Live Events

Sanity Check 101 Amidst Crazy Growth

FOCUS experiences a crazy amount of growth each event.  We sit down with Christine Sarnow to talk through how her and her team maintain sanity throughout the process!

Tell us about you. 

 I work for an organization called FOCUS, stands for the fellowship of Catholic university students. I found FOCUS in college. We had missionaries on campus and FOCUS is a Catholic campus outreach organization and I felt called to become a missionary. I was fairly reluctant about doing it because missionaries for FOCUS fundraise their own salaries, they move wherever they’re asked to go. Your first year as missionary, you go on a dating fast. So when I was graduating from college, I graduated with three degrees. I was ready to go do something special and somehow I felt this tug to go and meet FOCUS at one of our recruitment interview weekends. I actually had a terrible experience. I wasn’t involved in FOCUS on our campus really and didn’t enjoy the interview weekend. When I got the call to the offer to be a missionary with FOCUS, I went to a chapel to pray and the only thing that I heard was, will you drop everything and follow me? So that was in 2006 so I’ve been with FOCUS for nearly 14 years now, which is crazy cause you never would have thought, given that story how long I would’ve been here.

I worked on campus as a on-campus missionary for four years and our conferences, we have all of our missionary staff help out with the conferences on site. My fourth year as a missionary, I ran all of our speakers and entertainment for our national conference in 2010. The last year we did a new year’s Eve party and I basically had two full time jobs. But seeing it all come together was, it was incredible. It was incredible to sit back and watch everyone enjoy what you put together. I realized I had a knack for it. And so I moved to our national office in Denver after that and have worked there ever since. I oversee the whole events department. So what we do where 16 people at our national office and we predominantly work on these conferences, I’d say 60-65% of our time. And then I have staff that work on all the other events that we do. But you asked why I do what I do. And last night was the experience of really why I do what we do. So on the third night of all of our conferences, we have a adoration and confession night. If you could picture thousands of young people dropping to their knees when they see the Eucharist, we call it adoration. When they see the Eucharist comes out for adoration, they dropped to their knees in prayer. And then we offer the sacrament of confession that same night. And you see thousands get up when confession is announced. And the line weeps through our vision way all of our exhibit booths. And we have thousands of people in line who choose to go to confession where they get to be redeemed of their sins and freed. We offer freedom, you know, really through our Lord. And it’s incredible. And I always tell people, whether you’re Catholic or not, the vendors we work with, whether you align with everything that we’re teaching, you will not experience more joy and to be able to come and see how everything you do and the work you do has a meaning in someone’s life. It’s incredible. So every year, you might be thinking during the craziness, like, why do I do what I do and then see that and I’m like, this is it. 

How do you maintain the mission and keep it at the center when you’re scaling at this rate that you’re at? 

I tell my team and all of our staff that kind of become our hands and feet here on, on site that we always say. Now bear with me where where mission oriented faith based organization. So it’s just going to come out. But I always say that if we, if we run an amazing event, but we find ourselves further from the Lord and further from our faith at the end because we were frustrated, we were angry, we got annoyed with each other and we really let ourselves give in to that. We have failed because the goal is that each one of us grow further and further and become more and more of saints every single day. So on my team, I find that there’s a total transition when were just asked to do more work and were asked to do more work and were asked to change this and do this differently and we’re getting bigger. If that’s what we focus on, we get frustrated and exhausted and, and we stop thinking about how can we do it the right way. When we flip that mentality and we go to more of a contributive mindset and we remind ourselves what the mission is and will this help the attendee at the end of the day? Will this help our guests encounter our mission more? Everything switches in their minds and everyone refocuses and chips in even more. I think about it and I’m like, we couldn’t hire staff to do what my staff does. We’d pay overtime that was outrageous because my staff works, you know, 20 hours a day when they come and it’s not just my staff, it’s the whole organization because everyone’s committed to mission. I find in almost every single team meeting and almost every single conversation we have the continued reminder. Let’s go back to mission, let’s go back to mission. It takes people from kind of a comparison. It’s about me mentality, which we all have naturally to a, it’s about us mentality. How can we all together accomplish what we’re trying to do? 

Help paint the picture of what this looked like the 10 years ago that you guys started working together and the growth and what that’s looked like. 

So the first time we worked together [EideCom and FOCUS] was in 2011 and you guys reached out to us. That year was a rough year. So we did four conferences in one month. All across the country. And that was crazy. So one of the conferences was EideCom’s first time with us and those conferences were roughly a thousand people each give or take. Since then FOCUS has also been trying to hit it’s strive. We’ve been testing I suppose, or trying out different conference models FOCUS grows about 15 to 20% annually. And we have since our inception in 1998 and we see that growth here at our conferences, which is unbelievable. So in 2011, we tried smaller regional conferences. Since then we’ve realized that people like to come together in this one spot. Now we might try regional conferences again as they become not so small. The conference has continued to see that same growth year over year. In 2012, we introduced what this conference is, SLS, and that is intentionally a smaller audience size because the goal of the conference is a little different. So we say it’s to inspire and equip people who want to be leaders for what we call the new evangelization. These are people who have all opted in to say, yes, I want to offer people what I have found here. And so that conference continues to grow year over year. And then the larger conference that we do is called Seek. So last year we were in Indianapolis with over 17,000 registrants. So managing, not just the growth of the actual operations of the conference, but also the structure and the right strategy for us, that’s a continued fun challenge to work on. 

Tell us about your mentality behind engaging people in their living room. 

I actually see remote engagement as the future of our conferences. So rather than the main site being the main site as everyone thinks about it and remote insight, remote engagement being supplemental, I think the will come when remote engagement is our main Avenue of getting our message out. It’s so new and so different that it’s hard to think about how that strategy will look. a few years back we realized, people like to tune in online. So we started to invest in what that remote engagement looks like. And I would say especially last year was the first year we partnered with you guys and really kind of developed our strategy and said we are going to try to dive deep in. 

What advice do you have? 

Work hard. Events are hard work. I always say that there’s not very many glamorous moments of my job.

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Big Brands = Bigger Names

Scott Mirkin has been in production HIS WHOLE LIFE. He now leads a team producing some of the largest events with even bigger names!

Tell us about your story. 

I was really lucky that I was a hyperactive kid. On order for me to get out of mom’s hair for a little bit, she would say to my dad and me, go to work with your father today. If it was a Saturday or something like that. My dad is a retired broadcast engineer. At the age of six or seven years old, I’m in the studio watching news from behind the scenes watching live shots. The first thing that I realized, what you see is not really what happens. Everybody on the news would always be like suit and tie, you know, neck, neck, up or whatever. And then, but from the waist down of the Hawaiian shorts, it was summertime or whatever. I got an opportunity to get some experience at a very very young age. By the time I was 18 or 19 years old, I had about that 10 years of experience already. I’m not a big book reader but Malcolm Gladwell wrote a book called. Outliers a number of years ago about the 10,000 hour rule, I’m at about 50,000 hours now. 

I was lucky early in my career to be able to do some things with president Clinton and vice president Gore, travel the world with them and do some really neat things. I say this to folks all the time, I gained five years of experience at that one event. I really felt like I did. And I say it to every one, if you can do those, very high profile, no room for error, redundant plans, highly communicated, highly orchestrated events, you learn how to do that at a young age, then everything just becomes an addition to that experience. 

My dad is a retired engineer. My brother Craig, who is our VP of production here is not a retired engineer, both of those guys, super technical, component level engineering type stuff. I understand a lot of that. I know how to turn around and leverage another skill that I learned early on. I worked all through school at restaurants. What I learned, probably by the time I was 16 or 17, being a producer is kind of like being a server. You got to go back and motivate the crew, the kitchen. You gotta go out and sell to the client, and if there’s a mistake made, if a ball is dropped, you have to decide if you’re going to blame the kitchen, or take the hit. You take all those skills, and your at the same skill as a producer and an executive producers really make it all happen. And my other favorite definition of producer is the person who, without them, it didn’t happen. You’re actually the one continuously pushing for what everyone wants to have happen, but sometimes it just doesn’t happen. So you have to continue to push ,move the ball forward, and make sure that, things don’t collide and that it all kind of lines up on the runway. 

Before we got on air here, you told us that you’ve produced some of the most historic events and the largest events in the United States. Tell us about one of your favorite memories or something really cool you’ve done. 

My most historic and memorable event, just a few years ago in 2015, I served as the executive producer for the world meeting of families, which was Pope Francis’ visit to the East coast. We did some very large outdoor events where there were hundreds and hundreds of thousands of people on one day and nearly a million on the first day and over a million on the second day. That was the largest NSSE in us history still, and that what that means for folks who might not know it’s national special security event that’s designated by the department of Homeland security. That puts their designated agency, which happened to be the secret service, responsible for the security of the event. The secret service is there to protect the president, like something goes down, they’re going to make sure they get the president, and any other protectees to safety. So their entire mission normally is to protect the protectee. When it said NSSE, that shifts the dynamic. And now that agency is responsible for the security of the entire event, including the audience. There was about 18 months worth of planning, we called it the Wednesday breakfast club right here in our offices in Philadelphia. The planning around that event, and it was a pleasure. 

What advice do you have? 

We’re very lucky in the event industry that it is and always has been an equal opportunity success path for every single person, all walks of life, regardless of their background. It’s based on reliability, dependability, and ability. So folks that are starting in the industry, in our world, they often start as production assistant. Even if, and I’m not a fan of it, but sometimes it happens where the runner goes out and has to get 15 different lattes for everybody. The young person, if they’re able to deal with that in an accurate way, that gets recognized pretty quickly. This is a business of opportunities that are based on better based on immediate needs. So you’re often sitting around, you’re looking for the most reliable person with a pen and a pad. If a person starts off and they’re just available and whatever the task is they complete it is as simple as it is, then the tasks, they just get more and more. 

I think also the other advice that I would give is I’m not the person who’s seeking and acquiring PAs. I’m not doing that. I’ve colleagues that do that. So get to meet those colleagues, but also the ones that are probably be the first ones to recognize the accuracy, the puncuality. If I recognize it’s usually the lack of accuracy or the lack of punctuality. People think they should go right to the CEO all the time. It’s not a bad idea to have a relationship obviously, but sometimes you’ll find if you’re trying to get into the industry and find some opportunity, you might find yourself a little bit deeper in the organization. I’m doing podcasts. 

Insta: esm_productions and  smirkin01 

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Twitter: The Meeting Minds

Creating a Unique Event Experience!

On this episode we bring in industry veteran Wendy Porter! She shares with us ways she has created experiences with guests that matter!

Tell us about you. 

So actually I fell into it like a lot of people do, I actually started marketing worked for Fingerhut, for 12 years. Then moved over to a publishing company was working with them, doing some expansion into the UK and some different cool projects with them. Then I got headhunted by United healthcare and they brought me in to do acquisition marketing for them. My first year they handed me this event and they said, your turn, you’re going to do it. It was a trade show, for a partner of United. We were the platinum sponsor of that event. So I just sort of figured that all out. 

I’ve got a gigantic folder from an admin who had done it the prior year, just had to sit down and sort of sift through the paperwork and figure it out. So started putting that all together and you know, looked at the boots and the first time I saw the booth I said, yep, we’re not doing that. So you got a new booth going. So started to develop those relationships with booth people and creative people and vendors that are involved in an event.Our first year, our trade show booth was 1200 square feet, so not super big. I ended up keeping that project. The plan was I was going to have it for two years. I would have an assistant that would be assisting me and then it would roll off over to her. Well that didn’t end up working out. 

When we tried to do the handoff, it didn’t go so well. So they brought it back and created a position for me, created a director of marketing and events position. I had the trade show and then they started adding more. 

So at this point where you like hiring people? 

Yeah, I had a team at the height of four employees and two contractors and then myself. The sponsorship booth I talked about at the beginning, 1200 square feet when we first started, at its height, it was 13,000 square feet, 80 foot semi trailer in it that looked tiny. 130 staff, including 30 executives and I was wrangling for three days of the show and after hours, VIP events and all of that. 

So you’re wrangling creative and vendors, and more… 

It was an eight month planning cycle for that show alone. It was a three day show. Took us three days to build it. Right. And then a day basically to tear it down. 

Did you redesign it every year? 

So we would actually parts of it. Every year there’d be new piece, parts that we would want to include based on the business and what was happening and the new products we were introducing. We would sit down every year with the designers, there were some fundamental pieces that stayed the same from year to year. 

What brought you to here now? 

In October of 2015 United had a downsizing event, so unfortunately our positions were eliminated. ARP got a new CEO and she decided not to prioritize that event anymore. So that disappeared and some other things had changes in the business, so they let the events team go at that point. Very disappointing and difficult, but I knew right away that I was going to start my own company. I knew 

instantly when this happened my next step is to start my own company. My old boss, who was the chief marketing officer of the company had called me that afternoon to check on me, he wanted to help me figure this all out. So I walked in his office and we sat down and he said, what are you thinking? I said, I think I’m starting my own company. And he sat back and he said, all right, I like that. I think you can do this. So it changed his perspective on who he was going to connect me to.He’s been a great supporter all the way through. 

Tell us about what are you doing now? 

I started Wendy Porter events. I got laid off mid October, by November I had Wendy Porter events up and running. Ironically one of my biggest clients was United healthcare. Six months later I was back doing stuff for them, and they continued to be a nice customer. Organically is a lot of leaders that have left United, they know me, they know my work. I’ve been able to support a lot of those leaders that are at other companies now. 

Tell me about this Bold thing. 

Right after I left United I was doing a lot of networking and sat down with somebody who was new to my network, and she happens to be a Minnesota outdoors expert. We started brainstorming. How can we take your expertise and my expertise and marry them given that the Superbowl was coming? This was a little over a year and a half maybe before the Superbowl, when we started brainstorming this. So the idea was, how can we find cool facilities where we can host business meetings and then get outside and experience the great Minnesota outdoors and have team building experiences outside. How can we marry those two things together? 

We started doing research, what were the different facilities in the twin cities that we could host meetings at, the different size ranges that we could host? What would couple with that that we could get outside. Each location had a different outdoor element to it. I put that all together, worked with my graphic designer, created a package, then I started shopping around. I was going out to the different sponsors that were coming to town, so thinking the Nike’s of the world, Gatorades. I had that list and worked my network to help me figure out, okay, who do you know that’s inside? What ultimately ended up happening was the host committee ended up learning about what I was doing and they really liked it. 

I went downtown, met with the host committee they actually pulled it underneath their brand, so they rebranded it bold North. I did use the word bold intentionally, but I defined it as brilliant outdoor learning destination, so it can live beyond Superbowl.They took it underneath their brand. So then it became Bold North Excursions and Meetings by Wendy Porter Events, and they marketed it. They were then marketing it directly to the sponsors, the 32 NFL clubs in town. They were marketing on my behalf. So that was good and bad in that I lost control of that part of it. 

What are your pet peeves? 

I think one of the biggest things is just people not really understanding our value. I think that’s a big challenge. Everything’s just done right, and people don’t take a step back and really look at it and go, okay, when we started, this was a concrete floor. There was nothing here, we had to build the whole thing and the process to do that. I just don’t think there’s a lot of respect or understanding for what goes into creating a really good event. If it’s perfect, then that means someone spent a lot of time working through all the details and making it perfect and that doesn’t just happen.There’s fires all the time and you’re back there dealing with it and figuring it out and nobody’s the wiser that that’s even happened. 

What do you think is the best way for someone to get experience? Where they can go, “I want to humble myself and I want to just learn?”

Apprentice get internships, get in there at that entry level events level if you can and start learning cause you get to learn by doing. Everybody has to be in that gopher role at some point to really learn it. The other thing I tell young folks is, MPI and some of the other associations are really valuable for younger people. 

Advice for newbies. 

I think it gets back to doing apprenticeships and things like that. Getting involved with people, volunteering. 

What kind of mantra do you repeat to yourself over and over again? 

This too shall pass. And I have had plenty of those experiences. I mean I could sit here all day and tell you guys things that have happened over the years and you do have to keep your cool cause stuff happens. It just does. You have to be ready for it. 

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Twitter: The Meeting Minds

4 Ways To Maintain Mental Health on the Road

This week we sit down with two people from Minneapolis Northwest Tourism as they share their passion for maintaining mental health.  You’ll want to listen to these simple tricks!

How’d you end up in hospitality and what brings you to the meeting and events world today? 

Ashlee: Yeah, well I got my start about 15 years ago in hospitality and hotels where I met my current mentor. She pushed me and made me the amazing queen of sales that I am today. I have been in sales for so long and I love tourism. It’s such a fun industry. You still get to help people, which is kind of my passion. You get to people find their perfect wedding venue or making sure that their corporate event goes perfectly and they get to do some new fun things, it’s really, really rewarding. 

How about you Katie? 

Katie: I started with a CVB, it’s like destination marketing organization. About six years ago I started with discover St. Louis Park now I’ve been at Minneapolis Northwest for about a year. You get to work with a lot of great planners. You get to go out a lot. You get to travel, which is great. 

What are some beginner tips for keeping your head right? 

Ashlee: Well, I think one of the hardest things to do is to focus on yourself and the health aspect of traveling and all the stress that comes with it. You’re at a show and food is pretty much everywhere. You have late nights, you have dinners and lunches and all this stuff. Prioritizing good choices is always a really big challenge because there is so much food around you all the time. It’s convenient. 

Katie: Yes, and open bars. 

Ashlee: So I have a trick for this. This is my travel trick at trade shows. You get the first drink, you order it with everybody else and you get your vodka soda with lime. Perfect. I’m drinking with everybody else. Then as the night progresses, you just go straight to the bar and you tell the bartender I need some club soda and a lime. Same glass. Cause they’ll always give you like a soda glass and then everyone knows. Best way to like maintain cause you still are on, you’re still working.But you’re not that person that’s always like, no thanks. No thanks. And then people are like, you’re no fun. 

What other things do you have that are really good tricks to keep your mind right? 

Katie: One thing that I try to do when I travel is to get outside, get outdoors, and try to explore the area. A lot of times we travel to places that we’ve never been and so we don’t know what’s around us. And so one of the things that I do is I try to look for the local CVB like us, go on their website and try to find things to do around the area. Another thing that I use when I travel is apps. One of the apps that I use is called the outbound, and the hiking project, and there’s also the MTB project. Some of the apps just populate where you’re located and then they’ll tell you some of the trails that are located right around you so you can just get outside. 

Ashlee: If those aren’t available, if your schedule is super packed then the best thing you can do is just try to find some water, like a little body of water. It could be a Lake, it could be a river, a stream, it could be a fountain. It’s scientifically proven that the more you’re around water, the more calming it is you can almost breathe deeper when you’re around water. So that’s my favorite thing too. 

What other good ideas? 

Ashlee: My favorite is organization. Prioritizing. When you’re focused so much on other things or other people or whatever’s going on, then you have to be in it all the time. That’s stressful. That’s putting a lot on yourself. 

You have hydrate on your list, tell me about that. 

Ashlee: It’s so important. When you’re traveling and just being on flights and being in a hotel room, you don’t have your water bottle with you all the time maybe. It’s important to always bring your water bottle. You’re gonna feel better and then don’t get puffy 

I’ve a number of shows going on out of state at convention centers and hotels for seven days at a time and eating restaurant food straight for that long. Do you have any tips on how to avoid that? 

Katie: Not really to avoid it because you have to get food somewhere. A lot of times I’ll find the local CVS or target or some store within walking distance and a lot of times I’ll go grab some snacks, but I really try to stick to salad, stick to kind of your healthier options on the menu. I know that in the convention center you can’t really pick what you’re gonna eat. I’ll also try not to eat the dessert or have just a couple of bites, which was really hard for me cause I love dessert. 

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Twitter: The Meeting Minds

Tech That Will Work for Us

On this last episode of season three we called Charlie of Eventerprise and learned about a tech that will make all of our lives easier!

Tell us about you.

I started out being sent to Dubai to the middle East with a company who said, the middle East, see how fertile that territory is for starting a business. And I did and I was there for a while. And lo and behold, the company decided that after a while it felt that other postures were more lucrative, which basically meant that having done my homework in the middle East, I was free to do my own thing. It was like a wild town, and it was a big town trying to become a bigger town with a lot of sort of pioneers, entrepreneurs, what have you coming in and doing all sorts of things. I needed a niche. And I went back to the U K and I met with a sheep farmer who supplemented his income by renting tents. It got me thinking as Dubai was building itself up and trying to build in corporate and build its face on a lot of corporate investment. It got to the point where I said, right, I’m going to take the plunge. So I bought a couple of tents to come out to the middle East and 18 years later, I was fortunate enough to sort of have exited from it and prove it worked. I’ve now sort of co- joined to be partners to build an industry wide solution to a problem that exists for the events industry globally.

So I feel like the event world, there’s like, it’s polarizing because half the events world is very strong and the technology, right? When it comes to the communication technology, it’s always been one of those challenges where you’re like, gosh, there’s a huge opportunity sitting here. I just don’t know who’s going to go do it.

Yeah you’re absolutely spot on there. If you look at the landscape of the events industry and let’s face it, every event has got any number of moving parts. What we have done is taken another look at the event tech space and said, let’s build a platform, a vertically agnostic platform that enables the client to connect with a vendor, supplier, event professional planner to help them pull off an event irrespective of where they are, enabling them to be able to find a vendor within the proximity of their event and who in turn can submit proposals to that particular client. So we have simply built a conduit platform much like the platform for the wedding industry that exists out there. The knot and wedding wire are two platforms for one event vertical. Here is a means for a vendor to be able to be seen by a client and to be found within the proximity of where that person’s events happening. It’s fairly straightforward.

There are various examples of what Eventerprise does, but geographically confined or confined to a particular vertical in this case the knot or WeddingWire. Okay. No one has been able to do this on a vertically agnostic basis.It’s not so much a directory if you like it very much enables a client to basically sit back. You could be doing this for the first time in your life and all you’ve got to rely on at that moment in time is people’s recommendations and they might lead you down the wrong path.

Is this service available worldwide?

We’ve spent the last sort of four years building the platform under the radar and across various hubs around the world. We’ve got hubs in Singapore and in Munich and San Francisco down here in Cape town, in Munich, and in Zurich, and Switzerland where we do various particular functions of the business. So we have up until this minute in time being building vehicles. So if I can use the metaphor here, we built the vehicle, this racing car that can now race and we don’t want to race this racing car anywhere else, but in the States we’re looking at launching. So we’re about to launch the platform for revenue generation for its first time in the U S. Los Angeles being our initial go to market city, but the platform has been built, it’s tested and it’s functioning, it’s mobile first and it’s ready to go. It’s really been built around the promise that we are events people as well. So we know the void, that the eventerprise platform fills.

What makes Eventerprise different?

We’re not a directory, we’re literally a conduit platform that enables. We’re able to let you sit back and by the way of an RFP, send them out. There’s no transaction fee, we are simply facilitating between the two of you.

If I think about this further, you’ve created a platform that’s going to allow different parts of different verticals in the industry to communicate better with each other and build trust with each other through this platform.

Very much you’re absolutely right. We’re trying to bridge the imbalance and trying to bring some sort of credibility and reliance and validation to everybody in the events industry. We want everybody to win. It’s a simple design.

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Twitter: The Meeting Minds