Friday, August 31, 2012

Vanilla Cupcakes and the Meaning of Life

After an amazing summer of events and life and serendipitous impact points, I had a day at home of doing nothing, which included, naturally some lying around and watching Food Network. Cupcake Wars began and my daughter had an overwhelming urge to make cupcakes. This of course meant I had to at least help her begin the process, and also had her brother (a huge fan of end products) intrigued. Now I had expected she would want to find some kind of fancy cupcake, but no, vanilla is what she sought. Now I am not the biggest fan of cupcakes for a number of reasons - too sweet, too much icing, too annoying I was not the first to have a cupcake empire - but I supported the initiative to try something new.

After finding the ingredients, cajoling her brother into carrying the cuisinart mixer upstairs, being stunned that cupcakes were really mostly butter, sugar and flour, and reading the recipe for full understanding, the mixing began. This was truly about the process of discovery, something that as adults we often forget to appreciate or take the time for.

After the cupcakes went into the paper cups (who knows how long they have been in the cupboard?) there began two things. One, the inevitable waiting. And the debate about icing flavours, one thinking mint, the other citrus. In the end they agreed to half of each, and the hunt for the perfect icing recipe began, one with the recipe book cupboard open, one on the iPad. Oh how technology continues to change how we approach the every day things we do.

At last they were ready, out of the oven, light and airy in appearance in their multi-colored cups. After some anxious waiting for them to cool, they were eventually iced and enjoyed very much by all of us. I brought some to work the next day (really a family of four should not eat 24 cupcakes!) and it was with delight and surprise they were enjoyed by my colleagues. I was reminded that we can take the time to bake, and that it is as much about enjoying the process of creation as it is about enjoying the cupcake.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The Effects of Positive Surprise

Human brains are wired to accept and embrace and be energized by positive surprise.

Meeting and event planners however are often equally hardwired to shun any opportunities for surprise of any kind. This may not apply to everyone reading this, but for many, we live in moderate fear of the many stakeholders who are part of the event and know that our jobs (internal or external) are only as secure as our last event is great, and we are always at the mercy of the whims of those responsible for choosing their next event partner - which may include an individual, a committee, or may roll to procurement. Procurement is particularly hardwired not to be excited by surprises.

So how can we balance creating positive surprises for guests and do this in a budget relevant manner? I think there are many ways of doing this, and much of it comes down to these things.
  1. Thinking holistically about the guest experience from the beginning
  2. Understanding the value relative to the objectives
  3. Being able to articulate this to your key stakeholders for buy-in
What are some examples of positive surprise and the potential impacts? In my view as a starting point for discussion this may include:
  1. Entrance or welcome entertainment that sets a tone and provides a delightful start; no matter how your guests arrived, if you can mentally transport them from the beginning you have already created an impact. Imagine arriving for a morning conference registration and a solo guitarist was playing - simple, inexpensive and sending a message today will not be ordinary
  2. Thoughtful transitions as simple as allowing time for hallway conversations between sessions to as surprising as a performance that leads them into a dining space
  3. Listening to what they have to say from a collaborative breakout session to a grafitti wall; a twitter stream that adds to rather than distracts from a session at hand - finding ways to listen and share messages is often a surprise to meeting participants still used to being talked at. A combination of great speakers and even greater facilitators has the opportunity to lead to even greater results.
  4. Where did that come from? A dessert bar that lowers from the ceiling, performers that come from an unexpected place, a 150' harp that arcs over a ballroom and appears as decor until it is played, a video that begins a session and the live presenter who appears to finish it - keep them guessing, keep them engaged in the process
  5.  Where do I sit?  Break out of classroom setups for meeting sessions and rounds for galas - mix it up and try something that has people talking. They came to the meeting to MEET, allow this to happen. Octagons and squares, lounge seating and balls, conversation clusters and pedestal tables - this year we have tried it all and each has had resounding success because we knew why we were choosing to mix it up - and the participants shared in the positive surprise and opened themselves up to the possibilities.
  6. Feed me well. Break out of the white bread, white flour habits - replace breakfast items with mini protein shakes, yogurt shots and other energy providing foods, lose the chicken and pasta lunches opting for items like a delicious Nicoise salad and a cheesecake pop, and start to see the energy of your attendees shift as they enjoy delicious and nutritious options.
  7. Seek out alternate venues. Mountaintops and riverbanks, gallery rooftops and forested parks, underwater viewing galleries and stunning train rides have all added up to amazing programs this summer - where are you taking your guests to get out of the norm?
There are many ways to initiate positive surprise - what have you tried? What was the impact?

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Imagine if...

My family at The Canadian Mint Pavilion
carefully touching our Canadian Medals (2010)
I am a huge fan of the Olympic Games for many reasons. I have had the opportunity to work in Beijing and Vancouver (and while having a small envy for my friends in London, I also know how much you have to be able to put into it), on the 2010 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games and have made many friends and been impressed by so many things. As an Event Producer it is a long road as you prepare for and bring to life the vision for an Olympic Games - but we do this for the challenges! Ultimately it is about the spirit, the drive, and the global community!

Imagine if...

All wars between countries were fought on a sports field; where you lose proudly to a friend knowing you always gave it your best effort.

People from around the world, speaking dozens of languages, sat beside each other in office "cubes" all working towards the same common goal.  (hint: they do!)

An entire city / region / country embraces a positive spirit, and from morning until night people greet each other warmly, watching their countries compete on screens available everywhere.

The cultures of a region are brought together and celebrated through a continuum of music, dance, many mediums of art, cinema and film, in ways we have not seen or even necessarily contemplated before.

The pride in your country is celebrated through sport and culture. (the alternative of how we consider winning through wars is incredibly depressing)

We all faced every day like the athletes. They all have abilities and then combine it with the highest level of mental drive, physical ability, hours of practice, an ability to be coachable, and pure spirit. There is an amazing range of physicality through the Olympics and Paralympics and it truly showcases the very best we can be across this amazing range of sports.

The entire world watched as you celebrated your country! Everyone will have an opinion on the Opening Ceremonies, and I personally admire the focus on the history that was celebrated of a country that has had an amazing impact on most of the developed world.

The opportunity was for anyone to win. All of us have good days and better days and days we wish for a do-over. Whether you are the first woman to run from Saudi Arabia or a woman from Ethiopa who wins, the world truly is yours to celebrate with. My favorite personal memory from Beijing will always remain seeing the 800m of the Women's Heptathalon. At the end of that race, they knew who had won gold, silver and bronze in that event. EVERY SINGLE WOMAN in that event went together and ran a victory lap. That is the power of people who know that as much as we compete, being part of something bigger is what really matters.

Imagine if we approached every single event imagining that it will have an impact on every single person who touches the event. Imagine if we truly understood the power of what we create on a daily basis.

Imagine the possibilities.