Kami Guildner: 5 Things You Need To Know To Successfully Run a Live Virtual Event
Host a live stage for the local speakers and have a dynamic emcee and an experienced AV team. Having a live stage and an experienced AV team required a much larger investment, and it was the most important decision I made to elevate the energy of the room. The stage allows you to elevate your physical and energetic presence. A special shout-out to my friends at SecondAct Women BizCon, for sharing this tip with me, as well as for sharing their amazing AV team, Metta Media, who had significant television production expertise to produce the kind of event I envisioned.
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 Kami Guildner.
Kami Guildner is a business coach for changemaker women of influence. She leads high-vibe entrepreneurs to give voice to their most important messages and create a ripple effect of worldly impact. She is the founder of the Extraordinary Women Ignite Conference, Extraordinary Women Connect events, and Extraordinary Women Radio™ — a podcast featuring wildly successful women who are making an impact on the world. Kami was named to the 2020 Twenty-Five Most Powerful Women in Business List by the Colorado Women’s Chamber of Commerce. https://www.kamiguildner.com/
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 on the wide-open plains of Colorado against the majestic Rocky Mountains, with cornfields as my playground and my horse as my favorite playmate. 4H, small-town schools and close-knit family and friends shaped me into a young girl filled with a passion for nature, animals, and close connections. Very early in my life, I gained an understanding that the natural world brought clarity, provided space to dream, and opened my eyes to a world I wanted to explore.
Can you tell us the story of what led you to this particular career path?
I left the corporate world after a 20-year marketing exec journey that took me around the world. I always say two gifts took me away from the corporate world. First, I got laid off, and second, I got laid off in 2008, when there were no other VP Marketing roles readily available. I had to take time to slow down and reconnect to me.
My father passed away one month after I was laid off, and as I reflected on the life values he taught me, I embarked upon a 17-month reflective journey of reconnecting to myself and discovering that I had a different purpose beyond being a corporate exec. It was not an easy journey … I had significant self-perceptions and fears to break through… Then, on one particular day when it all felt like my life was falling apart, the simple breath of my horse helped me find clarity and courage to start my own business. From that moment, I never looked back. I knew there was a different journey ahead for me.
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?
While I had trained others to speak in my corporate world roles, I had always played safe by staying in the background, teaching others to be on the stage. When I started my business, a mentor told me that the fastest way to grow my business was to take the stage as a speaker.
I very quickly told her, “No thank you, I will grow my business in other ways.” Truth be told, I was deathly afraid of public speaking. The few times I had taken the stage before, my voice shook and my message was lost. I was convinced that I could grow my business one person at a time — without the risk of public speaking.
There was a point, however, when I wrote a purpose statement and declared that I wanted to impact 1 million women around the world, helping them step into purpose-driven work and raise their voices, creating a ripple effect of impact. That statement made me realize that I needed to get out from behind the safety net of one person at a time and step into speaking one to many.
I worked hard to find my speaking voice and move through my fears. I took courses and worked with coaches. I hired energy healers. I started getting on stages, one stage at a time. What I finally realized was that speaking on the stage wasn’t about me, but it was about each person in the room and what they would do with the words and stories I shared. That shifted everything. Today, I love speaking and I love the stage.
The lesson I learned was this: When we feel fear that stops us from stepping into expansion, it is an opportunity for growth. Step into it anyway!
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?
Gabby Bernstein’s Super Attractor and The Universe Has Your Back were both instrumental in helping me recognize the crazy mind games we can play. As an entrepreneur, I have learned that self-doubt, fear, and uncertainty can be a daily occurrence. Learning to recognize the signs of these low-vibe energies and instead choosing higher vibe energy has helped my business grow exponentially. It doesn’t mean that I am never impacted by low-vibe energies; I simply am able to recognize them and move out of them much more quickly than I did early in my entrepreneurial days.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” ~ Civil Rights Leader, Howard Thurman
I love that high-vibe feeling when I am sparked by my love for what I do and get to play in the endless possibilities before me. This is my coming alive. And every time I find myself in this high-vibe energy, my life expands, my business grows, and I attract the most extraordinary people into my communities. This is living!
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 have been organizing events for 30 years. In the corporate world, I launched products at CES and many other trade association conferences and ran extravagant customer events in venues like the London Natural History Museum and even aboard a pirate ship in Cancun. As an entrepreneur, I created my own series of Extraordinary Women Connect Galas, designed to connect great women to great women, and an annual Extraordinary Women Ignite Conference, designed to raise up women’s voices and businesses. I am in my seventh year of running these Extraordinary Women events, and they have been the cornerstone to my company’s biggest growth.
Can you tell us a bit about your experience organizing live virtual events? Can you share any interesting stories about them?
Ha! This was a new one for me that I learned entirely in 2020, by rolling up my sleeves and diving in. I spoke to many experts, surveyed past Ignite attendees, and got really clear about the experience I wanted to create. One of the things that my Extraordinary Women events are known for is the connected community of extraordinary women who are doing big things in the world. When I reached out to past attendees, I heard over and over again, “Don’t lose the magic of the connection you create.” This was one of the foundational pillars that I focused on when I created my Extraordinary Women Ignite Virtual Conference. The virtual event enabled us to bring in attendees from around the world, which was exciting.
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 am a board member of the Women’s Foundation of Colorado (WFCO). This year, the staff at the WFCO did a tremendous job transforming their annual 3000-person luncheon into a full week of virtual house parties hosted across the state of Colorado.
The team created a 90-minute program telling inspiring stories of “Sheroes and Impact” in the state. Each of the 280+ house party hosts got to select from a menu of party ideas to create their own house party experiences, building community and expanding the reach of their important messages. The hosts could hold a virtual online party or a small in-person gathering — and all of the gatherings were part of the bigger virtual streaming program that happened across the state.
The annual luncheon is the foundation’s largest fundraiser, and the final results were down only slightly from our live luncheons, netting the organization over $500,000. In addition, this creative approach expanded the foundation’s reach across our state to people who had never been exposed to the organization in the past.
What impressed me about their efforts was the rapid decision-making to make the shift and the creative and innovative thinking to transform an event they had done for many years to something entirely different. They reduced the costs by not bringing in a big-name high-cost keynote and turned the theme to community Sheroes. The event content was shortened and grounded in connection and inspirational stories. They leveraged technology in new ways, learning along the way and practicing beforehand to make sure that the technology performed flawlessly.
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 challenge I saw for people this year was utilizing untested streaming technology. If you are going to go to the effort to bring hundreds of people into a virtual room, make sure the technology works for a room that size and people know how to use it. I saw some well-thought-out agendas with dynamic speakers come together, and the technology failed them. My heart broke for the organizers. One other thing, don’t build your agendas the same as you would for a live event. Make the sessions shorter and bring in more content and “activity diversity.” Keeping a virtual room engaged means lots of change-ups.
Which virtual platform have you found to be most effective to be able to bring everyone together virtually?
To create a connected room, Zoom still can’t be beaten, because of: (1) their breakout room capability, (2) the gallery view so people can engage with one another, and (3) the simplicity of usability because everyone knows how to use Zoom at this point! Having said this, all of the virtual conference platforms/companies did a beautiful job stepping up to the challenge this year in a short amount of time. For my conference this year, we incorporated Pheedloop into our exhibit space and registration, although we opted to stay on Zoom for the streaming, for the reasons stated above.
Are there any essential tools or software that you think an event organizer needs to know about?
Both Zoom and Pheedloop were intricate parts of our event planning and delivery. We also used Expressory, a relationship-building concierge to package and ship our very beautiful gift boxes.
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.)
It was a terrifying decision to take my proven Extraordinary Women Ignite Conference to a virtual event. Initially, I was filled with self-doubt and worry, and making this decision was proceeded by many sleepless nights. Beginning in May, the idea of hosting a virtual event began to take root. I started to doubt if we could bring together that many women in a big room for a live event, due to the pandemic-gathering rules. I played all the scenarios over and over in my head. On the day I finally made the decision, “Go virtual and make it the best virtual conference out there!” I had a new stake in the ground, and I simply let go of all the stories and started planning. I jumped in, learning from whomever would share with me their experiences of virtual events.
Bryan Kramer, one of my Ignite keynotes (renowned business strategist, global keynote speaker, “Zen master to Digital Marketers” by Forbes, named “Top 3 Thought Leadership Speakers You Don’t Want to Miss” in Forbes) shared with me after the event, “I’ve been attending live conferences all year, and none of them had the energy you created at Ignite!” I knew I had hit on something special.
Here are my top five ways to create extraordinary virtual events:
- Host a live stage for the local speakers and have a dynamic emcee and an experienced AV team. Having a live stage and an experienced AV team required a much larger investment, and it was the most important decision I made to elevate the energy of the room. The stage allows you to elevate your physical and energetic presence. A special shout-out to my friends at SecondAct Women BizCon, for sharing this tip with me, as well as for sharing their amazing AV team, Metta Media, who had significant television production expertise to produce the kind of event I envisioned.
My emcee was high energy. We literally could dance in the energy of each other before getting on the stage. The live stage provided space for me and any of our local speakers to take the stage as if we were in a live room, while our remote speakers joined by Zoom. Because we were mixing it up with different screen views, it gave the event experience more diversity, and the audience did not feel like they were just looking at three days of talking heads.
- Engage your participants beforehand with the goal of creating buzz and excitement. In keeping with the spirit of connecting great women to great women that my live events are known for, I personally hosted several small virtual gatherings before the big event, so that participants could get to know me and others in the room. In addition, we had a volunteer group of ambassadors who hosted small welcome events and created at-event connections for the new participants who had not attended these events in the past. I wanted the newbies to feel like they were part of a special society!
We also had a private Facebook group for attendees to introduce themselves and start engaging with other attendees. The participants got a really cool swag bag a week before the conference that many of our speakers contributed to, which included books, journals, essential oil blends, inspiration cards, and more. By the time the big opening day rolled around, the attendees had multiple opportunities to connect online — with speakers, attendees, and me as their host. They had already made new friends and connections, and there was a feeling of a community coming together.
- Create plenty of opportunity for connection at the event. This was the number one factor that prior attendees encouraged me not to lose in the virtual event! I listened and chose to stream in Zoom. The pre-events and live-events had plenty of space for breakout sessions to meet with and engage with other participants. By staying in Zoom, the gallery view and chat created space for at-event connections and conversations.
- Make shifts in content every eight minutes, moving to exercises, changing out speakers, and creating space to engage. We maintained approximately the same amount of content each day for the 2–1/2 days of the conference that a live event would have, however, we tightened up the schedule by shortening the lunch break and ending earlier than normal. Our intent was to keep people online with us over the whole conference, which really worked, as our drop-off rate was quite low from start to end. The frequent shift in content was created to keep people engaged, interacting, and excited for the stories of each speaker. I increased the number of Q&A sessions so that people could get direct feedback on their business and their message.
- Self-care of your personal energy. My self-care was essential from the moment I decided to go virtual to the close of the event. I knew how to run great live events, but I doubted my ability to create the same experience virtually. It started with acknowledging the self-doubts and then actively moving into practicing the art of positive thinking and truly trusting that the Universe had my back. Meditation, healthy eating, and moving my body every day was essential. As the countdown to the event approached, I could have easily claimed that “I simply don’t have time for these luxuries,” but instead I made even more space for self-care.
As the event approached, I let go and allowed my team to do their jobs. I would estimate that there is triple the detail to tend to in a virtual event compared to a live event. My event and AV teams were flawless in their execution — and any technology or customer support issues that came up were quickly and efficiently addressed behind the scenes. This enabled me to focus on the one thing I needed to do: deliver my message from the stage. As it turned out, I had a blast, which is exactly the energy you want to bring to an event you are hosting!
In between my sessions on the stage, I moved, we played great music, I walked outside in the sunshine — all of this raising up my energy for a connected presence when I took the stage.
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?
Get clear on the purpose and intent of your event, and perhaps even more importantly, the experience you want your attendees to have. Here are some questions to consider:
- What’s your why for doing this event?
- As you consider your audience, what are the conversations they are having right now that you can help them with?
- What’s your superpower and most impactful gift that you can offer this audience to help them through their biggest challenges?
- What would you like them to do differently after they have left your event?
- How do you want them to feel at your event and as they leave your event?
These questions will help you create content that brings the right people to your event and also keeps them engaged in your event throughout. The answers to these questions will help you define the scope of your event, including how long it will be, who is in attendance, how they engage with one another, and more. Then find your virtual stage and set it into motion!
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 on a mission to inspire the next generation of high vibration entrepreneurs of influence to light up our world.
How you resonate matters. The way you break through to the next level is to tend to your #Rfactor — so that you resonate in high-vibration mode! This means loving the work you do and the people you work with every day because you are all making impact together. It’s creating a ripple effect grounded in collaboration and community.
An entrepreneur can have all the right branding, packaging, and pricing in place, but if they are showing up with lots of mind trash going on in their head, holding back and playing small, being judgmental of others, then they are resonating on a low-vibe platform. This is where I see so many entrepreneurs get stuck in their growth.
#RFactor can be enhanced with a daily practice of tending to: (1) your mindset; (2) your body: (3) your spirit (however we each spirit, because we all spirit differently); and (4) your community. Together, these build a resilient high-energy business that is unstoppable, even in the toughest of times.
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.
Oprah. I am inspired by her commitment to do good in a world that is grounded in spiritual awareness and being our best self.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.