Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Teach Your Clients to Speak Your Language

Often a client causes stressful situations with last-minute requests only because he or she doesn’t understand what he (or she) is demanding. In this case, the client, even though we both speak English,  doesn’t speak my language, and it’s up to me to teach them, aka provide the education. A large technology-based company that shall remain nameless comes to mind as an illustration.

Close your eyes so I can set the scene. Well, since this isn’t Books on Tape, that won’t work. Shut ONE eye.

It was a December Friday night in Manhattan at one of the piers. It was sleeting and snowing – imagine traffic – and we were in the final countdown for a holiday event for our client’s CEO and his 1,000 employees. All the elements and the meal were planned for a wonderful event to begin with cocktails at 6:00 p.m.

The rather young, powerful CEO would be giving a speech and holiday salutations.

“Does he need support for his speech?” I had questioned the corporate planner.

That’s a “No,” … confirmed in writing. “He’s just reading off his PowerPoint.”

At 5:30 p.m., the CEO, looking like a football tackle in a business suit, loomed above me asking, “Where are my screens?”

I shuffled through my binder, so beautifully tabbed, and advised him that he didn’t need them per my written confirmation with his planner which I attempted to show to him.

“Get them now!” he said with no accompanying “please.”

“Get them NOW,” he repeated even more strongly.

I looked up at him and calmly responded, “Okay, sir, I’ll do my best.”

“Get them now!!!!” he ordered yet again even more forcefully.

I made calls, and, as luck would have it, one of the AV companies I often utilized had what I needed and could “probably” get it to me (across town) in time. Good thing I had everyone’s cell phone and home numbers and that they liked me well enough to take my calls.

We were now into the cocktail hour, but with a bit of a scramble and no time to test the equipment, we set up the screens. Then, I asked the question of doom. “May I have your PowerPoint presentation?”

“I don’t have one; YOU were supposed to have it!” he spouted.

Again confirming with my handy dandy tabulated binder I said, “I don’t have your notes, sir, but we’ll do the best we can if you can tell me what you plan to say.”

“I have to greet my guests,” he snorted and stomped off.

Enter the corporate planner, who, shaking and scared, started feeding info to one of our techs.

Minutes passed, and the CEO approached me and pinched my arm jovially. “Wait till you hear what I want to do,” he announced, quite pleased with himself.

I couldn’t wait to hear what was coming now. But I kept smiling and showing great interest.

“My main guys and I are called ‘the three matadors.’ Get me three matador outfits,” he chortled gleefully, now apparently in the holiday spirit.

I dared to ask, “What sizes are the three of you?”

“They are mediums; I’m a large.”

He was an extra large if I’ve ever seen one, and I hadn’t seen the other two, so it was anybody’s guess.

Again as luck had it, I got the outfits. Imagine. An entertainment company I’ve worked with was open after hours on a sleeting Friday night, and they could messenger them to me just because they liked me. (And I’ve always paid them on time.)

Still in the cocktail hour, our charming CEO walked up to me and said, “The weather is lousy and we need to get our people home before it gets worse, so serve dinner NOW.”

Most people would have argued with him. I simply smiled and said, “Absolutely. Let me tell you what we are serving: A warm lovely pumpkin soup, which we could now serve chilled - which is fashionable nowadays, though not in the dead of winter; a lovely filet mignon, which we’ll make into Carpaccio…that’s very trendy… and the Chocolate SoufflĂ©s will just be served as chocolate pudding. Guests will love pudding, don’t you think? This is what you’ll get if we serve it now, or, if we serve it when we are supposed to, they can have a wonderful hot soup, a perfectly cooked filet and a magnificent soufflĂ©. Either way, I’m happy to do whatever you wish. It’s your choice.”

He stared at me and simply said, “Keep it the way you planned.”

The Lesson
What made him think that we could get costumes and screens and serve dinner early? It was obvious. Here’s a man who sits behind his desk and clicks for whatever he wants and gets it, immediately, with no repercussions. But the timing of an event was beyond his scope of experience. So, by not arguing with him, creating a clear picture for him and making it his choice, the situation turned out well. Otherwise it would have dissolved into a totally adversarial confrontation. It didn’t, and we continued to do the event for years.

Growing up in a multi-lingual house made me understand the power of words. I love them and learned at a young age that telling stories creates a clear communication for others.  I adore telling stories; my life is about telling them and providing clear communication, because everything has a point to it. Doing so has helped me work with others, such as the CEO at this event, more successfully.

Oh, and by the way, the Matador outfits were more than a bit snug but served their purpose well!

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 http://www.extraordinaryevents.com. Andrea may be reached via amichaels@extraordinaryevents.com.


Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Should Your Brand Be "Convenience"?

I am always intrigued by the musings of Shep Hyken. Better yet, I am also educated. This particular article on "convenience" and how it applies to our business really made me pay attention as it called out how our customers need speed and simplicity. I urge you to read on as there is a very useful premise behind this. Have fun reading. -Andrea Michaels

-By Shep Hyken

Competitive Strategy

What is one of the most valuable commodities in the world? Time!

There is an old saying that goes something like this: "If you build a better mousetrap, the world will beat a path to your door." This is often attributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson, and the concept of a better mousetrap is a great metaphor for a reason to continuously innovate.

In a competitive business world, price, selection, customer service and innovation are major reasons customer might choose one company over another. We can now add another concept to the mix, and that is convenience. (And, by the way, the reason I included innovation to my mix of competitive reasons is that it takes innovation to create convenience.)

Many will argue that convenience is part of customer service or the customer experience. I'll agree with that, but it is becoming so important that I'm willing to separate it out. There are businesses that use convenience as their sole competitive differentiator.

There is a reason that convenience stores are called convenience stores. Think about it. They are smaller than other retailers that carry similar items. They aren't necessarily the lowest price. Yet, somehow they don't just survive against their larger competitors. They thrive. Why? Because they are convenient. They are in the neighborhood. They are on the way to or from work or on the right side of the street. They aren't as crowded, so a customer can get in and out much quicker. For what they lack in the selection of merchandise, they make up for in convenience.

If you want to learn about how a  company competes on convenience, take a look at one of the biggest companies on the planet, Amazon. They are a case study for convenience.

When you think of Amazon, you might think of low prices and big selection. I can name dozens of other companies, both online and brick-and-mortar, that do the same thing. Amazon knows it competes with all retailers. So, they broke out of the low price and big selection game with convenience. They want to save time and make life easier for their customers. They created the Amazon Prime program that gets merchandise shipped to you, without shipping charges, in two days or less. They created the Dash button  that allows you to purchase merchandise with the simple push of a button. They want to eliminate as many steps as possible from the time a customer is thinking about purchasing a product until that product is delivered. And, now they are setting up distribution centers throughout major cities that can get merchandise to you in two hours or less. Speed and simplicity is what they are about.

So, regardless of the type of business you're in, how can you create convenience for your customers? What would your customers define as convenience? Figure that out and you have another competitive strategy that will take you and your business to the next level.

Shep Hyken is a customer service expert, keynote speaker and New York Times bestselling business author. For information, contact www.hyken.com. For information on The Customer Focus™ Customer Service training programs, go to www.thecustomerfocus.com. Follow on Twitter: @Hyken

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 amichaels@extraordinaryevents.net.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Disaster Management... Or the Art of Saying No or How I Almost Burned Down Palm Springs

Disaster management - we've all been there. I can name earthquakes tornadoes, floods, hurricanes and volcano eruptions which have caused me event challenges. Those you have no control over, right? It's the ones that you can see coming that are the real challenges. So I thought I'd share so that you won't make the same mistakes that I did.

The first one that came to mind was what I think of as "Disco Inferno." A fellow event planner invited me to become involved with an event held in the Palm Springs desert where her client wanted to have a fireworks show after a country western night at a remote ranch. Remember the word "remote." All basic elements had been planned, but they still needed fireworks. The client was a New Yorker; at the time my associate resided in Florida; and I was relatively local. So I got to plan and be responsible for the fireworks.

The client asked me for a short and impactful show, and I hired a local and very reputable pyrotechnics company. One that was fully insured.

The Challenge
A few days before the show, the client indicated that he had seen something he wanted to hire - AKA "I have to have that! - a bi-plane that had pyro on its wings. He thought this would be very cool to add. I had never heard of such a thing and said that unless I knew more about the company, the plane and their insurance that I could not take responsibility. The client insisted. So, I said he could hire this plane on his own but that I needed to coordinate it to make sure that all was going to go smoothly. That meant I needed to coordinate the plane with our pyro company, too.

When I contacted the plane's owner, I was told how great and how safe the act was. Nothing specific was detailed, except, "Don't worry," which meant to me that I should worry. I let my client know (yes, in writing) that I didn't trust this addition and advised against it. Of course, I was pooh-poohed. I don't give up easily, so I went back and repeated that several times. Each time I was dismissed. Against my better judgment I caved and said "Okay."

The Venue
Let me describe the venue - a ranch surrounded on three sides by mountains of brush and only a one-lane road to get in and out. The center or eye of the keyhole was where the party took place.

To be on the safe side, I ordered two water trucks to be in the keyhole and on standby. My client didn't want to pay for this as he felt it was unnecessary.

The Outcome
All went well through dinner and during the entertainment. For the finale, we got our pyro team in place and called the cue for the plane to start flying. We saw it take off, and standing next to him, I heard my pyro chief take a deep breath and start muttering, "Go higher; go higher!" Then he took off at a flat-out run to the water trucks as pyro started spitting off the wings of the plane directly onto the brush. The hills on all three sides exploded into flame.

The water trucks immediately took off toward the burning hills, giant hoses spraying the brush, as my associate radioed the buses and started herding a panic-stricken audience of executives toward them. Immediately, I grabbed some blankets, and my entire team and I started beating down flames.

Fortunately, we got all the guests out quickly and ultimately watered and beat down the flames. I lost my eyebrows, charred my face and hands and ruined my outfit, but at least no one was hurt.

Of course, during the time I was on the mountain playing fireman, my client was standing next to me screaming hysterically, "This is your entire fault!" Or, best yet, "I'm not going to pay for this!" I chose not to respond as he stood there doing nothing but watching me and having his tantrum.

Indeed, when I sent him our bill, he refused to pay it because our pyro had never been set off. It was a substantial charge, yet I chose not to fight it even though I knew I had been wronged. It would have wound up in court forever, across three states of negotiations and cost more than could be redeemed. And ultimately I knew I had been a fool to say "yes" to something that I knew was a potential disaster.

And, yes, I paid our pyro provider in full. And, no the bi-plane had no insurance.

The Lesson
When you know something is wrong, stick to your guns and don't give in. I should have refused to have anything to do with this job as it flaunted good sense and safety, and nothing good ever comes of that!

Andrea Michaels is founder and president of Extraordinary Events, a multi-award-wining 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 amichaels@extraordinaryevents.net.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

The Fine Art of Biting Your Tongue

Quite a few years ago while attending a meeting in the United Arab Emirates, I was also asked to do a site inspection for the Super Bowl of Rotax Go Carts (they claimed to be as big as NASCAR internationally) in nearby Al Ain. I confess I had never heard of this, but it sounded intriguing. Never one to dismiss an opportunity, I sallied forth and made some complicated arrangements to meet an elusive client. He was hard to reach and when we did talk there was a lot of wind noise going on.

I was escorted by limo about two hours out of Abu Dhabi into the desert where we saw some great museums and palaces and even the racing camel market and finally arrived at... well, more desert with just a temporary trailer-type of building. I knocked on the door. No one answered, so I called the cell number I was given. No answer. We drove around looking for anything or anyone other than sand. Nothing. So, we drove back to the building. Finally, in the distance, I could see a Porsche racing toward me. In a flurry of dust, it came to a stop right where I was standing. And out of it, a young man. Gorgeous. Looked like the dictionary definition of a race car driver - tight jeans, tight t-shirt, glistening smile. And wind-blow hair which explained why our conversations were always noisy.

We shook hands. I mentally drooled a lot. We entered the "building." I began to ask about the event. Where was it going to be? He waved at the sand. How are you going to be ready in a few months? He shrugged. What would you like to accomplish for this event, and how can we help you?

"Just fill in what I don't have here and make this an event comparable to a Super Bowl... exciting... fabulous."

Music to my ears. But I've heard those words before. What's the budget?

"There are no limits."

Uh-huh. Heard those words before, too. So, a million dollars would be okay?

I revived him.

I asked for an example of what he thought was a wow. He started with lasers, but told me that there were hundreds of laser companies nearby, so there was no need for me to look for those. Hundreds? I told him that anytime anyone I knew had worked in his part of the world that lasers had been brought in from the U.S. or Europe. And then I realized what he meant and knew that he had no idea what he was talking about. But I couldn't resist asking, Where are you finding all these hundreds of companies"

And he told me, "In the phone book."

I replied Show me, please," very politely, of course.

He opened up the directory (aka phone book) and showed me. I said quietly, without cracking a smile, You're looking under laser surgery. Then I immediately started talking about what other things we could do in which he might be interested.

The Lesson
It's impolite to disable people and not take them seriously, especially if they are inexperienced. It's particularly important not to embarrass or make them feel uncomfortable. It's up to us to educate kindly, just do our jobs and not laugh uproariously at some of the things we hear!

And this doesn't just apply to the inexperienced. It's a good policy no matter with whom you are dealing. During the 1988 Special Event in Los Angeles at the Bonaventure Hotel, the hotel's Director of Catering (name withheld to protect the guilty), was serving as the event team committee chair. He called a meeting at the hotel, and everyone involved in the convention attended. I made what I thought was an appropriate suggestion to better the conference. Instead of taking it under consideration, he reamed me, dressed me up one side and down the other in front of all my peers. We all sat in stunned silence. (And anyone who knows me understands I am never at a loss for words. Some people are always thinking "Oh, I wish I had been quick enough to answer" but I NEVER have THAT problem. I always know exactly what I want to say.) At first, all I wanted to do was produce the perfect comeback to embarrass him in front of all. My second thought was to yell "F**K YOU!" but that would have been unprofessional, so I smiled like a lady and carried on as part of the committee. Afterward, everyone said they didn't know how I sat through it but confessed they saw each of us for who we truly were. Years later and everyone still remembers that interchange and how I handled it. So, no matter what you want to say to a client or an associate, you will always win if you bite your tongue and behave like a professional.

I have experienced some similar episodes since, and I continue to be silent. Silence is the most powerful tool we all have and, when used correctly, will almost always empower the one who is silent. I learned this from an expert in the art of buying a vehicle. When the zealous salesperson makes an offer, remain silent and just look him (or her) in the eye. That person will usually keep dropping the price (because they are uncomfortable) until you get to where you want to be and speak up for the first time.

Another approach, particularly if you are in conflict with someone who is ranting and raving, is what I call the board game analogy. If you are playing a game with someone and pick up your pieces and walk away, they can't play anymore. Game over. That's my philosophy. Walking away disempowers that person. Use it only when you must.

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 amichaels@extraordinaryevents.net.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

ASSUME Makes an ASS out of U and ME!

If we aren’t careful, being in the event business can lead to a life of “gotchas.” Never mind that we have tons of expertise. Murphy’s Law rules. I was reminded the other day of one of my gotchas. It was one of the most valuable lessons that I learned in the earlier years at Extraordinary Events. However, like all lessons learned, it can also be a lesson forgotten… until reminded… and therein lies the rub.

Lesson One: We had been hired to come up with an innovative method for Los Angeles to present its bid to The Democratic National Committee to host the convention (which incidentally L.A. won). So, here’s our presentation at the South Hall Lobby of the Los Angeles Convention Center.

The DNC arrived by limo into an empty convention hall. Committee members walked a red carpet which led them to a loooong balloon wall that spelled out Los Angeles. Where were they supposed to go?

With a rousing fanfare of unseen herald trumpets, the balloon wall burst open in one magical explosion and revealed the entry to the South Hall Lobby where a long line of faux paparazzi applauded them into the hall. Down an escalator they went to join the executives and VIPs of the Los Angeles Visitors and Convention Bureau and the city. Music. Morning fare. Very nice. And angels, lots of them. And then… from 400 feet overhead, accompanied by a beautiful piece of ethereal music, an angel descended and performed an aerial ballet until she landed at the feet of the DNC members and handed them Los Angeles’ bid. Magically, she arose again to disappear 400 feet above. It was a moment that the press wrote about and photographed for print and live television.

But, that’s not all they wrote! They also wrote about the angels that were already in the room, and herein is our story.

We had specified to our talent coordinator that we wanted a room of angels to circulate. I had great faith in his judgment. But I should have said, “Describe every person and every costume,” but I didn’t. So here’s what I got. One angel was in scarlet red lingerie and sequined wings. Another wore a Frederick’s of Hollywood black bustier with black feather wings (think whips and chains angel), and it went on from there. Yep, there was plenty about which to write!

Lesson Two: Years had passed since Lesson One. We were hired to produce a major, no holds barred, community event for what turned out to be hundreds of thousands of people, and at the last minute the client requested dancers to accompany the D.J.

I guess my interpretation of “dancer” and the local talent producer’s definition were polar opposites. His was “bump and grind” and mine was what would be appropriate for a family audience. All that the dancers were missing was a pole, and oh yes, a lot of costume. I had asked to preview the costumes, and they showed me a sample of one, which though sexy, was relatively covered up. My mistake was in not asking if all the dancers would be wearing that same costume. They were not. The others were bare…. very bare… as a matter of fact, too bare.

They had not been performing for more than a minute before my client on radio was shouting “get them off the stage!” and as the music was pulsating loudly there was no way for them to hear me until I had to physically climb onto eight different platforms and pull them off one at a time, with all of them resisting since they had never before met me and couldn’t hear me.

The Lesson
Never make an assumption. NEVER! Check every detail. Repeatedly. Ask for write-ups and descriptions. Ask for photos. And in the case of entertainment, check them out BEFORE they go on stage, while they are in the dressing rooms. Ask them to bring a variety of costumes so you can see what you are getting. Define what you need. What do YOU mean by “dancer”? Don’t ever feel too secure. Don’t assume! You know what that makes out of you and me!


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  Reflectionsof 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 amichaels@extraordinaryevents.net.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Brand Promise... What's Yours?

Shep Hyken's words always educate me. Wiser folks than me have said that to find out what your brand is, ask your customers. I invite you to share your perception of EE's brand with me. -Andrea Michaels

-By Shep Hyken
What does your company or brand stand for? When you advertise or market your company and your products, what is the image that you’re trying to create? What is your brand promise?
I Googled the definition of the term brand promise and here is what came up first:
A brand promise is the statement that you make to customers that identifies what they should expect for all interactions with your people, products, services and company. It is often associated with the company name and/or logo.
After further searches, I found a few brand promises that we can use as examples.
Walmart promises “Save money. Live Better.”
Geico is the insurance company that promises “15 minutes or less can save you 15% or more on car insurance.”
BMW promises “The Ultimate Driving Machine.”
Some may say these are advertising slogans, but I think they are more. They are promises that the companies want to deliver. So, do these brands deliver on their promises?
There is little doubt that shopping at Walmart will save you money on the large selection of merchandise they have to offer. This is what they are known for, and I don’t think anyone could argue with that. The “Live Better” part of the promise is open to interpretation, but it would be hard to argue that saving a few dollars wouldn’t make life a little better.
Geico’s promise is very specific. It’s a brand promise that can be kept, because it’s measurable. You don’t hear a lot of people saying that they spent 15 minutes with Geico and only saved 5%.
BMW promises something a little more abstract. Can they really deliver the ultimate driving machine? There’s plenty of other car manufactures that feel they provide the best in class. Tesla is combining performance with an electric card. Mercedes promises performance and luxury, as do many other brands. It’s subjective.
And, subjectivity is what brings us to the point that no matter what you promise, you can’t control what customers think. It is their perception – their reality. You can only hope that what you want them to think syncs up with how they perceive you to be. You can’t argue with measurable promises, unless they don’t measure up. You can argue with abstract and subjective promises like providing the ultimate of anything.
In the end, it doesn’t matter what the company believes its perception to be. For example, we can tell everyone we’re friendly, but if the customer has a different opinion, what you believe doesn’t matter. It’s only the customer’s perception that counts. So, make a promise that intrigues the customer, makes them want to do business with you, and is a promise that you can keep.
Shep Hyken is a customer service expert, keynote speaker and New York Times bestselling business author. For information contact www.hyken.com. For information on The Customer Focus™ customer service training programs go to www.thecustomerfocus.com. Follow on Twitter: @Hyken





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 Reflectionsof 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 viaamichaels@extraordinaryevents.net.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

When It All Goes to Shit

The life of an event planner is probably no different than the life of anyone who makes business (or personal) plans, only to see them evaporate because does anything ever go as planned?

Sometimes nothing goes as planned, right? When I started thinking about the things in my business that have gone south, they became stories longer than Gone with the Wind, an appropriate title for this subject. Tornadoes, hurricanes, floods, winds, rain and even a volcano eruption... union strikes, cancelled flights, power outages. The list goes on.

One story captured the subject of "when it all goes wrong? ..BUT "it all turns out right" and was a great lesson. Rather than retell it, here's a link to the chapter in my book. Enjoy! And just know there is no problem that cannot somehow be solved, or any challenge that cannot be met.

 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 viaamichaels@extraordinaryevents.net.