How I Run Events on Zen Mode
Stefanie Ordoveza | Guild
The Queen of Serene shows us how to unleash the power of tranquility in event planning. Discover how to harmoniously balance your event logistics and attendee experience, creating an oasis of calm amidst the chaos.
The Queen of Serene shows us how to unleash the power of tranquility in event planning. Discover how to harmoniously balance your event logistics and attendee experience, creating an oasis of calm amidst the chaos.
Tricia Williamson | DocuSignView Session
Alexander St. John | TwilioView Session
Ashesh Satvedi | BoxView Session
Rebecca Sullivan | Inc. & Fast CompanyView Session
Keith Zanardi | Penske Media CorporationView Session
Stefanie Ordoveza | GuildView Session
Experience Uncon IRL 2023View Session
Intro to Uncon IRL 2023View Session
Keynote: Uncon's PurposeView Session
Special Guest: Leonora ValvoView Session
Brandon Wernli + Josh Shepherd | BW Events Tech & AtlassianView Session
Josh Bernard | StagedgeView Session
Ben Krebs | Event ConceptView Session
Caitlin Marr + Jon Juarez | Show ImagingView Session
Katie McEntyre | OpusView Session
I think now in 2023, we all know the importance of slowing down.
Right now, I imagine that you have contingency plan upon contingency plan, and contingency plans for those plans running around in your head. Right? Because as event professionals, you have to know what could happen.
As I said, we all have to keep it a little weird. But how do you do that and stay present?
So up next, we will have Paul Singh, who is the manager of the enterprise team. And we have Stephanie, the senior director of events from Guild, who will talk about staying in Zen mode during events. Stephanie is the Queen of Serene, and she will show us how to keep that tranquility in event planning.
Thank you so much, Jihan.
Stephanie, so we've been working together for a little over four-plus years. And you've seen so much in this event space. You have had a change of roles. You have done big events, small events, webinars, in-person, everything. So, tell us a little bit about yourself and what kind of events have you run so far?
Yeah. So, I would say like, I had gotten a business degree in college thinking, okay, I'm gonna, like, go into sales, and I'm gonna rock it, and try to take the footsteps of my mom who did that. And realized quickly, I was like, okay, even though I'm doing all of my feeling, like I'm fulfilled, I don't I don't really know, so I took a step back.
I was a student athlete in college, so I did more of like a sports journalism turn. I worked for the West Coast conference, which was a nonprofit.
And I started just writing, and then after a while, because it's a non profit, there were twelve of us in the house, and we had to wear a ton of different hats. My boss came up to me after a couple years and said, you have a marketing degree, don't you? Can you help us with some marketing campaigns? And then it turned into more of the marketing side. And then it became, you played tennis in college, right? Can you run our tennis championships? I'm like, What is this role? Like, it's just evolving.
But that was really, like, the first step into what I thought were events but a different capacity. Right? It was running tennis championships, NCAA basketball championships, then it was Hall of Honors. Before you knew it, six years later I was like, okay, what's next for me? Then moved into the corporate space, doing more like the tech and that's where we met at OSI Soft.
Again, started small, doing field marketing events, then it was internal events then before you knew it, we were doing big global conferences. The last one, Iisella, actually, who I used to work with. We ran our three-thousand-plus conference at the Moscone Convention Center. So it's really been quite a gamut, and never thought I was going to end up in this role, like in this career and I just feel very, very, like, blessed to be in it because it's a very different space. I don't think it, you know, a lot of people don't really understand what event planning is unless you're in it, and what it has to offer. But we have these opportunities like these, where we can kind of build communities for other people, but also for ourselves. Like, we really have a cool opportunity to build stuff and see it come to fruition, and so I just feel very lucky to be in a role like this.
But yep, since then I was there for almost like a decade in the tech space, and then just moved to Guild, which is a totally different thing, and have been there for the last three months.
Well, tell us a little bit about Guild. I saw some advertisement and it's just been really amazing seeing what you guys are doing there, but tell us a little bit about Guild.
Yeah. So Guild, it's really trippy because it was a little bit of a serendipitous thing. I think they saw my background was in education to start, and then in tech and this is an ed tech piece. So what's really cool about it, it's very mission-based, and I figured, if I'm going to be working crazy hours, I want to do it for a place that has a huge, huge impact. And so what Guild does is it partners with huge companies, ten thousand employees and above--you're talking like the Walmarts, Target, Disney--and our goal is really to get their front line workers' education for free as a benefit. So, folks who are maybe cashiers at a Walmart that didn't get their secondary degree.
How do we get them free tuition, and how do we get the employers to help fund that? So it's really to help build some of that economic mobility, starting with education first. And so we do a ton of events, smaller ones. It's a very different animal. It's a late-stage startup.
So, like, literally building the plane as we fly it, which has no dull moments, you know, by any means. But it's very, like, it's kind of back to my roots of wanting to do something that like has a huge, huge impact, and just like really riding it out right now and seeing what we can build together. So looking forward to it.
This conversation actually started between us about your events when we were ... when Chris Sykes and I were at a Bieber World 2022, and it was a massive event. We had, you had three thousand attendees, one hundred and sixty speakers, there were so many sessions.
Isela was there. The whole team was, you guys took us backstage, we had such a great time, amazing food. We were dancing on the dance floor with other attendees, speakers, sponsors.
So, it's such a high-stress moments running such large events. And at the same time, your team was having a great time. It didn't feel like your team was at all under stress, but we know that events are stressful. So how do you manage and run those events keeping such cool in that sort of Zen moment, and in the Zen mode, talk to us a little bit about that.
Yeah, I think it's, I don't know, and I'm not going to be up here and be like, I'm the Queen of Serene and like I have a full, like, answer to all of this. But what I will say is, like, from a Zen perspective, it's two pieces. Like, one is like the team aspect. I mean, of course, I came from college athletics, so like, my brain works in this like player/coach mentality, where you have to, as the coach and the event lead and the manager, you have to show that you have things under control. I think when people see the event lead in stress and frantic, it creates a whole different atmosphere for everyone that's there. And it's not say that you have to fake it till you make it.
I think it's really just being an example. To say, I have trust in myself in what I can do. I have trust in team that I've chosen around me. And when I say the team, I don't even just mean your colleagues. I'm talking about all the people you're working with cross-functionally within the company. The vendors that you choose, you know, like Swoogo is a big part of that. Like, I don't have to worry about registration and that kind of stuff. There's so many other big fires that you have to worry about, that you have to pick vendors that are really gonna be an extension of your team. So it's one, having the trust in that to like, do what you do well, and then know that your team can do that.
And I've always been a huge like proponent of knowing that people have strengths and weaknesses, and putting people in places where they can really excel.
And so I've been lucky enough to have teams of three all the way up to teams of ten, and to say, okay, this person's really good at tech.
This person's really good at, I don't know, like being in front of customers, and like building those relationships and putting them there. So not only do they feel accountable to that space, but I can trust that. I don't have to micromanage everything. I know that person's got it, and they know when they can have the autonomy to make decisions, or they have to come to me. Right?
So, that's one thing, and then I think personally, it's just a lot of practice. You know, we talk about Zen mode and like, I think to the first time somebody introduced meditation to me. And I was closing my eyes and I was like, I can't even make it to a minute. I'm like thinking of five million things, and I think it's just a lot of practice and prep and prep. Like if I can do something for an event that's six months from now, I'm gonna do it, because I don't wanna have to worry about it. I wanna be at the event, focused on execution, and not worry about like, did I book that vendor that I could have maybe booked like six months ago?
And I think that just takes practice, you know. It's not gonna happen overnight, and we go through a lot of adversity, and you build off of that, and you kind of try to be an example to your, to your team members to do the same?
You mentioned about relationships, not just with you team but also with your vendors and partners.
So what would be your advice for somebody who is looking forward to building that deeper relationship with the vendors and partners they're working with, or just wants to enhance that relationship? What would you say like some of the best practices, and how do you build that?
Yeah. So one of the things I always like told my team was like, you know, when we look at vendors, we don't look at the technology, like, does it fit with our tech stack?
Yes? Okay. Check it off, and let's see how much it costs. It's also like, does the technology work, one. Obviously, it has to work.
And then secondarily, do the people that are behind that technology, are they truly gonna support you? Like when shit hits the fan, do you have the number to call? Because if not, you know, it's not really gonna work.
And so I've always asked my team, when you have a technology you wanna bring on board, let's vet it first, and I mean like, phone calls with the people, you know. If you can get to the person who's gonna actually be our support person, and understand like does the culture fit? Do you feel like your personalities would mesh? And like, if we're actually on-site in an event, could you actually call that person, you know, to help you fix that? And that was what it was so huge with Swoogo.
It was like, I mean, I think all of us are in the room because we know that functionally, like, for me, it has like opened up so many doors to like customize things that we need, like, makes it really easy. I can use Swoogo for literally like the smallest registration form to the biggest events, to internal, like I can use it for everything. And it's just such an agnostic and reasonable platform. But I think more importantly, like, when I'm at an event or if I'm having trouble, and I shouldn't probably blast this, but I have Paul's cell phone number, and I can pick up the phone and like have a real conversation. And a hard discussion sometimes if it has to be. But we get through those solutions together and I think that's a huge piece of making sure that things work and that these events go off without a hitch.
It's being able to do that, not just with Swoogo, but like every vendor that we're using.
And you also mentioned about when those fires happen, I think one thing we all hear and can attest to is that, if you have an event, there would be some sort of fire We had one this morning, but how do you how do you prioritize those fires?
I mean, I think one of the things is like you know, I've worked at companies where I guess we would start with like, one, know your audience and know your audience real well. Right? You need to understand like, what is this event for?
And that's like the North Star is what I call it, you know, and we we talk with the team like, how are we actually being measured? Is it is it customer satisfaction ratings? Is it the food? Like, it could be so silly, but every event is so different, and being very clear about your success metrics and then like who the audience is, so that you can actually prioritize accordingly.
Because I've worked at companies where it doesn't matter if, you know, fifty percent of the audience felt one way, if this one person felt really good about it, sometimes that was success metric. It's not the greatest. I think there's internal education that has to happen from the events all the way up to management to be really clear about that. But f the team knows that and you're over communicating that, then theoretically, you know, the team knows how to prioritize and what has to move forward. But then I think also just being really realistic that like fires are going to happen, and like understanding and accepting that you know, not everything is gonna be under our control. But I think the biggest thing is like prioritizing when a fire happens and if ninety-nine percent of the people in the room are feeling like they're getting what they need out of it, it's okay that maybe the food didn't come out right on time or the mic turned off for a quick second.
You know, it's like being able to level that not everything is a fire and that you can really work your way through and balance that?
And you also find yourself now, you were just sharing earlier today, that in this new world where you have changed roles, and you're handling those fires and you're building relationships in this new organization.
And a lot of us here, after the pandemic, have moved to more virtual remote locations, every is working more and more remote. So how do you build those relationships, handle those fires, in that virtual environment, versus where you could walk into the office, stand by somebody's cubicle and hash it out. So how are you feeling about that and how do you handle that now?
Yeah. I mean, realistically, it's hard. I mean, it's not like an easy thing. I don't think ... I think virtual events are a huge part of this puzzle, but they're never, no offense to Ashesh, they're not going to replace in-person events by any means. You know, like, I think, you know, and it's finding a way to balance those things together.
Right? You need to meet people where they're at. People, some folks, really don't want to come back into the office, and that's totally fine, you know? But you also need to find a way to build the connection in-person. I think that's why we're all here.
I mean, we can't replace the kind of connection we're gonna get at conferences like this, which is great for our job security, as well as of being able to do that.
But as much as possible, like, I do try to meet my team in-person. I'm one-hundred percent remote now. I used to be in the office all the time, then we transitioned to hybrid.
Isel and I try to go in like once a week, and then we realized we were just on Zoom calls by ourselves in the office. So we're like, forget it, we're just gonna go back to our houses. Like, it's fine. And now I'm one-hundred percent remote, trying to build relationships all across the ladder, you know. People I work with cross-functionally, all the way up to management, that are literally across all of the US. And you just have to take the time to like build them.
So if you can't get them in-person, because I think that's really where the shared connections happen. Something I ran into at my last job was like, the only time we ever met was at an event, when we were running it. And everybody's already stressed out, their mind is not there, and you don't really get the chance to like, build and bond and do that before you got there. It's just so important to find ways to meet in the middle somehow.
But then, secondarily, when you are virtual, which is you know, probably ninety percent of the time for a lot of us now, is just remembering that we're in a people business. You can be a really good event lead, but without a great team that really follows you, like, it's really hard to succeed. And so a big piece for me was like trying to build that equity over time, right? Like, getting on a phone call and knowing you have thirty minutes, and it's not like, okay, let's jump into business. Like, let's talk about it. It was like, that person could be dealing with so much stuff at home. Maybe they have a sick kid or I don't know, like, they just came off a really rough call, and taking the time to, like, read the cues or just say, hey, like, how's it going?
Like, how's your weekend? And it takes like such a little ask, but really getting to know the person and knowing that it's a human on the other side, and that we're human too. Like, I'm not perfect but like, building that rapport over time is going to go such a long way to make these events successful.
Along with that, you also mentioned about like in this new role. So you are meeting people remotely and you also just changed the job. I think we were asking a lot of people around us when we were in 2020, people were switching jobs and event space was new. Now it's post-pandemic and people are changing jobs and now the event space is again post-pandemic space.
So what would you say are some of the challenges or benefits that you're seeing in the space. And if somebody is switching their roles at this time post-pandemic in the event space, what would you recommend for them?
Oh, I would say just for me personally, I think it's just a lot of listening, you know. I think there's like so much to learn of like what's been happening, going to conferences like this, meeting with people building connections in and out of your networks is like such a huge thing. When I showed up at Guild, you know, I was like, I am not an expert in ed tech.
Like I came from education, I did tech, but this is a totally different thing. And I spent probably the first two weeks when you actually had calendar bankruptcy for once to just like book time with a ton of people to like hear like, how does this business actually work? Like, what kind of events have worked, have not.
And then also trusting in your expertise to have the conversation to say, okay, I've seen that work, but I've seen other things not. Like how can we find a way to like balance our budgets, our resources, everything, and just try to be a strategic partner across the company is like a huge piece, and I think a lot of that is listening. Is like understanding the business before you side to to like pitch your, you know, like events and your own internal kind of agenda.
So and then just again, the human piece, like the relationship piece is so huge, like cultures are so important and, you know, you see it in the Swoogo people that you work with. I like to say that Guild has a really strong culture; it takes a lot of time of understanding that to be a part of it, and taking the time to do that.
So, Stephanie, today if you want to leave all of us with a motto, what would that be?
Well, one motto that I like to share is, to handle fire with grace. I learned that from one of my bosses that was kind of like ... Here's the one extreme of like running around like a chicken with your head cut off, and then there's the handle fire with grace peace of, there are gonna be fires, and it's just being able to walk around and just know that you can handle it. And giving your team that feeling like, it's gonna be fine. Like, for good or for worse, we're not doctors, we're not like saving lives, per se, like, directly, you know. And what we do is important, but there are so many things that can happen, and it's just being okay with the fact that you are doing your best, and that's totally okay. And, you know, being able to handle fires with a feeling of like, this too shall pass. We're gonna work it out as a team and then we move on. And I think just like that, keep calm and carry on, kind of motto is like, really ringing true.
And then, I think just like, I think it's not really a motto so much as just like, I remember Patrick asking me, like, what's the one thing you really try to take to heart, and I think it's just handling people with care. That's for your attendees that are in the room. It's the team that's behind the scenes.
Like, if people aren't feeling good about where they're at, they're not gonna have a good time, and they're not gonna have fun. Like, my team needs to have fun. Like, these things are too stressful. You need to have a good time and balance it.
So that people feel like they want to come back.
Interesting. Thank you for saying that.
I do want to open it to Q&A, if anybody has any questions for Stephanie?
I'm sorry. The question is not for you, but can you tell us what was the fire that you put out at this meeting?
It was more of a personal fire than an event fire.
Stephanie, oh, many more questions coming.
Question. So in those stressful situations, how are you keeping your team calm when you yourself are so stressed out with everything that's going on. And with the event world, it's like everything's moving so so fast. When you're not even realizing that somebody could be affected by it, and how are you, you know, how are you dealing with your team in those circumstances?
Yeah. I think it's starting ... it sounds weird, but it's almost like starting with me first. Right? You gotta take care of yourself before you can take care of your team. And so it's it's like being able to take a step back and like I said earlier, like realized that no fire ... I mean, there could probably be like a huge fire that like really takes over, but like, there's not a fire that's gonna take down like an entire, like, attendee experience, ninety percent of the time I'd like to say.
And so it's like being able to, like, balance and prioritize and then also bring that sort of, I'd say like my persona seems to be like my team voice tells me does anything freak you out? Like, are you just this calm all the time? I'm like, no. Not really.
But, like, personally, I try to practice that. So that I can be an example of that to my team, and then for us to practice that. I think also, just to be completely honest, like, not everybody ... I mean, events are hard, right? Like, and they are stressful and not everybody is like fully cut out for events and it's like being realistic when you're coaching people that like, here's a way for us to like maybe do that better or and it takes time and practice.
Then sometimes you do fine, unfortunately, like, with some teams like, okay, maybe this, like, is not the avenue because it's just like taking over your life. Like, we don't want that. Like, trying to find that work-life balance well and like being able to be an example to others. So, I think it's a lot of coaching, it's a lot of communication, being really real and genuine with your with your team members when things are going well and when they're not. And then just a lot of practice and like doing them, I think things hopefully get better over time.
Do you have a pre-event ritual, something that sets you up for success?
Yes, my pre event ritual.
I think it's a couple things. One is, like, I really do lean on my team a lot. I do spend a lot of time talking things out, you know, so that you feel like, okay, what are gonna be like the biggest fires that I know are gonna happen. And like, we're prepped for that. But then personally, I mean sleep is such a huge thing, it's hard to do.
But like, I just operate in a totally different mindset when I know that I've given my time to do what I need to do, personally, to like feel good. Like, I literally, I have to work out. I have to sleep. I need to take care of myself. Which is really hard to do when you're at the event, because you're like, that's not going to happen. Let's be real. I always bring my running shoes and I'm like, we're not going to go to the gym this week.
But, like, the intention is there.
But I think also, like, I'm very much a checklist person. I'm very much like you know, even before here, that was perfect, the breathing exercise. Like, that is just like the moment of walking in, and I wake up in the morning and I'm like, okay, we're doing it like, you know. It feels very much like game time, you know, and so that's that's just my rituals. Like taking care of myself, being zoned in, and then being kind of prepared to take on whatever.
Right over here.
So I have a question. Oh, here I am.
I love your approach with the culture and the focus on the culture, not only for your attendees, but also for your staff, for your team, that's supporting these events. And I was curious, do you have any examples of things that you personally do, or that you have as, I don't know, part of your own rituals, to make it fun for your team. Because you mentioned that I think specifically that you want to try to keep it fun for your team as well, and we all know that events are stressful, especially for the people who are organizing them. Do you have any examples?
Yeah. I mean, I mean, Isela could probably share some as well.
But we always like I mean, just silly things. Like, especially the night before the event. Like, we always try to do something that's right before the event starts and then at the bookends to really celebrate and just be with each other. It's also these little moments of like recognition, like I try during the event to really like take the time out to be like, hey, that was awesome.
You know, like, they're like little things, but then people feel seen at the event. And then sometimes we'll do, especially if you're at a hotel or something, we try to do like a little champagne toast or something with our vendors. Like I said, like our extension of our team, it's not just us. We try to keep things very inclusive, so it's just your like three-person team.
It's like the, it's the on-site staff. It's everyone. So everyone feels like at the pre-con, we're in the together, and then afterwards we're like, okay, how did that go? We do like a post-event briefing and then we celebrate.
Like, we really try to be intentional about, how can we have fun?
We have an off-site party at our event. We did annually, and so I try to tell people like, of course, you're not gonna rage at a customer event. But if you can spend the time to like build some relationships with some people that are there, but also like find your people and like have a drink, and like have a good time. Like, you planned all of this and spent so many hours, like, find the time even if it's half an hour to just enjoy yourself. We just try to be intentional and make sure people are doing it. Like, we'll call each other and pull them for a second just like enjoy enjoy the time for a little bit.
Hi. Can you hear me? So you talked a lot about vendors being an extension of your team, and I'm curious, how do you go about selecting vendors? What do you look for?
Yeah. It's hard. And sometimes, you know, like to be completely honest, sometimes you'll go through the whole matrix and then you're actually in it and you're like, wow, this is actually is different in real life now that I'm signed on. Like I'm a pure witness to that.
But I think for us, I mean, there's a lot of things. Right? There's the obvious, like, the budget piece, like, the functionality, like, what does that mean? The business side of it all.
But from a from like extension of that. Like, for me, I look for testimonials. Like, I do a lot of reference checking of like, give me some other customers to talk to. When I talked to them like, when something bad happened or you needed to work through things, like are they actually trying to be proactive about developing new pieces?
When you give feedback, are they hearing you, or does it go into a queue? And then you never hear back.
And then, I think also just like, I do a lot of having a lot of people, not just on my team, but the marketing operations team, you know, some of our other groups, connect with whoever it is that we're talking to, and I don't always want to talk to the salesperson either. Like I want to talk to the customer support. It's not like a whole huge map, but it's really just to get a feel of, you know, do we have the same sort of values when we're going into this? And if so, then we can communicate with each other and have some some hard conversations when they get there, and hopefully not, but then you know, being able to create some balance between budget functionality, like what you're looking for business wise, and also like the you're gonna be spending a lot of time with these folks, and you're putting a lot of investment in, so trying to make sure that that's the right fit.
Thank you so much, Stephanie, for taking our time today to share this with us and take our time to meet with all of us again. So we really appreciate your time today.
Thank you for having me.