Hello, my name is Christine and I am the Director of Education for the Academy of Wedding & Event Planning. My own journey with the Academy started with me enrolling in the Certificate in Wedding Planning in 2007. I was a freelance Corporate Event Planner looking to expand my skills and knowledge and make the move into the wedding industry and I achieved that goal with the launch of my own Wedding Planning business which is operating Australia wide and is the Academy’s official work experience partner in Australia. But before that came an opportunity for me to become involved with the Academy using my sales, marketing and public relations skills.
When I joined the Academy as a Course Advisor, I started simply by selling courses to people who, like myself were looking to forge a career in the exciting world of weddings. I found that I loved talking to people about their goals for the future and helping them to achieve them and if I had to name one thing I still love about my role here, it is that. Our students and their success drives us all.
As the Academy grew, my role expanded and I will always be grateful to Kylie for trusting in me and bringing me along on this incredible ride that has seen me doing things in my career I would never have imagined doing. I am fond of saying that whilst the Academy is Kylie’s baby, I am the Academy’s Aunt and I am deeply proud of what we have achieved together and with the fabulous group of people who have joined us over the years. The Academy has given so many of our Graduates the chance to write their own story of success within the wedding and event industry and it is my pleasure to introduce you today to the woman who is behind it all and share with you some of what motivates her to want to help you be successful in our industry.
Kylie you are celebrating 10 years of success with the Academy. Let’s go back to the beginning. At the time of launching the Academy, you were already successful yourself in the wedding and event industry. You had your own business and worked in the US, UK and Australia. You could have continued building on that success, but you chose to set it aside and focus on Education. Why?
I am so proud to have reached this milestone with the Academy and I know if you’d have told me at the beginning, when the Academy was no more than an idea, that it was going to grow like this and become a global company I would not have believed you.
There were a couple of reasons behind me starting the Academy, but first and foremost was because I wanted to do something that allowed me to spend more time with my daughter whilst remaining a part of the industry that had given me so much. I am a mother and at the time my daughter was only 9 and was starting to notice when I was out at events every weekend and late home all the time.
It occurred to me that I had all this knowledge from having been in the events industry that maybe there was a way I could share this with others and make a business out of it. I did some initial research and found there was nothing out there at all for those wanting to plan or design weddings for a living. There were courses in event management where they teach about planning big sporting events, festivals and ticketed events, but nothing showing you how to plan those events that were generally your bread and butter.
As someone that had run a successful events business in London I had certainly made plenty of mistakes, but also had many successes over the years, so I was well placed to share that knowledge and help others to have the career I had enjoyed.
You have seen many students enrol, graduate and go on to have very successful careers in the industry. As not only the Company Director but also the Course Designer and Writer, what key attributes do you think someone needs to have to be successful as a student and ultimately a professional in the wedding and event industry?
Most of our students are mature students, somewhere between the ages of 22 – 45, so it has been a few years since they’ve studied. This can be challenging for many and in order to be successful you have to really want to do it. It isn’t good enough to have a vague notion that you want to become a wedding planner, or that you’d like to style events for a living, you have to be passionate about it and really want it with all your heart.
This applies to both being able to study and being in the industry itself. Study takes discipline, focus and motivation, but ultimately it’s about really enjoying what you’re learning about. If these elements are there you will sail through the course and be thirsty for more knowledge, as it is this that will give you the ultimate success in your new career.
When you launched the Academy you obviously felt positive about the direction the industry was headed in and you were right to feel that way. Despite some challenging years for the economy, the events industry appears to have weathered the storm. In countries like the US and the UK, where the industry was more established, things look strong again and in countries like Australia and New Zealand, where the wedding industry was just kicking off, we have seen exciting growth in a short period of time and of course, new markets are emerging, such as the UAE and Asia. Peering into your crystal ball, what opportunities do you see arising over the coming years for people considering a career change, or a new career in the wedding and event industry?
Throwing a party in 2017, any type of party, offers all sorts of possibilities, it’s almost endless. Fast forward another ten years and you enter a whole other dimension and a lot of this is based around technology. As our technology develops, so does what we can offer guests at an event. It is no longer good enough to live stream we need to go one step forward and have all sorts of interactivity alongside the live streaming, and this will continue over the coming years.
What we need to be careful of is that we don’t get so caught up in the technology that we forget about the actual guest experience. No matter how good the technology it can’t hide a bad party.
The great thing is that people love to plan and attend events so the industry is getting bigger and bigger creating more and more opportunities for people looking to come into the industry. You no longer need to whisper to people about what you do, it is a legitimate career. No more when you tell people that you’re a wedding planner will they turn around and say, oh is that really a thing.
In the UAE events like Expo 2020 are creating a myriad of opportunities because of the knock on effect of something massive like this. The amount of hotels and venues being built to accommodate this is enormous, and that in itself offers opportunity.
Right from the beginning I know it was your aim to offer education that was accessible to everyone, but you didn’t want to just offer a course that could be studied at home. You have worked hard with your team to create an experience for students that is engaging and interactive and it seems that each year, new developments in technology have helped you with this. Thinking about new technologies, can you highlight something that you have introduced, that you feel has particularly benefited your students?
The ability to incorporate audio and video as part of the course material has been around for a while now, but I know from speaking to the students that it is this that really brings the course material alive for them. So from a technology point of view, it isn’t so much the technology itself that is new, but it is the ability for me to have a permanent studio set up in my office with high-quality audio and video that is the game changer.
There are often things I want to include in the course materials, or that I want to tell my students, that you just can’t get across in writing. However, when you start talking about experiences and then record that audio it helps you to get your point across so much better. I no longer have to wait to go into the studio to record anything, it is there all the time and I can edit it quickly and easily, so students are getting new content all the time.
Many, many students tell me they feel like they know me because of the audio that is peppered throughout the course material. I love to talk and when I record audio in my studio I can tell them stories of events I have been at to illustrate the point I am making, and invariably I go off on a tangent about something that really makes it real for the listener.
What about community? The Academy has a very strong community of Students, Graduates, Partners and Friends. Can you tell us about that and share some of the ways your community works to support the next generation of wedding and event planners, stylists and designers?
Undoubtedly social media has made it easy for us to communicate with people across the other side of the world, it is one of the great things about it. For us we use Facebook to do this. Bearing in mind we don’t have a physical classroom that our students can attend to meet their classmates we need to provide them with an alternative. And we have with our private student Facebook Group
Not only is it students in the Group, but also our Advisory Board members and tutors, and I am always amazed, and of course very proud, to see the support in there. You will find students from around the world all chatting with each other and encouraging each other. They post their successes, their struggles, their queries and questions and it is a safe space where they can brainstorm together and share the journey of being a student.
To date, we have over 1000 active students utilising this Group and it is such a friendly lovely group. There is no other form of learning that could bring you together with other students studying the same course globally. We have a wonderful, warm and very supportive community which is continually growing.
Are there some exciting new careers that you think will emerge over the coming several years that you are encouraging your students to consider?
I don’t think it is so much new careers that are emerging I think it is more that the careers that were always there are now much more prevalent. They are accepted as real jobs and people are making very real and serious livings out of these roles.
Roles like Wedding Stylist, Venue Dressers, Wedding Planners and Floral Stylists are all legitimate careers that people now recognise. They are being developed all the time and more importantly the clients are attaching value to what these roles involve. No longer are they seen as a frivolous extra, but instead a necessity to hosting a successful event.
I won’t ask you to name names, but have there been some particular success stories that have inspired you to keep investing in the future of the industry through education?
Absolutely! My students inspire me all the time. We have had so many success stories that I couldn’t possibly single out just one or two.
The amount of students globally that have successful businesses or who have gained employment after completing their course is off the chart. Seeing how many of them have been published in magazines either for real weddings or a collaborative styled shoot, just blows me away. They are so talented.
A couple of them have now gone full circle and are tutors at the Academy and one has even written two books on wedding planning that are currently selling on Amazon.
When I see how many students have taken the leap of faith to have a career they are truly passionate about it is all the inspiration I need to continue doing what we do.
There is a strong message of positivity throughout everything the Academy does and you are a big supporter of people wanting to launch their own businesses and working mothers too. What keeps you positive and how do you work that message into the courses for others to be inspired by?
I grew up with a mother who reinforced positivity on a daily basis. From a very young age she instilled into me that I could be anything I wanted to be, as long as I wanted it badly enough and was prepared to work for it. Her motto was to give everything a try because unless you tried you’d never know. This has always stayed with me.
I was a single Mum when I was developing the Academy so I know and understand how hard it can be to do the juggling act. I am never afraid to share the challenges I faced, the mistakes I made and the things that didn’t work. It is these things that help you to grow and make you stronger, as you learn from them.
As the one steering the ship it is my job to encourage all who sail within it and to make sure I empower them in the same way as my Mum empowered me. This is a common theme running throughout the course material, especially in the audio as I can really get my point across in that format.
I am sure that over the last 10 years and even before you launched the Academy, there were times when you experienced doubts and fears about the decisions you were making and the direction you were going in. If there is anyone reading this interview today, who feels the same about taking the next step towards their dreams, what would you say to them?
Dig deep and answer yourself truthfully. Is this something you really want to do? Is this something you think you could be good at? Are you prepared to work harder than you’ve ever worked before?
If you can answer yes to those three questions then you owe it to yourself to give it a go. Don’t live with regret. Trust me I have made some awful decisions when I’ve ignored my gut instinct so never go against that, it never works. If your gut instinct, you know the one when it’s the first answer you give without thinking about it, is telling you to do it, then do it.
I’m not going to lie to you though there will be days when you just want to throw it all in, success doesn’t come overnight, but it does come. You have to give it everything you’ve got and never think you’ve learnt it all because you haven’t. Your education in the world of special events doesn’t stop once you graduate from the Academy. I’m continually learning, reading, researching and educating myself on what’s happening around me in both the business world and the world of events.
What I will say though is that this is an amazing industry to be in filled with people who are passionate about what they do and willing to help those who are just starting out.
You don’t just teach weddings and events, you immerse yourself in the industry and surround yourself with other experts. How does this and your 10 years of experience benefit a student of the Academy?
As I said earlier I have made a ton of mistakes, but I also have a wealth of knowledge that comes from experience, not books. Real life experience can’t be beaten. There is nothing text book about what we do and offer at the Academy, which is probably why we have been successful.
Our courses are delivered in the way you’d deliver an event. They will throw you curve balls you aren’t expecting and they will keep you on your toes, just like a client will.
Having been in this industry for many, many years I am lucky enough to have built up an enviable list of industry experts who all lend their knowledge and expertise to our students, and this is invaluable. I am very proud to be the only institution that has an active global Advisory Board filled with some top professionals all willing to help our students to be the best they can be.
Here’s to another ten years at the Academy and a big thank you to each and every student that has come through our virtual doors since 2007!