top of page

141: Going Virtual with NCEO - Part 2

Bret Keisling is again joined by Ivette Torres, NCEO's Conference Director, who shares the many ways the NCEO virtual annual conference will incorporate fun and community, virtual sponsor booths that benefit both attendees and sponsors, and how a virtual conference differs from a webinar.

The NCEO's mission is to help Employee Ownership thrive. They want to help you and your company succeed, and so they are offering EsOp Podcast listeners $25 off the registration price for their April 20-21, 2021 Annual Employee Ownership Conference with the code EOPODCAST25.


Episode 141 Transcript

Bret Keisling: 00:10 Hello, my friends. Thanks for listening. My name is Bret Keisling and as it says on my business cards, I'm a passionate advocate for employee ownership. Today I bring you part two of my conversation with Ivette Torres, who is the conference director for the National Center for Employee Ownership, or NCEO. The NCEO's virtual annual conference will be held April 20th to 21st, 2021 and there's a pre-conference on April 16th.

Bret Keisling: 00:39 In part one of my conversation, which aired last week on Episode 140 of the podcast, Ivette shared great ideas on how to convert a live event to a virtual one. She included a lot of practical information on platforms, technology, as well as practical hints for those who are presenting out of virtual conference.

Bret Keisling: 00:57 In this episode, Ivette will share some of the ways that NCEO will make its virtual annual conference fun, including swag bags for early registrants, virtual mixologists and other ways to add community to a virtual event. She also explains both the technical and practical aspects of virtual sponsor booths. In addition, she describes how the virtual pre-conference is handled differently from the annual live event.

Bret Keisling: 01:26 Several weeks ago, on Episode 120 of our ESOP Mini-cast, that comes out on Fridays, I shared an excerpt with Ivette where she describes in detail the annual conference. I hope you'll check out Episode 120 of the ESOP Mini-cast, as well as last week's Episode 140 of The EO/ESOP Podcast, which you can find at and wherever you get your podcasts. At the end of the episode, I'm going to share a discount coupon that will save $25 on the conference registration exclusively for podcast listeners.

Bret Keisling: 02:03 Here's part two of my conversation with Ivette Torres.


Bret Keisling: 02:09 I remember talking before a number of conferences with employee owners that were going to present and inevitably tended to be more nervous. And I'm not talking about the CEOs, I'm talking folks who were on the line in the warehouse or blue collar or not high level white collar, whatever and they'd present and they'd have a little bit of nervousness and they would compare themselves to practitioners who present all the time or someone like me, who just talks all the time.

Ivette Torres: 02:39 [Laughter.].

Bret Keisling: 02:39 I believe very strongly that folks like that actually have more credibility and NCEO attendees would much rather hear not on the technical side, regulatory side, but just in terms of the experience. Would you agree that that, that I think some of the most powerful speakers are not polished speakers. They're just real people who are able to speak from the heart. Does that make sense?

Ivette Torres: 03:05 Yeah, I think that, you know, when people are genuine and when that really comes across, it really resonates with people. We as an organization really differ than some other organizations because we don't pay for a really fancy keynote or somebody that's spoken at multiple different things. We pick people that are just like us, that are going through the same challenges, that have overcome it, that are offering real solutions that you can take back to your organization. They do tend to be a little bit more nervous, although we've had some real rock stars last year, we had Braun Intertec do a session and they were amazing! They were really, really great. It was really funny and they incorporated a lot of videos and a lot of music. So that was really great.

Ivette Torres: 03:50 I think definitely we have a lot of sessions that have communication and culture. So that's where they're a good fit in terms of bringing their real life expertise. Employee owners want to hear from people that are in the trenches. It's also an opportunity too, to kind of partner them with like what you're saying, a service provider or practitioner. So that can kind of alleviate some of the nerves because we can do a little bit of both, right? Somebody that is more experienced speaking at conferences and they can kind of help mentor the employee owner. So sometimes, you'll see some of our sessions will have a little bit of both, but we always try to incorporate employee owners as much as we can. And we're always looking for stories and opportunities for them to share their story with the community.

Bret Keisling: 04:35 I know at the in-person conferences, the sessions would last, however long, fifty minutes an hour-ten, whatever it might be. There'd be a break between the sessions, lunch break, et cetera. And that has changed a little bit in the last year, in terms of timing. Can you just speak a little bit to how it varies and maybe what you've learned? You know, I understand you've, you've tweaked the schedule or made changes to the schedule for this upcoming conference. So can you speak a little bit about just the conference day?

Ivette Torres: 05:05 Yeah, of course. So I think the biggest difference is that we have a pre-conference and then our usual conferences, usually two and a half days. Now it's just two days. So it's the pre-conference plus two days. That does limit our sessions a little bit. So instead of having 12 tracks, we'll have seven or eight tracks. So I think that's going to be the biggest difference. In terms of how many sessions you have available. You still have a ton of great sessions. So, you still have a lot of opportunities for learning. Because a lot of people attend our conference to get their continuing education credits, it's important that we stay within the parameters of CPE, SHRM, any of the legal credits. So our sessions do have to be about 50 to 60 minutes in order to adhere to those standards and unfortunately, I wish that wasn't the case because sometimes people only want to see a 30 minute session, but if want a continuing education credit, that is the standards that we've had to adhere and they haven't really left us too much wiggle room there -- believe me, I've tried. I put my negotiating skills on and my hat and tried to ask them in 10 different ways, if there's you know, things that we could do with workshops that are slightly shorter, they didn't really budge. So, hopefully, that will change in the future as we do more virtual events and we can do shorter sessions, but I think we are going to be doing sessions that are an hour and we are going to be incorporating a lot more breaks.

Ivette Torres: 06:28 So that's one of the feedbacks that we incorporated from last year is that people are like, hey, five minutes is not enough. We want to make sure that we offer you the breaks that you need. Not only to go get something to eat, but check emails or do anything that you might need to run a quick errand check in on your kids, your dog, make yourself a cup of tea. So there's a lot of different breaks and opportunities that we have.

Ivette Torres: 06:47 And we've also incorporated a lot of fun stuff. So last year at the conference, it was really just focused on the educational piece because we didn't have that much space to do anything else. Now we've had a full year of learning and being able to gather all the feedback from two successful virtual events. And so we have trivia, we have a mixologist, we have a lot of different other activities that you can do while you're at the conference as well. So it's been quite an endeavor, but I think very successfully, we've been able to put together an amazing agenda. We pride ourselves in really providing timely information and things that you haven't seen elsewhere.

Bret Keisling: 07:29 Now I must ask, you mentioned a mixologist...

Ivette Torres: 07:33 Yeah...

Bret Keisling: 07:33 And as I've shared on the podcast, I've been sober 30 years. So there are certain things that I just don't understand. Are people watching them mixologist or do you have some kind of interactive function with it?

Ivette Torres: 07:46 Yeah, so it depends on which ones they join, but there are sessions where a mixologist will be creating the cocktails and you'll get a little kit and then you make, and you kind of follow along just as you would, if you were in person doing kind of like a cooking class, right. So you would go, you would get the kit and then you would add all the bitters and all the different things to make your craft cocktail. And you know, if you don't want to, you can mix it with your own stauff. So if you don't want to drink alcohol, that's not a problem. We can go ahead and you could mix it with ice tea or you can mix it with your favorite beverage. So there's a lot of different options for you.

Bret Keisling: 08:24 That, first of all, it's cool that there is a non-drinking option and that wasn't my point. [Laughter.] You know, obviously you go to the conferences and I have stood around an awful lot of people drinking, which has never been an issue for me, but it almost sounds like it's a virtual cocktail party! Make your drink and hang out with some cool people in the community and have some fun.

Ivette Torres: 08:45 Yeah. I think that's one of the main things that we really want to have people come across is that we are a conference that really brings the community together. We offer ideas, we offer answers be we also offer celebration, and we don't want that part of the conference to go away just because it's a virtual event. We are here to have fun! So once the learning is done, there's lots of opportunities to have fun and to really meet other people from all over the country and all over the world. We've had a lot of people come from Japan, South Africa, a lot of different things. So it's been really a great opportunity. We want to make sure that we capture all those people that are coming in and making sure that we provide them the opportunities to engage with other employee owners.

Bret Keisling: 09:32 I think that's wonderful and forgive the joke, but I can't help but wonder, you know, due to a scheduling error, the mixology session was at 8:00 AM! [Laughter![

Ivette Torres: 09:43 [Laughter.] Well, we thought through that, but that is something to think about when you're putting on a virtual events, try to make all time zones happy. [Laughter].

Bret Keisling: 09:50 That actually and it's funny...

Ivette Torres: 09:52 Might not always be lunch for you. [Laughter.] It might actually be breakfast or brunch, but just so that you're aware, we're trying to find a good compromise for everybody.

Bret Keisling: 10:01 And I stumbled into something by being a smart aleck, but that's actually a great point. You are weaving through all of the time zones and internationally. So it's, you know, if somebody joins you virtually from Japan, they might be having cocktails at 4:00 AM!

Ivette Torres: 10:17 Oh, definitely, we've had that. People were like, it's the middle of the night for me. So forgive me if I'm not all the way awake!

Bret Keisling: 10:25 That's great. Now one of the hallmarks of the conferences that's really cool is all of the sponsor booths. First of all, they're great to just go through and see people and swag is given out. How do you address sponsors and, and virtual booths in a virtual conference?

Ivette Torres: 10:41 Yeah, so we've put a lot of time into demoing a good platform. The platform that we are going to be using is also going to be used by South by Southwest, which is a really immersive experience. So we're really happy with the platform that we've chosen. The sponsors are going to be really happy. It's really easy to set up their booths. You know, they can put videos, they can put any sort of white paper and they can download, they can link out to different round tables. There's so many different things that you can do with their booths. So that's been really nice. Another way is to, you know, we will still have the raffles, we still have prizes, we still have games that people can go and visit the booths and sign up for, you know, a free iPad or for any sort of technology -- so people, the sponsors, will still be doing that. We're really thankful to our platform sponsor, which is FuturePlan. And they've been really instrumental and providing us resources to have a really good platform. So we're really thankful to them.

Ivette Torres: 11:37 The platform offers some really cool built-in features. So you're able to do video calls with other people right away. You don't have to set up a Zoom call. You don't have to set up Calendly. There's issues with sponsors having issues with regulatories, that their doesn't allow them to do that. So with this platform, you won't have to do that. You can set up your meetings right away and just say, hey, I'm available from 10 to 12, every 15 minutes, pick a time and we'll just chat. And with that chat, video chat, it's really similar to FaceTime. You can share any documents, you can show them your office. You could have any sort of conversation you want with them, and it's really easy to do. And that's kind of the thing that we really wanted to do is making sure that it's easy for the sponsors because we know that they are very busy and that they have a life of their own, and they're working not only at the conference, but they also have their full day-to-day job and then on top of that, they're adding the conference. So we wanted to make sure that things were really easy for them to use.

Bret Keisling: 12:36 I would imagine, you know, when I was a trustee, it was a small three person firm and all of our media and stuff was outsourced to a talented graphic designer, but, you know that's how we handled it. And then there are bigger companies that had full and large law firms, large valuation accounting firms, what have you, who probably have really savvy marketing departments, you know, with multiple people. It strikes me for what you're saying that a boutique firm -- or even a company -- but can get in and you're providing the tools to have a credible, positive virtual booth. But if you do have the resources available and really want to do the whizz-bang, et cetera, et cetera, maybe still have that option as well.

Ivette Torres: 13:29 Yeah. I mean, I think a lot of our practitioners are kind of one-man shows or one-woman shows. So it's just them and maybe one other person in their team and we've made it really easy. So even if you don't have a full marketing team and it's just you and your colleague working on an ad or a banner ad or a little commercial, we can provide a lot of tools for you to be able to do those very quickly, efficiently, and also affordable. So not only with the platform, but we've also hired, you know, I mentioned that we have a team of three, I hired an assistant who is the conference coordinator. Her name is Jamie. She's awesome. She really comes with a lot of knowledge in regards to marketing and tools. So there's so many different tools and resources that she can provide to you.

Ivette Torres: 14:15 She offers kind of mini tutorials to people. So she's like, hey, you should do this. What does the lighting look like here? And I can help create these things for you! So we're always here to help the sponsors and be a resource for them. So we know that it's tough to kind of not have a marketing team, because we don't really have a marketing team so we are very familiar with that! And we can help you design and create things with you, or we can help you with the tools and provide that for you. So either way, it's very easy to sponsor the conference for us. Our goal is kind of for you just to show up, do your thing, and then we'll you up for success on the back end.

Bret Keisling: 14:53 And just out of curiosity, the virtual booths are live, presumably during the pre-conference the conference itself, do they live on afterwards? Are they time dated?

Ivette Torres: 15:05 They live on afterwards. And that's one of the things that we're working on is trying to figure out a way to increase kind of the ROI for people. So we're going to have a lot of people at the conference, but is there a way for people to still provide, see that as a resource post-conference, right? So are there going to be on-demand sessions and the booths will still live on and people can still go to them and still connect with them? I think what's the best thing about our booths is that people don't have to quote unquote "man them." So once somebody walks into their booth, if they start chatting with them or if they start engaging with them, it's almost like a text message. You just get a notification says, hey, Bill's at your booth or Bret's at your booth and he's asking this question, you can just jump back into your booth and start chatting this person. You don't have to be at the booth the whole time.

Bret Keisling: 15:56 Excellent. So that's actually a little more convenient than in real life. Just in the sense of, of keeping a booth staffed for a smaller firm. It would also strike me, Ivette, that this is one of those things that I could see a few years down the road when the pandemic is truly completely behind us, that in terms of in-person conferences truly being back fully, that there's still an opportunity for virtual sponsor booths. You know, that could be something that very easily stays even when the conference doesn't have to be virtual?

Ivette Torres: 16:29 Yeah, definitely. I mean, even with the live event, we've always had the option to do a kind of a mobile app. So there's definitely opportunities for us to do a mobile app in a kind of a virtual exhibit hall. So maybe with a physical event, you also get a virtual presence. And so you're able to kind of capture both people and make sure that you engage with the virtual audience as well as the physical audience.

Bret Keisling: 16:51 So Ivette, as we start towards wrapping up this segment and we're going to talk specifically about the upcoming conference when we're done, can you draw a distinction even before everything went virtual, a lot of companies and organizations in EO or outside of it have done webinars and that sort of thing. Can you differentiate a live virtual conference with -- what makes it different from somebody who just says, I'm going to pick six webinars, spread out and do it. Is there a contrast?

Ivette Torres: 17:26 I think webinars have their place, but this isn't that. So I just want to make sure that people really understand that this is not a static thing. This is kind of a very immersive experience. It's not just another webinar.

Ivette Torres: 17:38 You are going to be coming here and meeting a lot of people just as if you would in a physical conference. So the platform that we've created has AI it, so it could say, hey, did you know that this person's also in a communications committee and it'll match you guys up. So it's really, really a powerful tool. It's very robust and offers a lot of opportunities for engagement. I think if you love Facebook, if you love any social media, which we all do, this is going to be a great place to do that because you're able to connect with a lot of different people and do a lot of different things.

Ivette Torres: 18:14 So you can visit a virtual booth, you can chat with people, you can video chat, you can answer polling questions. You can do the chat online, you can do round tables and actually see people's videos and talk with them. So there's just so many things in addition to just the regular curriculum, plus all the things that we had talked about, you know, like there's trivia and there's a mixologist, and there's a lot of different other things that we're doing. It's not just another webinar. This is really an opportunity for you to make the most out of your event experience. And although we all wish we could be in person, we can't at this time, but this is such a great, great opportunity that I wouldn't want people to miss out on it. Just because they're thinking that it's kind of a, it's a webinar experience. It's definitely not!

Bret Keisling: 19:02 One other very positive difference that presumably wouldn't happen in the future when you're back live. The pre-conference is actually a full week ahead of the full conference. Am I right?

Ivette Torres: 19:14 It's not a full week. It's on a Friday and then the other one starts on the following week. But yes, it does definitely give you some time to manage the pre-conference. If you've ever been to a live event, you know, that those days are extremely long and you're trying to fit it all in. So this time I did see a little bit of breathing room because it offers you the weekend to do that.

Ivette Torres: 19:36 I think also what's great is that the pre-conference has always been kind of an expensive add on, before each session was $160. Now you're getting a day pass for $50 for NCEO members. So it's really a good steal and you're really going to learn a lot of really important things. And we have, you know, some people that we kind of consider ESOP rock stars, so like Grit [Consulting] and [The] Great Game [of Business] who offers some amazing pre-con session that are really going to leave you with some tools that you can go back to your organization and just start implementing right away.

Ivette Torres: 20:08 I love that you mentioned GRIT and the Great Game, because one of the things that all of us who promote EO say that there are lots of organizations, lots of company who share similar space in the sandbox, but we're all in this together. And I know there's at least some overlap between GRIT and Great Game. And I love that. They're part of the same thing that you folks are doing again, that's just the best aspects of employee ownership.

Ivette Torres: 20:34 Thank you. Yeah. I think that we really try to cultivate a really good educational experience that has a lot of technical expertise, a lot of culture and communication tools, and experts in the field. So everybody plays nice. Everybody gets along well in the conference. So we're really happy to be able to provide that information to everybody.

Bret Keisling: 20:55 Final question, generally, is that if you're a practitioner, you send your team members out and as many as you can, but for employee owned companies, the costs, the travel, the three days off from work for the conference, or sometimes a little bit more, limits the number of participants. Have you seen any changes in enrollment along those lines as you switched to virtual?

Ivette Torres: 21:25 Yeah, we've definitely gotten feedback and a lot of people are able to bring more people to the conference and they would otherwise, so not just practitioners, but employee owners. You know, usually when you send somebody, you might kind of have a lottery system or you might send just your CEO and your CFO, you don't necessarily send frontline workers, or not everybody can go every year, right? So now, because we have discount pricing for people -- so if you bring five people, it's $1,500, which is great, really reduced.

Ivette Torres: 21:52 In addition to that, you don't have the cost associated with it. So like what you were saying, you don't have the flights, you don't have the hotels. Even though the conference would provide food, there's also employers that provide per diem, so you don't have to incur that extra cost as well, or just travel in general. You know, there's no headaches of reimbursements when you get home. It's like, oh, where's my receipt for that Uber? And where's my receipt for, you know, that sandwich? So you don't have any of those issues. You just pay your registration price and you can attend and it's just a really good deal because you're getting so many valuable sessions, you're getting the swag, you're getting to connect with a lot of people.

Ivette Torres: 22:30 So yeah, definitely, it's a great opportunity to take advantage of the virtual event now that it is at a reduced pricing and you know, bring everybody that you would have not otherwise brought.

Bret Keisling: 22:42 I think that's wonderful! Very broadly, how are sponsorships going? Are they holding up? Are they consistent? How are you doing with sponsorships?

Ivette Torres: 22:52 Well, if I can be completely honest, it's really hard to keep up with the demand because actually our sponsorships are probably done better than an in-person event. It was really hard once we put it out there, everybody wanted a sponsorship! We've had a really, really positive influx of sponsorship. So it's kind of hard to keep up with the demand. There's so many things that I can do in a virtual event that I can't do with a physical event. In terms of like finite space, I can only take X amount of exhibitors. Here. I could definitely take more and I can do a lot of really cool things with the sponsorship. So we've been really successful with our sponsorships. I've been very happy with the support of the practitioners in the community and we've had great success with the sponsorship. So I'm thrilled about that!

Bret Keisling: 23:39 I'm very happy to hear that. And it's important for several reasons. First of all, the more practitioners and EO companies do the sponsorship that helps all of us. Again, it's creating that vibe and more of a groundswell, but we started the podcast with, there are business realities for NCEO that haven't changed. So I'm delighted that demand is up. That is absolutely wonderful news.

Ivette Torres: 24:04 Thank you.

Bret Keisling: 24:05 Ivette, you've been absolutely wonderful! I strongly recommend that Lauren puts you in front of a lot of panels...

Ivette Torres: 24:12 [Laughter.]

Bret Keisling: 24:12 ... and get you out of your comfort level. There is so much going on with NCEO. It's great stuff. It's heartening that in these very difficult times that you folks are rolling along. So I'd like to give my personal thanks to you and all of your colleagues at NCEO who not just are getting through the pandemic with all of us, but in thriving, in many respects and your willingness to share the knowledge, as you said at the start, with anybody who asks is just, again, everything you're doing is just in the finest spirit of employee ownership. And I think that's very, very cool.

Ivette Torres: 24:49 Thank you so much. We really appreciate your time and having us on the podcast. You're right. The NCEO is really doing a lot of really good work, and I'm glad that I can just be a little tiny portion of that and showcase that to the community.


Bret Keisling: 25:04 I'm registered for the NCEO's virtual annual conference, April 20th to 21st, 2021 and the pre-conference on April 16th. I hope you'll register too. When you do use the discount code EOPODCAST25 and you'll save $25 off your registration exclusive to podcast listeners. I'd like to thank the NCEO for making the discount available. I'm also very grateful to Ivette Torres for the time she spent with me sharing her experience and her passion for both conferences and employee ownership.

Bret Keisling: 25:39 NCEO has really cool people throughout its organization. I'd like to give a special thanks to Suzanne Vinson who is in customer support. I spoke with Suzanne at the end of last year in order to renew my membership in the NCEO and following our conversation, Suzanne was kind enough to email all of her colleagues with the suggestion that the NCEO and the podcast collaborate on bringing you, the listener, interesting, and up-to-date information about NCEO. So my thanks to Suzanne, Lauren Rogers, and of course, Ivette for coming on the podcast. The team at NCEO up and down the line are absolutely wonderful!

Bret Keisling: 26:18 I hope you'll join us on Friday for the EsOp Mini cast. All of us are going through a lot together right now, and that's how we'll get through it, together -- and that's in the finest spirit of employee ownership.

Bret Keisling: 26:31 Thank you so much for listening. This is Bret Keisling; be well.

Bitsy McCann: 26:39 We'd love to hear from you! To contact us, find us on Facebook at KEISOP, LLC and on Twitter @ESOPPodcast. To reach Bret, with one "T", email, on LinkedIn at Bret Keisling, and most actively on Twitter at @EO_Bret. Again, that's one "T". This podcast has been produced by The KEISOP Group, technical assistance provided by Third Circle, Inc. and BitsyPlus Design. Original music composed by Max Keisling, archival podcast material edited and produced by Brian Keisling, and I'm Bitsy McCann.

Standard Disclaimer: The views expressed herein are my own and don't represent those of my own firms or the organizations to which I belong. Nothing in the podcast should be construed as guidance or advice of any kind in any field and the fact that I mentioned an organizational website or an advocate or a company on a podcast does not reflect an endorsement, but if you've heard your name or your group's name mentioned on this podcast, I'd love to have you come on and talk about it yourself.

A note on the transcript: This transcript was produced by Temi, an automated transcription service. While it has been reviewed by The ESOP Podcast, we can not guarantee the accuracy of the transcription. Please refer to the original audio when citing sources.


bottom of page