimization of the workplace. This is not right, you know. Right.
Peter Winick Well, but I think scale is a piece of this. I want to I want to go back to sort of these, you know, what stays and what goes. You mentioned the sushi place near you. If they only see 50 and the world goes back to normal and they can fill those 50,000 seats twice a night, like you said, that’s capacity.
Mitch Joel But if he’s if he’s serving three times that on takeout and delivery.
Peter Winick If he can handle it right, if they can change their operation to support that and subscription and learning, the question becomes, you know, what do you have the scale to do right.
Mitch Joel And or will or willingness.
Peter Winick Or will. Right, right. Right, right. Interesting.
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Peter Winick So what’s your gut? I want to spend a couple of minutes as we start to get ready to wrap up in a few. Where do you see specifically for events, speaking, etc.? There’s been a lot of chatter in the thought leader, speaker, community of it’s coming back. It’s not coming back. You know, we had pre-Delta remember Delta that was so quaint. That was a while ago. I like Q3 and Q4.
Mitch Joel Like how 2021.
Peter Winick Yeah.
Mitch Joel Okay. Yeah.
Peter Winick Yeah. Q3 and Q4 events were lit up and then everything got pulled back and now we’ve got the new one. I think what’s happening right now is companies have now done the ultimate AB test. We lived for two years, in essence without in-person events, with some exceptions, but off by 80 something percent. They’ve actually done the math. So if you were back in your agency days as a, you know, SVP or managing director and you used to go to 12 conferences, which wouldn’t be unusual, ten conferences or whatever. Now the organization has done the math and said, you know what, Mitch, pick two, because every time you leave the office, now we know the true cost. It’s five grand fully loaded to get on a plane. Your productivity goes down, pick the two that are most important. And to me, and this is where I want to get your thought on this, we can deliver content, plus or minus this way, and there are pros and cons to it. What I haven’t seen done as well is how do we get connection and how do we get community as well this way as we do when we’re all in Las Vegas for two days together or Scottsdale. Any thoughts on that?
Mitch Joel Yeah, lots of thoughts for sure. I mean, you know, one is I do see some of my peers going. They’re doing their little year end wraps now and live events are back. And I’ve been out on the road and I’ve been doing a lot. And I will tell you that live events are not the things that people with the gathering because they’re passionate about gathering. They don’t really care what the content is. If you told them it’s going to be Donald Duck on stage, they would have shown up and paid as if it were and A list.
Peter Winick And to get out of the house.
Mitch Joel I could tell that there was a desire for that connection to be with one another. That was the primary driver, there’s no doubt about that. You know, and I also think about the world and I’ve always thought this way it’s interesting. So school would be a great example of this. We have some kids in our kids. They’re now adults that got accepted into colleges and universities during the pandemic. One of them was Harvard. And the question becomes, does this individual, this young adult, go to Harvard in the middle of a pandemic? And my answer was take a gap year and unequivocally no, because if you consider Harvard to be simply the exchange of information from these professors to this student.
Peter Winick You’re missing the boat.
Mitch Joel I would argue that’s probably about 10% of the experience. I think the other 90% is the network you’re building, the people you’re connecting to, the living on your own.
Peter Winick The life skills.
Mitch Joel The life skills, the real business thinking, the ideation that happens over coffee at two in the morning or other objects or other influences, whatever.
Peter Winick Yeah, right.
Mitch Joel So when I look at live events in relation to the content side of it, my side of it, I’ve become very cognizant that in this last moment, this last little verse that we had to end 2021 to me wasn’t about the content at all. And that’s I’m belittling my own stuff. I’m saying.
Peter Winick Sure, yeah.
Mitch Joel It was about people’s need or want to finally congregate and be together and socialize. And I think going forward, what that’s going to do is put tremendous pressure on the producers of content, the media and use the world. Because if people are going to sit together in a ballroom, 400, 500, 2000 people, it better really be relevant. It better really be actionable and tangible. And I think that we don’t realize how big of a bull run we were having prior to the pandemic, where you could give a keynote on, you know, showing what people did wrong on the Internet or whatever, like and then not belittle that there’s a lot of great speakers.
Peter Winick Well, I don’t.
Mitch Joel Really want value. And that was in the feedback I saw based even off of my presentations was, you know, people saying I needed to be more directly related to my industry. Now this happens to be industries that would be very, very specific and hard for me to offer. So that’s the thinking that I really think thought leaders have to reflect on. Is my fee aligned in a world where people don’t really want the content right now and B if they’re really honing in on it, it better be a bullseye. Otherwise it’s not worth their time. They would much rather be in the hallway, having more coffee, hanging out with their peers and doing the mastermind.
Peter Winick And I think the bar’s been raised. And it’s funny, I’ve been asking people a form of this question for a while. If you think about some of the best conferences you’ve gone to over your career, what are the things that you take away? And 95% of the people has nothing to do with, you know, Obama spoke or, you know, world renowned speakers. It’s that was the conference that Mitch and I met at the bar. And we’ve stayed good friends for 20 years for that was the conference that, you know, so I was able to hire so-and-so away from my competitor. It’s always the human people stuff and it’s almost like they totally forget about whoever they saw that was so world renowned and standing ovation and all this sort of other stuff. So I think, you know, I used to I’m sitting in Las Vegas right now, actually. I used to wander the halls when I was at events and just pop into other events and go, there’s kind of a template like there’s the actuaries over there and here’s the i.t guys over here and here’s oracle salespeople over there and we’re all kind of doing the same thing. And is it an excuse to come out and party and drink? I don’t know. But I think that connection peace is the is the missing piece. Yeah.
Mitch Joel And in virtual, you know, where, you know, they’re breakout rooms, they’ve done a lot of things to try and make it work. But the truth is it’s still very situational, meaning they’re still in the same place. So if I’m if you’re speaking and you’re giving a keynote now, Peter, I’m receiving it now. If I’m interacting like I’m know again looking into the camera and interaction with you, if suddenly we’re in a breakout from this for people, my situation didn’t change. I’m still in my socks, but not like going to another part. We’re not going for a walk. We as humans think very by now, oh, look, we’re not. There are many ways to network online that don’t involve anything like this. For example, when I share a piece of content, whether it’s news related or whatever, and I ask a question, that’s a way that I’m connecting. I’m seeing who’s aligned with this, who’s not, how does that trigger a thought from somebody else to come in and add value to that? That’s a very powerful form networking, but we don’t associate it with that. I would argue that that’s the main way we network online. We find people providing content that is aligned with us or is of interest to us. These are people that are either smarter than us or peers of us, and we want to play within those sandboxes. Yeah, that’s very powerful networking and I’ve made that personally. Some real friends that when we are in our protein forums is a, is a profound friendship, but it’s networking in the traditional way. So when we think of networking, we think of how do we get people to congregate? Well, sometimes in text, how we congregate is very different than how we do it. If the camera’s on, I’ll often you know, what we saw during the pandemic is people didn’t necessarily want to show their environment like that’s a brand, right? Branding thing you had right behind you. You had whatever you had. And many people don’t have the privilege I have of a great apartment or a great home. And, you know, they’ve got dogs and kids barking and or they’re, you know, mad at their spouse or on the verge of maybe their marriage falling apart. And so you have to bear it all because they’re working out of their bedroom, because their spouses in the kitchen. There’s a reality of what this was. That isn’t how do we network? And when you talk about that networking piece, I think digital connections are fundamentally different than physical ones. And that’s the challenge.
Peter Winick Yeah, no, they are fundamentally different. Well, this has been phenomenal. Mitch, I appreciate your time. I appreciate your insight. It easy for me because you’re such a great interview. Thank you. Any final thoughts? Final words of wisdom.
Mitch Joel No. Thanks for inviting me. I mean, this is a topic that’s obviously near and dear to my heart. So I’m happy that we had this conversation, hoping we can do it again sometime.
Peter Winick Yeah, I hope so, too. Thank you so much. Have a great new year.
Mitch Joel And to you.
Peter Winick To learn more about Thought Leadership Leverage, please visit our website at ThoughtLeadershipLeverage.com to reach me directly. Feel free to email me at Peter at ThoughtLeadershipLeverage.com and please subscribe to Leveraging Thought Leadership on iTunes or your favorite podcast app to get your weekly episode automatically.