- Mayura Jain
Twenty years ago, two sisters took a leap of faith, changed careers, and joined forces to create something new in LA. Now Kathy Winterhalder and Sue Swan run the successful Distinguished Speaker Series, an event that brings some of the world’s most inspiring speakers to Southern California. Over the holidays, The Culture Trip caught up with these women and spoke to them about what makes them tick.
What inspired you to create The Distinguished Speaker Series?
KW: We were inspired by a successful speaker series that a friend of our parents presented up in the San Francisco Bay Area, where they lived. When our parents would call us to check in and catch up, all we would talk about was the speaker that they’d just heard. It took those phone calls to another level. They were enjoying the experience so much and always had an opinion, quote, or words of wisdom they learned that night to share with us.
So a few years later, when Sue and I were in a place of change in our lives, we decided to launch a series in Southern California. Twenty years ago, there was nothing like it here. We started at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium, and two years later we expanded to the Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center, and a few years later to Thousand Oaks.
Now, after fifteen years, we’ve expanded again. We are now presenting our first season on the Westside at the Saban Theatre in Beverly Hills.
Who, in your mind, is the Distinguished Speaker Series made for?
KW: We created this with curious, smart, open-minded people in mind. Our audience is made up of friends, neighbors, and community and business leaders who like to be entertained in a unique and compelling way.
SS: Look, billionaires and CEOs understand the value in this. They get exclusive invitations and pay thousands of dollars traveling the world to attend events like the Aspen Ideas Festival and the Milken Institute Global Conference. We present many of the same speakers, those whose remarkable leadership, accomplishments and opinions make a real difference. The big distinction is, for the same price as a good steak dinner, we are bringing the same experience to four neighborhoods close to home.
What’s next for you?
KW: We figure the next few years will be spent building the subscription base at the Westside Series. We anticipate like other series, we’ll be completely sold out with a 2-3 year waiting list to purchase a subscription.
How would you describe The Distinguished Speakers Series in 80 characters or fewer?
KW: Offering audiences across LA the chance to learn from 7 amazing people changing our world.
What advice would you give your younger self?
KW: Trust your instincts. Dream big. Stand up for your ideas and don’t let the fears of others influence your decisions. Your brain isn’t fully developed until your late twenties, so don’t make any big, life-changing decisions before then. Take that time to learn about yourself and take a big adventure or two.
SS: You never know where life will lead you, so enjoy the journey. You may end up in the most amazing place!
If you weren’t running this series, what would you be doing?
KW: Writing a book about all the fascinating people and the stories of what’s taken place with the speakers we have brought to the stage.
If you could only bring three things to a desert island, what would they be?
SS: Friends — if at all possible, ones that have watched Survivor.
Mac or PC?
SS: PC, but I wish I was Mac!
Sweet or savory?
Rain or snow?
SS: Snow, but I’m born and raised in California!
Arts or crafts?
Poetry or prose?
SS: Prose. We are the ‘Distinguished Speaker Series,’ after all.
Analog or digital?
SS: Analog. It’s the photographer’s perspective in me!
For photos, videos and information on upcoming events, visit the DSS Facebook page.
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