Extraordinary Events President Andrea Michaels has taken a leading role in shaping the special events industry as we know it, but in a segment defined by the stories it imparts to attendees, she has a few of her own to share.

The beginning of Extraordinary Events President Andrea Michaels life and legacy couldn't be more dramatic. Michaels, a pioneer in the special events industry, was born in the Arbe concentration camp in what is now Rab, Croatia. Her family escaped the Holocaust by fleeing in a small boat to Italy when she was three weeks old, hiding out until after the country was liberated by the Allies.

Some of her first memories were of sailing to New York City to begin her new life in America.

[Related Content: Broadway League President Charlotte St. Martin Explains Why Women Are Ideal Hospitality Leaders]

Michaels and her mother next moved to the Los Angeles area, where she graduated from Burbank High School before earning a psychology degree after attending the University of California in Berkeley and Los Angeles.

“That prepared me to deal with clients—actually criminal psychology, which is good for designers, musicians and clients,” she joked, adding that having a psychology degree helps her handle objections especially by inexperienced clients by keeping people feeling empowered and giving them the “legs they need to grow.”

In an industry defined by the stories it imparts to attendees, Michaels has many her own to share—namely how an "accidental career" would shape the special events industry that we know today.

An Accidental Career in the Events Industry

“I was a single divorcee with a young child and I needed to make money, so I answered an ad from Westside Entertainment,” Michaels said. “I imagined the William Morris Agency, but it was a band leader.  I went to work for $2 per hour and typed and filed. It wasn’t what you call the special events industry; it was weddings, birthdays and bar mitzvahs. I realized that there was a whole new world here that needed to be explored."

Whetting her appetite for staging events, Michaels helped shaped the industry as one of the founding members of SITE and MPI.

“At the time there was something like 30 members, maybe,” she said. “We started doing crazy, creative things. People said, ‘You can never do that,’ but we did it anyway, and pretty soon it was an industry. We were the founding fathers and mothers of the events industry."

[Event Inspiration: Opera Houses Set the Stage for Special Events]

Michaels founded Extraordinary Events in 1978. In Hollywood during that era, special events were primarily film industry premieres and fundraisers.

“It used to be the red carpet leading into Grauman's Chinese Theater, with paparazzi and maybe a dinner at the Beverly Hilton,” Michaels said.

“A charity event used to be a large band with an orchestra, and Tony Bennett if they had the big bucks, but not an entire room transformed—it wasn’t rebuilding a theme park in the middle of Hollywood. We went from simplicity, and then by gradual steps, to spectacle,” she added.

Today, the company has expanded from a Los Angeles-based special events organization to operating on a global stage. Extraordinary Events produces product launches, consumer events and massive public events that have attracted up to 250,000 people.

Extraordinary Events Event Design for Ameriprise
Extraordinary Events Event Design for Ameriprise

The company employs a permanent staff of 10 and scales up with “permalancers."

It counts clients such as Mary Kay, BMW, the Howard Hughes Corporation and LA Promise Fund, among many others.

How the Events World Has Changed

The special events world of today is an especially competitive industry catering to a public whose expectations have never been higher, at any price point from the client.

“Peoples’ expectations even at a corporate event are the same even if the budget isn’t there,” Michaels said. “We as special events professionals have to know how to deliver that experience—how do you create an emotional connection? Otherwise there’s sense of disappointment.”

[Read This Next: Andrea Michaels’ 6 Essential Tips for Event Presentation]

Michaels pointed out massive tradeshows and events as CES (Las Vegas’ Consumer Electronics Show) and South by Southwest (SXSW) as large events that give her inspiration for new ideas via the inspiration they provide to attendees.

But in the end, it’s the content that provides the real sizzle, and not the just the spectacle provided by cutting-edge presentation technology that explodes on an audience like an AV hydrogen bomb.

Extraordinary Events Event Design: Using Signage to Create an Emotional Connection
Extraordinary Events Event Design: Using Signage to Create an Emotional Connection

“Try to tie people to an emotional connection," she said. "If you understand your audience better, you can do more for them than the size of a screen."

“Is it the size of the screen or what’s on it?," Michaels asked. "What does the content mean?

“If it’s telling you something that’s reaching you, then your money is well spent,” she added.

See Andrea Michaels' work with Extraordinary Events in action below:

Before You Go: Check out more industry profiles on our Movers & Shakers page.