Attending events can be so fun yet, the amount of work put behind the scenes to make them successful is no joke. Take it from the founder of Eventmakers, Guy Genis, who said that big fun is, in fact, serious business. In this episode, he joins John Livesay to share how he is working with huge clients to create memorable and immersive events. He taps into the power of storytelling, taking people from beginning to end with events, and making connections that help propel your business. Guy also talks about interior design, working with clients, and balancing that fine line between giving them what they want and keeping it within the constraints of what is going to look best.
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Big Fun Is Serious Business
My guest is Guy Genis, the Founder of Eventmakers, which has been in business for over 30 years, working with huge clients like McDonald’s on creating memorable events in multiple different places. When we describe some of the events that he’s created, the experiences and how immersive they are, you’re going to feel like you’re right there. We talk about the power of storytelling and how that makes events memorable. He said that big fun is in fact serious business, and that you’re only as good as your connections. Enjoy the episode.
My guest is Guy Genis, the President and CEO of Eventmakers. He founded Eventmakers back in 1990. He’s produced over 1,000 events in his 30 years and his knowledge and expertise in event creation and execution clearly speaks for itself. Before Eventmakers, he charted and planned events on luxury yachts in partnerships with the Ritz Carlton hotels. When he’s not doing that, he’s busy with Guy Genis Designs as an Interior Design Expert, which is all part of the experience he creates for his events. Guy, welcome to the show.
Let’s talk about your own story of origin. Before the show, we were talking about you have a history with your mom and your grandmother in the world of design. Is that true?
That is true. It’s an interior design dynasty. It’s grandmother. Mother was a successful interior designer for multiple celebrities including DeNiro, Marlon Brando and Rod Stewart. My sister, in her own right, is successful and works with my mom. Now, I’m collaborating with my sister on interior design projects all over. We did a 6,000 square foot home in Kona, Hawaii overlooking the Four Seasons golf course. We did a 12,000-square-foot home in Newport Coast. That’s when I’m not doing producing events.
How did you get into this 30-some years ago? Did you say, “I want to take my passion and skills from creating beautiful spaces for homes and started an event company?”
No, it dates back and I didn’t even know I was doing it. I was the Social Chairman of my fraternity at University of the Pacific. I never knew I would end up for a living producing events. I was an actor when I graduated. I was on a bunch of TV shows. I played a nerd name Earl on Saved by the Bell on a couple of episodes. I was a day player on Coach and Dear John and Anything But Love with Jamie Lee Curtis. It’s amazing when you’re acting and to be on a 3, 4 camera shows is incredible. When you’re not working like all actors know and going on auditions and not getting them, it’s a little depressing. My father was in the film industry. I came from a creative background. My dad produced the special effects for Star Wars with Lucas. He created those iconic titles that went off into space.If you enjoy what you’re selling, you could sell anything. Click To Tweet
Let’s take a moment. I think any person that has any creative aspect in their life dreams of creating something that iconic and that will live on long past their life. To grow up around that, you have a sense of anything is possible, I would think.
It was a great combination of one parent being on the creative scientific end and the mother could be creative in the interior design.
You are the mix of science and creativity. When those things come together, magic happens. It reminds me of the story of Jonas Salk down in La Jolla wooing Francoise Gilot who was with Picasso in the ‘40s. She’s like, “Why do I want a data scientist? I’m an artist.” He used the architecture of the Salk Institute. He said, “Architecture is the bridge between art and science. I want to have artists here as well as someone like Francis Crick working on DNA.” You’re the only other person I’ve ever heard connect those dots like that. What I think is interesting around what your dad was doing with Star Wars is there’s a lot of creativity, obviously creating something that’s still the iconic opening, the once upon a time storytelling, but there’s some science behind it too. He wasn’t a graphic design person, correct?
That is correct. I drifted away from your question. The real answer is how I got into it is I went to my dad who had a post-production company and they were doing the audience reaction spots for Disney. I said, “Dad, I’m bummed out. I’m not getting these auditions.” He says, “Go to work for the company that plans our events.” I ended up for a low salary and a high commission going to work for this boutique company in Marina Del Rey, California chartering yachts for the Ritz Carlton. We would do these extravagant corporate events. I ended up the cold call king. I knew if I enjoyed what I was selling, I could sell anything. My acting partner, when I would go on auditions, this female happened to own a McDonald’s.
She said, “You are crazy if you don’t call the regional office in Woodland Hills and try to get a meeting or an event.” After thirteen cold calls, they said, “You’re bothering me. Come in.” I ended up closing a holiday party for 1,000 guests for McDonald’s. Flash forward 30 years later, my twin brother and I produced the majority of owner-operator meetings throughout the country for McDonald’s. That’s where I think you, as a motivational speaker, when I learned about you and selling and storytelling could be perfect for our McDonald’s clients as well.
Also, I want to zoom out for everyone because you had a story of persistence. You had a friend saying you’d be crazy not to try something, but you’re used to rejection like salespeople are. An actor’s life and a speaker’s life are very similar. We can’t take rejection personally. Yet when you are creating content, and in my case it’s creating a show and interviewing great people like you, I happened to interview a mutual friend of ours, Amber Allen. That’s how we met because you knew Amber. You’d worked with her when she was at Warner and Disney and you did events for her. You heard me interviewing her about her virtual reality company, Double A Labs.
You reached out to me. You never know how relationships are going to start and the connections and the need to keep creating something that’s valuable. You get into other people’s networks and other people’s worlds. I’m sure that’s how you have been able to grow Eventmakers where you’re working with not McDonald’s but Coca-Cola, American Express, Fox and many others. You get the trust transferred over is what I’m saying.
You are only as good as your connections. I would say Amber is a highly talented cutting-edge person producing these technological events where using augmented reality. That’s why she’s an innovator. She’s on the cutting edge and we all help each other. You can’t advance your company without having strong connections like this.
Also what I admire about you, Guy, is your multiple sources of income. It’s a basic business strategy. Yet a lot of event planners, a lot of speakers suddenly go, “If I’m not doing a live event that’s shut down for a pandemic, I don’t know how to else to make money.” You have the design business. You’re already planning months in advance for when live events come back. Have you been able to do any planning for virtual events to make those special?
Yes. As a matter of fact, McDonald’s has embraced virtual events. We’ve invested in a full studio in Orange County with one of our partners. We have full capabilities to stream. We have a green screen, we have Johnny on the spot custom to produce for a network, camera crews that go out and do interviews of these executives. We’re doing these virtual meetings for McDonald’s throughout the country.
Everyone knows about Tony, the famous motivational guy. He’s invested millions of dollars in having a virtual ability to connect with people. I think when a company like you creates a new way of doing something. Let’s talk about that. Over your 30 years of running Eventmakers, what other kinds of pivots or challenges have you had to face and how have you done it like Tony Robbins has done?
The interior design is the perfect pivot. It was right in front of my face, but yet it’s one of those things you have to come to a real realization that, “I’ve done this all my life.” It’s such an easy pivot and you’re already good at it. It’s a form of storytelling as well.
We were talking about one of your clients, GameStop, and how you turned a game into an experience in a specific location that was completely relevant to what the game was about. Can you tell us that story?
The end client was 2K. It’s a video gaming company based in Novato. The game itself was called Mafia 3. The backdrop of the game is about the mafia in New Orleans in the 1960s where the mafia started. The purpose was to sell 5,000 GameStop managers in three minutes, which is a challenge. How do you tell a story beginning, middle, and end, get the GameStop managers motivated and have them leave the arena with the intent of an excitement to sell this game through at a GameStop? We came up with the story of creating a real live New Orleans funeral where we had a cast of 50. We had the cast of 50 dressed by Emmy award-winning costume designers in those 1960s outfits. They were doing a real funeral procession down the aisles, pushing the caskets. The audience didn’t know that this cast of 50 was a world-class choir. They get up on stage and they come in and we have them led by a sixteen-piece jazz band singing The Saints Go Marching In like they would do in New Orleans.
They get up on stage and 25 peel off to the right on the bleachers and 25 peel off to the left and they begin the choral of Can’t Always Get What You Want by The Rolling Stones, which is the perfect song and lyrics to talk about the mafia. It was a big surprise in the audience didn’t know that this was a world-class choir, the Angel City Chorale from out of Los Angeles. They made it to the finals of America’s Got Talent. All of a sudden, after they start, I put together a world-class rock band led by Chester Bennington of Linkin Park, Dave Navarro. I had the drummer from Queens of the Stone Age. I had the bass player Scott from Weezer and they go into Can’t Always Get What You Want.You are only as good as your connections. Click To Tweet
We outfitted every single GameStop manager with LED wristbands. We control the color of 5,000 in the audience and they went bananas. While this was all happening, we edited scenes from Mafia 3 above them on a 100-foot video screen. It was a full visceral, they were enveloped, sold on the game footage, a world-class band and choir. It was a full sensory emotional experience. They came out of there pumped up. Some people were crying from GameStop, the managers, and they said they’ve never seen anything like it.
For everyone reading, let’s break down what Guy told us. A story has to be three things: clear, concise and compelling. In three minutes, you have to tell this amazing story that pulls people in. I always say, when you tug at people’s heartstrings, they want to open their purse strings. When you learn a good story, craft it, make it concise and compelling, then it touches us on an emotional level. Any good story has a little bit of drama and unexpectedness to it. First, it’s cool enough that these people are dressed and carrying a coffin and wearing stylish period clothes. That alone pulls you in. The surprise is those people are professional singers. You keep escalating the wow factor.
You take it one step further. You were describing where it became interactive that they felt part of the story with the colors. If you’re trying to figure out, “How do I tell a story to get people to want to hire me? How do I tell a story to get people to join my team? How do I get to tell a story to get people motivated and re-energized?” Those are some real key tactics. What I love helping people do is take these examples like you gave and turn them into stories so that people see themselves so much in the story that they want to go on the journey with you. You did something I’m not even aware of that you did because you’re such a natural storyteller, which was you gave a resolution to that story. It was telling the story of the guy who runs it saying he was almost in tears and so was the audience. He’d never seen anything like it. That’s the resolution of that story.
Imagine the Wizard of Oz if the movie stopped when Dorothy had gotten on the balloon to go back to Kansas. It wouldn’t nearly be meaningful, but we need that resolution of her back in her bed and all the lessons, there’s no place like home. All of that is what makes any movie a story compelling. You gave us a great example of it and how when we tell those stories, sales happen long after people keep talking about it. That’s the other wonderful thing about storytelling is it makes things memorable.
I might add one more thing that these three minutes was only an introduction to introduce the game developer. By the time the game developer comes on stage, they’re already sold. All he has to do is now show them all this great content that they haven’t seen yet. It was making his job easier, getting them excited and that’s storytelling at its best, I think.
One of my previous guests is Robert Cialdini, who wrote a book called Pre-Suasion. He talks about the power of edification. When you edify somebody before they come on stage or speak, it’s good intros, but you did a whole production to edify somebody. They’re already sold emotionally and then they’re backing up their decision with his own story hopefully if what the game is about and how fun it’s going to be to play. Storytelling as a tool to edify is something I like and have not heard people put those two things together. Thanks for that. I had to share that detail. When you get hired as part of your design expertise, what is it that you do that separates you from all the other people who do interior design?
Everybody has their own style. I would call myself a minimalist. I think listening to the client is important, but we tend to have a clean look. We also do a lot of research on the latest in furniture whether it’s already made or do we need to custom make it. It’s more of a custom-tailored approach to every single client. I think more than anything is you can’t sell your style onto a client. You have to listen first and make sure that you understand where they’re coming from. You also need to let them know if there are any limitations to what they want to do, which is important. You have to be able to direct them in the right way. It’s a fine line between what they want and what you think they should have.
It’s almost like an event. That’s why it’s similar. I’m trying to guide somebody. You want to give them something new, it has to be within a budget. One of the techniques that I use, and I’m curious to see if you do this, which is a future pacing somebody. You say, “Let’s imagine that it’s a week after the event. What would have to happen for you to feel happy that this was the best event ever? In the case of designing a home, let’s imagine it’s all done. You’ve had this amazing Thanksgiving dinner, inviting everybody to come see it. What would you think would be the wow factors in the house?” Those kinds of things help people start imagining the future with you even before they’ve hired you.
That is crucial, which is why I always start with what are their goals? Where do they want to be? They’re living in this house every single day. What’s going to make them the happiest? It’s like walking that fine line between giving them exactly or as much as they want, but yet keeping it in the constraints of what I think is going to look the best.
The other thing I think you do for people is there’s a whole book called The Paradox of Choice. Too many choices overwhelm and maybe even depress us sometimes. Unless we have someone like you, Guy, that we trust your taste, your experience, and that you know what we like even before we see it. You’ve curated something for us. Instead of showing somebody 100 samples of floor coverings or window treatments, or color scheme, if you curate that down to here’s three choices, none of them are wrong. It’s let’s brainstorm together what’s the right one. That takes much stress off of people that you don’t even realize what a gift that is that you’re giving to people. It’s the ability to not overwhelm them by too many choices. That trust factor that you have and that’s what a good salesperson does too.
It all boils down to focus and you want to keep them focused on the goal of getting this done the best way and the most creative way possible. I’m also interested. I’m aware that you sold a major institutional interior design firm Gensler on a $1 billion project. I’m interested to go more in-depth on how you did that because it’s something that would help me in my interior design endeavors.
They hired me originally to speak to their team on storytelling for client relationships. We need to connect with our existing clients better. It became how do we tell better stories in our interviews when we’re competing against other firms. They didn’t understand what made a good story or how to structure a story. They weren’t telling stories. They were showing typically before and after pictures of work they’d done and hope that whoever had the best design would get the business. In this particular case, they were told, “You’re in the final three. All three firms could do the work. Otherwise, you wouldn’t have made it to the final three. We’re going to hire the people we like the most.” They said, “Let’s get John in here.” We don’t even know where to start with that criteria.
I flew to Pittsburgh with them for two days and worked with them. I said, “On this team slide here, what are you going to say?” They said, “If we run out of time, we might skip it even.” I’m like, “That’s the most important slide.” This is the secret, Guy. People hire you, and then the company, and then your designs in this case. Most people jump to the design. I said, “What are you going to say?” There are ten pictures of ten people that would be working on this that they got the job. “My name is Bob. I’ve been here ten years. This is what I do.” I said, “No, Bob. What made you become an architect?” “I played with Legos when I was eleven and now I have a son that’s eleven and I still play with Legos and bring that same passion.” “Sue, how about you?” “I was in the Israeli Army before I worked here.” I go, “You’re going to bring a lot of discipline and focus. Since you’re in charge of making sure this thing comes on time and under budget, you’re the perfect person.”
Each one of them had their own stories that they told that made them memorable and likable so that the clients said, “We get them. That’s who we’d like to work with for the next six years.” When we got to the part where they had to showcase studies, they had some beautiful before and after pictures, but no story. I taught them how to take those pictures and facts about square footage and things into a story. It sounds like this. “Two years ago, JetBlue at JFK hired us to come in and renovate that wing. One of the challenges we had during that four-year project was you had to rip off all the tiles in the middle of the night and rewire everything. We had to do it between 9:00 at night and 9:00 in the morning to make sure the stores could still open and not lose revenue. We had all our vendors on call in case something went wrong.”
“Sure enough, at 2:00 in the morning, a fuse blew. We got the vendor to fix it there in twenty minutes. At 8:59, the last tile went down and all the stores opened on time. Now a year later, sales are up 15% in those retail stores because we’ve designed a place that pulls more people in and causes them to spend more time shopping.” It’s a short little story, but it’s got the elements, the exposition. We know where we are. It’s JFK years ago. We know the story. The difference is most people make the mistake of saying, “We use critical thinking to anticipate problems.” That’s corporate-speak. I teach people how to tell a story. You see, I show them critical thinking by having all those vendors on call.People get bogged down with data and don't pay attention. Click To Tweet
I read some of your literature and it says that people get bogged down with data and don’t pay attention. That is the main purpose for the story. Everyone loves a story.
The magic question then becomes, does that sound like the journey you’d like to go on? The people at the Pittsburgh airport saw themselves in this journey that they had done for JetBlue at JFK, they said, “Yes, that’s the journey we want to go on. We have an emotional connection to you from your story of origins. Now we have a case story that we’ve seen ourselves in that makes us want to pick you.”
It’s an excellent way to approach sales.
The awkwardness of do you want to buy? What do you think? I also work with people on having a great opening and a great closing. You know that from being an actor and designing things. When you’re going into space, you need that wow factor. You need a wow factor in your opening. Most people waste all that time with cliché statements like, “Thanks for this opportunity. I’m excited to be here.” I tell people, “First of all, it’s not about you. Nobody cares that you’re excited. We need to open up with something that’s going to grab their attention and make it about them. In this case, you’re a CEO tasked you with getting the airport ranked from 24 to 1 in five years because we’ve done it before for another airport.” That’s much stronger than, “Thanks for this opportunity, I’m excited to be here.”
The closing, when you’re going to a great party or an event, there’s usually some closing of the event whether it’s music or something that ends it. Unfortunately, without proper training, a lot of people end a meeting or a presentation or a pitch with, “That’s all we got. Any questions?” It’s bad. I train them on recap what you’ve said, “If this sounds like the journey you’d like to go on,” recapping what they need to get their ranking up and imagining the future. “We’d like to invite you to join us on this journey together.” That closing question is part of the story. It’s not pushy.
One of the things we haven’t touched on yet, which is such a big part of Eventmakers is the ability to tell a story through an exhibit. We are designing and producing exhibits in a great way to tell a story for one of our clients Starbreeze, which is a video game company based out of Sweden, is they had The Walking Dead license. We designed and produced The Walking Dead exhibit at E3 and it won by multiple press companies, best exhibit. We recreated the actual fort from the video game that is realistic with the seats that were tires. Things in The Walking Dead movie and TV show where they build things out of scrap junk. We made it come to life. The extra layer was hiring the actual makeup artists from The Walking Dead and having actors in clothes. We had eleven zombies walking around for both photo op. It was effective and it told the story.
The photo op, what a great example of making something memorable and then people post it on their social media and then the event memory, the experience lives on and on. That’s the takeaway that resolution part of it that people go, “I’m going to remember that.”
We had produced fake guts and the attendees and the press would eat the guts. They were in there with them. It was effective and fun.
The more senses we get involved, the more interaction we have going on, the more people are emotionally connected to any story. That’s why we were talking about the Madison Square Garden Sphere opening in Vegas. That’s going to be interactive where you can smell things and feel the wind in your hair like a Disneyland ride or something. The new way of creating events is to have it be completely immersive. The sound is as good in the first seat as it is in the back row. If you’re are showing an example of a concert or what it’s like to land on the moon, you feel like you’re in the story in a 360-degree experience. You’re certainly positioned as the right event company to make those experiences happen because you’ve already done it. Now, technology is catching up with your skillset and vision. Any last thoughts or quote you’d like to leave us with, Guy?
We always under-promise and over-deliver. The other one that I learned from a famous event planner, John Daley was, “Big fun is serious business,” because the more that the bigger the event, it is a serious undertaking. It’s a three-ring circus and you’ve got to go to the next level to make this immersive and impressive.
Guy, thank you so much for coming on and sharing your passion about storytelling, your own amazing history with your family and how you’ve been able to continually adapt and create new virtual experiences for people. I can’t wait to see what other amazing events and designs that you put out into the world.
Likewise, I look forward to working with you on some big motivational appearances.
- Amber Allen – past episode
- Robert Cialdini – past episode
- The Paradox of Choice
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