NOTE: I know that it can feel implausible or impossible to do anything but focus on the reality that is unfolding in front of us across the world right now, but I also know that through 9/11, 2008, hurricane after hurricane and so many other natural disasters, is that IN the face of a crisis, it is exactly the moment that we humans can band together and the importance of gathering, celebration is even more important.
Obviously right now we’re being asked to stay home, stay safe, and reduce the impact of Coronavirus. It is imperative that we minimize the impact that this has on each other, allowing us to rebound as soon as we can. I’m of the firm opinion that these set backs are actually huge opportunities to refine, re-calibrate, and reconnect — we always bounce back, and weddings are no different. We’re doing our part to evaluate the scene for our clients and colleagues, and am always here for anything anyone might need — in person or virtually. In the meantime, I’m going to keep eating my Cadbury mini-eggs and take a moment to consider some big(er) picture thoughts all the way from the deserts of the Engage!20 Dubai.
Video by Derek Chan Films
Engage!2020 kicked off the year in Dubai last week, marking the 30th Engage! since it’s inception and I wanted to take a moment to share the 3 biggest take aways from my time there for both wedding professionals and couples and families planning weddings.
I recently attended my first Engage! this past December in Mexico at the Nizuc Resort in Playa del Carmen, and found myself signing up for the Dubai session this past March 3-5th, 2020. Out of the three options offered in 2020, Dubai called to me as it was being hosted at the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest skyscraper — a blast the past as I spent 4 years in the marketing department at SOM, the architecture firm that designed it. I figured, what better time to see it in person? I also believe that experiencing cultures and places through travel is important for me to better understand the global world of destination weddings, as well as a huge source of creative inspiration.
A quick background: for those wondering, Engage! Conference was created by Kathryn Arce and Rebecca Grinnels as a place for the wedding industry to come together to share, connect, and educate themselves across the board by some of the best in the industry. They host a 3-4 conferences each year, highlighting different properties around the world.
After spending a week sitting with the experience and reviewing my pages of notes from the general sessions, here are my biggest take aways:
1. THE POWER OF HOSPITALITY.
As I wrote in TNR’s instagram,“there is nothing that makes a first and lasting impression then to know that you have been thoughtfully prepared for, welcomed, and taken care of.” This is the first, and biggest takeaway as it was both subtle and incredibly powerful. Zainab Alsalih, the founder and creative direct or Carousel Weddings and Events was the mastermind behind the Dubai conference. She shared the story of her setting the intention to bring Engage! to Dubai, and years later it came to be. It was palpable how much love and care Zainab and her team put into this — from the design, to the small details of space transitions, information dissemination, and more.
The art and importance of hospitality is central to Middle Eastern ethos, and as Zainab said “I wanted to bring all of you here, to show you our part of the world. For you to understand us is to experience us. I wanted you to first hand experience Middle Eastern hospitality. You are coming into my home” — from the food, to the music, to the traditional entertainment and crafts shared with all of the attendees, It was such an honor to be on the receiving end of such care. I felt so appreciated and loved. It was so rejuvenating — and that is the power of hospitality.
Don’t underestimate how much an authentic care, consideration, and grounding in hospitality matters, and how far that travels. It’s important for us to be grounded in our why, and what our talents and services create for others and their own celebrations. (That’s a whole other post or video for another day, but it’s one of my personal mantras 24/7).
For Couples and Families:
Sometimes it is the small details – a handshake, genuine hug, and being present to your guests that don’t cost a lot but carry a big impact. It’s easy to get overwhelmed with the big picture and be worried or stressed about details, but in the end celebrations are always gatherings that are about our people. Period.
2. COGNITIVE DISSONANCE: HOW (DIS)CONNECTED ARE OUR DREAMS + OUR ACTIONS?
I first heard Marcy Blum speak in Toronto years ago, and I’m going to hold out on a podcast, reality tv show, or something that I can get my Marcy fix more often. She’s sassy, hilarious, honest, and doesn’t mince words. If you ever have a chance to hear her speak (or just check out the behind the scenes videos from her instagram account) — go. Just go. But this round, she brought up the idea of cognitive dissonance, which is defined as: “the state of having inconsistent thoughts, beliefs, or attitudes, especially as relating to behavioral decisions and attitude change.”
She related this to us as business owners, in that we often think or say we want one thing — a certain financial income goal, accolades, etc — but our behaviors don’t align with what it necessitates to attain that. From either kidding ourselves on the work it takes to get to the level we want, or being honest about wanting to be more present in our kids lives — we need to get real with ourselves on all fronts. She made the valuable point – and I’m extrapolating here – that either you need to reevaluate the goal, or adjust our behaviors. It’s like wanting to have a 6-pack, but also having a 6-pack of cupcake habit (I mean, I’ve never met a cupcake I didn’t appreciate so … I’m using myself as the test case here.)
Does the goal feel exciting, motivating? Are my behaviors, habits, structure, support system aligned to the goal? Or, what is the priority that guides me along to the way? These are great questions that I’m often evaluating, and adjusting to what feels good to me, and excites me.
Getting real about what season you’re in — do you have young kids that you want to be present for, knowing that in a couple of years their needs and time will shift? Or maybe it’s about simplifying overhead, adjusting systems, and refining financial goals to better fit what’s best for you. Finally, getting in tune with your goals that are yours and yours alone, and not impacted or swayed by what others seem to be doing is another biggie — I cut down my following on social media drastically last year as it wasn’t serving my creativity or energy, and the result has been so much mental space and creative freedom to create what excites me on behalf of my clients.
For Couples and Families:
This applies in the sense of evaluating the vision you hold for your wedding celebration and the reality of the decisions you make. For example: picking a venue that holds 150 but hoping you can cram in more, or choosing vendors, or packages that don’t align with the overall budgetary considerations. As a professional, it’s my job to listen for the words that you share with us, and also between the lines as the latter are equally, if not, more important. At the end of the day, the same level of honesty applies to the wedding vision as it does to the reality of executing that vision and what compromises need to be made.
3. TALENT VERSUS EXPERIENCE
Sarah Haywood took us to school on the importance of team while landing the difference between talent and experience. She artfully noted — talent will always trump experience, but in my humble opinion? Experience is what gets us the job. Experience is the part of the equation that allows us to guide our clients through the planning journey and into an experience that is feasible.
This reminds me of engineers complaining about architects having no idea how to truly construct a building. (Architects are notorious for wanting a building to float, with no structure, and all sorts of other magical visions that are often not grounded in reality. I mean, I was one! And am friends with plenty of engineers – we’re all a predictable bunch.) Knowing what the considerations or limitations are for the design, and designing WITH them in mind allows all vendors to collaborate and create successfully — that’s the sweet spot of experience.
Feed your creativity. Your talent is you calling card, and the one thing I want to invite us all to do is: turn off the internet. Find out what feeds your creativity, fills up your soul, and gets you excited. That’s the special sauce. Experience comes with time, and you can’t shortcut that part. If you’ve got questions, the event industry is vast, and genuinely friendly — ask around.
For Couples and Families:
Talent is what your research and all the visuals provide you. It’s harder to discern experience, but it’s an important part of the equation. When the inevitable issue pops up, what kind of personality or team do you want on hand to handle it? Finally, trust your gut, always, when gathering your team of vendors. Your intuition always knows.
In the end, the power / impact of any experience is related to how we integrate the wisdom and lessons we’re given into our lives. It’s nothing to learn something and not put it into practice. I think the power (and honestly, the fun) of life is to take all kinds of ideas and find out how / if it can be translated into areas of my life that might benefit from it.
Finally – a deep, heartfelt thanks to the hundreds of people who put this experience together — as an event professional, I know how much blood, sweat, and tears goes into something like Engage!20 Dubai and it is absolutely not lost on me. The power of our community, our collective heart and love of taking care of others, creates connection in a world that often feels the opposite. What a gift, and opportunity of a lifetime, to be introduced to the Middle East in such an incredible way.
MA SALAMA – “Go with peace”
Creative Director, Planning, Production, and Floral Design: Carousel Weddings & Events
Host Hotel and Food & Beverage: Armani Hotel Dubai
Gala Entertainment: Inspiration Live Music
Branding, Escort Cards, Charger Menus, Graphics, Dance Floor Design: TPD Design House
Linens: Nuage Designs Inc
Floral Supplier: Al Lokrit International
Furniture Rentals: Specstyles Trends
Photobooth: Banga Booth
Lighting, Sound and Screens: Bluebeam Entertainment
Live Sketch Artist: Illustrious Artists
Balloon Stylist: Happy Bubble Balloons
Destination Partner: Visit Dubai
DMC Partner: Equifax Tourism Travel
Hostesses: One n Only Weddings & Events
After-Party DJ: DJ Brian B
Photographer Credit for Image Above: Eric Kelley