ep. 27 - Laura Schwartz: Former White House Director of Events and Author of "Eat, Drink & Succeed"


Laura Schwartz, the White House Director of Events for the Clinton Administration, created and executed more than 1,000 White House events including State arrival ceremonies and dinners, America’s Millennium Celebration, NATO’s 50th Anniversary, the Concert of the Century and many others. While producing the President’s events on the world stage, Laura demonstrated the ability to inspire a nation and the world through powerful events. She arrived at the White House at just 19 years old with no political connections and volunteered answering phones in the press office. Proving her value immediately, Laura climbed her way up the ranks as a Staff Assistant, the Midwest Press Secretary, the Director of Television, and ultimately, the White House Director of Events. Following the Administration, Laura traveled the world with Former President Clinton for his Foundation and Global Initiative.

In her first book, Eat, Drink & Succeed! Climb Your Way to the Top Using the Networking Power of Social Events, Laura shares the secrets to building powerful, effective partnerships in our companies, communities and beyond, adding color with personal anecdotes from her life and White House years. As a professional speaker, she takes those same details to stages, boardrooms, classrooms and ballrooms around the world in her acclaimed speaking series to empower, motivate and inspire each audience to Eat, Drink & Succeed!


Kyle Davis: Go.

Gail Davis: Laura Schwartz was just 19 when she arrived at the White House in 1993. With no political connections, she volunteered answering phones and soon climber her way up to the ranks to become the white house director [00:01:00] of events. Today, she travels the world as a professional speaker, best selling author, and regular television commentator passionately teaching others that they, too, can eat, drink, and succeed. Welcome to the GDA podcast, Laura. I've so been looking forward to this. I'm a former event planner, and I'm just really eager to visit with you.

Laura Schwartz: Gail, it is a pleasure of mine, because looking at your history, you bring the best towards bringing speakers to events that can [00:01:30] effectively communicate a message to the objectives that the client needs to achieve. That's something I always strive for, and I really believe that the big part of my event background, just like it's a big part of your event background too.

Gail Davis: Awesome.

Kyle Davis: Cool.

Gail Davis: I have to know, I mean, how do you go from answering phones to the top job? Tell us a little bit about that journey. Laura Schwartz: What a journey it was, Gail and Kyle. I was 19. I was going to school at this great private school in Wisconsin. I [00:02:00] was a sophomore in college and decided you know what, I've done a lot. I did a lot academically and socially, and I decided as communications major I really wanted to be in a position to do internships and have an alumni core that's in a market I want to end up in. For me, that was Chicago where I am now based and headquartered. I thought I should really transfer Universities, and it was a good time for me, so I chose DePaul University.

DePaul was in a trimester [00:02:30] system, and St. Norbert where I was in Wisconsin was on semester system, so I thought instead of just going over to DePaul in an awkward time or losing one of those quarters, why not go over seas? Gail, I applied to every overseas process I could through St. Norbert. I missed the cut off for every single one of them. Then, lo and behold, and probably some of a subliminal inspiration from my book, 'Eat, Drink, and Succeed', I was at Nikki's bar [00:03:00] down the street from St. Norbert college on Tuesday night. That was nickel beer night for women.

I was talking to some friends, and there's this one guy who was a senior. He said, "What are you doing these days?" I said, "Actually, I've been looking for a program to go abroad next semester. I've missed the cut offs." He said, "Laura, last year, I participated in the [inaudible 00:03:22] semester program at the American University." He said, "Check it on out," and I did the next day, applied within the week, got [00:03:30] in about three weeks later, and it started my journey in Washington.

Very interesting program. They got about 300 member schools that's set up so that during the semester you study one of five tracks: journalism, politics, justice, peace and conflict resolution, or museum studies and the arts. I thought wouldn't that be fun to take a semester and just study the Smithsonian museums and the culture of Washington D.C.? Of [00:04:00] course, I was dropped into a class of 17 art history majors and me, the communications girl. The nice thing about the program is that those three days a week, I was at museums and a lot of private collections of which now I look back years later, even while I was still at the White House, and realized what I learned about the curatorial process in museums, which at the time or me was just something fun to go to during the week, actually was a foundation to telling a story [00:04:30] with the visual, with the audio, with the text.

It really made a much greater impact on me than I thought it originally would. Then, those other two days a week, you did an internship, but I had an internship inside of a PR firm within a law firm, downtown D.C., and I was getting coffee, making copies, answering the phones as you do as a 19 year old intern. No problem. I was having a blast. Then, one day, my roommate came home, who was in the journalism program. [00:05:00] There was a guy who did the program that she was doing about two years earlier who was now on the staff of the president elect Clinton. He called the school and her professor and said, "Listen, if anybody's not situated into their internships yet, we do not have an intern program, but we're going to need help on day one.

That's just with answering phones, making copies, and so forth. Went over and saw him, and I said, "Listen, that's what I'm doing now at a law firm. I'd much rather do it in the west wing," [00:05:30] even though I wasn't political active. My family's never been bit donors to politics. I, myself, had voted for both republicans and democrats. My family, I grew up in a small family business, so we really vote on policy much more than party as I still do today. I started answering phones the day after the inauguration with a whole lot of senior citizens and one other student and one paid receptionist from Little Rock, Arkansas.

Nobody had time to tell you what [00:06:00] was going on and what you needed to do. You just jumped in and answered those phones. I borrowed and still have today the transitional office phone book of the president, so I could see who was who. I wasn't familiar. I wasn't actively involved, but then I sort of figured who were the heads of the offices, what names I should know. I started reading the paper and the business section in the political section in the Washington post and sort of self-taught in a way. I keep a ledger [00:06:30] next to my phone and write down everyone in the office, their names and who got how many calls and I was at time I thought greater. I said, "What is this regarding? Who do you need to speak with? Where are you from?"

I could kind of figure out what was going on and then offer extra help and say, "Listen to one of the press secretaries. It looks like you're busy next week with your event in the rear rose garden. I don't have class that day. I'd be happy to come and help out." Well, I was skipping class that day, and I got to [inaudible 00:06:58]. [00:07:00] Now, instead of just answering the phones, I got to simply escort a television crew from the front gate to the rose garden back and forth, back and forth, but then, stay and see that event unfold, and Gail, when it comes to events, it's just amazing to see who was sitting where, what the order was, how I saw the director of events then, who I highly admire, cue the different aspects of it and where the press was.

It was just really fascinating. Then, I'd look for a good time to ask the staff [00:07:30] members a good question. That's how I started learning about the events and the way the press office worked. Oh, I also would always volunteer to copy anything. If somebody needed a press release copied or a media advisory or president schedule, I happily made copies for everybody and myself. That's how I learned how to write a press release. One day, a press secretary came in and said, "Does anyone know how to write a press release?" I said, "Oh, well I [00:08:00] do." I never wrote one in my life.

Kyle Davis: But you had-

Laura Schwartz: I took an old one out of my folder and just put in all the new relevant information. That's how people got to know me versus the others just answering phones. Instead of nine to five, I was there six until it was safe for me to go home on the Metro, maybe like nine o'clock at night and came in one the days off and the weekends. I grew up, like I said, in a family business. The work ethic was something really instilled into me by my mom and my dad and my sister. That came [00:08:30] to the end of the semester when they said, "Laura, we're starting up the intern program. Would you like to stay on as a volunteer?" I said, "Sure." I stayed on that summer. It gave me more of a chance to work directly with the staff members in the white house press office as well as run the interns in the press office, set up a phone schedule and still oversee a lot of the management things and administrative things, like making sure there's ink in the copier, all those glamorous details.

It was great. It gave me a wonderful [00:09:00] opportunity to work seven days a week and for me, my bar was always set to am I still learning? As long as I was still learning, there was a reason to be there. Then, the end of the summer after congress came back into session and I was due to go to DePaul, well that's when the healthcare security act began. We all the sudden had a first lady as involved as the president in selling it and getting out there, but there was only one director of television in the press office that I worked with often. I grew up in a photography studio, so the visuals [00:09:30] always very much appealed to me as well as the verbal. The had me start traveling with the first lady to amplify her message and do her television interviews and produce those on the road.

I called my parents and I said, "All right, now I'm traveling. I'm still learning." They said, "Stay," and I stayed, and a few months later I was asked to join the press office as the staff assistant, which I did, which was just [00:10:00] incredible just working with all the staff still managing the interns. Nothing glamorous. Then, I filed in for the Midwest press secretary when she left unexpectedly just because hey, that's what we all do. Gail and Kyle, looking at those on your team at GDA, that's just what you do. That's just culture whether you grew up in it or you're immersed in it. I just started answering her phone, and they said, "Hey, can you just pitch in?" I'm like, "Well, of course."

Then, a month later, they offered me that position. I loved [00:10:30] being the Midwest press secretary, because I'm from Wisconsin, I'm a good old mid-western girl, and in this case, I was verbally both proactively and reactively communicating the president's message to the Midwestern television affiliates and to the newspapers, also traveling ahead by maybe about five days to set up the press pools and organize some great OTR events off the record movements that no matter what was going on nationally, [00:11:00] whether that be a scandal or a big project, we could really stick to the grass roots locally in more of a campaign style tradition.

I really enjoyed that position. I loved it because these issues are my issues. The Midwest is still my biggest roots in myself. Then, the whit house director of television left, and I became the white house director of television in 1995, where I am now, instead of verbally communicating the message [00:11:30] of the president and the administration, I was visually communicating that, producing, directing the president's television interviews foreign and domestic as well as the first lady, second lady, and vice president, which was wonderful with my background in my dad's photography studio. I believed that the verbal and visual goes hand in hand.

As many people watch their televisions on mute, you want to make sure that that advertisement from a company get through whether they're listening to the stereo or their iPhone or [00:12:00] really focused in or not. I was very excited to do that position. Then, in '97, I moved from the west wing to the east wing when the Clintons asked me to become the director of events. That really was the culmination of everything I had done: the verbal, the visual, for everything on what we called, Gail, the 18 acres. The 18 acres is sort of slang for the white house and its grounds. It's 18 acres. It's run by the national clark services as far as the grooming and so [00:12:30] forth.

It was a complete honor now to be directing all the events, whether they be the state dinners, America's Millennium, NATO's 50th anniversary, or private family functions, press conferences, bill signings, and daily message events. It was an incredible eight year journey for me, none of which I could have ever done without first having started answering the phones at 19 and figuring out my way.

Gail Davis: That is an awesome story. I love it.

Laura Schwartz: I [00:13:00] had a blast. It was crazy, but it was fabulous.

Kyle Davis: I have just one of the questions that just came to the top of my mind when we were talking about the visuals and other things, you know, now with being 2017 and cameras everywhere, one of the things that has popped into my mind that I just don't remember seeing in the really the Obama era, the Bush 43 or even Clinton, is these new shots of the Trump administration where you can see into the oval office, like there's just cameras out there. Are [00:13:30] they not ... I know this is a random question, but would that be something that you would have say on if cameras are on the 19 acres-

Laura Schwartz: Yes.

Kyle Davis: -if they're shooting into the oval office?

Laura Schwartz: I'll tell you my take on that, Kyle, and I was very surprised to see that footage. That was shot from the rose garden, which is just outside of the back entrance of the white house briefing room.

Kyle Davis: Right.

Laura Schwartz: Now, cameras can only go out there when they're escorted by a member of the press. They never should have been escorted out that [00:14:00] early to get shots of a meeting happening inside the oval. I believe that the press were on their way to cover a marine one departure and the press officer on duty's duty to ensure they're not filming en route to the south lawn where they would get that departure. That really is just press wrangler ship more than it is anything else.

Kyle Davis: Yeah, I just thought that was really [00:14:30] interesting, because you've never seen that image or the image of a president sitting in the limo reading over their lines. I was just like-

Laura Schwartz: Now, you've got lip readers on television trying to decipher it all.

Kyle Davis: Yeah, it's like an episode of bad lip reading, that youtube thing.

Laura Schwartz: Well, you'll notice on that, because I'm always about the shot, you know, no matter what it is, what was interesting ... I would do this with president Clinton sometimes if perhaps he was in the limousine with someone that we wanted a good shot [00:15:00] of him with another head of state or were a leader having conversation. If you turn on the light inside the limo, then you're going to be able to see who's inside the limo. If you don't turn on the light at that time of night, you're not going to see that, and the Trump administration actually was very smart in putting that light on inside so that the press, who are part of the motorcade, could get actually a good visual of him or her seat.

It showed them very presidential, it showed him [caring 00:15:28], and I think that's [00:15:30] exactly what they wanted that shot to be.

Kyle Davis: Yeah.

Laura Schwartz: You can [inaudible 00:15:33] it a little bit too.

Kyle Davis: That one looked very framed, like it was definitely planned, whereas the other one was like wow, you know? You had people looking out the window and they're like, "There's cameras out here?" I don't think we had-

Laura Schwartz: Put on your happy face.

Kyle Davis: Very, very interesting. You had this career for the better part of eight years or so working with the Clintons. I know we've talked a lot prior recording a couple of times, but what have [00:16:00] you done since then and now since you're a professional speaker and everything else?

Laura Schwartz: I got to tell you, Kyle, it was the most challenging time of my life was after the administration, because at noon on the inauguration day, you're done. That's it. Your business card with the fancy gold seal doesn't mean anything anymore. You've got no west wing or east wing office, no telephone, and it was a real pivotal moment in my life, because I decided not to go [00:16:30] up to the hill and stay in politics or go to senator Clinton's office. I decided not to go immediately into the private sector or the non-profit sector, because for me having been there as the youngest female presidential appointee at 19 all the way through, those eight years were like my college. Those eight years were my formative years. That's all I knew.

I needed to take a moment, as anxious as I was, and looking back I never should have been so anxious because I just always wanted to work. [00:17:00] It was good just to take a few months, or almost a year, to kind of look and see, "Okay, who is just Laura Schwartz with a plain old business card, this girl from Wisconsin? How can I make an impact without that gold seal, without air force one? What can I translate from the last eight years that is unique that can make an impact in people's lives whether they are here in America, Asia, [00:17:30] the middle east, Europe, you name it, and of all ages and backgrounds and companies, for profit and non-profit alike?"

That's when actually ironically I got a call. It was actually only a few months after the administration for my first speaking engagement. It was actually at the time, you know, president Clinton gave me my start in politics. I guess you could say in a way, Donald Trump gave me a start in speaking, because it was at that time [00:18:00] his Ms. USA pageant that called and asked me to speak at a pre-pageant convention that year to discuss how state dinners are done and how beautiful they are. I said, "I'd love to talk about state dinners. They are beautiful, but may I mix some substance in with the floods? Their business is black tie, and they're quite powerful and positive and productive if you approach it as a powerful [00:18:30] guest and create it as a very powerful host."

I created what I called then the networking power of social events. I spoke about state dinners, but I related it right back to how you can use them to make an impact in someone else's left or your own. That really set me on this path of what now is 'Eat, Drink, and Succeed' turning relationships into partnerships and ideas in the realities, not necessarily in a corner office, but at conferences, [00:19:00] at lunches, in a staff meeting, in a walking meeting, on a plane, wherever you may be, we have that opportunity. Nothing's optional. It's all an opportunity.

It really was a wonderful start to get me really thinking and engaging how I could translate that. I'll just tell you one story from behind the scenes at the white house that I think really kicked it off for me was that at the state dinner of Boris Yeltsin, then the president of Russia, 1993. [00:19:30] It was the Clintons' first state dinner, and on the guest list were a lot of your politicos and the foreign dignitaries and the American delegation and so on and so forth. Then, of course, philanthropists and some celebrities always make it fun. On the guest list that night was this guy from California, Steven Spielberg, great philanthropist in his own right, incredibly professional and talented.

He came in his black tie. His wife, Kate [00:20:00] Capshaw in her gorgeous dress, and they went upstairs for cocktails before the dinner of course. They're socializing with everybody else. They run into these two [inaudible 00:20:09]. One of them that wants the floor, the other-

Kyle Davis: Hey, Laura, you muffed out just a hot second. Do you mind-

Laura Schwartz: Oh, I did?

Kyle Davis: Yeah, it's fine.

Laura Schwartz: Why don't I pick it up from-

Kyle Davis: When they went upstairs.

Laura Schwartz: Yeah. One of the most transformative stories from the white house that really led the basis of 'Eat, Drink, and Succeed' that I was able to witness was [00:20:30] actually in 1994. It was the first state dinner of the Clintons in honor of Boris Yeltsin of Russia. On the guest list that night along with the foreign and American delegations and politicos and philanthropists were Steven Spielberg and his wife, Kate Capshaw from Hollywood. Steven Spielberg a great donor of the Clintons as well as philanthropist in his own right and of course very successful gentleman, arrive in his black tie, she in a beautiful gown.

They went upstairs. They had cocktails, [00:21:00] and they ran into these two other guys from Hollywood, one they knew already, worked with him. The other one they hadn't met before. They started speaking over cocktails. Then, they went through the receiving line with the president and Mrs. Clinton and Boris Yeltsin. Then, they crossed the threshold in the state dining room. None of them were seated together. That was a rule Jackie Kennedy put into place. Anyway, after dinner and the entertainment, they were sort of huddled in a corner [00:21:30] in the grand foyer while others were dancing.

Those three guys were talking with each other. What those other two guys just happened to be David Geffen and Jeffrey Katzenberg, and 13 days later, they announced DreamWorks.

Kyle Davis: They announced DreamWorks.

Laura Schwartz: The angels started singing, the [00:22:00] bells started ringing. It really showed us how it really was the start of how you can have a conversation anywhere. It didn't happen in a studio lot in Los Angeles. It happened over cocktails at the White House.

Kyle Davis: How cool.

Laura Schwartz: If they can do it, so can we. We can do it in our homes. We can do it at our conferences. We can do it in our hallways, in elevators, in the lobbies. There's really [00:22:30] wonderful ways to yes, tell that story to my audiences and within the book, but then translate it into our everyday interactions and the tools and techniques that can help us have both the confidence and the trust and respect in order to get things done anywhere we may be, both the social butterfly that wants to network and make conversations. That's great. There's also those that are behind their computers and more comfortable [00:23:00] on a phone versus in person.

'Eat, Drink, and Succeed', both the book and what that signature seminar turned into, it lets the master networker take it up even more notches and lets that other person maybe new to an industry or into a social scene, to really build up their confidence and become a master themselves.

Kyle Davis: What would you say the top three takeaways are for people just like a cursory glance [00:23:30] of you're saying you're plopped in a room and there's an opportunity. It's not a challenge, as you said, it's an opportunity to go and make something better than it was. What would you say those takeaways are for people and literally how should they maybe even prime themselves before they go into an event like that?

Laura Schwartz: Oh, I love that question, Kyle. Well, I got to tell you, I love the power of research. It goes hand in hand. You know, social media is wonderful to keep up with people between events and old college [00:24:00] friends, but I love using social media for looking up the guests, whether that's somebody I know I'm going to have dinner with or if it's simply somebody on the board of the organization that's going to be at that meeting or that gala or that fun event. I'll look up their twitter feed to see what's trending on their account, and Facebook to see what their interests are. Is it adventure photography? Is it travel? Is it flowers? Same thing [00:24:30] with LinkedIn to find out their professional background and google and recent stories about them or their company.

Of course, their stock number of they've got one. Then, have that to organically create a conversation. Making a connection with someone before you arrive will turn into conversation. When you're in that conversation, doing a little something about knowledge. I call it the power of knowledge, [00:25:00] knowing a little about a lot. When I was with Fox News Channel for three years, every night it was a different show. You got Fox and friends, Bill O'Reilly you know, the O'Reilly factor, Hannedy and so forth. I had to make sure that during the day I knew a little about a lot so that when I got my topic that night, I was ready to jump in.

Then, I realized during those years at Fox and CNN and CBS afterwards, man, Kyle, could I make dinner conversation, because I knew a little about lot. [inaudible 00:25:29] always recommend [00:25:30] to people, "Hey, you know what interests you in the newspaper, but go to the sports section, go to the entertainment section, read the headlines, first couple of sentences under it. Look up the location you're going to for that evening event and find something interesting. That way when you meet someone, instead of relying on the weather, give them some good information. Empower them with information and a great nugget."

Things like that as well as the power of your appearance, emotionally and physically, [00:26:00] and listening and the introduction itself. I got to tell you guys, I'm claustrophobic. I can't stand elevators or elevator speeches. I like to work with people on how they introduce themselves and what they do and who they are, not based on their job title, not based on the brand of their company, but based on themselves. I think when companies hire the right individuals, and when the right individuals choose [00:26:30] the right companies to work for, again, for profit and non-profit alike, you're going to have aligning values that you represent, not just nine to five, but 24/. That's a difference I see between a job and a career.

A job, I mean, we all know we work much more than that these days, but you think nine to five. That's my job. When I'm at the office, I'm on the job, but really your career is 24/7, and you're an ambassador of that company, the consumers, [00:27:00] the products, and so forth, wherever you are and at all times I have a wonderful time bringing that to light in a really dynamic, fun way. My key not is like no other. It's not a power point. It's built on a mac by a Hollywood production company, so it's almost like you're inside of a movie or an ad with the visuals and the movies and the music. It really keeps it moving along.

It gives people terrific visual cues of which to remember the stories [00:27:30] of which I always strive to make not only relatable from wherever this example may be, but relevant to the daily lives of the individuals and the audience, not just for when they go back to their offices, but to implement right then and there at a conference or a luncheon as well as back in their communities and their homes afterwards. Relevant and relatable is everything to me.

Kyle Davis: Yeah, I come from software sales, so one of the things [00:28:00] we did, you know, a lot of the companies I was working for were at the leading edge of were social selling, so knowing everything you possibly can about the person before you even call them or send them an email and figuring out every which way I can actually talk to this individual. Oh, we went to the same school, we're from the same home town? How creepy. I know your wife. Just like I know it sounds like really ... I've seen your Facebook, I looked at your twitter feed. I saw that the other day that you're really mad at so and so company. How can I help you?

Laura Schwartz: I love it, Kyle, one of the things [00:28:30] I talk about is the fact that there's a very fine line between networking and stalking.

Gail Davis: Yes.

Kyle Davis: Yes. So long as I'm not hanging outside your window I feel like I haven't crossed that line yet.

Laura Schwartz: Yeah, and that's good. I'm glad you haven't crossed that line yet. I really believe that ... You know, that's why networking isn't in the title of my book or in my signature keynote, 'Eat, Drink, and Succeed'. That's because sometimes networking can seem so manipulative or have a very negative connotation as if you're at a party and somebody's just [00:29:00] trying to get something from you. If they can't get that discount, or they can't get that in, they just move onto the next person. That's just not networking to me. I think of networking as what I can do for you, because it's when we help others we achieve ourselves and when we build a bridge for someone else to get to where they need to go, often times using the untapped power in our own social scenes that exist, we build a bridge for someone else ... Hey, you never know, six months later, six years later, you might have to walk across [00:29:30] that same bridge.

I really believe in what I speak about when it comes to the power of partnership and positive productive networking that really is about giving back.

Kyle Davis: Yeah, so to your point, not being a creepy [mccreeperson 00:29:49], but having a real understanding as to who the person is. One of the things I kind of like to do before we do this podcast is having, like, a cursory understanding of who you are as an individual, but not knowing the whole story, [00:30:00] because I would rather have you tell me the story versus me having to give you a leading question or something. I feel it's far more authentic that way.

Laura Schwartz: Kyle, I just started dating someone, and I never googled them. I thought, "Wouldn't this be refreshing just to find out about somebody over dinner instead of judging on Facebook and everything else?" Yeah, you know, again, I think social media is a wonderful way to stay in tune with everybody and do some research before professional [00:30:30] events. Find out some more information for your own self and learning, but at the same time, I believe in Gail, with your history in events, I believe the most effective way to communicate a message is face to face.

To have that interaction in a positive, powerful way, that's when we, at conference and meetings and events, are able to, as I like to [00:31:00] say, share our challenges, search for solutions, and celebrate success. We can do that face to face and with each other and become stronger and better together.

Kyle Davis: Very cool, so nowadays, you're on tv. You're doing a lot of stuff. I know you mentioned earlier that you're on NBC and CBS and fox news, but nowadays, you're doing a lot of stuff for the BBC and work with Larry King. Could you let the listeners know what you're [00:31:30] doing there as well?

Laura Schwartz: Oh, absolutely. When I was with CNN, when Larry had his show there, we got along famously. I enjoyed being a special correspondent and after he left CNN, he stared a new show called 'Politicking' with Larry King. What I really like about it, which is similar to me in really his old show, is it's not about taking sides, but it's asking questions and just finding out why people are saying what they're saying and letting the viewer decide based on their own [00:32:00] circumstances, "Huh, maybe it makes sense for me to learn something more about that," or, "Oh, that really turns me off."

I really like being the host in the fact that I can ask the questions that I believe viewers would want to know of all different backgrounds, so I fill in for Larry King on 'Politicking', the Emmy award winning series also on BBC four and Hulu and ora.tv. Then, I also serve as a contributor for the BBC where I talk about the American perspective on [00:32:30] pop culture and world events. Everything from the trials in the Congo to the new royal baby at hand in England. I enjoy that, and I think that the television aspect of what I do really is why I'm so comfortable and so enjoy Mcing events and interviewing CEOs or celebrities on stage whereas we wanted to know about them, but then we want to know how they relate to the audience at hand or [00:33:00] the product or the mission for the company, why they're there.

A lot of celebrities are there to give that audience a jolt, but it's through telling a story with them and asking questions. We can find how they connect. Same thing with the CEO, instead of only giving a state of the company keynote address from a podium, to sit down on a stage with two chairs and the audience where I ask questions so that yes, that CEO absolutely gets to answer them in a [00:33:30] way of which he's telling the story or she's telling the story of the last year, but it's more conversational. The team, whether it be 4000 in a room or 500, feels a part of that conversation. That's why I enjoy the MC and the interviewer role as well as moderator so much in professional speaking in addition to the keynotes.

Really reading the audience and spending time with the company so that you can give it high energy when it needs it [00:34:00] or great levity and importance when it calls for it.

Gail Davis: I think that's a great tip for event planners, because sometimes a simple shift like you said from changing it up so the CEO isn't just doing the state of union-

Laura Schwartz: Yeah.

Gail Davis: -to borrow a pun, that idea of having an interview, I think that's really great. That's a great takeaway for event planners. I can't help but ask a couple of questions for those event planners that are listening.

Laura Schwartz: [00:34:30] Absolutely.

Gail Davis: You mentioned a couple of different times about you paid attention to where people sit, or you made the reference to a rule that Jacqueline Kennedy made. It's the three Hollywood people didn't sit together. I find as an event planner the art of assigning seating assignments one of the most critical items. I just wondered if you had any thoughts to share on table seating assignments or any fun behind the scenes stories.

Laura Schwartz: Oh, [00:35:00] absolutely, Gail. It's so important. Jackie Kennedy had a rule as first lady is that for any social function at the white house, you're able to invite a guest, have cocktails with that guest, go through the receiving line and meet the heads of state with that guest, but once you cross the threshold to the state dining room wherever the dinner may be, you're sat at different tables. That was her way to entice conversation. Jackie Kennedy herself was a very shy individual, so [00:35:30] there were many people that you have your date, or your wing man, or your wing woman, and sometimes you feel like you're hanging on tight because maybe it's the atmosphere, just you're maybe a little nervous.

Sometimes, you're even more nervous when you break apart from each other, but that allows you to meet someone that you never otherwise would have met before, or sit next to somebody new. That's something that we can do both at events, and I got to tell you. I've got a cute little condo [00:36:00] here in Chicago, but I've got 10 people over for dinner, I seat them at the table and I mix them up, because I always love bringing different friends together. I think that we can do that, whether that be at conference table or educational session or a dinner. It's something I certainly impart to everyone so that even though conferences, because I grew up going to them, and I love them. That's where we learn everything about photography in my family.

It's really easy to sit next to the same person because you haven't seen them in a year, [00:36:30] or six months, but if you sit next to someone new, it's amazing how your network grows and you find other bridges for people. Jackie Kennedy did that for every event. I think it's really powerful. I also think for the person who's more shy or party of one, it sure is nice. I think it's a way that the host can be a powerful host, because you're not only making the evening enjoyable, because it looks great and the food's fantastic and the flow is terrific, [00:37:00] but productive as well, because you know who's on that guest list.

You know the individual guests. You can think, "Oh, so and so is trying to get this started. You know who's got an interest in that? It's this other person." That's how Hilary Clinton would seat dinners, how we sat dinners for state dinners. They knew all the guests, so they could say, "Oh, they've got to meet. They could connect on this or that." I think we can all do that in events and in our own lives.

Gail Davis: What's one of your favorite event war stories, this [00:37:30] big challenge that occurred and you saved the day at the end? Everybody has one, so is there one you can share?

Laura Schwartz: Oh my goodness. The problem with that, Gail, is I'm not drinking a martini. No, you really have so many. I think the best thing is no matter how crazy those events are, nobody knows it but you-

Gail Davis: Yeah, exactly.

Laura Schwartz: -of what's going on. I respect so many event professionals because the fires they put out behind [00:38:00] the scenes and they're able to keep them there, it's very impressive. That's why I love doing what I do, because I have that event blood running through me still. I would have to say there was a wonderful event we did in 2000. It was called the concert of the century for VH1. It was going to be live to tape as we produced it on the south lawn with about 1000 people and acts like John Cougar Mellencamp and Billy Joel. Let's see, I think Garth Brooks [00:38:30] and Gloria Stefan and just wonderful-

Gail Davis: Just a few. Yeah.

Laura Schwartz: Yeah, just incredible talent on that south lawn that night. During the rehearsal during the day, I always made sure that as the director of events, I wasn't just going to pop in for that night for the event. This is all my responsibility, [Carey 00:38:48], and no matter what falls apart, you have to answer to it. Of course, I was there for all the rehearsals during the day and greeting the talents and the crew and looking at the different angles they were going to be shooting for television. [00:39:00] When one performer, John Cougar Mellencamp went on stage for his rehearsal, he was using a guitar, and on the guitar had, in black sharpie, something I very much agreed with, but it was said in a very brash way.

Let's say it was anti-racism, but they did not use the word anti. This word, it would not be one that you could say on the radio or a show on television unless you were a cable channel. [00:39:30] I looked over at his manager, and I approached him. I said, "Listen, you know, I noticed that John's guitar says, and I can't have that in any tight shots. Though I agree with it completely, I can't have that on television certainly, and I can't have that in a cutaway shot with the Clintons."

He said, "Oh, that's just what he's going to use for rehearsal." While I think all of us in events know, nobody practices with a different guitar than they're going to use live [00:40:00] that night. I went back to the crew, and I said to the director, just stay wide when he comes on. No cutaways, no close ups until I come back and approve it. During John's set, I went back there, and I said, "Okay, stay wide, but go in and show me the close up. Now show me the cutaway. Okay, well we stay wide the whole time, and you avoid it." Things like that. As an event [00:40:30] manager, planner, director, professional, semi-professional, it doesn't matter. You're throwing a wedding for your sister or brother. You want to make sure at all times that nothing gets in the way of the message at hand.

That comes to true back too when you hire a speaker for your event. You want the speaker at your event to really deliver your message in a unique and different way, not go against it, not avoid it otherwise. Same thing at the white [00:41:00] house. I wanted to make sure that that brought the message together about arts and education, which is what it was happening for, and nothing got in the way. Otherwise, the next day, instead of arts and education and the money raised, they were going to be just showing a blurred out shot of John Cougar Mellencamp's guitar. I think that's something that we all have to take into account when hiring a speaker or having a celebrity on the south lawn.

Gail Davis: That's awesome.

Kyle Davis: Very fun. Just so that people, because we're going to wrap this up now, [00:41:30] the book again is titled what?

Laura Schwartz: 'Eat, Drink, and Succeed', whether you're glass is filled with wine, vodka, or water, you got to steak or stuffed olives or a power bar-

Kyle Davis: I can tell you my steak will not be cooked well done with the ketchup. It'll be ... Sorry, I'm a Texan. That's illegal here.

Laura Schwartz: I'm getting hungry.

Kyle Davis: Yes, well, I will have a medium rare steak, no sauce.

Laura Schwartz: I'm sure you always eat, drink, and succeed, [00:42:00] Kyle, no doubt.

Kyle Davis: No doubt. Okay, so 'Eat, Drink, and Secede." Succeed. Wow, that's when you leave the country. Succeed is when you go up, wow. Another Texas thing coming out. Okay, cool. Awesome. Hey, Laura, it was a real pleasure. If you guys are interested in having Laura come to speak for your event, moderate your event, or just show and grace your place with her awesomeness, you can do so by contacting GDA speakers at 214-420-1999 [00:42:30] or going to GDAspeakers.com. If you want to read today's transcripts, you can do so by going to gdapodcast.com. Other than that, thanks, Laura.

Gail Davis: Thank you, Laura. It was so fun. Enjoyed talking with you.

Laura Schwartz: Thank you both, Gail, Kyle, and the entire bureau. Love to speak with your clients in the future. Thank you so much. Have a great day.

Kyle Davis: Hey, you too. Bye.

Gail Davis: Thanks.

Creative Commons License
EP. 27 - LAURA SCHWARTZ: FORMER WHITE HOUSE DIRECTOR OF EVENTS AND AUTHOR OF "EAT, DRINK & SUCCEED" by GDA Podcast is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.