The Back Story

© Andrea Driessen

Mom, Dad & me, Milwaukee Zoo, circa 1970

Mom, Dad & me, Milwaukee Zoo, circa 1970

Not yet 25 years old, I was still wet behind the career ears. With a degree in journalism and advertising, I only knew I didn’t want to pursue the traditional ad agency route. I did know that as a minimalist consumer, I couldn’t get my head and heart around selling Americans more stuff.

What Color Is Your Parachute?Between jobs, as many of us are at that age, I was rather directionless. Stumped about my next chapter, I found the (now-classic) book, What Color is Your Parachute, one of the first books on finding your “right livelihood.” It’s the kind of book you DO, not just read. In the process, I gained clarity about one of my deepest values—lifelong learning. And discovered I could match it with one of my strengths: promoting ideas and causes.

I thank my parents (here, at the Milwaukee Zoo!) for enriching me with this love of learning, particularly my father who was an impassioned, curious lifelong learner til he died at age 96. (For my tribute to his distinct life and his influence on my career, click here.)

Armed with this awareness, I aimed to align the value of lifelong learning with the skill of promotion. Soon enough, I saw an ad for a position at an adult education center in Minneapolis: Open U. Its mission (much like the national franchise Learning Annex) was to offer short, noncredit, in-person classes for adults. Sensing a perfect opportunity, I threw everything I could muster into the interviews, and got the job.

My role was to identify what our customers wanted to learn, and go out into the world to find those people (locally, regionally, nationally) to teach these subjects. We designed and promoted a wide range of workshops—on entrepreneurship, software, art, communication, stress reduction, ad infinitum. I loved the “work.”

Mount RainierOn vacation, having lived all my life so far in the Midwest, I was hopelessly drawn to the stunning scenery and geography of the Pacific Northwest, including Vancouver BC. It all viscerally felt like home. So after four years at Open U and nearly 30 years on the Plains, I moved to Seattle. Gratefully, I was hired by a similar company, Discover U. My role again was to curate speakers to present a wide array of short, engaging courses, and package these programs for adult learners.

After a few years, I grew restless. At a small company, you can only go so far, unless you’re an owner. So in 1999, I set sail with my own “entrepreneurship.” I named her Amplify, a speakers’ bureau, and began recommending speakers and trainers to corporations and associations locally and nationally.

AmplifyBut within a few years, I began to see the writing on the wall: bureaus as a meeting industry niche were becoming commoditized. Most offered, and still do offer, the same roster of speakers. The same service set. Meanwhile, the internet was leveling the playing field, and meeting planners could more directly access some speaking talent themselves. Further, meeting participants’ expectations were evolving, as attendees began to demand more from an event experience than simply being passive listeners in an audience. They wanted to actually participate in their own learning. (Doh!)

Indeed, smart audiences crave engagement in relevant conversations and problem solving with their peers, and they want to learn from one another and from outside experts.

No More Boring Meetings LogoSo in 2007, I launched No More Boring Meetings, taking the helm as Chief Boredom Buster. In addition to providing meeting planners with top speaker and entertainer talent who understand the importance of interactivity, we see meetings as holistic systems that, when optimally designed, create much more powerful event experiences—before, during and after meetings. Attendees are indeed participants in their own  learning communities, and in contributing to events that help them solve their most pressing challenges.

It’s all about delivering what I call co-created wenotes–not one-way keynotes.

Our content-driven games, out-of-the-box engagement tools and fresh meeting formats ensure everyone is fully awake, radically involved, and able to perform at their very best.

In the economic downturn of 2008, when the meeting industry took some punches—my company included—I found myself with some extra time on my hands. Facing, in fact, an addiction. Not to drugs or alcohol, but to the app game Angry Birds. ; )

Meeting MagazineI was so engaged with the game that I wondered: what if meetings could be this engaging? What can this app teach us about designing more engaging events?? My game-inspired blog post about the subject followed, and on whim, I submitted it to the magazine editor at Meeting Professionals International.

They published the piece (which is now on my blog), and I’ve been deeply honored to write regular articles on engagement and gamification for The Meeting Professional magazine ever since. I was also thrilled to receive the Pacesetter Award from the International Assn. of Speakers Bureaus for helping to move the Association and the industry forward. Thanks, Angry Birds!

Meanwhile, TED began to take on the world by storm, and ultimately has become a global model for meeting engagement and cross-cultural relevance. Soon I was a TED-Head, and for nearly 8 years helped organize our local TEDxSeattle events.

When I later learned that TED and TEDActive would be held respectively in Vancouver and Whistler, British Columbia in Spring 2014, just a feTEDw hours north of my home-base of Seattle, I yearned to see what all the fuss was about. What happens at TED events that has the world in general, and the meetings industry in particular, abuzz? Why are people across cultures and professions drawn to a long, not-inexpensive, industry-agnostic event—one that is, in part, available for free online, and that may have no direct career dividend?

Then synchronicity struck again: The theme of TED2014 was The Next Chapter.

Then, not long after that, a literal Next Chapter presented itself: I was offered a book contract. So much of what I’d learned over these many years is now codified for you in The Non-Obvious Guide to Event Planning: For Kick-Ass Gatherings that Inspire People (IdeaPress), which has gone on to win three awards (mind blown).

And what is the next to the next chapter? I’m eager to find out!