Friday, April 11, 2014
A Toast to the Most Intriguing People of 2013-2014

It was the week of the 2014 Event Solutions conference in Las Vegas. What better time to get together with an elite group of top special events industry professionals in town to attend? My guests –some I already knew, others I was meeting for the first time – assembled at Scarpetta, a revered Italian restaurant at the Cosmopolitan in Las Vegas, complements of Warner Bros. Studios Special Events.

save the date

Photo: The invitation to the first of the two dinners

Relationship building is of the utmost importance to me. We all are so busy and rarely take time to get to know people in an intimate way, even when we may have long admired them from afar. As such, these dinners were intended to serve as an opportunity not only to engage with people I truly admire  but hadn’t yet met, but to then introduce them to the industry friends and peers I hold dear  among a fun, casual environment for all.

My hope for the evening was that both groups of 10 would capitalize on the uniquely intimate setting and develop relationships that extended deeper than the surface exchange of business cards. In a way, this was a nod to infamous Paris salons known for bringing artists, writers, poets, musicians, and other creative types together for a few hours of lively exchange. These salons were the birth places of so much of the fine art and culture that we continue to embrace today.

The result was a unique opportunity to laugh, ask questions, listen intently, and even be a little irreverent while immersed in great company amongst a delectable array of food and wine. In light of the enormously positive feedback I’ve received from my guests, the future promises more gatherings to come.

Creating a Moment

Through hosting countless dinner parties over the years, I’ve learned that the key to success is to eventize the occasion. In the age of Twitter this is akin to creating “Tweetable moments,” but for my purposes they should simply be memorable moments.

The memorable element in play at the Vegas dinners was our location. A hostess guided us thorough a labyrinth of corridors, back hallways, and small rooms while waiters rushed past us with trays filled with what I could only hope was to be our feast. Finally, we walked past a stainless steel island and into a chef’s tasting room off the main kitchen – Scarpetta’s hidden haven within the bustle of Las Vegas became our own intimate world for the next few hours.

The kitchen was on one side of the table, and through huge plate glass windows we could see the Bellagio fountains on the other. But the real action unquestionably took place around the table. Once the conversation among these amazing people began, we were blind to anything else!

So just who were these intriguing people? Please allow me to introduce you to a few of my illustrious guests:

Walter Stugger

 Walter Stugger

It’s only fitting I begin with Walter as he was the kick off speaker of the morning, arising at 7:30 to talk to a full house about integrating events with European style. Walter is the founder and creative director of the award-winning company, Inspiria Global Events. He’s organized more than 600 unique gatherings in 30-plus countries around the world. Starting out as a tour guide, cultural event producer and incentive program director, Walter co-launched inspiria in Salzburg, Austria in 2001, building an international clientele that includes such companies as Audi, Barclays, IBM, Infineon, L’Oreal and Johnson & Johnson; groups like Entrepreneur’s Organization and WPO/World Presidents’ Organization; and cultural institutions like the US Holocaust Memorial Museum.

Walter entertained the table with stories from an event he produced for a corporate client – closing down the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul,Turkey, to produce a seated event for 850 guests with only two hours in which to complete the setup.

Shawn Rabideau

 Shawn Rabideau

Full disclosure – I love Bethenny Frankel and was so excited to meet Shawn and hear the behind-the-scenes of her wedding that Shawn produced. But, being the consummate professional he is, I got nothing from him! But I can’t call a wonderful dinner conversation and new friend nothing!

Shawn’s background is impressive: For more than 12 years he has worked in all aspects of the event production and design industry and is the founder and President of Shawn Rabideau Events & Design. It’s a full-service event production, destination, floral design and lifestyle company that produces and designs intimate to large-scale events such as weddings, bar/bat-mitzvahs, product launches and more.

Brit Bertino

 brit Bertino

What I find most intriguing about Brit is how much this woman can accomplish in a year. She spoke at the conference on how to manage a high-volume wedding business – her company, Brit Bertino Event Excellence, does more than 60 a year, plus about 12 more that are drop-dead high-end. She does this not only in Vegas but also takes on weddings in Southern California. In between weddings, she had time to go to Mexico, then Asia, to source materials and manufacturers for her invention, The Totty Belt, a fashionable tool belt for the event professional. If that wasn’t enough,she is on the faculty at the International School of Hospitality, is a frequent guest speaker and panelist at the University of Las Vegas Nevada, sits on the board of ISES as the President Elect for the Las Vegas Chapter and on the board of WIPA as VP of Membership. So impressive!

Kristin Banta

 kristin 2

And here’s another impressive lady! Not all my guests were speakers at the conference. Some, like Kristin Banta, was up for (and subsequently won) an Event Solutions Spotlight Award. Kristin is well known for creating unforgettable celebrations that exude a fresh and modern perspective. What I love about her is that she is always Kristin, bringing her witty approach to everything from upscale society weddings at exclusive destinations to cutting-edge artistic events for music luminaries and celebrities in the film industry. She has several reality shows in the works, so if you aren’t seeing her work in a high-end wedding magazine, you’ll soon see her on TV!

Sara Gorlick

Sara Gorlick

I really enjoyed meeting Sara. She was up for a Spotlight Award for Corporate Planner of the Year and honestly, it was her bio that really intrigued me. Sara is the Director of Global Events for Rakuten Inc. and Rakuten Marketing. She is responsible for streamlining events globally via event theme, creative, stage design, and agenda programming all while working around the various countries’ cultures, budgets, and goals. She acts as the liaison between headquarters in Tokyo and global business units to make the above happen. In addition, Sara manages and executes all events for Rakuten Marketing, one of the largest e-commerce affiliate marketing networks in the US. What really got me was the last line of her bio: While always keeping in mind attendee experience and budget the most important aspect of Sara’s role is to keep positive, keep productive, keep kind. I felt that really sums up what our goals should be every day.

Nahid Farhoud


As a member of WIPA myself, I’ve seen Nahid’s design work at several meetings. What I find most intriguing about her is the fact that she is makes it very clear she puts family first, and yet, she will be able to transform a ballroom by 10 a.m. for an 11 a.m. meeting. Her company, Wedding Elegance by Nahid, was founded in San Diego in 2005 and specializes in multicultural weddings. She works all over Southern California as well as Dubai, Paris, Egypt, Greece, Lebanon, Kuwait, and Jordan! I sincerely hope she adds Warner Bros. Studios to that astounding list!

golden ticket

At dessert, all the guests were presented with this golden ticket, an exact replica of the one presented to winners of the contest for the Willy Wonka Chocolate Factory in the Warner Bros. film.


And much like in the movie, the ticket was a coveted possession. I loved this Instagram image by Alison Howard that she sent out after the dinner. It summed up everything about the event!

Both evenings were positively magical. I was honored at each dinner to be surrounded by individuals who I find inspirational and absolute experts within each of their industries.

In the hustle and bustle of an event conference it was wonderful to be able to take a moment and connect with an amazingly talented group. Space on the blog requires me to be brief, but my entire list of 2013-2014’s Most Intriguing People includes:

Kylie Carlson, The Wedding and Event Institute     

Bernadette Coveney-Smith,14 Stories

Rrivre Davies, Rrivre Works Studios

Janet Elkins, Event Works

Liese Gardner, Mecca Communications

Ryan Hanson, BeEvents

Rusty Harris, russell harris Event Group

Alison Howard, Alison Howard Events

Vernice Hunt, FedEx Services

Steve Kemble, America’s Sassiest Lifestyle Guru

Dave Merrell, AOO Events and DesignDawgs

Andrea Michaels, Extraordinary Events

Collaboration is important to me. I regard my peers not as competitors but as potential collaborators from which I can learn and grow my craft. I relish the point of view of others and the unique energies that propel them to create. I find an exchange of ideas with those that I admire exciting, as it becomes the catalyst for innovation and growth.

Since the dinner, many of the professionals in this group and I have found reasons to collaborate. Among other projects, I am using props from Event Works at an upcoming event, talking with Bernadette Coveney-Smith about contributing to a charity event this year, and meeting with Ryan Hanson on a design collaboration .

WB Bag and Book

At the end of the evening, everyone left with not only a lovely coffee table book of many film memories, but with so many real memories of a delicious evening with new friends. I can’t wait for next year!