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Behind the Evolution of Brand Partnerships and Speaker Events with Group Y's Mark Sperling

by Clarisse Kennedy
on June 8, 2020

(12 minute read)


Events and storytelling go hand-in-hand. They bring like-minded people together for a shared experience. Audiences are ready to listen and participate in talks about topics that affect their everyday lives and our current society. And your events are likely the perfect medium.

That drove us to our next interview with Group Y's CEO and Founder, Mark Sperling. Mark has been at the forefront of the evolution of brand partnerships, youth culture, and speaker events for years. He's become an expert at executing partnerships, curating talks, and managing a wide range of talent and operations.

Mark was a part of the early days of the Vans Warped Tour and Lollapalooza Tour. And most recently, behind inspiring panels and talks at events like ComplexCon, Something in the Water and others. 

My hope is that this will inspire you to think a bit deeper about your events as well. 

He shared his insights on....


Mark - Authenticity

I really appreciate you doing this Mark.
Of course. Our industry needs more of this. I am happy to share.

Let's dive into your background. Where did you grow up?
I’m originally from Hawaii, and then our family moved to San Diego when I was still an infant.  I spent my time enjoying the beach and active lifestyle. And then, from there, I attended college at UC Irvine in Orange County. I’ve lived in Southern California for the majority of my life.

Sounds like you can't not live by water?
Exactly, I have to be within a mile or two of water. It's good for the soul. 

How did you get started working in events?
I come from a family of organizers. My parents were always volunteering for different projects and events throughout the community. I inherited the trait, and in high school, I created my first event that involved my fellow students. I was always fascinated by music festivals I saw on TV such as Live Aid & US Festival. (My first concert was a 55,000 person festival in San Diego called KGB Skyshow.)  I knew I wanted to move into that realm to become the next “Bill Graham.” Once I got to college, I started producing events, parties, concerts, and festivals for the student body. At that time, we were fortunate to work with local artists in their infancy like No Doubt, Stone Temple Pilots, Sublime, and Social Distortion. We also worked with Goldenvoice to produce concerts at the school.

What is your current role now and what type of events do you work on?
I am the co-founder and CEO of Group Y. We started in 2006 as an industry organization for those who work within youth marketing and culture space. We started producing networking events for our members to talk about topics related to our industry. After creating a number of monthly events and online content, we decided to focus on producing and developing larger-scale conferences for B2B and B2C. Over the past few years, we have produced talks for festivals like ComplexCon, Something in the Water, Agenda Show, Agenda Festival, Hall of Flowers, and brands like Red Bull, Adidas, and K-Swiss. 

The concept of talks and panels at events has been around for years, but you figured out a way to bring a fresh perspective and structure to live events that traditionally didn’t incorporate this into their programming. How did this all come about, how did it evolve and where do you think this type of thing goes from here?
It comes from our innate need to learn, share, and connect.  Over generations, storytelling has been part of our everyday lives, woven into almost every aspect of society. It’s taking that simple concept and tapping into what people are yearning. Maybe it’s learning a new skill, making a new connection, or wanting to grow as a person. Everyone has a story to share. 

The idea came from this: Bring like-minded people together, create a friendly, intimate environment, and have speakers share their experiences, perspectives and insights.

Killer Mike 2
Killer Mike, David Banner and T.I. at ComplexCon Chicago

It started with smaller gatherings. Then, over time, we transformed into developing more prominent platforms to share with larger audiences.  It was scary at first because we were going head to head with other traditional festival/trade show programming like music performances and selling wares, activations and food.  We discovered that we should incorporate these offerings into the content of the talks mixed with other relevant topics that our audience was addressing in their daily dialogue. We developed a unique blend of panels and personalities talking about entrepreneurship, fashion, cannabis, food, education reform, racial equality, gender rights, religion, politics, prison reform, crypto-currency, music creation, technology and more. We were surprised how instantly they became a success as we saw packed audiences listening and participating.

Now we are seeing this type of programming occurring more with live and virtual events. I don’t think this will ever get old, as there is an endless amount of stories, insights, and perspectives waiting to be shared. I would like to see other festivals find ways to incorporate this into their programming and push the boundaries on topics and engagement with their audiences. Especially now more than ever with what’s happening in our society. 

Yara Shahidi on the "Growth Out of Chaos" panel at ComplexCon. Photo Courtesy of Group Y

What type of engagement and participation are you seeing?
We’ve seen great success and attendance at a number of the larger festivals/shows. It was a surprise the first few times to witness over 800+ attendees fill the main ballroom to hear a panel, while other speaking stages in smaller rooms were at standing capacity. That’s a testament to the need for this type of programming and real dialogue. I will say it has been a trial & error process, as some panels due to either the topic or timing did have challenges to fill the room. The overall feedback from attendees rated the speaking portion within the top three favorite aspects of the festivals.

Are events leveraging speakers in any other way while they are there?
Yes, several events and festivals ask the talent to participate further with the overall experience and activities. They will make appearances at sponsored activations. We’ve incorporated them into community education and give-back initiatives the week leading up to the event, which ComplexCon (in Long Beach CA and Chicago) and Something In the Water (Virginia Beach) did a fantastic job with. One of my favorites was having them become judges for young entrepreneurs “shark-tank” competition to help local youth develop their dreams. The best thing is to ask the talent & their management what else they would like to do to be involved.

Do you have any suggestions on how these panels and speaker series get truly integrated into the event versus some side show experience?
You need to view the speakers/panels as part of the main offerings of your event. Have talks throughout the day, in between music sets, but never going against the main headliners. Create a separate stage (i.e., dedicated tent, rooms), but within close walking distance of the other event components. Feature your speaking talent alongside your music lineup within all announcements and media. Tease the topics & speakers before the event via social & emails to engage the audience. Push notifications through mobile when talks are about to start. Integrate the conversations into your live webcast programming and post-event content.

How did you get involved with the partnerships of artists, athletes, celebrities, and brands? How have these partnerships evolved?
It stems back to my earlier years working on marketing and events in the action sports and music space. After college, I worked for Transworld Media, which was the largest print/online media publisher in skateboarding, surfing, and snowboarding. We developed partnerships with several endemic and non-endemic brands to produce events and marketing initiatives together. Brands like Hard Rock Cafe, Vans, Interscope Records, & Playstation created unique experiences for a younger engaged audience. We were producing iconic events like Board AID (Music/Snow/Skate festival benefiting LIFEbeat & AIDS education programs) and the Triple Crown of Skateboarding series. We also worked closely with Kevin Lyman and his team to launch the Vans Warped Tour in its first year (which was named after our publication WARP magazine).  From there, I went on to work for the Lollapalooza tour. That led to future roles managing partnerships for several brands, including Red Bull and Live Nation.

A true partnership is not about slapping a logo everywhere. When developing a partnership, one must look at how this will benefit both sides and improve on your current situation.  It's also about thinking outside the box, creating a conversation, and a lasting experience that people would remember for years to come. 

Something in the Water FestivalOTHERtone with Chad Hugo, Teddy Riley, Pharrell, Scott Vener, Timbaland and Pusha T at the Something in the Water Festival

What brands do you think get it right?
I would say Vans. They’ve always stayed true to who they are since day one and never deviated from it. They’re focused on the culture and the lifestyle. They use collaborations, activations, athletes, personalities, music, art, and sports to translate their brand. In turn, their brand is recognized throughout the world.

My former employer, Red Bull, has also done a fantastic job. Like Vans, they have deeply entrenched themselves into the lifestyle and subcultures. In addition to putting on their events and activations, they align themselves with festivals by featuring up and coming artists on co-branded stages and live streams. They also work with colleges, universities, and local organizations to provide tools to help people become community leaders. They’re always trying to figure out ways to bring out the best in people - both physically and mentally. Plus, Red Bull develops inspiring & eye-catching content around everything that they do.   

What can event marketers learn from brands like Vans and Red Bull?
Authenticity. This is much more than a buzzword, but an idea and belief. It's part of a brand's DNA. Too often, I see companies spending millions buying their way into a particular sector of consumers thinking it will instantly make them "cool" and translate to sales. In most cases, they fail.

Adidas Event
Adidas 747 event with Pharrell, Karlie Kloss, Alexander Wang, Damian Lillard and Cori Champion. Photo Credit: Getty Images

If you were building an event brand, what are some of the tactics you would incorporate to build your brand for the long-term (especially to end up thriving through all of this)?
Understand the niche you are focusing on. Don't create an event that encapsulates everything & everyone. Truly focus on what makes your event unique compared to the thousand other offerings that are out there. What are the specific music genres, fashion, personalities, products, topics that will be addressed?

Become an observer within that niche (not an expert, there are too many who claim to be "an expert). Dive in, embrace, and absorb knowledge. Feature those who are up and coming and the pioneers who helped pave the way for this culture to grow. Put yourself in the attendees' shoes and create an experience that you would be in awe of. 

Let’s talk about your planning process. When do you start working on an event?
It varies on the size and the scope of the event. If it's a smaller-scale event, we usually start maybe a couple of months in advance. For the larger festivals, we will begin almost a year prior with the initial planning & ideation. In some cases, it is the day after we just finished up the prior year's event.

Are you a part of the booking process or is a booker handing off the speakers to you?
It varies and depends on the event.  Either I curate the speakers and book the talent, or I work with an existing team of editorial directors & talent bookers. We work closely together on a targeted hit list of who we would like, and then we divvy it up and go after them.

How do you determine your hit list & what are you looking for in speakers?
First and foremost, we try to figure out what the theme is going to be or what topics we want to address. Once this is complete, we determine the format. It could be multiple speakers, a panel, or one-on-one. We usually have a list of our ideal talent and moderators and what we’re hoping to achieve from the talk. We’re always looking for those “aha” moments that delight and surprise the audience. We’ll divvy up our wish list into A, B, and C categories and start reaching out to the talent and their management. The panels and topics will change once we begin confirming availability with the talent. 

Once the talent has agreed to participate, what type of information are you collecting from them prior to the show?
It’s pretty extensive. I start by requesting their headshots, bios, and primary contacts in their camp. I need to identify their manager, agent, day-to-day person, publicist, legal team, and accountant. If we are paying them, I need to collect invoices, their W9, and their ACH to wire the payment. Sometimes we also book travel for talent and we have to work with them to get this secured. There’s also a lot of back and forth with their legal team on revisions, approvals, and signatures with contracts and agreements.

Given that you are booking talent that aren’t professional speakers, how are you preparing them for the talk? Or are you just letting people freestyle?
It varies.  I try to spend some time before the event with the talent to go over expectations about topics and questions.  We will discuss the flow and comfort level for them to speak. If they feel like they need assistance either with a moderator or changing the format, we will work with them on this. In all cases, I want them to be themselves and avoid canned answers and speak off the cuff and openly.


Photo courtesy of Group Y

What technology do you use to collect and keep track of all this information?
Before Lennd, it was all emails and Google Docs. I would have an extensive amount of tabs of multiple Google Docs open. Each talent had its separate folder in Google or Dropbox. I moved over to Lennd, and it’s alleviated 99% of that. It has helped me so much with asset/document management. It’s cut down on the hours of back and forth, trying to find the right information, and keeping everything organized. It’s also cut down on the duplication. We work with many different teams who are only privy to certain information. Lennd allows us to set up permissions and decide who can see what.

Screen Shot 2020-06-03 at 3.08.11 PM 

Are there any manual processes that you would like to see replaced or automated?
I want a better way to communicate with different people in real-time. When I’m on-site, I have the talent and contacts calling, texting, or emailing me, while I’m trying to make sure the show is running on schedule and on time. I’m usually on my phone and talking on two-way radios at the same time. It would be great if there were a way to communicate with talent, my staff, producers, and stage managers in real-time without going crazy or hearing voices in my head while I’m typing and talking at the same time.  

What type of roadblocks do you encounter in the on-boarding process and how do you address them?
There are a lot of moving parts and back and forth communication with the talent, the production team, social, PR, and the editorial team. I have to make sure everybody has the most up-to-date information in real-time. You also need to manage the unexpected situations when someone has to cancel, a schedule needs to be changed, or someone doesn’t like a social media asset. You have to be nimble and work in real-time to make sure everything is fixed, and everybody is aware of it.

Pharrel Panel
DeRay Mckesson, Scott Vener, Pharrell and Vince Staples at ComplexCon

Do you see the same challenges from event to event or does each event have its own unique challenges?
Whether it's a small or large scale, they all have similar types of challenges and problems. The unexpected always happens, as I mentioned before. It usually starts to occur within 48 hours before the event. It could be weather-related, maybe something happened personally with the talent and they can't attend, or maybe they want more people to attend from their entourage. It's always something – all the months of planning before instantly changing. You always have to expect the unexpected – don't get frustrated, be calm, and level head, and you will get through everything.

How do you make sure the talent is having a good experience at your events?
I try to treat everyone the same and fairly. We've had a few in the past that were a bit demanding and maybe a bit diva-ish. I will say, "Hey, everybody's the same regardless of who you are, whether you're a platinum-selling artist, world-renown designer, or you're a community leader." I try to treat them all the same.

I also like to have a communal green room. We try to avoid dedicated green rooms for each talent, and it's worked out great. They get to interact with others, which sometimes is rare in this business. It could be someone they haven't seen in a while or someone they're meeting for the first time.

It sounds like the communal green room is the icebreaker before the event.
That’s precisely correct. Sometimes people walk through the door with egos, and the egos drop when they see people they admire or are meeting for the first time. Everybody is a person, and everyone likes to get treated the same. It’s fun to see the admiration between people and the pairings you would never expect. Those unique pairings are some of my favorite parts of events. 

When you are doing more virtual panels, are there any tips you're incorporating that have the same impact as the green room?
I try to have a preliminary call with all the speakers/talent before the event so they can make intros and discuss among themselves. However, I haven’t been able to find the right way to replicate that face to face interaction. Zoom and Facetime are ok, but it's still not the same. They seem to be more reserved virtually than in person. I am open to any suggestions from your readers.

Yara Shahidi and Noor Tagouri at ComplexCon. Photo Courtesy of Group Y

Let’s move on to show days. What are your top priorities once you get on site?
The first thing I do in the morning is have a meeting with my team. We talk about what the day is going to look like and how the flow will work. Everyone needs to know their responsibilities and contingency plans. We go over the list of talent, who will be easier to work with, and who may have some challenges. We also discuss unexpected issues such as talent arriving late and how to manage it. After the meeting, we walk through the route of artist drop off, to check-in, to the green room, and the paths to the different stages. 

In addition to discussing talent, we also discuss the show itself and audience management. The stage managers and producers of each stage are a part of these conversations. We work together to come up with a plan to handle the unexpected. Once we have made sure the green room is looking great, check-in is ready, security is in place, and everyone is at their assigned area, we open the doors, and the craziness starts. 

How does your team keep track of all that information? Are you providing them a binder or a packet?
Yes, that’s evolved over the years. We have 2-3 binders on-site that have all the information. My second in command or assistant has a command post in the green room and has one binder. Another person in the talent department has a binder, and I keep one. 

I like to hand out face sheets to the staff and security. These include talent headshots, what times they are going to arrive, what panels or talks they are participating in, and what stage they appear on. It helps the team know who’s in the green room, manage any pre-talk needs like hair & makeup for talent, and have our staff ready to go to escort them to the stages. I try to keep the face sheets as simple as possible. We wanted to make them digital and be on people’s cell phones, but we found they worked better when printed. Plus, all of the stage production teams - producers, stage managers, camera and sound use them.

Jayden Smith
Jaden Smith at the "Growth Out Of Chaos" panel at ComplexCon. Photo Courtesy of Group Y

Once the show starts, how does your job change?
I’m managing multiple facets of it. The main priority is to make sure the talent arrives. I am their point of contact throughout the day. I get calls from their managers or day of contact, letting me know they are en-route, they need additional passes put aside, or they are running late. I then communicate this information with the talent relations team and security in real-time. I verify there’s enough security for big-name talent, check-in is ready with their credentials, and the green room has what they need, and an assigned talent wrangler (escort) is available. 

Once the talent has arrived, I’m communicating with the stage managers to let them know the talent is en route to the stages and are getting mic’d up. I’m also handling issues like someone getting dropped off at the wrong place, a prominent personality decided to come at the last minute, or someone needs a pass for their relatives. I probably walk about 14-17 miles per event, so comfy shoes are necessary. 

Tinker Hatfield
Nike's Tinker Hatfield. Photo credit: Jerry Kasai

You mentioned the talent team and security, are there any other departments you’re collaborating with?
I collaborate with the PR and social media teams to make sure we’re capturing content. We set up a photo studio in the green room and to make sure our photographer is getting portraits of the talent. We’re also conducting interviews about the event to capture B-roll content.

If I’m working at a music festival, I work with the production and artist relations team. We might be sharing an artist. An artist that’s performing on stage might also be speaking on our stage. I have to coordinate with them to transport the talent to different stages and locations and make sure they have everything they need, such as proper credentials. 

I also work with the head of security and the police department to figure out a security plan. A couple of months before the event, we figure out how we’re going to move the talent and who may need additional security. It can get a little chaotic, and we have to make sure we keep them safe. 

That’s a lot of people. Sounds like you’re a master communicator. Do you have any tips for communicating with different teams and different types of people?
Every event I go into, I always learn something completely new. I try to understand everybody’s role and responsibilities. I also try to understand their personality and how they like to do things. Many of these people have been working on events for years and have a very particular way of doing things. I recommend going in there with an open mind and expecting to learn something new and different. 

I think it’s also essential to be transparent. I make sure with every event, each team knows what I’m working on, what I’m overseeing, and what teams I’ll be working with. I let everyone know what challenges I expect or have seen in the past and how we can fix them.

At the end of an event or festival, I like to do a recap report. I sit down with all the teams and ask them what my team and I can improve on. I send the report to the executive team and say, “Hey, let’s try to figure out how to fix this next year.” 

What are you looking for when you're hiring people for your team and people that work directly for you?
I look for people that are detail-oriented, efficient, and have a great personality. They also can’t get starstruck. We work with many high profile people, and I can’t have someone that’s a groupie. I need people that can stay on point and represent the event. You’re part of our team, and I can’t have behavior that will create an uncomfortable situation. I won’t allow it. 

I also need people that are excellent communicators and enjoy themselves. I try to figure out ways to make them feel part of the event. I will give my staff perks like event merchandise, or show them around the event before it starts, so they know what it feels like to be a part of it. 

CNN Redemption Project
CNN's "Redemption Project" with Van Jones, Deepak Chopra, and Geoffrey Canada at the Something in the Water Festival

I’d like to discuss the future of events. What do you think brand activation and engagement is going to look after COVID-19?
I was recently asked by the founder of Warped Tour, Kevin Lyman, who is now a professor at USC, to speak in front of his students back in mid-February. While I was talking to these kids, one of them asked me, "Where do you see people gravitating towards?" I told them that I would love to see things go back to times where people talk face to face, put down their phones, and have a real conversation about life and the things happening around them. I would also like to see people go back to libraries, read and educate themselves, learn new skills, or pick up a new hobby. I want us to move away from consuming so much on their screens (which I am guilty of). I remember seeing all the kids looking at me going, "Okay, Boomer, whatever you say here, go back to the simple days, get away from social media & texting, yeah, whatever".

Then somebody asked me, "How do you expect that to happen? What do you think would have to occur that would change all that?" And I said, "It would have to be a huge upheaval. It would have to be something where everything got completely shut down. Maybe something happens to all the smartphones in the world. Maybe it has to be something that is a society-wide major upheaval". And then two weeks later, this all happened. I don't know if I had a Nostradamus moment or I just saw it all coming. I had no idea.

Some people will either think you’re a psychic or you’re in on it.
Right now, we are reverting to a simpler time with everyday aspects of life. Ultimately, everybody wants an in-person experience, regardless if it's music, dining, or a gathering. Everyone wants face-to-face interaction. It's been interesting to see the plethora of live streams, webinars, and online concerts coming from this. I think people are getting a little fatigued because they look at their screens so much during the day and then at night streaming their favorite movies or shows. It's almost a little too much.

The one thing I do like about these virtual events is you're able to reach a global audience involved as opposed to events being regional or a small venue. The global audience can interact with and share the experience. We're also seeing and hearing stories of individuals who are generally behind the scenes being shared more than ever. It's been great to see these individuals' stories shine through and get their spotlight.

Alencia Johnson
Alencia Johnson on the "Growth out of Chaos" panel at Complex Con. Photo Courtesy of Group Y

How do you think artists, athletes and celebrities can help support events when it's time for events to come back and it's safe for us to gather again?
They're more open to it now than ever before. We're seeing a lot of them come out more publicly and show us their day-to-day lives, whether on Instagram, TikTok, YoutTube, etc. A lot of personalities have humanized their "brand."  They're more vulnerable, but they are also more themselves. I think they are going to want to do it more and show their kinder side. A lot of them are trying to figure out how to connect with their fans and consumers.

I think we'll see a lot of overproduced events strip back and become more intimate. We might see a lot of concerts drop back to the minimum. Tours will be like the good old days of the artist, a few roadies, the tour manager, and the lighting / sound person. That's all they need. It's also possible we'll see some consolidation. Instead of artists touring individually, they'll perform with multiple artists together.

We'll also see creativity skyrocket. Whenever society goes through these adverse times, amazing things come out of it. Everyone always points out that some of the biggest companies that exist today came out of the last recession, and I think the same thing will happen with this. A whole new generation of creators and will use the tools and technology to create new things. 

Given everything we’re going through, where do you think community and year around engagement gets incorporated into the event world? (You’re kind of doing this with Group Y, but what can the event world learn from that?)
I feel the community is more important now than ever. We are seeing a lot of division among us, whether it's politics, beliefs, or race. Some are feeling unsure of how to feel or think. Having a strong community that people can relate to allows them the support they need to maneuver during these situations. It will enable us all to talk openly, have real discussions, and hopefully find solutions. It brings together those who might oppose some ideals but find commonality on the greater good. Those among us within the event world can bring communities and discussions together can create real change for the future.

Noor Tagouri
Noor Tagouri at the "Growth out of Chaos" panel at ComplexCon. Photo courtesy of Group Y

What events and/or concepts are you most excited about and why?
We were working on bringing our talks format to a global platform before the pandemic hit. We partnered with the producers of the biggest festivals to tie in their performers with world leaders & personalities to openly discuss social and environmental issues while exploring ways to bring festival attendees and their worldwide audience of viewers into the discussion. We would provide tools to those viewers and attendees to go back into their local communities and empower them to create change. I don’t want this concept to be just exclusive to one festival, but open to all. 

Last set of questions. What’s the craziest experience you’ve had at an event?
One of the craziest moments happened a couple of years ago at ComplexCon. It’s the middle of the day and we had several marquee panels happening at the same time. We were trying to move talent from stages and the green room. My estimate was about 100+ people, which included all the talent and their entourages. Big-name celebrities like Rick Ross, Chelsea Handler, Lena Waithe in addition to top musicians, actors & sports figures. While we’re doing this, the main elevator and access point got shut down by the building operators. Internally, we found out that Nike was bringing two larger than life personalities into the building, and they had suspended all of our jurisdiction to do it. All of these people we were trying to move were in the back corridors of a convention center, not knowing what was happening. People were a little frustrated, but it turned into a mini house party atmosphere. All of a sudden, the elevator doors opened, and Kobe Bryant and Kendrick Lamar walked out. Everyone parted like the Red Sea to allow them through. You saw the crowd’s faces go from frustration to alleviation, and then awe. It was a crazy 30-40 minutes of pandemonium trying to manage it.

83335175_3119227631551261_8438869502267690271_n(1)Kobe Bryant and Kendrick Lamar at ComplexCon. 

That’s a great story. Who are your favorite speakers and moderators and why?
There have been so many incredible speakers, over 700 to date. It's challenging to pick the best ones because each of them brings a different perspective and uniqueness to the conversation, but there are definitely ones that stick out more so than others. 

On the speaker side, actress Yara Shahidi is one of my favorites because of her youthfulness, brilliance, and intellect. She's so nice and outgoing. Any time I've asked her to be involved, she says yes and comes back with topic ideas. Actress, Writer & Producer Lena Waithe is another one. She's passionate about race equality, gender equality, and building a community. She's a great talent on so many levels. Van Jones has a great intellect and voice. 

Another favorite of mine is Tinker Hatfield. He's the iconic shoe designer for Nike. He has designed some of the most well-known Air Jordans, the Air Max, and the Air Mag shoe from the Back to the Future movie. He's got a great demeanor and outgoing personality. His style and viewpoints on design and life are incredible. 

My go-to speaker is Bobby Hundreds, who owns a streetwear brand called The Hundreds. He's a very diverse and well-informed person who discusses his experiences and insights about streetwear, cultural indifferences, or entrepreneurship. 

Gary Vaynerchuk, who has spoken at 4 of our events, can talk about any topic under the sun. His dynamic "in your face" personality gets everyone fired up.

One who I enjoy working with is DeRay Mckesson. He's an activist on political and racial issues. He was part of the original Black Lives Matter and involved with the protests in Ferguson, Missouri. 

Pharell is another speaker who helps guide the conversation on a panel. His intellect and view on the world and humanity are on another greater level. 

I always try to find people who haven't necessarily shared their stories. It could be a brand founder, creator, musician, or artist. Sharing their story for the first time resonates with them and helps build the confidence to share their story more and more. 

Moderators are a little more challenging. You're always trying to find the right person to moderate a talk and bring out the best with so many different personalities. We work with a number of media and cultural-related personalities who can provide additional viewpoints on the topic.    

Last question, if you could put anyone on a panel, who would it be?
I would love to have either Barack or Michelle Obama just because of who they are, their outlook, and they are incredible speakers on all levels. I would add Ruth Bader Ginsburg and talk about different social issues that she normally doesn’t get to talk openly about. She would be able to bring a new perspective. Elon Musk would be another interesting one. I know he’s a bit controversial, but again I would want to talk about topics he doesn’t normally discuss. And of course, Yara Shadidi. She can speak with anyone and brings such a fresh, youthful perspective to every conversation. I would put her on every panel if I could.    

Lennd is a next generation event management platform that simplifies operations and logistics so event teams can work smarter, move faster, and improve their ROI. 

To learn why some of the most respected event teams trust Lennd to power their operations or sign up for a demo:

Group Y, is the original and leading collective of professionals focused on Youth Marketing, Lifestyle, and other progressive and expressive cultures. Our mission is to intersect influencers across industries and ignite ideas that inspire the current and next-generation leaders and decision-makers. Leveraging events, outreach, content, and consultation, Group Y takes the work out of networking and strengthens the areas where industries overlap.

Group Y has organized over 225 nationwide events, building a highly engaged online and live event community, and curating over 700 guest speakers from the world of business, fashion, music, entertainment, media, tech, finance, politics and more, whom all share a common talent: authentically engaging with youth culture.

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