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The Return of Zeff

He’s the man who turned on-stage jokes about watermelon soup and mints into legendary memories at Conclave, and who makes us laugh until we cry.

Yes, we’re talking about the one, the only, Joel Zeff.

You kinda wish he’d make fun of you during one of the general sessions, but on the other hand, you fear he actually might. We get it. That’s his particular magic.

This year, the American Gem Society is fortunate to have Joel return as emcee for his fifth year in a row.

“Zeff” as his AGS friends call him is not just our emcee. He’s a national workplace expert, speaker, author, and humorist. Joel engages audiences with a blend of hilarious improvisational comedy and essential ideas on work and life. He has shared his experience and insight on creativity, communication, work/life balance, leadership, teamwork, passion, and fun at more than 2,000 events. His book, Make the Right Choice: Creating a Positive, Innovative and Productive Work Life is consistently listed as one of the top work/life balance books on Amazon. He has appeared on CNBC, and featured in the Dallas Morning News, Houston Chronicle, The Kansas City Star, and many other media outlets.

We asked Joel a few of questions about his experience with Conclave. We would say that we wanted to give you a chance to get to know him better, but that’s another magic of Zeff: he makes you feel like you have known him all your life.

Joel Zeff
Joel Zeff

How did you become involved with the American Gem Society’s Conclave?

My first Conclave, AGS contracted me as a featured speaker in New Orleans. I went to my room, presented my keynote, and departed. I didn’t attend any parties, general sessions, meals or really interact with anyone other than the audience who attended my session. I guess I made an impression in my session, because the following year AGS asked me to emcee Conclave in Washington, D.C., and present as a keynote speaker.

My second Conclave was really the beginning of this amazing and rewarding relationship. Each year, the connection and friendships strengthened. I started spending more time at the events. I attended Trivia night for the first time in Nashville. In Seattle, John Carter, CGA, (who was then President of the AGS Board of Directors) took me on a cavalcade of parties and dinners. You never really know when an incredible friendship starts. Only when time has passed, can you point to the beginning.

Joel Zeff, Conclave Seattle 2019
Joel Zeff, Conclave Seattle 2019
Joel Zeff, Conclave Seattle 2019

You genuinely seem fond of the AGS community, and have a connection with so many different members. What do you attribute this rapport to?

I am always inspired and really connect to people who are passionate about their careers and life. At Conclave, there is an entire audience of people that spend every day energized by their love of the jewelry business. My grandparents owned jewelry business. My father worked as a jewelry salesman. I see my family in AGS members. This history and back story are part of this fantastic connection.

AGS is undeniably an amazing group of people. I am lucky to have one tiny part of Conclave. And if you break it down, we are both in the same business. We bring joy. I bring joy by making people laugh. AGS members (no matter where they are in the industry) bring joy every time someone purchases a piece of jewelry. There is nothing healthier, more energizing, or more inspiring than being around people who bring joy.

Conclave is known for creating great memories. Tell us a few of your favorites:
As an entertainer and emcee that incorporates improvisational humor, I hope for one indelible and magical moment each performance. I could write a thesis on the glorious amount of these moments and experiences during my emcee history at Conclave. Here are my absolute top magical moments (in no particular order):

  1. Talking about the watermelon soup at lunch in Washington D.C.
  2. Realizing there is a sponsor for breath mints and making The Mint Guy (Yosef Poplack, RS, of Gem Wave) famous.
  3. Discussing that “Puppies” at Conclave (2017 Hollywood) are really “Adult Dogs” at Conclave.
  4. Dancing to AC/DC with John Carter, CGA, and Scott Berg, CG, on stage in Nashville to kick off Conclave.
  5. Discussing Michael Richards, CG, proposing to Denise Richards, CGA, at a Dave and Buster’s in Hollywood.
  6. Talking to (redacted) from the stage and (redacted) and then (redacted). If you know, you know.
  7. Discussing John Carter, CGA, shaking my hand after tucking in his shirt by reaching his hand through the zipper in his pants (Washington D.C. 2016…and retold in Seattle 2019).

Check out Joel’s Featured Session at Conclave!

This year, AGS Conclave attendees are in for a treat as Joel will be leading a featured session for us, “The Ta-Da of Teamwork.” Here’s his description of the class:

We are all improvising. We face challenges, disruption, change, and obstacles without a script or rehearsal. To find success, we need to work together, build trust, and create opportunities. During this session, Joel will discuss how the tenets of improvisation create successful teams.

Joel has spent the past 30 years performing and teaching the lessons of improvisation. This interactive, engaging and hilarious session will focus on staying in the game; facing fear, building trust, and asking the important question, “How do I help the people around me be successful?” Joel will also bring his famous TA-DA energy as he discusses the importance of opportunity, positive support, and active listening in collaboration.

Yes, you will have fun and laugh during this session. You will also learn how to collaborate more successfully and navigate change. Are you ready for the TA-DA?

This session will focus on:

  • Creating opportunity and positive support for your team to increase sales
  • Making the choice to “be in the moment” with customers
  • How to Stay in the Game when faced with challenges
  • Thrive during change by making the choice to be prepared and open, and flexible
To learn more about Joel Zeff, visit To see Zeff in person at Conclave, register today at