By Michael Levin

It was one of the greatest challenges Tony Robbins had ever faced: COVID-19 had left millions of people feeling isolated, scared, uncertain and in need of the kind of personal transformation and connection he has been delivering for over four decades. But reaching people amid a lockdown is no small feat. People couldn’t go to work or school, let alone gather by the thousands into an arena.

And technology wasn’t necessarily a help. Yes, social media platforms and off-the-shelf software allowed for the kind of small, virtual events we’ve all come to watch this year. But Tony Robbins does nothing small; he knew that what was available was not going be enough to make a significant impact amidst the unprecedented challenges so many people faced worldwide.

What he needed wasn’t an easy fix. He needed a reinvention.

Among all the innovations born from the COVID-19 pandemic, the transformation in the event business offered by Tony Robbins, widely known as the world’s #1 life and business strategist, is among the most profound.

It wasn’t easy. Robbins and his team initially leveraged existing social media platforms, notably Facebook, to fill the live-event void. That was useful and successful on some levels. For instance, in June Robbins provided a free-of-charge, 7-day, online training to more than 400,000 people on Facebook. But Robbins ultimately found the technology and event setup through Facebook had its limits for fulfilling how he saw meaningful virtual immersive learning and intimate engagement taking place. No other turnkey technological solution was available, though there was some development in the works. He envisioned an interactive, highly sensory, multi-directional experience well beyond plain text typed in a chat box. That just wasn’t good enough for Robbins, who has taught his audiences for decades that every problem is an opportunity to grow and innovate. His core teaching has long been one of breaking through the mind’s limitations about what’s possible. 

“Limited goals create limited lives,” says Robbins. “You need to stretch yourself when setting goals. Breakthrough all limitations. Envision with precision. You need to be able to describe in specific detail what you really want. I always ask the question: If you knew you could not fail, what would you pursue? What would it look like? What actions would it require? What would it take to bring your vision to reality?”

For Robbins, traction to drive his latest vision, I’m told, began to take hold with a phone conversation between Robbins and Zoom founder and CEO Eric Yuan, an acquaintance whom Robbins contacted to share how he wanted to transform the virtual-event experience. Following the initial conversation between the two business leaders, Zoom agreed to make key changes in its meeting limit and other technological tweaks that have benefited other users and organizations since.

Then, Robbins refocused his internal team and pulled together an impressive group of partners in addition to Zoom  – Rival Theory, Immersive Design Studios, and myApplause App – to help bring his vision to life. Robbins opened his personal wallet, investing millions of dollars to create a Virtual 360 Interactive Experience integrated studio, complete with 30-foot high ceilings and 16-foot high retina screens stretching 50-feet wide and wrapping around the room 180-degrees both in front and back. It is akin to a virtual arena where you can see Robbins, but you can also see the thousands of others event participants and interact with them. The investment is continuing with the recent purchase of a new 25,000-square-foot+ warehouse that will take interactive audience engagement to an even higher level when it is built out and completed.

This big vision and all these actions have resulted in Robbins achieving what few thought possible during the global COVID lockdown period. Robbins found the right formula to recreating the energy and the intensity of a live event for more than 30,000 people simultaneously connected at all hours of the day, translating multiple languages in real-time, across every one of the world’s time zones.

Already, since July, Robbins has successfully held three large-scale global virtual events that have changed how virtual interaction occurs. This includes:

  • his first-ever global virtual Unleash The Power Within event in July that connected some 22,500 households and served more than 30,000 people from 138 countries who were featured together on a jumbo-stadium-style Zoom screen, one of the largest Zoom gatherings in one place to that point;
  • his first-ever virtual Business Mastery program in August where 2,300 business owners and entrepreneurs representing 63 countries were immersed and connected together in a global digital classroom for 5 days and nights; and,
  • a second virtual Unleash The Power Within to serve people in Australia in September that connected 11,000 people representing 67 different countries held on Australian time, but hosted by Robbins 15 hours away from the U.S., at some points in the middle of the night for the host.

While all the technological breakthroughs and global scale of the events reached are laudable, the true achievement is how the virtual experience Robbins has unleashed has created such high-touch human connection at a distance. Robbins has already proven that individuals don’t need to physically be in the same room to enjoy engagement, create connection, and experience personal transformation.

Like at a live event, there is pulsating music, cheering, laughing, lots of clapping and even a few Whoop Whoops.

In this new virtual format, Robbins managed to speak to an audience of thousands and then immediately switch directly to a one-on-one conversation at eye level. And unlike a live event, for the first time – virtually or in person – the Robbins event allowed entire families – parents, kids, grandparents, partners, pets – to collectively gather ‘round the connected device and experience the seminar together.

This audience evolution led Robbins to take the needs of the younger generation into account – creating separate breakout age-appropriate programming for children.

Iconic business leaders like Salesforce founder Marc Benioff have marveled at the success, technological achievement and intimacy of the virtual Tony Robbins’ UPW event experience that includes 50+ hours of programming. The NBA – a bellwether of successful fan engagement – has even reached out to see how Robbins is doing it.

What Robbins, his team and his partners have strategically and creatively managed to accomplish in such a short time, facing such challenging obstacles really does define how the word innovation should be used. 

Just maybe what one of the world’s foremost life strategists has come up with is a blueprint for how to foster human connection together, during a pandemic and after as our lives will all certainly be impacted long-term by the technological habits and expectations of today.

We all will get the chance to see soon. Tony Robbins has three more virtual events already scheduled for 2020.