Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Designing a Roadmap into the Imagination: Special Places I Have Been That Have Inspired Event Creativity

I am incredibly fortunate to have a career that allows me the phenomenal experiences I’ve had. I have met amazing people and traveled to fabulous places. And all of it continues to bring great joy to my life.

I have ridden camels in Morocco and Jordan. I have tasted incredible cheeses and wines in Sardegna. I have seen wonders of the world … Macchu Picchu, Petra, Jerusalem, and even the Taj Mahal. What lessons did I take from these experiences that I could use when planning events? When you create a foundation that can withstand time, weather and nature’s challenges (earthquakes for instance) you can sustain. Aha! A meeting theme.

I spent two weeks in a fairytale Lake Como with one night spent on the lake during a local festival where rowboats were decorated beautifully and singers and musicians drifted by passing out the contents of picnic baskets to share the bounty of local sausages, cheeses and wines. Was this a theme party in a ballroom? No, it was casual and interactive and fun…as events should be to encourage networking. It’s the definition of “The Sharing Economy,” isn’t it?

I’ve visited Moscow in the dead of winter as well as in the bright warm sunlight of a summer day and have been enthralled with the concept of standing in Red Square and The Kremlin and then taking a midnight train to St. Petersburg (winter trip). I fantasized that I was living out Dr. Zhivago. My fantasy ended at breakfast over blinis and caviar with hot tea served from a golden samovar. In St. Petersburg, while covered by a fur robe, I took a troika  around Catherine the Great’s Palace, stopping for vodka and more blinis and caviar along the way. Again, a true learning experience that challenged my thinking. When I was a child, Russia was my enemy; today I walk freely and happily through Gorky Park and engage in wonderful conversations with local artists, and even have little children practice their English on me. What did I learn? How we have to look at our companies and our brands with a larger perspective than “now”… use the past as a frame of reference and recognize that tomorrow might be entirely different than today. Another meeting theme
…. what lies ahead and why?

Berlin was a revelation and brought forth a meeting theme of “Breaking Down Walls in Business,” which created a wonderful program.

I traveled to the DMZ in Korea, had dinner on The Great Wall of China and was entertained in The Forbidden City. I’ve bargained and bartered in marketplaces from China to India to Korea. I have had a Turkish bath by a loin-clothed man with a gold tooth and a Korean massage (completely exfoliated by a woman clad in a red bra and panties.) The woman tossed me around for two hours as she scrubbed me clean. I experienced a tornado in Rome, happened upon impromptu opera concerts at The Pantheon and at La Scala, ice skated in Rimini and visited the site of the Olympics above Torino. What did it teach me? Keep my mind open to new experiences, even when some of them might seem uncomfortable.

One of my fondest memories is of a tour of La Scala. The opera house was not open as the cast and orchestra were doing dress rehearsal for Opening Night. At the Museum I came across a door. When I see a door I open it. And I did open this one. It led to a staircase … down, down, down … and ended in the orchestra pit behind the percussion. Surprised at my presence, one of the orchestra (an American) asked me what I was doing there, and I explained. He invited me to take a seat, and I enjoyed dress rehearsal for Opening Night of La Scala. My lesson? Doors are there for a reason. Open them; you don’t know where they will lead. And this also led to a meeting theme where our stage set was doors and when they were opened, new messages were revealed.

And those are only a few of my adventures. I have memories which are indelible; not only of the sights, but mostly of the friends I have made who will be friends forever. Not just people with whom I’ve traveled or worked, but locals that I’ve met unexpectedly. In Jordan, our tour guide and I explored our differences and our similarities, he Muslim and me Jewish. I have walked the trails of history and explored art and culture which now decorate my home. I try to bring home something from everywhere I’ve been. Haj, who only builds hotels and speaks nothing but Arabic, made me a beautiful hand-painted chest that is the centerpiece of my living room. Paintings by the very elderly Claude Idlas from the South of France are displayed throughout my home. All around me I have memories of places I’ve been, but mostly people I’ve met. And every time I look around, I realize how lucky I am to be doing what I’m doing  … working at what I love in an industry that invites me to continuously grow and experience new people and things.

The Lesson
Never stop growing, never stop learning. Use your sense of curiosity to explore new places and make new friends, no matter where you are. Never feel that you are limited to your immediate surroundings. Traveling will show you how to exceed your limits. It did for me. So, reach out. The world is waiting for you.

Andrea Michaels is founder and president of Extraordinary Events, an award-winning international meeting and event planning and production firm based in Los Angeles. To learn more about her company, visit: To reach Andrea, email

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