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Author: Kelsey Williams

Unleashing the Power of Great Questions for the ED Retreat

Have you ever thought about what your organization’s soundtrack would be? Read on to hear about how we curated our own playlist and how it helped us in planning our annual retreat. 

Remember the blog post a while back about asking the right questions and the story about Erin asking a client ‘what kind of chair would it be?’.  If that doesn’t ring a bell, click here to read it now! 

We put the ED discovery practice into play for our own team to ensure we understood the intent, purpose, and desired outcomes of our team retreat. Working backwards, Erin and I brainstormed what we needed to know from the team in order to plan accordingly to achieve our intended results. Based on that, we developed questions that we felt would give us the ‘intel’, aka data, that we needed to make decisions. 

Here are the questions that the ED team was asked, and the purpose behind them. 

  1. When we get back home, what are you going to tell your spouse or friend about the ED retreat? What stories do you hope to tell them?

These responses helped us to gauge what was of priority to each team member. Would they talk about relaxing and being able to unwind? Meaning they are feeling stressed and overwhelmed and need a break. Would they tell others about how they enjoyed spending time together? Meaning that they value and have strong relationships with their team members. Would they brag about ED and how happy they are to be a part of it? Meaning that the ED culture is strong. 

One of my favorite responses that came in was: “What happens in Kananaskis, stays in Kananaskis.”

  1. If the ED retreat had a soundtrack, what type(s) of music would be on it?

This is similar to the ‘what kind of chair would it be’ question. It’s a roundabout way of asking what do you expect or hope the retreat will be?

The soundtrack question had 2 purposes. 

First, it told us the kind of vibe that the team was looking for. Some of the answers ranged from upbeat, girls rule the world kind of music, to chill, relaxing, laid-back coffee shop, to raise a little hell and girls just wanna have fun.  This gave us insight into the mindset that the team members were coming into the retreat with and we could plan accordingly to ensure we have some down time to relax and some celebration party time! 

Second, it literally became a soundtrack as we had Jen create a playlist for us that we listened to on the drive to the resort. Listen to the ED Retreat 2022 Playlist here.

  1. What would an ED client hope we are talking about at the retreat?

This question guided our planning for what the strategy discussion during the retreat would include. The answers shaped the discussion around: 

  •  potential pain/stress points our clients may be facing 
  •  what other services ED clients may be looking for
  • what advice they come to us for as experts in the industry 

An ED-ucation: What would you like to learn about from your ED colleagues? Whether something that you’ve seen them do or talk about during work or something that you know they are passionate about personally? It can be as specific as you like, or a more general topic.

As much as we wanted Chris Hadfield  to speak at our mighty but micro retreat, the budget just wasn’t there; so we chose to focus on the knowledge already in the room. I have to say looking inwards to our own team was one of the best decisions we made. We each have different backgrounds, skill sets and work that we do within ED and sharing that knowledge, mindset and best practices was extremely valuable and something that we will continue to do. And come on, we try to use ‘ED’ in all the words we can and what’s more perfect than our own  ED-ucation session. 

Each ED team member answered what they would like to learn from each other ED team member. Based on the responses, Erin and I developed session titles for each team member to prepare a 15-minute presentation on. A few of the titles were: Art of Learning and Enter the Zen Den. Stay tuned for an upcoming blog post specifically on the ED-ucation sessions. 

Overall, the questions achieved their desired purpose in guiding our planning of the retreat itinerary for both social and work elements. And, as a side note, it also solidified the unity of the team, as without any prompting or discussion of the survey in advance of the team taking it, the answers were very consistent and had similar themes. 

Whether it’s a mighty micro retreat, a project kick-off meeting, or any other kind of gathering of minds, asking the right questions will set your team up for success in whatever you are doing. Think outside of the box, try and look at it from the end result to determine your questions and have fun with it. Surprise your colleagues with some thought provoking, creative questions that may not make sense to them initially, but ultimately, you’re taking a different approach to get meaningful answers from them. 

If you ever want to brainstorm questions – just reach out! We’ll promise to have some random thoughts for you! 

#morethanapartyplanner – Asking the Right Questions

“I hadn’t thought about that. That’s a great question” I hear this often when working with clients and I take pride in it. With all new ED projects our team holds a discovery session with the client to learn more about their business, their stakeholders and the ‘why’ behind the event or project. Some clients are taken back that we don’t start off with the 5 W’s; who, what, where, when, and why but instead focus on the last ‘W’ first. Why are you choosing to host this event? Why now? Why is this important to you and your organization? Stephen Covey says ‘begin with the end in mind’; starting with the intent and purpose behind the project is critical to then best determine the course of action for all other decisions to be made. 

Of the many things we gather in a discovery session, these three are crucial: 

  1. A Temperature Check: Before starting a project we need to understand what the climate is like within your organization and amongst your stakeholders. Take an employee event for example, if there has been recent structural changes, heavy workloads, layoffs or uncertainty, we need to know that in order to ensure the communications we write for the event reflect the tone and culture to the individuals reading them. You have the insight into your organization and how the team is feeling, we have the expertise to creatively write and curate an event that acknowledges the current state of morale while also moving forward, celebrating or recognizing accomplishments. Showing vulnerability to acknowledge the struggle will go much further than just glossing over it and trying to rally the teams for the next stage or goal. The answer to this question gives us insight into the current emotional state of your organization 
  1. Your Definition of Success: Have you ever considered what your definition of success is when you start a new project? It’s an interesting task and reveals a lot about how an individual sees and measures accomplishment. Not to mention, each person around the table might have a different definition of success- which is a good thing! In order for us to help you achieve your goals and ‘why’, we need to know from the beginning how you will determine if it was successful. Is it based on the number of leads generated, employee feedback, satisfaction surveys etc. As with any metric, we need to know what we are measuring before we start. The answer to this question gives us an insight into what is of most importance to you. 
  1. What Keeps You Awake at Night: Although you’ve hired us to work with your team to drive the project forward, there are still many other priorities on your plate that we are not aware of. We need to know your greatest stress point so we can help alleviate it.  For many clients, it is not related to the project, but if we know what the internal pressures are, we can help to plan the timeline around them. If we know you have a big board meeting in a certain week, we’ll do our best to get any decisions or answers we need from you well in advance or not bother you until after. On the other hand, if you are most concerned about the project, then we’ll send you weekly check in emails to update you in between meetings. The answer to this question helps us to communicate with you effectively and to be aware of competing priorities in our timeline and planning to ensure it doesn’t become too much for you or the team. 

Let me finish with a short story of a recent, brilliant, question that was asked during a discovery session- and no, it wasn’t my question this time! 

In working with a client for their upcoming podcast series, Erin asked: “If the podcast was a chair, what kind of chair would it be?” The look of surprise on the client’s face lasted for a moment but while they thought about it I was in awe at what an amazing question it was! Think about it, it’s simply a different way, a different perspective to think about the project. It challenged the client to think about the end result with how and where they envision their target market listening to their podcast. The answers they give us will tell us significantly more about how they envision it. Is it a leather recliner by the fireplace in a library or study? Is it an Adirondack chair in the backyard or by the lake? Is it a high stool at a noisy bar? Or is there no chair at all and it’s in the gym or on the river valley trails while someone is working out? 

We challenge you to not only strive to ASK great questions but then to truly LISTEN to the responses.


Do you have a job where when you tell people what you do they have a preconceived notion or stereotype about what that means? Let me give you a perfect example. 

Random Person: “great to meet you Kelsey, so what do you do for work?”

Me: “great to meet you Random, I’m a corporate event planner!” 

Random: “oh that’s cool, so you plan parties?”

Me: “well….I guess yes, sometimes, but there is so much more to it than that”

Random: “yeah, I get it, I just helped my community league host a bouncy castle and cotton candy day for the kids. You have such a fun job!”

Don’t get me wrong, I have planned a couple events that had bouncy castles and cotton candy but those are minor details compared to what we (ED Marketing) actually does. Yes, choosing the right caterer and entertainment is important to the guest experience but if those were your only 2 decisions to make then you could have your Aunt Susan do some research on Google and make it happen.

Over the next couple of weeks we are going to share with you some thoughts on why we are #morethanapartyplanner and how having strategy, thoughtful intention and a marketing mindset can take your event from being just a social gathering to a brand building, employee culture or community development opportunity. 

We see events as an opportunity to share your message, purpose, brand and unique characteristics in a memorable way. Events are a great marketing tool that beats out a traditional print or billboard campaign and can create lasting impressions- which is what you ideally want right? 

Erin, Jen and myself each have a unique background and current role within ED that when combined provides a fuller picture than just that of planning a party. 

I’ll be up first next week and I’ll share with you a bit about our discovery process that is our first step with clients when discussing their event. In the meantime, do you have a job that people tend to think they know what you do? Share a meme with us about your job and what people think you actually do!

Canadian Western Bank National Leadership Conference

The mission, should we choose to accept it (which we did of course), was to guide a highly functioning but busy team to launch day for their national leadership conference. The dates were set, the theme chosen and some of the session topics approved. The ED team was tasked with managing the project timeline, the committee and developing engaging, creative digital content as well as custom packages to be delivered across the country. Oh, and the launch date (aka conference start) was only 4 weeks away.

The conference name was Fueling the Future and with the graphic design focused on space, rocket ships and astronauts our team put on our flight suits and worked long days in mission control. There is so much we could tell you about this event, and are happy to chat more sometime, but for today we’ll keep it to 3 things.

  1. Conference Packages
You’ve got to have some sustenance! And who doesn’t love cookies?!?

Creating a personal, interactive and engaging experience was key for CWB. The social aspect of this conference in past years when it was allowed in person was the highlight for many as they would only see colleagues from across the country at this one time.

When considering what to send attendees, we knew they would be expecting the traditional printed conference program, maybe a branded water bottle and a hotel branded pen and we definitely were NOT going to be doing that! Come on, who really wants another branded pen…

Some light hearted fun included in the package!

In keeping with the space theme, we created 3 separate packages for attendees to open at specific times which were written onto the package labels. When guests opened their package, they first saw a welcome to crew members message from Chris Fowler, CWB President & CEO and Mission Control (aka Tech Support) contact information.

Package 1: Pre-Flight Check

Package 2: Day 1- Ignite: We have Lift Off

Package 3: Day 2- Accelerate: Reaching Light Speed

2. Digital Assets & Production

Some of the digital assets created, in partnership with the talented crew at invert720 Productions, were a countdown video to start each conference day and a blast-off video to start sessions. Attendees were surprised from the moment the program started and knew this wasn’t just going to be another ‘Teams meeting’.

Still from the countdown video

We used invert720’s studio space where the designed LED wall matched the other design aspects of the digital event and the printed packages people received to bring a cohesive experience to guests.

Sr. AVP Kate Lister in front of the branded LED wall

Another impactful piece developed was a video compilation of CWB staff answering the same few questions. These questions related to the session topics and were used as intros to the sessions. The response from staff was great and we had many submitted videos for every question.

3. Guest Communications

We helped integrate the theme in written communications to guests leading up to the event. The attendees enjoyed the unique mission control messages they were receiving and it created anticipation and curiosity. Here are a couple examples:

  • Every successful astronaut needs to prepare for their mission. Usually this involves years of physical, mental and emotional training to be in the best-pre-flight shape for the stress of space travel. We’re not asking you to do this much pre-launch work; however; you will be receiving a few crucial items that contribute to the success of each astronaut. Click this link and provide your current, accurate, complete SHIPPING address to receive your pre-launch package in time.
  • Before each flight, many astronauts pre-record messages or write notes to friends and family to read while they are in space. We would like you to do the same! As part of your mental training for your upcoming mission aboard the CWB Rocketship, Mission Control would like you to choose 3 questions from the following list and record your answers on your smart phone. Then submit your recordings to Mission Control to create a special video.
  • This is your final system check before blast off. The deadline to register for the Fueling the Future Leadership Conference (mission!) is imminent. The ship’s systems have been double and triple checked; the fuel cells engaged and the team is moving towards the launch pad….will you be among them? If you haven’t registered, now is your last chance to complete the pre-flight information to receive crucial mission sensitive information. IF YOU DO NOT register before the deadline #TeamTeal will launch without you. You will be left, helmet in hand, staring wistfully into the stars imagining the fun your fellow astronauts will have had WITHOUT YOU!

Things we learnt that you might want to consider in planning your next event:

  1. Sending creative themed packages is great but keep in mind that you might not have all of your employee’s home addresses. Or if you do, it might be from 10+ years ago when they started with you and you will want to confirm shipping addresses as part of the registration process. This can take extra time but is worth it up front to ensure accuracy in your shipping.
  2. As with an in-person event, the guest experience starts BEFORE the event starts and it’s a great way to build anticipation and help tie your theme together from beginning to end
  3. Packaging 350 boxes, each with 3 different packages inside of them takes a lot of time and man power!
  4. Virtual events provide different opportunities for people to attend. Maybe in the past, your in-person event was only for a certain level (ex: Senior Leadership & Executive) and that was partially due to budget in flying people to one location. Now, you can consider having Managers and up and coming leaders join in virtually. This is great, but does add to the complexity of getting your invite list ready and approved.
  5. A space themed event is OUT OF THIS WORLD!

A&H Steel 50th Anniversary

A business’s 50th anniversary is a milestone worth pulling the red carpet out for! For A&H Steel, their 50th Anniversary celebration went virtual and was able to reach a number of people that would not have been able to attend an in-person celebration. Although moving to a virtual event wasn’t what the client originally had dreamed about, in the end it achieved all of their goals in recognizing the original founders, connecting current and past staff, clients and suppliers and looking forward to the next 50 years.  Read on to see what I think some of the benefits of a virtual event are.

The ED team had the pleasure of working with Glenise Harvey and the A&H family for their new building grand opening back in 2016. When Glenise reached out about needing help to celebrate this milestone we said YES immediately!


When we first started the planning, we could have had an in-person event for 50 people and streamed the event virtually- that is a hybrid event. After lengthy discussion, it was decided to do the event virtually only. How could they choose which 50 people got to attend in person? Hybrid events are more expensive because you are doing 2 events instead of 1. What if the restrictions changed between now and then? At the end of the day, it was the right decision for the client, their guests and the circumstances we were in.

I could write a book about each event, it’s always so hard to pick only a couple things to note. Once again, here are just a few highlights of mine:


Creating a theme and design that captures the character of the organization, their values and is unique to them is one of my favorite parts. We chose a classic chalk effect design and focused on A&H’s Raising the Bar tagline. They’ve been Raising the Bar for 50 Years in the Edmonton area!

A number of invitations were printed and mailed to some of the original staff and the rest were sent electronically. In addition to having a digital invite, we also had the invite animated into a short video. Yes! The bar was literally raised in the invitation! Call me a dork but these are the kind of things I get excited about.

We also wanted to capture the impact that A&H has had and is still having on the community and the industry. We created an infographic for them based on a number of stats about their organization and interesting things to know about the industry. This piece was intentionally designed to not reflect the event only, as this is a piece that A&H Steel can use for the next year or more to come. This can easily be included on their website, or put in proposals and much more.


A core value of A&H’s is Happiness and it is inspired from the author Jennifer Moss’s book on Unlocking Happiness at Work. As a way to give back to the guests, in an especially challenging year, A&H chose to have Jennifer Moss present a keynote address to provide tangible tips and tools for people and to also inspire them on how to choose happiness and choose joy even when we are facing challenges.

The keynote was very well received by attendees and many guests joined her in the Meet the Speaker networking room following the main program where they could continue the conversation and A&H gave away a number of books.


We wanted to capture elements of the past and present through different speakers and videos. Photos from over the years were collected and compiled with a heartfelt recorded message from one of the original founders. The comments were steadily coming in on the chat about people recognizing each other in the old photos.

Moving to the present, we worked with invert720 Productions to arrange a video shoot with the current owners. The end result was authentic, informative, engaging and, of course, entertaining! It hit the mark on event day when people became emotional at different parts and enjoyed the humour and banter between Glenise & Craig.

Lastly, as a way to engage the staff and tie into the Happiness theme, we asked staff to submit a video of them completing the sentence: Happiness is…..

We were overwhelmed with the number of responses and had to have a short version for the event and a full version that was shared afterwards.


  1. Your invite and attendee list can be infinite
  2. Your stakeholders that live in different provinces can still attend online. For A&H, this meant their BC team could be a part of the celebration
  3. If people cannot attend due to a date or time conflict, they can still watch the recorded event after
  4. In creating different media assets for the virtual event, you have content that can be reused on your website, for social media, newsletters, annual reports, etc.

All Weather Windows Sales Awards Gala

We get it, special events are nice to have, not the need to have and are typically the first thing to get cut when challenging times face an organization. In the hierarchy of business needs, events wouldn’t even make the top 10 for most organizations.

It’s because of this reality that we appreciate organizations like All Weather Windows that still take the time to host an annual Awards Gala for their sales team. This year’s awards gala was done virtually and although people said they wished they could have been together in person, many people commented that they were proud and happy to see the organization still host the event!

The All Weather Windows team has been doing this annual event for a long time and is a highly functioning and efficient team. With only 3 weeks from ED joining the team to event day, we assisted with the virtual world insights on how to produce an awards gala. What’s the best part of an awards gala? The live reaction of the winner of course! There are many ways to capture the reaction and what was best for this team and their event was to have fake meetings scheduled with the winners that the leadership then hijacked and shared the big news. Those meetings were recorded and highlight reels were created to share during the awards program.

This event was 100% pre-recorded and produced in advance of the event, which pushed the planning and timeline up even more. The in-studio recordings were done 1 week in advance and the rest of the content came together just in time to preview the entire show the day before. Having the event fully pre-recorded was partially a decision based on health and safety of their staff during COVID and also it allowed the MC and other speakers to fully engage with attendees in the chat and networking rooms during the event.

I had the opportunity to move around the networking rooms before and after the awards presentations and the energy around meeting new team members, seeing colleagues from across the country and celebrating the award winners was an honour to see. The team is committed, resilient and as their mantra has been, they are ‘All In’!  Congratulations to all of the winners.

The Fath Group – 2020 Years of Service Awards


A long-standing career with the same organization has become rare and the average length of time someone stays is 4-5 years. We’ve had the pleasure of working with The Fath Group for close to 10 years and we have always admired their support and appreciation of their staff.

Annually they host a Years of Service Awards event and every year they have people being recognized for 25, 30, and 35 years! This is a high impact and important event for the team, their culture and the staff being recognized.

There are a number of simple touches that make this event special. The invitations are personalized with staff names and award recipients receive a unique stamp on their invite showing that they are an honoured guest this year. At the event, award recipients are recognized one by one by the owners of the company and are presented with a plaque and gift certificate based on their number of years of service. Recognition starts at 10 years and goes up in 5 year increments. Photos are taken with management and the owners and everyone gets in on the cheering and congratulations for their fellow colleagues. 

You would think that working with people for this many years you would know everything about them, but we try and have a little fun with an interactive trivia game during the program where guests use their phone to vote on which award recipient matches the trivia fact. The best trivia facts are the most obscure things that their colleagues might never know about them and it makes for great conversation starters at the tables during the meal.

Although this event is a short 1.5-hour luncheon, the focus is on the guests of honour and sharing in their success. Not all events need to be grand productions with large budgets and lengthy programs.  Find what is of most value to your employees and recognize them in a way that is meaningful to them. That’s a successful event.

Canadian Western Bank HR & Corporate Communications

Surprise Appreciation Event 2021

Theme: Yearbook 2020

Many people say there are few surprises in life but we are happy to share that the majority of the Canadian Western Bank HR & Corporate Communications team was truly surprised when they joined what they thought was their regular weekly team meeting.

As you can imagine, working in HR & Communications during a pandemic was especially challenging. This CWB team worked tirelessly to make sure everyone was supported and had what they needed to succeed. With the emphasis always being on taking care of other people, the leadership team wanted to ensure their staff knew how vital their work is and how much the organization appreciates them.

A surprise event is always a nice change from doing the typical invite list, invitations and RSVP reminders and all of the pre-event guest work. Instead, we went into stealth mode and were only able to correspond with select people that knew about the planning of the event and had to make sure all of our communications emphasized that it was a SURPRISE, SO DON’T RUIN IT!

We developed a Yearbook 2020 theme for their appreciation event to commemorate the past year and the challenges they overcame but also to graduate and mentally ‘move on’ to the next chapter. The short 1-hour virtual program consisted of a commencement address, a year in review and yearbook messages from the CEO, Executive, and numerous colleagues across the organization that benefited from the team’s work.

As you would find in a yearbook, the MC shared about some of the social clubs within the group, for example the Pets Club who always had their pets in view on Teams calls and the Travel Club who was struggling to find new stories this year. Using online live polling, the Most Likely To winners were also crowned in areas such as most likely to hug a teammate when COVID is over and most likely to use a GIF during a Teams call.  To add to the fun, the MC was a great sport and wore a gown and cap and used the custom-made Teams background we supplied to make it look like he was on a graduation stage. We even used their corporate values as the symbols on the banners of the stage!

Although graduation and a yearbook are more of an annual occurrence, recognition and appreciation is best shared regularly amongst the team and the entire organization. Going forward, staff were challenged to add a calendar reminder every Friday to send an email or two of appreciation to a colleague. Remember there’s no such thing as a small act of kindness. Every act creates a ripple with no logical end.” – Scott Adams