ELLE meets the former Director of Events at the White House, Special Assistant to Bill Clinton and this year's key-note speaker at Johannesburg's Executive Secretary LIVE global forum, Laura Schwartz. The conference, currently in the UK, Dubai and South Africa, features the world’s most inspiring speakers and internationally renowned trainers within the Administrative Profession. Here we get the exclusive chance to know Laura a bit better:
Your book Eat, Drink and Succeed focuses on the power of networking at social events, what are some quick pointers to accomplishing this?
Realise that any conversation can be the next conversation to change your, or someone else’s, life. Here's a quick tip (among many) to remember:
Always attend an event prepared! Just because it may not be physically in an office or boardroom does not mean it isn’t every bit as powerful! If you are attending, for example, a luncheon, a non-profit event or incredible conference like Executive Secretary LIVE always “know before you go”.
Networking is a partnership and it begins through conversation.
Here are three tips for conversation:
*Make a connection before you even arrive because connection leads to smart conversation! Head over to the host’s website and check out the speakers and businesses confirmed to attend. Google them, research their social media and, using that information, prepare a few questions you would like to ask of them. Make these thoughtful, complimentary and exploratory but not too investigative (remember, there is a fine line between networking and stalking). Let this conversation grow organically based on common interests you have found as you are getting to know them, their business and their journey.
*Kick off the conversation with anything but the current weather Sometimes we get tired and the first thing we discuss with someone is the weather. Don't do this. Instead take a moment to find out something about the location before you arrive (or as you walk in, stop and ask the concierge) and find out some interesting facts about the hotel/region so that you can start conversation with someone around an interesting nugget of information and empower the other person with information, something fun that they’ll in turn use throughout their conversations that night. It’s impressive and it’s credible – it’s what you want people to remember about you!
*Reach outside of your circle! Whether you’re with potential clients, colleagues, or friends, circulate and meet others outside your immediate circles. You never know when the next conversation will be the one that will change your life. First Lady Jackie Kennedy had a rule at the White House: Invited guests could bring a plus-one, but they had to sit at different tables during dinner. This was her way to entice conversation. Introducing different personalities to your group will make conversations more eventful, and others will surely appreciate having the chance to expand their social horizons as well.
How important are PA's to the success of a modern business?
PA’s are critical to a modern business and in 2016 more than ever. Businesses must evolve with new resources, systems and technologies as we all move to a globally interdependent world where there are no “business boarders.” PA’s are at the heart of this. They are the lifeblood of an organization because of just that. From a boss’s schedule, meetings among department heads, events, dotting the I’s and crossing the T’s and keeping leaders on the same page to implementing new administrative systems that are the foundation of a physical company – PA’s are involved at every turn and they are always up to the challenge and responsibility!
Do you have a favourite event from your time as Director of Events at the White House?
I fell in love with the people and workings of every event! Whether a world leader or guests walking into the White House for the first time – it could be a message event, press conference, private family dinner, Bill Signing, a State Dinner or NATO’s 50th Anniversary and largest gathering of heads of state at one time on the South Lawn of the White House. I will highlight something I deem important to keep in mind:
- I have an event mantra and that is…. “We do not host events, we host guests.” For every “event” you want to have the technology, the flowers, the staging, the music, the assets etc. that every event needs in order to effectively communicate a message. You want to ensure that every guest can see the program, be in a comfortable temperature, have the space and the time to interact with others.
Did you ever find yourself completely star-struck at an event?
No, I really didn’t. This is because I always remember that everyone puts on their pants the same way, everyone faces different challenges and everyone has the same capacity to make change. I appreciated the child touring the White House with their parents on a break from chemotherapy treatments for cancer – for an hour where they could walk around that big White House and not be thinking of the next treatment or doctors appointment - as much as the next celebrity or world leader that comes to the White House. I really treasured every moment with every guest – because whoever they were they were there to make a positive change in the world.
What inspired to start your own business after your time at the White House?
I wanted to find a way to translate the unique behind-the-scenes experience at the White House I had for eight years and use it to empower others. It evolved as I began speaking at various events and giving advice and has now led to a successful and solid book Eat, Drink & Succeed. I use my platform to empower organisations, associations, individuals and industries around the world and offer non-partisan commentary on television discussing world events and the impact that they have on us.
What do you think is the toughest skill for a PA to conquer?
I think it's more important to focus on what skill would be valuable for the PA to embrace. That is, I believe, a culmination of knowledge, partnerships and learning that makes us successful. Every thing you teach, you have to first learn yourself. Now, this may be technology, the benefits of a product, a brand or a relationship with a boss. But your personal skill, drive, resourcefulness and positivity combined with thoughtful questions and research is the way to dive in and become an asset.
What are you looking forward to most at Executive Secretary LIVE in Johannesburg?
The “networking” time shared with the other attendees. We learn from each other through conversation as well as presentations. The tools and techniques and lessons learnt and taught throughout the day will become the backbone of your professional lives. Executive Secretary LIVE takes all of that a step farther. It goes beyond the office. The partnerships you make at Executive Secretary LIVE enhances your homes, your communities, your businesses and yourself. The conversations are just as productive as the presentations.
What advice would you give to PA's wanting to get ahead?
Attend Executive Secretary LIVE, subscribe to Executive Secretary Magazine and join the conversation, the twitter chats and more. Executive Secretary LIVE is a part of a great association and place for PA’s to be empowered no matter where they physically are in this world – Executive Secretary Magazine brings us all together as one and empowers online, through twitter chats and live, in person around the world!