Emory Report
November 10, 2008
Volume 61, Number 11



Emory Report homepage  

November 10
, 2008
A juggling act: Events director makes blockbusters happen

By Dana Goldman

It’s hard not to be impressed with Michael Kloss. Since coming to Emory in 2005, he’s created and directed the Office of University Events, organized a multi-day visit with the His Holiness the XIV Dalai Lama, and planned the kickoff events surrounding the public launch of Campaign Emory.

And he’s only 31.

Needless to say, Kloss is a detail-oriented multi-tasker. As a full-time college student in Florida, he also worked 40 hours each week as a liaison between Universal Studios and outside production companies. “I never missed class,” he says, “but I got to be involved in lots of different productions.”

That experience would serve him well a few years later, when a campus job in the events office popped up at the University of Southern California, where he was getting his master’s degree in screen writing. Kloss took it, and soon after graduating worked his way up to being USC’s director of university events — overseeing festivals, graduation and events with up to 90,000 guests, in addition to the school’s multi-year 125th anniversary commemoration.

“I loved the complexity of these kinds of mega-events,” says Kloss, “where you are essentially building a small city: from transportation to emergency response, sanitation, and food supply for tens of thousands of people.”

And, he says, they’re not that different from the film studios where he got his start. “I call the things I do very large film productions except without the cameras. Events are a great outlet for creativity.”

Four years later, Kloss, wife Sheila, and baby son Ryan moved to Atlanta to take a job at Emory. “I came to oversee all Campaign Emory events,” says Kloss. “The other part was creating an office of University events, bringing together all the central University event managers under an umbrella.”

It wasn’t until after Kloss was settled in that he and the rest of Emory got the news that would dramatically shift his new job: the Dalai Lama was coming, and Kloss would need to plan a series of events for Emory and the larger community.

“Our lives really did take an entire direction change for that to happen,” he says now. “It was truly a year and four months of really intense work, with so many components and people involved in that process.”

Those components included transforming WoodPEC into a classy event venue with airport-grade security, and working with the city of Atlanta to arrange the Dalai Lama’s public talk in Centennial Park. When Kloss found out his wife was pregnant with their second child and due the weekend of the Dalai Lama’s visit, his what-if plans expanded even more.

The Dalai Lama’s visit went off without any hitches — and Kloss’s daughter Katie was born three days later. “There was a lot of karma involved in making sure the baby didn’t come early,” he laughs.

By then, Kloss had clued into the fact that his job was bigger than he’d first thought. “Coming from a university twice the size of Emory, I expected to do events on a smaller scale,” he says. “That hasn’t been the case. In fact it’s been quite the opposite.”

That’s certainly true for the Campaign Emory Enquerir performances, the Cirque-style entertainment celebrating the beginning of the campaign’s public phase of fundraising. An unintended result of the show? “My now 4-year-old son had a lot of fun telling people his father works for the circus.”

With so much responsibility on his shoulders, Kloss’ focus at events isn’t where you might expect. “I’ve probably been to more than a hundred lectures here but couldn’t tell you what most of them said,” he says. “I’m listening for clarity of sound, watching for guests who look uncomfortable or are leaning forward to hear, the guest who’s fanning herself when nobody else is, who might be sick and at risk for fainting.”

That attention to detail has paid off. Kloss is a finalist for the prestigious 2009 Event Solutions Spotlight Award for Organizational Planner of the Year. But, his perfectionist planning is limited to Emory events.

“Just like police officers don’t watch ‘Cops’ when they go home, our house parties are very low key — it’s pizza and take-out and disposable plates,” says Kloss. After all, he says, “My wife would kill me if I put the level of planning into home events that I do at Emory.”