Wednesday, September 27, 2017

The Emmy Awards, Dining for Women and Female Empowerment… What Do They Have in Common?

Dining For Women at Extraordinary Events
I was fascinated with the many speeches of this year’s Emmy Awards winners. Instead of concentrating on race, they focused on women. The dialogue included the lack of good female roles (Reese, Nicole,) and the lack of women behind the scenes (Yay, Reed Morano), a gorgeous young female director who easily could have been on the other side of the camera. Oops, is that sexist? Intentionally so. It’s hard to imagine that Reese, Nicole, Shailene, and Zoe, the ladies of Big Little Lies, would ever have trouble finding suitable parts in A-list projects. Yet it seems to be so.

Being a woman who faced leaping into a man’s world many years ago, this intrigued me. Even in the mid- to late 1970s, being a woman in a man’s world was never much of a problem in Los Angeles. Venturing into Wall Street and financial clients or the Midwest with automotive customers, for instance, was an entirely different story. Slowly I got comfortable dealing with the “good old boys’ network” in the USA, but it took some patience. I was young, so I dressed carefully, drank or partied not at all, and, as I didn’t play golf and knew nothing about sports, was not immediately embraced. It took time and trust, and of course many more women started entering the events world over the next few years, sometimes even owning their own companies. (Not like today, is it?)

Having success as a woman in business in the USA, I wanted to expand my marketplace. So, I ventured out to Japan where at first I was treated like I didn’t exist. On a site visit to Tokyo for a major consulting project I took two men with me, one a designer, one a production associate. Me? I was the creative director. Even better, I owned the company. Yet, when we sat down with our client, the six men at the table only talked to my male associates. (Perhaps the initial inquiry addressed to “Mr. Andrea” should have clued me?)

I quietly told my gents to smile and say nothing, absolutely nothing. I informed the six clients that I deserved respect since I was senior to all of them as the owner and president of my company, which gave me status over them, and that I was also “senior” to them in age, and therefore worthy of respect. I also informed them that the two men with me were my employees and would not speak unless I allowed them to do so. Therefore, they could talk to me, or we could all go home, having experienced a nice few days in Japan at their expense. I did this softly and politely with a smile. But I was firm. They responded by treating me with the utmost respect from that moment on.


So why those stories? Because I fully understand what was said at the Emmys and how far we women all have to go to make a place for ourselves in the business or entertainment world.  We have so many fabulous role models out there; women in power; heads of companies, leaders… young, old, beautiful or not. Just wonderful women. But rarely was the welcome mat laid at our feet. We earned our place.

Kenya Self-Help Initiative

Back to my headline: I have supported the initiatives of Dining for Women, an organization which is transforming lives and eradicating poverty among women and girls in the developing world. These are women who do not have the same advantages or opportunities that we do. On a monthly basis, this organization is dedicating to sending $50,000 somewhere in the world where women will benefit through education and skills. It is entirely about sustainability and empowerment. It does not take away from their roles as wives and mothers; it just gives them a better way to support themselves, their families, and their communities. It might be training them as teachers; or teaching them to give vaccinations. This organization's initiatives have taught me so much about the world that I didn't know. I realize that even with the obstacles I faced I had it easy compared to most of the world. Please visit their website at https://diningforwomen.org/ as they have chapters all over the USA, and the meetings are a way of truly doing something good for our world.

So, ladies of television, thank you for calling out that there is still work to be done. You were inspiring.


 Andrea Michaels is the founder and president of Extraordinary Events, an international, multi-award-winning event agency based in Los Angeles. She is the author of Reflections of a Successful Wallflower: Lessons in Business; Lessons in Life. She may be reached at amichaels@extrarordinaryevents.com.


Wednesday, September 6, 2017

AUDITIONING FOR A PART OR A JOB... Thank You, Jon Voight

Jon Voight with Karen Kraft of VFT

I had the pleasure of attending a talk by the legendary actor, Jon Voight, at a meeting for Veterans in Film & Television (more on that later). Of the many stories he told, one especially resonated. He talked about his auditions and acted some of them out. He told stories about others’ auditions, and his many personalities were entertaining. And then he said:

Don’t think of it as an audition. YOU GET TO ACT. You have an audience. You have a script. You get to act.

How incredible is that one phrase? No matter what it is that you do, it is a performance of some sort. For those of us in the meetings and events industry, think about your sales pitch. Are you auditioning for a job where the outcome is the only thing that matters? Do you stress out about rehearsing and over rehearsing, and all the while you are pitching you are wondering “did I get the job?” or “who else is pitching?” or “did they like me?” or “should I have presented another concept?” Does all of this pass through your mind?

I’ve had so much fun with the last couple of presentations, aka pitches, that I’ve given. I don’t know if I won the business (yet). I shared with a friend that I wasn’t concerned about the result because the meeting had been so engaging and interactive and explorative. I was not auditioning. In my own way, I was acting. In the moment. Giving it my all. And loving it. Watching my audience love it too.

Now you might wonder how to make a sales pitch interactive… it’s one of the things I think about when a vendor comes to us and gives us a “lecture” accompanied by power point. We know that it’s a canned speech; we can always tell. It’s not a conversation, and it has nothing to do with our needs. Those appointments tend to end quickly even when there are pastries involved. Think about the trade shows you attend… do you react more favorably when not listening to the exact same pitch as was given to so many others? Who do you remember? Probably the very friendly person who listened to you, explored your needs, and then found a way to tell their story adapted to what they’d heard from you. It’s like theatre, isn’t it? Actors responding to each other; not a soliloquy.

We are all very much engaged in the concept of “experiential marketing” and “experiential events”. What do those really mean? They both mean that we create environments where our “audience” has a real experience. Though the end goal might be making a sale or promoting a product, the key here is “the experience” - the here and now that Jon was trying to get across. You, the actor, are performing in real time and giving it your all. Your audience is receiving the very best of you in real time. You are being given that wonderful opportunity to shine, and you need to stay in the here and now.

I guess I can bring it down to this… if you truly love telling your story and you feel the joy in the opportunity to do so, then remember Jon Voight’s words…YOU GET TO ACT.

It was because of Veterans in Film & Television (VFT) that I could listen to Jon Voight and learn from him. But I also learned from the veterans in that audience. These ranged from WWII vets to those recently returned from military service. The organization is committed to placing them in roles in film and television, including script writing, acting, directing, composing, anything and everything. It provides training, exposure, and apprenticeships. I was so glad to learn these vets receive meaningful roles that are more than being “extras”. This is a very interactive, engaged, and enthusiastic bunch. You’ll be hearing more from me about this group as I intend to get involved. We need to raise funds to support the organization, and we need to hear opportunities for them and share them. So, keep following along and please connect to their website at http://www.vftla.org/

Andrea Michaels is the founder and president of Extraordinary Events, an international, multi-award-winning event agency based in Los Angeles. She is the author of Reflections of a Successful Wallflower: Lessons in Business; Lessons in Life. She may be reached at amichaels@extrarordinaryevents.com.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

ARE YOU THE STAR OF THE SHOW OR PART OF AN ENSEMBLE?

Last week I went to see Hamilton. It was exactly as advertised. Innovative. Inspiring. Entertaining. Fabulous. So, what did I most love about it? It might have been the exceptional soloists, all of whom performed to perfection. Great voices. Great dancing. Fine acting. It might have been the creative thought process behind the entire project. Or it might have been the way history was made accessible and interesting.

Note: It might have been, but it wasn’t. What moved me the most was the last three minutes when the entire ensemble lined up for bows. Not one incredible soloist stepped forward to be acknowledged and applauded. As one, they took three bows. And then that was it. Sheer business inspiration for me.

Do we operate as soloists, needing to be acknowledged and applauded when we have a creative idea, do a well-received pitch, or deliver an amazing event? Do we speak in “I” rather than “we”? Do we represent ourselves as a team or as a group of individuals? This motivated me to review our Website and how we represent our company, and I’m not sure that after Hamilton I’m not going to entirely change it up.

I see a lot of references to me, as owner and founder of the company and how invested I am in each project. Yes, I am. So, what? Everyone else who has creative or logistical input is just as committed to the success of each project. We have much time invested in “Think Tank Tuesdays” in which everyone participates to talk about the latest, greatest, and how we can use new ideas to the benefit of our clients. That’s an “us” type of happening at Extraordinary Events. And it wasn’t my idea.

Maybe the media has made it a world where we think of the face of certain companies, such as Bill Gates and Microsoft, or Steve Jobs and Apple. Yet, were they really soloists? I don’t think so.

All of which begs the way to tell our stories better. We need to get as far away from the mentality of “my client” as possible. Okay, I will digress for a minute. I have a friend who refers to the person who helps her in times of infirmity as “my girl”. I have a show director who refers to her talent as “my kids”. Ahem, folks, we own nobody. NO BODY!

So, let’s learn from the Hamilton cast. We need to take our bows as a team. Do you agree?


Andrea Michaels is the founder and president of Extraordinary Events, an international event agency based in Los Angeles. She is the author of Reflections of a Successful Wallflower: Lessons in Business; Lessons in Life. She may be reached at amichaels@extrarordinaryevents.com.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

SHUT UP… OR GET FIRED OR WHY YOU SHOULD NEVER HAVE THE LAST WORD UNLESS IT’S THE RIGHT LAST WORD

I had an interesting learning experience while on vacation. When engaging in conversations with new acquaintances, if I heard them say something with which I didn’t agree I would always find a way to either contradict them (because I knew better, of course) or end our exchange with my opinion. I needed to be right.

As I heard myself do this repeatedly, I realized how very wrong it was, and then I went a step beyond…. did I do this with my own team, much less with my clients? Did I always have to have the last word? I think maybe I did, if not always, then too often. And what did it gain me? So, let’s just talk about what it can do for you.

How often when we hear clients ask for something unreasonable, un-doable, not possible within their budget or timeframe, or any other reason do we show how knowledgeable we are by letting them know that we know better? We continue to advise until we end the conversation with our opinion. Now we might do it nicely, but is it really respectful of who they are? They are our clients; they sign the checks that allow us to stay in business. Their opinion and their needs are very important. We need to allow them to have the last word.

It's all about how things are framed. Instead of “It’s not possible” how about “I think those are great ideas. Can we explore them together, pros and cons, and see how we can accomplish your goals within your budget?” And then end the discussion by thanking them for it and for sharing their thoughts and letting them know their opinions mattered. Yes, you might have that final closing sentence, but it will be a sentence that empowers them and respects them.

We all agree that silence is the most powerful tool we have in communication. Negotiations always go in favor of the person who says nothing but just waits for the other person to talk… they usually talk themselves into a corner, don’t they? Think of buying a car. The longer you are silent, the more likely you are to get a better deal. So, lots of" Hmmm… that’s a great idea"… "Let’s talk more about that"… those are the same as silence. Let your clients talk. You don’t always have to jump in and cover every moment with quick solutions. Lead your clients. Guide your clients. If they think they have the solution, you’ll be a hero.

And you won’t get fired. Think about it.

Andrea Michaels is the founder and president of Extraordinary Events, an international event agency based in Los Angeles. She is the author of  Reflections of a Successful Wallflower: Lessons in Business; Lessons in Life. She may be reached at amichaels@extraordinaryevents.com.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

ASK THE RIGHT QUESTIONS OR YOU’LL GET NO ANSWER OR THE WRONG ONE, RIGHT?

This time I am not putting blame on anyone. Nor sole responsibility. Positive outcomes come from clear communication. When I read Shep Hyken’s blog (featured below intact because all is so true and on point), I thought about the many times that we missed the mark on a proposal, or lost money on a budget because we didn’t ask the right questions, or the “extra” questions as Shep says.

In the event industry when we ask a venue if they have power and they say “yes” that isn’t the answer to the real question. The question is “Do you have power and is there a charge for it and if so, how much is that charge, and then what does that include?” Simply put you need to ask, “Is there any cost that will be applied to anything that we are doing that I need to know about?” Then, whatever the outcome of the communication, memorialize it in writing. There is no such thing as a good assumption.

Vendor, you need to be forthcoming and ask, “What will you be doing and what will you need?” Keep asking the questions so you are clear. Then you, too, are responsible for memorializing the conversation.

How many times have you had to eat the cost of those taxes or service fees you forgot to ask about? Or tables you assumed were the right size? Or if the cost of floral or furniture included delivery and pick up?

One of my favorites… and I thought I had asked the right questions… silly me. “Is there a charge for power?” I asked. “Yes, it is included in the rental fee.” What they didn’t tell me was that there was a $5,000 charge to turn on the power.

Enjoy Shep’s observations and keep asking questions… all of you. -Andrea Michaels

My brother, Rusty Hyken, was on a trip to Utah with his wife and two dogs. It’s a leisurely three-day drive for them. He made their hotel reservations, and for each hotel they planned to stop at on the way to Utah he asked, “Is your hotel dog-friendly?” All of them said, “Yes.” But to his surprise, while checking into one of the hotels he was told there would be a $120 charge for the dogs to stay in his room. This was a surprise as he called and specifically asked about dogs, and the hotel never mentioned the fee for the dogs.

So, I did some checking. Apparently, there are many dog-friendly hotels, and most do not charge fees. The Starwood Hotels and Kimpton Hotels are just two of the many hotels that don’t charge for pets and are proud of their pet-friendly policy. Kimpton will actually provide fish in your room if you crave the companionship of a pet. (Really!)

Now, I totally understand the fee for a dog. Not all dogs are “hotel trained,” which could lead to an accident on the carpet, which takes more time and costs more money to clean. Yet, some hotels will recognize this effort and cost as a small price to pay for a positive reputation among pet lovers.

All of this leads to the point of the article. My brother didn’t ask the right question. He asked if the hotel was dog-friendly. He didn’t ask if there was a charge. In fairness to him, he’s stayed at many hotels with his dogs, and this was the first to charge a fee.

When he checked in, the conversation with the hotel clerk was contentious. My brother didn’t want to pay the fee. The hotel clerk asked my brother, “I know you asked if we were a dog-friendly hotel, but did you ask if we charged for dogs?”

Are you kidding me! That’s exactly what my brother thought, too. So, he asked to speak to the manager.

The manager came out and had a nice conversation with my brother. He also asked, “Did you ask if there was an additional charge for the dog?” When my brother started to get upset, the manager informed him that he was not asking to make a case for charging him the fee. The manager wanted to know the conversation so he could teach his team to handle future pet-friendly inquiries a different way.

Many of you who read my work or watch my videos know about my concept to Ask the Extra Question. Sometimes a customer says one thing but means something else. So, asking an extra question – or two or three – can help you understand what a customer really wants. For example, when a customer says, “I need this quickly,” ask the extra question, “How quickly do you need it?” Your concept of quickly may be different than your customer’s expectation.

Yet, the situation with my brother was different. The answer the hotel reservationist gave him on the phone was the exact answer to his question. However, he didn’t ask the right question. And, that is the point of this lesson. My brother, as a guest, could have – if he knew to – asked an extra or different question. However, maybe the reservationist should have asked the extra question for him.

Truly customer-focused people ask their customers at least one extra question to ensure they understand their customers. They also ask questions on behalf of their customers, because their customers don’t always know what questions to ask.

Shep Hyken, CSP, CPAE is a customer service expert, hall-of-fame speaker and New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestselling author. He works with organizations to build loyal relationships with their customers and employees. He is also the creator of The Customer Focus, a customer service training program that helps organizations develop a customer service culture and loyalty mindset.  For more information contact (314) 692-2200 or www.Hyken.com. Follow on Twitter:  @Hyken 

For information on The Customer Focus™ customer service training programs go to 
www.thecustomerfocus.com.

Andrea Michaels is the founder and president of Extraordinary Events, an international, multi-award-winning event agency based in Los Angeles. She is the author of Reflections of A Successful Wallflower: Lessons in Business; Lessons in Life. She may be reached via amichaels@extraordinaryevents.com.


Wednesday, July 12, 2017

THANK YOU, BUT WE DO EVERYTHING IN-HOUSE

But (the unread subtext) is: “We expect you to clean it up when it doesn’t show up, doesn’t work, or was a bad decision.”

How often do we hear from our prospects (or even old clients) that all bases are covered by their internal staff, or in the case of social events, by the bride, or her mother, or favorite uncle, or bridesmaid? And with Google being everyone’s best friend, who needs a professional?

I met with a friend yesterday who charged a wedding coordination fee for such a person. The client  insisted that she  could find and hire all her own  best vendors. So my friend offered as part of their day of assistance to call  those vendors to coordinate and manage them on site.

Let’s start with the biggest mishap first. The client failed to notify my friend of any bussing or shuttle needs, and then she hired a bus company to shuttle her guests from the hotel to the venue.  The venue was a vineyard, with very narrow and semi-paved roads and very limited turnaround space, enough for a car, but certainly not enough for a 54-passenger bus!  The bus company got lost, delaying the wedding ceremony by 45 minutes (trickle down to the meal perhaps?). And when the bus arrived it could not fit through the gates of the venue. The hosts had to gather cars to drive to the entrance to pick up guests and shuttle them to the ceremony. Makes for a great mood, don’t you think? Then, of course, the return would require the same Chinese Fire Drill.  Would the hosts want to leave their celebration to shuttle people again? My friend suggested dismissing the big bus and getting two smaller coaches for the return, along with ordering Ubers for those who wanted to leave early as Uber drivers could not only find the venue, but fit through the gates. This was agreed to, and the client told the driver, who then went home without alerting his company that they needed to send the two smaller vehicles. Holiday weekend. Office closed. Only VM.

Well, in truth there were voices… of the aggravated guests and the even more aggravated hosts. And this was only one of the missteps.

For corporate events, there are no brides and grooms but CEOs, and we can slide down the food chain from there to figure out who is responsible for managing major conferences and events where they do “everything” in-house. Really? You own an AV company, create dazzling florals, cook and serve spectacular meals while playing the harp, and perhaps do an aerial ballet at the same time? A bit of a stretch I admit, but the point is that rarely is a company as well connected as a professional planner who has extensive resources.

To take that a step farther, who then coordinates all the disparate entities that have been hired independently of each other? I will give you one such war story. In a nutshell, the planner had given all her vendors the wrong date, because event planning was only one of her many responsibilities for her company. The actual event was the day before she had confirmed. And on the day of the event she called me for a few of the items she had ordered screaming, “Where are the set pieces?”  I replied, “They’ll be there tomorrow on schedule.” She then yelled “But my event is today!” (in four hours from the time she called). There were over 50 separate piece of entertainment, several rooms of d├ęcor, and technical equipment, etc., etc., etc.

My point? Let’s educate our clients on our true capabilities and advise them gently on the consequences of not using a professional to do what a professional does best which is not making mistakes.


I would love to hear some of YOUR stories. Please share.

Andrea Michaels is the founder and president of Extraordinary Events, an international, multi-award-winning event agency based in Los Angeles. She is the author of Reflections of a Successful Wallflower: Lessons in Business; Lessons in Life. She may be reached via amichaels@extraordinaryevents.com.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

SO YOU'VE ASKED ME TO EXPOSE MYSELF?

Taking a break from RFPs... sort of. At least the written ones. There is another kind of RFP, and it is the verbal "ask", often very one-sided, and thus, this discussion.

Let's profile an ideal client (or so we think). Theirs is a profitable, notable, Fortune 1000 company. They have CSR initiatives, are listed on the "Best Places to Work" lists, give to charity, and sponsor valuable activities.

And then they call you, little old you, with your team of 10 (or less), working every week to make Godzilla the Payroll (as my dear friend calls it). They say, "We'd like some top tier entertainment for a major event this weekend, and we want to spend $400. You'll be getting a lot of exposure." Now they might ask for decor or furniture or catering, so don't look at the dollar figures; look at the principle.

Re-reading the previous paragraph, I remember that I once heard someone say, "If I wanted exposure, I'd stand on my lawn naked." Or, "One could die from over-exposure."

Another way the client might ask could be, "I know a lot of people." Or "Don't you know where this could lead?" Well, usually it leads to more of those "a lot of people" asking for the same thing for the same money.

I can think of numerous whippy tongue-in-cheek responses for these unreasonable requests. However, just as we don't consider the request respectful, we shouldn't make our responses just as disrespectful. That's the real subject of this blog this week.

May I suggest that we put our professionalism to work here and respond with, "I want you to know that I sincerely appreciate your call to ask me to participate in your event. I do wish I could provide you with top tier entertainment (or whatever is asked for) for the price you stated. Unfortunately, I don't know anyone who fits the bill. I respect your needs and know that you expect only the best. Your company prides itself on providing an outstanding product for a fair price. (Now let's pretend it's an automotive client just as an example.) Would you expect me to ask you to give me a car for a fraction of its cost so the world could see me driving it down the highway?"

Continuing... "Let me offer you some solutions for what I can do and what it would really cost. If that doesn't work for you, let me just say that I would love to work with you in the future and give you the right entertainment (or whatever) for a fair price. Please do call me again.

The point? I don't like closed doors, and if they are closed I don't want to be the person closing them.

Thoughts?

Andrea Michaels is the founder and president of Extraordinary Events, an international, multi-award-winning event agency based in Los Angeles. She is the author of Reflections of a Successful Wallflower: Lessons in Business; Lessons in Life. She may be reached via amichaels@extraordinaryevents.com.