Episode 222: Matt and Josh talk about the lost art of listening, reflection & reinvention, and the future of the industry

Guest Experience, Leadership, Networking, Podcast

The IAAPA Expo has officially returned in person!  From November 15th-19th, 2021, the global attractions industry convened once again in Orlando for the annual trade show and conference, after a hiatus in 2020 that was replaced with a virtual education conference.  During the show, Matt and Josh were both heavily involved in the conference’s education sessions, speaking, moderating, or participating in a variety of topics.  In this episode, Matt and Josh talk about the lost art of listening, reflection & reinvention, the future of the industry, and other takeaways from the sessions they led or spoke in during the expo.


The Lost Art of Listening

“The emotional impact of being listened to is so close to that of being loved that most people can’t tell the difference.”

At the beginning of the pandemic, Matt published the link to his calendar and extended an offer for anyone in the industry to schedule a call with him, with our without an agenda.  In these calls and combined with his research, Matt shares that when you listen to someone without making assumptions, you can show someone how much you truly care.  Putting it into the context of leadership, if you are trying to look at how you are engaging with your employees, then it is not about the giveaways, incentives, or pizza parties, but about making a personal connection.  There are so many things that can distract us or pull us away from a conversation, but by actively eliminating these distractions you can show the individual who is speaking that you are actively listening.


Building a Personal Brand

“Your personal brand is more than a business card and a resume.”

If you are looking to get promoted, get a new job, or win new business, you should be in the business of yourself, regardless of your job title or employer.  If you can find a category and own it, it can set you apart from other people.  When listing out your unique qualifications, many people might indicate that they are confident, trustworthy, compassionate, or self-motivated; however, these skillsets do not differentiate you from anybody else.  If you go all-in on a niche, then people have a specific need, they will think of you and the skills that you bring to the table related to solving that specific problem.  Your brand is about your reputation and your actions, and what you want to be known for.  Rather than putting it on a business card or a resume, you need to live it and be consistent, and recognize that this is playing the long game, and you don’t decide when you get there.  Don’t be impatient, but be persistent.


It never hurts to ask for things

“As you grow in your business, you get more willing to ask for the things that you think you may not get.”

While planning the Leadership Symposium taking place at Universal Orlando, Matt gently made the request for the group to be able to ride Velocicoaster in addition to the panel discussion focused on networking and learning about leadership.  Had he not asked, it never would have happened.  The takeaway from Matt’s request was the importance of speaking up and reaching out with a request or a favor.


Don’t Wait for a Pandemic

“Reflection and reinvention is cyclical.”

In the Leadership Symposium, Matt King from Meow Wolf shared that the process of “reflection and reinvention is cyclical.”  We don’t have to have a pandemic to reflect on what we’ve done to reflect or reinvent ourselves.  Rather than becoming complacent with where you are, you should have a continual process when you review your past successes and failures and make changes and adjustments as necessary.  Even though we are all tired of the term “the new normal,” there is no going back to the “old normal” from prior to the pandemic.  Many new processes, procedures, and changes to operating models were forced due to the pandemic, which resulted in both reflection and reinvention.  How are you ensuring both R&R even without a pandemic?


Using Technology to Enhance the Guest Experience

“Your guest experience technology should focus on serving your guests, not just be a fancy tech.”

In a conversation about technology, the main focus of the discussion highlighted the guest, rather than the technology.  Fancy technology is just fancy tech unless you are using it to better serve your guests.  For instance, when looking at advance purchases for buying tickets to an attraction, there is a large push for guests to buy their tickets online which will save time and labor resources onsite.  At SkyWheel, however, which has locations in Myrtle Beach and Panama City Beach, the majority of guests are drawn in by the wheel’s “curb appeal” and therefore they focus more on impulse buys.  However, instead of ignoring online ticket sales, SkyWheel encourages guests to buy online, even while they’re onsite, by positioning QR in their admissions area for guests to quickly load the website and go straight to the ticket purchase page.  The guest can make the purchase with their own device and then proceed directly to the wheel.


Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

“Be authentic, and if you don’t know, don’t be afraid to ask.”

If someone has a different view of the world from you, they need to know that they can come to work and be themselves, and not feel that they are being marginalized.  One of the conversations that came up during a panel discussion during a lunch and learn for FEC’s involved a story where an individual reached out to their local African American Alliance chapter and inquired as to the best ways to interact with them.  The response that the venue operator received was “We’re tired of telling you.  Be a nice human being, be kind, and treat me like you would like to be treated yourself.”  Instead, be authentic, which will make the questions more relatable and more specific than a general inquiry of how to interact with someone or a group of people.


The Young Professional View

“The young professionals are the future of the industry, and the future is looking good.”

In a panel discussion on “Success Stories and Insights for Joining the Industry During Unusual Times,” AttractionPros interns Sam Bercik, Fabiana Fonseca, and Paige Reiter shared the timeline of their experience at the beginning of the pandemic, which led to how they continued their involvement with the industry as well as how they kept up to date with the latest job postings and opportunities.  It was inspiring how each of the panelists has stayed motivated since March 2020, which genuinely spoke to the audience full of young professionals.  In another session geared toward young professionals, Jesse O’Daniel, chair of IAAPA’s Young Professional committee, stressed that the audience in the room is in fact the future of the industry.  Not only was her statement inspirational, but also literal in the sense that recent college graduates and those early in their careers will be shaping the industry in the not-too-distant future.


Reflecting on the Galaxy’s Edge cast

“The people delivering the experience are the ones who make it remarkable.”

In 2021, the IAAPA Celebrates event took place at Galaxy’s Edge at Disney’s Hollywood Studios.  For those who attended or have visited since the land opened in 2020, there is general consensus that Rise of the Resistance and Smuggler’s Run are two of the greatest themed attractions ever created.  In addition to being flawlessly immersive and inclusive of the most advanced technology, Matt and Josh reflect mostly on the cast members who delivered the experience.  The cast at these attractions do not just perform operational duties with Disney caliber service, they perform the role that meets where guests are in the phase of the attraction.  The First Order cast carefully balances the line between being the militant “bad guys” but without coming across as rude or offensive, even though the traditional Disney magic takes a different form.  On Smuggler’s Run, a cast member put her glasses on crooked as guests were departing to reflect the intensity of the Millennium Falcon’s turbulent landing (no spoilers!).  The takeaway feeds perfectly into a quote from Walt himself when he said, “You can design and create the most wonderful place in the world, but it takes people to make the dream a reality.”


We’d like to extend a special thanks to the entire IAAPA team for a phenomenal expo this year, and we are already looking forward to 2022.  Additionally, thank you to those who approached us during the show to let us know that you’re tuning in and are fans of the show.  This feedback is what keeps us going.  We are all AttractionPros!


This podcast wouldn’t be possible without the incredible work of our amazing team:

  • Audio and video editing by Abigail Giganan
  • Scheduling and correspondence by Kristen Karaliunas
  • Social media marketing by Kate Kujawa
  • Branding and design by Fabiana Fonseca
  • Email marketing by Sam Bercik

To connect with AttractionPros: attractionpros@gmail.com

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