Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Keep a Cool Head and Bottles of Cristal

I invited Rick Turner to share a valuable lesson from his career. So, join me to enjoy this interesting war story. - Andrea Michaels

Mariah Carey’s recent New Year’s Eve performance forced me to recollect one particular production nightmare that I call “Cristal and The Cash Money Millionaires.”

Early in my career, I was the Director of Catering for a large arena and conference center in Downtown Cleveland. In-between corporate and social catering, handling the food service for sporting events at the University, and a growing off-premise catering arm, I managed all the backstage requirements for the dozens of concerts we hosted throughout the year. We had them all from Prince to David Bowie, Sade to Slayer, and Eminem to Tool. The top performers had good tour managers who made my life a bit easier. This wasn’t always the case with newer groups or past-their-prime performers.

Since I’d always believed in having a backup plan, I made it a habit to call venues in which our upcoming artists had just performed to ask their team what I could expect and what last minute needs the entertainers and crew would have. I strived to be overprepared when the first trucks rolled in at 4:00 AM for the load-in. (It’s amazing how you can win over hearts and minds with a really nice spread of coffees and breakfast items.) The tour managers were always surprised to have me greet them onsite before dawn and hand over a copy of the schedule for the day along with notes, updated contracts and a la carte items I had available. The bottom line: I made customer service a priority in an industry segment that was very unfamiliar with the idea of service and being kind to your fellow man.

Our General Manager loved to book holiday shows because he thought we could make nice revenue on otherwise “dark” days. He never realized the challenge we had staffing the venue on these dates or the sheer expense of paying holiday hours to the staff willing to work. (We never made any money on these shows after crunching the labor numbers.) Beyond that, the artists, managers, production staff, union crews, bus drivers, etc. touring on holidays didn’t want to be there.  Unless you were in the audience, it was fair to say that nobody wanted to spend their Easter, 4th of July or Thanksgiving with anyone else in the venue.

This brings us to New Year’s Eve 2001 where we were slated to host Ja Rule, Ludacris, Jadakiss, The Cash Money Millionaires (Juvenile, Turk, BG and a very young Lil’ Wayne), and Petey Pablo. For the most part, hip hop shows were easy. The acts showed up late, left early, and had zero budgets for backstage items. We looked the other way when they brought in their own bottles of liquor. 

This particular tour was managed AND promoted by two very young, very inexperienced guys out of Miami. The first sign of trouble was when they tried to pay me in cash for extra items and insisted that “no paperwork was necessary.” We didn’t operate that way, and I knew it was going to be a long day if they started off with this practice. Around noon, I got a call from the General Manager telling me to come to his office. As I arrived, he was telling the two young promoters, “Rick can find anything in this city… you just name it!”

Since it was New Year’s Eve, the promoters wanted to supply all their artists with Cristal champagne to have on stage during each performance. Remember, this was 2001, and Jay Z had made Cristal THE only beverage that mattered. So much so that it was nearly impossible to find it with months of notice. Finding it on New Year’s Eve? Not in Cleveland. Not in stores.  But… I left the office with orders to get at least ten bottles of it with $1500.00 in petty cash. Unfortunately, EACH bottled retailed for $2000.00 at that time, but, since I’d never bought a bottle of it before, I was clueless about the nightmare that lay ahead.

Four hours and seven stores later, I found the last two bottles of Cristal in the city. I had tried restaurants, bars, nightclubs, and country clubs only to come up empty-handed. No one would part with them. This particular suburban wine store was my last hope. As I stepped up to the counter to make my purchase, a woman behind me remarked that I must have a very special party to attend. I told her that they were for a concert, and I wasn’t going to enjoy them personally. Big mistake. She lost her marbles and tried to physically remove me from the store ranting about “no appreciation for fine champagne” and “I will prevent you from making a huge mistake!” The store manager had to calm her down and explain that it was my right to purchase whatever I wanted. This went on for at least ten minutes, and all that time all I could think of was getting back to make sure things were still in order. When it came time to finally pay, the clerk rang up the bottles to the tune of $2000.00. Each. Remember when I said I had $1500.00 in petty cash? Yes, I was $2500.00 short, and the store was unwilling to split the payment over cash and card. Guess who got to max out his credit card at the young age of 23 on alcohol that I wouldn’t even consume? At least a dozen thirsty rappers were going to crucify me for showing up with just two paltry bottles of Cristal. The entire situation made me uncomfortable to say the least.

Tension filled the air as I arrived back at the building. Problems had evolved between group managers, and the promoters were nowhere to be found. Doors were in two hours, and the artists were en route. I locked the Cristal in my office to keep it safe until the promoters paid for it. I immediately called the General Manager on my radio so I could get the money situation straightened out. The first thing he asked for was the petty cash back. I explained that he should sign it over to me since I wasn’t able to use it and spent money out of my own pocket to make this miracle happen. He agreed that would work and asked for the receipt. I dug in to my pocket and came up with nothing.  No shred of a receipt. After having completed this miracle mission in the name of customer service, the GM told me I’d have to return to the store and get a duplicate receipt or wait a month until I got my credit card statement to submit the expense. With that, he took the cash back, picked up a call on his cell phone, and walked away.

At that moment I imagined going into my office, grabbing the bottles and smashing them on the ground in millions of expensive shards. I didn’t, but that was my mindset. The only thing I could do was be professional, do my job, and deliver the bottles to the client.

I grabbed the bottles and began my long walk to the production office where the promoters were in the midst of counting and organizing what appeared to be a quarter of a million dollars in cash, a portion of the door money for the show. I presented the Cristal to them explaining these were the only two bottles left in the whole city. I also handed them the invoice and asked them to settle it with a credit card. One of them tried to pay me in cash, but I reminded him, per our earlier conversation, that I needed a card to run to keep it all clean. Both claimed not to have a credit card and were insistent that they made a deal with the General Manager to use cash. Rather than do so, I grabbed the champagne and told them that the General Manager could make the arrangements with them in person.

Big mistake. I got reamed for not letting the clients get their way even though it was the GM’s policy to not take cash and get everything in writing with a receipt. Remember how I was going to have to wait sixty to ninety days for my credit card reimbursement? He took the bottles from me and stormed off in the direction of the lower concourse where backstage was housed. I figured I was safe for the time being and went on with my work.

The first hour of the show was pretty uneventful, and I started to let some of my staff start heading home. I retained my key supervisors knowing that I could count on them to be my eyes and ears for the rest of the long night ahead. It was early into the second hour that my radio and cell phone started erupting…


This, of course, was the GM yelling over the radio to anyone working. It was one of the more unprofessional things I encountered early in my career…

I arrived in the production office to the promoters, GM and five pretty scary security guys ranting and raving. “We spent $4k on that champagne, and it’s gone! Where did you put it? Why wasn’t it locked up? Who signed for it?” I calmly explained that the last time I saw the Cristal the GM was walking it down to production. Every pair of eyes in the room locked on the GM. He explained that he was headed down, and one of “your guys” – meaning a catering person – took them from him for delivery. I asked how long ago this happened, and he explained “about 30 minutes ago.” The GM said that a catering staff member in a tuxedo asked him if he “wanted him to take them.” My staff did not wear tuxedos at concerts, only Galas and social events. 

As I was explaining that my staff was long gone save for two to three key people and they were dressed casually, he nearly jumped out of his skin and screamed, “That’s him right there!” Sure enough, one of the Cash Money Millionaires’ “Posse” walked by carrying two empty bottles of Cristal and wearing an ironic tee shirt resembling a full tuxedo. It was immediately clear that the GM wasn’t paying attention and didn’t follow his own set of checks and balances. The random champagne consumer asked if he could take the champagne, and got it. Unfortunately he was asked to leave, the promoters didn’t pay for the champagne, and the GM refused to admit mistake or apologize. Did I get reimbursed? Eventually.

This production nightmare taught me the importance of professionalism and following event policy. We’ve all encountered something in our careers that has been eye opening and perhaps taught us to “never do or be that.” This was certainly my experience. Cooler heads always prevail, and I’ll never lose sight of that lesson. Oh, and always take cell phone pictures of your receipts!!!

Rick Turner is an Account Executive with Extraordinary Events. He may be reached via

Friday, December 23, 2016

Engaging Millennials for Events

-By Mairead Delaney

The event profession is better today than ever. As event pros, we have the most engaged, captivated audience (read: millennials) DYING to tell the world about our events. Gone are the days of only relying on PR firms to spread the word. People love to share on social media. They love to review, comment, like… brag. Our event-goers are so willing to put out the good word for us — but they’re equally willing to throw us under the bus if the event doesn’t meet their standards. So how do we keep the birds chirping instead of crowing? 

For one, we’ve got to listen to them. Millennials are not the mysterious group everyone touts them to be. In fact, they’re quite vocal; the challenge is knowing where to find them since they won’t always come to you.

Knowing Your Audience’s Preferred Social Platforms
At this point it’s a no-brainer to set up an event hashtag to monitor the feedback on social media. You already know that.  However, that only works if you have ample staff to reply in real time. Additionally, you need to know your audience. What are their preferred social platforms? An audience of premium retail shoppers will more likely provide their feedback on Facebook; whereas, eSports spectators will gravitate toward Twitter (or better still, Reddit). Go to these platforms, read what people have to say, and, most importantly, have the right staff in place to decipher and prioritize what needs to be fixed immediately and what can be used to help improve the experience next time.

Identifying Event Ambassadors
The next challenge is remembering that everyone is an ambassador. Event ambassadors come in all shapes and sizes — from the lead event producers to the registration desk to the janitorial staff — everyone onsite has more than one job; everyone is integral to the event-goers’ experience. Sure it’s great to have greeters or hosts who are “in the know,” but as my high school chorus teacher instilled in me, “a chain is only as strong as its weakest link”. Train and expect your staff (yes, even janitorial) to know where the landmarks of your event lie and encourage them to warmly interface with event participants throughout the day. Arm them with information to answer FAQs and train them on how to respond when they don’t know the answer. “I’ll find out and get back to you; how can you be reached?” is a much better response than shrugging “I don’t know” and pointing them in another direction. It’s about caring. In a festival-style event, this is especially important for security teams. Keeping people safe is their main objective, but they shouldn’t spoil the good time with a lousy or aggressive attitude.

Using Art to Create the Totality of Experience
The most memorable events transform us and take us to another world. Whether you aim to harbor a creative learning environment in a general session or to transport festival-goers to another dimension, create experiential events to provide experiences to event participants.

Often the best place to start is the entrance. Festivals achieve this by designing unique entrances or landmark artwork. Take for example the 2015 Dutch Windmill entrance at Outside Lands or the illustrious Caterpillar and Butterfly from Coachella (below).

Each of these examples sets the tone of the event from the onset and informs guests from the get-go that they were part of something special. The same theory can be applied to corporate events. Take the time and invest the resources to curate artistic inspiration for your event participants. An inspirational environment can rejuvenate your audience and stimulate meaningful conversations and creative problem solving.

Making the Brand Part of the Event
Sponsorship is key for many events, but simply slapping a logo on the top of a sign won’t do anymore. Millennials especially are looking for meaningful brand integration – and that’s good news for sponsors! Whether you’re a sponsor or an event producer, look for problems that need solving and invest your sponsorship dollars there. Let’s say, for example, your corporate group comes to town for a large-scale conference. Sure, the hotels are within “walking distance” of the convention center, but even with a brand-new set of Dr. Scholl’s inserts, walking back to the hotel after a long day on the showroom floor can feel like torture. Utilize your sponsorship dollars to hire a fleet of pedicabs to cart people back to their hotels. Not only will event participants easily identify the branded pedicabs, but your sponsor will love you for increasing their brand exposure to the whole city.

Recognizing the Value of Community
Millennial or not, human nature dictates our need for connection. It is why we congregate—why we celebrate. I want to share an example from an event Extraordinary Events produced this past fall.

In October, just before Halloween, we produced a three-day, all-day grand opening festival for a premium shopping center in Maryland. The shopping center is situated in an emerging area amidst many residential property developments and, to be frank, a lot of the neighbors weren’t exactly stoked that a big shopping center was impacting the local traffic flow. So how did we help the client alleviate relations with the surrounding neighbors? We invited them all in for a Safe Trick-or-Treat event: dynamic costumed characters manned decked-out thematic stations and interacted with kids and their families—handing out candy and treats, posing for photos – it was a hit! After two electric hours of trick-or-treating, more than 1,500 parents, kids, and pets marched through the property for a costume parade led by Frankenstein and Dracula. The evening closed out with a DJ-led group dance to “Thriller”.

Did the property make more money that night thanks to the costume parade? It did; but that’s not the point. The important consideration for the client and the families that night was that this brand – this big corporate shopping center—put in the effort to connect with the community and provide a safe place for their kids to celebrate Halloween.

I implore you to look beyond the ROI and remember that sometimes it is not realized in an immediate sale but rather a lifelong relationship to a brand that managed to go that extra mile.

Creating the Buzz
When it comes to engaging millennials at events, you either sink or swim. There’s no denying the double-edged sword that is social media – if they have a great time you’re a hero and they’ll willingly  brag to everyone in their network; if they’re dissatisfied with the experience, they’ll cut you down faster than you call yelp “Help!” Heed my advice above and couple it with bullet-proof planning, permitting and safety precautions. You can do this. I believe in you! Don’t let me down.

Mairead Delaney, an account manager at Extraordinary Events, has worked alongside a diverse range of producers and designers producing a wide range of events and activations nationally and internationally. You may contact Mairead via To learn more about Extraordinary Events, visit

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Stress... Manage and Accept It

I met this amazing woman at a Vistage meeting and found her words on many topics of great interest. Stress affects us all at different times in different ways, and so I am happy to share some insights with you that resonated with me. - Andrea Michaels

-By Deborah Shames
For many years, humans have been fighting stress with exercise, diet and drugs. Still, we live in stressful times, and work exacerbates the pressure. But should we emulate Buddhist monks, clad in saffron robes, rice bowl in hand, counting their breaths? Daniel Kaufer, associate professor of integrative biology at UC Berkeley says, "some amounts of stress are good to push you to the level of optimal alertness, behavioral and cognitive performance."

Most cognitive scientists agree that small amounts of stress prompt stem cells to create new nerve cells, improving memory and performance. The other critical factor is how one perceives stress. If we welcome and manage it, stress becomes fuel. Fear it, and stress is overwhelming, impairing memory and creating depression, weight gain and other unwelcome results.

With the New Year approaching, challenge yourself to accept stress. When it comes to speaking, introduce a colleague at a networking meeting, sit on a panel, give a toast at a wedding, or speak briefly at your firm's lunch-and-learn. These small, low-ante events create stress, preparing you for larger presentations and building successes for the brain to recall. When your perspective about speaking goes from threat to challenge, you will be in your sweet spot. Ommm.

Join the conversation at

Deborah Shames of Eloqui is the author of Out Front: How Women Can Become Engaging, Memorable and Fearless Speakers. Eloqui provides presentation and communication training from new hires to seasoned executives; startups and small businesses to established firms and non-profits. To learn more, go to

Andrea Michaels is the founder/president of Extrordinary Events, a multi-award-winning international events agency based in Los Angeles. To learn more about EE, please visit You may reach Andrea via

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Creating a Legacy... The Recipe

The story of….

CEMEX Team-Building Activity in Leona Vicario, Mexico

I’ve thought a lot about the true meaning of social responsibility and whether we just talk about it or whether we actually do it. So I want to share a story of how it applied to re-building a school in Leona Vicario outside of Cancun to create the CEMEX team-building event. It was an event that succeeded so well that lives were changed forever. I want to believe that changing lives is something for which we all strive, and so I encourage all readers to copy, steal, modify … but do it. Let me tell you what we did, why we did it, and how.

It's a long story, so let me say that if you don’t want to read the specifics, know these things and then skip to the end…

*Believe that you can make a difference and then figure out a way to do so.

*Don’t give up when challenges arise.

*Legacies have to start somewhere. Start one.

*Find a purpose and then find a way to connect your audience to it that is unique to them.

Our legacy creation started with a client who wanted to do a team building activity. We were at a beach resort, so building a cardboard boat sounded fun to them. But I thought differently. Part of the objective was to unify two disparate companies that did not see eye-to-eye. CEMEX had purchased an Australian company… wing tip shoes vs. shrimp on the Barbie was a good description. I thought that by having both companies do something for the greater good would be far more bonding. It took a bit of convincing, but in the end it accomplished just that.

After much looking around Cancun, we found a school in Leona Vicatio, about 45 minutes outside of the main town. The school was in heartbreaking condition when we first saw it. After weeks of site inspections at the school, meetings with contractors and suppliers of building products and internal CEMEX personnel, we began three months of hard work prior to the conference. The objective was to start to turn the school into a place of pride for the children and their town.

At first, the requirements to start this project seemed insurmountable, since everything had to be accomplished while school was in session. For every item completed, 10 more appeared. The job required 36 truckloads of cement, 122 gallons of paint and 700 yards of grass sod not to mention plumbing, electrical, landscape, mortar and a variety of other elements. 

Our first major obstacle was the fact that, as with many small communities and their leaders, the school was very proud and the administration slow to respond to the offer of charity, worried that it would acknowledge they needed help. Discussions were handled with respect for the administration’s concerns, and it was finally determined that the community and school leaders would take part in, and take credit for, arranging the event. Once this was agreed, we were able to move forward, now with the local police (for crowd control and safety) and the school’s grounds managers fully on board.

It quickly became clear that not only was additional building necessary but the existing rooms and facilities also needed to be upgraded to accommodate the number of children attending the school. 

For 90 days prior to the conference, CEMEX and its partners did everything. Contractors poured cement, restructured plumbing, installed electrical, refurbished bathrooms, rebuilt the school cafeteria and began to construct a small library.

We immediately began by clearing the school grounds of trash, dismantling a dilapidated structure and then grading tons of dirt to accommodate a proposed new building and playground. As with most remodeling, it was easier to start from scratch rather than add to an existing substandard substructure. Because of this, when remodeling and adding multiple boys’ and girls’ toilets and stalls, all existing plumbing feeder-pipes needed to be ripped out and replaced, as well as electrical sub panels to accommodate the additional donated computer stations and Internet connections.

Because the school had no trash disposal service or facilities, all trash and waste had been burned in the play yard and behind the cafeteria. As a result, rats and vermin were attracted to the areas where the children ate and played. To resolve this challenge, CEMEX and Extraordinary Events built two enclosed areas to store new trash cans that CEMEX donated.

Access to the school for construction was another challenge. Because the town was very small and not built to any standard city codes, many of the electrical poles and power lines were mounted to large posts and, in some cases, large tree branches buried into the ground. This made access for our cement trucks and large buses used to transport the multiple CEMEX executives impossible.

To make access possible, we raised all power lines of the surrounding city block and all lines leading up to the school site from the main access road. Needless to say, this was not a simple task.

It was also very hard to judge how many supplies would be needed. The solution was having plenty of runners onsite. The overall productivity during the re-building was better than anticipated, and our runners had to sprint out for more plants, more paint … all in a town where none of those things existed. Ah, the beauty of cell phones. Call Cancun and rush those things back!

Another issue was making the project relevant to the executives at the conference. This was the first time CEMEX had ever initiated such a complex, lengthy community service activity. In order to understand what they would have to accomplish, the CEMEX executives needed to see the “before” pictures of the school. Because there were three months between the initiation of the construction and when executives would actually see and become part of its completion, a documentary film was created every step of the way, both for archival purposes and also to be shown at the conference. The objective was to bring attendees up to speed while tapping into their emotions. If they saw where the process started, and also where it ended, they would know what they achieved. Interviews with the town mayor as well as the school officials were ongoing as construction progressed.  

The work we began was completed by the 300 executives during our event. Now don’t think that means 300 executives did a tiny bit of hammering and called it a day. They worked their butts off. Let me give you a glimpse of their day.

After a morning of intense business sessions, the executives were shown the documentary video taken of the school over those past 90 days. The first shots showed the school before CEMEX took hold. The horrible conditions of the classrooms, the kitchen and the playgrounds and the lack of athletic equipment, books and proper kitchen facilities were all visible. Then the video commemorated the activities leading up to this day with CEMEX trucks and contractors visibly laying the groundwork for it.

At the end of this presentation the executives were more than ready to pitch in. They were assigned to their team (electrical, landscaping, plumbing, carpentry, mortar, etc., all based on their defined skill set, a combination of EE’s careful investigation and forms we had them complete). In teams they boarded buses to the school.

During the trip to the school, several planned activities were implemented. All were designed to create a spirit of “team.” First they were given detailed printed instructions as to exactly what they had to do once onsite. They were told what equipment they would have and the task they would have to accomplish. Then they were told more about the school.

One man asked, “Couldn’t you find a school that was closer?”

The guide’s response set the tone. Here’s the conversation…

Guide: “Who would send his child to a school without toilets?”

 (No hands went up.)

Guide: “Who would send his child to a school with rats running through his food?” 

(No hands went up.)

Guide:“Who would send his child to a school that had no playground, no desks, no library and no books?” 

(Again, no hands went up.)

Guide: “So, who would rather stay close to Cancun and paint a blue classroom yellow? Or would you rather ride an hour and change the lives of hundreds of children forever?

The group started cheering and applauding.

Once at the site, each of the 35 group leaders took their teams to preset tables holding all the tools, supplies and safety equipment they would need.  Each team was then joined by one of the school’s students and a parent. Together they painted, laid sod, planted flowers and trees, poured concrete, applied stucco, plumbed, finished electrical work and constructed the walls and roof of a new library, the first the school had ever enjoyed. To make the connection between CEMEX and the school rock-solid, CEMEX products were used. The sight of so many active CEMEX cement trucks was awesome to many of the executives who rarely had the opportunity to see their products in action, much less personally put to use in the field.

EE suggested one final innovation  quickly adopted by CEMEX. We asked each and every executive to bring a favorite book from his or her childhood to share with the children on the day of the event and then to leave behind as the first contribution to the new library they had built that afternoon.

In a touching display, each CEMEX executive did share his or her own special childhood book with a student from Leona Vicario. These books, inscribed in more than 38 languages, were the very beginning of the new library. The emotional connection as grown men sat with small children on their laps telling them why this particular book had been so special was palpable. One man brought a book in Polish that he had translated by hand into Spanish. Another had done hand drawings of Black Beauty with an inscription to the children.

An official dedication ceremony ended the event, consisting of a speech by the Vice President of CEMEX, “Thank Yous” by school representatives and the parents of the students, and a song performed by the children for the CEMEX executives. Additionally, gifts were exchanged between the school, the community and the executives.

At the end of the day, the executives had figuratively and literally influenced, if not entirely changed, the lives and education of more than 600 children and families as they experienced first-hand the core business of CEMEX. It was a lesson in the importance of their product. Plus, they had learned a valuable team-building lesson as they worked with one another across cultural and language barriers to achieve a common goal, one that was lofty and inspiring and immensely satisfying, while changing the lives of an entire community.

The Lesson
Community service events are not out of the norm but usually consist of a bit of hammering and perhaps some superficial painting. This project was entirely different.

From its inception to its execution to the lasting effect it left on all participants, this event was a powerful experiential manifestation of the message that the client wished to send. Not only did the community service activity serve as a team-building lesson, it also gave attendees first-hand knowledge of the company’s product and illustrated its corporate culture to newcomers joining the company as a result of  the recent acquisition. It also did something not every team-building activity does – it created a legacy for CEMEX.

The school’s new buildings, library and grounds will be used for generations of children to come. The books that the executives left will be read by the children and grandchildren of those kids enjoying them today. And, best of all, the event launched a series of future events like it that CEMEX and EE will produce throughout the world.

Can an event’s success be measured in emotion? Return on emotion might be a measurement for the future. We know that ROT (return on time) is now highly prioritized. I watched as 300 tired executives, hands filthy, splattered with paint and cement, sweaty and grimy, smiling, crying and laughing shared stories of what each of them did and what a difference it made. Carefully manicured fingernails were history; blisters were sources of pride. This was a true team of happy people who had bonded for a cause, one much bigger than themselves.

Without exception, every executive was engaged with the other executives and with the children. Because of their product, a world had changed. Together, they really did build the future, and, together my team and I did too. 

Taking on projects that make a difference in the world is close to my heart, as it should be to us all. If each of us can leave even small legacies to others, we can change the world.
If You Have Jumped Ahead to the End…and You Want to Create a Legacy:

It does not matter what business you are in, you can do this either internally or externally.

Do you produce a festival? Find a way to include benefits to your community through activities that better it.

Are you planning a corporate event? Find a way that every event has purpose within it and is branded to the client, annually.

Fundraiser? Involve the recipients of the funds in the event so people know where their money is being spent. Engage the actual people into the event instead of letting them be photos on a large screen.

Within EE we have committed ourselves to supporting Dining for Women and will have monthly fundraisers to support their initiatives. We invite you to read up on it at

Andrea Michaels is the founder and president of Extraordinary Events, a multi-award-winning international event agency based in Los Angeles. She is an in-demand speaker and author of  Reflections of a Successful Wallflower: Lessons in Business; Lessons in Life. To contact Andrea, email

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Finding Inspiration

I'm often asked where I find my inspiration. I seem to find it everywhere I go. One night many years ago, I attended a play called Tamara, which took place in an old building in Hollywood. It inspired me then as it does to this day. I'm going to tell you about it, as it was way back then, and then ask you to use your imagination to re-imagine it in today's world with technology being used creatively as an additional enhancement. Okay, back to waaaaay back "when."

The setting of the play was Fascist Italy, the era of Mussolini. Tamara enacted the true story of Gabriele d'Annunizo, a popular revolutionary poet under house arrest, and Tamara, a Polish aristocrat and artist summoned to paint his portrait. The key to its creativity, however, was that it was an interactive play involving the audience.

Audience members entered the building and were interrogated by a costumed and dangerous-looking guard, who placed doubt as to whether entrance would be allowed. The ticket was a passport, and, of course, everyone was given entrance into a palor with a 1920s motif. A waitress served champagne while a pianist entertained. With everyone gathered, the guard jumped up on top of a table and ordered us to follow "the rules." They were: Each of us must meet all the characters in the "house" in the parlor. If one of them left the room, each guest could follow that character throughout the house, unless the cast member slammed a door, at which point the guest could not follow. Whenever any character left a room, the guest could choose to stay (as other characters would be entering the room) or follow the one who left.

Soon all actors assembled in the parlor. After much interaction, some left running, others walking. All dispensed in various authentically decorated areas of the house. In each room, including the kitchen and bathroom, the play evolved. So, instead of viewing a single stage, the audience scattered into small groups that chased twelve characters from one room to the next, from one floor to the next, following them everywhere to co-create the stories that interested them the most.

During the night (and midway through the play), everyone gathered together in the kitchen, and a dinner of Italian fare was served. The cast re-entered afterward, and the play resumed as they again moved off into all other areas of the house. At the end of the evening, everyone somehow assembled in the parlor, and the play concluded.

Now the passport was not only a souvenir but also an invitation to return, which I did fourteen or fifteen times! And each time I saw a different version of the play as I always followed different characters to different places. And after five times, guests could attend free for a lifetime. With a dozen stages and storytellers, the number of story lines an audience could trace figured in the millions!

Now, why was this an inspiration? Shortly after my first visit, a large hotel in Detroit approached me to conceptualize an event for its best clients. When I asked hotel personnel to identify their challenges as well as their objectives, they shared that they wanted these guests to see the entire hotel and needed a creative way to move them around. That was my "aha" moment. Following is what I suggested, which they accepted, and I produced for them. It was the forerunner of the corporate mystery party.

Guests received a very formal invitation to attend a party in honor of Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II. When the 1,500 guests arrived, would it surprise you to know that they brought gifts of wine, food and flowers? Why? Seven hundred had been anticipated, but people thought the real Queen was attending! No matter, it was a wonderful turnout.

Guests were ushered into small areas that were privatized. (We actually turned the garage into meeting rooms.) Here they were entertained by a pre-recorded (but seemingly live) broadcast that told them that a theft had taken place. A jade Buddha that The Queen was taking to China had been stolen, and Her Majesty was asking the guests to help her find it. They would have to travel to different countries, and they would be issued a passport that would take them to various areas of the hotel which represented these different countries. We stationed a guest detective (various actors) in each area to create the atmosphere. Every area was decorated to represent its specific country. For instance, we had Magnum P.I. in Hawaii, Inspector Clousseau in Paris, Sherlock Holmes in London and Charlie Chan in China. And those were only a few. The detectives gave guests clues and stamped their passports. When all the clues were assembled, guests had to solve the crime and figure the location of the Buddha. True and false clues were distributed by an organ grinder's monkey, a juggler (look for the man with three balls), a magician doing card tricks (look for the man with 52 friends) and a variety of other entertainers. Some clues were even in fortune cookies.

Guests were then escorted to the pool deck where The Queen (a lookalike) was hosting a private concert and awarding prizes (raffle-style) to those who had discovered the Buddha's location.

The evening was a huge success. The press coverage was amazing. So, the objective was achieved in an innovative fashion that stemmed totally from Tamara. Yes, that was without cell phones and all kinds of technical enhancements. Oh, imagine the possibilities today... or tomorrow.

The Lesson Or Life in the Experience Economy
Finding new approaches is always a challenge. It's also the greatest joy. Like any professional, it's always important to stay abreast of new trends, new equipment, and new ideas. You can easily find inspiration in everything around you from: movies; television; books; magazines; conversations; collaborations; competitors; and history. Oh, and YouTube and SnapChat and... yes, everything is a possibility. Bank your experiences in your mind and pull them out when you find a perfect fit. That's what I do.

The key to what I shared is also that not everything has to remain static. Changing points of view is good. When I saw Tamara those many times, I always experienced something new and different. Sometimes it was no more than a nuance. But that's what kept it fresh. How do we incorporate that into our events, or our advertising, or our social media outreach? How do we stay relevant and fluid?

Attention spans are shorter. The world moves faster. Look for the unexpected. Look for the unobvious. Don't rule out tried and true; just put a new spin on it. After all, it is the experience economy, and experiences are what make each and every moment memorable.

NOTE: Let's brainstorm. Send me your ideas on how you would re-adapt my concept for the hotel today to reflect the use of technology or to give it a more modern twist. I will post the best ones on my two Facebook pages. That way, we can turn on our creative juices and collaborate.

Andrea Michaels is founder and president of Extraordinary Events, a multi-award-winning, international event agency based in Los Angeles. She is the author of Reflections of a Successful Wallflower - Lessons in Business; Lessons in Life. To learn more about Andrea and her company, visit Andrea may be reached via

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Know Your Audience

A few 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 end 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. By now, you already know 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.

The Lesson
Know your audience. Do your research. Know who you are speaking to and what their likes and dislikes are. Are they young and if-I-don't-get-it-in-a-text-I-won't-read-it" or are they a "paint me a picture in words" type?

Do they have limited time? Are they world travelers? Are they gourmands? Do they like classic rock or classical music? Are they family-oriented or young singles?

For sure if you don't know who you are appealing to, you won't be appealing, and they won't listen to what you have to say, written or spoken. Because here's the key. It's all about THEM, not YOU, THEM!

Andrea Michaels is the founder/president of multiple award-winning 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. To learn more about her and her company, visit Andrea may be reached via

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

You Don't Learn Anything by Looking in the Mirror

I read this somewhere. It captivated me. What did it mean? How could I apply it to my business life?

When I look in the mirror, I see the same face I’ve been looking at for a lot of years. Albeit it has aged. But in all probability it’s the same today as it was yesterday, last week, last month and maybe even a year ago. The only way I could change it is by altering my hairstyle or applying make-up differently (if at all). If I look deeper I’ll be looking at a face that represents “me,” my values, my ethics, and all the good things by which I live. It will also be a reminder of my insecurities. What it will not tell me is the perspective of others.

And therein lies the message. If you look at your business life through the mirror of solely your experiences, your ideas, your needs…then you never grow. You need to look away from the mirror and see what others are seeing, learn about their thoughts, ideas, inspirations, and perspectives.

Here at Extraordinary Events we share. Now I may be at the business of event planning longer than anyone else in my company (or probably anyone else at any other company as well), but it’s a new world every day, and I don’t know everything. Or as my stepfather would have put it, “The wise man knows what he doesn’t know.” So we brainstorm; we share ideas; we talk about our opportunities from different perspectives. Much of the team is very young. They see things differently than I do. Their departure from traditional thinking is enlivening and provocative.

I have always been a student. That hasn’t changed. Travel has broadened my horizons personally and professionally. I have met new people from different cultures; I have seen events as they are produced in China, in India, in Europe,  in Morocco, in Latin America… the list could go on. They inspire me as I can learn from them, and I can teach them in return. It’s a fair exchange.

What’s beyond the mirror is the world. I want to see more than me.

Here’s an invitation for you. I would like to encourage you to share with our other readers the differences you see between looking into the mirror and then looking outside of it. I think that when we share our stories we all learn from each other, which is the entire point of this blog. What life changing experiences have you encountered through exploration or risk? And send photos. Please.

Andrea Michaels is founder and president of Extraordinary Events, a multi-award-winning international event agency based in Los Angeles. Andrea is the author of Reflections of a Successful Wallflower: Lessons in Business; Lessons in Life and an in-demand speaker and leading voice in the special events industry. She may be reached via