All photography by Betsi Ewing Studio unless otherwise noted.
In October, I headed across the Atlantic for an event I’d been looking forward to for months: The Engage!16 Europe summit in Puglia, Italy. Getting to network, unwind, and party with 250 event professionals from 34 countries reminded how inspiring exploring new places and meeting new people can be. I boarded the plane with the goal of seeing how the rest of the world was thinking about event production, and wow, did I see the light.
Let’s start with the host venue. Borgo Egnazia is a spectacular five-star resort overlooking the Adriatic Sea, a gorgeous property with an organic, natural, and relaxed aesthetic that vibes with my personal style. It is situated amongst groves of olive trees with numerous trails for wandering and getting lost, which I happily did.
I loved the smaller scale of the event: Fewer attendees meant making more connections and creating memories (and new projects!) with both old friends and new. Every person I met was excited and eager to learn and collaborate. It felt like we were at an international sleep-away camp instead of a business summit! I was so impressed by all of the people I met, as well as the honest, intentional, and seamless details that made every moment even more immersive. Thank you to Vanessa, owner of Two Paper Dolls, whose stationery continues to rock my paper dreams and to Gifts for the Good Life for the on-point gifting.
The many activities – such as olive tasting, cooking classes, biking through ancient olive groves, wine tasting, and picnic’ing – gave us not only education but an opportunity to play and have some laughs. Is there a better way to learn?
The speakers were wonderful as always. Some of my favorite messages were from David Beahm, who reminded us that how we take care of ourselves communicates a lot before we even speak; Sarah Haywood, who kept it real by highlighting that if you stand still, you will get run over; and Cindy Novotny, who reinforced that your brand should tell your story. My good friend, Marcy Blum, minced no words with her comical tales of event planning, while Simon T. Bailey inspired me with “What you are ready for is ready for you.” I sought out new information and had an intimate session with Robert Fairer, a premier Vogue photographer who shared his new Alexander McQueen art book with us (I almost fainted!). While I didn’t get to hear Ed Libby speak, I treasured my dinner with him before Engage! started and wanted to share how lovely of man he is. Finally, I enjoyed being a part of the welcome panel, presenting to and welcoming first-time Engagees. I couldn’t imagine meeting a more vivacious and kind group of talented people!
I’ve always believed in the power of performance, and Josh Friedman, founder of Élan Artists, inspired me with his creativity. He provided 110 performers (with 35 costume changes!) over the course of four days, from black swan ballet dancers and synchronized swimmers to French Riviera models, a 30-piece orchestra, Italian lounge music, and even a three tenors performance! The complex layers of entertainment, with performers also serving as hosts, hostesses and servers before breaking out in dance, was delightful. And the late-night silent disco, with color-coded headphones broadcasting three different music channels for a variety of dance parties, was a total crowd-pleaser that we’ll definitely be bringing with us to the mountains. The way Élan Artists used music and performance was so exciting and helped set the scene, like the parade of trombone players who serenaded us during a conference break. Shots of espresso and a horn section certainly wake up the meeting break! Whether it’s music, dancing, hosting, or interactive art, entertainment is crucial to an event experience, and I’m so grateful to Josh for reminding me of that.
And you can’t talk about Italy without talking about the food! The slow food movement was in full effect, as Borgo Egnazia is devoted to protecting old agricultural methods and preserving time-honored techniques. Every single bite tasted amazing, from mozzarella made in front of your eyes to the freshest and most flavorful olive oil. It was a treasure to be a part of – and to indulge in! The food stations during the welcome party were a highlight. The displays were simple, with beautifully cut food presented on wood slabs and in bowls and pottery that were specifically chosen for each dish. While we focus so much on timely service and avoiding a wait, it reminded me to slow down a bit when extraordinary food is being presented. Italy, you continue to set the bar for the ultimate culinary experience.
The final night gala photos say it all. . . breathtaking and oh so fun!
The Engage!16 Europe summit was an affirmation of a feeling I strive to ingrain in every one of my events: A feeling of effortless elegance that is gorgeous, welcoming, and the perfect backdrop for a celebration. Thank you so much to Rebecca and Kathy, the founders of Engage Summits, for continuing to bring together event professionals in such an inspirational way. Some of the best friends I have made in life have come from Engage, and I couldn’t be more grateful. I can’t wait to join you and all of my Engage friends in Sea Island in December!