This Transcript is From Episode 23 Of The Savvy Event Planner Podcast
To listen to this podcast visit: http://SavvyEventPodcast.com/23
Transcript Of Guest Interview Only
Tom: Folks, I'm on the line with Alexander Grait. Alexander, welcome to the Savvy Event Planner podcast. How you doing today?
Alexander: Great, Tom. Thanks for having me today.
Tom: Well I'm thrilled to have you here. In fact, you were out on a cruise ship when we first tried to connect, weren't you?
Alexander: Yeah we had some trouble hooking up. I think we tried two or three times. I was performing on Princess Cruises and I'm headed out there again, actually Monday morning.
Tom: Out of curiosity how long have you been with the Princess Cruise Line?
Alexander: I've had repeat contracts with them nine years. Going on ten, actually.
Tom: So how many times have you been around the world? Have you seen everything yet?
Alexander: The only place I haven't' been yet…I was just trying to think. We've been to Greece, Tahiti, Alaska, Hawaii. But we haven't done up in the Arctic, we haven't done that. We haven't been to anything in Sweden, Stockholm, or Baltic cruises. But almost everything else.
Tom: That's totally awesome. You got to love a job that just lets you do all these different things and experience all these different places. Now Alexander I'd like to start today by asking you to introduce yourself. Tell us a little bit about your background and how you got involved performing at events.
Alexander: Okay, well I am a professional magician and you've probably interviewed a few of us. I would say I got into events kind of…I bumbled into it actually. It just kind of happened. I've been doing magic, gosh almost 32 years. I'm older than I look and I grew up in Newport Beach, California. And when I was about 13 years old I started magic and started working in the restaurants in Fashion Island, the Newport Beach for tips. And I would just do the standard restaurant magic thing. I would do a shift and walk-up and perform and eventually they started paying me, so it was more than just the tips. But at each table I'd leave a business card. And this was back in the 80s so I think the economy was a little bit different. Every weekend I started to get booked up with private parties. So that led to sort of managing those private parties. And then the times would come when I couldn't do the private parties. And so I had to think, you know, who can I suggest and recommend? And you have to be really organized for that and get somebody that's going to do a good job. And it just kind of snowballed from that and got into corporate events and other things later before I moved out to Las Vegas where I live now.
Tom: So you travel internationally to perform on the cruises. Are you also doing international events? Are you traveling internationally for those as well?
Alexander: Not so much for the events. Most of the events I do are pretty much based in Orange County, in Las Vegas. But the traveling is all pretty much for my illusion show and performing on cruise ships or doing magic shows abroad. I don't think I've ever gone to Germany to do some big gala or something, or Greece. But I've heard about such things.
Tom: I guess living in Vegas; you probably wouldn't have to travel too much for corporate events. Don't most corporate events come to you? I mean I understand that Vegas is a pretty happening corporate event destination. Could you share some of the companies that you've worked with for events out there?
Alexander: Yeah. First of all, it's surprising how many events actually come through Las Vegas. Most people don't know which I find interesting because they always think of San Francisco, of course, and Chicago for big corporate events. But tons of meetings every day in Vegas. So we've done St. John, Nitts, Medtronics, they make medical heart valves, E-television, Miche Bag, Hamilton Materials, Disney, Disney Land. I'm trying to think of anything really big. We haven't had Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Microsoft or Apple, but we're still trying.
Tom: Those are some pretty impressive companies to begin with I don't think you have anything to worry about my friend. Now, I have to ask you this, when I'm talking to event service providers, some of them actually tell me, “Well you know all events are pretty much the same.” And while they all do have similarities, they're all so unique in some way. And I'm curious: out of all the events you've done in these high-end venues either in Vegas or somewhere else, are there any events that really stood out to you? Something that went totally beyond what you expected and can you tell me why?
Alexander: Yeah, you know I think that I do sort of agree with that. That when you're doing events in hotels and ballrooms, they all do sort of start to look the same. Oh, there's the caterer and they're setting up. Oh there's the keynote and I'm going into my little corner to get this ready and you know, they sort of become cookie cutter. And then every once in a while there's that one thing where you go “Whoa, what is this? Who is the destination management company that put this together?” You know I mentioned Miche bag, they have those interchangeable bags. And we did an event for them at the Great American Hotel in Salt Lake City. And I mean they put together an incredible convention where they had everything and they had entertainment every day and then they had the keynote right after and it was all in three different ballrooms. They had workshops but it was all separated and they had gifts and it was just…I don't know how else to describe it. So over the top, so well done that everybody left with a smile on their face and the sales force was super charged. And I just couldn't imagine what it was costing them all to do such a wonderful event. So professionally, so well done and it got me thinking, “Why aren't all events like this? Why would they cut corners when this is the one thing that supercharges everybody that brings in the revenue for the company?”
Tom: Now I'm going to ask you to dig a little bit deeper than that and the reason is a lot of companies can spend money on an event and that doesn't mean that it's going to be extraordinary. I mean you can throw money out the door all day and if it's not done correctly it's not going to do anything. So what made this event so unique to you? Was it the gifts that they offered? Was it the way they presented the speakers? Can you dig a little bit deeper and give us some insight as to exactly what made this special?
Alexander: I think it was no stone left unturned. For example, if we take the keynote. The keynote didn't just get up and blab about these are the projections and this is where we need to go and this is what we need to do. He started with questions and talked to people about what's important to them. He began with we've gotten some feedback and this is what people are saying and that's why we're doing A and that's why we're doing B. And then it was very short. I mean it was like 30-minutes of that and then a coffee break and they had coffee and cake for everybody at the back and then another 30-minutes, all spaced out. And I think they really sort of treated their staff like kings. And I don't see that often. I see a sales ramp-up or a kick-off or a break-out session that's like, all right. We got to do this, we know what we need to do and here's the keynote, here's the room. The food is in the back if you want it. I think people sense that and especially employees they want to be…I wouldn't say treated like kings but they want to feel that and they can.
Tom: Okay, that's perfect. I appreciate you digging down a little bit further into that to give us a reason because our audience is looking for ideas to make their events better and that's a great insight. Treat your people like royalty. Make them realize how important they are to you and that will definitely make an event more special. Now one of the things I do, Alexander, is ask my guests about horror stories. We've all been involved in events where something didn't go right. And so I'm hoping you could share with us a little story about something that went wrong for you, what you did to take care of it and the lessons learned?
Alexander: God they're so many. You know over 30 years there's going to be certain things that happen. Well as I said I started from doing restaurants and I would pick up private parties. So I was a teenager when I was doing this, not real experienced at the things that you write about and the things you have on your podcasts. I mean event planning is all about details. It's so many details and I didn't know them as a teenager. So I figured well they got my card, they hired me for a show. I'll show up. So most of the times the horror stories were, God I still get stressed thinking about it. You know, I'm like 18 years old and I got a gig at the Hyatt and it's at 8 o'clock and I'm stuck in traffic trying to get there. And it's 8 o'clock and I'm parking my car and I run in and the client's got a notably upset look on her face. And I say, “I know, I know, I know, I'm sorry.” And my portion of it gets up running 8:15, 8:20. Guests are late, everything is pushed back. And you end up back pedaling and apologizing. And there was a couple of times that happened. But you know Tom, I'm really glad it did because you leave those events like, “Oh my god, never again. What can I do to make sure that never happens?” And in that case, of course, you have everything extra super ridiculously early so that you're always early so that you can never be late. And you probably know that.
Tom: Oh yeah. I mean I get to places very, very, early and I always say I'd rather have to wait on the client than to ever make them have to wait on me.
Alexander: Exactly. I think, I'm glad you said that. That is a great sound bite there.
Tom: I'm all about the sound bite. I'll have to use that.
Alexander: Well yeah. Ricky Dunn, the pickpocket used to perform all over said to me once “You know Alex, show business is waiting.” He was an old grizzled pick pocket at that time and I thought “God, that's right.” You're waiting for the contract, you're waiting to start the show, you're waiting to start the event. And exactly like you said, waiting on the client. That's the power position that you want to be in to serve.
Tom: Exactly. Now Alexander, now talking about serving our audience that's what I want to do right now. The thing that drew me to your site was the fact that you have a 25 event blunders list. And most people would just do 25 event blunders. Here they are and list them. But not you, you took each one of those and wrote a fairly in-depth blog article on them. And I was hoping that you could share some of them with our audience today.
Alexander: Yeah, this is kind of the collection of over 30-years of the stuff I've seen. And I mean I am not a destination management company or an event planner. I perform at events. But you know it's like when you eat dinner in the same restaurant every night for ten years, you can start to see things that's wrong with the kitchen and the seating and the hostess that maybe you know the management can't see because you're right there. I just started collecting them and thought I would put them all into a list.
Tom: Well it's an excellent list and you did a great job with it. Now I've actually picked out a couple of the topics that I was hoping we could talk about today.
Tom: And the first was #7. The inexperienced event planner. Can you talk to us about the inexperienced event planner?
Alexander: I mean anyone can say that they're an event planner but it's been said event planning is the easiest job in the world to do, badly. Because it's one of the few jobs where someone can claim to be a professional, have business cards printed and then begin planning events the next day. Like you've got to be kidding me. But you see this, I wouldn't say all the time, but when you see it you never forget it. Like this person is planning the event and you start chatting at the cocktail reception, “So how many events have you done?” “Oh this is my first one. But I did one for some friends. It worked out great. So I'm in the event planning business now.” and like “Wow, good luck to you.” Because when one works out, it's kind of like I live in Las Vegas. It's like winning the jackpot the first time. They say that's the worst thing that can happen to you because then you think, “Hey, I'm lucky. I'm going to put down $100 every time. This is so easy.”
Tom: You know I feel like that every time I play the penny slots. It's like “woo-hoo, I can retire,” until lunchtime as long as that's only a couple of minutes away. Now, obviously our listeners are event planners or event planners for their company. And they're not so inexperienced but let me take a moment to stress that education is a big part of being an event planner and you've got to stay educated. That's one of the reasons you listen to this podcast, I hope. And if you know of somebody who's planning events please share the podcast with them. Now Alexander, on blunder number eight, it was talking about the right tool for the job. Can you share a little bit of that one with us?
Alexander: Yeah, I think a lot of times…well, first of all, the size of the event can get out of hand. It will be bigger than you think. And it's important to use the resources that you have properly. I mean, for example, a lot of companies they don't realize that there's a whole staff working with them that want to put this event together and make it successful. And there's different people that have different skills. I mean, you know that. That if Sherry is really good at communicating with people while Bob is really kind of quiet but God, he's great with numbers and planning and this person can do phone calls, if you start to cross those and you get Sherry calling people and Bob handling all the details, things don't work and no one knows why. They think they can just dole out jobs, but you really have to have people do what they're good at. I mean I'm good at doing magic shows at events. So I would never try to run around and set the table and sing and book the caterer, it would be a disaster. I think let event managers know the skills and workloads available to them. And I mean this means vendors, contractors, outsources, everything. And they can put it all together.
Tom: I agree with you 100% on that and it's a big part communication. And not just communication on the part of the event planner but also on the part of their team and their vendors. You've got to understand where your strengths lie. So some great advice there. Now, Alexander, I want to jump ahead to #15 which was the failure to double check. Talk to me about that.
Alexander: Oh God, this comes from magic, Tom. Being a professional magician, details are everything. And again, I'll freely admit this. Unlike some magicians, boy when you forget to preset that silk handkerchief or the pen in your pocket for the mentalism trick, you never forget it. Oh my, God, I need a checklist. For my show, I have a checklist. And I thought I've seen mistakes at events too. Maybe they should have check lists. Because the worst is people get offended when their name or their company is spelled wrong on the name tag. They have no tolerance for that and they can't understand how did this happen, you know? Well someone didn't double-check. I was once at an event and I was given the wrong table card and I went to the table and the person that was supposed to be in my seat was there with the name spelled differently. And it just sort of smacks of we didn't get a professional event planner. And maybe they did, they just didn't double-check. So it's really important. Dot the I's and cross the T's.
Tom: Definitely the devil is in the details, as they say. Now moving on to event blunder #20, decorating at the last minute. And this actually hit home with me because I go into so many events where as I'm doing my sound check they're still scrambling to get the decorations up. So talk to us about that.
Alexander: Well the whole thing is a misnomer. Decorating at the last minute. It should never happen. I mean, and I've seen it too! We've all seen it whether they're putting up the streamers and a little decor around the table or worse, they're setting the table cloths. I mean and the guests are coming in an hour. In fact, if you do a google search of the phrase last minute decorating ideas you'll get three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten pages and it'll lead you to believe that it can be done. Well, it's never too late to start decorating. And this may be true for Christmas or Halloween but definitely not for private and corporate events. Last minute decorating, despite what the web tells you costs time, money and worse, unnecessary stress which you know event planning has enough stress. You don't need that too.
Tom: I complete agree with that. And I can't remember a time where I saw somebody doing that and they weren't totally stressed out. So as you're making your plans for your event, make sure to allow enough time to decorate so that you're not scurrying around at the last second. Now, Alexander, the next thing I want to talk to you about is #22 of your event blunders and that's not following-up. Let's talk about that and why it's a blunder.
Alexander: Yeah, and you know when I first started collecting these, social media wasn't really a thing. So, it was really– you really had to drive it home. I think most event planners are pretty savvy now about Instagram, Facebook, and Snapchat, everything, trying to follow-up and certainly with a client. But you still, I don't know. There are still some old-timers, old school people, that think well once the event is over, that's it. On to the next, I got to build my customer base. So in that sense they're following-up in new customers. But I know from my magic shows and you know from what you do that all the value is in the keeping of the customer, the care, and feeding of the customer is where the real value is. The real money comes from the second and third and fourth sale you make to them. So one of the biggest misconceptions about event planning is that well once it's over, we move on to a new event. And you want these people to use you again. You want them to have a wow experience. So the first party that you plan for them is really just the beginning of the relationship. And by not fostering that relationship you can miss out on potential sponsors or clients for other things who can help you with other things you do.
Tom: And I think it's also important to point out here that we need to follow up with our guests and our attendees because just like if you were hunting for clients and you wanted to keep a client and that retention, your guest, and attendees, if you're in a company, are your biggest advocates. If they're enjoying the work that you're doing in putting these events together then they're going to talk to the boss and it's going to reflect on you. So following up with the guests and attendees, whether it's through social media or through sharing pictures and that type of thing, all very important. Follow-up can't be stressed enough. Now Alexander, let's move on to blunder #24. Which I thought really was insightful. Too many speakers. Talk to me about that.
Alexander: Well let me ask, has that happened to you, Tom? Because you've done a lot of events.
Tom: Oh yeah, I mean, not just with speakers but with all types of activities. People tend to misjudge how much time things are going to take and they cram in too much. And I always equate it with burning out the audience. If you add too much then the audience gets tired or they feel like things are rushed and it's never a good thing. But I don't want to talk about my experience on this; I'd like to hear more about your experience with this.
Alexander: Yeah, It's happened a few times. I was going to save this for the end for worst stories because I just feel bad. I charge a pretty hefty sum and I was doing a show for the Center Theatre Group once. And they had booked all these people, speakers, events. There was a juggler, just like you said. There's clowns, face painters and there's me doing walk-around strolling magic, which I'm ready to do. And they just said to me “You know I don't think we're really going to have time for your thing here. We've already got people strolling and doing everything. So we'll pay you. It's fine, but I just think you should probably go because we booked too many entertainers.” And I thought, “Are you serious?” I mean I just felt bad for them like God who planned this? I didn't leave, I stayed there and I ended up, so I wouldn't feel so bad, doing a little bit of magic for some people and finding a way to sort of squeeze it in but there was far too many entertainers. In this particular event, what they did was they handed it off to an agency. Not an event planner, a talent agency, who thought well hey I'm going to get you every ventriloquist, singer, stilt walker, magician, juggler I have and they did. But it didn't work out. And that's one of the areas of expertise where an event planner would know, I don't just want to know how many people you have. What are they doing? Sitting or standing? When's dinner? What's the event? Show me the agenda and let me determine what or suggest what the entertainment should be so that there won't be too many entertainers or speakers because of course they had speakers too and singers and everything.
Tom: Now, I've never experienced that in a walk around setting or an atmosphere entertainment setting because that's not my area of an event. But certainly on stage for the structured program, I've seen where they've tried to cram way too much in. And sometimes it's just the fact that they have an unrealistic expectation of how much time it's going to take. But other times, it's the CEO or the President or a speaker who's not got chops, I guess is the best way to say it, or time on the boards or experience in front of an audience, who they take their five minute speech, “Yeah, I'm not going to be long. I don't have much to say.” And it stretches on and on and on because they don't know how to judge the time, first of all. And second, they don't know how to read the audience and know that, oh yeah. I'm probably overstaying my welcome. So those kinds of things can happen to drag an event out. And it can be devastating because you lose the audience and that's why you're there. That's what this event is all about. To, as Nathan Kumar said in episode 8, to get inside the minds of that audience. And the moment you lose that, you've lost your advantage and you've lost the investment that you've put into this event.
Alexander: Very good points, Tom. Yeah, hey why would they? This isn't what they do for a living. And that's another area where I've seen event planners sort of manage that and make that happen. Which is great because very true, the reading of the audience is critical. And if this is the first time they're giving that speech, of course, it's going to go way longer than they thought it should when they wrote it down on their cards. But the shorter the program is the better. When people attend events they generally go to network, right? I mean they want to build friends and see people and they have to allow all the time for that. And boy, I wouldn't know how long that's going to take. An event planner would have a way to sort of gauge that and make it all work.
Tom: You know I'm really glad you brought that point up. We're not event planners. That's a given. In fact, that's what allowed you to create your blunders blog because you were able to view this from the outside in. And a lot of my guests on the show are event services providers. And I feel like their input allows the event planners to see things from the other side and get insights as to what they offer and suggestions they can make to make the planners job easier. So as an event entertainer, are there any challenges that you have when working an event? Something that our planners should keep in mind when they're considering a speaker or an entertainer?
Alexander: You know, it's a very interesting environment because it's the area where entertainment and work collide which is a very interesting place to play in if you agree to play there. And you know when you do these, first of all, it's weird doing a show at ten o'clock in the morning. And you're watching, the CEO is watching you and the employees are watching the CEO watch you. And they're only clapping when he claps and everyone is in business suits and it's just sort of weird. You feel like it's a glass house where something could explode at any moment. And I've seen comedians. It's really hard for them cause go into the wrong subject or talk about the wrong thing and offend and it's a horror story for them. Like oh boy, this whole event went awry, not because they're a bad comedian but just because this environment is so super sensitive and they took a wrong turn. In that sense, I'm glad to be doing magic because it's usually a pretty conservative thing that doesn't offend anybody. “You pulled rabbit out of the hat, that's the most offensive thing I've ever seen.” You never hear that.
Tom: You apparently never worked with my audiences. [laughter]. Yeah, doing corporate comedy is not easy. I mean there so many things to consider and people are so sensitive.
Alexander: It's a fine line isn't it? Yeah.
Tom: It really is and I think one of the biggest problems is so many comedians have grown up through the comedy club system where you're able to talk about anything and these little bits and gags and jokes that go over in a comedy club become your babies. And they don't want to give those up. Yet you go into the corporate audience and you're not representing yourself, you're representing the company. And you have to keep that in mind. I think the most successful comedians are the ones who grew up in the variety arts because they were able to entertain at the Rotary clubs and the Lions clubs and the different events where they are entertaining different age ranges and they're entertaining family audiences. And they understand how to keep it clean and they can keep it clean in the corporate environment.
Alexander: That's an excellent point because you know some people asked me, “Well, why is it that corporate events that event planners do are so conservative? Is it that everybody's conservative?” and I said “Well how do you feel…when you go to work at your nine to five job, I'm sure you behave differently then we you go out for beers to the comedy club that night to see the comedian.” And then they get it. They go, “Oh yeah.” Well, imagine blending those two worlds where you're in your suit across the desk from Susie in accounts payable and there's a show going on at the same time. It's like you don't want to completely relax, but you want to have a good time. So entertaining those people as you do and I do is very tricky, it's very hard. You got to walk a fine line definitely. And I've seen people cross it so it can cause horror stories. But I mean, I imagine is even tougher for the event planner to just make that all work. Make the client happy, make everybody have a good time but still keep it clean, keep it professional and everything. It's about the company, I mean the company is really the star. Not you or your show or me and my magic or even the keynote.
Tom: Now those are the kinds of insights that this show is all about. Something that event planners may not have thought of. And yet it's something that is very real for one of the service providers, somebody who has got to make them look good to their clients, to their guests. Now before we get out of there Alexander, are there any last thoughts that you'd like to share with the audience?
Alexander: I think, as I said in the beginning, that I don't claim to be a professional event planner. I just do a lot of events and it is such a sensitive thing. It's almost like being a classical musician where you pull some many things together and this is why I wrote the event blunders book. I mean it's so easy for it to go awry that I have the greatest respect for the event planners that pull it all together and make it all work.
Tom: Now if somebody's interested in getting hold of your event blunders book, how can they do that?
Alexander: That is, I think I sent you a link. Are you able to post that link?
Tom: Oh yeah, sure. No problem at all. I wasn't sure whether you wanted to read the link here or whether you just wanted us to post it in the show notes. So folks, if you're interested in getting hold of Alexander's free e-book on event blunders or reading his event blunders blog, just head on over to savvyeventpodcasts.com/23, which is the episode number. And we'll have all the links for you there. Alexander if somebody wants to talk to you a little bit more or find out a little more about the blunders or have questions about that or they'd like to find out more about your event services as an entertainer, how can they reach out to you?
Alexander: Yeah, I am Alexander@Alexandermagic.com, just like it sounds.
Tom: Fantastic. Hey Alexander, thank you so much for taking the time to sit down and talk with me today.
Alexander: Well a pleasure Tom. And it's nice being with you all. Thanks very much for having me.