Lizzie Jeon, a junior in the Hotel School, had the chance to interview Sophia Line Kanno ‘05, Event Producer with Kehoe Designs in Chicago.

Sophia Lin-Kanno ’05

  • Would you mind sharing a bit about yourself? I was actually a transfer from Georgia Tech. While I was there, I planned many events for the school and realized this is what I wanted to do. Eventually, I transferred to Cornell because I knew hospitality was the route I wanted to take.Through my internship experiences, I discovered that there’s a niche of the events planning market called events design. Realizing this was the area I wanted to explore, I built my own curriculum at Cornell with a mix of Design and Environmental Analysis and Film Analysis classes.After graduation, I worked in various areas such as hospitality interior design, catering, and special events. I stayed at a catering and events design company called Legendary Events for 10 years, working in different departments such as sales and design. Now I am at Kehoe Designs as an Event Producer in Chicago.
  • Could you describe the process of designing an event?

While I am an events designer, I am also a strategist. As a designer, I look to create a full environment and experience. I ask the client about the purpose of the event: What is this event for? There often is a deeper mission and message that clients are trying to portray through this event. Then, I take their mission and make sure that everything I select for the event channels back to that idea. It’s a lot of work: I want to make sure that the guests understand the message when they enter the space. It’s like painting a picture by taking really important points, enlarging them, and making them a part of the décor.

  • What do you value the most when designing an event?

There’s a quote by Maya Angelou: “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” This is true with events; people won’t remember the floral arrangements but they will remember how they felt when they walked in to the space. Ultimately, we are looking for that reaction. When people can remember, I know I’ve done my job.

  • Could you talk about the most memorable event that you planned?

 There was a corporate conference assigned only six weeks before the event. We had about 2,000 people to entertain in the event space and the attendees were mostly senior representatives of a large international consulting company. They were flying in from all over the world for this week-long conference in Chicago. Because the client wanted something very unique and over-the-top, we adopted the idea of a darker version of “Alice in Wonderland.” We came up with a very creative and smart way of displaying the food through design. We created vertical shelves and expressive rolling carts that were capable of serving hundreds of guests simultaneously. This event is one of the most memorable ones because it really took design to another level by finding the perfect balance between design and functionality.

  • What differentiates Kehoe Designs from other event design companies?

The most significant differentiating factor is that Kehoe Designs wants to know all the parts of the book and sees a big picture. All the touchpoints of a guest experience must fit together. Another critical factor is that we own a lot of our equipment and can bring any vision to life. We house all thirteen production departments under one roof. From art creation to custom furniture and floral design to technical production – we pride ourselves on delivering solutions, whether for a challenging venue, a high-profile security event, or a demanding timeline.

  • How has the event planning industry evolved, especially with such innovations in technology?

Technology has evolved the industry dramatically. With LED screens and tiles, you can apply amazing enhancements such as fragmenting a project image and applying video mapping. If you don’t have the budget, we can now project imagery in the space and make it something really cool. With advancements in technology, the event can convert into completely different atmospheres and experiences. It’s like walking into a moving picture that can change with a snap of a finger.

  • The theme for this year’s HEC is “Sense of Place.” As an expert on events, do you have any ideas or recommendations for the design team?

Listen to what the message is about for HEC. Why are people attending HEC? What is the goal? Within that goal, how can you allow your design to speak that message and solicit that goal? For example, if the goal is networking, maybe the gala could be a reception where everyone interacts by moving around. Pick one or two things that impact HEC the most and shake things up by changing the approach!

  • What did you enjoy the most at Cornell? 

Cornell is an environment that allows you to really explore. Even as a Hotelie, I felt like I was able to build my own curriculum. It’s an extremely diverse place as well, not just culturally but also socioeconomically. I met some of my closest friends there that I still talk to today.

  • Do you have any advice for aspiring students at the Hotel School?

 Take advantage of what’s in front of you. Cornell offers you so much. I highly recommend taking courses outside of the Hotel School. For those interested in design, I also suggest enrolling in film analysis classes. The more you push yourself to face your fears, the more you realize how un-scary those fears are. Be adventurous and be a risk taker!

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The Cornell Hotel Society Executive Board thanks the Cornell Hotel Society – Collegiate Chapter for initiating and conducting the “Conversations with Alumni” project.