Set the mood — share a music playlist, hold 1 minute at the beginning to do a breathing exercise, create a moment or action for guests to transition from whatever they were doing before into the event
As a part of our series about “5 Things You Need To Know To Successfully Run a Live Virtual Event”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Miraya Berke.
Miraya Berke creates experiences that spark delight. Her events company launched two unique and experiential festivals, Dessert Goals & Rom Com Fest, which she scaled from the ground up and has produced 9 festivals gathering over 30,000 attendees. Now with the pivot to virtual events, she leads Mixily as the Head of Marketing and is focused on creating new tools for event organizers.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a bit about your “childhood backstory”?
I grew up in Santa Cruz, CA and went to school at UC Berkeley. I’ve always loved events and would organize elaborate birthday parties at a young age. My passion is creating experiences and bringing people together. Both of my parents ran their own businesses so I was never exposed to a traditional 9–5 job, they were always hustling. This definitely fueled me on my path of entrepreneurship and live events.
Can you tell us the story of what led you to this particular career path?
When I started planning events in high school it felt like a very ah ha moment of finding what I was good at — the mix of being creative and also super detail oriented. I was hooked with the thrill of events, and kept looking for opportunities to plan more. This new career path of virtual event software (Mixily) is obviously partially due to the pandemic. I ended up joining the Mixily team from an introduction by someone I worked with at the same co-working space 7 years ago! It was a good reminder that you never know how a past chapter of your life will come back into play to open new doors.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I was planning a conference that Ben from Ben & Jerry’s was speaking at so he donated a bunch of ice cream and by mistake the order arrived too early and we didn’t have a place to store it. IKEA was a sponsor of the event and their Red Hook, Brooklyn location was near the event venue. With my quick problem solving, I contacted the marketing manager who pulled magic and let us store hundreds of pints of ice cream for a few days at IKEA. It was crazy situation and I was able to solve the mistake with my quick thinking. I’ve always felt like event planners need to be good at improv — you can plan everything out but something will always go wrong and you have to be able to adapt and figure out a plan B fast.
Is there a particular book, podcast, or film that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
Priya Parker’s The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why It Matters
I’ve read a lot of business and self help books, but this was one of the few books that felt so personal to the way I think about events and how people gather. I felt seen and validated in the care I put into planning my events. So many people think of event planning as party planners who just care about balloons, but there is so much detail in the logistics to create a meaningful experience that Priya’s book helped validate.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
My mom always said “you look best when you’re wearing a smile,” a quote her dad used to tell her. This is definitely something I remember as I have an overall “glass is half full” view about life. Even in stressful times, like planning events, or a global pandemic, remembering to smile and look for the bright side is the best way to stay positive and focused.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. For the benefit of our readers, can you tell us a bit about your experience organizing events in general?
I really started planning events when I was 10 years old with elaborate birthday parties. In high school I planned all the dances and rallies, in college fundraising events and internships. My first job out of college was an events agency in NYC. When I was 24 I opened my own event planning studio and worked with a range of community focused clients like Airbnb and Kiva. I went on to launch my own event, Dessert Goals, a dessert festival, and now have planned 9 festivals bringing together over 30,000 people. I also created the first romantic comedy film festival called Rom Com Fest. Creating experiences and bringing people together has always been my passion.
Can you tell us a bit about your experience organizing live virtual events? Can you share any interesting stories about them?
At the start of 2020 I had three big festivals in the books with big sponsors confirmed. My events are all about eating, taking photos and being around hundreds of people, so obviously that wasn’t going to be able to happen anytime soon. I created my first Digital Dessert Goals and expanded upon my in person dessert festival with 2 days of baking demos, photography classes, how to start a food business panel, and a small business dessert marketplace to shop online. What was most interesting was that many of the attendees that came to my events in New York and Los Angeles didn’t attend the virtual event. They were so used to the in person one they couldn’t imagine what it would be like online. But I was able to reach attendees across the United States who normally aren’t able to attend the event and connect with them in smaller group settings.
In your opinion, what is an example of a company that has done a fantastic job creating live virtual events? What specifically impresses you? What can one do to replicate that?
Create and Cultivate has done a great job bringing their events online. Their in person experiences are all about the style and by branding their virtual events on their website they have been able to keep that control. At Mixily we’re building our Virtual Venue toool so instead of linking to Zoom or Youtube videos, all virtual events can live directly on your own website with your branding. I think that’s the future of live virtual events.
What are the common mistakes you have seen people make when they try to run a live virtual event? What can be done to avoid those errors?
The biggest common mistake when running live virtual events is having no engaging moments for guests to interact. A Zoom webinar or Hopin broadcast doesn’t really qualify as a virtual event. This can be corrected by creating spaces for guests to connect in smaller settings such as breakout rooms, a Slack channel, or designated mini events based on topic or other opportunities for engagement.
Which virtual platform have you found to be most effective to be able to bring everyone together virtually?
Definitely Mixily for a virtual venue and ticketing. Having planned events for years, it’s been an exciting opportunity to work with a team and build tools for organizers to create really meaningful virtual events. Some other video tools that are more interesting than Zoom and better at connecting people are Rally, Toucan and Ice Breakers.
Are there any essential tools or software that you think an event organizer needs to know about?
I truly think the future of virtual events is having them live on your own website instead of linking to external apps. That’s what we’re doing at Mixily, empowering event organizers with the tools to bring their community to their website for the live events.
Another great tool is Zapier, to save time with automations between applications.
I’ve talked with a ton of event organizers the past few months and it’s quite crazy how everyone has a different system using totally different software, and most are super manual.
Ok. Thank you for all that. Here is the main question of our discussion. An in-person event can have a certain electric energy. How do you create an engaging and memorable event when everyone is separated and in their own homes? What are the “Five Things You Need To Know To Successfully Run a Live Virtual Event” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Set the mood — share a music playlist, hold 1 minute at the beginning to do a breathing exercise, create a moment or action for guests to transition from whatever they were doing before into the event.
- Make your attendees feel connected — one simple way is to prompt attendees to drop in the chat where they are from. You can also create deeper opportunities for connection like sending small groups into breakout rooms or having everyone show off their desk area.
- Keep a good pace — create a tight agenda with ice breaker questions to fill downtime. If it’s a long event include breaks to get people up and moving. Don’t let the event feel like it’s dragging on, be respectful of your guests’ time.
- Incorporate something physical into the event — ship items, share a shopping list of ingredients, outfit suggestions, scavenger hunt, bring your favorite drink — create some moment that connects the virtual to an IRL element so the experience is not purely staring at the screen
- Record the event — create an accessible experience that can be joined across all time zones or if something comes up for a guest, have a recording that you can share.
Let’s imagine that someone reading this interview has an idea for a live virtual event that they would like to develop. What are the first few steps that you would recommend that they take?
First see if there is interest. Talk with friends, share the idea on a Facebook group or Slack channel. I’ve chatted with a lot of organizers who are growing their community first through Instagram to gain traction. You could also partner up with another organization and co-host the event together, to reach more people and share responsibilities. In the beginning keep it simple and costs low. Just like with physical events, you could end up creating an elaborate and expensive virtual event but keep it easy at the beginning as you start developing and growing.
Super. We are nearly done. Here are our final questions. You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
There is a National day for everything — from Chocolate Covered Anything to National Cat Day. I’d like there to be a
National Self Kindness Day. There’s a Random Acts Of Kindness Day, which is close, but my movement/National Day would be about self love and self kindness; a day to remember to not be so hard on yourself. This is something I struggle with and know a lot of others do too.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
Reese Witherspoon! From acting, to Hello Sunshine to Draper James, she’s inspiring by dabbling in so many buckets and excelling at them all. I’m a huge rom com fan (hence I founded Rom Com Fest) so my initial love of Reese came from her acting, but now as a producer, business owner, curator and mom, I think it’s amazing all she does and it would be a dream to collaborate with her or support any of her projects.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.