Debbie Geller, the founder of Geller Events, has been in the business of event production for twenty-four years. From social events to corporate gatherings, Debbie has used her expertise to take live experiences to the next level.
Based out of Los Angeles, a hub for extravagant events, Debbie and her team strive to produce impressions that deliver a sense of thought and care towards guests. When asked about her views on first impressions, Debbie replied, “ If a guest has seen it before, it’s not going to achieve that memorable first impression.”
During the photoshoot for our First Impressions art project in New York this summer, we sat down with Debbie to dive deeper into her thoughts about delivering a memorable first impression and the importance of incorporating special moments.
Take guests out of their comfort zones
Debbie believes throwing out familiarity is the key to producing a first impression that keeps guests engaged for the duration of an event. “For us, first impressions mean that guests see or experience something they never have before,” she says, “and it takes them out of their comfort zone a little bit.”
And take people out of their comfort zones she does. Debbie recalls a birthday party produced by her and her team a couple of years ago, “We did a cell phone check on the way in,” she explains. “Everybody was resistant, but I can’t tell you the number of people who walked out at the end of the night saying ‘I haven’t had this much fun in years because I was paying attention!’”
When you walk in and it’s not at all the norm, that’s how you achieve a good first impression.
A daring first impression, even if it’s a detail like collecting cell phones, leaves guests anticipating more to come. “First impressions need to be bold enough to let them know that there are going to be more impressions,” adds Debbie.
For example, Geller Events produced an event centered around transporting attendees to the Caribbean. The first tent guests entered smelled like piña coladas – creating a context for Caribbean-based impressions to come, and setting the right expectation for guests from the first moments through the door.
This series of impressions should be methodically laid out, and Debbie says, they should all begin with one big wow moment, like the piña colada tent. According to her, “When you walk in and it’s not at all the norm, that’s how you achieve a good first impression.”
Do something different if you want to outdo
Impressions don’t end at the first big wow moment according to Debbie. Other impressions that happen throughout the night, while usually smaller to scale, are just as important. From a surprise course in the food to lighting changes, these moments continue to keep guests engaged.
In my mind, outdoing something doesn’t mean that it’s just more flowers or more caviar. It means you’re doing something different.
Debbie attributes her ability to continue outdoing previous events by implementing these smaller moments that are different and thought-provoking. “In my mind, out doing something doesn’t mean that it’s just more flowers or more caviar. It means you’re doing something different,” she says. “You’re not giving them the same event over and over again.”
She recalls an event she did years ago in which guests were able to enjoy a room filled with enormous amounts of candy. When the event was over and everyone returned to their cars, they were greeted with a toothbrush on the windshield of their car.
It’s playful moments like these that help an event stand out and tell a story that builds on itself. As an event producer, doing that reliably creates a chain of events that never mirror the previous one. These are the gestures and impressions that show thoughtfulness towards the guests. “When people know there was thought put into the five senses, that’s meaningful, and it’s not just a room filled with more roses than you can ever deal with.”
Make the guests feel as important as the host
As a veteran event planner for others, Debbie knows the importance of making the host feel special. However, she says the success of an event is measured by the amount of thought put into making the guests feel just as important.
“I think people want that warm feeling that stems from hosts being as concerned about their guests having a good time as they are about themselves. That comes form being courteous about guests and thoughtful of their needs.”
Thoughtful moments make a guest think ‘I’m here because I’m actually important to you.’
Creating a special menu item for a gluten-free attendee or leaving guests with a special gift that makes them smile or laugh shows they are just as appreciated at the event as every other person in the room. Debbie says “Thoughtful moments make a guest think ‘I’m here because I’m actually important to you.’ And if you can get that feeling, that’s great.”
By making guests feel comfortable and important, Debbie says they’re more prone to opening up and enjoying themselves – and that’s the focal point for any event. “When you get to the root of it, our job is to create the best environment for people to open up.”
Want to hear more from Debbie? Listen to the full podcast with her we recorded in collaboration with GatherGeeks, and check out the rest of the First Impressions project.