Video Transcript

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JOHN WHYTE: You're watching Coronavirus in Context. I'm Dr. John Whyte, chief medical officer at WebMD. Have you been to a party lately? Are you planning a party in the future? What are the guidelines? What do you do? To help answer these questions, I've asked a world-renowned event planner to join me today, Edward Perotti. Edward, thanks for joining me.

EDWARD PEROTTI: Thank you. Thanks for having me.

JOHN WHYTE: Edward, I'm wearing my seersucker jacket for a reason, because, normally, one would wear these to an outdoor party, event. Um, but I haven't gone to any and haven't planned any. So what's the latest in terms of, when can we start thinking about planning an event, planning a party, going to a movie?

EDWARD PEROTTI: Well, let me preface this that you have the MD title. I don't. So I'm definitely going to-- and how I've been operating is based off of all the facts that I've been reading and having-- being put in front of me. So with that said-- my little disclaimer here-- um, honestly, I would say now. I-- I-- it's the size of the event that you're doing, right?

I think it comes down to, at this point, common sense. None of us are going to have a large event-- not now, and probably not for a while, right? We're still-- we still need to be very conscious of the large groups. But that's--

JOHN WHYTE: What's a large group? What are you considering large?

EDWARD PEROTTI: At this point, I'm going to consider 20 people probably the largest. Um, just, you know-- and-- and once again, everybody has their own opinion based off of what they're reading. I'm-- I'm strictly guiding everybody that I work with to err on the side of safe versus what they think, right? The facts need to drive the decision in regards to this. So I-- I still-- like I said, I still think they need to start planning them now.

We have-- we're talking about four months of people being Zoom'd, and Skype'd, and FaceTime'd out. We are not, by design, digital beings, right? We are-- we are meant to be together. We are meant to physically come together, celebrate communities, feel each other's presence, and just feed off of that energy. So definitely start now. I'm glad you're wearing the seersucker. I've got my little Palm Springs thing ready to go, 'cause I'm going to run away soon. Um--

JOHN WHYTE: Well, how do you guide people in their decision-making? So you know, we all know people that have postponed a wedding, um, or scaled it down dramatically. But you know, for-- especially for those milestones, for those weddings, for those 25th, 50th anniversaries, are you suggesting to people, you know, go ahead with a scaled-down version? Are you saying, you know what, make it big with a bang, but you might have to wait a year or so to do it?

EDWARD PEROTTI: It really depends on what it is. I-- I'm not going to talk to any of my clients or anybody with the notion of, everything's fine and dandy, right? And this isn't about revenue-making. This is about, still, people being able to celebrate, but being safe about it. The last thing I want and need is somebody telling me that somebody got sick at an event that I designed for them, right? I mean, it's--

JOHN WHYTE: So how do you guide them in their-- so they come to you, and they want to plan something. How do you help them think through the process?

EDWARD PEROTTI: It's rough. I mean, it-- it truly is rough, because they're coming in with an emotional feeling of what they want to do. So there is-- there's always been a joke that part of my job is babysitting and part of my job is psychology. So you know, it's being able to read the room and see what they want to do, and, at that point, being creative enough to come up with some solutions that fit that exact piece that they're looking to hit. And at the end of the day, they want a moment to remember.

So knowing that we can't do big right now-- and if right now is the priority for them, OK. So let's take the big conversation off the table. You can't have it, right? There has to be a-- a frankness, at this point, to people, right? If you want a big one, and you're willing to wait, fantastic. Let's talk about it. I mean, I'm-- I got programs for later next fall around, you know, three locations around the world that we're-- we're engaging, and we're talking about, and we're starting to plan for. I--

JOHN WHYTE: But a year from now, we're talking--

EDWARD PEROTTI: A year from now.

JOHN WHYTE: --hopefully.

EDWARD PEROTTI: I have an event coming up in August where we had to have the talk of, not going to be live. We have to figure out a creative solution to use technology as our friend and hopefully--

JOHN WHYTE: And what are some of those solutions? I-- I'm sure folks are wondering, OK, Edward. What-- what did you do to help make it a memorable event?

EDWARD PEROTTI: So one of them actually came from the-- my in-laws are in Florida, and my husband's siblings are in Michigan. So we don't-- Christmases every other year together, because we juggle family, like every other, right? We juggle families, and all that fun stuff. But mother's day came around, and there-- I just kept thinking, OK. I know she's going to be sad because she can't see anybody. She can't go out to her church group. She can't do any of that stuff. So why don't we just create a virtual Mother's Day?

And he-- so my husband was like, all right. We can-- we can set up a Zoom. I'm like, no. Let's take it one step further. What if I actually created a Mother's Day in a box, and I send them a box, and I send your sister a box? And in the box, we'll have the linens, the-- the China, the tea cups, the scones, the jam, the whole setup. Order the flowers, give them-- 'cause I am an A type-- give them specific instructions on how to set the table and where to put the camera.

And when everything was done and set, and the cameras were on, and we were all gridded there, we all looked like we were at one table.

JOHN WHYTE: Oh, nice. Yeah.

EDWARD PEROTTI: And it just-- you know, it wasn't this "everybody talking over each other." And it wasn't this "Brady Bunch grid of just a face." You literally looked as if you were there, which is as close as you possibly could be on that day. And it made it special. We were all experiencing the same thing.

And I think that's-- that's key, is, how do you make that moment connect to every person that you want, and find those little nuggets of how you can do it, right? How do you-- you know, can you do a hybrid? Is your-- the family that's here with the family that's abroad. Honestly, we should be doing those in general, at this point. Come the holiday season, who knows where it's going to be? But I'm hopeful that we can start coming together on a bigger s-- on a little bit of a bigger scale.

JOHN WHYTE: And what are some of those live events that you've scaled back? What are some examples of those, how y-- you might have incorporated different technology?

EDWARD PEROTTI: Those-- well, the-- so the hybrid actually really helps-- the idea of a wedding, as an example, of, why not webcast the wedding out to the people who are uncomfortable coming so they can still be a part of it? There was a bride in San Francisco who-- and I thought this was the most clever thing.

She emailed everybody and had everybody-- all of her guests-- send her a picture of themselves. She had them blown up, and she had them all put in the pews in the space where they would have sat in the church. I'm sitting here, and I'm watching the wedding, and I see myself. I mean, it just-- it-- just by nature of that, it pulled me in. It made it personal.

You know, most weddings, they do seating assignments. That's fine. Scale it back. But do your seating assignments based off of household, not based off that you need Aunt Becky to sit with Cousin Charlie. Forget that. If it's a couple, you put them on a two-top. If it's a family of four or five, you sit them separate. Space the tables apart, but they're still within their pod.

Think about creative food solutions. You know, if you want it more upscale, look backwards on how service used to be, you know? The-- the-- the white glove service was very much of an upscale view. But honestly, at this point, it's a perfect COVID delivery method, right? Especially if they're coming with everything covered, and they're lifting the cover off, and they're placing it down.

Don't do linens. Rent glass tables. They-- they automatically-- they automatically scream sanitized, 'cause you will see if there's thumbprints. You need to think about how you want to execute the event before you think about how it's going to look like. So you need to reverse the process.

JOHN WHYTE: Do you miss those big events, Edward? Or do you feel like, you know what? You're adjusting to the new normal?

EDWARD PEROTTI: Well-- OK, so I'm going to-- because this is not the new normal. This is the temporary normal.

JOHN WHYTE: OK.

EDWARD PEROTTI: Um, do I miss the big events? Yes, 'cause I probably am the most social person of them all. However, I'm not going to complain too much, because it's given us a really big gift of time to step back and not have the pressure of constantly turning events, to be able to step back and think about, how do people actually want to get together nowadays, right?

The old ways of socializing are the ways our grandparents did it, our great grandparents did it. All we're doing is making it look a little bit more modern and zhooshing it different. But we're really not looking at the psychology of how this next generation wants to gather and socialize.

JOHN WHYTE: You've done 2,000 events-- more than 2,000 events-- in your career. Got to ask you, what's the event you remember the most?

EDWARD PEROTTI: Well, I-- I-- I'm going to-- and this is going to sound a little braggy. That 2,000 events was actually in one year.

JOHN WHYTE: Oh! [LAUGHS]

EDWARD PEROTTI: That-- yeah, that was actually in one year. Most memorable-- um, I think, probably, though, if I'm going to pick one out-- underground, in Istanbul, in a cistern, creating a Topkapi palace harem for about 500 people. Brought in the Turkish ballet, built an amazing set all underneath the streets of-- of Istanbul.

JOHN WHYTE: Well, this is going to be another conversation, including how you did 2,000 events in one year. I apologize for miscalculated that. It didn't make sense to me. Uh, but we'll talk about that another time. And I want to thank you for your advice, and your insight, and-- and your tips on-- on how people can still have an event in-- in this transitional time. And-- and I look forward to talking to you again. Thank you, Edward.

EDWARD PEROTTI: Thank you. Love it. Have a good weekend.

JOHN WHYTE: And thank you for watching Coronavirus in Context.