When I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life, “event planner” sounded very glam and like a great career path for a semi-stylish college grad with Political Science major and an English minor that had no interest in politics, and had no clue what to do with an English degree.
With beautiful flower arrangements and flashy light displays dancing in my head from big events I’d attended, I thought event planning was all about a beautiful flower arrangement and picking a killer color scheme. What I didn’t know: event planning is 10% creativity and 90% logistics.
In my professional life, I actually became an event planner. Usually event planners are super detailed, well-organized, and plan everything well in advance. I am not these things. This is both good and bad. Good: I am an event planner that can make plans and change on the fly – when something doesn’t go according to months of planning, it doesn’t make me unglued, it immediately sends me into quick solution mode. Bad: I can procrastinate because I know I can pull it off.
I’ve planned cocktail parties, golf tournaments, business lunches, outdoor movies and festivals. While each event varies in size, detail, decor, and vendors, every event has a common set of elements that would make any recent college grad run for another career path.
1. Nights, weekends and long hours.
Listen up, girlfriends: events that people want to attend do not happen between the hours of 9 to 5, or the days Monday through Friday. Business breakfasts start well before 9am and networking events do not start any earlier than 5 pm. Weddings, festivals, and any other social event will occur on the weekends. If you want to be an event planner, say “TTFN!” to nights, weekends, and free time.
2. The details – they do matter.
You have to make people feel special – the invitation, the decor, the music, and the program are all factors into the event guest’s experience. That’s the fun part, and takes about an hour to coordinate. Other professionals handle these aspects: florists & decor professionals, graphic designers, musicians, and entertainers. Ok, that’s not all true… do get to be creative and it is fun. Here is one awesomely silly project I worked on that took an inordinate amount of time. I was asked to create bobble heads as a gift for everyone attending a business retreat. I had to call all of their assistants with weird questions like “What are Mr. CEO’s eye color?” and ask for various pictures at different profile angles. However – the total project was very cool:
3. Surround yourself with talented people.
Choose your vendors wisely, and build great relationships with them. That’s a key element to pulling off a great event. Know who to call when you need a gigantic, functioning Scales of Justice built in a few days. The vendors that really know what they are doing can pull off a successful event no matter the circumstances – and those are the ones to use again and again. Praise them, love them, pay them on time.
4. Months of planning cannot prepare you for the things that can go wrong.
You can follow up with the caterer on the exact number of bagels they need to bring to accommodate the potential number of event attendees, and you can over-order the caffeinated coffee – but you can not foresee that the caterer will get locked in the elevator with all of the coffee and bagels. So you’d better be able to come up with a solution on the fly- without freaking out (too much). How to accomplish that? Know there is ALWAYS a solution to fix the problem without anyone knowing there is a problem. (In that case, we started a pot of coffee and made sure Dunkin’ Donuts had enough glazed and frosted donuts to accommodate our group in the case that the elevator remained stuck. Thankfully, the elevator opened and all the businessmen in attendance had no clue there was nearly a shortage of coffee.)
5. Don’t be the girl that sends too many updates.
My wedding coordinator printed off the very first schedule and details PDF I sent out, and used that as her point of reference. Well, versions #4, #5, and #6 had updated times, contacts, attendance estimates and details in it. She had her own system, and did not need mine. Don’t send out documents with all of the details until they are final. Sending out revisions is going to confuse everyone – and that includes vendors. If you have a change? Call it in, don’t send a new spreadsheet. It may keep you organized, but it will frustrate anyone trying to figure out how to change the order.
6. Very few – and you will be lucky if there is even one – will notice your hard work.
People complain. It’s what we do. People notice what is wrong much quicker than they notice what is right – and they definitely take more time to complain than they do praise. So don’t expect accolades.
I’ve had a LOT of fun planning events – and I always get excited to see the reaction of people having a great time. I’ve also had my moments of panic: and here are the top few that come to mind:
- Obviously, the caterer with the coffee locked in the elevator was pretty traumatic. If you skimmed this post, go back to #2.
- Sprinklers going off in a crowd watching Indiana Jones & the Raiders of the Lost Ark. No joke. Thankfully, two men in the audience turned it off while the person in charge explained that there was a “rogue sprinkler line we can’t figure out.”
- Too many people show up to an event: without getting into the details, let me just put it this way: I expected 50, and 2,000 showed up for a Tree Lighting Ceremony. We simply were not prepared for the crowd. Thankfully, they were all in the Christmas spirit and the crowd did not turn into an angry mob when they could not hear anything (small sound system), get free hot chocolate (we planned for 50), or see the entertainment (no stage).
- The first time I planned an Easter Egg Hunt: weeks of stuffing eggs, hours of putting them out in the park. It took approximately 5 minutes (and that is being generous) for those children to find all of the eggs. I even have a video of this spectacle:
Cheers! Event planning is fun. It’s just not what I expected it to be and always keeps me on my tippy-toes.