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16. How to Deliver Tangible Results Through Intangible Experiences: Q&A with Chief Experience Officer Dionne Bishop

· Career Planning Show
The Career Planning Show interview with Chief Experience Officer Dionne Bishop

Chief Experience Officer Dionne Bishop has 15 years of experience in the marketing and events industry. Dionne has navigated a career that spanned from in-house corporate professional to event freelancer and now owner of Events by Dionne, an event agency for diverse voices. The ability to take intangible experiences and provide tangible results is something Dionne is excited to provide her clients across North America and the Caribbean. Learn more about her work at EventsByDionne.com or connect with her on LinkedIn

Resources mentioned in this episode: 

This episode of the The Career Planning Show is sponsored by Staples Studio.

If you have a career planning question you'd like us to answer on The Career Planning Show, let us know via Rascanu.com/TheCareerPlanningShow or at @AlexRascanu.

The transcript of the interview:

Alex Rascanu: Welcome to The Career Planning Show. Our guest today is Dionne Bishop. How are you, Dionne?

Dionne Bishop: I'm well; thanks, Alex. How are you?

Alex Rascanu: Very well. Thanks for being with us. Dionne, would you mind walking us through your career journey? 

Dionne Bishop: Absolutely. I actually really liked this question because it makes me think of my personality type. A lot of people want you to take this linear way to finding your career and finding who you are. I certainly was not that person. I started off in tourism and hotel management. I thought that's what I wanted to do because it was all about people and I was always curious at the airport "where are these people going and where are they coming from?" I was very fascinated with that. So I was like, okay, what's that driving factor? What are people into? And I went to Humber College for that, right out of high school. And I would say probably about a year in, I realized this is not it. Nope. I don't want to be behind the front desk of a hotel. I actually care about the experience . What are they doing? What are they about? Who are they? So, from there, I jumped over to St. Clair College in Windsor, Ontario, and I decided to take advertising, business. I thought, you know what? It's gotta be because I really love marketing. I want to tell someone's story, tell the brand story, and so I want to learn that. So I went into that field and that was pretty close. I graduated and joined an agency and I did account executive [work] working from concept all the way to execution through print advertising and things like that. But in the background, I love live events, festivals, things like that, so as a hobby almost I would be out in that world and it just drew me in. I couldn't figure out why. So then I decided, "you know what? I'm going to go back to school part-time." So I went back to George Brown College and I took the meeting management program, and that was two years while I was still working in advertising. And I kind of merged the two loves to that end up in corporate event marketing. And that I thought was it. And I stayed there for awhile, but what was missing, I realized was I didn't get to plan the experiences. It was very task list- like. Do this 50 people, 50 plates, start at 10, start at 2. It was kind of boring and sort of routine. Aftera few  years, almost eight years, I said "there's gotta be something else." And I've transitioned out to freelancing and now I own my own agency. I'm building it the way I want now, from all of that experience. 

Alex Rascanu: That's great. So it's chief experience officer. That's the term that you use to describe your work. Could you please unpack that for us?  

Dionne Bishop: For sure. It's a relatively new title. The base of everything that I want to do is how do people feel, how do people interact with an experience? Experiences are things people are going to remember. You may not remember what was said, but you get to remember how you felt. You're going to remember the memory of it. I'm building atmospheres , they create experience. When you look up what's the CXO, which is Chief Experience Officer, it's the person that truly drives the culture in the organization, but also for your audience, your clients.

Alex Rascanu: That's right. 

Dionne Bishop: For me, I think what ended up happening is really just diving into what do I really want to be and show up in the world if I can decide on my own now? And I've got all these different backgrounds and my own experiences to realize that I own the agency. I am technically CEO and I just feel like I've never really quite identified with that. 

Alex Rascanu: That's great. The experience of launching your own agency and doing this event management work offline... to then be hit with COVID-19 and having to pivot into online event management, event marketing... it would have been a  rather different experience for both yourself and your clients. Can you please share how you went about surviving and thriving in this rather different environment?

Dionne Bishop: Great question. I'm a believer of inspired thought. I enjoy downtime to let my intuition kick in and tell me " what do you need to do? what do you want to do?" so for most of 2020, when the pandemic hit and of course live events was one of the first areas to literally just be decimated for lack of a better word I took a break. I said, you know what? I know I had contracts that were canceled and everybody was sort of in this panic mode... I'm fully cognizant that I was blessed to be in a financial position that I didn't have to freak out that level, so I completely respect and understand that not everyone was in that position but I took the time to literally just go, "what do I want?" Let the inspiration flow. And what I started to realize was that because I've never really been a task list event planner, and this is to no disrespect to anybody but there's sometimes just the logistics and the execution of getting it done, I've always believed in the experience. I've always believed in the five senses and how do I make this thing really pop for people. So when we went to switch to virtual, I thought, okay, well, trying to fit what you did in person and cram it into a virtual platform -something like zoom- it's not going to work because task lists style of event planning isn't as engaging. And you're going to realize that when you take away food, you take away music that you can feel, the base, you take away just having 50 people in one room... naturally people are going to talk to each other, naturally they're going to eat, so you don't even have to truly push your creativity too far, you know? Put some people in a room, keep them on time... but that's gone and virtual, right? There's no food. There's no everybody's hanging out. So you got to really figure out how to recreate a new experience in a virtual atmosphere. With that, I sat down and my inspired thoughts came up, and I realized "let's just jump into this." So I started attending every virtual event that came across and there's a lot... 

Alex Rascanu: And taking notes.

Dionne Bishop: Oh my goodness, yeah. And really the notes are always, for me, around" how did I feel? how does this make me feel?" And if it makes me feel bored, or I didn't learn anything, or I wasn't even entertained -who are these people- and I walked away not having networked, I was like "this is a dud." So I decided to do the opposite of those experiences. I got to address this core emotion, and when I create and I present ideas to prospective clients I talk heavily about that. And that's where, truly, the Chief Experience Officer concept really came to life because I don't plan events, I truly create experiences as cliche as it can sound in our industry. I really do focus on the audience engagement and the experience. 

Alex Rascanu: That's great. If someone was inspired to pursue a career as a Chief Experience Officer, now that they're hearing the passion with which you're speaking, how would you envision that someone who maybe has a n after hours interest in organizing events with friends or has an interest in marketing and they have work experience in that space , how could they further develop themselves from a work experience perspective or an educational perspective in order to be able to deliver high quality event experiences like you are?

Dionne Bishop: I love that question. Before the pandemic, I think the answer would have been volunteer. And I volunteered my pants off in the early days, right? I was at everything. But one of the things that I don't think people teach or they don't put a comma behind "go volunteer," comma, "but have an end game." Because people get stuck in the volunteer cycle , and they're just like" I'm not getting paid, I'm not doing anything." And you just keep volunteering, right? Have a time limit to this volunteering. And when you volunteer, be intentional. Keep your eyes open. Look at the person that's in the role you desire, what are they doing while you're volunteering? Yeah, you can stand there and smile at the people, but whatever role you're trying to do, watch everything they're doing, watch how they speak the tone, the confidence, all of it absorbs. So be intentional. And I don't think people tell students or [those] new to the industry to not just volunteer for fun, but be intentional. But that was then. Now, honestly, I think this is such a great time for people that may want to get into this world, especially if you're on the virtual side, because nobody knows they're doing.

Alex Rascanu: Everybody's been lonely, learning over the last 12 months. 

Dionne Bishop: Literally. Yeah. I've been in this event world probably almost 15 plus years, right out of high school and I went, oh virtual! Okay. All right. Let me figure this out. 

Alex Rascanu: We used to do sign ups online, but now have to deliver the whole thing.

Dionne Bishop: Yeah. There's been so much chatter about, you know, you should be thinking of it like a TV broadcaster , and I kind of challenged that because, again, I don't want you to just sit and watch the screen, right? 

Alex Rascanu: And eat popcorn on your couch. 

Dionne Bishop: That's not  what we want to do. We will fizzle and die really quickly, you know? And if that's what we're emulating then who needs us because the TV broadcasters already exist, right? So it's kind of going, well, I challenged that and I don't believe in that, but where do we fit? And who are we and what can we do? So I think for anyone trying to get into the world now , take your own time and get your own inspired thoughts and come up with something, you know, put a little bit of digital marketing. Right now, I'm looking at working with partners in digital marketing, because I know what to do, but I've never had to be the one sitting here actually doing it. I respect that that's not my zone of genius. There's somebody out there that eats, breathes and sleeps digital marketing and social media , which is now so important to truly drive awareness and ticket sales, because it's all living online. So if you have a little bit of experience in digital marketing or you're a TV broadcaster or a journalist, you could take your old skills and really sit down and think, how can I now maybe transform that into virtual event production and learn the event side. So there's a real great opportunity now I think for people to enter this game and make some noise. 

Alex Rascanu: That's great. Thank you so much for sharing that. A follow-up question would be, is there any book or website or person who has inspired you in the event experienced space, that you would encourage others to check out?

Dionne Bishop: Yeah. So again, this is an interesting time for the industry because it's sort of like, well, I did read books before, but it was all about live sports. There's a book called "What to Do When Things Go Wrong." It's a fantastic book. It's all about live sport experience, but the sports world has been good at creating experience. When you think of the Super Bowl, people are watching it at home but it's not just a TV show. People are having recipes, and cooking, and bringing the friends over, and you get the six pack, they're getting dressed in their favorite jerseys , so it's a whole thing. So I think the sport world has done a really good job of creating experience, even though you're not physically live in the space. So I think that book may still have some good gems that can be applied to creating experiences through virtual.And then I'm a personal development junkie, so nothing too specific to the event world but I do like The Slight Edge is a good one, I think it's Jeff Olson. And I actually, started off with "Girl, Wash Your Face" by Rachel Hollis. Anytime I've recommended it... especially women in business or women just trying to develop self and understand who they are and have a voice , after they read it, they go, "Oh, I get why you gave this to me. " 

Alex Rascanu: I'll link to them in the show notes. One final question. The pandemic has created a very challenging time for entrepreneurs and society at large. And one thing that I notice in you is the level of vibrancy and excitement that you have with regards to event experiences but also generally, and a thought that came to mind was... I wonder how you go about staying emotionally and mentally strong, because there are a lot of individuals who have been going through a lot of ups and downs over the last 12 months. Is there any thought that you have on that? 

Dionne Bishop: Yeah, that's a good question. That's wow, that's interesting. Because I had what we call it classic sort of burnout experience... I was burned out probably in 2015, 2016... like just forget about it. And what I ended up doing was taking downtime. So I actually ended up taking a horticulture course , I went to a Durham College and I became an urban farmer. I took the food and farming program. So I spent two years doing events on the side, but I really was totally focused and learning how to grow carrots. Working on a farm and baking pies... I did the whole thing for about two years. It was important , because I realized that I had to re-center. I had to get back to self and slow down. This industry and many of the industries surrounding it, they're very fast paced. If you don't think about what you're doing outside of work , you'll all of a sudden realize that you don't do anything besides work and you don't even know when it happened. It was a slippery slope... all your friends were doing other things and you just keep talking about work all day, you know?

Alex Rascanu:  I know one entrepreneur or two who are like that.

Dionne Bishop: We all do, right? You throw a stone and you're like, "oh, there's one!" I think now I'm so big on, and I think that's also where the experience comes from in terms of what's the culture I even want to cultivate it within my own organization, but I'm so big now on breaks, fitness, even if you go for a walk, you know? Do it, listen to your body. I tell my team all the time, I just literally had a conversation, was like, "you have to take a break. " You're not winning brownie points for not taking a break. In my world, I need you to take the break because I know you're going to be a better professional, you're going to be better at what you do when you're more relaxed and okay. Hydrate, drink water. It's the simple things. I think that the hustle grind culture... somehow we got proud that you worked 16 hours a day and you've had seven coffees and one muffin and you're  excited about it. No , this is not it. So I tell people, take a breath. Relax .And even when you're not okay, when you're not mentally strong, it's fine. " How do you stay strong?" and you give these great answers, but this is not a hundred percent of the time. There are periods of time when I'm just on the couch and I literally have not moved for three days and that's just what it is, you know? But I think I have the resolve to know that I'm not going to be here forever. Well, day four will come, I will get up and get back to work. But if my body feels drained, if you're making spelling mistakes on words that you know how to spell and all of a sudden you can't, you're reading the same sentence six times... shut the computer down. Your body's not receiving it anyways. Why suffer? Shut it down, take a nap. I'm big into siestas, take a nap and come back and you'll see how much better you are at what you do after it. 

Alex Rascanu: Thank you so much. Making sure that we're tackling things well on the professional side and delivering great experiences for others, whether we're a Chief Experience Officer or we're just trying to do a good job within our team within our organization, taking time to relax and taking time to be in nature, taking time to really unplug can really help us deliver more in the work environment. They're able to balance us on the personal side as well and we're able to add more value to society this way. 

Dionne Bishop: Yeah. That's a perfect word. Yeah. Adding value. I'm a huge proponent of that. It's like, if I'm here, I don't want to just take up space. I want to be here with an intention and provide something, add some value to the conversation, to the room, do something. And if you're a shell of a person, because you've just been burning it at both ends , what are we doing? You're not doing anything for yourself and you're not necessarily adding the best value in the space and it's less productive, right? So go take them up. I'll see you in an hour. 

Alex Rascanu: All right. Well, that's a good way to end the conversation. Well, thank you so much for taking the time to be with us Dionne. It's been very insightful and we appreciate all the resources that you were able to share with us. 

Dionne Bishop: Yeah. Thank you for having me. It was fun.

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