Public speaking strikes fear into the hearts of many. In fact, it is often said that more people fear public speaking than death. Pretty dramatic, considering a speech can be just a few minutes, while death is, well, permanent. Is it really all that bad? Not if you ask Bill and Maria Hoogterp, founders of Verona-based Own the Room.

The first thing Bill will tell you is, “get over yourself.” It’s not about you; it’s about the audience. “Most people think that the key to being a great public speaker is charisma and they also think that doing it more often makes you better,” he says. “It might make you more comfortable, but it doesn’t make you a better speaker.”

Instead, the key to being an effective speaker, Bill says, is reading the audience. Bill started public speaking after college graduation. “If the best speaker is a 10, I was a four,” he says, “but I wanted to get better.” Life took a different turn for several years, but he and his wife Maria founded Own the Room three years ago.

Own the Room, a division of Blue Planet Training, LLC—which was also founded by the Hoogterps— offers leadership training to groups across the globe in many different languages. “We get hired to help everyone, from lawyers, accountants and celebrities, and while each group has a different focus, the underlying skills we teach are the same,” Bill says. Own the Room’s 20-plus coaches teach participants to be more concise. “Most people say four sentences when they really only need two,” Bill says. They also teach being different. “Start with something unusual and something different every time,” he adds.

Ultimately, it’s all about reading the room, “catering to your audience by tailoring your message to how they react.” As Maria puts it, “if an audience can repeat what you said five days later, it is a success.”

In the wake of COVID-19, the Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau (PHLCVB) set out to provide planners with up-to-date intel and sound advice, appointing Dr. David Nash, founding dean emeritus of the Jefferson College of Population Health, in the process as its chief health advisor. Dr. Nash and Kavin Schieferdecker, senior vice president of the CVB’s convention division, share how the partnership came to be and its potential lasting impact.


Retreats and off-site meetings present wonderful opportunities for groups to collaborate, strategize and build relationships away from their normal office environments. With proper planning, these sessions can be highly effective and even pivotal in setting a new direction. However, off-sites may present some unforeseen challenges that can quickly deflate the energy in the room if not anticipated and addressed in advance.


A lifelon New Yorker, Emily Schmalholz was a TV producer at VH1 before moving into the events industry and landing at Westchester’s The Capitol Theatre. As director of special events at the historic space and its bar, Garcia’s, she says creating events and working in television have lots in common. “The ultimate goal for both is to tell a great story and create memorable moments.” Schmalholz, a self-described “event therapist,” had more to say about her work.

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