Wednesday, November 29, 2017

BUSINESS SUCCESS: GOAL OR PATH?

I was recently asked if success is a goal for which I strive. And I immediately, without even thinking about it, said, “NO!”

“Why not?” was the surprised reply in a very shocked tone of voice.

Here’s what I think: What happens when you establish a goal, and you then reach it? What do you do then? Do you stop? Is there no more to do? It’s “done?”

To me, success is something that is a continuous process. For example, I could set a goal and say, “When I complete this project, I will be a success.” Or “When I have this amount of money, I will have achieved success.” When that project is completed or that amount of money is in the bank, what happens after that? Am I done? Do I set another goal?

I think success is something else entirely. Success is a continuum-always striving to do more, doing better, continuing to travel the path and grow and achieve. So, success to me is not a goal. It’s a pathway.

Let me add that I don’t think success can truly be defined because it means something entirely different to each person. If you are doing the best that you can do and optimizing your life in every way possible, that would probably be my definition of success. Please consider this: Can you honestly say that you couldn’t be doing some things better? So, no, I don’t really define success as an actuality.

The person who asked me the original question then asked, “What happens when you reach the state you define as successful?” 

My reply was that I don’t reach that state, nor do I want to. When most people reach it, they get complacent; they stop moving forward. Either that or they set unrealistic goals and then invite failure, or at least their perception of failure.


If I could advise anyone, including myself, who says, “I want to be a success,” I would say the following: Don’t look at “success” as the end of a road. Don’t define success because you won’t know what to do with yourself once you have realized that definition. Rather, just keep expanding your horizons, loving what you do, reaching for the stars, and dreaming of the possibilities. When you just keep dreaming, that becomes your forever goal.

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.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

SAY WHAT YOU MEAN AND MEAN WHAT YOU SAY - A BUSINESS AND PERSONAL MANTRA

So, I’ll start with my personal experiences. Over the last few years I have heard people tell me about their good intentions. “Let’s get together” followed by… nothing. Or in the case of my grandchildren (with me present) “I’ll call you, so I can take you out on my boat” followed by… nothing. I could fill a novel the size of Gone with The Wind with the promises made and unkept.

Why are these personal disappointments so applicable to business? And I ask you kindly to be honest with yourselves and remember the times you might have said to a vendor, “We haven’t made any decisions yet” …. Or “Call me back in a few days so we can get together” which meant “call me never.”

Or any number of things that were not honest. And when you say, “We do everything in house” is that an honest statement when you do source out many parts of your projects?

On a personal level I would rather people said nothing than make promises they have no intention of keeping. Once they say they will do something, do it, and if they are only filling time with empty statements, say nothing at all except pleasantries. Don’t make me (or my family) hopeful of an event or action that will never happen.

On a business level, are we fair to our clients when we make promises we might not be able to keep, don’t meet deadlines, and say “did you check your spam?” when the proposal was never sent via email? Or is it ethical to intimate that we can meet a budget that is unreasonable because we are hopeful our client will eventually find more money and operate a program on a bigger budget? Again, I could go on forever with these examples. And feel free to add your own.  

Ah, client, did you think you were exempt? When you tell your suppliers that you don’t know what your budget is, is this true? “I don’t want to stifle your creativity” is an oft used phrase. And my response is “stifle away please.” Because my time and creativity are worth something, and I don’t want to waste my time (and therefore money) proposing a million-dollar event or entertainer when the budget is a tenth of that.

Tritely, honesty IS the best policy. So, think before you speak. And, when you speak, make sure to mean what you say. Please.


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.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE

As our clients and their participants now are inclusive of four generations, understanding your audience is even more imperative. Here's a story about my "big lady clothes" to drive home my point.

Many years ago, I made a life-altering decision. I was obese and self- conscious, so I signed up for gastric bypass surgery. Vanity and health-related issues like diabetes influenced this decision, but in all honesty, vanity was the primary contributor. My reason: Just once in my life I wanted people to look at me and say, “My, she has a nice figure.”

I was a size 22/24. Yep, obese. I’ll skip the details, but the result was that I lost almost 100 pounds and was not only “normal” but better than normal. Clothed, I had a great bod. Unclothed, another story. But I later fixed that, too, though it has nothing to do with this story. 

Now between sizes six and eight, I had a lot of “big lady” clothing in my closet.  It was designer stuff (Yes, they have designers for large sizes) and expensive. If you don’t know me well, I should tell you that my great love is, and always has been, shopping.

This information is important to my story because my medical group offered support meetings every week, and part of its routine was to have people bring in the clothes that they had outgrown so that those losing weight wouldn’t have to buy new clothing as they down-sized. Some of the ladies were almost 400 or 500 pounds, and I decided to bring them my clothes, thinking that by the time they got to my size 22s they could have a glamorous wardrobe.

So, I attended one of these meetings with bags filled with my lovely offerings. To kick the meeting off, the facilitator asked, “So what’s the best part of losing weight?”

One lady responded, “I can walk into K-Mart and buy anything I want now.”

I should have grabbed my bags and run at that moment, but I didn’t. At the end of the meeting, the various bags people had brought were opened, and clothes started being passed around. I happily anticipated the joy of watching women seize my designer clothes, ranging from evening gowns to business suits.

It didn’t happen.

These women were almost repelled as they handled my clothing. They snickered at the evening wear …” Where they hell would I wear THAT? When I shoveled horseshit?” Business suits were almost as denigrated.

I was aghast. I knew I (and my clothes) didn’t belong there.

So, how does this relate to business? Any business?

It’s a simple lesson:  Know your audience.

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 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.