SF and NYC Challenge Planners to Lose Fear, Find Authentic Voices

San Francisco and New York City meetings scenes have a lot in common. Both are represented by full-service CVBs that market the entire region and the diverse neighborhoods that make up the geographic areas—San Francisco Travel on the West Coast and NYC & Company on the East Coast.

The two cities are also expanding their convention centers and welcoming new hotel properties to handle record numbers of groups booking conferences. San Francisco recently unveiled a $551 million expansion of Moscone Center that added 157,000 sq. ft. of meeting and exhibit space, including a more than 500,000-square-foot contiguous area that spans the two sides of the street. New York City is in the midst of a $1 billion expansion of Javits Center that will add 1.2 million sq. ft. by 2021.

Both are served by major airports that are also in major growth mode. So, it was only natural that the two joined forces for the second year to tell their stories to event professionals in a joint East Meets West pop-up one January evening at August Hall in San Francisco’s Financial District.

Drop the Mask

NYC & Company Destination Expert Cory Rosenberg and San Francisco Travel Association Convention Sales Manager Anthony Mancuso used the occasion to introduce Sandra Joseph, record-breaking Broadway star of Phantom of the Opera, who had a message to share about the true meaning of courage. “The urge to hide behind a mask is a universal feeling,” she said. “We all understand the desire to hide imagined flaws, but the only way to live front and center is to drop the mask and be our authentic selves.”

Yes, even the leading lady of the most lucrative and longest-playing franchise in entertainment history confessed that she regularly felt debilitating stage fright and almost didn’t get the role because of it. Luckily, she had a supportive family.

Some 70,000 people per year move to New York City in search of Broadway success and only 10 percent get any role at all, and she struggled for more than four years before getting her chance. Joseph blew it twice before she found a way to trust herself to do what she needed to do instead of either being paralyzed by the voices in her head or fake, and therefore not believable.

“I wore a mask of fear and overreaching to try to cover up that I didn’t have confidence in myself,” she said. “I had to shift out of self-pity into a space of gratitude. I had to remember how far I had come before I could trust that I was enough.”

Joseph urged event professionals to ask themselves:

  • Are you wearing a mask, and if so, what is it showing?
  • What is your inner monologue? What is the narrative you are saying to yourself?
  • Could you flip the script to give yourself permission to show up authentically?

Focus on the Individual

After years of playing the same role six times a week, she understood the struggle to stay present and engaged by looking for something new to make the performance fresh. What helped the most was hearing the individual stories of people in the audience. By seeing each person, rather than an anonymous group, and understanding that this was a big event in their life to attend, she could get outside her perspective.

The same goes for planning events. Even veteran event professionals can continue to strive for greater meaning when they understand that what they do every day touches lives in a very personal way. That mind-shift can make even mundane, repetitive tasks, such as RFPs, more meaningful.

Joseph had to make her own shift after a series of losses—the death of her father (her biggest fan), the loss of the role (her character, Christine, is 16 and, as she says, “that ship had sailed”) and a health scare that threatened her vocal chords. “I had to come to terms that I was enough without my dad, without my starring role and possibly without my voice,” she said.

That was when she started exploring her voice on the page and transformed herself into an author and “keynote speaker who sings,” even if there wasn’t such a thing before she tried it.

“The rewards are great when we choose to show up,” she concluded.