Jes Gordon has produced events for big names like Tommy Hilfiger and L’Oréal Paris. But even when running tightly-scripted events, she has a knack for finding spontaneous moments that seamlessly fit into the run of show and stick in the memories of her guests.
While she says “logistics” is the word that comes to mind when thinking about event planning, Jes brings a loftier motto to her firm, jesGordon/properFUN: entertaining without borders.
For Jes and the events she produces through her New York-based firm, the journey matters just as much as the destination. “Sometimes you need to change the script based on how the guests are vibing,” she says.
Sometimes that means taking a leap and changing the course of action in the middle of an event. It’s a bold approach, and one that flies in the face of plenty of conventional event planning wisdom, but it’s clear from her client list that Jes knows how to make it work strategically.
We talked with Jes as part of our First Impressions project to learn more about her strategy and approach when it comes to adjusting a plan and pulling off events that resonate with guests.
Foster an emotional response with the first impression
When meeting someone for the first time, the impression you make sets the tone for a future relationship. Similarly, a guest’s first impression when stepping foot through the door at an event foreshadows the course of the night.
“It’s everything,” Gordon says, talking about the first impression. “The first impression should evoke an emotional response that will stay with you long after the event.”
It’s the impression that hits the deepest part of the heart, so that’s where it stays.
Just as relationships naturally develop over time, Jes and her team work to string together a seamless progression of instances that build on each other, lending coherence and the feeling of growth to an experience that starts at the very first moment of introduction.
Jes describes the first impression itself as an intimate relationship between the room, the design, and the guests. “It’s the impression that hits the deepest part of the heart,” Jes concludes, “so that’s where it stays. The memory stays in there.”
One way Jes uses this is through lighting cues. The idea is to not reveal everything at once to keep guests wondering about what’s to come. “We keep the room completely dark until the guests start walking in,” she explains.
She compares the experience to a Broadway show, strategically lighting up different aspects of the room to highlight each scene captured in a moment that will resonate with guests. “We try to bring everyone through a visual tour,” she says, “to get the full impact of the beauty of the room.”
Cultivate theatrical rhythm
While the very first impression is important, Jes thinks it’s the first in an entire series.
“Manipulate the room so many impressions happen throughout the night,” suggests Jes.
Just like a good movie has both moments of great suspense and resolution to keep viewers engaged, a good event should do the same. By introducing dynamics and contrast, each step of the experience takes more of its own distinct form. That helps keep guests curious and on their toes.
It has to be through the five senses at all times.
To do this, again, she mentions the use of lighting and timely revelations. “Lighting causes a theatrical rhythm in a room. You can manipulate those impressions over and over again so the guests are having them throughout the evening.”
And while lighting is important, Jes believes that impressions shouldn’t be purely visual. “It’s about everything working together to create an intricate back and forth,” she explains. “It has to be through the five senses at all times.”
From a big musical moment to a change in backdrop, anything that’s unexpected or interesting helps keep guests involved in the event. “It’s about subtle nuances manipulated through the five senses that keeps people engaged.”
Pay attention and adjust the plan
Rather than seeing a planned event as a series of switches to flip to activate the next sequence, the approach Jes describes more resembles a set of knobs and dials. Sometimes you want to dial up the drama, and sometimes you want to turn it down.
“We all start out with a tight script,” Jes says about planning an event, “but it’s so important to observe how guests are actually reacting to an experience.”
If your guests are stalling on something because they love it, don’t take them away from it.
Sticking too strictly to a plan, being inflexible, can ultimately take away from their experience, even if technically your plan goes off without a hitch. “If your guests are stalling on something because they love it, don’t take them away from it. Let them ponder on it and enjoy it” says Jes.
“And maybe you scratch something” she continues, “My theory is this isn’t going to be the last party anybody ever goes to. You can save some of the good stuff for another one.”
Want to read more from event pros like Jes? Check out more profiles and interviews with top event producers in the rest of the First Impressions project.