This week we speak with the President and CEO of ICON Park, Christopher Jaskiewicz! This Orlando destination is more than an amusement park, offering a variety of restaurants, attractions, and a 400 foot tall Ferris Wheel. We talk about building a memorable experience, how ICON Parks navigated the pandemic, and Chris’s secrets to success. You don’t want to miss this awesome episode of Meeting Minds!
This week on Meeting Minds with speak with the Director of Events at Outside Interactive, Inc, Marissa Piper. We talk about what it was like to work for Tony Robbins, how to stay calm when organizing a huge event, and what it was like to produce WorldPride in NYC. Make sure you listen to this episode!
You have just amazing experience in the events world from all over the country and big brands, including Tony Robbins, which I want to talk about later. But before we dig into that, tell us just a little bit about you how you got started in the events world.
Hi, yeah, thank you so much for having me. This is so fun. And it’s it’s so fun to get to talk about what you love to do. And it never seems like work. It always seems like play. But how did I get involved? I’m kind of I think by accident, I started off in medical device sales, which was just the biggest mistake of my life, because I can’t sell anything. But I can talk to people. And so ultimately, I think people just bought stuff from me because they felt sorry. But I had found this passion for events through medical devices, because I got to go to the trade shows. So that’s where I saw myself thriving. And I kind of took it, you know, one step further, when I was like, hey, maybe I’m not the best salesperson because I really don’t like asking people for money. But I really can talk to people, you know, and I love this idea of building an event. I love the idea of building the churches. So it kind of transgressed from there I kind of stepped out of the sales role. I went, I stayed in the tradeshow industry just a little bit. And then I started on a whim. And all this entailed to moving around. But on a whim, I had moved back to San Diego, and I had some friends who were really involved in, in politics and local politics and community organizing. And that sort of took light for me when I started doing and organizing some campaign events for declined to sign and no one age, and HRC, which are some really hyper focused political action committees for gay marriage. And this was back when we were really fighting for equality, trying to get it taken off the ballot because they’ve already passed in California. So I said, sign me up, I’m on board. So I did that for a couple couple years, which actually really helped me kind of get my, you know, community organizing chops and learning a lot about larger events. And from there, it snowballed. And I and I ended up doing a bunch of events for the gay community. I did a lot of large parties. And then I took the next step into TV, which really helps with sort of building my AV understanding. And I think if you’ve been in this industry long enough, if you are multifaceted, it’s a massive advantage. You know, if someone’s just stuck to trade shows or if someone’s just stuck to ballroom, it’s no offense, but really, really broadening your perspective and spectrum of understanding is very helpful. So TV for a couple years really helped me learn the ins and outs of camera shots, lights, audio and things that I didn’t have as much from doing just the community organizing and, and live events. And from there, I started my own company and I started taking on clients doing their events, mostly in California. Pretty basic, but fun, I got to make my own schedule I was taking on, you know, the amount of work that I could. The next the ride from there was Tony Robbins. I just put it out there and I think maybe maybe five years later, I got a job with Tony Robbins and it was available, I left working for myself, went back to working for someone else full time. And I did that for three plus years with Tony on the road all over the world. You know, I think we could dedicate you know, another eight hours of podcasting experiences like, because if you know him, he’s larger than life. And then I got back to New York City and I was working for the Clio awards, and, um, and happenstance, I hired a company to do our production and for one of our big shows, and they poached me righ t then in there at our event, because they had an opportunity that they do, I think they thought it’d be perfect for which was producing World Pride, which will probably be the pinnacle of my career in Times Square, and then Coronavirus hit. But that’s sort of my 20 year 22 year how I ended up here and back in San Diego, working for Idea health and fitness under the outside brand, and couldn’t be happier. I love the path that I’ve no regrets, but little led to big. And the big made me see that there’s just such a massive world out there for live events that people don’t even know about. And so I just said, Where can I go from here?
Tell me more about World Pride because that is an incredible event and to be a part of something like that. And what year was that? 2019?
Yeah, so I we planned for almost a year, by the time I been poached by this company, Deco Productions. And it was what’s really cool about world pride is this was the first domestic world pride event, right? So real pride is all you know, it’s all over every two years. And so New York City won the bid for the 50th anniversary of pride. So here now it lies, you know, 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots started as a right turn into a celebration. And now, you know, I get to be a part of building an event in Times Square for 14,000 plus people as the the finale to world pride, you know of a weekend of celebration, which actually turned into basically a month of celebration because of all parties. And I mean, New York City was just one big rainbow bomb, it was probably one of the coolest things I ever got to be a part of not only just living in New York City as a New Yorker, but also being part of the experience to give a community that I’m so deeply passionate about. It’s so important to recognize that I wouldn’t be standing here today doing and having the life that I have, if it wasn’t on the backs of those that paved the way and didn’t get to experience the same things that we have, because of just generalized privilege. And so, you know, I think that my respect for that event came down to everyone that has paved the way for the younger generations that have now had the ability to marry freely, love, love out loud. And that has never, you know, I don’t think in my heart that’s ever going to go away the pride that I have for that older generation of that community. And that’s what that event came from. That’s where the sweat and tears came from. I love it. I love it. And we were talking about this before we started recording too. You know, for us crazy people that get into events. It’s it’s not about just sharing a message, right? If it was about sharing a message, we’d send an email or we make video, but there’s something special about getting people together to experience something at the same time in the same place, you know, and, and that power and that energy that happens when you get just massive amounts of people together. I mean, it’s, it’s life changing, you know if you can do it well. And you know, we’re coming into second quarter of 2021. And, and that energy of being in person is not there right now, you know, you just got done producing a really great virtual event. You know, I want to talk about how do you keep that that passion and excitement going not only for yourself, like to get up out of bed every day to do this alone from our house? And and speaking to a virtual audience, like, how do you keep that energy up? How do you keep that passion going when we’re stuck in virtual right now? We can do things like that that are being been tools for us to sort of help people feel like they’re at a live event. But also one of the big things is helping presenters learn how to present, you know, well lit, clean backgrounds, quality audio, just the or platform have the ability to use a slide advancer that sounds so basic, but instead of like having to constantly go back and forth from your computer, there’s just a polished look to it. So in this next event, we’re like, we’ve built presenter kits into our budget, something that we’re sending to each presenter to make sure that you know, they look sound and can act great. And then, you know, just generalized keeping the energy up in the chat rooms, and you know, really hierarchy for my team, addressing concerns immediately, like just stuff like that, I think gives us sort of a live event field.
That’s so good. Oh, that’s such good advice. One of the questions I have, you’ve been in this for so long, and you’ve done a lot of different aspects of event and run of show. What do you feel like is something that you are particularly skilled at that maybe most people in your field are not?
I think what what one of the things that has helped me helped me stand out in my career is – I just don’t get flustered. I mean, in like in for me always has been if you see me, if you see me flustered, if you see me freaking out, it is a bad day. You know, I mean, if I’m wrong, take cover, because it just doesn’t happen. So I think what it is, is training, it’s training yourself that if you can remain calm, your team can remain calm. When you exude a sense of calm people around you stay calm. And I think that that’s some training that I’ve taught myself in the last you know, you know, 10-12 years is just maintain a sense of calm, keep your team level-headed, always address things, you know, you know, with, with a broad spectrum of questions, like, What do I need to do right now in this moment? What can go? What can go you know, 10 minutes from now what can go 15 minutes. So it’s this like, calculated precision in my mind, like picking through like the 911 picking through the 411 and say, Hey, you know, let’s focus on this right now staying level headed and tackling it.
That’s the best advice if you get flustered over every little thing, the events world is probably not for you. We we did an event probably about a month ago. And I was doing the debrief with the client to just say, you know, how did everything go? And I got the best, the best feedback that I’ve ever received from a client. I think that’s so important for us event people is to understand like, yes, we’re putting together an experience, right. But sometimes how we bring everything together and how we’re making people feel during the planning and during the event itself is just as important and maybe sometimes more important than the actual event itself.
Yeah, I imagine to that amazing advice that you got, is also the ability to say, I think everyone should work on the vendor side, and the client side, because having both perspectives is also something that if you walked in a client’s shoes, and you know, the pressure from their bosses that they’re getting for this event to be done, you know, 100% perfectly, but then you’ve also been on the vendor side, and then go back to being a client, you then can walk in someone else’s shoes for a hot second. And I’ll tell you, that really helped me when I went back to the vendor side of things. And I was like, Oh, God, I was the client for so long. I need to read, I need to check this, I need to address this. And it made me a better vendor.
I want to know maybe someone or something in your event that was really impactful or influential, there’s a turning point, there’s someone or something. Tell me about that?
Well, I think there’s so the friend that I mentioned earlier, her name is Tanya Geary, and she worked for Tony Robbins for quite a few years. In the last couple years, she is one of my closest friends. You know, and so I think that when I learned that in my got that from her, it changed the trajectory of my career. And so huge shout out to her always…Everyone in this world, and everyone that works in the events world, should know that, if you’re going to come work for me, I am going to ask you, how did you celebrate your most recent failure, because you should celebrate it.
How can people get in touch with you if they want to just like connect or learn more about you know, outside or they just kind of want to see what cool projects you’re working on?
My email is Piper@outsideinc.com. And I really, really, really hope with my whole heart, that 2022 is going to have some blast off events, and I want to be a part of it.
This week on Meeting Minds we are joined by Megan Henshall, the Global Events Account Manager at Google! We talk about building a culture of care, and ways to ensure that your next event is thoughtful, meaningful, and sustainable for your audiences. Plus, we discuss ways to build connection and engagement between virtual and hybrid audiences. You don’t want to miss this episode of Meeting Minds!
Erica Maurer, partner at EMRG Media, joins the podcast this week to talk about building connection in a virtual world. As a leader of this full-service marketing company, Erica knows the ins and outs of events, and how to create a space that builds trust, empathy, and collaboration. We dive into the virtual world and brainstorm ways to host events that serve your company culture.
Karen Groppe, the Senior Director of Strategic Communication at HIMSS joins the show this week for a great episode of Meeting Minds! Can you imagine planning an event for the President of the United States? And, even crazier, you imagine cancelling it? This week, Karen tells us what it felt like to coordinate an event the President planned to attend!
We sit down to discuss this topic, as well as the value of integrated teamwork and communication when planning a large-scale event. Make sure you listen to this episode!
For those listeners, I know you’ve told me a couple of times, bring them up to speed on who you are, and how you got to be the Senior Director of Strategic Communication at HIMSS.
So I’m Karen Groppe, I am based in right outside of Washington, DC, born and raised in the area, had been with HIMSS for I believe, seven years, started my time with him as a contractor and now a full-time employee.HIMSS is an organization that’s known throughout the industry, and the world, basically, primarily with our event, which is our global conference, which is exciting. But I like to tell people our global conference, it’s just the punctuation to what we do year round. What HIMSS is, is that we are an organization of about 110,000 members globally, that supports the transformation of health through Information and Technology. What that really means we work with CIOs in hospital systems, emerging technologies in the health sphere. So we are a group that deals with t health technology.
What what’s your first thoughts on helping our audience in their daily roles of communication with teams?
Well the pandemic taught us a lot of things, the pandemic forced a lot of issues to the front that we all had to deal with. And I think on the hinge side of things, one of the things that we were forced to come to terms with at the onset of the pandemic, when we cancelled our conference, was that we all need to work together. So our sales team, our exhibit team, our meetings team, and myself, and the marketing team, came together very closely very quickly to talk about messaging. And we did a lot of listening to what their challenges were.
How did your team have to shift some of your perspectives and maybe communication processes?
Yeah, well, like you last January and February in 2020. We were all it was all hunky dory over with us at HIMSS. We were getting ready to set record set attendance in Orlando.We also had the sitting president coming to speak at our conference, which was a first and it was something – take the politics out of it. The fact that a sitting president wanted to come speak live at your conference is a big deal for any conference program. It’s just a big deal. So we’re excited about that. And then on February 14, of 2020, we posted our first news item of we are monitoring the COVID-19 situation that was February 14 2020. And we’re like, oh, it’s not gonna be a big deal. You know, we’ll handle it. No handshaking. That was the other one. And then it just as we all know, it gates just opened. We were the first conference to cancel we canceled a week before the pandemic was declared. So we really had to look to one another to get ourselves through it. And hard times, the best way to get through a hard time is communicate. We over communicated with each other. So we had daily meetings that we’re talking about, we went through each issue, it was it was a real coming time together for all of us.
Yeah, definitely. Because you’re not only communicating internally, but I think of it as all the different audiences you’re communicating with. Because you mentioned you mentioned that the sitting president was coming. So you not only have to communicate with the media and the White House, but you had to communicate with your attendees. And then sponsors are a different group. And then you have all the don’t you typically have like 14,000 or 1400 on your exhibit floor.
So it was a lot of different audiences. And we had to figure out very quickly who we needed to communicate with first, and what we needed to say to them, you know, and the other audience too. And I think from an industry wide meeting side, in the city of Orlando that we needed to have conversations with too, because we were now telling their city and their residents. The pandemic is here, it’s coming. And this is going to impact your livelihood, you know, Orlando, that’s a hospitality town. So we took a lot of time with that as well. It was multiple audiences. But that one single source of truth helped us get through all of the audiences pretty well.
What was the hardest piece or or the biggest piece you had to pinpoint in those communications as something that you had to hit?
We had to keep it very factual. We have taken an action to end HIMSS 2020. We know how to protect everyone from a legal standpoint. But we had to stick to the truth of what we knew at that time. And that’s all we were communicating, you’re not going to do any, you know, we hope, or it’s here the facts. This is what we know, we will be back to you in two weeks or a week with more information as we know it, so that we kept it to just the facts. And it was hard, because you people were nervous and angry. And, you know, it was just, it was just a general chaotic period.
Well, it’s so interesting that we’re having to redo this podcast together. And the first recording was a couple weeks ago. And this this date this Friday was what I vividly remember being like, the last of everything, the last, the last of like, yeah, we used to know as normal. And I would say that when we recorded this podcast together a couple of weeks ago, there wasn’t much certainty around the rest of 2021, and what people were going to be doing for events. And now just what look a couple weeks later, I mean, there’s so much more, I don’t know about you, but I feel positivity, new ideas.
Yeah. Yeah, I feel hopeful. You know, at HIMSS, like the rest of the world, we pivoted very, we pivoted very quickly into digital into the virtual space. Because we have so much content, you know, we’re convener, we’re collaborators, so we have close to 800 educational sessions that we do during our global conference. So we had all this content. And that was, we had to repackage that and get that up and get that out. And also, what was relevant. And that was a quick turn for us. You know, the other thing that we discovered, or we always knew, was the passion that people felt with our conference. And that we took away you know, I said recently to someone I said, couldn’t figure out why people were so angry. I mean, I had some ideas, but we’ve ruined their marketing plan. We were in people’s marketing plans. We we ended their, you know, grand finale of their marketing campaign. We came to realize it was just a chaotic time,we came to realize that HIMSS is just such a brand that people equate with the health, a health care conference, we have a lot of information. And people the passion behind it was it is added to the camp, because you’re now dealing with people’s emotions.
What types of content did you feel like the audience or key pieces of communication you kept going throughout 2020 that set you up for success in 2021?
HIMSS organization is lucky. So we deal in health Technology, Health Information Technology. And we were spotlight in a pandemic. So all of the content we had around telehealth was very relevant content that we had about surveys that we’re doing around what what works in a pandemic, what technology is working, what technology is needed. We had a lot of insights. We had a lot of experts who could help that you know, the big guy the you know, the the CIO, who’s today in a multi location, hospital system could share insights with a smaller rural hospital onwhat kind of technology is working for them.
Yeah, and all of that playing a role into events reopening, the more right technology that came out of those discoveries and conversations, the more events can open and put the technology to use.
Yeah, and the thing for us that was kind of exciting for us kind of silver lining is, we forced people to think of us as a thought leader, we always were a thought leader, not an event company, not an event production.When we switch to digital, we’ve moved it away from we have a lot of smart things to say, versus we can put together a really pretty exhibit floor. So it was that the perception of HIMSS as an organization changed, good and bad. So it was it was an interesting time to see us mature into a thought leader versus just an event production company. And it was it’s a hard process to make that shift. So we had plenty of time during the lockdown to to make that shift. You know, late third quarter of 21 we hope to be in person, and we know that the content has got to be on fire. I mean, it’s got to be spot on. Phenomenal, strong content. Because now that’s what people can expect for us.The show has to be flawless as well. And when I say flawless, it needs to be flow. So the health and safety side, the wellness factor. Now that’s a word now dealing with a whole different set of conversations of how are we keeping everybody safe? How are we keeping everyone Well? Because in a large scale event, we all now know, what can get transmitted amongst us very quickly.
Now the conversation seems to be shifting. And it’s just interesting, because you’re with a healthcare organization that these questions are popping into my mind around? How do you articulate and frame up copy and communication for attendees to make sure that they want to come but that they know there’s not going to be too many people in the room, but enough people to network with and also like the laundry list of things goes on and on in my head.
So it’s funny, you bring that up, because we did open registration this week for like I said, For conference and we had a big debate around it. And that’s, you know, you don’t want to say you know, we can’t wait to see you, we’ll all be there. I don’t want to go into a big crowd. I don’t know many people who do at this time, but I do want to get out there. Right now where I think it’s like 10% of the United States population is vaccinated right now. I think that’s the number. Well now you don’t want to say it’s going to be the best event ever with the biggest crowds ever know what do you know No one has an appetite for that. It’s we’re looking at our safety protocols we hope to be in Las Vegas, we have a safety and wellness committee working with us. We’re working with the city of Las Vegas on safety and capacity issues.
Yeah, very interesting, because I imagined to there could be like a tiered opening system or a tiered system of getting back to opening registration. Because if Las Vegas is able to have more people and the vaccination rate continues, and x y&z maybe you could have more people, more people would be comfortable. So there’s a lot of interesting conversations around that.