Keeping your audience engaged can be challenging. This has become a lot harder, especially with the virtual setup we’re forced to adapt to. Shifting from live events to virtual spaces is no joke, and Bari Baumgardner sits with Dolores Hirschmann to share her thoughts on that. Bari is the founder of SAGE Event Management, best known for creating “purpose-driven paydays” for coaches, speakers, and influencers. Her “sales is service” strategy is the foundation for many of the industry’s most profitable live events. Learn more as Bari shares what it takes to create an immersive and interactive virtual experience.
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Creating Your Own Stage: Why Virtual Event Spaces Are A Formula To Success With Bari Baumgardner
I am excited to bring you someone that I’ve watched for years in admiration. We’ve become friends sharing the bus in the middle of an event, backstage and long night chats. I’m excited to bring you Bari, who is the Founder of SAGE Event Management company. She is the go-to sales strategist for some of the industry’s most well-known and most profitable live events.
SAGE Event Management is best known for creating a purpose-driven payday for coaches, authors and speakers. You’re going to love this conversation with her because she breaks down the formula behind successful three days of events. If you don’t know much about Bari and SAGE events, they are the event production company behind some of the biggest events out there from a Tony Robbins event to a Pete Vargas event, Fabienne Fredrickson, Russell Brunson to McLaren.
I’ve been to many of the events. I have run into Bari as she’s running around, getting things happen, and making some magic. In this conversation with her, she breaks down the formula for the three-day live events, but how does it translate to virtual? She answers the question around, “How can you, maybe a small business owner, just starting with a small list, create successful, profitable three-day events with what you have right now and from your home?” Don’t miss it.
Bari, let’s take back one step here a little bit. Tell me about how you arrived in this role that you play with SAGE Productions. I’ve been watching you for many years, and I’ve been seeing you evolve as this leader in the industry. You are leading the conversation around events, launch-type events, enrollment events. What are you seeing in the market as we hit 2022? Is it hybrid, live or virtual? Where are we going?
I’ve been in live events since 1991. I started SAGE in 2004 and it was an in-person event company for the first fifteen years of SAGE’s existence. It started as my bread and butter with nonprofit trade associations. In my first year, that’s what I did, and then someone introduced me to Glazer-Kennedy. I started planning events for Glazer-Kennedy Insiders Circle, which opened me up to the whole world of information marketing.
Fast forward to now. We have clients like Tony Robbins, Dean Graziosi, Jeff Walker, Mary Morrissey and Pete Vargas. We have pretty amazing client lists. We get to work with the best of the best, which I love. Part of that is because the heartbeat of our company isn’t just producing events. It’s producing enrollment events that are designed for speakers, authors, influencers, course creators to take a launch, a challenge or a product and get more leverage from it by adding a live event and moving people in where I was headed.
It’s interesting about working with those people and focusing on enrollment events. In the first fifteen years of our business, we generated about $700 million for our clients in high ticket coaching offers. In the last years, starting with March 2020, because of COVID, we switched to virtual events. With virtual live events, we have generated $400 million in eighteen months.
In the lifestyle of our business, we have over $1 billion in revenue for our clients. When you look at the fact that $700 million was generated in 15 years and $400 million was generated in less than 2 years, you can see the power of virtual events. What’s everybody is debating is, “We are maybe emerging at a COVID. Maybe not. It’s the new normal. We are all trying to figure it out.” Now we have unleashed the potential of online virtual and what could be possible, but we all love in-person events.
If you think about it, I could listen to my favorite band on my phone. I can go into my media room and watch an incredible concert of my favorite band. I still want to go to the concert. I can watch the best movie on my big screen TV. I still like to go to the movie theater. When we think about experiences, we have to think about the fact that in-person and virtual live events are an experience.
We are trying to figure out what those experiences look like and the best way to harness the power of them. What everybody’s debating and what we are seeing is this have our cake and eat it too mentality, which is why not hybrid. If in-person and virtual works, why not put them both together, like peanut butter and jelly, what could be better? There are some challenges with that. 2022 is going to be sorting out what those challenges are, figuring out what works and what doesn’t work.
I want to take this conversation to a very specific angle because you are going to relate in the thing we can add a lot of value for our readers. People in the Infor info industry, programs or coaching, feel like if you are a new coach, let’s say that you are in business for the last years, you are in the mid or low six figures. You’re not in the seven figures, but you see all these big gurus with the big events. You feel like, “That’s exactly what I need to do.”
There is no one size fits all. I want you to speak into what is the structure if I were to say a business between $0 and $200,000 gross revenue a year, a business between the $300,000 to $1 million and then a business in the $5 million. If I were one of those businesses, where would you tell me to start? Do I go, run the big hotel and the big production, put $1 million into hope they come, hope I convert, but I’ve never done it before? Let’s talk about that because there’s a big myth about the shots of what an entrepreneur needs to do. You and I have seen a lot of people get in deep trouble. They take loans.
Here is my favorite part about what COVID unleashed for us. There’s always a bright, shiny lining to every dark cloud. This is the silver lining to the dark cloud of COVID. With the power of virtual being unleashed, what I most love about it is if you have a small list and you don’t need to have a big event, you might aspire to be Tony Robbins or whatever guru you follow. You might wish to have a stadium-sized in-person event or hope to make $1 from live events.
What virtual has done is you don’t need a big list, big studio, big production, big-budget and most importantly, you don’t need a hotel. The biggest liability with putting on an in-person event is signing your name on the dotted line for a venue where you have a food and beverage minimum, room block, rental or real liability if it doesn’t actualize the way you expected. There’s a lot of crystal balling in in-person.
The first fifteen years of our business were all in-person. We spent a lot of time crunching numbers reverse engineering math to make sure that we got that right balance on liability with the hotel where we wouldn’t be paying room attrition or writing big checks for food and beverage attrition if we didn’t realize our numbers. The secondary thing you are paying for is all that print and products like real, tangible items.
Video production like cameras and directors.
If you have 10 or 150 people in the room, if you planned on 150, you are paying for 150, you could have probably spent a tenth of that if you knew you were only having 10 or 50. It’s the same thing with print. Once you have printed it, you own it. If you don’t need it all, you’ve wasted that money. What’s amazing with virtual is that you can do it from your home or with Zoom. In my opinion, you need a computer, TV and Zoom. TV, so you can see people in front of you bigger, a computer to run the production, a good mic and some good lighting.
You don’t even need lipstick because Zoom will give it to you.
You can do this all from your home. If you’re just getting started, if you’ve been dreaming about being on stages and waiting on the sidelines for someone to invite you onto their stage, you can create your own stage right now, no contract, no venue. You can guess how many people are going to come. If you guess wrong, all you’ve done is wasted some lighting, computer and TV set up. We have students that are doing this in a quarter of their homes.
There’s always a bright, shiny lining to every dark cloud.
Think about it. If you had 50 people come to your event and let’s say, a very conservative average, 10%, 5 of them bought your high ticket offer. It was only $5,000. That’s not a bad payday. If ten of them are bought, you can start to do the math. If the offer was $10,000, you made $50,000 from a corner of your home and you’ve launched your coaching program. What I have been thinking of COVID and virtual as is the democratization of live events.
Meaning that anybody can do it and you don’t have to have a big budget, big studio or a big list to get started and harness the power of what we think of as a purpose-driven payday. Meaning you can have income and impact, purpose and payday, and you don’t have to take on the liability to do it. Here’s what’s also cool in a nutshell, global reach. From your living room might have people from Africa or Switzerland joining you or whoever you’re following is. You now have a truly global audience. That’s not true if you’re just getting started out and doing it in person.
I’m going to recap here a little bit because I agree that democratization, not just for us, the producers or the entrepreneurs, but the democratization of information for the world. One of the things that I know is that many of these virtual events can be well attended. Not everybody will buy. That is okay because if you’re having a high value and when I say value, it is that you are adding value to people’s lives in your low ticket or free virtual event, you are building a brand that, while not everybody will buy, as long as you serve powerfully from the moment you get on stage on that Zoom, you are going to have a ripple effect that is a long-term payday.
It’s warming up your audience. We often say, “Your live event is designed to get people to rave about you, renew, come back here after a year and recruit other people to come with them.” You’re never going to sell the whole room. That’s true of in-person and virtual. There’s only going to be a percentage, but if you deliver an amazing experience, you are also cultivating a crowd who’s going to rave, renew and recruit.
If you can get them into your high ticket coaching offer, where you also get them to rave, renew and recruit, that’s literally how year over year, event over event, you generate a big business. I mean, a purpose-driven payday. Most importantly, doing your zone of genius, which you’re meant to do, helping others do the same. I think of live events as this massive ripple effect in a global pond. You are the stone that creates the ripple effect in that global pond because when you do your best work, you help others do theirs and it goes on and on. There’s no better or faster way than a live event to do that.
There are three parts here in the audience and bringing people into the Zoom room. The way the container, let’s say Zoom with Zoom lipstick or a fancy room with a lot of investment, either way, that’s a container. Those are two parts that your stage production doesn’t necessarily control. You are based on what the client needs you will facilitate. I know you have some big clients, but I also know that you have a whole community of students in all ranges of sizes of companies.
What you bring to the table is a formula that you have perfected since 1991. You reverse engineer from the moment that audience member, that person walks into the room, what are they feeling? What are they experiencing and how do we get them to say yes to go deeper with that speaker? Let’s talk about that formula and start talking about who are these people that would benefit from this formula and how will they work with you?
What’s interesting about this tying back to your last question and pulling them both together is that whether you’re a big name in this space or one of our students that you’ve never heard of, the formula that we are using for in-person or virtual events, the formula is the same. That’s what’s also great. If you learn the formula, you can pivot back and forth between in-person and virtual because the formula is the same. We call it the 3X3 PAG. What I mean by that is we recommend a three-day event and there are three things you’re trying to do each day.
When I look at the first day of a three-day event, I’m not selling anything. It’s all just about three Cs, content, connection and community. You want to have amazing content, so they’re having a-ha after a-ha. You want to have an amazing connection of them to you as the host, also have them to each other, this like-minded community, which is the third C. Most importantly, connection to themselves, a higher sense of what’s possible for themselves. This is important for an enrollment event because here’s the thing. If you’re planning to sell them something, if they don’t believe they can do it, they’re not going to pay you to help them do it.
Often when we’re in a sales environment, we’re like, “How do we get them to divide the thing?” The first step is to get them to believe it’s possible, to believe in themselves. If they do that, they start to future cast what they want in their life, business, health, wealth, love, light or whatever it is that you’re doing, personal development, business development, all the same, future cast what they want it to be and analyze where they are stuck.
The more we see it, we can’t unsee it. It becomes about closing that gap, “How do I get where I want to go faster, simpler and easier?” which leads to day two. If day one was about content connection and community, day two was about pain, solution and invitation. Exposing that gap creates a certain pain. Once we see where we could be, we want to get there faster, simpler, easier. That creates a very real pain I’m wanting to get there. The solution that they’re looking for is you, and it comes in the form of your invitation or what the industry often thinks of as the offer or the pitch. That invitation is a service formula you’re looking for a way to close the gap.“
I have the way to do that. I’m going to give you everything that I possibly can in these three days, but if you’d like more, join me for a year.” That’s where your high ticket offer comes in. If we do this right and the structure leads them to what I think of as an inescapable conclusion, we often in our industry talk about the irresistible offer. It is making your offer yummy. The inescapable conclusion is that by day two, they have reached that tipping point of, “I have so many great ideas. I can’t wait to get started,” to, “I have so many ideas. I’m nervous about getting started. I need a solution.” You have got it in the form of your invitation. It’s a very sales and service approach that our clients love because you’re not having to manipulate them into a sale.
You’re not having to strong-arm them into a sale. They are literally asking you by day two what’s the next step. If you think about it, when we love and experience, what do we say? “This is amazing. I want more.” You’re like, “More lives right over here. Continue the journey,” which leads to day three. The last part of a three-day event is the decision, commitment and celebration. Decide to do something differently. Don’t let these big three days be wasted. Commit to a timeline. Don’t let a day become a decade and celebrate what it’s going to look like on the other side.
If you decide, commit, celebrate, and as you’re plotting that out, you realize you need help, the invitation is still open, “Come join us and let us help you get there. Decide to join us, commit today to being in our program and we will celebrate today at this event. We start the program at the event.” That simple 3X3 PAG. If you were to look at the biggest names in the industry, like open up the hood, look at the engine of their event, they are designed around that formula that I explained. It can be that simple.
I’m going to give you a testimonial or a witness story and then I want to ask you a very specific question that probably you haven’t been asked before. I know you are in the backstage. We didn’t meet at this event, but my first event at that time was in 2014. I sat through that. My eyes are getting wider because if someone has not experienced a three-day event in this experience, it is like nothing you have done before. I had done a lot of things by that day. It was one of those things that took me totally by surprise. By day two, when the invitation came in, I was sitting there with a minted coach. I just had graduated, being awarded the certification from ICF, launching my coaching business and struggling to get started.
The offer came in and it was $10,000 upfront or $1,000 a month. I didn’t have $10,000. I was very proud. I could have asked my family or my partner, but I wanted to do this on my own. I’m sitting there and an invitation comes in. There’s a lot of emotion that I’m feeling. I looked at my bank account and I said, “If I have $1,000 in my business account, I will enroll. I couldn’t do the savings package, but I could do it on a monthly.” I had $1,010 in my bank account and I enrolled. Depending on the course that I enrolled in or whoever was the coach on the stage, what it did to me and you’re so spot-on is that on day one, I started seeing a future for me that had never imagined for myself and started believing that I could step into that future.
I know this is a great formula because, since that day, I have been in many events, I have felt not as deep as that day, but the same feeling in multiple hosts, but the mega host of all these were you. SAGE Production was the host for all of this, ultimately. It was a great story. I enrolled and it changed my life. Here, you and I are talking. I’ve done fun things and helped a lot of people make a lot of money. The question for you is, what preparation do you give the host?
We are talking about people hosting these events, maybe for the first time. For some people in the audience, maybe there is a deep, emotional experience that they are going to go through. How do you prepare your hosts, which are your students to navigate, manage journey with the audience through that feeling of possibility on day one, sometimes deep pain on day two, and the fear which to I felt, and the courage to take action, because it’s not small money here, or for many people in the audience, they’ve never invested in themselves. They could be millionaires, but if they have never invested in themselves as a whole coaching experience, and I’m asking this as a coach, because how do you prepare your host in leading that emotional experience from the stage?
Once people see where they could be, they will want to get there faster, simpler, and easier.
That experience you went through is true of all of our audiences. We’ve tested this in different markets, niches and languages. What’s fascinating is buyers are buyers. A buyer in Brazil doesn’t look different from a buyer in France. It doesn’t look different from a buyer in Japan or in the US. That’s awesome about this because the psychology of a buyer is, “I’m either going to be an emotional buyer or a logical buyer.” Keep in mind that the model is not bait and switch. It is not giving you just enough to be dangerous. It’s like, “I’m giving you the model and method.”
The reason for buying is you want accountability, community, hand-holding, cut a check for speed. Sometimes you want all of those things, “I need help getting there,” and you want to get there faster. That’s the theory behind. It’s important to know that. Some people are going to take what they got at the event and go do. It’s like, “Great. Hopefully, you’ll come back next year and bring more people with you.” Other people are going to say, “This is amazing, but I could use help.” The psychology of it and emotional buyers going to hear the offer and be like, “That’s for me. I’m in. I’m going do it.” Whether they have the money or don’t have the money, the emotion is just, “I’ve got to do this.”
The logical buyer is more like you and me. I’m a logical buyer. I’m married to an emotional buyer. We have both in our household. The logical buyer is going to basically take their time to crunch their numbers, ask questions, figure out how they can make it possible, plumb through the depths of all the fears and the objections. It’s why I love a three-day event because there’s a saying, “If I had more time, I would write you a shorter letter.” It is tempting when you are getting started to think, “I’m not ready for a three-day. I’ll do a one-day.” A one-day is harder than a three-day. You have to nail your point, “If I had more time, I would write you a shorter letter.” It’s harder to do a Ted Talk than it is to do a one-hour talk. It’s harder to do a one-day than it is to do a three-day.
What I love about a three-day is it allows you the time to love up your attendees on the first day, take them on the journey to what more from you on the second day. For those logical buyers, give them the time to ask the questions, work through the objections, talk it out with you, their team, spouse, bank or with whoever they need to talk it out with until they get to the right decision for them. What is super important from a sales and service perspective is to allow the time for you to go through those objections and for them to go through those objections. You don’t want to penalize a logical buyer, especially when you’re making a high ticket offer a $10,000, $15,000, $25,000 or $35,000 investment.
You should take a minute to contemplate if that’s right for you and ask all the questions. You, as the host, if you want to serve your audience, you want that time to answer those questions and make sure it’s right for them. A key concept in our industry, if you’re in this for the long haul, is today’s non-buyer is tomorrow’s buyer. If you take good care of all of your people, you’ll be amazed how year after year, someone who said no on year one will say yes on year two, based on how you treated them in year one. It’s important.
You may or may not be conscious of some of the words you used, but I’m going to pick two. If you are in this for the long haul, that’s key. This is not a let’s get rich strategy. That’s one thing. The other thing you used multiple times was love up or the word love. Those are key ingredients that if you are reading, this is not a quick sale scheme. This is a, “How can I love the people I serve so much that I invest time in serving them powerful for three days, that year after year long, call consistency, this will lead to the dream of a growing business with a growing impact that I have.”
Why do I reiterate what you said? It is because people are forgetting that. COVID has launched everybody into becoming an entrepreneur and they see the one-day wonder people say, “Tony Robbins can do it. I can do it.” Tony Robbins has been doing it since 1980. That’s a long time of building trust in a market. Commit to serve powerfully and be in this for the long haul. Otherwise, it’s not.
Interestingly enough, doing this with some pretty iconic leaders over the last years, I can tell you there are certain names in our space that, at certain times, everyone was like, “That’s the one to watch.” They’re unstoppable. They’re nowhere around. No one even knows their name. You have other people like Tony Robbins, Dean Graziosi, Jeff Walker and Mary Morrissey who have been around for a long time. If you were to look at what is the consistency is they serve hard and allow them to sell easy. That concept of service, having worked with them behind the scenes, I promise you, the decisions they are making are through the lens of how do we serve our audience. They want to make money there.
That’s right, because of the purpose-driven payday. They want the payday, but not at the sacrifice of purpose. They want the income, but not the sacrifice of impact. The ones who are the one-hit wonders, the flash in the pans, are the ones who are so focused on the money and not focused on the service. You can only ride that for so long. It’s a one-trick pony. It doesn’t last very long. When you are focused on service and leading with your heart, your audience, that authenticity, transparency, and we sometimes walk away from a sale.
Good leaders will say, “I love you. I think you’re not ready for this right now. I don’t think this is the right time for you.” If you decide it is, that’s up to you. That’s the difference between a sale at any cost and serving your audience and saying, “I want to make sure you make the right decision today because I’d like for you to be with me tomorrow.”
Spoken from the lady who has been at this for many years. You are in this for the long haul. I love that point you made about, “Don’t sell if the audience is not ready or if you’re closing a sale.” There’s an authority that you build. It happened to me when someone purchased a product and we went into onboarding. I said, “Stop the ball. This is not right. Let’s take three months to see if the client can get ready for this service that they want to buy.” It was funny to watch because the client was like, “I want it right now.” “You are not ready.” I’m not going to say no.
When people are begging you to sell something and you’re saying no, that’s an actual, magical place of authority and loyalty because you now raise the bar for that person. They’re going to go do their homework so that they can be ready to work with you. That’s a whole other conversation that very few people speak off in this industry.
What is interesting in virtual is it’s very transparent about what’s happening behind the scenes because they’re all talking. They are talking in chat. We use Zoom. Zoom is a platform for a $400 million revenue stream for our clients. All of it was done on the back of Zoom. There are 350 million users on Zoom every single day. Everybody knows how to use it. You don’t have to make it harder than it is, but know that they are watching each other and chatting. If you’re behaving one way over here and somewhere a different way over here, like your onstage and backstage persona, don’t match. That’s going to come out when someone says in the chat, “Don’t go talk to a team member. They are going to try and sell you.”
People want the payday, but not at the sacrifice of purpose.
It’s a super aggressive environment. If you do it right, they’re like, “I see you have a question. You should go talk to the team. They’re amazing. I chatted with them and they helped get me to the right decision.” Sometimes the right decisions know. That transparency and authenticity are more evident in virtual events than it’s ever been. It’s quick. What worries the host sometimes is, “How do I fill the room? How do I make an offer? How do I overcome objections?” In the overcoming objections piece, there are five universal objections. We said, “Buyers are buyers. Buyer psychology is buyer psychology.”
It doesn’t matter what market or niche. It always comes down to time, money, spouse, fear, shame and self-doubt. If you know that going in, you can support your buyer through plumbing the depths of, “Do they or don’t they have the time? Do they or don’t they have the money? Is their spouse a stumbling block or are they the stumbling block? Can they get over the fear, shame and self-doubt?” We spent a lot of time with our hosts and our students, coaching them through how to do that from the stage and behind the scenes because if you understand that those are the layers they are going through to make a buying decision, you can better support them in making that decision.
Where can people find you, maybe become a student of yours or hire you to run the show?
We do an event twice a year called The Virtual Event on Virtual Events. In that three-day, we walk you through exactly what the formula is and more detail than we have gone through. We have one coming up. It’s the first week of March 2022. It’s TVE.live. If you’re interested, you can go check that out. It’s fast and furious. It’s about to come. We also are on podcasts around you. We are starting to do more on social media. We have a little bit on Instagram, not as much as we should. We are busy running our operation. We have a coaching program called LEAP, the Live Event Accelerator Program. If you’re considering a more long-term investment, you can always seek that out. We are getting amazing results with our students in LEAP. The names of people that you’ve never heard of who are out there making money every single day from their living room, using the power of a live event and a virtual event.
Thank you so much for taking the time to chat with us. This has been an amazing value-packed, and I’m very grateful.
Thank you. I’m grateful. I always love spending time with you.
I’m thinking about this interview with Bari. She breaks down what you need to know around three-day successful payday events. She talks about what happens on the first day and why do you have to spend your time connecting and bringing great content to your audience? What happens on the second day as you reveal the gap, the need that your audience has and invite them to work with you? What happens on the third day, where you celebrate and help your audience make a decision to go deep with you. Don’t miss this opportunity to learn from Bari, who has spent many years since 1991. She has been working in the events space and specializing in the last years in info products or coaching programs, live events and virtual events that are generated multimillion-dollars for her clients. Don’t miss this episode.
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About Bari Baumgardner
Bari Baumgardner is the founder of SAGE Event Management, best known for creating “purpose-driven pay days” for coaches authors, speakers, course creators, and influencers. Her “sales is service” strategy for high ticket offers is the foundation for many of the industry’s most profitable live events (Tony Robbins, Russell Brunson, Dean Graziosi, Jack Canfield, Jeff Walker, Stu McLaren, Pete Vargas, and more!) In March 2020, SAGE began producing virtual events – and launched a tech company to create a truly immersive, interactive experience for hosts, speakers and attendees. SAGE has quickly become a leader in the virtual event space, generating over $350 million in virtual event revenues for their clients in the last 18 months.