Stay true to your brand. Make sure the event is on topic and showcases the best of your brand. Example — Our virtual events are run very similarly to what you would expect in the store. The theme, format and language all compliment what people have come to expect from us.
AsAs 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 Samantha Myers.
Samantha Myers and Judy Famigletti are the duo behind Let’s Dress Up, a fairy tale themed playspace for kids in the heart of New York City. Samantha left a lengthy career in Financial Services in 2018 to be an entrepreneur and joined forces with Judy at Let’s Dress Up. She is also a mom to a school aged child in the same demographic as their customers!
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 am an only child and grew up in the Northeast. I went to Tulane University in New Orleans and explored many professional options before getting interested in finance. I happened upon a 20 year career that I absolutely loved. I moved to New York City in 1996 and have never looked back.
Can you tell us the story of what led you to this particular career path?
I loved my finance career, but after 20 plus years, I just was burnt out. I had seen the business from several different vantage points and been through market fluctuations, survived layoffs, bubbles, collapses and everything in between. Rather than make another move within the field I was comfortable with, I decided to make a huge move into entrepreneurship.
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?
There have been many along the way, small, big, funny, stressful and all of them were learning experiences. Two stories come to mind. In the first one I attempted to engage with three year old twins who were in the midst of a level 10 meltdown over their Ariel dresses, big mistake. I also learned the hard way that parents are not always a more reasonable option. And since we are talking about virtual events specifically, I will share a recent disaster where my camera looked like it was working, but when I got on a virtual birthday no one could see me and I was supposed to be reading a story and leading a craft! Technology is a blessing and can be a huge source of frustration as well.
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?
When Shark Tank first came on the air I think it was a great introduction to the world of entrepreneurs. It was so interesting to see how ideas become products and businesses as well as the widely varying paths to success.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I like all the old adages about taking action and not procrastinating in the vein of actions speak louder than words. A favorite from my dad is “don’t wait to use the good glasses”. And while I cannot take credit for it, I absolutely love our business tagline which is “Because once upon a time is now”.
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?
At Let’s Dress Up we host birthday parties, play sessions and special events for kids. We have refined the structure to have the right flow, the themes that work best and all the special nuances in between. We normally run several in person events each week.
Can you tell us a bit about your experience organizing live virtual events? Can you share any interesting stories about them?
We never hosted virtual events until the pandemic hit and we were closed for months. Much of the magic of our events comes from being physically in the store. We can set the mood with décor, music, numerous choices, and of course there is the interaction between the kids. We had to find a way to recreate that in an online experience. This was no small feat and admittedly took us some time to work through. What structure would work best (story, craft, songs, game), how to explain a craft through the screen and how to get them excited (a princess appearance or dance party) and things of that nature.
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?
I don’t have a specific one in mind. I would say look at the people in your genre and see what they are doing that you like and maybe some things you would do differently. I have taken many classes with my daughter and it has helped me formulate ideas about our own 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?
With young kids it is especially challenging to hold their attention. You cannot just talk at them or get sidetracked in what you are doing. It is important to ask questions, draw them in and get them involved.
Which virtual platform have you found to be most effective to be able to bring everyone together virtually?
We use Google Meet for our events because we use the Google suite already and we were comfortable with their security features early on.
Are there any essential tools or software that you think an event organizer needs to know about?
I have used Google Slides to make engaging presentations and that really helps make our events look professional and visually engaging for the kids. I add backgrounds, sparkles and GIF’s to help make it a little more special.
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.)
- Stay true to your brand. Make sure the event is on topic and showcases the best of your brand. Example — Our virtual events are run very similarly to what you would expect in the store. The theme, format and language all complement what people have come to expect from us.
- Be prepared, get on early to test the technology, have a schedule (I write it out in advance). Tell your viewers how the event will run and what they can expect, be mindful of time. For example — I start off by welcoming everyone and giving a rundown of what we will do and I always leave enough time for each step and so we wrap on time and no one gets cut off or has to end mid-activity.
- Be in control of the event. You must act as if you are standing in front of the room and are totally in charge. Example — A class of Kindergarteners can easily and very quickly devolve into total ear piercing chaos if you are not firmly in control (and able to mute and un mute people!!).
- Engage people. Whether that is through participation or non verbal cues, you have to work harder and have an even higher energy level to draw people in through the screen. Example — Depending on the size of the group we let the kids chime in at will, raise their hands or use thumbs up or hold up a number to answer questions. And we vary that throughout so it doesn’t get stale.
- Have fun! Especially with kids events, if you are not having fun they will not have fun. In our case, we belt out princess tunes, dance along, laugh and try not to take ourselves too seriously. Example — I always dress in theme and have been known to break out some pretty fabulous dance moves.
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?
Test, test, test. Do not wing it, make sure to do a dress rehearsal (or two). Plan out the activities or topics and choose a day and time that your ideal customer would be free.
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.
I am fully immersed in the world of young children both at the store and at home so I am always focused on a mom’s perspective and women’s causes. I would love to spotlight women-owned businesses and women at the top (bonus if they are also moms). Moms and young kids have been challenged during this pandemic and I think we need to get back to making them a priority as we come out the other side.
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.
Marcus Lemonis. I am a big fan of the Profit and have been very impressed with everything he has done during the pandemic to help entrepreneurs.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.