Event Marketing

Event Leadership with Kris Lindahl

This week on Meeting Minds we are joined with Kris Lindahl. He shares with us the importance of core values and vision to each event and how it all starts with leadership.


What are the biggest problems you’ve noticed when you’ve been at events?


I think of our organization and how what we stand for and what our core values are and I try to translate that to events.  I never feel what an event stands for. There’s no vision or mission statement or values. You don’t even know why they are doing the event. It hasn’t been communicated, there are no takeaways for what the event stands for. It’s frustrating because you don’t know why they are even doing it.  Throw in a big event, you don’t even know where you are going to don’t have a target for what you are trying to accomplish, you’re never going to get to where you want to go. I go to these events and I ask, “what exactly are you trying to do?” and no one can answer that question.


I look at events like you’re running a business as well.  It’s different than my real estate business. When you start to lead a big organization of people you have to communicate what you stand for so everyone starts to go in the right direction. Whether  that’s the attendees that show up are clients and we need to experience this, whatever that is I’ve found out no one has it. What is key to success is having your core values that your company lives by, but you also need to communicate that to the consumer as well.  Really successful organizations, are ok with their core values being exposed to the public.


When you attend an event where you can feel the core values, how does it make you as a speaker and an audience member feel about being somewhere where it’s clear.


It’s no different from the RItz Carlton Four Seasons.  Really good service is really rare which creates the greatest opportunity.  When you get great service and you can feel it and it feels good, it’s memorable.  I remember those moments at those events where i could feel a difference in service and I could feel what they are trying to accomplish.


There’s a hotel in LA that has 4.9 on tripadvisor, the number 1 reason is they have red phones at the pool.  It’s the popsicle line, at any time you can call and they come with white gloves and deliver popsicles to the kids.  It’s not the nicest hotel. They realize when you are traveling with your family, the worst part is laundry. They do free laundry for you, they come back and wrap it up in twine and bring your laundry.  The popsicle line and the laundry are the two things that make the big difference and that’s what got them to 4.9 out of 5.


You could spend millions on the best rooms but if the service stinks you’re losing.


That’s the same thing in the events world, you could have all the right equipment and everything look super beautiful, but if you drop the ball on the human experience, we forget that we are actually leading humans, and when we start to remove that and focus on the technology, how things look and feel and we don’t focus on the actual connection, that’s the most important part.


That’s the part that signs or cancels deals.


It’s funny you bring that up, the best locker room wins everytime.  I think of the Las Vegas Knights, they were never picked to be in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.  They were 5000 to 1 odds to make it anywhere. They far surpassed any expectations. That’s the dangerous thing of any organization, when you pass what people expect of you, then you are playing nothing to lose.  That’s what we are focusing on, having the best locker room. You look at any organization, any sports team, the ones that win the championships aren’t the most talented, they have the best locker room. To your point, when you have someone in your organization that is trying to grandstand the place, it’s not effective for the organization, it can take the whole place down.


No greater lesson have I learned than putting my own team first. When you put your team first they will put the customer first.  Help me understand as a leader, how do I take the Chris Lindahl philosophy of leadership and apply it to my organization?


Really good culture you can’t talk about, you have to feel it and experience it.  For us it started with me, it starts with the leader. The amount of personal development and training I went through to become a better person is where it starts. You start to get transparent and vulnerable because anything that you’re thinking privately will show up publicly. If i don’t explains something to my company they know something is off. I need to go in front of my company whether good or bad and say, “here were our challenges, here were our success are.” And constantly communicate with the team because it’s not just about being up on top and leading.  We were talking beforehand about having bottom up leadership where everyone is at the same level. I didn’t have any experience when I first started in leading people. I look at people that have started companies around the same time and I look at the different progressions and mine’s been focused on personal development and theirs has been about money and growing the organization, we have surpassed everyone that has started around the same time. Not because I was driven by money, but because i was becoming a better person. Then when I started to become crystal clear on who I was, then I invested in growing my people and my organization.  I really started to shift how I think about every action every move I make, I don’t think as much about my team as much as I think about their families. Every move I make I think about their families and how everything Kris Lindahl does or says affects their families.


I have personally met the people on your team, it’s very rare you find people as passionate about what they are doing as the people on your team. It’s hard to build a culture around that.  What is the difference between top down and bottom up leadership?


Top down leadership is most of corporate America today.  You have this typically older CEO trying to lead a younger generation of people.  There is this huge disconnect, like “how do you do this, why do you do this?” Instead of walking along and helping them get better it’s dictatorship.  There’s this huge disconnect. I started asking questions to people at different corporations about their leaders. “How do you feel about your leadership, what do they do?” Rarely was it positive, rarely was it “Oh i love that person, I will do whatever that person does whether its this company or not!” more it’s “oh yeah they are rolling out more corporate initiative.  I go there till 5 and leave.”


When you have bottom up leadership people will work when they need to to get the job done.  When you have bottom up leadership you have people connected to the organization emotionally, at the heart. You won’t have turnover when they are connected at the heart.  There are always going to be better opportunities where people can leave for more money. But there’s so much to it, especially the younger generation, they want to be apart of something that’s bigger.  They don’t want to be in this individual cubicle or working from home when they have a CEO that’s barking orders down from the top down. What I’ve always found, you can learn a lot about leadership during bad times.  When everyone is having success and things are great, leadership can slip and things are still good. When things get bad and it’s all hands on deck, we’re losing money, things aren’t working, what we rolled out isn’t working, a key player left our organization, those moments are the pivotal moments.  That’s where true leadership shows up, when you’re willing to go boots on together and go through it as an organization. Most CEO and leaders are pointing down and giving orders, they aren’t actually doing it. It’s not the words, it’s the actions. It’s the actions the leaders take, people see what you are doing.  They are willing to do more if you’re willing to march alongside them.


It seems like a lot of people will blame that it’s a large organization, I don’t think the size has anything to do with it.


It’s very easy for me to see now when I speak at different organizations.  I can tell how long their company will stay intact. You can tell how people respect their leader, the type of culture the type of energy.  That’s emotional intelligence. Sometimes when I’m speaking at an event I’ll tell them, you better fix this leadership problem or you’re not going to any people not long from now.  And you know almost every single time.


As an event organizer, how do they make sure that vision and core values of the event or organization are being played through?


I’m not in that space but i’ve been on the other side of it.  I don’t think that most people that are planning the events plan for what the experience is going to be.  I walk in and I get this gift I don’t want to carry around. I get these things that are irrelevant from what I use or want and I have this bag to carry around.  They are giving things away because I don’t believe they have walked through their event from the otherside. There’s a huge difference [from hosting to attending]. When I walk into these events I’m always interested in what’s the plan?  What do you want people to experience and no one can answer them. It’s funny because the experience will build the event to the next level. The key players that you want to bring more people to your event are already there. It’s so rare that I’ll go to an event that’s super emotional, they look nice, but there’s an element missing, the service the connection.


A lot of these events i go to, they are so focused on the short game rather than building that long game, the audience that will come forever that will tell their friends that will organically grow.  They are not thinking about the brand they are building and what the vision is. Bringing in the wrong speakers is because they don’t know what they stand for. And when you don’t know what you stand for it’s hard to bring in the right speakers.


Let’s talk about leading people. How do you manage and lead people that do not know me?  


Number one is you have to assess the current people in your organization that are very successful at the positions you want to fill or add to.  Once you figure out what their personality is, you need to hire others that are just like that. You have to make sure that the assessment matches the type of people you want.  If they fit your core values and the assessment fit other people, hire that. Too often, it’s really hard to find good talent, it’s very difficult. We can get as leaders, a tendency to hire people or believe in them and don’t do any core value checks or assessments. If you bring people in that fit those two things, it’s rare you’ll have problems because they fit your organization and have the skill set to get it done.  When I look back to when I first started, I’d sit down and interview and make a decision right there. That’s how most people hire.


What I’m hearing you say is as long as you have the similar core values, you should be able to lead  and manage these people well.


There’s a couple parts to that.  There’s variables to the event. I think I would assess the company’s, who’s going to be on site from different companies.  We want to assess everyone that is coming into this place. Here are our core values, I would record a video that I would give to anyone on site saying here’s what we stand for this is what we want the experience to be at the event. I would have them sign off before they ever got on site.


The challenge is when you have people you haven’t met.  There needs to be an education process. A video is at least some sort of training.  When I go to these events I can tell that there is a disconnect and that they are from different companies and areas and no one knows anyone and nothings consistent.  The best is when I have a question for someone and they are 20 feet away and no one comes up. If you’re not doing it [a training video] you are relying on another company to do that for you. Their expectations may be completely different from what yours are.


A lot of people make the mistake of not introducing themselves when they should.  I always go and make a point of meeting people in my crew that I don’t know and thank them for being on the show.


Here’s another idea, survey the attendees but also survey the workers. When you get those surveys back, you go how was your experience working with our company.  It becomes a good recruiting tool because they care about the people working they care about the attendees. The biggest thing right now, Uber the company satisfaction, they started with tracking drivers, what’s the review what’s the consumer experience.  Then over time they have the rider reviews. They have both and that’s public information and helps them to figure out how we are doing. A lot of areas where there’s a lot of vehicles and you have a 4.8 you can’t have a black car.


The second part to what I would do is id’ have secret shoppers to attend the event and record what the experience is.  I’d hire them to figure out what’s happening and figure out what are the areas we have to get better. You’re never going to get it perfect it’s an ongoing journey but you’re going to try to get better and better. Having secret shoppers focusing on those events is important. I think a lot of people listening, the challenge is people will be scared to do it, scared of the feedback, but the feedback is going to make you better.


If we don’t have satisfaction in the work we are doing, you’re clearly doing something wrong.


We just rolled out another customer satisfaction dashboard and there were a few scores for a few of our more experienced agents that are amazing that had lower scores. There’s a tendency when you’ve been in an industry for a long time that you start going through the motions.  You don’t go back to what made you sharp. Those scores were good for those agents to see maybe their service isn’t as good as it was before. We now have that as public face to our organization. It makes such a huge difference having those scores because it shows who’s providing the best level of service, which to us i the most important thing.


I realize in our organization everything is my fault.  Everything that happens there is something that’s my fault whether it’s training or consumer expectation.  We’ve been talking a lot about taking accountability for things that has happened. That’s how you get good leadership.  We used to blame the customer, and now the analogy that comes to me is, you’re driving down the road and a car comes out and t-bones you, whose fault is it?  In our organization it’s always our fault because we were still driving. That’s how we look at everything that happens. Whether someone hits us or we hit them, it’s always our fault and it’s something to learn from.  Maybe we were going to fast, or didn’t stop at the yellow light, or should have stopped because we saw the car coming. I’ve found that most organizations want to blame someone else, mostly the customer.


I love when someone owns something.  That’s what most customers want to hear.  “We messed up.” correct it and move forward.  It’s ok to make a mistake once but don’t make it twice.  That becomes a problem. I want people to fail, we call that learning opportunities.  That’s where people grow. I look back as we’ve grown, the mistakes I’ve made, those were the pivotal moments in our growth where we became an elite company.


If you continue to ignore and blame others you are fostering more failure down the road.


Constructive feedback is the most important thing.


When you’re building and leading your team, how are you ensuring the core values are instilled in your team daily?


It’s not words, its the actions.  It is what people see me doing, where people see me commit my time. I’m on video all the time communicating what I’m doing why i;m doing it.  You mentioned earlier the podcast I am doing, Behind the Billboard, I did a video last night to our whole organization telling them why i’m doing this.  Our number one core value is to be generous. I say we have our time treasure and talents to give back. To continue to be a thought leader in our industry this was the natural thought progression for us, and this was going to benefit every family in our organization.  The doors have already opened up, from the podcast, that we wouldn’t have had before if I didn’t have a podcast. I’m always communicating to our company so they know what i’m doing. When you start to cast that vision, they start to feel apart of it. The problem is, leaders are working on these crazy ideas and don’t share the blueprint with anyone else. Then hey let’s go we’re going I’ve been thinking of this for 4 months.


Last night I got done with flag football, I returned from speaking at an event in Vegas, I was exhausted but I needed to launch this to facebook and social media but I need to go internal first and tell those in my organization why i’m doing this.  “I’m extremely exhausted but I want to get into here and tell you guys how I feel about this why i’m doing this.” Notice I said feel there because feel is important to culture, it’s the emotional heart connection. Most organizations the feminine energy is a huge part of it.  Super alpha males have been scared to get vulnerable and talk about feelings but that’s what people want to be apart of. They want to feel what’s going on, that’s where it grows. So I communicated to them, that’s why i’m doing this most people would be confused on why Kris Lindahl is opening his playbook and sharing it for free and I said I feel it’s important to give back our time treasure and talents. Yes some people will take the information and use it, but I don’t think anyone can beat our locker room.  The thing is, when you help others it helps you more. We are always students, by no means do I think i have it figured out. Even though in some moments I become a teacher, I can still learn just as much. It’s like becoming a mentor, giving feedback, you learn as much as they learn.


There are female leaders that really get it that sometimes we fall short, putting the emotion part of it as a true part of the equation.  I look at the emotional part and I think that’s how people are making decisions, and we have to be mindful of that. You have to lead with heart.


Here’s a super short story of something that happened at my organization a few years ago.  Our leadership team is almost all female. I had a conversation with one of our leaders. We were doing a review and trying to determine what the next level was for compensation.  I made a comment, “I think you deserve this number.” She said, “Kris you don’t understand, I’m not motivated by money.” It was the first time i realized there was more happening in my organization than money.  You think for high drivers the motivation is a pay increase, but when someone said that, it was one of those moments where I had this completely raw, it’s more than just money. If people come to your organization for money they will leave for money, every time.  If you really take your core values and what you stand for and communicate those to attendees and staff, it really starts to take a life of its own and that’s why people come to your organization, attend your event, things happen. They won’t leave because they want to help get that organization to the next level.


The right people, when you start to broadcast what you stand for the right people are attracted by that and the wrong people are scared away.


Final thoughts?


Leadership is a commitment to becoming a better person first.  If you can’t take care of yourself you can’t be a better leader.  I look at the early days of my organization and what really helped me was investing in personal development but it was doing video early on.  I’d do 100 videos everyday to improve my communication. Id do a video and it was so bad I’d run into the hallway to make sure no one heard it.  Then what I did, I started speaking. I was doing the boring powerpoints that every speaker does, then I’d do a little more. Then after that I did 30 minutes with just notes.  Then it was 40 minutes light notes, than an hour with nothing, two hours with nothing. Now I can speak 3, 4, 5, hours with nothing no notes, no plans, no powerpoints. It’s because of those videos speaking in those uncomfortable environments where I’ve continued to grow my brains so I can fire at the highest level, all of those things have helped me become a better leader.  Because I am a better communicator. Most people aren’t willing to do that.


None of us are natural born leaders, we have to invest and expand our brains to become better people and leaders.  Most people aren’t willing to do those things.


Find Kris at Kris Lindahl


Behind the Billboard Podcast


How to Succeed as a Corporate Events Planner

Kelsey from Lynn David Events joins us to talk about her experience in corporate events. She shares her story getting her to the point of starting her own corporate event company.



Tell us about you.


I have been a corporate event planner for 13 years. I absolutely love it. I love partnering with organizations to bring their dream to reality.  I spent the last 8 years working for an amazing company, John Wiley and Sons publishing company. Its 215 years old. Thomas Jefferson was president when they opened their doors. I was able to manage 150 events a year, just me with them. I got a really well rounded education and experience. Everything from a 700 person conference all the way down to an 8 person board meeting. Runs the gamut of everything. I’ve taken what I learned from them and struck out on my own this year, and started my own event planning company (Lynn David Events). I named it after my children, Neva Lynn and Brooks David, my 3rd baby.


How do you become successful in corporate meetings?


I think what separates a novice event planner to one that will go the distance and succeed is understanding that as an event planner you have a responsibility to understand the corporate goals and objectives and how the events support those goals. Ways that you need to do that is really be apart of the leadership discussions don’t be shy to ask to sit in on meetings, the non confidential ones of course, ask questions. So many corporations hold the same conference every year or convention just because that’s what we do, that’s how we do it. But why? What are you trying to achieve? What is the overall corporate goal or objective that this one event is trying to satisfy? How can you change this event to make it better and better? What are you trying to get the attendees to walk away with?


How do you set yourself apart and how do you add value?


Once you can understand what the goals are and why you are holding these events, the executives will look at you in a different light. You’re not just executing on this event every year, you’re playing into their goals and objectives and they’ll see you as more of a team player for the company. Then you are able to have those strategic conversations and look as more of a strategist in the company. What’s the goal of the event and you can better allocate your budget to achieve that goal instead of googling it and saying “30% of your budget should be spent on food and beverage”. What’s the goal? Are you trying to elevate the event to be looked at as educational experience, playing in that realm, then you will want to spend more money on a quality keynote speaker that people will recognize. What if you are trying to launch a new product or elevate a new brand? Then you will want to spend more money on A/V and production to really make that that product or that brand come to life, really play up the colors of this brand. But you also need to know your audience right? So if your audience is a bunch of foodies you’re going to want to still maintain a very healthy budget for the food and beverage while you’re trying to elevate your brand. Or take brand elements and put it into the food and beverage, like putting the new logo kind of showcased on top of the cheesecake would be adorable like ways to achieve your objectives but also strategically spend money to do so.


I feel like I almost can remember, to like the day, the turning point in my career when I was stopped being looked at like a party planner “oh she’s an event manager, she’s strategic”.


How do you sell a keynote to your organization?


Bring it back to the overall goals and objectives. You gotta think the executives your leadership team they’re getting pressure from higher ups from the CEO from maybe a board to achieve these goals and objectives and if one of them is to really become a player in education space or to build attendance and the attendees really value content and education it is a drop in the bucket $100,000 for a keynote speaker that’s going to maximize attendance and really put yourself, the company,and the event as a major player in education or content that’s a drop in the bucket.


What else do you have?


I think one of the biggest tips I can give anybody starting off in the corporate event space is you really need to create mutually beneficial partnerships with suppliers and vendors, and I want to repeat mutually beneficial.  Because I feel like early on in your event planning career, you think the way you succeed is you negotiate the cost down as far as possible right? And you need to understand you want your partners to make money you want them to look at you like a partnership where they are really caring about the project and also making a profit on it so they’ll  want to work with you again. Having a partner is a one off you’re creating that long term relationship that this is what you do. You should interview suppliers whether A/V or production or what have you, that share the values that your organization does and somebody you want to be in the trenches with. Tell me one event planner that has been at it, at an event that didn’t have something go wrong, and the reason why they’re always  fine in the end, it’s because of your partnership. We’re in this together and we are succeeding together. You want to have someone you click with that’s going to also look at you like “I’m your partner and I’m excited about this event excited about the next hundred events we partner on”.


For new planners in the corporate realm, it’s a very  controversial topic among event planners but I believe you should be transparent about your budget to your partners. So many people think “but that’s my power. How can I negotiate, how can I get the price down, how can I get more for less?” You can’t have a good partnership unless you’re transparent, open, and honest about the budget and  the scope of the event. If you do that right away you’re already going to be in a better spot when the event actually happens because you’re going to get the quality you’re going to get the equipment that you need and you’re going to be within budget because the partner that you decided to work with at the beginning they signed up to be that budget.


What else do you have?


What I didn’t understand early on in my career which I would love just to make sure that all your listeners do, is not every corporate event  planner has a very clear career path outline for them by their organization. I mean maybe you’re blessed to be working in an advanced division for a company where there’s  40 other event planners and maybe it’s a little bit more clear where you can go in the next 5-10 years, but I didn’t have that. I was really the only one corporate event planner. My advice is you need to know that you can look outside the organization for professional development, opportunities, education for networking and you’re not on an island.  You’re able to turn to organizations like MPI or ILEA or what have you, to seek out professional development to network with your peers. It’s an incredibly giving industry like you’re saying with you know somebody that might be a competitor as an independent planner I have been amazed by how all the other independent planners in the Twin Cities are so willing to help.


I think breaking out of the walls of your office exposes you to so many things in the industry because you know if you’re doing the same 5-10 events every year and you really are kind of craving new ideas, you’re craving like new technology going to industry events going to these annual association meetings and talking to other planners about what they’re doing, it sparks so many great ideas and not only introduces you to new people like new suppliers it can maybe bring in technology for you. You can also talk to people openly. I encourage people to not get stuck in the walls of their cubicle. The industry is very giving and you can seek elsewhere for networking and education.


What else have you got?


Also breaking away from your office, getting out of your typical 9-to-5. What’s incredibly important and if you’re a planner you understand that there’s events always held by different venues our national sales manager, Hilton, Loews, Omni, Independence they all hold events and invite planners to them over the course of the year and I encourage you to take advantage of these opportunities because the whether again you’re you are in a division of 40 event planners, or you are a team of one what’s incredibly important is to stay up to speed on the other different venue options out there and hotels are changing every day.  They’re changing flags, they’re renovating, there’s new hotel popping up, there’s new venue a special event spaces in every market. So many times I’ve had someone from the corporate leadership team come to me and is like “we wanna hold an event in three months, we wanna wanna have it in Nashville”. You don’t always have time to hop on a plane is scheduled to be great no I got a handful of properties that I have on the phone with them.


Large corporations often have event teams and planners inside, how often are those people also contracting external planners to plan things?


It’s actually becoming more and more common.  So as you know event plans for a year or budgets they ebb and flow from year to year based on the plans and those goals and objectives for the corporate organization so you don’t always want to hire another head to be a full-time employee.  We don’t know if we’re going to need that additional person the next year, so a lot of times they’ll save one or two head counts on their team to contract out other planners like myself and other amazing ones in the Twin Cities. But what’s great, is good quality independent planners, can be an extension of your team in any capacity if you need that ,if you need them to understand the product the clients the attendees whatever so they can actually interact with your guest they can do that, if you need them just behind the scenes doing the grunt-work that frees up others on the team they can do that, there are resources out there.


How do you choose the right independant planner?


I think really going out and being a part of these associations and networking like we  discussed before. I think that’s incredibly important because you get to know who is in your industry and as we were talking about everyone has their niche, right, like what they’re really good at, what they focus on, what they really excel at, what they bring to the table. You can get to know someone and see if you have a need and you have someone as a resource who would fit what you’re looking for.  


As you gain experience in this industry, you can’t do it all, and you don’t want to do it all. As you get more experience you become more self aware and figure out what your passion is and what drives you, you’re able to focus on that one area that you can bring purpose to.


What other tips do you have for being great and succeeding as a corporate events planner.


As corporate you have to think every company has a brand identity and that needs to be brought to life and consistent through the events. If you went to a target event and it didn’t have red you’d be like who is this?  Everyone has a brand a core identity, brand personality, but also quality and consistency needs to be in events.



You can contact Kelsey at kelsey@lynndavidevents.com


Meeting Minds by EideCom

Mergers & Acquisitions: How to keep growing your event when your business chang

What happens when your business merges and your conference grows 4x larger? Emma Bica, Event Marketing Manager for PeopleNet/Trimble talks us through her company’s event growth and how to work collaboratively with a new parent company.


Tell us about you and your background.


To set the stage I have worked PeopleNet/Trimble for 8 1/2 years.  I was hired on as an intern when I was still in college and they had a marketing team of 2. They had a conference coming up for the customers that they were going to need help with, one was going to be out on maternity leave. I jumped in and saw part of the benefit of being an intern was getting to go to the Boca Raton Resort in Boca Raton. I started doing that and long story short, I’m still there, they haven’t gotten rid of me. Really grown threw my career, it’s been exciting to see things change.  Our department is now 6 people.


I focus on trade shows and events. We attend in some form or fashion 80-90 trade shows a year. Were in the trucking industry, its  heavily trade show oriented. I also manage our social media and do my organizational ninja data spreadsheet organization as well.


Can you give us a quick summary for what PeopleNet/Trimble does?


It is in the trucking space.  We create the on board technology that goes inside the trucking plate. As you’re going down the road and you see the semi’s going by you, tip your hat to them.  I’ve gained a whole new appreciation for this industry. It’s one that’s super easy to take for granted. We help to make their job easier and their businesses to run more efficiently.


Without this industry we wouldn’t have the clothes on our back it’s so easy to take for granted.


Yeah there are all these statistics that if all the truckers stopped for a day, the pharmacies wouldn’t get the medicine, hospitals wouldn’t have what they needed, there wouldn’t be milk at the grocery stores, or gas at the gas station. It’s one of those that is super easy to take for granted but we needed. They are working hard and there is a shortage because it’s’ a tough job to do.

Tell us about the event you had and the progression of it.


When I first started the user conference was about 400 people. It’s always been an annual user conference it’s really geared towards our customers. Heavy on education about our products and services as well as the industry as a whole. Having an expo hall for our partners and sponsors to be able too showcase what they can do for our customers, and our employees are there and available in one spot.


If we rewind to about 9 years ago to the first one I was involved with, in Boca Raton FL.  We had about 420 people it was super exciting and super stressful. My boss and I did everything from bringing the projector into the room every morning and making sure they were set up, switching the signs in-between sessions everyday.  Every little thing, we made sure it happened, we coordinated transportation for all our attendees.


It’s really grown and evolved over time, to skip over what I’m sure we will go over, we just finished an annual user conference it’s called The Insight User Conference, it’s with a sister company.  There were 2200 people there. It’s a few more people involved. We have an event managing team that helps us do a lot of the work. I like to say we’ve grown up a bit, but it’s crazy to think about where we’ve come to where we are to where we’re going to go in the future.


Tell me more about the conference itself.


It’s about 3 days long, start on a Sunday evening and end on a Wednesday afternoon. We have over 350 educational sessions during that time. We have an expo hall with over 70 of our vendors to chat with our customers. We have what we call an insight lab a hands on place for our customers to dig into the software service and employees there to make sure its being used to the best of their ability.  We also have a lot of fun.


Who’s attending your event?


It’s customers, its a really customer focused event. We want to bring them all together to have a lot of education on what is new, what the products and services we offer and we’ve been focusing on the industry. We have a lot of industry experts to talk about overall the transportation industry  whats new, what’s coming up, what do they need to be aware of, tips and tricks, and best practices. We are getting more into business best practices. Things that don’t only apply to people in our industry. We are trying to expand our educational repertoire. We are going for a more holistic approach.


To people buy their own tickets, how does it work?


It’s a registration fee that covers food, beverage, and evening entertainment, as well as all the education, access to the expo hall.  They just have to pay to get themselves their and their hotel and we cover the rest.


Tell us more about when you merged these events together.


Three years about in 2016.  Leadership said it would be best. There’s some efficiencies you see, we were serving similar audiences.  We were a month apart. When you look at it from a more logistical financial side it looked like it made sense for us to take these two conferences that were similar in nature and combine them into one to create a more powerful joint conference.


The planning began about a year and half before the conference started. In general these conferences are complex a lot of detail to put together. But now you have two planning teams who each had their own way of doing things. We’re located in two different offices, who’s best practices are you going to follow?


We couldn’t have done it without google drive.  Our company had just migrated to google from outlook. I don’t know how we could have managed a budget and all these things without it.


How did you put the two together?


It’s been an evolution, and change is hard for anyone.  We came up with messaging for our customers letting them know we were bringing these two conferences together and really focusing on the value that was going to bring them by not having to spend time out of the office two months in a row they could invest in sending more people there. They were going to have that value add of having one conference they could go to.


Did you have to change the cost of registration?


We did. We did some analysis and setting some bench marks. We were in similar places on somethings and some things we were a little off. The very first step to do if you are combining conferences is to do a state of the union. Where are you at?  What are you charging for registration? Demographics? Content? Etc.


It’s got to be difficult.


It’s a learning process and communication is key. We had one way of doing it and they had a way of doing it and neither is right or wrong but their are different. How can you work together to find a new way to do it? Thats what we focused on, lets create something new. We’re not trying to make your conference better or our conference better but we’re trying to create something new and keeping the focus on the customer.


I always tried to think of the customer. Who is the end user of this conference?  And whatever decision we make is to service them and what ever is in their best interest.


Did you have to go to your leadership because things weren’t turning out?


One of the things we learned, is there weren’t as many efficiencies that were long term generated.  In the first year there were some created taking two conferences and combining them into one. What we’ve seen as we’ve gone, we have it as our user conference so we don’t have competition there. With 2 companies there are more companies as potential competitors which lessons our sponsorship revenue possibilities. That’s one of the big ways we are able to put on our conference is by sponsorship revenue that was something we saw as increasing or staying the same, but that’s been opposite of the case.  From a budget standpoint we’ve been decreasing the amount of sponsorship revenue due to competitive concerns.


What is your strategy for the content during the breakouts?


Right now we’re really focusing on having the folks at the event to gain that content. I know being able to live stream during the conference or people to sign up for web versions is popular.  To be candid it makes me a little nervous. We are dipping our toe in the water of picking some sessions that may serve a mass audience because we understand our customer is busy for them to take time out of their schedule, we do want to serve them. Right now we really focus on at the conference is where the content is. We do send it out as PDF forms of our presentations for our customers to have available for a month after.  Also that content could get stale we don’t want it out there forever and ever.


Do you ever use celebrity power?


We have a handsome budget.  The things that are super expensive have not been in our reach.  But we figure out where we want to invest that money, maybe in a key note speaker. We try to have it with a purpose, we have a theme in our conference.  You want someone who fits with that. Obviously big names are going to be a draw, people are going to be attracted to that. We don’t want to have someone random where our attendees are saying this person is cool but I don’t understand how it fits.


One of the things we focus on when looking for a keynote it doesn’t have to be someone who knows our industry. People don’t like when someone pretends they get what they do we’ve had speakers do that. It come’s across in an unsettling way. We want to know where you have come from. We want someone who is a master in their area. If they do that well enough our audience can pick the pieces that matter and how it can apply to them.


What other things for the event planners thinking of combining conferences?


We do not make any money off of our conferences. Never meant to be a revenue generating event. We charge a registration fee to only cover the cost. That is one important thing we were both on the same page about. The integrity of the event, this is for customers, we want to have a quality event but this is not a revenue stream for us.  So what we are charging is just to cover the cost of food and entertainment and hopefully the rest can be covered by our sponsor revenue.


If you could give our audience a little bit of advice what would it be?


Embrace your inner organizational ninja and document and have data for things.  As much as I love the emotional side of events things can’t continue or change if you don’t have any data to support. Decisions needing to be made need data, if you are going to present it to leadership or colleagues all they are going to see is you had a nice party the party went well.  To help get some meat behind you do is to have the data behind you it will serve you well and help you to grow and see where you have grown.


The second piece of advice is being able to when you get to show time, let go and try to deal with things as they come.  You prepare for months or years to get to show start and when you get there you don’t have time to make a decision in that moment you can’t put it off or send an email. You need to make a decision and move forward.  


Meeting Minds By EideCom

Using Sleep to have a Better on site Experience

On this episode of Meeting Minds, sleep expert Sarah Moe teaches about the importance of sleep and sleep habits and how it affects our productivity.



You have some tips for us don’t you?  I feel like we sleep better in the fall.

That’s actually quite common. A lot of people do find that once it does start to cool  off and they open the windows at night they are sleeping a lot better. The science behind that is because the recommended sleeping temperature for your bedroom is 65 degrees.  The reason the national sleep foundation recommends this is because our bodies are naturally going to attempt to drop to that temperature in the first place.  So if you are able to speed that process along it’s that much easier and causes less interruptions in your ability to initiate sleep. 

Try it for a few days, you will be surprised.  It is difficult for most of us to wake up because our REM sleep happens at the end of our sleep cycle. REM sleep stand for Rapid Eye Movement and that’s the stage where we dream.  Because of that we have a natural paralyzation that happens where we are paralyzed so we can’t act out our dreams. I don’t know if you’ve ever woken up and you feel like you can’t move it’s because of those hormones. It’s called sleep paralysis and it’s very common.  It’s also why it’s difficult to get out of bed, if you’re groggy and slow to move you were probably in REM sleep.

I love that part when you’re about to fall asleep and you feel like you’re falling and you jump.

That’s very common as well.

It’s common for us in the events world to put sleep off. Talk to us about how that can affect our performance.

It’s common across all fields, it’s an American mindset, I will put off sleep to be more productive. It’s actually incredibly counter productive.  If you were able to achieve the sleep that you were supposed to have every aspect of your next day would be more positive. Our sleep impacts everything we do our ability to make proper judgements, our moods, our physical health. Everything is impacted by how you sleep the night before. When you are going to sacrifice your sleep to get more done just know that if you did take that time to get the sleep you were supposed to have then everything you were going to do the next day is going to be better.  

There’s so many things that have happened in the history of our culture that have been disastrous based on poor sleep. We were talking earlier about the Challenger (The Shuttle) I remember when I was younger hearing how devastating it was.  It was something that could have been prevented. After they did the investigation after the crash they found that it was a faulty o-ring and there was a leak and it caused the explosion.  The crew that was in responsible for checking the o-ring was found to have been going on two hours of sleep the night before. So when they found that in the investigation they realized that was something that was poor lack of judgement on their part based off of sleep deprivation.

When we think about going into our jobs or workspaces, especially in the event planning world, when you have these large things you are working with, to be on your game with a good night of sleep will be helpful for everybody.

We are hanging heavy things over peoples heads every day!  Thousands of pounds are being raised up.

Imagine if that person who was responsible for that construct was sleep deprived. The three main things that they look for that will decline after sleep deprivation sets in is:

1. Cognitive abilities

2. Reaction time

3. Decision making process

What is it that happens when you sleep that refreshes you?

There are four stages of sleep and each stage does something different. We’re now learning the role that sleep plays in memory.  We’ve always known that you can’t have a good memory if you don’t have great sleep.  But now we are learning the science behind it including the different parts of the brain involved even the different brain waves that will consolidate memories. They are proving that when we are learning something our brains are in record mode we are taking in this information, it basically sits there. When we sleep it becomes storage. Our brains in stage two sleep will decide if what you processed that day will be stored into longterm or short-term memory. If we’re not having consolidated sleep we’re not able to store those memories and have them accessible the next day.

In college I read that sleep is more important than studying all night, so I would go to bed early rather than staying up all night studying.  I would do just fine on my tests.

These poor college students who are pulling all nighters, reading this information, and thinking they are going to be able to retain it the next day and be tested on it, it’s the complete opposite. They would be so much better off learning through out the day, getting a good night sleep being able to consolidate those memories, and then go about the next day.  

In the events business a lot of techs are expected to work long shifts, what is the recommended shift?

The average American adult needs 8 hours of sleep, we’ve all heard this. Even now they are saying 7-8 is sufficient. The majority of us are admitting to getting 6 1/2.  It doesn’t seem like it’s that much of a difference but that extra half hour does make a huge difference for your abilities of the next day. 

That being said, the average person sleeping 8 hours a night will have that be 1/3 of their lives leaving the other 16 for wakefulness. There are a lot of other things that need to happen during wakefulness like commuting to work, taking care of family, social life, all these hours that add up.  16 hours is not only too long of a shift to work, but it’s too long for actual wakefulness. At that point 16 hours is where your body starts to break down and it is to the point of being comparable to alcohol. So after 16 hours your sleep deprivation is going to leave you being impaired the same way to alcohol.

Is it fair to say that the mind needs offline time or rest?

Absolutely, meditation is a huge helpful tip right now, not to replace your sleep but to have a healthy bedtime routine. That’s been proven over years. When you think of the chaos in our lives it’s not just with work, it’s with family with social. It’s important for you to have time to yourself to think about what’s important in your lives, if you want to continue to be busy. Sleep is a huge part of that to help you process your thoughts and feelings.

What is happening that’s causing all this good stuff in your body when you sleep well?

The cool thing about sleep is that it’s a system that requires all other systems.  You can’t even achieve sleep without ever other part of your body being involved. I think thats fascinating, when you want to wiggle your toe you don’t need your other systems as such. Everything is incorporated in sleep cardiology, respiratory, neurology it’s all one big crazy neat puzzle. 

Even to initiate sleep it takes a lot of little systems together at the exact time so you can get to sleep. It is still unknown, because sleep medicine is so young when you think of the other fields. We’ve really only gotten the research in the last 30 years so we still have a long ways to go but we’ve learned so much to be able to save lives

What are you saying about sleep saving lives?

Despite having the lack of physiological research our elders knew what they were talking about when they say, “drink some chicken noodle soup and go to bed”. One of the first things that happens when we do become sleep deprived is that our immune systems drop. It is easier for you to get sick when you haven’t been sleeping well.  That’s because we are not able to fight off simple bacteria that we would be able to on a normal day. That being said, they’ve also classified shift work as a carcinogen, which is something that is likely to cause cancer.  After a night of less than 5 hours of sleep, your cancer fighting cells reduce by 70% in your body.

How important is it that an event organizer makes sure that the tech’s get enough sleep?

It’s extremely important, especially from the realm of safety. There’s so many minor avoidable mistakes that happen due to sleep deprivation or fatigue. That being said, it is great to be aware of your team and their needs. If there is a day that’s longer than the others, of course that’s acceptable, but just to be aware that the next day needs to be different so you can make up that sleep and improve your ability to perform. 

There are so many physiological implications.  Even just heartburn and obesity.  That’s a vicious cycle with interrupted sleep.  A lot of people will start with a sleep disorder and because of that become obese. Or they will be obese and develop a sleep disorder. Its a vicious cycle. Leptin and ghrelin, two hormones regulated during sleep, play a part in appetite control and burning calories. If you have interrupted sleep or a sleep disorder, and you are obese and trying to lose weight, if you are not sleeping well and have the proper regulation of those hormones you’re already starting the next day behind.

Is it a thing where most people don’t know they are not sleeping well?

Most people who have a sleep disorder are unaware. The people who suffer the most are the bed partners. They are the ones who realize something is wrong usually the reason people will come in for treatment for a sleep disorder. 

What are symptoms people should look for?

Fatigue is the number one symptom. Fatigue is like pain. If you break your arm there’s a signal, pain is saying something is wrong. Fatigue is saying something is wrong with your sleep. Unfortunately majority of us have adapted to a tired lifestyle where we think we are supposed to be tired all the time. My first piece of advice would be to practice good sleep hygiene which is what we call sleep habits. Once you get to a point where you focus on removing the negative influencers on your sleep and focus on getting 8 hours of sleep a night, then you still feel fatigued its probable you have a sleep disorder. Over 30 % of the population has a sleep disorder and there are over 115 sleep disorders.  The main one though is sleep apnea where you stop breathing at night. It’s estimated over 20 million Americans are undiagnosed sleep apnea. 

Are there things that can help you get into a better sleep cycle?

Yes.  The two main negative influencers are caffeine intake and blue light. Caffiene is really prevalent in our culture this is not a judgment.  Caffeine is important given our busy lifestyles.  It is important to know how it works so you are not abusing it as you use it. Caffeine is an adenocine blocker, adenocine is a hormone that makes you feel physically fatigued, makes your eyes feel tired.  Caffeine blocks the release of adenocine, when you have caffeinated beverages in your system and you try to go to sleep that when you end up in that phase where my mind is racing and I can’t go to sleep. You’re body wants to fall sleep but the presence of that caffeinated beverage will not allow it. 

The average caffeinated beverage has 100 mg of caffeine and caffeine has what’s called a half life. It takes 5 hours for half of that to get out of your system, then 5 hours later the other half will exit your system. If you do drink caffeinated beverages try to stop by 2 pm so it can exit your system. 

The second one is blue light, it is huge, number one negative influencers on our sleep. Blue light is the fastest frequency of light.  It’s not only telling us to be awake but also when we are sleeping.  Spontaneous arousal’s that may be caused by blue light, and can be avoided by not using your digital device before bed. Avoid it for an hour, the national sleep foundation says 2, but I’m a realist.

What about night shift on the new phones?

They are slightly impactful but do not do what they claim to do.

What about sugar before bed I heard it makes you wake up to use the restroom?

That’s one of the few things that will cause you to wake up to use the restroom. A lot of people think they are waking up to use the restroom when in reality they are waking up for another reason and realizing they could use the restroom and then they go.

Other negative influencers?

Sleep disorders.  Most people don’t think they have one because we adapt.  We think we are supposed to be tired because of busy lifestyles.  But again with over 115 of them a lot of us do suffer from them. With bed partners being the ones who suffer most people don’t think this is something I should go talk to my doctor about. Another big part of the problem there, a majority of our Doctors in med school are practicing about 2 1/2 hours of sleep education.  There’s no mandatory education on sleep.

You mentioned a sleep study now what is that?

I worked overnights in school doing sleep studies and diagnosing sleep disorders. Patients come in and we put a bunch of wires on them and watch them sleep and see what’s going on.  From what we can monitor which is brainwaves, respiratory, your heart, all your systems and how they work together and if there is a sleep disorder present.  We treat it and send you on your way. 

So does being a tech where you are staying up all night and watching other people sleep what does that do for you?

It’s called hypocrisy. We sacrificed our sleep for yours.  I used to ride the bus home because driving home in that state was so dangerous.  I used to fall asleep on the bus all the time.  

Tell me about someone who wants to consider a sleep study. 

Most insurance covers and now is a great time of the year to do it.  Most people met their deductibles and now have the rest of the year to different medical procedures. IF you are tired I highly suggest getting a referral from your primary physician and say I’m tired, I’d like to get a sleep study.  They will refer you to an accredited lab in your network.  You get to go spend a night with an awesome tech and wake up with some answers.

What are things you can do in your routine to get ready, even if it’s not your home?

Yes sleep disorders are prevalent, but for most of us having good sleep habits and a routine will help us to sleep so much better.  Stop drinking caffeine at two and stop looking at blue light an hour prior to bed.  I also wear an eyemask to bed. Every time I pull down my mask I can physically feel my body say oh it’s time for bed.  We are so trainable.  It takes 28 days to form a habit but with sleep it’s so much sooner because your body craves sleep so much, it’s adaptable when it comes to sleep habits. I always suggest doing one physical habit that will train your body it’s time for bed. 

A nice glass of wine, alcohol is a sedative.  But it suppresses REM sleep, so do not have more than the recommended 1.  Don’t use excessive alcohol to fall asleep but have a night cap.  

They are leaning that a lot of people are having a hard time falling sleep because of worry.  They did a study where they listed five things they wanted to do the next day and five things they were grateful for. In that order first remove the worry then be grateful.  The ability to fall asleep was exponentially higher for them.

It’s good to keep a sleep journal keep it by your bedside.  A lot of time its good to write down your dreams, they can be very telling and you don’t have dream recall unless you wake up out of that specific dream. We have around 5 different REM cycles. 

Tell me about zzz-quill.

I am a fan of sleep aids. That is if you have done a sleep study and ruled out a sleep disorder, have good sleep hygiene then yes take a sleep aid. The long – term ramifications of sleep deprivation are so much more negative than actually taking a sleep aid. 

Are there other foods that are not good and ones that are good for sleep?

Cherries are one of the only natural sources of melatonin. Melatonin is very frequently mis-used unfortunately because of pharmaceutical companies mislabel them. I don’t know if you’ve ever used them, the way it was marketed was as a natural substance and you can take a natural thing but the melatonin you are taking was created in a lab. You are supposed to talk it 2 hours prior to sleep but most bottles say a half hour.  People think it’s going to be this magic sleep aid when in reality melatonin is used in circadian rhythm regulation, which is our bodies time clock.  If you take it two hours before you are setting your body up for when it’s time to sleep and not adjusting the shift to much by taking it a half hour before.  

It’s good to go out in sunlight in the morning to boost natural melatonin production. So when you wake up and you are able to go outside for ten minutes that’s really helpful. 

What other things would you like people to know before wrapping up?

It is really important to be aware of it. I’m not going to sit here and say sleep is the most important thing and you have to go to bed at the same time overnight. If you are suffering everyday, just know there are steps you can take to feel better. We live in the age of information you can google anything.  If you are tired there is something you can do about it.



Meeting Minds by EideCom

How to Raise $10 Million in One Night

On today’s episode we talk to Brady Forseth from the Starkey Hearing Foundation and most recently the African Community & Conservation Foundation. He shares how he, with a team made the Starkey Hearing Foundation gala become an event that raises over $10 million in one night. Hear the importance of truly internalizing the mission of your organization. Contact Brady at brady@africanccf.org

Tell us about you and your history with the Starkey foundation.
Son of a preacher, that tells you something, watch out! I grew up in Long Island, New York. Out of college I was a history major.  Thought I was going to be a history teacher and coaching football and baseball because I was drafted out of high school to play professional sports with baseball. Wound up hurting my arm, thank God for that. I met my wife, and have my kids and have my beautiful family now.
Out of college I really got into the non-profit management world right off the bat.  1993, it’s coming on 25 years already, that I’ve been doing this work. For me it’s always been about passion, purpose, and what’s the impact you’re going to make. It’s about the heart, the dignity, the respect, and showing people value and self-worth.
Out of college I started off in education for a few years. From there I quickly moved to a non-profit that was providing about 1500 families in Long Island, New York with autism, developmental disabilities, and the whole spectrum. I became a lead advocate for children and adults who wouldn’t have that opportunity otherwise. Think about that. Not just raising money, cause that’s not what it’s about, yes raise the money that’s the end goal. How do you become and advocate for these people how do you define your purpose, passion to make impact. At the end of the day a lot of it has to do with the cultivation, the stewardship, and ultimately the friend-raising which we will talk about. Did that for about 8 1/2 years.
About that time, I decided it’s time to go back to my roots, I’m from Minnesota. We moved with my wife and three daughters to Minnesota. I was at a University over at the Northwestern Health Sciences University, formerly the College of Chiropractic, one of the leaders in a natural approach to health. When I came into the role as a chief development officer, they had nothing going on. It was grass-roots, no communication.
When you look at development and fundraising it’s never really about just the development attack at all, it’s more about how you communicate how do you develop the relationships and get people on board. I did that for 7 1/2 years. What had happened, I was doing an event at Hazeltine National Golf Club, it was called the president’s invitational.  It wound up becoming one of the larger events for golf. 5 years into that the board had said “Hey what’s another non-profit here locally that’s doing good work here, nationally, and globally.” And I said, “That’s a good question, you tell me, I’m new to Minnesota” There’s all these wonderful groups out there and there was one guy on the board that said, “You should share money with the Starkey Hearing Foundation.” I chuckled, not in a bad way,  in a way, “yeah right these guys raise about 2 million in a gala. I don’t know if they are going to want to get involved with us”. Next thing you know he explains to me, “Well did you realize the first chiropractic patient that was ever treated was a guy by the name of Harvey Lillard. He had his spine adjusted to help with hearing loss. Every chiropractor in the world knows that message.”
That began a strategic partnership with The Starkey Hearing Foundation and Northwestern Health Sciences University and the foundation. I never knew that five years later I’d go to work for the Starkey Foundation. Well 5 years fast forward I got to connect with Bill and Tani Austin who I consider a father and mother to this day. They’ll always be family to me. When I began with them Bill and Tani Austin were doing great work they were helping anywhere from 25,000-40,000 hearing aids a year. In one years time, what I was able to do because Bill was so laser focused really connecting to the patient, connecting that back to life through hearing.  I started turning over the rocks of opportunity. If you think about who Bill Austin is as a man, he is someone who is changing not just the community but the world. And there’s a lot of people that want to help. I was the guy who started to develop the opportunities. There was a meteor storm of opportunities that started coming to our plate. I was starting to get calls seemed like every other week whether it was Ethiopia, or the West Bank, and the heart of the Arab Springs called to say can we help. It became not just a hearing mission to help the people but a mission of peace and understanding.  It grew where President Clinton, part of the whole Clinton Global Initiative, Starkey Hearing made a commitment to do a 100,000 hearing aids annually through the decade. It was amazing to see to see how this last year that was already fulfilled.
The Starkey Hearing Foundation has gone to a whole different level. I appreciate what you said about me earlier about how I’ve created this and I’ve created that to be honest with you I believe in the philosophy Bill Austin believes.  Alone you can only do so much, really together you can make a difference. For me it’s about collective impact. That’s how the fundraising/friend-raising really works. Connecting the dots, dotting the I’s crossing the T’s, and figuring out how you take the landscape of where you need to be at a future point so you have true sustainability moving forward. We’ve done it in a variety of ways. When I started with the Starkey Gala they were raising millions of dollars and it seemed like each year it started to grow and grow and grow. As a lot of that connectivity, that friend-raising, doing the cultivation of the relationships, stewarding those relationships, and ultimately there’s a conversion point. For me it’s not just about this fancy proposal that you are going to give someone, when you really connect with a donor, at whatever level, they really believe in it. It will be sustainable and its going to be transformational for many years to come.
That foundation event has grown to a different level, it’s raised millions. The Starkey gala is a weekend of passion and purpose to make a difference. You see this global event that’s right here in Minnesota, they come from all over the world. That really is a testament to who Bill and Tani Austin really are.  They don’t just talk the talk, they walk the walk. That’s been really easy to help promote it, it’s not selling, it’s promoting it to people who care who want to make a difference.  50% of that audience comes from around the world. They converge on Minnesota for a weekend. They’ve honored everyone. That weekend has become an inspiration it has really catapulted to a different level. The momentum has grown to a different level. We’ve been able to build and army, if you will, of ambassadors who are ambassadors of change and for good who really want to see a transformational impact on the world. Today that has grown to such a level under Bill and Tani Austin that they have sustainable programs in the world. When I started there were “x” amount of countries now there in 5 continents, in 103 countries.  What I’m most proud of in my 10 year career is that they now have sustainable community based hearing healthcare programs that also provide after care services in 62 of those countries. Starkey has shown that they can do the work its become a world hearing health plan that is being accepted by even governments around the world.
When I’m thinking of taking an event to a new level, how do you create an environment that attracts the right people to sit in your audience?
A lot of it has to do with introductions, a lot of research.  As you’re connecting with the networks involved you have to understand what people really believe in.  They have to understand what your purpose, mission, and vision are about. They have to know if they are going to get involved the money is going to be used for the right reasons. That’s been very clear, I’ve always been involved in all these organizations where I knew the money was going to go right back into it, there’s low overhead. 80 cents to the dollar non-profit standards is an A rating , I could tell you it was way above with Starkey.  A lot of it has to do with the connectivity of the donors as well. Not just the donors by the way because all people can help at different levels. Theres that 80/20 rule, I actually call it 90/10– 10% of the people giving 90% of the money. What about the masses of the people as well. They can help in a different way, shape, and form as well. You have to be able to connect with the people they have to understand. When you’re doing an event it takes a team to do what you’re doing, you’ve got 100’s of volunteers, in the case of Starkey.  You have to be able to work and manage with all of them. You have to be able to articulate the message, you have to be able to use the PR the Marketing expertise of the teams that are around.  The social media impact, I talked earlier about some of these celebrity ambassadors, they got platforms that will scare you. I don’t care if its 500 to a million, to 50 million. We’ve had them all step up to say, “How can I help?”  they might not write that 15-20 thousand dollar check that’s fine.  They can say “Today was one of the best days of my life, I got to see what it’s like for a child to hear.  And what it’s like for the future of that person’s life”. There’s a lot of social media with calls to action. On the marketing, PR, and social media sides of things the friend-raising permeates not just through donors but also through PR, the media, tv, and radio stations. There’s an opportunity like this for me to use a platform to get the information out.
When you know you are going to have world-class guests, how do you create the environment and experience that is world-class for them?
It’s from the moment they step off the plane or get out of the car, or in the case of the Starkey Hearing galas, a lot of it had to do with the weekend of events. When you get to that size of an event you need people who can host their experience along the way, getting them from event to event, being able to have them understand what the message is and the purpose of the weekend to make that impact and how they can help articulate that. They become in the case of the Starkey Hearing Foundation hearing angel ambassador for that weekend.  They are there to put that message out, because it’s going to raise more awareness and support for what you are doing.  That person who sponsors or buys a ticket, who comes to the event, from the moment they come, once they get on the red carpet of the Starkey Foundation Gala to the top of the steps after their registration and see what’s going on with the silent auction, knowing exactly where to go, how they can actually be able to support that evening.
What was the turning point for you and your gala?
When I came in, they already had the celebrity.  That factor was already there, they already had the celebrity factor as a testament to who Bill and Tani Austin are. For me it was about how do we develop the sponsorship level, taking things to a different level with sponsors. I started to reach out who is the network that is around what Starkey and the Foundation is really about. Who is involved, and it’s just a matter of someone being their 365, 24/7 really hitting the pavement. I start to worry if I’m sitting behind the desk. You have to get out and be able to look in their eyes so they understand.  It’s also about getting out.  I needed to be out in the trenches, myself. It’s one thing to give a fancy proposal, it’s another thing to be able to say “I’ve been in the trenches.  I’ve seen what’s it’s like for a son to be able to hear for the first time and the mothers crying because it’s the first time she’s heard her son say I love you”. Those are the testimonials you have to share. I was spending 4 to 5 to 6 months of the year doing that stuff. It made my job a lot easier when you are able to get out there and be able to identify who those networks and people are.
Next thing you know the Minnesota Vikings hear about the work we are doing.  They get involved in some of the local work we are doing.  Next thing you know the Minnesota Twins are getting involved in different levels. The Minnesota Wild, and so on and so forth. So you hit the sports market and you hit all different levels. It’s about caring and sharing and they understand from the top down what the purpose and mission are. It’s important for donors and those involved to see impact reports. Beyond just the intro point to the cultivation, to the stewardship, to the conversion, the thank you is the most important thing.  I’m the guy who’s going to be calling you from Rwanda or texting you to say, “thinking about you right now, I just wanted to say thank you. What I’m doing right now you made that happen.” Your investment at all levels, its important how you engage that.  It could be a school super intendant to a principal to whatever is mobilizing people to get behind what you are trying to do.  There are multi-lateral versions of fundraising that can be done in all different channels and ways. You always have to be on that, moving those, prioritizing, and re-prioritizing, make sure you’re moving the ball forward. It’s like Bill said you can hit some singles and doubles and sometimes it might not work , no is never a no, They might say, “I can’t do the event this year but I can next year” “I can’t do this, but I can do that.” And that’s ok, for the Starkey Foundation hearing was the platform. Now I’m on a different platform where we’ve actually gone to a different level of the whole circle of life, but at the end of the day it’s important that you really stay on that. They understand that you cultivate that steward that and move forward.
What are you doing now?
It’s been an amazing journey, I’m the CEO of what’s called the African Community and Conservation Foundation.  The patron is a guy by the name of Paul Tudor Jones, he’s out of Connecticut. I don’t know if you’ve heard of the Robin Hood Foundation, it’s a foundation he started that raises overall about 60-90 million to knock out poverty and homelessness in New York. I’m not working for the Robin hood Foundation, but Mr. Jones has these properties throughout Africa, but what I’m doing is “blessing the rains in Africa” Toto/Weezer style. Ultimately on a circle of life programs. I’m a big believer of wild life management, I believe in conservation, I believe in anti-poaching. I would not have left the Starkey Hearing foundation just for that. I would have written a check for that, and everything else.  Add the circle of life to that where you are doing human impact programs, where you are providing clean safe water, education where you can give them the tools they need to be able to get jobs and care for their families. You talk about health issues, whatever it may be. That’s what I just spent that last couple of weeks on, doing needs assessments in these areas where they are surrounding the properties there. I”m on the non-profit side of it there.
We are laser focused on everything from scholarships to English immersion to all different things, safe homes for little girls who need it. We won’t have time on this to talk about it all. You talk about what’s going on with the poaching, it’s a terrible issue. They are slaughtering elephants, they are slaughtering rhinos taking the ivory for medicinal, or jewelry. It’s a terrible thing. My whole purpose is to focus on the coexistence of wildlife and humanity and the circle of life. Were doing it not just in Tanzania were spreading out throughout Africa. I’m not going to just leave there. What were doing is expanding into Rwanda, Zambia, South Africa, and Zimbabwe. That’s where I spent the last couple of weeks, seeing the property and the surrounding.  We are going to the Robin hood thing in the surrounding.
Africa has been a second home to me with the Starkey Foundation. I know Africa very well. It’s been nice to see the needs and the basic necessities of clean water, education, food, agriculture.  You give them the fish feed them for the day, teach them to fish feed them the lifetime.  It’s about empowerment. Starkey Foundation’s done a good job on the hearing side of that. There’s a menu of options to get engaged. Even though we’re in Minnesota or the USA this is a hot topic when you talk about the wildlife side the conservation side. Many great organizations are doing great work in the area, I won’t mention names but they don’t have the twist of the circle of life. That’s where I was really interested in being apart of this and taking that to a different level. Our goal is to take this to a level where it becomes a household name, not just in the US but around the world. I’m spending a lot of time  going around the world and finding those people who have an interest to make a difference in the circle of life program.
You are also getting ready to use your expertise of events as a fundraiser…
Events have been and amazing platform for us. We’ve had third-party events where rather than me put the expense into it, people say I want to host events for you. For example Liberty on the Lake, coming up this next year. We are excited for the opportunity there, we will be looking at the anti-poaching side. At the same time all different types of events. There’s a lot of these donors, friend-raisers if you will, people come to me and say listen I want to host and event, encumber the expense make it happen so all the revenue we can raise can go right back into the sustainability and transformation of the circle of life programs in Africa. We are bringing a lot of people on what I call a Safari with a purpose, you get to go see some of these properties that are off the charts, I’m not going to lie to you. More importantly, not just about that, rather get out into the community. Yeah see the animals one day, but lets follow the K-9 unit and go look for some poachers.  It’s almost like riding around with the sheriff if you will.  The next day you can go do another safari then lets see what the water programs are doing, let’s go to a school, lets see one of the safe homes where these little girls are living, see what your investment’s making into their life’s that’ll have a future. At the same time, we have a lot of small business enterprise programs there as well. Events will be very key to us.  We are looking to do more events there a lot people in the twin cities that have asked to do events. I love to deal with a lot the event planners, I know they have a lot of great expertise in these areas. I know this is something that will become a household name, not just in this area, but throughout the US as well.
If we don’t start addressing the situation through what we are doing there will be two things: the extinction of animals, these beautiful animals that we will lose.  I can tell you in Tanzania alone, where our property is, there was one rhino there in February.  In the 1970’s they had a thousand, two thousand rhinos there. One at our property, the 2nd one came from the San Diego zoo yesterday.  It’s brand new news that’s going out and it’s going viral. Next year we’re looking at reintroducing 8 to 10.  Then eventually 12. So those 14, when they eventually get there will make up 10% of the entire Tanzania population. Then you talk about the poaching of the elephants. We’re going to have the extinction of the animals, and that can’t happen.  We are counteracting that with anti-poaching units, there’s drone programs that Mr. Allen’s been involved with that are going out to help find and stop the poachers. At the same time we don’t want to lose Africa.  Africa is a jewel.  Whether you’ve been to Africa or not, or whether you never go to Africa, we can’t lose Africa. You talk about the whole human-wildlife conflict and you talk about what’s happening with the density of all the population in Africa we need to start addressing these issues and the needs assessments that are on the ground in these areas.
For the people who want to be apart of it and get involved how can they do it?
We are launching our website which will go live 10/19.  We are also going viral on a whole announcement on the brand. There’s a variety of ways. You don’t have to be a major donor to get involved.  you can sponsor a mission, we’ve had families to say I don’t have the money but I want to go. I’ve got vehicles and platforms for them. We’re doing peer-to-peer fundraising model where we have what’s called Everyday Hero.  We customize an a site.  You talk about social media kids go nuts, they can raise their way to go.  I’m looking at the schools we went to last week in Africa, where the schools want to see what American schools look like from an African perspective.  I’m creating connectivity between the two. We’re going to work with all the schools here locally and were going to hit this hard where the schools can see what Africa is about and what they are doing. We have the sponsorships levels for people to get engaged. There’s number of ways people can get engaged. Our website is africanccf.org
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