True Confessions of a Professional Event Planner

Beyond being organized and creative, it takes many skills to be a professional Event Planner. I knew I was creative and organized, as many people pointed out to me, but I had no clue I would tap into so many other unrealized skills once I went pro.

After being hired to help produce a custom home show, I immediately got my feet wet with BIG challenges. This 5 week show required bulldozers to prepare parking lots, sewer connections to our temporary office, 9 phone lines for credit card sales, and 7 motor-coaches running consecutively for 12 hours a day. Other challenges included: field fires, encroaching wildlife, exploding electric transformers, an emergency life flight, calculating food sales and scheduling hundreds of volunteers. I know, many of you are thinking “that’s nothing, I had an elephant die during a performance,” but this event became the foundation of my newborn event planning career.
Here are five secret skills all professional event planners possess:

1. Grammar
The most challenging skill I honed was creative writing. I write emails, proposals, website entries, scopes of work, contracts, billing, inquiries, requests for proposals, marketing pieces and even articles. Early on, I asked a journalist friend to critique almost every piece of correspondence I created. Those red-marked revisions really stay with you and I learned to turn to the dictionary and thesaurus and look at synonyms in a whole new light.

2. Mathematics
Jack of all trades perfectly describes most event planners, so don’t wait until you are on-site and the generator provider is about to leave to learn how many watts of power your event actually requires. Avoid the dreaded “where’s the breaker-box?” when “Lights, Camera, Action” is called out. Mastering math now becomes a subtle tool; calculating amps, watts, ounces, pounds, inches, yards and of course dollars. Who knew ordering a linen table cloth would second-guess my ability to multiply? These vital elements that help make us and our event look incredible are like little children with their own needs. To learn how these independent providers join in unison, I volunteered at large public events.

3. Liability
Choosing themes or florals may come naturally to many, but contracts are intimidating. Protecting ourselves, our clients and their guests requires a bit of investigating. Adding insurance riders, fabric fire retardant certificates, abundant lighting or health certificates are not fun jobs. Relying on other professionals like lawyers, professors, accountants and insurance agents are essential. Even the smallest of mishaps can tarnish an otherwise stellar event, so addressing safety falls on the shoulders of the planner. It’s often an under- appreciated skill professional planners must obtain and promote.

4. Legality
Keeping it legal is one more secret talent we are rarely recognized for. Addressing street closures, the alcohol sales license, gaming permits, fire safety permits, overflow parking or capacity regulations continue to be daunting tasks. The problem is to know which questions to ask. I plan an annual beauty industry event for legislators and decided to have a Show Poodle be the living centerpiece. Cool idea huh? My intuition led me to ask around and like restaurants, salons are regulated and pets are not allowed. How embarrassing it would have been to have broken the law with legislators as guests! This is a perfect example of the value professional planners bring.

5. Food and Beverage
Food enriches every event and is a key element in the memories guests leave with. Curiosity is my favorite skill, one that takes me to farmers markets, fine grocery stores, ethnic markets and ahhh, the Food Network®. You also need to quench the guests’ thirst and as a professional event planner you must be at least as knowledgeable about wine and spirits as your client. Ask questions when you are around wine, search winery websites and go to a wine tasting with someone who knows more than you. My philosophy is don’t serve something someone can have anytime, somewhere else. If we don’t make it “special” then why hire a special event planner?

Reading industry publications both print and electronic are a must for this ever-changing, trend-setting industry.

And, as if our plates aren’t full enough…someone mentioned they sent me a tweet?