Learning with TBOE

Learning from Laura Schwartz’s events at the White House

Posted on November 19th, 2018 in Event News, Industry Insight, Leadership, Speaker Interview

For eight years, Laura Schwartz was responsible for putting on more than 1000 events at the White House, many of which included heads of state from across the world or major announcements from President Bill Clinton.

As well as the White House itself, Laura was in charge of events held on the famous 18 Acres – which includes the North Lawn, the South Lawn, an executive office building and a television studio.

We spoke to Laura to find out more about her time working on such high-profile events and what we could learn from her time at the White House.

Planning events at the White House

With more than 1000 events over her eight-year tenure, Laura was responsible for more than 125 events a year (on average one every three days). Laura worked on all types of events, from press conferences with world leaders and bill signings with members of Congress to black tie dinners, memorial services and America’s 24-hour Millennium celebration. These varied in size but, no matter what the event was, there was a huge focus on her work and how it appeared to the world.

Laura said, “It didn’t matter how big or small, or if there were just a couple of guests on the outside or if there were thousands. It didn’t matter if it was closed to the press or if there was just maybe a camera crew and a radio crew and a photographer, or the entire national press core, you were always on the world stage.”

“That’s how it is now for everyone in the events community. It’s not just what I did at the White House; it’s what every single event professional does every day.

Lessons learnt

Laura has three key lessons to pass on to all industry stakeholders in Australia and beyond. It doesn’t matter if you’re planning an event for multiple heads of states or a local sports club, you should have a clear message, you should be honest when you don’t know something and you should empower those around you for best results.

Clear messages

When you run an event there must be a reason for that and a message you want to portray. You should keep that message in mind the entire time you’re planning an event, as you may find more ways to deliver that message.

Laura says, “You always want to go back to the message you most want to communicate, because I believe strongly that the most effective way to communicate a message is through a powerful event.”

“I believe strongly that the most effective way to communicate a message is through a powerful event. What makes that event powerful is the fact that you have that message in mind the entire time, and you communicate it effectively on a myriad of levels and opportunities.”

Admit when you don’t know something

No one knows everything about an event, regardless of how well prepared they are. Being a ‘yes person’ will get you found out quickly but being honest and saying you don’t know – and determining to find out – will earn you a lot more respect from your bosses and peers. If you’re in charge of an event, you should be as well-connected as possible so that you can find out any detail in just one phone call.

Laura says, “I think sometimes it’s better to say that you don’t have the answer, but you’re going to find out what it is, and when you’re asked to give an opinion you give it honestly and respectfully, but you have to remember to always say why you’re saying what you’re saying.”

Empower those around you

Events run most smoothly when everyone is on the same page, knows what their role is and how that fits into the bigger picture. We’ve all had terrible bosses or heard horror stories of things going wrong because details were kept to a small group, and the rest of the team wasn’t clued in.

According to Laura, whether it’s a state dinner or a press conference, giving the whole team a full briefing helps to make events run more smoothly. She says, “I learnt that when you empower everybody around you, you have much better success. I didn’t only take the staff members that were going to be working on that event on the walk-through, I took the volunteers and the interns because they were just as much a part of it as any paid staff member. We had a very lean team, so I wanted them to be involved.”

“That way it was only better for the event, and me, because if something went wrong I could say, ‘Oh, you know on the walk-through and I showed you over at the movie theatre we’re going to swap that around? Yeah, somebody’s missing something, can you run over?’ and they could.”

These lessons, from someone who was responsible for some of the biggest and most closely watched events, have been media-tested and president-approved. Best of all, these lessons come with a big dose of common sense and are ones that can be easily incorporated. They can be transferred to events that are happening today in Australia, for the benefits of visitors, vendors and organisers with minimal fuss, often making our jobs a lot easier.

To hear more from Laura Schwartz and her time at the White House, book your ticket to The Business of Events, 7- 8 February 2019 at Sheraton Grand Sydney Hyde Park.