My Summer (and Seasons) of Love with Engaging Summits

My Summer (and Seasons) of Love with Engaging Summits
Engage 16 sings Seasons of Love with the band at The Breakers in Palm Beach, Florida. Photo by Joel Callaway #weareorlando

A Personal Note About Why I Engage

Over the last five years I have had the opportunity to attend Engage, a luxury wedding summit, three times.  My registration fills me with the excitement of Christmas morning.  Like a child, I count down the days!  I (over) pack my bags, load up on chargers, and prepare to be delighted and inspired  by people who truly value community over competition.

Each time I attend Engage, I come back with pages and pages of notes, books filled with activities designed to develop both my life and my business, and a list of things that typically take me months to mull over and process.

Sadly, this year our Engage trip began with the heartbreaking news of an attack in Orlando. I believe that I speak for everyone when I say that the events of that day filled us all with grief, anger, and confusion.  For many of us, there was a slight fog, and we felt someone  "off" for much of the conference.

But then during the gala, something happened.  The band played a mix of familiar tunes in the background while the wedding glitterati chatted politely,  waiting for our food. Suddenly, we heard a voice sing the familiar chorus of "Five hundred, twenty five thousand, six hundred minutes...."  the opening bars from song from Rent's theme song, Seasons of Love. I don't know how it happened, but suddenly all 425 of us were on the dance floor.  We sung, we swayed, we sang at the top of our lungs!  The band looked shocked - this wasn't meant to happen!  They actually had to ask us to sit back down!  

Why do I bring this up?  Because this is Engage.  It's who we are.  It's what we do.  Whether in a ballroom in Florida, in the back of the house during your wedding, or in the global sense - No matter what happens, or where, we look for the light.  We find the beauty in any place and time.  We come together no matter what.  We get it done.  

And sometimes, we sing.  

Maybe we didn't change the world, but on the dance floor I was made to feel something; to feel better.  And in that moment, that feeling was more than enough.

This is why I Engage.  Because in the end, we should all measure our lives in love.

4 THINGS I LEARNED AND WHY THEY MATTER TO YOU

Each year, Engaging Summits brings together the best of the best in the wedding industry.  We meet in places like Las Vegas, Scottsdale, Palm Beach, and Sea Island.  We put aside competition, and focus on community.  We bury ourselves deeply within each other so that we can all learn, grow, and be better wedding professionals for our clients.

This year was no different, and while I am still processing some of the conversations that I had, I owe it you - my coworkers, contemporaries, and clients - to explain what I learned and why I hold these five days so sacred.

1.  Never miss an opportunity to make an impression.  

Branding & Gifting!  No one does branding quite like Engage, and it serves as a reminder of the 101 little touch points that we as wedding planners and event designers encounter throughout an event. There is always an opportunity to reinforce a brand, a color, a love story, or a design element. Pay attention to the details and never miss a chance to impress your guests.

Little things make a big impact.  By allowing us to pick our own little treats at the gifting (nee shopping) lounge, we were able to take part in the process while feeling very VIP and pampered.  You know that feeling guests get when they go giddy over a candy bar?  Now image you were getting golden cased water bottles, scented candles, relaxation oils, make up pouches and - yes - candy!

When planning your wedding, and all of the events which surround it, think of the places that you can touch your guests with something special.  Perhaps it's a branded name tag with your future monogram on it, festive bottles of soft drinks and water, small boxes and bags of treats.  If your guests are literally going to "touch" something, you have an opportunity to make that thing they grasp memorable.

Do it enough times, and your branding becomes engrained in the heart and mind of your guests, and the event renders itself unforgettable.

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2.  There is no such thing as too much food.

If Engage had a nickname it would be "eat until you hate yourself".  All jokes aside, the entire conference is seemingly planned around the next opportunity to eat.  And that isn't a bad thing!  I'm Italian, and to my people, food is love.  It's how we communicate, how we build community, and how we welcome you into our lives.  By eating together (again, and again, and again) we Engagers share more than meals. We share stories and jokes, develop bonds, and foster relationships that lead to some very exciting future projects.  I connected with photographers, with graphic designers, with venues, and with bloggers on a much more intimate level while sharing emoji-designed cookies and hunting down the doughnut topped iced coffee than I ever would have at a round table.  

The world is getting smaller.  Some of us see more differences.  Others see more of the same.  But we all communicate and let our guard down while we eat.  It is the new international language!

Your food and beverage will likely be one of the most costly elements of your wedding.  Embrace it!  Don't be afraid of too much food.  Go over the top.  Add the extra hors d'oeuvres.  Surprise people with a dessert that is so wild it cannot be forgotten.  Feed them, then feed them, and then feed them again as they walk out the door.  They will all be stuffed, but no one will complain!

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3.  We don't always agree, but we are all in this together!

We are just like every other dis-functional family out there!  As an industry we all struggle to define who we are in what is quickly becoming a global market, and how that relates to you, our clients.  Each of us walk the line between being an artist and an accountant, a designer and a delegator.  We debate different pricing structures, gratuity policies, what we are giving to editors, and whether we have sold too much of ourselves to an ever evolving industry that sometimes moves faster in the head than we do in our hearts.  We are the highest of highs and the lowest of lows, because we live in the realm of other people's emotions.

And you know what?  We love it.  Truly, we cannot get enough of it.  For every time Mindy Weiss talked about her desire to quit, her love of the industry will never let her go.  For every question Marcy Blum has about where she fits in today's industry, she wakes ups, gets dressed, and spends another day figuring it out.  

As a planner, I had a seemingly endless number of conversations on pricing policies, commission, percentages...It was never ending!  We talked about titles and what it means to be a planner versus a designer.  There were times when we all butted heads.  There were things that made me think.  Some of what we debated will be put into practice over the next six months, and some of it will simply not fit with who I am, and some of it I will leave it by the wayside.  

But we are talking.  We are learning.  And we are all in this together, getting better, for you.  This is what community over competition looks like.  

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4.  When In Doubt....Design, Design, & Design Some More

I think as wedding planners and event designers we are all sometimes afraid to "over design" the room.  For some of us, it is about maintaining a client's budget.  Some of us are afraid to go off into the grey area; afraid people will think we have gone nuts with some of our out of the box ideas.  And some of us simply don't know how to do it, and are trying to collaborate with designers.  

I believe in designing everything from my life, to my client's events, and everything in between.  Sometimes, I knock it out of the park on my first try.  Other times, months into the process, I am still sketching and drawing, adding and removing, altering colors and shifting patterns because it just doesn't feel right.  As I (quickly) approach 40, I have fallen in love with color, patterns, and textures in a whole new way, and it is only through designing and redesigning that I am finding what feels right for me, and what works for my couples.

The only way to get better at designing is, well, to design.  And the only way to show our couples something extraordinary is the show them something new.  Nobody has ever been blown away from seeing what they have seen before.  It takes constant interpretations, change, tweaking, and a touch of madness to conceive of something that maybe hasn't been done this way before.  

To my fellow planner and designers, I suggest this....For a moment, don't think of the budget, the room, the time constraints, or anything that requires logic.  Focus only on your client.  Tap into who they are, and let your mind wander to the most random places.  Be the creative force in the room.  Find the light.  Look for the fun. Latch on to that one crazy idea, and work with it over and over again until it stops looking insane and starts looking beautiful.  Take a walk, read a book, watch a movie, or do something physical that inspires you and gets the creative juices flowing.

And if you just aren't that person who can pull together the elements of design, partner with someone who can!  Learn more.  Be better. Design, design, and design again.  

Nothing good ever came from playing it safe.  Magic doesn't happen in the face of fear.  Holding back never got anyone anywhere!  Extraordinary things happen (on purpose) when you design them to! 

To all my couples, give your planner and designer the room to breathe.  Don't micromanage every last flower petal.  Trust them, and give your team the freedom to create something that has never seen before.  I promise, you won't regret it!

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Thank you for coming along with me on my Engage journey!  My "millennial" and designing counterpart Ashley Schnippel of Destinations by Design and I look forward to heading back to Engage this December, and learning more than ever before!

Always...

Premiere Destination Wedding Planner Andrea Eppolito
Las Vegas Wedding Planner Andrea Eppolito with Destinations by Designer Ashley Schnippel.  Photo by Cameron Clark of Cameron Kelly Studio.

My Personal Behind the Scenes Photos

Las Vegas Wedding Planner Andrea Eppolito is often published, with works featured by the likes of BRIDES, Style Me Pretty, Grace Ormonde Wedding Style, The NY Times, LA Times, Junebug Weddings, and more. With an eye catching style that shares not only the story, but the soul, of a wedding, Andrea's clients praise her for being their wedding planner, event designer, advocate, and friend.

An internationally acclaimed speaker, Andrea appears and speaks at events for the Engage! Luxury Wedding Summit, NACE, The Knot, the Wedding MBA, and more.  Named the Best Wedding Planner in Las Vegas (2013, 2015, 2016), Wedding Professional of the Year (2011) and ranked as one of the top 50 wedding planners world-wide, Andrea works with celebrities, athletes, executives, and all people in love!

Based in Las Vegas, and working as a destination wedding planner world wide, you can learn more at www.AndreaEppolitoEvents.com.