Archive for April, 2010



April 17, 2010

Last week, I spent an afternoon at Barnes and Noble immersed in the work of designers – and the wonderful photos in Super Potato Design stayed with me. Over and over images resurfaced all week of how Takashi Sugimoto used common elements in unique ways to form backdrops, partitions and intimate spaces. From coiled rubber tubing to a wall of colorful bottles; from perforated metal screens to precast perforated cement blocks; from patterned brick walls to vivid handmade paper sandwiched between glass and backlit to reveal fiber patterns of the paper – every application wrapped the observer in light in a distinctive way and drew the visitor through the space. Inspired, I made a commitment to look at my events differently, to see if I could use common elements-perhaps a client’s products- to help me create client-unique zones within an event that support the story I am telling.

With that in mind, I made Friday a field trip – something I have not done much of in recent months. After a quick stop to look at the status of the emerging Dancers Studio venue under construction, I was off to experience the American Craft Council Show in St. Paul with one mission foremost in mind: I did not want to look at the art in a personal context, but how I might apply it as a purposeful element in one of my events. What a wonderful exercise in creative thinking I had! Not to mention some fabulous conversations with the artists.

I especially enjoyed Nancy Bjorge of Mixed Media Art. Her backlit origami framed under glass caught my eye, but as we talked, we shifted away from the medium towards the impact of the lighting-particularly in a piece of layered origami constructed of varying paper types including wax paper, and then backlit with the changing colors of LED . And before I left, I got her daughter’s name who is finishing design school here in Mpls. and will be accompanying her mother to the Lighting Show in Las Vegas next month. I promised to connect with her later in May to hear what they learned at the show, plus see what possibilities we might have of working together.

Ziya Tarapore, also generous of her time, brainstormed with me on possibilities of creating her vivid batik designs on a “green” product of recycled materials, formed into panels that could be suspended from the ceiling or within acrylic to form event partitioning and intimate spaces; and Myra Burg’s Quiet Oboes have my mind racing with possibilities – using an art application I have never encountered with an event environment.

From architectural blown glass to copper art; from stainless steel to silk art wall hangings that take your breath away; from a wonderful selection of handmade papers to some very unique stained glass pieces, it was a stimulating two hours! And for the most part, I did keep my mind on events – although I confess, the Sarmite Wearable Art definitely distracted me and drew me in, with their wonderful unique and colorful clothing designs.

If you can’t fit in visiting the show yet this weekend, consider getting the St. Paul Art Crawl on your calendar next week – or, like me, plan to take part in the 2010 artOpener, the St. Croix Valley Studio Tour scheduled for May 1 and 2 from Stillwater to River Falls as many of the artists have studios along the route.



April 14, 2010

Today’s issue of Special Event Eventline definitely hit a hot spot for me. So forgive me, as I vent.

No, I am not here to agree with Andrea Michaels about how rough things are. I am writing to say KUDOS to Nancy Shaffer of Bravo Events by Design for understanding that the best thing about the “Great Recession” is that it is proving to be a wake-up call in all industries and for us, I would say, Thank Goodness – there is FINALLY some that are seeing the light!

Yes indeed, the appearance of not being “lavish” is and should be a high priority. However, I would strongly disagree that it is a higher priority than staging an effective event…unless our definition of “effective event” comes only from our own perspective. Did we get to use the latest supporting tools of the trade- trends in color, floral, entertainment and furniture? Did we get some great photos that will help up win awards and promote our celebrity? Did we get to take some time away from the office to travel to the proposed site, be wined and dined and treated as a VIP as we made a value judgment on whether the destination or venue would work for what we had planned? Did we work hard? Did we make lots of money?

For those among us that think that way, that world was allowed to flourish for a short length of time only because we were a new and exciting twist in an industry that catered to clients inexperienced in the world of events. That bubble has burst and rightfully so. Again, this latest scare should be considered a reset in our thinking-a wake-up call to evaluate what we do, how we do it and what benefit and value we provide. In the corporate event world, our mission is not that illusive WOW-factor; it is to facilitate delivering a message. That WOW-factor is only a tool to help make the message memorable and deliver a call to action.

An effective event is a two-way street; if it did not deliver to our client the results it was designed to do, it was not effective. We offer a service, friends, not an opportunity for our clients to spend money. At the same time, because we have the expertise to design the on-target experience that delivers a client’s desired outcomes, we can demand respect and adequate compensation for our efforts. But we have to earn it. In the future, we may need to work smart instead of hard.

If we think we are being mistreated, now might be a good time to look at ourselves. Why is that happening? I expect more of us will do as Bravo Events by Design concluded….the change in the business climate means we have to change the way we do business – as well as our attitude.

Nancy Shaffer is absolutely correct. Effective events are achieved not thorough an adversarial relationship, but by partnering with the client. “We are not just party planners. We are the producers of the live elements of a company’s marketing and communications campaign.”

Once again, I end with an oft-paraphrased thought from Joan Eisenstodt: What we have accomplished in the past and know today means little. It bears no relationship to skills we will need to be effective in the future – whether or NOT the budgets available increase. That NEW DAY is fast becoming the NEW WORLD. Get used to it.



April 11, 2010

Those who know me, know I follow the holistic philosophy of event design in which events are a marketing and communication option that has proven to be an essential and effective tool in today’s world. As an event designer, I work in an interdisciplinary field to create solutions to problems. Since I use a planning approach that views the situation as a whole, the creative artistic elements of light, media, decor, and food and beverage are balanced, and geared toward supporting the over-reaching design to deliver a message from both the client and the attendees. I continually strive to tell that story through events that are perceived as a creative achievement of a unified whole as the event accomplishes its primary function – to deliver purposeful, measurable results.

And so for me, a successful event is not the creative and pretty party of the social world, in which everyone had “fun”, good food, and probably too much to drink. In the corporate and non-profit world, it goes much beyond that. And so, I often lament that organizations to which many of us belong (which grew since the late 1980s out of social and party planners need for community, education and sharing) have adopted the words of “event design” without an understanding of what that is. Most continue to judge successful events on the accoutrements of look, entertainment, and food, rather than on accomplished results.

However, since I understand that we, as designers, totally depend on those creative elements as the equipment we use for memory joggers that lead to learning and thus a pathway to accomplish our purpose, I try to be patient as our industry continues to struggle and learn. Even though, there are times when I think we will never grow up.

So, it was comforting yesterday when I was browsing at Barnes and Noble to pick up a book by Anna Klingman entitled BRANDSCAPES: ARCHITECTURE IN THE EXPERIENCE ECONOMY. As I scanned a chapter near the end, I was amazed that her action steps for architectural design so closely aligned to my concept of event design. I’ve included below some notes I jotted down which illustrate where Klingman feels designers in the architectural world need to progress. Perhaps there is applicable advice here for both the event designer and the creative artistic elements of events. What do you think?

Transitions needed:

From Product to Brand: To communicate an innovative and authentic design scheme, the architecture (event) must be combined with a well-intended message that is clearly formulated and readily understood.

From Needs to Desire: The paradigm of need has been surpassed by the paradigm of desire. The audience is searching for emotional satisfaction; on a quest for identity; are looking for the ability to distinguish self, and aspire to belong.

From Performance to Experience: We must move from “how it is designed” to “how it feels”. Appearances and usage become banal if not designed for senses. Experiential design is about creating architecture (events) that people truly enjoy. Experiences are intangible and memorable.

From Plan to Choreography: In the experiential, approach, you must relinquish absolute control and accept fact that you only choreograph and direct the desired effect which ultimately takes place in the mind of the user (attendee).

From Program to Ambience: Monotony results from mindless repetition and predictability. You must be open to influence from all realms of culture. Architects (event designers) must create sensation-rich environments that can encourage unexpected patterns of socialization, interaction and collective engagement and that allow new cultures to emerge. One should stimulate the user’s sensory abilities but must be loose enough to initiate a field of freedom and complexity encouraging each person to free associate in accord to his/her cultural background, habits, passions.

From Impact to Contact: We must shed old paradigm of dictated visuals of the past that tell and must embrace the current and future models of suggestive, open-ended identities that emote.

From Function to Form: Form no longer follows function; form is content. True power and relevance is revealed as experienced space and transcends self-contained prescriptive narratives and embraces programmatic and organizational models.

From Commodity to Catalyst: Move beyond role as a commodity to become a marketing tool. We will be judged on What It Does, not on What It Is. We need to improve image, experience and field of interaction among people. We need to stop the proliferation of templates.

From Physical to Human Context: People and places are the most important inspiration for everything that is done in design. Only by understanding people’s motivations can the status quo be challenged which in turn can lead to the most exciting expressions of creativity.

From Object to Subject: Klingman began with a quotation from Pine and Gilmore – The very idea of transforming people and places demands that we think about a word little used in architecture today: wisdom.

A feasible transformation depends on the client’s sustained willingness, commitment and resources to carry out the desired change. Once it is determined that a transformation is indeed desirable and viable, architects (event designers) need insight to determine the best course of action to attain the goals outlined in the diagnosis. During the entire course of the design and implementation process, this rigorous dedication to qualified decision-making needs to be maintained to instigate a meaningful development that fulfills or surpasses the client’s aspirations.

We cannot focus on competition or objectives of the architect (event designer). The goal is NOT to impose a set of established expectations but to discover and express the unexamined dimensions of people and places…which will naturally lead to an authentic and persistent identity.

A very long thought for a Sunday afternoon, I know, but an important one, I think, for our industry to contemplate and discuss as we strive to gain that wisdom we need to help not only our clients, but our industry to grow in a purposeful way.



April 8, 2010

I certainly got my money’s worth yesterday at the NACE one day conference at the Hilton. Although I occasionally attend a monthly NACE meeting, this was my first experience at the conference. Accolades go to all those involved in the planning and implementation of this great day.

Welcomed with a “torched” piece of grapefruit and unique breakfast food and beverage stations, I immediately spied a new “find” in the trade show….as I met Meg Hillary, and brainstormed applications for use of her new “luminaries” for special events.

One of the highlights of the day for me was the Opening Keynote by Sonny Granguly of WeddingWired. I often wonder if I will ever be able to absorb, use and get return from all the social media options available and still to come, so it was so comforting to learn from Sonny, there are five social media places where we want to spend our time – and of those, I am already a part of two. Of course, his suggestions for how to be most effective and get the most of those five will keep me busy for some time, but at least I now have clarity on what I need to do. From there, we moved on to his five tips of how to succeed in the world of social media, and ended with his predictions for the future. His closing video has my head spinning yet today.

The hour flew by, not only because of what he was sharing, but because he kept us engaged with questions posed to us, and of course, because he ignored the stage and podium provided to him and joined us in front of the stage. YES!

Our lunch, billed as an”Artistic Food Styling and Presentation” was a very fun experience. As we entered the room, we were immediately engaged as signs of the artist were everywhere – with paint cans, paint sticks and brushes and paint color swatches – a good job by Festivities to tie the table décor to the essence of the lunch. The conference description of this event was right on – “First impressions are lasting impressions even before the food is tasted.” With chefs responsible for each course on stage prepping and finishing their contribution while answering questions on ingredients, tips and trends, the food when served became an affirmation of great culinary artistry as well as an exciting journey through a wide array of intriguing international flavors and tastes.

Perhaps it was my aversion to games; perhaps it was because it was nearing the end of the day, or perhaps it was just my lack of patience with the seemingly disorganization to the beginning of the Catering Jeopardy session, but I chose to leave that gathering and catch up on a bit of business. So I forfeited the chance to test my own catering acumen against those of the professional catering executives in the room –but I am sure I would have learned a lot had I stayed.

And finally, what I thought originally I had come for – the closing session featuring the Experiential Wedding produced by the Wedding Guys. Although I don’t do weddings, much of what they covered in terms of trends in design and experiences were transferable to my world, and yes, Matt, I agree – one CAN find inspiration in a garage! And, Bruce,– who knew a five-course, butler-passed dinner reception could work so well – all inspired by a concern for guest comfort and desire to eliminate the juggling act of plate, fork, and glass while mingling! It worked I think, and kudos to the Hilton to be able to translate that inspiration into a reality.

A job well done by all involved! I’m sure I will be back again next year.



April 8, 2010

According to the Star Tribune yesterday, Minnesota chose not to participate in Round Two of “Race to the Top” to try for federal funding for innovative school reform.

Apparently the Governor thinks we have a relic of the ‘40s in our current system, and won’t act unless the Legislature passes education reform, and blames Education MN, the teachers union for blocking that reform…and the US Department of Education criticism of MN schools in the first round, cited the inability of our state to construct good policies supporting teachers; to dump bad teachers; to place the best teachers where they’re needed, or to find faster ways to get teachers in the classroom. They criticized our ability to narrow the achievement gap and, (most important to me), questioned whether we as a state, have the political fortitude to implement change.

We have to wake up, people. What happened to us??? I grew up in a time when Education came first in our state and was our greatest asset. I benefitted from that philosophy as did many of those chosen to run our state government today. Why do personal interests and posturing seem to be trumping good common sense?

I am not a teacher; I have no children or grandchildren in the school system. I have no vested interest. I am simply a concerned citizen of this state with a life long interest in adult learning who recognizes that many 21st century principles in that arena are applicable first with our state’s children and youth.

We will not move ahead arguing about which of the out-dated old educational theories “win”. We need to start – not with a blank slate of yesteryear – but an open mind and curiosity to understand how our brains work, how we learn, and how we can take advantage of that knowledge (and those within our educational system that are already experimenting with new applications) in crafting an innovative plan that is supported by fact, not politics.



April 6, 2010

In a seminar at Event Solutions, Jeff Hurt suggested we read a book entitled BRAIN RULES by John Medina, as we would find support for why we in the meetings and events industry need to rethink how we structure and deliver conference education. Of course, being the book-lover, I immediately returned from Las Vegas and ordered the book – which I finished this morning. Although I have not completely followed the instructions yet and also watched the 45 minute film, I have already become a disciple! The Twelve Rules are right on, and most importantly, support my position that change in our industry is absolutely necessary, with case studies and research and example after example – all delivered in an interesting and thought-provoking way.

I have been talking about the 21st century Adult Learning Model for several years now. I first encountered the term Adult Learning back in the early 80s when I entered the realm of meeting/event production and that life described with the antiquated term, “business theatre”. As that world started to morph sometime during the late 90s, I attributed the change totally to the emergence of the digital world and the impact of a new generation entering the workforce. Originally, I thought we as an industry needed to start shifting the way we did things within a meeting or event environment in order to hold the attention of a younger audience. Then, with the growth of technology and social media in this last decade, I slowly moved to a position that this was no longer a generational phenomena; it was a universal shift towards involvement, engagement, and empowerment of ANY audience-but still powered by the digital age. And to survive in this business, we needed to understand, support, and implement changes that were built on those new principles.

But as I immersed myself in the BRAIN RULES experience, I learned I had missed the underlying cause of this shift. In recent years, studies of the brain and discoveries of how it works have revolutionized our knowledge of how we learn. Much of what we thought as recently as ten years ago has been proven wrong, and whole new bodies of knowledge now exist for us to tap into, understand, and apply so that we do a better job in educating not only the young, but adults as well. (My favorite new information is that the left-brain analytic vs. right-brain creative person is now considered folklore. YES! We all use both sides of the brain – one to remember details and one to remember the gist of an experience.)

In the closing chapter, Medina holds up the learning model of medical schools as a worthy approach and suggests it works because there is consistent exposure to the real world; consistent exposure to people who operate in the real world; and consistent exposure to practical research programs. Most important he introduces our evolutionary need to explore, the importance of people who think about the future, and the need to support and keep alive the innate curiosity of a child and how they learn BEFORE going to school.

He ends with a vision of a new college of education that could change how we think about schools and formal education. Not being a teacher, nor an expert in this realm, I will leave that discussion to those that know, but he certainly convinced me that perhaps Minnesota might want to take a look at the approach in view of our growing achievement gap and recent loss in trying to get federal funds for education.

Meanwhile, new possibilities are incubating for me about how we can use events and experiences as teaching moments, and how we might re-think our own industry to become better event and meeting producers as we go forward.



April 3, 2010

The many-faceted dialogue about improving the educational benefit of conferences continues. On a daily basis, I encounter fantastic food for thought and generally concur with or am amazed by the insight that led to a suggestion and often I’m off to research if an intriguing idea will work.

One of those discussions involved attendee-centric learning and how it presents a challenging shift for some, while for others it is crystal clear that attendees must be foremost in mind as one designs a meeting to meet the objectives of the organizer.

Although I found myself agreeing with both perspectives, I had this nagging feeling that we all were missing something-but I could not put my finger on it. So I have returned to the discussion several times this week, without making any progress in what was bothering me. Then, out enjoying a walk this afternoon in this too-early Minnesota Spring, I think I had an “Eureka” moment, as I let my brain wander from my life today as the independent event designer back to those many years of “corporate-speak.”

Perhaps the issue we have skirted is the financial aspect. Show organizers often think of their show or conference as a revenue generator or profit opportunity. So changes or upgrades that are attendee (or sponsor)-centric may be dismissed because of a perceived negative impact on the bottom line. Immediately one thinks – change costs money. Perhaps we need to tell this story in terms of how an already-budgeted expense shift might be beneficial to the show quality without increased cost/decreased profit.

To do that, we need to be well-versed in the organizer’s desired outcomes so that we can help them navigate this task. It becomes imperative to compare where show revenues are invested versus from where the greatest paybacks will come that support the desired outcomes.

Once we have their attention, the rest of the story is much easier. Not only should we spend where we get the greatest return, almost all of us can understand that losing an established attendee base impacts costs. It is much more costly to reach out to find replacements for those that have traditionally supplied the base profit. And there is no doubt in my mind, that if we do NOT do a better job of keeping a conference attendee (and sponsor)-centric, that base will erode. I stopped throwing money away on TSE for this very reason.

And then a second financial hurdle becomes short term profits versus long term investment and growth.

Does this make sense and is it worth pursuing?