Entrepreneurship,  Uncategorized

Designing ZNotes Live

I can’t do justice in words to what we’ve all been through but it’s safe to say that the world as we know it, has completely transformed. And with all the heartbreaking losses and challenges we’ve all faced, many new things have emerged and the status quo has been changed.

One thing that struck me, although it always has been present, is the amazing energy one could feel at live events. With the lock-down in place, attending live concerts and events with hundreds of thousands of people around the world felt like I was a part of something much bigger than the laptop screen and my flat in London.

Another thing that has been spreading like wildfire is podcasts! Not just the number of shows but the number of people listening to them. How strange! We have better connectivity than ever before and the quality of video production is just remarkable. And yet, we prefer to learn about climate change by hearing a podcast interview from a young climate activist than looking up a lecture or reading a long article about it.

And having been running my show, The Tomato Timer, for over a year now, it made sense! People want to listen to a natural conversation around a topic that is insightful and educational. In a host and guest style podcast, we almost feel like the third person in the room, kinda eavesdropping on a super interesting conversation that is going on next to you.

Why am I talking about all these disconnected ideas? Well, because I think they all come together in what I’m calling ZNotes Live. And why am I writing a blog post about it before we even launch it? Well, because I want you to tell me what you think! Often we are married to our solutions and can’t see the challenges as we are too close. By trying to assimilate my thoughts and share them with you, I want to refine them and simultaneously, making sure I am sane and the idea makes sense!

Starting with the most difficult sentence I had to write in this whole article, the one-liner:

ZNotes Live is a global stage for the voices of leaders in academia, entrepreneurship and sustainability to reach and equip students worldwide with the skills, tools and education to be the world’s next change-makers.

The Guiding Principles

Each event will be unique yet if there’s one thing I’ve learnt from the many years of building and designing the ZNotes resources, is consistency. There is a subconscious association of trust we begin to form with things that are done consistently, especially if they are of high quality. Along with developing a rock-solid design strategy, we will be running these sessions with some very specific structures. By sticking with these, we can bypass the feeling of newness a learner may feel and allow them to dive straight into the most important aspect, the content.

These are the three pillars of how a ZNotes Live event is run:

The Host and the Expert

Every live session is a conversation. If done right, conversations are more engaging, informative and relatable. So, every session will have not just an expert but also a host who represents the community: asking their questions and making sure the session is conducted at the right pace. The hosts are also experienced and learned in the series they lead and so they add an extra dimension of insightful discussions.


We’re proud of our motto:

For Students. By Students.

And we live by it too. With ZNotes Live, you are not simply joining a live stream but actually co-creating the session you are part of. A few days in advance, a biography of the expert and purpose of the session are shared. You can then submit questions you would like to hear a discussion about with the expert who will be joining us. In the academic context, we will detail which topic will be looked at on the day and you can submit either conceptual doubts (related to the actual content of the topic) or procedural doubts (applying the concepts to a past-paper/textbook question).

And of course, being in the room live, the chat will continuously be monitored so that any questions that come in real-time can also be addressed. That is why the host/expert model is so crucial. It’s impossible to do this if you’re just one person!

The Pomodoro

A TikTok is 15 seconds long. An Instagram post can only be 59 seconds long. We want things in shorter and shorter periods of time.

A tool which was always very powerful for me during revision times is the Pomodoro technique. And it’s just so beautifully simple! Work for 25mins and take a 5min break. It’s like periods of intense concentration. And without a shadow of a doubt, working in this technique for the same period will leave you feeling so much more productive!

When we launched our podcast about a year ago, we called it “The Tomato Timer” and made sure each session was only 25min long. On many occasions, I found the time constraint restrictive but it also pushed me to bring the greatest value within just those 25mins. And the feedback from our listeners has always been that they enjoy the conciseness and consistency of the style, even if it leaves them longing for a little more!

Thus, based on our experiences, we are sure that having a strict time limit will be hugely valuable in making sure our sessions are digestible nuggets of inspiration and learning. And in recognition of the student who picked up a kitchen timer shaped like a tomato and set the clock for 25min, so will we!

The Implementation

So that was a whole lot of ‘theoretical’ stuff but how do we put into practice?

The Curriculum Series

At the core of it, ZNotes was developed to support students as they get ready for their examinations. The ZNotes Live system is an excellent way to help prepare students, especially those coming from disadvantaged backgrounds, to hear and learn from the experts in those subjects. Thus, one strand of ZNotes Live will be called the Curriculum Series where we attack subjects at the various levels that ZNotes supports. We will tackle each subject by splitting them into distinctive nodes and allowing the community to lead the discussion within them.

The Big Picture Series

However, ZNotes isn’t simply about passing exams. We want our students to be the next global change-makers. The exams, and even university for some, is simply a means to an end. We must equip these young people with the skills and tools to go out into the world with a global perspective and an attitude to transform it for the better. That’s where the Big Picture series kicks in. By no means an exhaustive list, some of the themes and sub-series which will run within this strand are:

  • Applying to universities and exploring future careers
  • The entrepreneurial skill-set
  • Sustainability and caring for our planet
  • Well being: physical, mental and spiritual

and many more!

The Deployment

So we’ve got the principles and we know the areas where we’re going to implement them but how is it all going to technically work!

Live Streaming

Whatever we create needs to be available and accessible to as many people as possible. Now we could start to build a fantastic in-house live-streaming platform but why reinvent the wheel? Go with simple! We’re going to use YouTube Live to broadcast our events and setup streams beforehand so you can be reminded when they go live and submit your questions in the live chat.

and the audio?

Video is awesome – after switching to including video on our podcast, I’m loving it even more! But almost all of the value can be derived just from listening to the audio.

So not only are we emulating the podcast style, but we will also be delivering it in that way! By decoupling the audio and visual content, and making sure that the quality of production and the content is engaging even just to listen, we can increase the level of accessibility tremendously.

Sure, many of us can stream live videos without even thinking about it but what about for those who can’t? Having a 4G signal and incredible broadband speed may seem normal but for many, this is an unimaginable luxury.

Therefore, it is crucial for us not to just produce awesome videos, but also have the same content available in a much smaller audio file. And for the curriculum series where experts will be displaying resources, all the visuals will also be packaged together in a PDF to mimic the video-based experience.

So why am I telling you all this?

It’s a little bit weird right? For someone to be telling all about their next big thing in such detail. But it makes complete sense too! These ideas have assimilated after many weeks and months of thought and discussion. In many cases, I’ve returned to the drawing board and thought: this is not gonna work!

But the point of sharing is two fold.

  1. I want to make sure I’m sane and what I’ve been thinking about actually makes sense! Is there a glaring hole in all of this? How can I fix it?
  2. And do you want to be involved?

In my imagination, I can see this as a massive project! It’ll probably start out with me running around like a headless chicken trying to make it happen. But as it develops, this platform will empower individuals, groups and organizations to take their passion and produce content in this co-created, decoupled fashion and make it accessible to as many people as possible.

I wanted to end with something smart and deep but I cannot capture the value of a community more beautifully than how Helen Keller put it:

“Alone, we can do so little; together, we can do so much”

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