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Keith Willard of the National Association of Catering & Events: “Dress for the part”

Dress for the part. When I first started the show, I was super comfortable in a regular short sleeved button up shirt. Is this how I would dress for meeting a client for the first time? Absolutely not! I realized that every single time we do a show, I am probably meeting a prospective new […]

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Dress for the part. When I first started the show, I was super comfortable in a regular short sleeved button up shirt. Is this how I would dress for meeting a client for the first time? Absolutely not! I realized that every single time we do a show, I am probably meeting a prospective new client for the first time. Take the time to put on a jacket but I can still wear shorts!


The COVID19 pandemic has disrupted all of our lives. But sometimes disruptions can be times of opportunity. Many people’s livelihoods have been hurt by the pandemic. But some saw this as an opportune time to take their lives in a new direction.

As a part of this series called “How I Was Able To Pivot To A New Exciting Opportunity Because Of The Pandemic”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Keith Willard.

Keith Willard is an event planner based in South Florida and the President of the Greater Broward & Palm Beach Chapter of the National Association of Catering & Events. He has been on the front lines of the hospitality crises, finding ways to help people and businesses while also trying to keep his own business afloat. Reacting to everything that he has witness, Keith created a weekly podcast called Behind The Veil, to provide answers and hope to couples and the vendors that serve them.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we start, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?

I am only child that was raised originally in South Texas. When I say South, I mean South — all the way down at the very south tip of Texas. My dad met my mom in high school when he drove the school bus for extra money. My mother had just moved from immigrated from Germany, learning the language from relatives and TV. Both worked multiple jobs to make ends meet. My dad started an export company where he started with one plane and quickly increased it to a fleet of six when he unfortunately died in a plane crash. My mom took over the business and was able to get one of the only privately owned businesses that was located directly on an international airport tarmac. Incredible for someone that had not even graduated from college. She eventually did graduate by taking night and weekend classes earning a computer software engineering degree. Once she graduated, we relocated to Plano Texas which is just outside of Dallas. After working for Texas Instruments for several years, she decided to go back to college and get her law degree. Just recently she finally retired from career spanning from a first-year lawyer to general counsel for Great American Insurance. The reason I even bring this up is that I am from a family of self-starters. Whatever the obstacles and challenges, they can be overcome. I learned along the way that success is not about rising quickly, it is about longevity. People may come and go, but those that remain and hold strong to their vision will see their hard work pay off…in the long run.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world, Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has — Margaret Mead. I first heard this quote from Glen Weinzimmer, the founder of the SMART ride, which is now the second largest HIV/AIDS bike ride in the country. It is also the only bike ride that donates 100% of monies raised by participants to HIV agencies.

The idea of that every major movement that has ever happened in the world started as an idea with a single individual is awe inspiring. Change was never due to a large of group of people that happened to have the same idea at the same time. It was a single person that woke up and said things should and can be different. There is power in belief. Belief in a cause, belief in a faith, or belief in one’s self.

I also really love this quote — Do not let someone dim your light, simply because it is shining in their eyes — Jessica Ainscough. People react in a multitude of ways to bright light. Some shield their eyes, other look away, while some are drawn to it. I just want to shine brightly enough to light my own path and hopefully help someone else find theirs.

Is there a particular book, podcast, or film that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

This is going to sound crazy but the movie Out of Africa is a stand out for me. The idea that sound and scenery could express something that words could not was a major motivator in getting into the world of events.

Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion. Can you tell our readers about your career experience before the Pandemic began?

I started my company four years ago after working my way up through the hotel industry, from entry level catering sales at Hyatt Regency to Director of Catering for Ritz-Carlton. I had built a reputation with clients and vendors as an easy person to work with that could figure out a solution for any issue. The same clients and vendors supported me that first year by both hiring me and recommending for events. Those events started happening annually while I continued to bring on new clients in large part to referrals. This meant that I did not have to pour a lot of money into advertising since the business was growing organically.

November of 2019, I was going into my fourth year with more events on the books than all my previous three years combined. It literally was going to be the year that solidified the company for real growth, allowing me to bring on permanent staff and build out a true office space that could was indicative of the work I was producing. January and February were so busy that there were moments where I wondered if I could keep up the pace.

Then the pandemic hit. It was not slow and methodical. It was instantaneous. March 13th was date of my last event. That night, all events where shut down. Everyone was ordered to stay home and any event that was previously booked either had to be moved or canceled. In the beginning I did not really appreciate the true change of life as we would come to know it. Even though the hospitality industry came to a standstill, I was still busy. All those events needed to be canceled or move. I was also in survival mode because I knew that for my business to survive the next couple of months, I needed to cut expenses quickly. Luckily, I was already moving in that direction because the summer months are slow. Unluckily, the monies that I earned for events in March and April would help sustain the business through the summer months, and now it was all gone.

But my story is not new or unique. As President of the National Association of Catering & Events for my area, I had a front row seat to the shear destruction of the virus not only physically but financially on the hospitality world. Every day I would console and counsel a different event specific business or wedding client about the loss of their event.

What did you do to pivot as a result of the Pandemic?

As a front row viewer of the destruction of the event industry, I started seeing more and more people desperate for answers. There were brides that had been working on their own wedding that were suddenly being swallowed up by sheer notion of what to do next. The same could be said for the owners of event companies. How do they deal with a tidal wave of cancelations and change of dates? I knew something had to be done, and there had to be a way to help both vendors and clients find answers to a multitude of questions. That’s when Behind the Veil was born.

It started as a zoom call. I invited a friend that owned an invitation company, an event planner, a florist, and a DJ to the first call that I pushed out to Facebook Live. A few weeks before, I created a post asking for questions specifically geared towards wedding and events. The response was instant. Most of them were easy for us to answer because we are in the business. The questions ranged from what an Act of God is to how I let my guests know about the change of date. Again, all easy questions for anyone that has been in the event industry for any period. I had the advantage of having experience from the hotel side and the vendor side which allowed me to navigate some of the trickier points.

The show had such a response that I decided to do it again the following week. Tuesdays at Two. This time I was going to take questions ahead of the show and live. This time the questions got more diverse. From business owners, questions about how to market with no money, what to include in new contracts to cover issues like Covid, and what are the current government restrictions started to immerge.

I knew that my little group of event professionals was not going to be enough so I started inviting professionals that might not typically be associated with creating a party. I had psychologist on to talk about Mental Health and Wellbeing while planning an event during Covid. Lawyers to go over contract verbiage both from the standpoint of a client and from the standpoint of the vendor. Estate planners about how to protect a couple in case one of them got sick since many of the protections that would have enjoyed being legally married no longer applied since the wedding had been delayed. And so on.

Then it was about changing the format. The zoom call limited the size of the people talking and you could only push it out to one location. I also need a more efficient way to record and store episodes so that if someone missed a show, they could go back and watch it. I had already started uploading them to YouTube but unless you knew exactly where to go, it could be difficult to find. Streamyard seemed to be the solution. I could create background graphics that could give the show a signature look, enlarge the guests so you could actually seem them talking and I could push it outlive to multiple outlets including LinkedIn and YouTube. The live YouTube shows would automatically be available to anyone that missed it.

Most recently it was about increasing the viewer options. Not everyone wants to watch a show where you must be in one spot to pay attention. Creating a podcast allowed more people to experience the show on the go. Right after we do the live show, I convert it to an audio file and push it out to our podcast channel, which is now available on iTunes, Spotify, Pandora and just today, iHeart Radio.

The live shows average three thousand views on YouTube and the podcasts are quickly reaching those numbers. Some shows have gone as high as six thousand and it continues to grow. Recently FM Radio rated it as one of the best wedding podcasts of 2020. Not bad for a podcast that’s less than two months old!

What started as a zoom call to answer questions, is now becoming a true show. The guests are becoming more prominent with a larger range of topics which help even more people find answers. As a side effect, my company is getting more noticed and new ways of making revenue that would have never been possible without the creation of the Behind the Veil Show.

Can you tell us about the specific “Aha moment” that gave you the idea to start this new path?

I was speaking to a bride about two weeks after the initial shut down. She was just so thankful that I had taken care of all the details reducing her anxiety. She kept saying “I have no idea what we would have done without you”. All I could think about was all of the other brides out there that didn’t have a Keith Willard Events or a An Affair To Remember by Marci. They literally were losing their dream. Not only that but they were losing the anticipated experience of the event. How sad it must be to be looking forward not only to getting married but the entire experience of hanging with your bridesmaids, dancing with your dad, listening to toasts, first dances, and all of it ripped away in an instant. And it was happening on a grand scale. It went back to Margert Mead — Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world, Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. I may not be able to change our world in general, but I could make a difference in their world. Me with a small group of thoughtful, committed, event professionals started changing the world of events one question at a time.

How are things going with this new initiative?

Incredible! The fact that I am answering your questions is proof of the success of the show. It is not just this but the fact that I hear from both brides and vendors weekly about how they do not miss a single episode. Knowing that I made a difference and continue making a difference is a feeling that I never lose.

Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

Marci Guttenberg with An Affair to Remember by Marci is someone that I am particularly grateful for. Doing a show week after week is tough. In the beginning it was easy to find people excited to be on the show because it was an outlet. It was new and like a new toy, people wanted to play with it. The hard work is in being persistent. Success is not about being the biggest today, success is about still standing when everyone else has fallen, and that is only achieved but continuously plugging away at it. People need to know that you are not only going to be here this week, but next week, and the week after that. If you do a show for four weeks and then because you are not feeling it, you miss a week, and then again here and there. That is not how you build an audience so the fact that Marci has been here week after week after week is both incredible and empowering. There were times when we were about fifteen episodes in that I thought maybe we should stop. It was during this time on a phone call that Marci thanked me for giving her something to look forward to each week. I am pretty sure if she had not said that, right then, that we would have missed our real success that did not hit until episode twenty. Literally we went from a few hundred to a few thousand in a span of a couple of weeks. I think it was because of a mention in a blog but I can never be sure about that, but I am sure that it is Marci’s influence that pushed me to continue.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started in this new direction?

There are so many instances especially when you have a show about an event that has this kind of emotional impact in peoples lives. Most people have only a few markers in their life. Birth, graduating college, first love, their wedding, having children, and death of a loved one. I was interviewing Dr. Tania Paredes during a segment about Mental Health and Wedding Planning during Covid. One of our panelists started to break down talking about what she was having to go through to save her business while I was also reading a comment from a listener about what she was going through with planning during Covid. It was in that moment that I went really understood the magnitude of just how bad it was out there and the fact that the show really was making a difference.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started leading my organization” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

Take opinions with a grain of salt. One thing about doing a show that thousands of people watch is that you get a lot of feedback about what you could be doing different or “better”. It is important to look at these without emotion because there are some comments that could better the show, but you may not personally like hearing. At the beginning of the show, I used to comment about how surprised and happy I was about doing another episode or comment about the difference from the beginning to now. Someone that I really look up to told me I was way to wordy and emotional at the beginning of each segment. Obviously, I took that personally, but after I pulled up my big boy pants, I re-listen to past shows and realized that I need to get to the point. That people were watching for the guests, not to listen to me lament about random stuff.

Not all press is good press. It is something that everyone has heard a million times but believe me, it is not always a good thing. Sometimes in my business, all it takes is one bad review so I bring my A game to every single event knowing that this might not be my first time, but it might be theirs. Take it seriously every single time.

Listen to yourself and get used to it. There is nothing harder then watching yourself on a recording. Questions like “Do I sound like that?”, and “Do I really look like that?” are just the first in a long line of revelations that happen when you really have to watch yourself over and over. Jump in with both feet and work through it so you can get to the other side and really make changes that make a difference. I realized that I used to touch my face A LOT! I still have an issue of saying “I’m just saying” and “you know” but it is getting better. I realize that it is making me better talking to clients as well.

Dress for the part. When I first started the show, I was super comfortable in a regular short sleeved button up shirt. Is this how I would dress for meeting a client for the first time? Absolutely not! I realized that every single time we do a show, I am probably meeting a prospective new client for the first time. Take the time to put on a jacket but I can still wear shorts!

Forgive yourself. No one is perfect and no one is amazing right from the start. You are going to make mistakes, but it is only through mistakes that you get better. Those that are the leaders in their industry only got there through trial and error. I think most of us overlook the error portion of that statement.

So many of us have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. Can you share the strategies that you have used to optimize your mental wellness during this stressful period?

Turn off the TV. That is hard for me to say considering part of what I now do is being on people’s screens but sometimes it is important to listen or do something different. I also started making a list of things that happened in the past that I thought were traumatic or dramatic. Loss of job, change of job, having to move, changes in relationships. All of it led me to where I am now, and it is far less dramatic when I look back. Yes — it may totally suck today but it will suck less at some point.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?

Start a show called Behind The Veil. To obvious? I think I would like to have everyone say one kind thing to everyone they talk to in a day. It is amazing when you tell someone I really like your laugh, or you have great taste in clothing. The world is so hard especially now. Why wouldn’t I do something to make it less hard? It costs me nothing, it probably does not mean that much for me to say, but it will make a world a difference to the person you say it to.

Is there a person in the world whom you would love to have lunch with, and why? Maybe we can tag them and see what happens!

Hoda Kotb. She has survived cancer, created a family, found a relationship, built a career, and is at the top of her game while also being kind and genuine. She exudes what I hope my couples get from me. Warmth and confidence. My clients know that if I say it is going to be perfect, it is going to be perfect with no drama. She seems to be the same. Even though she is most likely the most well-known person in any room, she pays attention and focuses on whoever she is talking to like they are the most well-known person in the room. Plus, she is quick to laughter. Anyone that is in a high stress environment knows the power of a good laugh.

How can our readers follow you online?

My website www.keithwillardevents.com or my Podcast: https://bit.ly/4BehindTheVeilShow (iHeart Radio)

Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!


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