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Author: Jen McMillan

An ED-ucation: : Looking internally for the greatest education opportunity

Do you ever look at a colleague and think, “how do they do that?” Whether it’s an Excel formula that blows your mind and saves you hours worth of work, or the way they can conjure up a precise detail and seem to have the memory of a trivial pursuit game, or how no matter the amount of work and pressure, they always seem to have time to say yes to helping others with something. I think we all have worked with colleagues that amaze us with their own unique talents, skill sets and how their brains work differently than ours. 

As Kelsey previously mentioned in her last blog post, we had wanted to get a world famous keynote speaker for our ED Retreat, but alas, no budget for that. Instead, we looked internally to the knowledge within the ED team and created an ED-ucation. 

The team was asked through an online survey what they wanted to learn from their colleagues. Based on the common themes coming through the answers, session titles and descriptions were created and assigned to each ED member. With a guideline of only the session title, description, and needing to present for 5 minutes, each of us took a different approach and came to the retreat with an education to share. 

After 2 hours of discussion, we had a great time chatting about what we had learned from each other and loved delving into each other’s brains! Personally, I loved to see how our team is naturally split into two personalities; two of us are more linear and detail oriented and two are more abstract and non-linear thinkers. It was obvious once we saw it that this is part of how our projects and team are balanced and stay on track even when times are stressful  . It’s so interesting to see how we can have such completely different ways of working but still make incredible things happen together. 

Similar to a personality test, or the Five Love Languages, or other self evaluation tools, these presentations helped us to understand each other’s perspectives, priorities, thought process, and much more. As we continued the retreat conversations, and still in our daily work now, how we interact with each other has changed for the better.

Curious about what our presentation topics were? Below are the session titles & descriptions that were given out. Feel free to reach out to any ED member if you want to hear more about their session. Who knows, maybe we’ll all be keynote speakers some day! 

The Art of Learning, presented by Jen 

Jen spends a lot of time learning new things. From new songs as a professional musician, to new instruments, editing videos, making websites, to acting and much more, she always seems up for the challenge of learning something new. Discover how she doesn’t get bogged down in the need for perfection or not knowing the answers. Hear her process for learning and what advice she would give someone who is learning something new. 

Enter the Zen Den, presented by Dana 

Dana is cool as a cucumber, calm and collected even when pandemonium surrounds and extra tasks are thrown her way, or at least that is how she makes it appear! Learn Dana’s secret to staying calm under pressure and not letting endless tasks overwhelm her. Hear how she manages client’s stress, constant changes, rolling with the punches all while still prioritizing her 3 kids. 

Kelsey’s Brain 101, presented by Kelsey 

If you look at Kelsey’s calendar, you may think it’s a kaleidoscope of chaos but there is a method behind the madness. ’Marie Kondo’ your email inbox, calendar and learn how Kelsey uses different systems to manage everything while still staying sane, having time for creative thinking and prioritizing family time and tasks. 

Letting it Go, presented by Erin 

Erin’s superhero power is joining a meeting and contributing mind blowing, strategic and creative ideas that the client loves and takes a project to the next level. Learn from Erin how to let go of some control and to trust others, how to care less in a good way and free up mental space for thinking outside of the task box and look at something differently.  

Virtual Surprise Birthday Celebration

It’s pretty rare that we work on a private event. Our usual clients are planning corporate events. But when one of our favourite corporate event clients approached us to help her host a surprise virtual celebration for her husband’s 60th birthday, we couldn’t help but say yes!

Autorickshaw from Toronto

We thought this would be simple…until we learned that there would be guests joining from countries all over the world; India, Japan, Singapore, United States, Canada, to name a few. Trying to find a time where everyone could come and not be half-asleep was a challenge in itself. We decided on 7:30am MST so that by the time the event finished, it would be just after midnight in Japan. And remember – this was a surprise party! We scheduled our planning meetings at times that he had staff meetings as both he and our client were working from home. Even with our best efforts of scheduling meetings when he should have been busy, there were still times that our client had to talk in code if he passed through her home workspace to grab a coffee. Ninja-style secret event planning at its finest! 

Wanda Baloyi from South Africa

The guest of honour is passionate about music and reading, so we used his eclectic taste in music and his love of books for inspiration. I found 3 incredibly different artists who all agreed to make a 15-minute personalized pre-recorded video.

Kate Blechinger from Edmonton

Wanda Baloyi, a jazz/r&b/neo-soul singer from South Africa, Autorickshaw, an Indian/pop/jazz fusion band from Toronto, and Kate Blechinger, a folk singer from Edmonton. It was great to see people dancing along in their little Zoom box. To celebrate his passion for reading, we asked guests to recommend their favourite book for him to read as part of the RSVP process. This list was shared with him and, as a tribute to his passion for reading, a donation of textbooks was made in his name to a school in India.

We had a fun “How well do you know the birthday boy” quiz and used Mentimeter so everyone could see the results live.

Guest speakers from across the world shared touching messages of appreciation and stories of how he impacted their lives. One of the honoured guests from Japan led everyone in a customary sanbon-jime, consisting of a series of three handclaps to celebrate the end of an event. The guest of honour was very touched that his dear friend and ex-colleague stayed up so late to celebrate and teach everyone this tradition.

Amazing stories, speeches, pictures, laughter, and tears of joy – all parts of a successful international virtual surprise celebration!

The Fath Group Holiday Party

We love working with The Fath Group and their holiday party is always one for the books. In our initial planning meeting with them, we give them options for a few different themes. Once one is selected, we hit the ground running.

Photos do not do it justice!

Knowing our venue was the Pioneers Cabin (formerly The Old Timers Cabin), we wanted to create a special atmosphere the moment the guests stepped into the beautiful, rustic space.  We were inspired by seeing a lighting design by Roy Jackson Design. They can create the Northern Lights on the walls and ceiling, so our theme became “A Night Under The Stars”.

We learned that if you are using a log cabin that was built in the 1950’s, be prepared for some power issues. Luckily, our amazing tech from Roy Jackson Design was able to make it work (after finding the breaker panel) and created a wonderful ambience, complete with shining stars.

We found some beautiful geometric candle holders from Knotwood Event Rentals that we completed with mirrors to help reflect the lights. Fresh cedar was placed on the tables to bring the smell of the fresh outdoors inside. We also rented a large, wooden farmhouse table that became the centrepiece of the room. Our amazing caterer, Creative Quality Catering, designed a beautiful grazing table with meats, cheese, fruits, and crackers that guests could enjoy as they began to arrive.

The incredible farm house grazing table

After dinner, a few speeches and prize-giveaways, we got into the entertainment. We are so lucky that we have such a thriving musical scene in Edmonton and were so pleased when Martin Kerr was available to do an engaging 45-minute set for our event. 

To close out the evening, one end of the cabin became a dance floor and the other end was set up for a paint nite! Smash Art created two paintings for us to fit our starry night theme. The two large groups that painted had a wonderful time and a lovely canvas to hang on their wall once they got home!

Who doesn’t love a photobooth?! Thanks for the fun memories Flashworks!

#morethanapartyplanner – Entertainment

Before I get into my #morethanapartyplanner bit, I feel like I need to tell you how I got started with ED. Some people may think that I’m an unlikely fit for an event planning company. I’m actually a professional musician and have been for about 20 years. I play piano and sing in various theatres around Edmonton, I perform on tracks for film, television, and video games, I work with choirs, and write and arrange music that has been performed all over the world.

4 summers ago, Erin was over having lunch with my husband, John and me. She mentioned that Kelsey was going on maternity leave in a few months and she needed help with ED. John was suggesting a bunch of his students when I finally piped up and said, “what about me?” Now, at the time, I had absolutely NO experience with event planning, but I was willing to learn. I felt the skills I use as an entertainer would contribute to ED’s work; skills like being able to juggle weird schedules, having a creative mind, and my ability to stay calm in busy and stressful situations. Plus I knew my connections in the entertainment industry would prove to be a useful resource.

Fast forward to today, and I know my background as an artist has allowed me to add a different viewpoint to events. And I love being the one that gets to source entertainment! 

Kelsey, Erin, and I have developed a great working relationship, each of us appreciating one another’s individual strengths for delivering a great event. After the initial discovery meeting with a client, Kelsey and I put our brains together to come up with some themes for their event. Once that’s selected, I try to find an entertainment option that fits with the theme. Sometimes our clients specifically ask for something (like a musical act) but often times the ball is left in my court. I usually pitch musical acts to clients (since that’s my background and I have many connections around Edmonton and across the country) but I love it when we can find something really original.

One of my favourite events was a Cirque du Soleil themed Canadian Western Bank gala. I reached out to one of my connections in the performing arts community and was able to book the local circus group, Firefly Theatre, for the event. Aside from doing a jaw-dropping performance for the CWB event, Firefly Theatre also poured champagne for the guests during the reception hour….while hanging upside down from beautiful red silks! This was spectacular to see and definitely gave guests an immediate “wow” factor the second they walked into the room. 

Some things to remember when choosing entertainment options:

  • Book early. If you want the best and you’re booking during a busy season (like Christmas) popular musicians and performers can book up months, or even years, in advance.
  • Confirm if your entertainment needs extra time to set up or tear down. Is this something that can be done before guests arrive? Or will it take extra time during your main event agenda?
  • Know your audience. Don’t book a performer just because YOU really like them. For example, if you have an audience full of young people that just want to get up and dance, maybe a quiet string quartet isn’t the right call.  
  • If you want professionals, build it into your budget. Exposure is never an acceptable form of payment.
  • Depending on your entertainment option, you may want to do a site visit at the venue with them. For the Cirque event I mentioned above, we needed special rigging to make sure the silks could be hung from the ceiling. We needed to coordinate with the venue so the performers could have early access to install the rigging.
  • With virtual events becoming so popular over the pandemic, you can easily include international performers and not have to worry about paying for travel! I just finished up a virtual event where I booked an artist all the way from South Africa.

At the end of the day, I am #morethanapartyplanner! I feel for Erin and Kelsey when they have to work around my crazy performance schedules but am so happy that I spoke up during our lunch and grateful that Erin took a chance on me!