You know that old saying, “jack-of-all-trades, master of none?”
Turns out that just isn’t true in Chris Krimitsos’ case.
Yes, the guy has his hand in a lot of projects — he’s a speaker, consultant, producer and event planner. He does them all well, and in addition, he actually is a master of bringing people together.
“I’ve done over 2,000 events, but what’s at the core of my events?” he asks on an episode of Between 2 Mics. “It’s about the community.”
With an attitude like that coupled with his background, it’s no wonder why Chris has a reputation as the podcast community’s superconnector.
He’s managed to leverage those strong networking skills through Podfest Multimedia Expo, a national event he founded for people passionate about podcasting.
He initially launched Podfest in 2015 as a “creative outlet” while still planning business and networking events for Tampa Bay Business Owners. Chris founded that group in 2008 to convene local business leaders, and he put on about 100 events per year.
“I dealt with business owners. Most of these people would wear suits and ties. And then [Podfest] was this one thing a year where we could all wear T-shirts and shorts,” says Chris. “It was like a breath of fresh air for me.”
Chris says he eventually “fell more in love” with the new event than his day job, so he sold Tampa Bay Business Owners to focus on Podfest, which supports podcasters in verticals spanning from audio drama to comedy to children’s learning shows. The conference also includes a track for YouTubers.
“The universe of podcasting is like the galaxy. It keeps expanding, and more stars are birthed every year.”
Read on to learn more about the mind behind Podfest and to uncover how Chris created one of the world’s most influential podcasting communities.
Cha-ching: cash comes to podcasting
According to Chris, Podfest’s year-on-year growth is a direct reflection of the burgeoning podcast industry: “We started about five years ago with 100 people in the room, and then we doubled the next year.” Podfest 2019 had about 1,000 attendees.
There are no signs of growth slowing down anytime soon. It helps, Chris says, that podcasting has grabbed the attention of successful innovators with deep pockets.
“A lot of venture capital money now is floating very freely within the audio space,” he explains. But Chris says that while most entrepreneurial-types (and ahem, certain VC-backed companies) are looking to create “the next Netflix of audio,” he thinks it’s a misdirected effort.
“We already have the Netflix of audio: SiriusXM,” he says. “The rest is all experimentation of shows and networks,” like creators branching into new territory with fiction storytelling, for example. “What’s really cool is anyone can compete. Just because [some creators ] have money doesn’t mean that they know anything more than someone without money.”
Roll out the welcome mat
As podcasting continues to boom, Chris says folks of all experience levels are starting to dip their toes in the sonic medium. The goal of Podfest, he says, is to make podcasting newbies and veterans alike feel at home.
“If someone’s a beginner, I don’t want them to feel guilty that they don’t know how to do anything.”
To make the conference extra relatable to podcast novices, Chris says that Podfest “celebrate[s] a lot of the screw ups that our veteran podcasters make.” — through items in the event newsletter and even on stage. The public learning“takes the sting” out of making mistakes for the new guys. It’s just one strategy he uses to build connectivity at his events.
“We probably do one of the best jobs on the planet of connecting our community,” says Chris, who brings attendees together through a trade show, trivia night and strategic networking events. The reason, he says, is to foster as intimate and engaged a community as possible.
“The key of our conference is that the community is taken care of, that they collaborate with one another, and they care for each other,” he says. “When you look at the interaction in the groups, people know each other and they help each other.”
‘You gotta roll with the punches’
Chris says he can focus on facilitating a “community vibe” throughout the conference by ensuring the events run as streamlined and seamlessly as possible.
“An event works like a pressure cooker. The closer you get to the event, the more pressure there is.“
According to Chris, spearheading events means you have to be prepared for emergencies 24/7. The ball can drop at any moment due to a no-show speaker or last-minute scheduling conflict. The key, he says, it to hire a good team to delegate tasks when tricky “customer service stuff happens.”
“You gotta roll with the punches. It’s just the nature of business.”
That philosophy extends to Podfest’s Facebook page, where community members sometimes use the platform to air their grievances in real time.
“That person might be negative, but everybody’s watching. You’re interacting with that person, and that’s what really counts,” says Chris, emphasizing that those efforts not only help individuals, but Podfest’s online community overall. “You just have to be available 24/7 for your audience and to let them know you care.”
Chris believes that nourishing a healthy digital community will extend to the real world. He offers the example of She Podcasts, an online community of women podcasters with over 10,000 members worldwide.
Chris consulted on their first event, She Podcasts Live, helping to launch a successful Kickstarter campaign that “wound up hitting 200 percent of goal with over $50,000 raised,” says Chris. “It was one of the top crowdfunded things for a podcast event ever.”
With over 500 women confirmed to attend She Podcasts’ event this October, Chris cites his work with the group as a case study for how online and offline communities are simply an extension of one another. It’s also evidence that podcasting industry events “are going to get bigger and bigger over time.”
But, a word of caution, especially to first-time event planner: Don’t overproject your attendance. “Understand the medium in the community going into before you try and launch an event,” says Chris. “If you did a first time event and you had 200 to 300 people, that’s a huge success. But success is only as good as what you frame it as.”
Using a visual channel to explain audio
Drawing from his experience in TV production — he produced two TV shows earlier in his career — Chris also recognized the benefits of using a different channel to educate people about the purpose and potential of podcasting.
“I got tired of people asking me, ‘I don’t get what podcasting is,’” he says. “[I thought], we’ve got to make a visual for these people because I’m explaining it to them and they still don’t understand it.”
In 2016, Chris released “The Messengers: A Podcast Documentary,” a documentary that follows independent podcasters in order to “give the medium of podcasting a visual representation.”
Chris collaborated with his friend, filmmaker Niel Guilarte, to answer questions like “what is podcasting?” — to great success.
“I’ve gotten emails from people thanking me because their dad didn’t understand what they did for a living, and they’re able to share with them that movie,” says Chris. “It’s been a great tool for us to help people.”
Don’t count on Chris to produce a sequel, though. He plans to drop short videos following different podcasters on YouTube, but he opted out of creating a second movie because in film, much like with podcasting, it’s important to have a strong message.
“Make sure you have something to say,” Chris advises.