Digital-First Leadership

Podcast

Digital Events with Phil Yanov

February 3, 2021
Richard Bliss

In this episode, Richard sits down with Phil Yanov, Founder of Tech After Five, a technology networking event series. Phil is a natural when it comes to networking and has figured out this idea of building a tribe. In the interview he points out that there is a specific way you can grow your tribe, a way to digitally pivot with more effect than in-person events can bring. 

Phil Yanov is a technologist with personality. He’s a natural born connector and has built a career out of helping others understand how they can best leverage technology at work and at play.

He is a sought-after voice in matters of personal technology, information security, and personal networking

Thirty thousand people receive his weekly emails, and pre-covid, he held live events in Greenville, Columbia, Charleston & Charlotte every month. Attendance at the events averaged between 75 & 150 people.

Tech After Five has hosted over 500 live events and has mastered the shift to the online world, seemingly effortlessly.

https://www.linkedin.com/in/philyanov

Narrator:

Welcome to Digital-First Leadership, the podcast that focuses on helping leaders and teams understand how to master the language of social media in today's digital first world. Now here's your host, Richard Bliss.

Richard Bliss:

Phil. Thank you very much for joining me.

Phil Yanov:

I am delighted to be here with you, Richard. Thank you for asking me really.

Richard Bliss:

Well. It's fun because we've known each other for a very long time. And it's interesting, we knew each other before we knew each other, and I think that's becoming more and more common in today's world, through a common friend who's been on the show, Scott Pfeiffer, and the things that you've been doing. And so, I've invited you here because I kind of wanted to talk about some of the things I have watched in awe that you have done and that you've been able to develop. And that is this concept of building a tribe, particularly in this digital-first world, where now we have to think about everything we do first in the digital world before we actually talk about in the physical world. It's been a major transition for a lot of people.

Richard Bliss:

And so, from a background standpoint, you run something, Tech After Five, you have a podcast, you have a variety of things that you're doing. Help me understand the evolution that you've gone through as you've developed it because I think at the time of this recording, you're about to have your, is it 600th meeting?

Phil Yanov:

Yeah, we're about to do our 600th event. So we have events at multiple cities. At some point along the way, we just started counting them and we went back and back-counted and figured it all out. And now we just, everyone gets serialized. Tonight's number 600. Next one will be, actually, it will be 602 for reasons I don't want to explain. Yeah, we've done 600 events. For us, this whole thing of doing digital, we started it in the real world and then I grew that thing. And it was kind of organic at first and we experimented with the format, etc. In March of this year, of course, we made a digital pivot, and I really saw it as sort of a service to my existing community. But it turns out you can actually grow your community and maybe even faster when in a digital environment.

Richard Bliss:

And that's an interesting point you bring up because back in February, let's go back to an age ago, nobody could have convinced us of that. Nobody could have convinced us that if we take this, we have to be in person, there's something intrinsically valuable about it, which we both agree, but we were somehow, blind is not the right word, but we were so conditioned to believe that the only way for a networking event to work was for it to be physically networked. And now, we've done this massive transformation.

Phil Yanov:

Yeah. So there's a shared common belief. And the thing is, we probably couldn't have done this in February because the audience wasn't ready for it, and the lockdown and the changes, and basically everybody going, oh, well, here is the way I look at it, everyone got Zoom trained in about 30 or 60 days. And so, therefore then you could do it. And they're stuck at home. And let's face it, I mean, right when we're recording, it looks like in the next couple of months, it might get locked down again tighter than it was before. And the fact is, this is the time when I can lead digitally. I would never have believed this, Richard. I didn't think it was possible. But I said, even if I do it badly, I'm going to do it. But I know that I am tenacious and that I like delivering a good experience for my audience. So I just kept at it and I kept thumping away. And we just kept getting better and better and better.

Phil Yanov:

And now, I really, I know this sounds terrible, I think we're delivering a unique product. Our event in that virtual space, I mean, I go around to other people in other parts of the country and sit on their events so that I can learn from them. We are way ahead of almost everybody we run into, only because we've been at it so long.

Richard Bliss:

Well, and that's the thing is that almost from the beginning, and you invited me to come and participate in one of those events. It was kind of a unique experience. I was like, okay, let's give it a try. You and I have both agreed that whenever we can help each other, we're there to learn from each other. And it was a rather unique experience, introducing the breakout rooms is not unique, but kind of the way they handled it. I learned things sitting through your presentation on how now I handle some of my presentations as I present to groups all over the world. And so, yeah, there's this rapid acceleration of learning.

Richard Bliss:

So let's talk about that. Let's talk about then the steps that you learned, because the theme here is, the idea of building your tribe as a leader, what I call a digital-first leadership today is building a tribe, particularly digital tribe. And you've taken these steps. Let's talk and share with our audience some of the things that you've done to make your events successful and some of the things that you've learned that's accelerated this process for you.

Phil Yanov:

The thing is, everyone felt kind of, they weren't sure this is a thing they wanted to do at the beginning. So I had to take all the fear and all the friction out of it. So when I bring people together, I do everything I can to make this easy for them to show up. You indicated the idea you want to be here. Let me make it easy for you to be here.

Richard Bliss:

And so, tell me what would be some of those friction points that you needed to remove, because I know that people listening are like, I don't even know what he's talking about, what friction points?

Phil Yanov:

Yeah, you're right. That wasn't supposed to be coded language. It's not a secret. So you've got Zoom but it had its own registration system, but I was using Eventbrite before, but Eventbrite doesn't really connect to Zoom very well. So what would happen is, in the beginning, there really wasn't a place to even put this. So, I would create follow on emails that actually gave people the Zoom credentials so they can get on the call, because Eventbrite didn't do that. And now, Eventbrite still doesn't do a great job of it because the way people have to log in to get their tickets. So I still, to this day, in fact, before I got on this call with you, for my event tonight, I went out and, or edited the emails that will be part of that last minute flow so that no one is coming back to me, because there's going to be, I don't know if there'll be a hundred people on the call, but maybe. No one's going to come back and go, well, I can't find the link because I've sent it to them now four times.

Richard Bliss:

Okay, so that's one, getting them linked to them. Something else I remember that you did, the naming thing.

Phil Yanov:

Yeah. So we do things inside. So, here's the other thing. First off, I got to get you through the door part. And any kind of event, that can be a hard thing. And we know, webinars, for example, are typically really poorly attended. 100 people sign up, 20 show up. It's that kind of thing. The numbers can be different depending on all kinds of things, but those numbers are usually low. And they can be low for us. So we do all these things to make sure that the people actually do show up, that works out really well for us.

Phil Yanov:

And then when you come through the door, we're saying, okay, now how can I help you, the attendee, feel recognized in this space? So one of the things we ask you to do is to reach up in the Zoom call, press the three little dots next to your head, and rename yourself by putting your real name. And then who are you in the world, or what's the name of your company? This is what we tell the audience. Treat it like it was a name badge at a professional networking event. And just write in there whatever you want to write in there. Be respectful, don't write anything in there that people wouldn't understand or is goofy or inappropriate. But write in there what you would put at a professional event and stick it up there so they can see it.

Richard Bliss:

When you did that, what I was surprised by was the reaction from so much of the audience who were unaware that you could even change your name on those three dots. And it was like, oh, and you're right, that's one thing you wouldn't even think about, but it is, change the name. And I went back, Phil, right after we did that, and I saw you do that, I went back to my team and told them, hey, next time we're on a training call, you guys need to change your names. And they were like, what, because they would have their first name or something, and then they'd change their name with the branding of my company so that people in a, if you've got 40 people in the training, they could quickly identify the BlissPoint employees because they had BlissPoint right there in their name. I thought it was such a simple, easy thing, but you're right, it caused people to suddenly feel a comfort level because now I knew who I was talking to.

Phil Yanov:

That's right. That's all of that, right? I mean, you look at it, and it's a sea of faces. Let's imagine there's 25 on the screen at a time or something like that, you look at all those faces like, I don't know who these people are, or should I trust them, etc. Well, let's put as much information in there as we can to begin with so that people can say, oh yeah, okay, all right, I get where they are, I get who that person is.

Phil Yanov:

You know what I think is funny Richard is that there's at least, there's one person that I just met in the real world last Friday that I have been on maybe 20 calls with. And it was super funny to me cause it was like, I think I know this person pretty well now. We've had a lot of meaningful conversations together, but it meant something to me to actually see them in the real world. But it was a different change, right? I had made all the impact with them digitally before I ever met them.

Richard Bliss:

You had. And I have often said this in my podcast and my writing, we lack right now in the English language, an appropriate description of relationships that are born digitally before physically, because our language conveys, Phil, you and I know each other, but we knew each other long before we met. And I remember the first time we met, it was at one of your events in Greenville, South Carolina. I flew out, I was able to attend. That was the first time we met physically in the same space continuum space. But we had met long before that. And I can remember when my daughters started telling me that they were going out, well with who? Well, this guy. Where'd you meet him? Yeah, I met him. Wait a minute, what's your definition of meeting versus my definition of meeting?

Phil Yanov:

That's right. That's right.

Richard Bliss:

In today's world, we lack this ability to understand a relationship that has been born over time. I've read your blogs, I've watched your videos, I've done all of this. And yet, I feel like I know you. But the first time we walk in a room, it is a very unique experience that we're all starting to experience now because as you said, with our 30 day Zoom crash course, I had a call this morning with an individual. And I said, pre-COVID, we would have probably just had a phone call. But who does phone calls anymore? It's like, nope, it's a natural, hey, we're going to have a meeting, I've never met you but I'm going to send you a Zoom invite, because I assume you're going to get on the Zoom call and we're going to talk to each other.

Phil Yanov:

I think that's absolutely right. Again, the neat thing is the world is kind of ready in most places. And for the people who insist, for example, on doing it as a phone call as opposed to Zoom, I'm kind of worried now, should I trust you, because we said that we would be open to each other. And so, I get to see your face, you get to see my face, and we get to see how we're talking. I mean, there is so much trust information that goes when we're looking each other in the eye that we just don't get when we're on a phone call. And my question is now, why would you be bothered with that?

Richard Bliss:

Right. Why? Because there's so much I lose. And then the people apologize now, if they're in the car, I'm sorry, I'm on the phone. I've heard that now more and more on those calls, they're apologizing. I'm sorry, I can't be there in person.

Phil Yanov:

I think that's really cool. And we get that at our events too. Occasionally somebody will be in transit. And again, they're apologizing for it. But we make it really clear in our events. If you're here to make real connections, if you're here to have meaningful conversations with people, we do it eyes open, face to face, even if it's zooming. But it's face to face because there's so much to be learned by having that conversation.

Richard Bliss:

As you have these events and as you're going about doing this, as we take it beyond the Tech After Five events, there are lessons to be learned for individuals, leaders who are looking to achieve some kind of influence online. Oftentimes now, leaders are not even able to meet with or see some of their employees. Some of their employees they've never met. And yet they're engaging with them. Do you have some advice or tips that you have learned, whether it's through your events that you're hosting? What are some of the key elements when it comes to making sure that you establish a strong amount of digital presence and this leadership component through this new medium?

Phil Yanov:

I think the leadership side of this is, one of the things is, to get in the habit first of doing these calls on video as opposed to audio. Again, you're respectful of time and of the things, let's do this thing on video. And it is okay to just kind of sit and listen. I don't have to have this thing fully programmed. I'm not delivering an entire, all kinds of information to you. I might just want to see how you're doing. So, I typically get on the phone and I say, or get on the Zoom, I'm not even going to use the word to get on the phone anymore, I get on the Zoom with you, and I almost always begin with, well, how are you doing? Because I realized we live in kind of a crazy time and it has impacted different people differently. I'm in a pretty good spot. On a 10 point scale, I'm a nine much of the time.

Phil Yanov:

I've got a job, I've got work. My life is doing what it's supposed to be doing and I feel upright and steady. But I have run into plenty of people who feel buffeted right by what's going on. And so, I want to give them a moment to reflect on that or to see if there's something I can do, or even if it's just listening. But I do that on the front end. And I think that's a real leadership issue is just don't assume that everybody's a 10 coming out of the gate.

Richard Bliss:

No. And you bring up a really valid point because I now meet people and I spend a significant amount of time, yes, we're all impacted whether it's by COVID, whether it's by employment, whether it's by family has moved in, family has moved out, whatever it might be. And even if you just meet that person for the first time, there's a shared common experience that we're all going through, each of us having a different level of that. As you said, a nine or, some people coming in at a four. But it's important to make sure that we are allowing that person to feel seen and to feel heard. I really like that.

Phil Yanov:

I think that's very important. And so, that's always one of the really early questions in our calls even now. We'll do Tech After Five 600 tonight. And one of the early questions we'll have, I will actually launch a poll and it will give people a range of answer so they can kind of tell us where they are. And then I will pick the edges and ask folks to talk about that. If you're saying your life needs improvement, is there something we can do as a community to help you, or do you just want to talk about it?

Richard Bliss:

And sometimes all they want to do is talk about it.

Phil Yanov:

That's right.

Richard Bliss:

You use a variety of tools in your presentations. And by the way, ironically, yes, we are recording this across Zoom, but this is actually a podcast that most people are going to be listening to. They will not see us, so they won't realize that you're almost a spitting image of George Clooney. You got just a little bit more gray hair.

Phil Yanov:

Nice, nice. Not Danny DeVito, but George Clooney. I appreciate it.

Richard Bliss:

Absolutely George Clooney. I suddenly was struck by the irony that like, oh, most people hear we're talking about Zoom and they're listening to us through their podcasts as they're walking their dog. But that also brings up what you've just said, dogs, kids, family. I watched an interview with the CEO of a multi-billion dollar company. She was doing it from, I think it was her bedroom, but she'd angled the camera so it was just kind of on the closet door and the bedroom door, so it's closed. And I'm thinking what an organic, natural experience we're having with so many of us now no longer meeting each other with the button-down shirt and ties and suits. And instead we're seeing each other and experiencing each other in our homes. Very different element to what's going on right now.

Phil Yanov:

Right. And some of us can cordon that off and make it look very formal. And some of us are like, we're just in the middle of it. If your listeners could listen very, very closely, they could hear my son practicing his euphonium two rooms away because he's having band class because our schools are done at home, and he is practicing with his band teacher at this very moment. And that's a thing I would never have to have otherwise. I'd have been in an office or done something else.

Richard Bliss:

Well, we're going to do it on my side. If you listen very carefully because I'm actually, those who are watching, this as a Zoom background, it looks very real. It's not a multi-million dollar San Francisco loft apartment. I'm in a tent in my backyard, and the neighbors are doing construction. So you can hear the bandsaw as they're cutting. The acceptance level of what is okay has dramatically changed, I think to the better. We are seeing each other as people now rather than simply as coworkers or as customers, we're seeing each other much more as people.

Phil Yanov:

Yeah. Well, I think that's true. And the thing is, we also get sort of personal notes from people, because like in your case, you've got this beautiful background. My real office is what's behind me. Right. This is not a set. [inaudible 00:17:41] the phone and all the kind of stuff that's behind me. And so it's a chance to kind of highlight a few things, but I've also been on calls with other folks and I ask them what are they seeing? What is that picture behind you? What does that mean to you?

Richard Bliss:

Yeah. So it's that different environment. We only have a couple of minutes here as we wrap up. What piece of advice would you give then to, let's suppose somebody who's looking to build an online community similar to what you've done with Tech After Five. What advice would you give to them as they start out?

Phil Yanov:

If you're just bare earth, I think you've got to figure out where are you going to start and who's it going to be. But I think you've got to serve the community. It's funny because I'm watching someone else do this in another place, a business that went through a thump, someone bought it. And now, they're trying to start it from scratch it feels like all over again. Every day I was like, you need to reach out to the people who need your help and be helpful to them. They will tell their friends and it will grow automatically. That part will take care of itself. It's super easy to get involved with, oh, let me bring in all the people that could be helpful to these people. And that's not it. It's start with the folks that you're there to help and be helpful. What do you need? You don't have to show up with all the answers, just show up with good questions.

Richard Bliss:

And that makes a big difference. I appreciate that. Phil, if people want to find out about Tech After Five or about you, where would they go to find out more information?

Phil Yanov:

Yeah, it's super easy to find. It's techafterfive.com, or I went and spent the extra money for TA5.com, it's a three letter domain. So TA5.com, it'll render to techafterfive.com. Come join us at events. We have half a dozen events a month already, and we might be having something new near you. It doesn't matter. Right now, it's on Zoom, so we are covering your travel expenses to our events.

Richard Bliss:

That's a great way of looking at it, especially it's raining here, I would enjoy being somewhere else for even a short amount of time. Phil, thank you so much. It's always a pleasure, and this has been very informative and I appreciate the time that you've given us today.

Phil Yanov:

Richard, super glad to help. Thank you for having me.

Narrator:

You've been listening to Digital-First leadership, the podcast where you learn to leverage and build your expertise on digital platforms. For more valuable tips on mastering the language of social media, subscribe to our newsletter at blisspointconsult.com. If you'd like to stay in touch, feel free to add Richard on LinkedIn and join the conversation.