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My goal is to create a live experience that people talk about- Zinia Fernandes

Having been part of some of the biggest live industry shows nationally and internationally, Zinia took time off her busy schedule to talk about the fine art of hosting, her love for the stage and more.

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Keeping our focus on presenter community, this time we are featuring India's popular live show host Zinia Fernandes. 

Having been part of some of the biggest live industry shows nationally and internationally, Zinia took time off her busy schedule to talk about the fine art of hosting, her love for the stage and more.

As a person, what makes you who you are?

That’s a very powerful question! Choosing to be myself onstage, offstage, online and offline, makes me who I am. It also gives me immense power and confidence. The stage is certainly my playground, but I choose not to play a character but be my best self. It’s a freeing experience.

So, who is Zinia Fernandes?

Zinia has always been a story teller. That’s my core. While I have hosted nearly 800 shows for over three and a half years, I still see myself as more of an ‘experience enthusiast’ than just an emcee. That’s why I’ve been able to maintain the highest level of excitement for every show no matter how many times the format or occasion repeats itself. Every show is a new story.

In a world which suffers from ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) and where bottom line is everything, why do you want to tell stories?

Why does an organisation plan an event? Announcement of a product or an idea, Celebration of people and/or of goals achieved. To me, behind every such event is a story that should be shared. Telling these stories, as opposed to mechanically presenting the event, also attracts the distracted mind and is the antidote to ‘digital fatigue’. Yet, I do not take audience attention for granted and ensure the story is engaging enough to allow them to enter the world of what’s happening here and now.

What is the work that goes behind this kind of storytelling?

The work is to thoroughly research and understand the data that contributed to the brand and the event. While most leadership inevitably talks facts and numbers, whether it’s a brand launch, an industry conference or a corporate celebration, my goal is to weave a script that points to that data in a creative way. I lean towards using history, legends, analogies, idioms, and humour to highlight what’s going to happen next in the event.

Your work is collaborative and you cater to so many different aesthetics, Do you always work off pre-written scripts or do you write your own scripts?

I enjoy the process of script-writing and hence, take it upon myself in most cases. My style of writing involves steering clear from predictive text and creating an ‘edge of the seat’ stage dialogue. Having said that, ‘Spontaneity’ is an artist’s most powerful skill in the 2019 Experiential industry. Most of the events I host today require me to work on brand study and pure instinct at the same time. I believe in balancing the two; spontaneity & the agenda. However, in my experience, spontaneity beats the most florid script. Part of spontaneity is to also involve the audience through dialogue. Give them a mic, and then just be ready to handle the twists and turns.

Have you always relied on instincts or do you like to prepare?

I developed both preparation and instinct in my previous role. As a behavioural trainer with an MNC, I had to single handedly get through so many mindsets, age groups and geographies. When I started my experiential career, the technicalities were new, but getting through to an audience was easier, given this previous avatar.

So since you come from a corporate space, how does the corporate world differ from the stage?

I’d say the training room is the ‘behind the scene’ equivalent of an event. One works tirelessly to transform new and existing talent and then leaves it up to them to play their part at their workstation. Today, my role is to be under the spotlight, quite literally. It required me to transform mentally and physically. The transformation has been enjoyable.

You’ve worked with multiple brands across industries: what part of the collaboration do you love the most?

The answer is in the question. I enjoy working with brands that ‘collaborate’. I enjoy working in environments that are clutter breaking and explorative. I love working with teams that are always up for new methods of creating an experience and are ideas-inclusive. I’m happy that almost all brands I’ve worked with, for instance, Outlook India, ICICI, Red Hat, Skechers, Hershey, TCL, HELLO & HotStar have always offered that workspace.

Which personality inspires your work the most and in what ways?

Ellen De Generes inspires my work the most. The next best thing to solving a challenge is to find humour in it and that’s the greatest lesson I’ve learnt & implemented from her. I find humour in my work on and off stage and that instantly transforms my work environment.

Talking about challenges, is there an on-stage fail or fumble that still makes you cringe.

I wouldn’t call that a fail, but I once mispronounced the name of a speaker on stage. I corrected it in my next appearance on stage and I apologised to the speaker and quoted “Dearest creature in creation, Study English pronunciation. Hiccough has the sound of cup. My advice is to ‘never’ give up!” And that rather elicited a hearty laugh. Again, ‘humour has it’.

If you could, what would be your advice to yourself as a newcomer in the industry?

My first event was for Vodafone India and to a great extent served as a masterclass in the experiential industry. Minutes before I could begin a well scripted show, I was told to do away with the script and go with the pulse of the guests for reasons best known to the agency. Over the years, I’ve learnt the true meaning of being of a ‘master of ceremony’. My advise to my younger self would be “do your homework and yet be ready for an extempore. More importantly, enjoy yourself and go find connection over perfection.”

What do you think are the drawbacks of being in this profession?

Long work hours, incessant travel, relying on convenience food and personal sacrifices are the major drawbacks of being an independent professional. Because this profession requires complete alignment of the mind and body, one can never undervalue sleep, nutrition and overall well-being. Self care for the self employed is vital.

As an emcee presentation is important, do you enjoy the glamour?

My approach to glamour is more purposeful and responsible. I’m more keen on choosing a look that honestly represents the core and the theme of the brand and the event as opposed to the undue indulgence in #WIWT (WhatIWoreToday) on social media. While I surely enjoy wearing glamorous outfits, the event is always the focus. I’m doing my part towards this ‘purposeful presentation’ and I hope my colleagues join me too.

Whats the philosophy behind your fashion choices vis-a-vis an event?

I usually walk the talk by repeating outfits and being completely happy about it. As I said above, if my wardrobe caters to the need of the event, I accept that. Further, sustainability is very important to me. Global fashion today comes with a more socio-economic-ecological awareness. I believe my digital image can be used to communicate this awareness and bring about a change in our industry. Accordingly, I’m always up for collaborating and encouraging fresh talent, especially those who share my views on sustainable and responsible fashion.

Apart from sustainability, is there anything else that in your own unique way you’d like to bring to the fore about your events?

I’ve very recently started a digital initiative called ‘Backstage Heroes’. This is where I highlight any hero I’ve encountered at work (it could be an agency, client, audience or a speaker) and introduce them to my digital family. I’ve grown to believe that the incredible talent, minds and hands that work tirelessly to put a live experience together need to be spoken about. An opportunity to talk to the world is their greatest award and also inspiring for the audience. Do catch ‘BackStage Heroes’ on all my social accounts and help me share these stories.

Keeping all this in mind, you seem to be someone who chooses what they do very carefully. Is there a filter in your business?

Yes. The filter is my own ‘brand’. I know the term has been diluted over the years, especially in our industry. However, I use the term very carefully. A brand in the most normally understood sense today constitutes one’s digital presence, fashion sense, hashtags, products endorsed, and your PR machinery. However, to me a brand is what a person represents and believes without taking the pressure of the usually understood meaning of the word. In my case this is the value of my voice and what it can say. While everyone is free to and must choose what their own brand is, I believe my brand is larger than just being able to deliver lines or make people laugh or influence shopping choices. In a role like mine, I can make a difference to mindsets through my conversations in different events, forums, platforms. For example, an awards night which may be limited by some to a photo op, if I interact with a celebrity about body image or their representative fashion choice, it can contribute positively to the event and every human in the audience. My goal, like every artist, is to create a live experience that people talk about when they leave the room. Through my work, I’m here to transform the idea of a ‘brand’. I am sure, if people use the filter of their own ‘brands’, they could also in their own unique ways, transform a live experience and consequently, the world.

A word to aspiring emcees?

No one inspired the world, by being someone else. And, all of the above.



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