Thursday, December 29, 2011

Events by Color - compilation

Wacky Hair Day - fun!
I LOVE LOVE LOVE Color - all kinds of colors for all kinds of different reasons, and here is a compilation of previous blog posts that show you what I love. Pick one... or six... tell me what you love about colour too!

Green  (Kermit and sustainability)

Purple (The color of your brain)

Blue  (Oceans and communication)

Red (Fire and passion)

Orange (the secret favorite of many)

Yellow (Lemons, sunshine and the solar plexus)

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Theatre and Community

My holiday musing is this. A great event is ultimately like going to (choose your [religious] ceremony) at (name your special time of year). Good ceremonies and great events have these two things in common; theatre and community.

They have a story woven through, some timeless and literally woven into the fabric of your being, some the current perceptions as shared by the ceremonial leader. They both have a certain sense of drama, of presence, of a production well executed. Some of the players are the stars, the leaders, some the facilitators, some play a bit part, integral to the overall experience, each touchpoint adding depth. Others still are backstage, or do their part ahead of time setting the stage for what has to happen. Theatre at its finest, brought alive in many forums and spaces, all around the world, every day.

Without a sense of community it would all be for naught, as ultimately we attend events to share an experience. If we just wanted to listen to music, we could play it on any number of devices. To experience the music though, we go to see it live, and share the (tribal) rhythms, part of a larger community who all believe in the power of this music (artist, group, festival). This sense of belonging to a tribe or a community reaches out through our interests in sports, racing, wellness and more; through our own interests or traditions, or those of our families and extended community of friends and colleagues.

When we attend an event we are drawn by the anticipation of the experience. Much of this is the sense of community that we look forward to being part of. When immersed in the experience, drawn in by the theatre, our senses are enhanced and the memories deepened by the community we are sharing it with. Understanding the importance of creating and allowing for these two elements will go a long way to ensuring that the events you plan continue to be meaningful and enriching for all.

Happy holidays as I am off to dream of sugarplums and the fairies who dance to a magical tune.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Thoughtful Event Design and Production - It Matters

Event Camp Vancouver getting set for participants
When I wrote this post it was before Hybrid was the buzzword of the year, but it was not all that long ago. If it was a TV Show looks at the different ways we can make event education more memorable for the guests and while certainly not cutting edge (since we had several years of examples of doing this) it remains important.

As we move from our viewing audiences being used to produced shows, full of laugh tracks and canned lines, to Improv (think "Whose Line is it Anyway?") to the plethora of reality TV now available, our tastes may have evolved, but our need to be entertained continues to be a reality for meeting and event planners.

When we look at the 2012 Event Trends from David Adler of Bizbash which articulate so clearly what attendees will be looking for, it does all come back to careful meeting design and thoughtful production elements that add to the overall experience. It is no longer enough to build a conference or event full of pre-determined one-sided topics being delivered, paired with traditional evening events, perhaps a welcome, an awards gala and maybe a farewell or closing event. Now we need to offer not only excellent education, we must also work with the presenters on making it interactive to build relevance and applicability for the participants, allow room for "hot" topics or organic growth of topics within the sessions, provide nutritious offerings to sustain participants, offer events that meet the expectations of the guests but also offer some surprises and delights.  We need to create "tweetable" moments and blog-worthy stories, these that happen so much more immediately than any post show PR you may get in traditional media. You must also be staffed and ready to respond to changes that may be necessitated by this immediate feedback received.

In all of this we also are considering not only the needs of face to face guests, but also remote participants, and how we can create education and interaction that provides value for both, and ideally between both audiences. This does require a certain amount of technology and expertise in its use, careful preplanning and appropriate preparation. Is it worth it? If your participants then become your biggest advocates that lead to greater success for your events in the future - I say YES. Plan, prepare, produce - and make sure it is authentic, relevant and memorable!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Anticipate, Experience, Remember

These three words can be applied to anything good in life, anything that brings us joy and makes us smile. The question of the day is how can this apply to our events? What are we doing to create each step?  How does it vary by type of event?

1. Developing anticipation. To do this you must have great plans in place for your event, plans you are excited about your guests experiencing and can play off of.

2. Creating the Experience. This must consider the objectives of the host and the needs and desires of the guests. It will often include tried and true elements, and then ideally special touches that will surprise, delight and enhance, touching a variety of senses to better engage, this is what part that creates memories.

3. Remember. For us on the planning side, creating the environment and experiences that will cause guests to remember their event positively.

Well that all sounds lovely, but how do we apply this to specific events?

Incentive Reward Trips
With an incentive program often the cycle to win a reward trip is up to one year in advance and from an organizational perspective, these trips are based on superior sales or service that contribute to a healthier bottom line. Building anticipation by choosing an attractive destination, creating anticipation through the launch of the next year's destination often at this year's meeting, and then using a great teaser campaign are all important steps in building anticipation.

The experience must then deliver the feeling of reward. This begins with the travel and arrival experience, and then with each piece of the puzzle, including activities, unique events, access to important colleagues, gifts and once in a lifetime opportunities that cannot be bought, the experiences are built. To truly create the feeling of reward it means that every touchpoint must feel special, and it must be easy - this is a week without having to worry as you have for the balance of earning this time away. It is most often shared with spouse or significant other and occasionally with families as they too have contributed to this success.

To create lasting memories that build loyalty requires a balance of time with colleagues on shared social experiences, activities that let you build on or learn a new skill, sometimes inspiring speakers who add depth to the experience and knowledge you can apply on your return, fun that engages multiple senses and time to reflect on the experience and the people you are sharing it with. Tangible items such as thoughtful gifts, photo or video memories and new skills will add to the remembering.

Association Educational Conference

The anticipation can come from the programming planned, from knowing you will see colleagues and friends you may only see at these meetings - the education and networking that are the crux of association membership are indeed critical to the anticipation. For new members it is about creating a sense of excitement tied to the sense of belonging and shared positive experience to come.

The experience should be built around these two tenets - great education which in its most ideal form combines formal, interactive and informal learning with tools to apply the enhanced learning on return to work. The networking should be throughout, not just at the traditional evening events, some of which may be buy in and some hosted (ie a welcome or closing). This is perhaps one of the most challenging areas to create experiences as you are dealing often with people from around the world with different expectations, languages and bases to draw from and a larger gamut of age and experience. This is about asking questions of those who know the demographics and psychographics of the attendees and building in variety to create a comfortable experience for the majority.

The memories will come from sharing knowledge with peers so you must allow time for this. The education must have relevance and be applicable on return for the value to be justified.  Memories that make you want to return again are based on connections, and will come from the opportunities to "break bread" with old friends and new enriched with conversation. For us, we have to provide food and beverages that are familiar and tasty enough in environments that may showcase a destination or a theme, with music that enhances the space without overwhelming conversation as this all becomes part of what is layered into the memory.

What will you do to build anticipation, create enriching experiences and ultimately create memories for your guests, the kind that make them want to achieve, and to return?

Friday, December 16, 2011

Details make it Special

When we are planning events, like in life, it is the small details that are remembered. In this photo Darth Vader saved the day by ensuring the awards would appear and could be delivered to the recipients. For the guests and for the character inside, this was less than three minutes of an evening's program, but one that brought delight to all.

When we are with someone special we can't possibly recall everything done together, what creates the memory is often fleeting... a touch, a glance, a feeling created.

When you receive a thoughtful gift, it is not the value of the gift but the care that went into the choice that makes it special, knowing someone thought of what you might like.

When we talk about events we often call them Special Events. Truly, who wants to create or attend an ordinary event?  What keeps me passionate about our industry is the opportunity to evoke memories.  The logistics have to be well thought out and that is the part that makes us professionals, but it is the creating that separates the fantastic event professionals from the merely good; the special events from the average.

It is always about creating an environment and then adding the details what will offer those small moments that make a memory. It is the combination of venue, lighting, soundscape and music, seating areas and decor elements, entertainment that engages and moments that surprise (as in the above) that will allow memories to be created... because we as event producers have created a space that allows for connections to happen.

We might remember an exceptional meal for the food, but if the most average meal is shared with the best company, it is elevated. When you have a fantastic meal and it is shared with brilliant company, then you have a special event that creates memories.

Many years ago I attended an event produced by a colleague. This event had the biggest dance floor we had ever created for a group of about 1,000 guests, all part of an association for retired professionals. The Dal Richards orchestra was playing, and when I came by to see this event, the giant dance floor was indeed full, with many of the octogenarian and older guests - mobile, in walkers and in wheelchairs having the time of their lives dancing up a storm. This is what makes events special.

What will you create next?

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Cheers - to Holiday Parties

Why do we love holiday parties? Better question... do we love holiday parties?  I would venture to say YES and NO. There are the dreaded holiday parties, the ones that you know you will have to deal with the uncomfortable questions, the awkward pats and the drunken dealings, yet we still feel obligated to attend.

Then there are the parties we can't wait to attend. We know the company will be fantastic and we won't even get to to talk to anyone long enough, that the food will be delicious and easy to get to, the beverages sparkling and the music and atmosphere fabulous.

So what makes the difference between the two? (and leads to the many variations between)  It goes back to the basics
  • the guests - invite people who you want to spend time with and who by extrapolating that would likely enjoy each other's company as well - a mix of old and new is great
  • the venue - it should be inspiring, fit the size of the group well and have an ambience that works for whatever you want to create, whether that is a ballroom or a skating rink, a pond or a restaurant, your home or a nightclub...
  • music sets the tone, so from all holiday to cool dance - choose music that adds to the tone of the experience
  • food simply needs to meet the expectations of the guests - if they are expecting dinner, make it hearty, if it is a dessert reception - well you get the point - it is distracting to be hungry and unable to find food and then eventually irritating and you have to leave
  • beverages should provide for the drinkers, the drivers and those in-between, offer a special cocktail/mocktail and the basics
  • gifts, trinkets and give backs - are you asking people to give something that will go to a charity or are you having fun gifts on offer for the guests - both work but know what mood you want to achieve (giving and getting are both part of the season!)
  • unless it is an event specific to a religious celebration, in this diverse landscape most of us live in, keep it about celebration and togetherness
  • decorate to suit - last week we did a very traditional Christmas dinner and a "naughty Santa" event - very different, both very fabulous
  • entertainment for holiday events should enhance - you may have live music or a play or a focal point that starts with or is followed by a reception to share the joy, otherwise let people focus on each other in this season of joy, and if for your friends that means rocking a dance floor - do it!
Like all events, it is about the details, knowing your guests and catering to their enjoyment. At this time of year, comfort and enjoyment are key - once you have a plan for your guests you will enjoy the event more too!

Happy Holidays!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Step Into Your Life - Lessons learned from Aron Ralston

Live with Joy

Today we had the opportunity to see Aron Ralston speak, and even if you have not seen the film 127 Hours (I have not) this is an incredible story, and an ongoing journey to a richer life with many lessons and inspirations that came out of this. These are the things that stuck with me.

  1. When you get into trouble, STOP
    1. Stop
    1. Think
    2. Observe, Consider your Options
    3. Plan
  2. "I am in the situation I created".  Take ownership of your decisions.
  3.  Keep hope, even when you need to give up control.  That sounds complicated but there are times when you have to simply trust that it will work out as it was meant to be.  This might seem slightly contradictory to the above, but if along the way you have made the best decisions you can make then you can trust.
  4.  It is not what you do that matters the most. It is who you are. Who you are is about how you love and how you connect with people.  Seek connections that enrich your life and ideally enrich others also.
  5. Moms rule.  We bring you into the world and we will care for you, love you and support you like no-one else.  Appreciate your mothers for who they are too.  Maybe Aron didn't say it exactly like that - but that was the mom message this mother heard.
  6. Live with passion and joy and pure commitment to what you believe in and want to do.  Learn what you are capable of one experience at a time.

The night before he spoke, Aron joined this conference for the gala dinner and evening at the request of the chair.  He was not in a requisite suit and tie and there were one or two people who asked "who is that?" as if this man who was not in the gala uniform had perhaps intruded.  How quickly we judge on exteriors.

What I saw on our packed dance floor filled with energy, people  dancing in couples, in groups, with friends new and old, was a man who had pure joy in the music and movement - his own and those of all around who were fully participating in this experience, his face lit up from within. I was attracted to the spirit of this person, and to others who were enjoying this time just as much, for their unadulterated joy in the freedom and the fun.  Although Aron as the keynote speaker closing three days of conference shared an amazing story with us, what I will remember is how he looked the night before dancing among strangers.  Live with spirit. 

Step into your life and be present for whatever is happening now and be richer for every experience.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Feel the Color of Every Note

When guests walk into an event, I want to make sure that they leave the event richer for their experience.  Every event will have its own goals and for our clients we want to ensure that once these are clarified, at every step of the planning we keep these in mind and create details that will add impact to the message.

Feel the Color of EVERY note. I want to hear the gasps as people enter a room to unexpected delight as they know by the soundscape, lighting and design details that this will be something special. They will taste the food more, enjoy the conversation more and feel the experience more deeply. Physiologically we have created a space where neurons are firing and their brains are releasing chemicals that add to their increased pleasure and their neural pathways are open to making more memories, more memorable connections and leave the event feeling sated.

A great event has peaks and valleys, swooshes of colour created both literally and through entertainment and activities that engage and excite, that make them feel alive and part of an experience greater than just themselves.  Isn't this what we all want?

Saturday, October 29, 2011

The Pain of Being Human

We all recognize Pain. And Joy. It is what makes us human, the ability to feel across all spectrums. It is our ability to wade through what happens in this place called life, and to live it to the best of our ability that defines us as who we are. They are times it seems nearly impossible, and there are also times we don't win. When we lose friends and loved ones and feel that we may never be the same again as part of the life we were comfortable with is sliced away. Sometimes this is very sudden, and sometimes we know it will come and it is just a matter of time.

How we get through these times is always highly individual, and we each have to do what is right for us in this time, and the rest of us simply have to give support, time or space as needed, when needed.

When I was 30 my dad died suddenly, on the other side of the world. When I found out I naturally called my husband who had just started an 8 hour shift and had to honor that commitment (as his job relates to public safety). I went to the home of very special friends who knew they didn't need to do anything to make it better, I just needed to be somewhere that I knew support was. Their at the time 4yr old daughter was a joy then and now and she helped me refocus. Their son, then just 16 months old had never been a baby that was interested in other people. If you were not his parents he pretty much would not come or play with others. This evening he must have had an inner sense he was needed and he crawled right over and was content to sit with me from the time I arrived until it was time for bed - something that had not happened before (and now at 15 would never!)

Earlier this week and again tonight I have had people contact me to cancel social plans because they have had a personal catastrophe that quite simply has to take precedence. In both cases I was told over a written medium (email or text) and in both cases I feel there is no adequate response - that whatever I said was not enough to fully express how I want to reach through the the medium and wrap them in a giant hug and protect them and tell them I understand pain, and I wish I could lessen theirs, at this moment.

I know intellectually that we will all have times that we feel intense happiness, the kind that makes you want to burst. We will all feel the intense perfection of a moment, when you know you are exactly in the right place at the right time celebrating the perfect moment with the right people. That is joy. When pain comes knocking, as it inevitably will, I wish you the strength to give in to the pain knowing you will come out the other side, and the willingness to believe that there are people to support you and to reach out to them.

Being human won't always be easy, but we don't have to do it alone. For those of you feeling pain, please accept this virtual hug in the spirit it is sent.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Do you Believe in Infinite Potential?

As we (get older) gain more experience in the world there is often the tendency to default to what we know will work rather than experimenting with what might work. The word "might" always leaves the door open to possible failure, and the vulnerability associated with the potential to fail is an uncomfortable place we prefer to avoid. Potential-limiting.

Yesterday we had some friends for dinner and as the evening wound down we ended up with a small group discussing Einstein's theory of relativity, which suggests time and space are not as linear as we presume.  The interesting thing about this is the discussion was that it was a high level look at the possibilities, taking place mainly between a 12 year old and a 17 year old, the latter who had just written an essay on the subject for a scholarship application. The application is to Cambridge, who award four full scholarships to Canadians each  year. She definitely sees herself earning one of these spots. Infinite potential.

What if we approached our opportunities open to the possibilities, knowing we may be wildly successful... or we may fall flat and have to pick ourselves up and try again? Who was the first person to look at a stalk of grain in a field and wonder how they could turn that into something else? Who made the first mills that turned wheat into flour, or bakers that turned flour into bread?  We can imagine the first loaves were not spectacular, but the potential was there, and now we have literally thousands of varieties of loaves made from a seemingly unending variety of ingredients. Infinite potential.

When it comes to meetings and events there seems to be a default to the safe zone - open rounds or theatre style seating, presenters who talk at us, food and beverages that are easy to provide but often nutritionally light (think danishes/pastries, sandwiches with processed meat and white bread, etc.), and little room for feedback. Safe.

What if instead we considered the infinite potential of choice and gave the responsibility for the potential learning and connections to our participants? If we provided events that considered content, program design and meeting flow at every step? This might include nutritional, brain-friendly food choices, presenters who welcome feedback and questions using comfortable-for-the-participant methods (ARS, text etc.) during the sessions, attendees able to share content with each other both during the session and in white space, and ultimately where we collaborate and create a space where connections that allow  you to apply your new learning to your current situations can be made, enhancing your overall experience.  

Anytime you doubt the potential of thinking differently, consider how the people within corporations such as Apple and Oracle are considering the potential impact of each decision and making choices that ripple; or watch an episode of Extreme Home Makeover, where they not only change a home, they change lives, week by week, one thoughtful decision at a time. There is infinite potential if we choose to embrace potential.

What if we all looked at an old tree stump and saw instead a great place to spend time and contemplate?

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Dinner Party Wars - 1 year later

With "the Golden Colander"!
Have you ever watched a reality show and thought "I could do that"? This is what led my cousin Jacqui and I to being on Dinner Party Wars  which aired yesterday on my very favorite channel Food Network Canada.

Now we watch a fair amount of FNC at our house and when I saw the ads I thought "I could do that" and went on line to see who could! (that was August 2010) Great news - I could apply on line to be on the show! Two glitches - who would want to do this with me AND they film in Toronto and I live in Vancouver! Who did I know that is fun, loves to cook and lives in Toronto - ba da bing, Jacqui! I send a text message "do you want to go on food network with me?" "of course" and now, the rest is history.

Captured forever and on TV. Here is the weird thing. I never wanted to be on TV. Never. I am at heart a Producer, the girl behind the curtain who makes sure the show goes on - and is never seen. Would I do it again? Probably not. Did we have the best time ever doing it? Heck YES!

The things we enjoyed the most included
  • the production team - experts at what they do, with a vision, keeping it fun
  • spending more time together as cousins than since we were kids, a total blast
  • cooking - we cooked and tasted and cooked some more and loved it
  • eating and drinking and laughing and enjoying the other dinner parties
  • the competitors were good opponents, they kept us on our toes!
  • the hosts are just exactly as they appear on TV - warm, witty, edgy, fun - they totally embrace the experience
Last night Jacqui flew to Vancouver so we could watch the show together, and this was the perfect dessert to a smorgasbord of fun!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Latte Minded Events

Latte Tulip by Mike White
Could I please have my event with half the fat, a shot of hazelnut, served long?

Today I would like my event large, with soy milk, extra foam and a shot of vanilla.

One event artfully designed, honey on the bottom, half-caff please, extra hot.

Of course that doesn't make any sense, but I believe we are seeing this expectation on many levels. When we can go into any number of fantastic coffee shops around the world and order our coffee exactly the way we like it, naturally we want to be able to translate this sense of satisfaction in the immediate experience to the rest of our lives. We can go online and order custom almost anything, but when we attend an event or conference we are stepping into a group experience, and our individual tastes must all be blended, ideally into a brew we can all enjoy.

Imagine as the meeting planner if you could create an event that perfectly satisfied. Where every session exceeds expectations, the rooms are always the perfect temperature, the company inspired, the food plentiful, healthy and delicious, the transportation not onerous, the technology awe-inspiring, the staging and sightlines ideal, the take-away learnings easily applied. For every single attendee.

Imagine attending your own "ideal" event. (please add a comment with what you would like to have included and share your own ideas) Where would it be? Who would join you and who might you meet? What topics would you want to learn about / share your own knowledge on? When would it be - time of year, weekend or weekday? What would you want to take away?

I sometimes imagine myself in the position of barista. All day, every few minutes, you are pleasing someone, managing their need, delivering to or exceeding expectations, in a pleasant and relaxed environment and that must be satisfying.

We look forward to seeing how the blending works for EventCamp Vancouver 
In the meantime, it is back to roast up some new event ideas!

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Why I love Camp

When I was 12 we moved to a much larger city. While the move was good and I have many friends from that era of my life, what I looked forward to eagerly every year was going back north to summer camp. The anticipation of seeing my old friends and meeting new ones, the discovery of new skills such as archery and new ideas was exciting. Imagine for example we could build and then sleep in our own lean-to, or make our own banock over a campfire! At camp you get to do things that you would not otherwise experience.

As we plan for Event Camp Vancouver, I am finding myself with that same sense of nervous anticipation and true excitement.  When we first sat with our amazing host committee and decided we were going to do this, we had no idea it would grow so organically into the program we currently have, or that there would be so much support from our community, as so many people stepped up to think about how they could contribute to making it all it could be. You will find many delightful surprises, all thoughtfully designed to add to the overall experience.

We are excited to share our venues with you, to share the harbour and mountain views on the five minute walk from the Westin Bayshore to the Convention Centre  and to learn from each other in unique and inspiring settings. Historically Event Camps (the previous six) have left participants feeling a sense of collaboration and a desire to continue to build and nurture the business relationships within this supportive community, and to find ways to work better together as our industry rapidly evolves.

True to camp, we know that when you arrive with a sense of adventure and a desire to learn and grow already in place that the possibilities are limitless. We look forward to sharing this journey with you!

You can check out more details at

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Warriors and Artists

The artistry of Underground Circus
"Warriors and Artists" This is how the hosts of So You Think You Can Dance Canada described their top six dancers. They are correct. Performances of this magnitude take endless rehearsal, injuries and dedication to make it all seem effortless.

My children both have their black belts in Tae Kwon Do. Three years of diligent practice of both body and spirit so far in this journey. In their recent testing they excelled at both forms (the black belt form has 81 synchronized moves), board breaks and sparring. Warriors and Artists.

This is also how we can describe Event Designers and Producers. Recently a fabulous colleague, Brock (@BLDBrock) was sharing success from an event in Lake Louise which had been particularly fabulous, but like all events, simply a ton of work. Or in this case, tons and tons with multiple trucks going out for multiple events over a number of days. (Our team had just done an event with a similar amount of trucks the month before and fully appreciate the efforts of driving 1000km with everything, loading it in often through inconvenient pathways, and making it all gorgeous). This was his takeaway "You event girls are TOUGH! You are mothers and lifters and moves and designers and you get right to work and you don't stop until it is perfect - whatever it takes". Warriors.

Each event we do also has to be aesthetically right. Right for the venue, right for the client, right especially for the guests. Artists.

We are perfectionists, logisticians, creators, budgeters, innovators, rule-shakers. We take on a challenge and we refuse to accept average. Artists. With our teams we begin the load in and work for 8 or 12 or 36 hours to get everything right, then rehearsals, then change into event clothes, welcome the guests, watch them have an excellent time, and then strike to do it all again another day. Warriors.

Giving each event thoughtful attention to details, engaging the suppliers to share the story and deliver beyond expectations - this to me is what brings the magic to what we do. The hours can be long and the work arduous, but when you see a well designed event come to life and guests share, learn, connect, enjoy and clients' objectives achieved, that is when this Artist Warrior stands back and smiles.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Success - Whatever that Means

Ultimately there can be no success or happiness if the things we believe in are different than the things we do. Freya Madeline Stark

People who know me see me as being very busy. I am. Most of this is my own fault as I am unable to do anything halfway, and once I commit to something I don't back out. (I am not alone in this, I am instead surrounded by like minded friends and colleagues) Would I like to be less busy? Really what I want is longer days and more time!

To me success is in the people that we get to share our lives with. My family that is the fabric woven together that surrounds me, strong and warm, resilient and forgiving. The many women in this picture above have all impacted me in many ways, and they all remain five years after this was taken people I look forward to spending time with, and that I know I could rely on for anything, even if we don't see each other enough.

Professional success can be rated in many ways, by awards won, by events produced, by how well known you are. For me, professional success is building strong teams that enjoy collaborating to produce incredible and always different events for a variety of clients, again and again. The teams evolve and change to suit the needs of the event, but I have stood as the doors open to countless events produced by our team and heard the gasps as people arrive and experience the many aspects of an event, or heard the buzz after a great presentation that inspires new thinking, two reasons we do what we do.

As I mature in the event planning profession I enjoy seeing the impact of the industry and sharing ideas with people who all are in this to make a positive difference. Again, success.

What does success mean to you?

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The Tahira Ranch

DJ Cowboy Crawford
This may be my favorite text ever received. "We are having fun building the Tahira Ranch."

Why do I love this? Because there was obvious shared joy in this project and the way they honored me with this simple text made me incredibly happy. You know when a team is having enough fun building anything to stop and tell you about it - well your guests are going to be blown away. 

Cowboy Ring Leaders survey the scene
It all began at work one day when the discussion began about the need for a "unique teambuilding concept" and I said "Call the boys in the Callaghan." What was a bit of an off hand suggestion became a memorable day and living proof about how amazing collaboration can create a simply awesome guest experience.

Everyone who touched this project added to it, culminating in an event that had a site added to in ways we could not have imagined, with an unprecedented level of detail, an eye to safety at all times, and at its core, a day the guests will long remember.  This would have been an easy project to take the first (good) concept and run with it, but as we looked collectively at the overall goals of the meeting and objectives of the client, those involved took the responsibility to go the extra mile, and revisions were undertaken, and approved. An incredible amount of energy was brought to implementing the ideas that required thought, effort and enthusiasm to bring to life. The end product, simply outstanding. We were open to ideas, to sharing collectively, to collaborating, to trust in our partners and the result exceeded all expectations.

They say I inspired them, and if this is the end result, then I sure hope to keep inspiring everyone I have the opportunity to partner with. Allen, Craig, Krystle and all the cowboys - we can't wait to come back!!

Monday, July 25, 2011

Back to Meeting Basics

The girls - ready for a three day hot load in
First let me state categorially how much I LOVE MEETINGS AND EVENTS!!

Now, not every day and at every minute because what we do is often undervalued and underrated and EVERYONE I know in this industry gives it 110% with varying amounts of appreciation... but when it all comes together, and especially when we have surmounted some major challenges - well there is simply nothing more satisfying.

Now, this world of social media has really opened us as planners and producers up to it all - the good, the great, and the truly petty. Here is my beef though - we seem to be doing a pretty good job of figuring most of it out - but sometimes the basics, and many of those basics set by the venue, by agreed-to and much-needed sponsorships or by simply not focusing on the right things, well these seem to be the little things that seem to be the areas people notice... (ps they are noticing them because they affect their comfort!!)

So here is my list - and please, feel free to comment, agree / add, disagree - a discussion about how we can keep getting better is surely beneficial!
  1. Room temperature. So here is the thing, I am a Producer married to a Facilities Manager. I know much more about HVAC (heating, ventilation, air conditioning) than your average planner. But still getting a room temperature that is comfortable is always a challenge, and people always complain. So here is an idea. Start 1/2 a degree below comfortable. When all those 98.6 degree people come in it gets to comfortable. Keep it regulated to room temperature.
  2. Room temperature fact. Men and pregnant women will always be warmer than all other women. My best tip - bring a pashmina. They are small and fold up smaller. They are like wearing a blanket (don't tell the men), but pick a flattering color and now you are warm and you look "mahhhhveous"!
  3. Sound. The biggest challenge I have ever had selling is selling sound. Here is the thing - we don't notice good sound - where you can hear everything clearly as the proper delays have been built in, the room acoustics and session design considered, and techs who know what they are doing have set up the room. You do notice bad sound. Enough said.
  4. Where's the beef? Ok seriously, how about we start serving lunch like we would eat at home - and just a little tiny bite of dessert to get us through... Salad, whole grains, lean protein, hold back the simple carbs - please, please set the participants up to participate in the afternoon. (full disclosure: nutritious, sustainable, brain-friendly food is a passion shared with many, but especially with Andrea Sullivan aka @brainstrength)
  5. Tables, chairs, couches, balls - we don't mind, we even like mixing up our seating, but please think about what people will be doing in that session - would tables aid them in note-taking making the session more memorable / engaging? There is not a right or wrong, it is just about making people comfortable.
  6. To mobile or not to mobile? Now, I love a good mobile app as much as or maybe even more than most people - but what if you (gasp!) don't have a smartphone, or what if (like me) it is at the end of its now usable life and just won't quite happily load that app? Provide options - a handout, a link emailed to them they can go to later, anything to help navigating the meeting easily!
  7. Readerboards and mobile signage - I know - it seems an impossible task to keep these up to date sometimes - if we can schedule our tweets (Ok I suck at that) why can't we have just one person in charge of making sure our signs (paper and electronic) have been flipped to the right day?
  8. My Technology doesn't work! Again, apparenly this is simply a matter of inputs and outputs - yet we still see it fail. Really, unless there is a major power outage and we can see our speakers respond positively to the crisis at hand, I don't think these are failures that are necessary. Set, test, set, test the speaker's data - pay attention during the whole show, and much can be avoided (we ALL have stories!)
  9. No hybrid monitoring. If you open the world up to a live stream - have a live stream host. We have some superstars in our indstry that simply make this seamless - invite them to be part of the success.
  10. Unsustainable. Again - we know how to bring sustainability into our meetings. We have publishd standards, but it doesn't need to be complex and if you start at the beginning, working with suppliers who share your values, examining the supply chain and integrating this into your overall planning, well, voila, we are taking small steps together - this is all good.
  11. Have a backup plan and communicate it to your staff. Running out of _____; a particpant needs to make a change; a true risk management scenario presents itself - you need to have had the discussion with staff, vendors, volunteers before the event - then the response is manageable and controlled - not always easy, but possible to do with the least amount of guest impact.
  12. Smile. You know at the end of the day we are there to make sure that everyone else has a good time. It is easier when you can do it with a sense of humour and share some joy with your team.  During one of our hardest meetings what my team remembered "every time you passed music playing you danced a little". Why not?
Don't get me wrong - I am all about trying new things - the things that scare the heck out of you when you try them - and weeping with joy when they succeed, and examining them to death when they don't... but the basics - we know how to avoid these. Work with your vendor team - all of them - set the expectations, and let them all collaborate with you to success!

Please - share your stories and thoughts!

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Events with Intent - Looking forward to Event Camps!

Events with Intent. That sounds so deceptively simple.

The bigger question is why would we do events withOUT intent? 

How many events have you been to that you left feeling nourished? Events where you feel as if your needs have all been considered in the planning?
  • physical (through movement, food provided, other)
  • emotional / connection
  • intellectual / knowledge / engagement
Where you return feeling rewarded and ready to make an impact at work or in your life?

If you haven't left feeling that way, then do you think all our participants have? Now I realize we all have different roles from planner to producer; logistics to content; and everything in between, but if the beginning is always that you have an intention - a goal to reach - then the middle should logically be that we are working with intent towards that goal(s) and the end is that your participants all leave feeling that this event was worth their time.

What are the roadblocks we face?
  1. Is it challenges getting information from the stakeholders so we understand their goals from the beginning and can work towards alignment all the way down the event details?
  2. Is it that the information is funneled through many channels? (this is certainly the case as the Producer at a DMC - we often only have information only via the agency)
  3. Is it budget driven - where what they want simply cannot be achieved within the set budget?
What are the roadblocks you face?
How have you surpassed these on the road to great events?

Event Camp = Good Intent
One of my favorite things about working with the amazing team surrounding us for Event Camp (Vancouver and those coming up in Twin Cities and London and ALL the on-line participant pods and inclusions) is that we have the opportunity to plan events where we can seek out what participants want to learn about and then we can take risks that push the boundaries - and through collaboration and participation and thoughtful planning we can create events with intent and have participants,in the words of Kiki L'Italien leaving having "filled the well" and returning to work reinvigorated. Events with intent. Please.

We look forward to hearing what you want!

Friday, June 24, 2011

Blogalong with Eventwist - Vancouver, New York, and Yes Las Vegas

This week I had the distinct pleasure of being part of the new VANCOUVER booth at AIBTM in Baltimore. OK, reality check, I was administering this booth - making sure all the partners had what they needed for uniforms, swag, support etc. etc. Now, there is a reason I am the Creative Director at Cantrav. and not the administrator of much! So I dug in and got it done and I think I can safely say this was a roaring success - great sales team on the floor, great quality of hosted buyers who were committed to maximizing their time at the show and a great space to do it in!

Here was the funny/great thing about our row for me... beside us MGM Resorts on one side and Boston on another. Dave Gazley had lost the bet with Boston - check this out for Dave wearing the Bruins Jersey - a good sport that one! Just beside Boston, New York! So I think that between the class of Vegas's MGM Resorts and the yellow taxi cookies of New York, we held our own! I think that Lenny from Vegas may have been a bit surprised when I came up and gave him a hug, but when King Dahl says "Hug" - well. you HUG!  Whatever they might say about New Yorkers - I found them VERY friendly and I can't wait to go!

We LOVED having Kiki L'Italien filming Social Media Sweet Spot LIVE from the booth and we sure had some of the who's who stop by, naturally bringing them in for an interview - check it out and you will see Jeff Hurt, Joan Eisenstodt, Dave Lutz, Liz King, Traci Browne and then our Vancouver hosts including Ken Cretney from the gorgeous Vancouver Convention Centre and Doug Tewnion with the Vancouver Marriott Pinnacle - at least! Thank you ALL (but especially Kiki!)

On a personal note, seeing for the first time IRL people who have inspired me on-line for nearly a year - you know who you are - Jenise, Lindsey, Traci, Barbara, Ruud... and reconnecting IRL with Greg who took us to some serious local haunts (Nacho Mamas, the fabulous Blue Hill Tavern and then of course Walt's for Karake and Mamas on the Half Shell and then cannolis) - thank you sir, you are a star!  Andy - how much fun did we have? Thanks for sharing the experience. Liz, Billy, Andrea, Kiki, Glenn, Trevor, Joan, Midori, Jeff, Jessica, Christine, Dave... For anyone who does not understand the power of SOCIAl (media) - all I can say is keep reading...

I am so fortunate to have connected with people who are PUSHING THE BOUNDARIES, who understand that meetings can make a difference, and that when we as planners and producers take care of the people who attend our events and their educational, personal, professional needs are met through events that allow them to be engaged and to truly connect... this is what is going to make meetings and events continually better through relevance and proven RO... I(nvestment), E(ngagement), R(elationships)... let's create memorable moments and give people information they can use when they return to their organizations...  I say BRING IT ON!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Violence and Sports do not belong together

First let me say that I am proud of the Vancouver Canucks who played hard to get to the Stanley Cup Final. Note the word played. We play sports. When we play there should be joy. Win or Lose. In schools and sports for younger children they don't even keep score as they believe it is about teaching children the love of sport, exercise and friendly competition. As children get older we are meant to teach them about good sportsmanship, fair play and winning with joy and losing with grace. The Canucks lost with respect for the other team and grace in losing.

However all these lessons seem to have been lost on a small portion of the more than 100,000 people that had filled the streets of Vancouver to watch this final game of the season. This small portion can blame the Canucks for their anger, an anger that incited riots, burnings and lootings - but they made this choice for violence, possibly even before the game began. Now this is not the first time that a small portion of a group has taken advantage of a situation like this - a festival or sporting event that draws large number of crowds - to bring out the very worst in themselves and a few around them. It is horrifying to watch and must have been even more horrible to be part of. Especially if you were one of the many who went with good intentions to share with your tribe of Vancouver fans an experience that is not often replicated. Hockey fans believe in their team, they believe in the power of team sports - it is disruptive individuals who started these riots - not fans.

As an Event Producer we learn about risk management. We learn terms such as crowd surge, crowd push and others - there is no term of "crowd control" as control is lost when we bring together large groups of people.  We rely on the support of the professionals - police, security, medical, fire, transit and more to assist us in planning for the safest management of crowds. During the Olympics we saw first hand that it is possible to bring together hundreds of thousands and to be safe. When individuals are bent on destruction, it becomes nearly impossible to stop them, and we have seen this over the years in hundreds of examples, from world wars to love festivals, 9-11 to last night's riots. We will continue to teach event professionals the importance of risk management, and to work with teams of professionals to keep people safe. 

As a human I feel shared shame that this has happened in our city and a belief that I still live in one of the greatest cities in the world, where the vast majority are warm, friendly Canadians who will rapidly restore our city to what it was. As a parent, I will continue to instill values in my children that are about the positive power of teamwork and also a strong sense of individual responsibility to make the right choice. Those that choose to violence - in any form - are not to be respected or joined.

I will continue to hold out hope and to plan carefully so that we can continue to safely enjoy events of all kinds that bring us together in the joy of shared experience.

I know many have thoughts to share, please do.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

How do we know THEM?

Recently my husband had a birthday and we invited the usual cross-section of people that tend to intersect at our house. Over the years many have become familiar faces to each other, even though it may only be with us they see each other.  At the end of the evening, my daughter asked "how do we know them?" referring generally to the people who were there. The answers of course varied. Some had been friends since high school, some through tae kwon do, or Greg's curling team, some people I work with and all of them people we are richer for knowing.

A day or two later I was again at a One Degree of Separation event.  This is what I refer to as "our secret club" although it is neither secret or a club, it is a gathering nearly monthly that began last year when two lovely men, Michael and Marc and I were at an event with ok wine, people we didn't really know, hellomynameis badges and said "wouldn't it be great to go to an event where the wine is good, there are no name badges and we are talking with people we like, and while they might be in similar industries, it is not about business cards."  The next week we decided to try it out, and nearly a year later it is a highlight of each month. The One Degree simply means you need to know one of us, or the host (which changes monthly with the venue) and you are welcomed in. Wine is often simply by donation, the food never complicated and the people, well let's say the time flies, and many of us have both deepened relationships and made new connections. A few have even found new work because of the connections made. Do we all still belong to and support traditional industy associations? Heck yes!  Would we give this up... Well not for a while.

Then it was on to SPINCon, where I had the opportunity to co-present on creating Brain-Friendly Meals for your Meetings with Andrea Sullivan; participate in a session led by Sam Smith; be "Canada's Leader" for Sam and Erica St. Angel; see Midori Connolly present on new gadgets; and see Brandt Krueger's band play at Memory Lanes... What is interesting about this? Before this weekend we were on line friends via twitter, but hanging out with them was like hanging out with old friends - totally great!

Next time you are with a group of people, ask yourself, "How do I know them?" and remind yourself of the value of friendships. 

Monday, June 6, 2011

SPINCon11: The View from Canada

I recently had the great pleasure of presenting at and attending SPINCon; the inaugural conference of the Senior Planners Industry Network led by Shawna Suckow, in the Twin Cities. First, who knew there was a direct flight from Vancouver to the Twin Cities? It was really easy to get here, the Crowne Plaza St. Paul outdid themselves with the hospitality (and great rate!) and the reasonable registration made this a highly accessible meeting. Thank you. Focused on the needs of senior planners (10+ years) and with the supplier participation coming from sponsors who really want to better understand this special breed of planner, with years of experience to share, strong experience and/or education and a desire to collaboratively work to successful meetings, this was quite a special place to be.  Check out for details on the sessions as well as archives.

The sessions were overall excellent, with lots of time for discussion and sharing, loads of interaction, and always done with no fear by the senior planners for this meeting, Shawna, Tracey Smith and Sara Vanderbilt. Their approach to selecting presentations and presenters was thoughtful and thorough, and their attention to detail from the "hatching of the ideas" to the timings of the sessions, the egg sweaters and duck speaker timer... It all added up to fun that engaged the learners as they had more tools to retain the information being shared.

A final session was the "Cheater's Guide to Hybrid Events" and the group was divided into a main room where the presentation took place (the function room) then into the "Home Office" where the experience of following along as if you were at home with headphones on was simulated and then what we called "Canada" which simulated a pod experience.  Here is what Canada found in their room, and what we have learned NOT to do, as it was set up by Sam Smith and Erica St. Angel to show what happens when you don't consider that the home, function room and remote pod as separate entities that will require thoughtful preparation to allow for their differences.

With only one camera angle far away from the main stage, and no way to see the slides being presented, we found ourselves easily disengaged and a bit disgruntled with the overall experience. Why? Several reasons, including:

  1. We could not really see what was happening as it was too far away
  2. We had zero connection to any emotion from the speakers with the distance and no facial close-ups
  3. The bandwidth challenges meant that the connection was a bit jumpy and irritating to watch
  4. The sound was not great
  5. We could not see the slides the speakers referred to
  6. There was no clear focus on our needs as learners, even though they did give us work to do, we were less interested in doing it

What we learned was what NOT to do when planning a hybrid! Was it risky to put participants through a less than ideal experience? Heck yes and kudos to the presenters and the organizers for recognizing that we learn as much or more from failures, and for being willing to walk off that cliff and seize the opportunity to show in a very real way what happens if you "forget" the details related to your event.

The great elements ranged from opening keynotes (GrowthWorks) who returned to wrap up our learnings at the end of the conference; Joel Zeff with an opening improv on the second morning; two awesome CSR activities, one filling school backbacks for the United Way on a riverboat cruise, and the second getting baby suppliers at the Mall of America for a local women's group; great breakout sessions that covered choosing brain-friendly food for your meeting to AV Girl's tips for technology success to Sam Smith looking at our five wishes for the meetings industry and a fun approach to strategic thinking, among others.  For me, it was also great to meet some people I had not yet met IRL and it was just as great as could have been anticipated!

Was it perfect? It wasn't supposed to be - it was meant to take risks and did, and now they will take the the concepts and sessions that really worked for the majority of the group, and build on these for the future.  And continue to focus on senior meeting planners (evolving) needs. I would definitely do what I can to participate again!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Blogalog - Vancouver, New York, Vegas

Over the last few weeks I have had some seriously great opportunities to think about venues and events and the differences determined by location.

First, I went to the Aquarium, not through the back door or on a site visit, but with my children and niece on a (gasp!) public weekend day. First, kudos to the Aquarium for their great management of a lineup that went to the sidewalk, and on managing to move people through in a flow that rarely felt crowded. Second, boy, do I prefer having cool venues for private events. Yes, spoiled, I admit it! I love when you can take somewhere really cool, and make it your own for the evening, and when you can add in hospitality elements and great entertainment to a fantastic backdrop, perfection.

I have also had the pleasure of following along with @eventwist and while there are noteable pangs of envy at the fabulous venues already in New York combined with the always new openings of venues, I do love what we have here.

Yesterday I was in Lake Louise, where it was still snowing, and where our "summer" program that will happen in four weeks might not feel quite as summery as the clients had hoped, it will definitely be a stunning setting.

A couple of weeks ago I had the distinct pleasure of having lunch with King Dahl, who has the very, very cool job as Director of Events for MGM Resorts. @kingdahl is inspiring, lovely, relaxed and energized all at the same time, and I can imagine what a pleasure it must be to be part of his team - a massive team that includes bringing the dreamiest dreams that can only be seen on the scale they are seen when you are somewhere in Vegas. Where a massive installation can be up for a season, and then pieces can be recreated for an event; where the ballrooms are designed for events and you can rig a catwalk that dancers can perform on so it is 5' above people's heads and they party underneath... the imagination is entrenched... as I said to King, I would do nearly anything to just spend a few weeks on an internship because the scale of events and the opportunity to THINK BIG BIG BIG is something that just on scale we won't see here - our biggest productions are scaled to suit Vancouver, our Canadian modesty and while fabulous, inspiring and engaging, there is simply nowhere to hang a catwalk, or 8 life size reindeer covered in chestnuts as you might see in the lobby of the Bellagio in the holiday season.  (well my boss might miss me but the offer stands!)

Coming up we will create a Midsummer Night's Dream in the rainforest at Capilano, Uber-Lounges where a business session just happened 90 minutes before and car reveals that will cause gasps of delight - all events that we are very excited about. We will continue down the path of engaging, authentic events in settings that simply cannot be replicated anywhere else, and will continue to admire the events that happen, well everywhere else too, and seek inspiration from our #eventprofs friends.

Now, back to work!

Monday, May 16, 2011

Wolf Credo

Many years ago a speaker shared this with our team of planners, and it absolutely stuck with me over the years as truly having a fit with #eventprofs.  What do you think?

Rest in beween (literally)
Wolf Credo
Respect the elders
Teach the young
Cooperate with the pack
Play when you can
Hunt when you must
Rest in between
Share you affections
Voice your feelings
Leave your mark.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Special Events - What Makes them Special?

The appeal of special events is precisely this: they are special. They elevate the everyday and allow people to live out a different way or being for a brief period of time.

If you are producing an event for the public, then you seek to promote and celebrate the special because special events hold public media appeal. They make good stories. The stories other people tell about an event are the realm of public relations. Now some of us are in the business of public relations, and kudos to you, for successfully sharing messages that bring brands to life and create connections for people to these.

From a pure Producer's point of view we want to create environments that allow escape from the everyday, where great company, food, beverage and engaging entertainment lets us not focus for a while... where we can put aside the every day things (and we all have them) and relax.

In the case of an evening event, one where the focus is on relationship building through shared experience, this would be an approach.

We create environments by first finding the "right" venue - whether it is the top of a mountain, inside an Aquarium, under a tent overlooking a sunset, or a purely blank space - dependant on where you are, the size of your group, the expectations, and so much more...

Once the venue is selected we combine furniture, linens, lighting, light, darkness, fabric, space, flow to create a sense of place that sets a tone and sends a specific message to the brain that you have arrived somewhere that is not "regular" and where you can allow yourself to be in the moment of where you are.

We use food and beverage in different ways in the evening than during the day. Through the day we want to use brain-friendly, lighter fare that allows us to produce the chemicals that provide a more alert state, allowing for greater contribution, learning and retention. In the evening however, we want beverages that say as you sip, relax. We can serve food that is richer, more luxurious in taste and texture and that send the messages that breaking bread in great company with great food is an excellent way to induce meaningful and thoughtful, relaxed discussion.

Entertainment can be used to set a background ambience, to provide close-up or interactive experiences, to provide a show that wows, get people moving on a dance floor, and to deliver key messages in ways that surprise. The entertainment when tied to the key objectives and integrated through the whole event is a layer that enhances in ways nothing else can, leaving lasting memories.

What really makes an event special though is a combination of all the above, and the small moments... a great takeway from a speaker, the person you meet and connect with instantly, a shared laugh over a moment of delight, a hand brushed in harmony during a powerful moment...

What memories will you create?

Fire and Ice - literally - with Cantrav Services

Monday, April 25, 2011

What does your six year old want?

Last week I had the awesome opportunity to go to Vancouver Fashion Week and enjoy the inspired fashions being created here and from designers from around the globe. Of course half the fun is seeing what other people are wearing. My favorite was a gorgeous lady; fabulous, perfect short blond hair falling perfectly, stunning blue eyes, a ready smile and wearing an uber cute outfit, including a tutu. How utterly fabulous I thought, and said so. Her gleeful response was "My inner six year old is so excited when we get to wear the tutu." 
My mom driving the go Kart

How that made me long to do something nice for my inner six year old, the one hiding under my skirts as I go to work and plan how others will play, take time to teach people how to create great environments to engage and play in, take my kids to their sports and play places... I am on some levels failing at my self-proclaimed mission to have more fun this year. I am succeeding beyond my imagination in creating experiences and being able to share my long earned knowledge with peers and colleagues, and sharing amazing experiences and small stolen, unexpected moments (kumquat)... all grown up fun, and I didn't even realize how much I was missing her until the tutu appeared.

Thank you mysterious child woman for the reminder.  What does your inner child long for?