Why I Gave My Keynote Speech to An Empty Auditorium: My Pandemic Pivot

What do you do when you have to share your message with 2,000 people but they can't be in the same room?

In my keynote speech, one of my central messages is to "stop demonstrating what you already know." That means that in order to write the next chapter of your life, you have to get uncomfortable and do things you haven't done before.

And boy oh boy, have we all been experiencing that so far in 2020.

Normally at this time of year, I'd be touring colleges across the nation and speaking at New Student Orientations.

As you might guess, this year, I'm not doing that.

In fact, I haven't had an in-person speaking engagement since February.

So, my team and I had to get creative with how we can inspire and empower people in the era of COVID-19. We decided that the best way to serve our customers in this time would be filming different versions of my keynote to be used virtually or at small, in person-meetings.

We wanted to challenge the norm of virtual events. We didn't want to just show up from a virtual location and present the same program every time. Instead, we dreamed up a high-quality, hybrid, flexible program that could be customized to each client--one that made the experience of watching the presentation flawless, regardless of the internet connection.

That way, thousands of people could hear my message with the same level of impact without sitting right next to each other in an audience.

So, I went from "speaker boy,” traveling the nation and keynoting at events, to making a "pandemic pivot," and I wanted to share with you what I learned in the process.

1. Become an expert on the needs of your clients.

I've been in conversations with administrators on campuses across the country to develop a program for college students that meets their needs.

As soon as the pandemic hit, even though all of my in-person speaking jobs were rescheduled, I kept in touch with all of my clients.

That looked like spending a lot of time on the phone (or on Zoom) with them--asking questions, understanding their pain points and ultimately developing a virtual offering that is flexible enough to meet their needs.

2. Leverage connections and community.

Once we realized that we needed to create a top-of-the-line digital version of my keynote, we started brainstorming.

My family and I live in Cincinnati, Ohio, which is home to Crossroads, a megachurch with multiple locations and 30,000+ attendees.

In addition to doing amazing things for the community like paying off $46.5 million in medical debt for people in the midwest and providing childcare for the children of healthcare workers during the initial lockdown phases of COVID, they create amazing media to share their services online with state-of-the-art video and production technology.

We attend Crossroads as a family, and through many conversations, doors opening and perfect timing, Elle and I got on the phone with the right people, told them our story, and created a win-win plan.

They donated an entire day of filming in their Mason space which included a full production team, custom lighting, sound--the whole shebang! We walked away with a solution for us and for our clients (the colleges).

3. Give away what you can.

The generosity of Crossroads to film my keynote has stuck with me, and really, the power of giving away your most valuable gifts has been a huge theme for me ever since COVID-19 hit.

In fact, for the first few months of the pandemic, I gave away the PDF version of my best-selling book along with my brand-new audiobook and videos I had created for a virtual VIP experience--all for free on my website.

Yes, we all need to keep earning our rice, and we can't give everything away. But the most powerful thing any brand can do is to discern what they can give back.

Rather than losing revenue, I predict that the brands who were most generous during this time will be the ones who rebound the most quickly.


Because they're building loyalty and showing people how much they really care.

So now I ask you: What resources and skills do you have that you could give away this week?

What gifts do you have that other people could benefit from, especially in the time we're living in?

Whether you're an accountant, a dancer, a teacher, a CEO or a videographer, I guarantee that there are people who would be blessed by just a few hours of your time if you gave it away.

4. Keep the core of what you do, and be willing to change the rest.

Before March of this year, Crossroads had over 30,000 people gather together for worship in their multiple locations. Since then, they have pivoted to being an online church experience with socially-distanced outdoor worship experiences when the weather is good.

The core of their mission is to foster the spiritual growth and formation of their attendees and to love and serve the community they're in. And even though everyone associated Crossroads with a live, in-person worship experience, they have been able to take that away temporarily and still maintain the core of their mission. In fact, they decided not to re-open their buildings until 2021-- both to take extra precautions due to their large numbers and because their new model is working even better than they imagined.

I've used this same model to think about my keynote speech. The core of my career as a speaker is my message that empowers people to take control of their life--not my ability to perform in front of a live audience. So that's why it was so important to me to find a way to deliver that message to people in a new way during the pandemic.

Believe me, it was a totally different experience to deliver my keynote speech to an empty auditorium, looking into a camera instead of at an audience--but I knew how important it was that I get uncomfortable in order to create a new platform for my message, even though I'm still a live performer at heart.

And I'm so grateful that while I may not be booking as many flights and performing at as many in-person meetings this year, I have still been able to customize and share my message from afar with universities, corporations and faculty at schools.

While we're not at the beginning of the pandemic anymore, we're certainly not at the end.

It's up to us to keep growing, innovating, and yes--getting uncomfortable--to come out of this chapter stronger than ever.

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