By R.V. Baugus
With another GuestX having completed, this time in a virtual environment, three attendees to IAVM’s premier meeting on all things involving the guest experience got an educational indoctrination courtesy of the Diversity & Inclusive Leadership Committee’s awarding of scholarships to these very deserving individuals.
Scholarships were awarded to IAVM member Shaunici Morgan, Maintenance and Ops Crew Supervisor, Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts, Raleigh, NC; non-member Agmar Varela Lopez, Guest Services Supervisor, T-Mobile Arena, Las Vegas NV; and student James Mark Dodd, graduate student at The University of Southern California in the Annenberg School for Journalism & Communication with pursuit of the Master’s degree in Communications. We contacted all three both before and during GuestX to get their thoughts about their experience at this valuable educational offering.
How did you take advantage of your attendance at GuestX?
SHAUNICI: I did so by attending all sessions, asking questions, and taking notes. Put on my listening ears and took as much away from this conference as possible.
AGMAR: Outside of participating as much as possible and attending every event, I wanted to focus on taking the time to make genuine connections. I’m thrilled to be around other members of the live entertainment community once again and look forward to sharing our stories.
MARK: With this being my inaugural experience with this conference, and being that I am a scholarship recipient from the University of Southern California, I feel a moral, ethical, academic, professional, and scholastic obligation to attend as many conference sessions as possible to holistically experience this global conference. It is an honor as a graduate student to be afforded these opportunities, and in order to be enriched, learn, grow, develop, and be inspired I must attend the various sessions to embrace the vision, purpose, and mission of the conference.
Are there any sessions that held particular interest for you?
SHAUNICI: I really looked forward to hearing Fanny Dunagan speak on Leveraging Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs for Guest Service.
AGMAR: They were all fantastic and most importantly, timely. But I looked forward to Fanny Dunagan’s session on Leveraging Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs for Guest Service. It makes perfect sense to look toward psychology to explore new tools that may help us navigate the fast-evolving guest experience climate. Also, as a huge Disney fan, I am ridiculously excited for Disney trivia night.
MARK: Yes, I was fortunate to attend a session where an amazing moderator and speaker used technology to show venue managers innovative and alternative ways to visually showcase their venue to their clients, especially during this pandemic. This technology was so sophisticated and illustrated the venue in such a manner that was both an excellent marketing tool, but also informative to answer questions that would attract clients. The session also spoke to immediate changes to support safety guidelines as we face an on-going challenging pandemic that has impacted venues from around the world from sports, theater, trade shows, conferences, and special events. As an Executive Producer and Chief Creative Officer this session was both interesting and practical to me as a professional on both the operations and creative side. I felt that this session would be so beneficial to producers, directors, and creative minds that play a vital role in the decision process of what venue over another for an event or season for a show. I felt this inclusion would enhance another level of education among producers that would give them intellectual knowledge without deferring exclusively to the technical or production team to make the decision about specific venues, but this knowledge would bring them into the narrative on making those decisions with accurate knowledge.
GuestX as its title implies deals largely with the guest experience and crowd management. How do you work at your job to make for a better guest experience (at least once we are again able to have large audiences after COVID!)?
SHAUNICI: Since I am over cleaning and set up, I want guests to feel safe coming into our venue. Make my team more visible to show the guests that the building is clean and getting disinfected. We will provide certain PPE if that is what guests feel that they need while attending a show. We will show that we are here to serve them.
AGMAR: By prioritizing and empowering staff via specialized training, recognition programs, and development initiatives. This quote from Disney’s Approach to Employee Engagement course says it all: “The extent to which you genuinely care for your people is the extent to which they will care for your guests and each other.” The guest experience starts and ends with the staff. I can’t expect the team to create unique and magical experiences if they feel undervalued and unsupported. You have to earn their buy-in and nourish it by remaining clear, consistent, and showing genuine care. I am very lucky to be part of a leadership team that truly embraces and adopts this philosophy.
MARK: This conference has embraced the customer/guest experience with considering the apex of safety while working to reopen its venues and follow strict safety guidelines. I will learn how to manage large crowds, how to make guests feel safe with safety checkpoints, how to social distance in the space, how to understand the capability of the space to ensure guests get the best experience. Outside of safety with incorporating pandemic guidelines, there is still the premium customer service and attention to details that cannot be compromised, and I hope to incorporate that into my next major event.
Would you share any comments for the Diversity & Inclusive Leadership Committee that helped make these scholarships available?
SHAUNICI: I personally would like to thank the DILC for having these scholarships available. If it wasn’t for these scholarships it would be hard for people like myself to attend these conferences. The scholarship questions do make you put yourself out there if you are not comfortable with yourself. With these scholarships, I know that you are looking for something different. People like me get looked over all the time. This gives me hope, makes me feel like I actually have a chance to compete. I worked really hard to get where I am today and attending these conferences will help me grow and learn in the long run. Thank you for this opportunity.
AGMAR: I am incredibly grateful to DILC for granting me room to grow in my craft during a time of complete career uncertainty. For me, leadership and guest services are duties of care, and part of caring is putting in the work and developing your skills so that you can best support your team. Thank you also to IAVM for providing me with the resources to do so. For the first time in my career, I am part of a completely diverse management team. I have two inspiring female leaders, Eboni and Sam, who support me, believe in me, and have given me opportunities I may not have had otherwise. My counterpart Ken and I are able to thrive because we have that kind of support behind us. Representation matters. With the skills I learn from this experience, I commit to creating space for others and being a champion for inclusivity and representation.
MARK: As an African-American male at a majority institution, The University of Southern California, I am grateful that the board of trustees, administration, and senior leadership of the university has embraced the understanding for diversity, equality, inclusion, and enrichment, especially for people of color. I am a member of the USC Black Alumni Association as a scholar. I learned of this opportunity via my organization. I am humbled that the leadership and board members of GuestX and its board of sponsors understand the need for providing scholarships of diversity that will enhance the professional development for minority professionals. As a minority professional and graduate student I have benefited from the decorium, knowledge, and information from a conference of this magnitude. To continue offering such diversity scholarships affirms the values, corporate social responsibility, and commitment to the diverse community by which we live to be a part of enhancing it with these opportunities. Again, it was an honor to participate. I look forward to hopefully attending next year to continue my professional growth and development. Thanks for this amazing experience, and in the words of our Trojan family, Fight on!