Outrageous Theme Parties as Team Builders

Definition of Terms. Putting a hay bale and a wagon wheel on the buffet table and handing everyone a red kerchief and cowboy hat when they arrive is not a Theme Party. It’s what we professionals in the business refer to as “a stupid waste of money”.

My apologies go out to Directors of Catering Everywhere. But to calm everyone down, I am not saying that having incredible décor is not a great thing to have at your event. There are some amazing things available to make the party elegant or fun or crazy. It’s just not a theme party (by my definition and hey, this is my blog).

What I call a Theme Party is something inclusive, something so over-the-top that your attendees (and the hotel or venue staff) will be talking about for years to come. It’s an inter-active environment. It’s something attendees could never re-produce on their own. It breaks down barriers. Consider it team-building.

For example, a Casino Night is always (usually) a big hit. It gets people involved, mixes people together that might not normally socialize, all of that jazz. But by itself, although fun and occupying a rightful place in “things to entertain your group with” category, it’s not a Theme Party (by our hitherto agreed upon definition).

Want to make the Casino Night something memorable (and yes, we are talking big budgets here… like I said, it’s my blog), how about re-creating the set of Casablanca’s famous Rick’s Café Americain? Restaurant-style seating that can be adjusted, long bar, Moroccan-style furniture and décor, ceiling fans… you get the idea… have fun with it… a big band (and a guy who can sing As Time Goes By and a woman who can sing La Marseillaise)… and the casino is still a big part of the event, but in style… and the whole place is staffed with actors from the film… Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Peter Lorre, Sydney Greenstreet, the crazy Russian bartender, the good-natured head waiter… (we’ll leave out the Germans), and the serving staff is also in costume and in character.

Even better… tell your guests in advance about the dress-up party and give awards for the best costumes for movie characters, or a 1940’s dance contest. And…and…and… as you can see, I like this kind of thing.

So with that in mind… here are some other random, cool ideas for your next Real Theme Party…

Alice in Wonderland/Through The Looking Glass

The iconic Jaki Baskow (Baskow & Associates, Las Vegas, suggested this one (in a kind of stream of consciousness way)… Everything is backwards, nothing matches, all place settings are different sizes (plates, cups, glassware, utensils, flower arrangements, watering cans), lots of stripes, polka dots and/or eyes. Tables are long Mad Tea Party settings covered with all kinds of crazy stuff.

Lots of entertainers, in character. Jaki says that even the strolling magician does his tricks backwards (I guess I have to see that one). Servers dressed like Playing Cards. Guests enter through a Rabbit Hole or Looking Glass and can participate in games like Flamingo Croquet (Styrofoam flamingoes – they don’t talk back). The Mad Queen is there. The Cheshire Cat, of course. Have a professional in-character MC… Music and dancing… and if you can… send invitations (from the Queen) to guests before the event… and do that costume contest thing. For those who don’t come in costume, have some accessories available. I guess if you have outdoor access and can get far enough away from the door, you can have a hookah-sharing Caterpillar for the smokers in the group… OK, maybe that went a bit too far… play with it. 

The Summer of Love

I was a tad to young to participate in ’67, and my mother wouldn’t let me go to Woodstock (which is probably the last time I ever let her tell me what to do or not do), and so didn’t I join the party until 1970. By that time the narrative had switched from Woodstock to Altamont, and you definitely do not want to have an Altamont theme party (look it up).

So, although reading The Electric Kool-Aid Test and my search for the Merry Pranksters got me on the road to California, and I do have some hippie-cred having lived three months on a commune in Sweden (honestly, I can’t remember why I was there), and I spent a fair amount of time in remote hot springs chanting OM during various equinox’s and solstices – I missed the Summer of Love. Bummer.

If you missed it too, the Production Alliance Network ( can re-create it in all of its hazily remembered glory.

The most critical part of any ’67 theme party… the music. You definitely need a great cover band, and although gyrating with outstretched wriggling arms to the Grateful Dead’s Dark Star helped you experience psychic liberation... you really didn’t need a partner (even though you thought you had one). I strongly suggest going the Soul Music route since anything with back-up singers is going to get everyone out on the dance floor with a big smile on their face. It’s irresistible.

Add in a vintage VW van, a Woodie (for the surfing crowd), a Mustang convertible… lots of peace signs, flowers, beads, light shows (lots of them), face painters, street jugglers, poetry readers, tarot and palm readers, big pillows and blankets spread out everywhere (it’s a Be-In… don’t need chairs – OK… you can have a chair)… lots of costume accessories (including wigs), photo booths, have a picnic, a parade… alcohol is still the only legal drug (most places for now), but it will do. Everyone can relax, party, and pretend that everything that happened after the summer of 1967 didn’t happen.

Studio 54

Jaclyn Bernstein with Empire Force Events/Access NY Metro ( suggested this one… The event she described to me was staged at The Capitale, allowing the use of two large events spaces in a Beaux Arts venue, but it can be staged in many suitable locations.

The foyer area was turned into a street scene, with a carpet printed street and sidewalks and realistic police barricades and steam pipes. Burly doormen kept the velvet rope pulled tight allowing no entry except for recognized celebrities—portrayed by impersonators—such as Grace Jones and Liza Minnelli, and those selected as “the beautiful people” by a dead ringer for night-club impresario Steve Rubell. Of course this created just the right amount of anticipation as guests jockeyed for admission utilizing all of their wiles and charm to get through the doors and into the real party.

Signature lighting systems were recreated by some of Studio 54’s original designers, and the iconic Man in the Moon hung over a modernized illuminated dance floor. Caged go-go dancers flanked the stage and a practically nude Lady Godiva rode her white horse across the dance floor. The evening climaxed with a surprise appearance by original Studio 54 performers, The Village People.

Once again I say… tell your people in advance that they are going to a dress-up party… and have prizes for costumes. Get people to go beyond their comfort zone and reveal themselves to their co-workers as real people, not just the guy in the next cubicle or the voice on the phone in the district office. Build camaraderie, and at the same time create a buzz that they will bring back to their work world… I mean… Lady Godiva on a horse on the dance floor? The Village People? Cool.

OK… you get the idea. There are an infinite number of possibilities and I will continue to add them to our Theme Party Blog and to our Library Archive at

Please send me your favorite theme party ideas, we will check them out and share with everyone. The same goes for all of our other blog subjects.

Oh, and this too… if you have a particular subject you want to know more about, tell me, we’ll do the research and post it in one of our newsletters with links to resources. All subjects will be considered. :)

Vol: V – To Third Party Or Not To Third Party

I am Not a Third Party.

Here are some reasons you might want to use one.
For thousand of years, philosopher/planners have long debated whether they plan large events themselves or hire an “expert” to help.
You may not have known this, but during the first Olympics it was decided to save some drachma and the whole shebang was assigned to an EA. Not that they weren’t supremely qualified in their job… but this was something they knew nothing about (although they may have thought they did). “What could be so hard”, they said. “Just hire a caterer (everyone loves lamb), a band (can we get Orpheus?), invite everyone on the list, big guys will wrestle, and we’ll have a party. I love parties”.
Well, as it turned out, the Athenians were seated next to the Spartans (AWWWKward!!!), the Discus-Throwers sign had to be hand-chiseled at the last minute (talk about overtime – and if you think unions are tough, try dealing with the stone-cutters guild on a weekend), Aphrodite’s welcome amenity was WAY nicer than both Athena’s and Hera’s (Google “Trojan War”), and when Hades’ VIP chariot didn’t show up, all Hell broke loose (literally).
Yes. I’m a riot. :)

The bottom line question: Is the mark-up you pay to an Event Management Company more or less than what you will have to pay when things don’t go the way you expected?

I am not a full-service Third Party. I am The Guy Who Introduces Good People to Other Good People (ask me for referrals any time)… but I have spent many years of my career as a third-party guy and have been on all sides of the table in this discussion. Here’s my take on it (in a few paragraphs) for The Basic Scenarios…

You have to plan a small internal meeting...

in a destination you are familiar with. You know who is coming, need some rooms, a place to meet, some F&B, and an off-property activity. My advice: Do it yourself. If you like details, everything will be fine. (Important Note –read the hotel contract before you sign it and don’t hire any vendors no one in your professional network has ever used. Did I mention I was a free referral service?).

 Next level… it’s a bigger meeting...

you’ve done this before but you have a lot on your plate, there are several simultaneous tracks, all of your Executives will be there and you can only hold a few hands at a time. Consider one of the zillion “independent” planners or smaller “houses” out there, some more competent than others (ask me and I will make some recommendations), who will work on a contract/fee basis. Give them specific pieces of the project they are accountable for. They can relieve some of the burden, advise you on some of the tricks of the trade (they will read and actually understand the hotel contract), and be in places where you can’t be because you are someplace else. When the meeting is over, they move on. It’s worth it.

One step up… You have to organize a large conference...

top customers, users, developers, investors, the press… and your executives will be there too. The whole world is watching. We are not just talking about meeting logistics. It’s a Branding Thing.  You’ve got to think strategically and identify your audience, avoid conflicting industry events, formulate a message that will inspire your audience to attend, design logos, manage sponsors and exhibitors, etc. times a million. Never forget that the logistics of the event reflect your brand, so all of your vendors better be up to snuff, because your audience (and your boss) will not blame the AV guy if the lights go out. And so on.

What can a good third-party do for you?

If they are good (that’s a big question), tell them everything you need to do, everything you want to do, and how much you have to spend (and be honest)… and if they are good (still a big question), they will come back to you with questions and then options...lots of them. The good ones not only know what they know, they know everyone who knows what they don’t know (just as important), and they walk you through the insane process of it all. Their job is to make you look good. The good ones want your repeat business.

Sure they mark it up (remember to keep your eye on that… has to be transparent). Think of them as an insurance policy… they are paid not only to make sure things go right, they are paid to think of everything that could go wrong, prevent it from happening, and have a back-up plan when it happens anyway.

I could rattle on about it all but won’t. For those of you who actually read my newsletter and blogs, you know this is the part where I recommend some resource… and here is just one for the moment… I will continue the conversation in future blogs… but I like these guys…

San Francisco based Production Alliance Network (PAN), a new venture combining a pre-exisiting Conference Management company (The Host group but not the one you are thinking of) with several Full-Service Production, Lighting and Audio-Visual divisions. Forget all the old names (except for their client lists and experience), and just think PAN.
Why do I like them?
I think of them as the New Old Kids on the Block (or the Old New Kids). The two principals, Kyle Edwards and Stefan Gosiewski have arm-length resume’s going back 35-40 years, each with their own specialties. Together they provide something unique.

Kyle has been producing and managing corporate events for just about every major company you can think of… meetings, trade shows, conferences, conventions, incentives… you name it… and understands both the Branding Thing and the Budget Thing (combined with the Service Thing… never say no, provide options).

Stefan’s experience goes back to England in the 70’s where he pioneered the introduction of video in the London Club Scene, and then on to New York where he installed the first video system in Club 54. His resume’ includes producing all sorts of festivals, concerts (Elton John’s 60th Bday – just one example), films, commercials, and lots of other cool stuff. What do they bring to the table? They bring the two worlds together… combining everything Stefan knows from the festival, concert and film world with Kyle’s experience with the special Branding and service requirements of the Corporate World. In addition, they work with all of the top vendors (and I mean top) in all of those specialties and can combine the technologies and techniques of one with the other.

They also have the latest equipment and actually are a rental source for a lot of other AVProduction companies. Their San Francisco warehouse and showroom is crammed with “stuff”, and they have equipment stored in five major US cities.

And they are really nice guys.

Ok… I obviously trust them and that is a huge hurdle right there. Check them out. I’ll have more suggestions in future blogs. Stay tuned.

That’s it for the moment… but we’ll keep building the Library. Tell every meeting planner you know to visit the site and share their ideas (and click on everything :) 

Next month we'll be talking about Theme Parties … or whatever other random idea pops into my head between now and then.

Join the conversation and share your experiences…

Vol: IV Luxury Retreats With Horses


I like Luxury. I like Horses.
Last month I mentioned the new Auberge-managed resort in the Costa Rican mountains that, among many other wonderful features, also has a world-class stable. I thought… I write about a lot of things that meeting and incentive planners can use, so here are some of my favorite North American luxury retreats… perfect for small meetings, retreats, incentives, team-building (and all of that jazz)… that have good horses. I want to go.
Whenever planners get together to talk shop, or for that matter, whenever anyone finds out the business I am in, the question invariably arises… what’s the best place you ever stayed?

It’s an almost impossible question to answer because I have had the good fortune of visiting and staying in some really amazing places over the last 40 years in the biz (and of course it depends on the category… Resort? City? Luxury? Adventure?)… but when pushed, I usually say…

Miraval Resort & Spa, Tucson, AZ

Why is it one of the best places I have ever stayed? Granted… there are probably a lot of really beautiful all-inclusive resorts with 117 casitas on 400 acres about 35 minutes north of Tucson with a (really) world-class destination spa, delicious, healthy food, dozens of activities, 4500 square feet of indoor meeting space, and probably the friendliest and caring staff of any place I have ever been. But, do they also have horses? Miraval does.

I have gone through the Equine Experience twice now and space prohibits me from giving it its due. I will summarize quickly… Cowboy therapist, Wyatt Webb, and his staff, take a group of “dudes”, tell them how horses view the world, and then have the dudes a) clean the horses hooves, b) walk them up and down and c) end up in a ring (just you and a horse), where without touching the horse you learn to get it to walk, trot and canter in one direction, turn around, do the same in the other direction… stop the horse, have it walk towards you and out its head down.
What do you learn? It’s not about the horse.
I could talk for an hour about it, but another thing I learned… I don’t need to talk about it for an hour. The only thing I will say is that if you ever have a chance, bring your group to Miraval and have them do it. And while you’re at Miraval, do all of the other stuff they offer too.
Moving north (and maybe a little west)…

Rancho de los Caballeros, Wickenburg,AZ
They self-describe themselves as “a dude ranch in the Sonoran desert”, and I guess it’s that if you think of a dude ranch also having one of the top 10 golf courses in Arizona and a spa. The 79-room all-inclusive resort is located on 20,000 acres (yes, 20k), 75 minutes from Phoenix Sky Harbor.
Besides great golf, a great spa, a super-relaxed ranch atmosphere, hearty food and friendly (and real) staff, they have trap & skeet shooting, hot air ballooning, desert jeep and ATV tours, nature programs and my favorite… lots of horses.
And ranked as one of my favorite team building activities of all time… Team Penning. Simple… everyone gets a horse suited to their riding experience, the group is separated into teams, and given the task of herding three steers from one big pen into a smaller pen. Trust me, it is not as easy as it sounds, and requires teamwork. Let’s just say, there is a lot of laughing and whooping going on while participants learn to co-operate (and overcome fear). It is the best. J

Time to jump north… because if you are talking about Luxury and Horses, you have to talk about Montana…

The Ranch at Rock Creek, Phiipsburg, MT
There is luxury, and there is luxury. The RRC is the latter. It’s the world’s only 5-Star Guest Ranch, a member of Relais & Chateaux, and is even a charter member of National Geographic’s Unique Lodges of the World (and yes, I am sure you can name the other charter members).
Long story short… The 6600-acre all-inclusive year-round ranch resort offers 29 one-of-a-kind accommodations providing 38 private bedroom/bathroom combinations, truly world-class cuisine, and over 20 activities with guides, gear and expert instruction. The activities include fly-fishing, shooting, archery, ropes courses, mountainbiking, rodeos, plenty of winter sports, and in-season… 75 horses.

The “thing” about the RRC… when you first look at their all-inclusive pricing you may say… whoa! … but if you really break it down to what is included (everything), it is in-line with all of the other resorts in it’s class. So make sure you are comparing all of the components before freaking out.

And while we are in Montana…Lone Mountain Ranch, Big Sky, MT

Just twenty miles from Yellowstone National Park (and one hour from the Bozeman, MT airport), Lone Mountain Ranch (aka “The Real Montana”) has been a destination ranch for about 100 years. They offer 24 unique accommodations from creek-side cabins to six-bedroom homes… the total being 50 separate bedroom/bath combinations with the ability to accommodate 100 guests (and everyone gets their own horse). 

It’s an all-inclusive resort and they can do everything from the cowboy steak fry to an elegant gourmet meal, and depending upon the season include horseback riding (of course), guided tours of Yellowstone Park, sleigh rides, cross-country and downhill skiing, guided fly-fishing, whitewater rafting, hot air ballooning, massage (really good after horseback riding), and a menu of teambuilding options. The staff is made up of real people (this is, after all, the real Montana) who truly care that you have a good time.

That’s it for the moment… but we’ll keep building the Library. Tell every meeting planner you know to visit the site and share their ideas (and click on everything :) Next month we'll be talking about Theme Parties … or whatever other random idea pops into my head between now and then.

Vol III: The Tropical Edition: New Luxury Hotels

I am completely biased. “But Neil”, you say, “we trust you to give us an unbiased opinion on all of the really cool things out there for us meeting planners to use and share. How are you biased (say it ain’t so)?”  “OK”, I say…”I’ll tell you. I am biased in two big ways… 1) I really, really like high levels of service and 2) I like people I have known for a long time that have never steered me wrong (the trust thing).”

This month’s editorial?. I’m pretty sure I like them but, being new, I have never actually stayed at any of them. How can I recommend them? Two reasons… 1) Their brands have always provided me with a high level of service and 2) I trust the people who have told me about them.
Not that I would ever book a group anywhere, site un-seen, but at least these new properties will make it into my “consideration set” when I recommend a destination to one of my clients (and forgive me for using the phrase “consideration set”).
Special note… if anyone from any of these hotels really wants me to site so I can write about them first hand, e-mail me and I will tell you my preferred seat assignment.

Second Note – When I decided to write about hotel openings and reached out to my various connections for ideas, I was inundated with information about new properties… so much so that I have to divide it into parts… so for now… The Tropical Edition…
As with all of my newsletter/blogs, the information here will be posted on our website (bookmark it) and then put in our Resource Library so you can always check them out. Oh… although I am sure the hotels I talk about are happy to get free press, they may have to endure my de-constructing their press releases… here goes…

First up… Hacienda AltaGracia, “a luxury resort teeming with life-altering experiences”.  OK… let the de-construction begin… ah, never mind… too easy… we continue…

Located in the mountains of southern Costa Rica, this 50 hacienda-style casita resort was originally a family retreat and coffee farm but now boasts one of Central America’s finest spas (the press release actually calls it a “wellness haven :), gourmet fusion cuisine, a world-class equestrian program, all sorts of Costa Rica-style “critters” (my word) and Auberge-Resort level service.
One thing about it… you have to want to be there. It’s a three-hour drive from San Jose Intl airport (their San Jose, not ours), or a very short flight on one of the resort’s private planes (that’s extra). Seems like an incredible destination for a top-tier incentive or a high-end Board retreat. Combine all that with nature stuff, waterfalls and horses (I like horses)… I am now officially biased.

A little closer to home (assuming you do not live south of Costa Rica) the 299-room JW Marriott Los Cabos Beach Resort & Spa, offering over 38,000 square feet (a lot) of meeting space, is located within the exclusive (as in gated) 2000-acre residential development of Puerto Los Cabos. Just 20 minutes from the airport, the resort overlooks a “pristine” beach (de-construction question – can you combine the words development and pristine in one paragraph?) with “breath-taking” (their word) views of the Sea of Cortez. The pristine development also has golf. And just to make it even more interesting, the resort includes The Griffin Club, a 45-room luxury hotel within the luxury hotel. Yes, it also has a spa, several restaurants and bars and pools and lots of things to do. My experience with JW is that they are good.

And while we are in Cabo… The recently opened 161-room The Cape (a Thompson Hotel) has been getting rave reviews. Positioned on a secluded (define secluded in Cabo) beach only three miles from downtown Cabo, the resort features unobstructed views of El Arco (presumably a good thing).  The hotel p.r. people want you to know the “beach boasts a left-breaking wave” (presumably also a good thing). The hotel has 2,000 square feet of meeting space, which does not include a very, very cool rooftop venue for special events.
They describe the hotel as a “1960's Baja-meets-SoCalsurfer style environment that reflects the Thompson brand's urban roots yet honors the resort's Baja setting.” I have no idea what that means. Can I still order guacamole’? If not, no worries, because their restaurant’s chef, world renowned Chef Enrique Olvera’s other restaurant, Pujol in Mexico City, is ranked #17 of the top restaurants in the world. I bet it’s good.

Speaking of good… any Four Seasons opening is a good thing. Another Four Seasons in Hawaii is a really good thing. It’s not “new” new, in that it used to be the JW Ihilani, but since everything will be different… Enter the new Four Seasons Resort O‘ahu at Ko Olina.
Adjacent to the Lanikuhonua (“where heaven meets earth”) Cultural Estate and nature preserve, the newest Four Seasons in Hawaii is located on the ocean in the resort community of Ko Olina, meaning “place of joy.” Note… I have a very stupid cultural question… when Hawaiians are talking does one say, “Hey where are you going today”, and the other replies… “To the place of joy where heaven meets earth. Wanna come?” And the first guy answers, “Nah… been there, done that.”?
Sorry… getting back on track… just 17 miles from Honolulu International Airport, the 358-room resort also has over 16,000 square feet of meeting space, a spa, five restaurants… and as a total surprise for an Hawaiian resort… a great beach and a bunch of pools. And remember, after relaxing for a few days at this resort, you can head over to the Four Seasons Lanai and un-wind.

OK… let’s all head back to Costa Rica and turn right. Opening December 2015 –Secrets Playa Bonita Panama Resort & Spa. This adults-only all-inclusive 310-room resort has what every luxury resort in Panama should have…golden sand beaches, jungle walkways, a freshwater infinity pool and a Spa. The resort has over 20,000 square feet of meeting space (the ballroom can accommodate banquets for up to 800) and if you really want to, you can swim in two oceans in the same day.
Assuming you know the geography of Panama… the resort is minutes away from the colonial and shopping districts of Panama City, the Panama Canal, and the Punta Bruja Nature Reserve. Great opportunities for eco-stuff. Fun Fact… The average daily temperature in Panama is 82 degrees Fahrenheit. Ah, you say… that’s the average. True… averages can be deceptive…except in Panama. Seriously, year-round…it’s 82 degrees. I mean it might get up to 87 during the day and 77 at night… but really… it’s 82 degrees.

And one more… keep going way southeast… and…Bem vindo ao Brasil!
Specifically, the Grand Hyatt Rio de Janeiro. The 436-room hotel occupies a privileged position on a beautiful stretch of beach in the heart of the “prestigious and exclusive” Barra da Tijuca neighborhood (translation… the rich people live there) and so you can retreat in style from the craziness that is Rio. Not necessarily too crazy, but crazy enough…and that’s why we go. With over 20,000 sq. ft. of meeting space, including an 8,500 sq. ft. ballroom, the property can handle meetings of up to around 300 classroom style (or almost double that for a banquet).

Galeão International airport is approximately a 50-minute drive (and when the PR department says approximately… ha ha).


Volume II: Cool Online Resources

In the same way that the universe is continually expanding (or so I am told), I am compelled to continually add to and expand my web site’s Libraries. It’s a force of nature. Found two very interesting ones… Yes, that is its name, and for those of you snickering about it, MICE stands for Meetings, Incentives, Conventions and Events. At least that is what I think it stands for since everyone seems to have a different answer for the C and E… but close enough for jazz.

The site is positioned as a “Supplier Relationship Management” tool (SRM). Now when someone says SRM you can nod like you know what they are talking about in the same way I nod when someone says CRM and I have no idea what they are talking about. The good news is this is a tool to manage the supply base, except Micebook keeps the contact details up to date for everyone. And the site is FREE to Meeting Planners.

Event planners can use MICEBOOK to search for CVBs, hotels, venues, DMCs, airlines, representation companies and an ever-growing database of other Meeting, Incentive, Conference and Exposition suppliers.  At the moment there are about 4000 global suppliers. It keeps growing.

I asked CEO Chetan Shah how positioning is determined when a planner does a broad search for a supplier in a particular destination. Do the highest paying vendors get the best positions? The answer… No. The order they appear is related to how many event planners have saved them as a “favourite” (and I spelled favorite with a “u” because the company is HQ’d in London and for some reason they put an extra “u” in for no apparent reason).

When I was in graduate school (impressed?), they made us read a small book called How to Lie with Statistics. Besides making me never trust anything anyone says, ever, it taught me how data can be skewed in just about any direction one wants. The point being, if you have a small sample of planners choosing favorites, the positioning near the top may not mean that they are the best supplier, only that the limited universe choosing favorites knows about them (or are their cousins).

At the moment there are only about 1000 planners registered (the site is new), but Mr. Shah says they expect that number to grow exponentially. Presumably the positioning of suppliers will change as more planners enter the system and will eventually become broad enough to eliminate the “relatives” factor.

You can even earn rewards for adding unlisted suppliers to MICEBOOK. The site folks vet them, and for every profile that becomes a paying member of MICEBOOK, you earn $25USD. (Wheels turning).


Yes, yes, I know everyone knows about LiveNation and that they manage like a million (over 100) really cool venues around the country… but did you know about this “secret url"?

Ah ha. You just learned something. Want to have an event in some iconic venue (I consider San Francisco’s The Fillmore my equivalent to the Vatican) or at any House of Blues or the Hollywood Palladium or Irving Plaza in NYC, or SF’s Masonic Auditorium or all of the other really cool places they manage? Fill out the rfp on-line for any one venue OR… use it to search multiple venues like… all at once.

They also have “people” you can work with for Entertainment and Production, Food and Beverage, Themed Events, Private Concerts and a bunch of other stuff for which meeting and event planners like to have “people”.

OK… that’s it for the moment, but I will keep adding as we go, along with the other Subject blogs and Resource Libraries.

When I told a friend that this month’s editorial would be about recommending cool online resources, she said, “Aren’t you afraid of giving away all your secrets?” My response… Combine the Internet of things with Google’s algorithms, add in a tech-savvy generation of buyers armed (and seemingly connected to) powerful hand-held smart devices… and so (other than anything that appears after Page One of a Google search), there are no secrets.
On the other hand, there is now so much information out there, it is almost impossible to tell who is good and who is not. Travel Advisor and Yelp may be good for individual experiences, but a) groups are different and b) I don’t know anyone who actually writes those reviews anyway. Why should I trust the crowd if I don’t even like the crowd?
I digress.  That’s kind of what I do for group stuff… vet the suppliers and vendors and then recommend them to meeting planners who don’t have the time to wade through it all. It’s the relationship thing (if you’re into that).
So these “Cool OnLine Resources” are no secret unless you did not know about them already. Check them out (since they are cool). And of course, all this info gets posted on our web site and in our Library Archives. We’ll keep adding as we go so that we, too, will remain a very “cool on-line resource” for All Things Meetings. And I am not anonymous. You can actually talk to me.
First up…
Think of it as “AirBnB” for private event spaces but with lots of added value stuff thrown in. It’s a simple concept (now that someone thought of it). Want to have a private event in a cool venue in (for now) San Francisco, Los Angeles and soon to be New York City (and then the world)?
Go to their web site and create a free account (and say I sent you), and you can browse through their entire inventory of cool places, or use one of their many filters… and once you find something you can connect directly with the venue OR… you can chat with one of the PeerSpace people and they’ll help you find what you need. And they are nice too. I use these guys a lot.

And I should mention… it’s not just for “events” in the “let’s have a party” mode. Their staff works closely with their users to help them book space and plan for all kinds of activities, from client meetings and team off-sites to product launch events, photo shoots, executive retreats and all of those other “events that need space things” that I decided not to mention.

An important note… the way they make their money. The venue pays PS most of the finder’s fee…so that’s good… but you pay PeerSpace a fee equivalent to 5% of the venue rental. For example…if the venue charges you $1000, you pay the venue $1k and PeerSpace $50. If the venue charges $300 an hour, you pay that to the venue plus $15 an hour to PeerSpace. And like that.

Yes…it’s money. But you just saved yourself time and found some places you never would have found on your own. Click Here

Next up…
You’re a meeting and event planner. The boss says… “I want to entertain our 25 best customers at the next big game. Want one of those VIP suites. Set that up.” And you say OK… and then stare at your computer screen trying to figure out what to do next.

The answer? Go to (makes sense). They just happen to be the main supplier of luxury suites at all sporting events and concerts in North America. And they are also really nice (at least to me, so far).

Important - They are NOT just another ticket broker. Truth be told, in a world of over 10,000 ticket brokers, nearly every suite purchased from a broker is coming from LuxuryVIPsuites. LVS is contracted with corporations and private suite owners who have long term contracts with the venue. They are the source! Hey… I can get it for you wholesale! (Just kidding). 
Anyway…good deals. And I say good deals assuming you understand that VIP Luxury Suites at major sporting events are not what you would call… cheap… but considering the ROI one gets from hanging out for a few hours with your top customers… worth it. Visit their web site… Click Here
Oh…this is an editorial and these guys have not paid me anything to say all of this about them. I chose it because I like them… but they said… tell your readers that if they mention All Things Meetings when they buy something, they’ll get a special gift. I have no idea what that is, and like I said, this is an editorial so you don’t have to say anything you don’t want to say. Just saying.

And finally (for today)…
I get asked all the time… hey, can you recommend a restaurant in San Francisco with a private room that can seat x number of people on such and such a date? Easy question. Dilemma: It takes a lot of time to figure out what matches the client’s demographic and budget, and then find out what’s available. (Unlike many places in the world), SF restaurants usually don’t pay finders fees or commissions… (don’t get me started). What is the solution to the “lots of time for no money” dilemma? If I can’t convince my clients the benefits of having an exclusive event in a really cool private venue so they can theme it, choose the perfect menu… and all of the other things I say to them, then I recommend my clients go directly… and here’s why…

San Francisco Private Dining Venues is free search engine and RFP platform for event planners to locate the best possible venue for their private dining needs. Venues range from fun and casual to fine dining with lots of choices in between. You can submit an RFP on the web site and choose which restaurants should receive it. It’s actually pretty cool. Click Here

That’s it for the moment… but we’ll keep building the Library. Tell every meeting planner you know to visit the site and share their ideas (and click on everything :) 

Next month we'll be talking about Theme Parties … or whatever other random idea pops into my head between now and then.

Please share your "Most Wow" Team Building experience, or your recommendation for the "Coolest On-Line Resource" with us (and everyone) on the Blog on our new site (so we can all check it out).

Volume I: Team Building

(Like Love) Team building is one of those things that mean something different to everyone.  To the Organizational Development guy, Team building is an ongoing process that helps a work group evolve into a cohesive unit. The team members not only share expectations for accomplishing group tasks, but also learn to trust and support one another and respect one another's individual differences.

You know, that team building stuff. On the other end of the spectrum… let’s call them Company Outings. As much fun as they are, taking your group to a Giant’s Game is not really team building in the true sense of the word. It’s fun, and a good thing, and let’s people get to know each other as real people, not just as fellow workers… but still…it’s a company outing (side-note…take me). 

If I am an “attendee” and hear the event organizers announce team building, my brain groans and I think… "Can’t I just go back to my room and take a nap... or since I don’t have a TV at home, can I just find some Cops re-runs on Cable, lay on the bed, and relax until it’s time for the reception?"

But… I go, I participate, and (almost) always have a great time and feel closer to the group and to my fellow humans in general. That lasts for a few minutes, but it’s a great feeling. Just kidding. The reality of it is that  if done right, and with the proper follow-up, it actually changes the way you view yourself and how you work with people. You know, the relationship thing (that is, if you’re into that).

What is critical to the success of any team building exercise, or a company outing for that matter, is the follow-up. How do you translate the positive experience into something that can be used to increase harmony and productivity, because my friends… no matter what anyone says, that’s why it’s done. You know…the money thing.

So let me take a moment to highlight a few cool ideas you can do for your group right here in northern California…  there are dozens of possibilities but in deference to space and attention spans, we’ll have to grow the library as we go… just remember, whatever you do for your team, develop a strategy to follow-up, either with your team-builder or with your HR department. Like the Organizational Guy said, it’s an ongoing process. Otherwise it’s just a very expensive memory.

First Up Comedy Sportz The performers use improvisation skills onstage to get people laughing, but they specialize in teaching people HOW to use improvisation techniques in their work lives. Improvisation is not "winging it". It's a highly refined system of observing, connecting and responding.

  • Listening - with true focus, staying in the moment
  • Accepting - circumstances and what others bring to the table 
  • Supporting - making others look good
  • Taking Competent Risks - trusting and using your intuition
  • Letting Go of Mistakes - learn and move on

One of the most valuable team building skills… laughing together. There’s a lot more to it.  Click here to visit their web site

Want a little more physical action… try ACSailingSF…The “only” America’s Cup yacht in SF….’USA76’ (84 Ft of “awesomeness”!).

Your group races the yacht against the clock to get ‘USA76’ across the 2013 AC race course, around the Golden Gate Bridge and back to the starting line. Groups up to 20 are divided in two, team captains are educated in a short separate session and those leaders then have to dispense their new knowledge upon their team members to get this big yacht around the race course as quickly as possible. Four professional crew members are there for guidance and to make sure no one is left behind (important in a boat).

Want to sail but have a larger group? SF Sailing Company has multiple yachts (not Americas Cup yachts, but… still really cool yachts) and offers Intro to Sailing lessons - They divide up the groups and practice maneuvers such as tacking and jibbing which both require very clear communication and coordination not only for safety, but also to maximize the speed and efficiency of the boat. They then follow it with a race between multiple boats.

This 3  hour team builder is the standard event, but they also have full day activities built around sailing. Lots of possibilities. Click here to visit their web site.

They have two identical vessels that carry 28 and 36 passengers and with their partners can organize regattas and team building events for many more.  Click here to visit their web site.

We want to build on what we started last month and create a Library of some more cool “team-building ideas. So… here are a few more for you to consider, and please feel free to add to the conversation with some of the team building experiences you have had that proved successful. The idea is to let these ideas give you more ideas. You know… the sharing ideas thing.

rome urban safari.png

When in Rome… Gastaldi Travel presents the Urban Safari (with Flash Mob)

OK, you’ve got your normal Treasure Hunt with clues, puzzles and the need for creative thinking and team cooperation and then…. Add in a team building adventure powered by modern technology – TABLETS- SMART PHONES – GPS… and Rome.

Divided in teams each one equipped with devices to receive the game instructions and clues, guests will take Photos with their smart phones, send them to the “board”, that will assign scores, coordinate team positions via GPS, and then assign the next clue.

Participants will also prepare a short artistic flash mob, helped by Gastaldi’s choreographers (!), in some suitable location in Rome (there must be some somewhere). Connect with Gastaldi Travel

Maybe you’re not in Rome but still like the ‘teams of people wandering around an international city” idea?

Then… San Francisco Bay Area based Corporate Games might be just the thing.

The Amazing Journey - It’s part “foreign mission,” part intercontinental race. Teams must figure out the 10 cities in the world that comprise the “race route” by finding and deciphering clues, along with attempting fun challenges from facilitators stationed at different places around the city. There are creative elements that draw upon the skills of every team member. Resourcefulness, access to technology and the internet play key roles. The teams are also challenged to amass as much (play) money as possible as they go, since money is what would be needed to finance such a trip. CFO’s will like this part.

The Journey can be customized to fit your company’s current theme or history… or whatever. Visit Corporate Games Website


Don’t want to wander around too much? Hungry? How about Teambuilding ROI’s Food Truck Challenge?

You do the “divide into teams” thing and assigned to a truck, and the number of food trucks depends on the size of your group. When the Giant Clock starts ticking, the teams compete to earn necessary items (like ingredients, décor, chalkboards etc), and then work with their Food Truck chef to prep, cook and serve their creations to the rest of the group and a panel of judges. You get the idea… fun, food, and more fun.

That’s it for the moment… but we’ll keep building the Library. Tell every meeting planner you know to visit the site and share their ideas (and click on everything :) 

Join the conversation! Share your thoughts, ideas, and/or experiences in the comment box below.

Next month we'll be talking about International Team Building Ideas… and whatever other random idea pops into my head between now and then.