How in the world does someone end up being a virtual experience designer, you ask?
I’m sure the path is different for everyone, but mine has definitely been… twisty! In the spirit of “bringing your whole self to work,” I thought I’d share my company’s origin story.
A Creative Start, but Then…
When I was a little kid, I loved making things. Crayons, paper, paint, staples and tape, singing silly songs about my cat (I’d make up entire improvisational operas!)
My parents were convinced I’d grow up to be an artist.
By the time I reached my teens, though, the inner critic gremlins in my head were so loud, I was fully convinced that other people were the artists, not me. So I quit — art and music both.
I fell in love with dance, and actually got into the prestigious Juilliard School in NYC, with visions of a career as a dancer/choreographer, but an injury sent me home to California.
I went on to earn a BA in Social Science from UC Berkeley and a Masters in Cultural Studies from the University of Birmingham in England, but I spent this entire time fully believing I was a non-creative person.
Other people were the artists — other people were creative — not me.
NOT an Artist… (or So I Thought!)
Life went on. I got married (to my first husband), and after the dust settled from the wedding, I set out to figure out what to do with my life.
I thought maybe I’d be a writer, but when Pulitzer-worthy prose didn’t didn’t flow effortlessly from my fingers, I started finding ways to procrastinate.
Including making arts and crafts.
I fell madly — obsessively — in love with the art of calligraphy. I gave up on writing, and hung out a proverbial shingle as an artist/calligrapher.
(Turned out my parents were right after all!)
The Problem with Being a Professional
Many people dream of being professional artists, but the problem with making your passion into your livelihood is that it puts a lot of pressure onto it.
Being a professional artist lost its gloss pretty quickly. With the rent bill constantly looming, I felt like everything I created had to bring in revenue. And be amazing, to boot.
If you’re ever looking for a formula for perfectionist paralysis, this is it. And I was solidly stuck in it. For a decade.
I started my art business because I loved making things, but once I became a professional artist, art stopped being the thing I did for fun.
Now art was just a job. Where I had started doing arts and crafts to procrastinate from writing, now I turned to other things to procrastinate from doing my art!
I started making music, and ultimately became a performing jazz singer as a result. (Never let anyone tell you procrastination can’t be productive!)
Me in 2008, Paul Collins on Bass, the late John Lazarus on drums – photo by Alan Yatagi
Still, years of making art for other people took its toll, and eventually I burned out.
Reclaiming My Creativity
In 2010, something snapped for me, and I realized I needed a change. I was fed up with being a professional artist in name only, while living the most un-creative life possible. I wanted to reclaim my creativity for myself.
I started a blog, Living A Creative Life, and set out to determine what my ideal creative life looked like, and how to create it.
I started offering online courses around what I was figuring out. I hosted creativity retreats. I built a number of online communities, and led regular virtual gatherings on a variety of platforms. Everything I did was focused on helping individuals reconnect with and unleash their creativity.
In 2016 I took my six years of what I’d figured out about getting creatively unstuck and put it into my book, The Creative Sandbox Way™: Your Path to a Full-Color Life.
(The “creative sandbox” metaphor came from a realization I had that, when it came to creating my art, I wanted to feel like a little kid playing in a sandbox: free to make messes, explore, and play.)
Pivoting to B2B
In 2017, I decided that I wanted to focus my energies on helping teams and groups, so I started my consultancy, Creative Sandbox Solutions™. Once again, I immersed myself in learning. This time I focused on learning facilitation methodologies like the creative problem solving process, applied improvisation (I’d already been performing as an improviser for years), LEGO® Serious Play®, graphic facilitation…
I was fortunate to get work with clients like Uber, Stanford Children’s Health, Stanford University, Hebrew Free Loan Association, doing a variety of team development and leadership development work…
And then came COVID.
Pivoting (Back) to Virtual
Everything came to a screeching halt.
Not long after the shut-down started, though, I noticed that a lot of people were really struggling with what to do on Zoom. It occurred to me that this was something I could help with.
As an improviser, and a member of a huge network of applied improvisation facilitators, I had been collecting and curating activities and best practices, so I ran some beta workshops on how to lead “Non-Boring Virtual Meetings.”
These proved popular, so I ran some follow-up workshops.
Then Facebook came calling. Could I design a virtual offsite for one of their research teams? (Why yes, I could!) This ultimately because my flagship program, Communicating for Influence, which Facebook/Meta has had me lead for so many teams I’m starting to lose count!
Other companies started knocking on my door. And before I knew it, virtual was simply my default way of operating.
Whether it’s offering strategic advising for and MCing an internal summit for managers at one Fortune 100 company, or designing and facilitating a virtual recess as a mental health break for managers at another, I’m fully at home in virtual spaces.
Can I do in-person? Yes. And I still love it in the right circumstances. But virtual is currently my main jam.
My Jammiest of Jams
Which leads me to my favorite types of projects.
As a creative who loves to get others creating, I’m most in my element when designing and facilitating experiences that help participants reconnect with and unleash their creativity!
Like the project I did for a craft company recently that needed help teaching new customers how to use their innovative products. They needed a scalable solution that would:
- Be fun
- Be non-intimidating
- Help customers complete their first project with their new product (have an “I did it!” moment)
I loved designing a live, virtual workshop, strategizing the whole experience — soup to nuts — running the beta sessions, optimizing each session, training staff to stand up the program.
It’s so satisfying to see customers engaging with the brand, coming into the workshops a bit nervous, then leaving as brand ambassadors!
It makes me so proud to see how the company has grown the program since I worked with them, expanding to 20+ workshops a month with an NPS of 80!
With my history, and my combination of skills and expertise, I’m uniquely positioned for exactly this type of project, that combines empathy for customers (who might be intimidated or overwhelmed by a new product, as well as dealing with their own inner critic gremlin voices), expertise in virtual design and facilitation, an understanding of marketing principles, and training and documentation skills.
I love helping creative companies capture lost sales through playful virtual trainings like this. Everyone wins:
- Customers are happy, because they don’t end up returning a product they were initially excited about (or letting it gather cobwebs in their basement)
- And customers LOVE raving about products and brands they have great experiences with, which makes them even happier!
- Companies are happy, because they plug those sales that were slipping through the cracks, keep products out of the basement black hole, and acquire more raving fans!
So that’s my story.
At least up til now! I’m curious to see where it will lead next…
Interested to learn more? Message me to chat about how I can use my signature system to help your employees infuse connection, joy and delight into virtual meetings, trainings and events at your workplace.
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