LOS ANGELES The BizBash Los Angeles IdeaFest expo and awards opened Wednesday at the Los Angeles Convention Center with a keynote presentation from Sequoia Productions’ Cheryl Cecchetto. With a limited speaking window, she moved swiftly through densely informative remarks, drawing big applause from an engaged crowd.
The industry veteran shared stories from her 25 years of experience producing high-profile events like the Governors Balls for the Academy Awards and Emmys. She described the funniest moment in her career history: At the 2002 Oscars Governors Ball, the first at the Hollywood & Highland Center, the koi fish in the tabletop centerpieces started to jump 20 minutes before the guests arrived. After some quick decision-making, Cecchetto—dressed in her full Oscar-night gown and regalia—along with her production team scooped them all out with nets just in time for the doors to open. In the end, nary an attendee was the wiser.
Below are 10 of Cecchetto’s top tips and suggestions for working—and thriving—in the business.
1. Embrace the unexpected: When surprises come up, as they invariably do, be adaptable. At a past Emmy ball, Seal spontaneously offered to sing for the crowd. “He went onstage and the orchestra supported him. He performed, and you could hear a pin drop. You’ve got all your checks and balances in place. So let it go, let it breathe.”
2. Maintain a sense of humor: “If you don’t have a good time at what you’re doing, you’re not going to make it.”
3. Build a great team: “Surround yourself with people who are better than you are. And make sure that they know what they’re doing 10 times more than you know what you’re doing.”
4. Build your body of work: “Gain experience wherever you are. Make sure you get out there. I take nothing for granted, and I do not have longstanding contracts with any of my big clients. I truly believe that you’re only as good as your last event.”
5. Compromise: “I’ve worked with very talented clients. When you are working on the Emmys or the Oscars, or large committee events, you better be a person who can manage personalities. What is your point of view from your client?”
6. Be politically aware: “Always watch what’s going on in the world. Connect politically. In 2009, all of our business was decreased in the economy, so instead of throwing a [Governors Ball for the Academy Awards] with color and flash, we created a minimal ball and I grounded the guests in a [relatively more subdued] East-meets-West theme.”
7. Tell the truth when you make a mistake: Maybe an event gaffe wasn’t technically your fault, but if it happened, own up to it with the client. “The word ‘producer’ equals responsibility.”
8. Think differently: “For the Emmys [in 2011], we were given the chance to just be outrageous. I have a theatrical degree, and it was just heaven to me. We had the most bizarre scenarios [through interactive performances and decor] and everywhere you looked, you were tricked or deceived.”
9. Stay positive: “Don’t let the economic climate discourage you. If you quiet your mind, ideas will come. Some of your best ideas may come during your downtime.”
10. Try the impossible: Go for outrageous floral sculptures. Or go for a major format shakeup of a longstanding event, like this year’s revamp of the Oscars Governors Ball from a traditional sit-down dinner to a small-bites flow from Wolfgang Puck Catering. “We did have a hell of a lot more fun, and the party lasted an hour longer.”