Wendee Lee Curtis, event host and emcee, joins the show this week to talk about bringing ENERGY to your next event! With a background spreading from Broadway to live broadcasting, Wendee is an expert in ‘playing to the back of the house.’ We discuss ways to support your audience in a difficult year, and even break into song ( a couple of times!) Plus, we discuss equity and inclusion initiatives in the events world, and what’s being left on the table when your organization lacks inclusive representation. Make sure you check out this joy-filled 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 we welcome event lighting expert, Pierre Marleau! With more than 20+ years in the industry, Pierre has produced lighting for Broadway’s Phantom of the Opera, Showboat, and even Cirque Du Soleil. We talk about the value of great light design, why light production deserves space in your budget, and how bad lighting can make us all look like dinosaurs! You won’t want to miss this episode!
We are bringing in the new year with Tim Glomb, VP of Content and Data at Cheetah Digital! Tim shares how to get outside your comfort zone, fuel creativity, and create a head-turning event. Make sure you check it out!