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