So You Want to be an Event Planner? 10 Things to Consider First

Event PlannerWhen Business Traveler Magazine announced me as me as Business Traveler of the Year, the article highlighted my profession: I’m a corporate event marketing manager (aka I have a lot of responsibilities; overseeing and executing events for my company being the focal point of what I do). Suddenly I began receiving emails proclaiming what a “cool” lifestyle I lead and asking me how to become an event planner.

The Truth About Being an Event Planner

Around the same time, I discovered an Infographic You Know You’re an Event Planner When… published on Event Manager Blog in 2012. I laughed and nodded along because while not all of it applies, most of it is true in my working world. Definitely take a look.

Let me be candid: My job rocks. I travel around the world and eat in amazing restaurants. I hang out with famous people and in my position I am greatly trusted. Everyone with whom I work? Adore them, and I’d venture to write that they think highly of me, too. The hubs can tag along at times and it is more than a treat when he can attend an event with me.

AND my job is demanding. Really demanding. There is a lot more to it than “planning a party” or wining and dining people. So here are ten things to consider before you decide to take the event planner plunge:

1) Are you detail oriented?

Planning events means you are not only responsible for every single thing that takes place before an event months or even a year or more ahead of time – you are responsible for making EVERYTHING happen during the period of time you are onsite. This even includes making sure you have enough electricity, measuring wattage so you order the right amount of said electricity, power supplies and back-up plans in case a piece of equipment fails (oh and it will). Is there a medical emergency plan in place? Did you secure any necessary permits and make sure the fire marshal has approved your room design plans (if the venue requires it)? Agendas are moving targets and while you’re busy making sure everything else is running smoothly, you also need to make sure the schedule is running on time. And of course there are BEO’s. If you ordered food for 400 and your sales manager accidentally leaves a ‘0’ off, guess what? You’ll be ordering a lot of pizzas! Details! If you can dream it, think it or wonder about it – you are responsible for it. If you are more of a fly by the seat of your pants kind of person, event planning may not be for you.

I pack everything but the kitchen sink. Oh wait, I’ve packed that before, too!


2) Can you negotiate?

Contract negotiation will become part of your life. Hotels and other suppliers are in business for themselves and of course have to earn a profit. Still, everything is negotiable and you should act in the best interest of your business when conducting the RFP process. You also have to be comfortable with getting SOW’s and LOA’s instead of doing business with a handshake. This also goes back to being detail oriented. Contract review will be a constant. Contracts often have mistakes and should always be read several times before turning them over to your Legal team. It’s up to you to catch those mistakes! If you miss a concession, don’t have the proper clauses or a room night pattern is off, this could lead to problems down the road. I personally love contracts, but if you don’t you should learn to love tolerate them if you want to be an event planner!

3) Do you like to sleep?

There are times I am up at 4am or 5am and not in bed until midnight or 1am. Event preparation takes A WHOLE LOTTA hours. You are the first to get there and the last to leave. This is not the case every time, however, in instances of major trade shows or large training events the days are very long and the hours of sleep are not. Factor in time changes, jet-lag and travel hours and a regular sleep pattern is pretty much non-existent. As a friend once told me, “You live your life in a constant state of jet-lag.” Truth. If you need a lot of sleep, event planning may not be for you.

4) Are you okay with missing out on friends’ and family members’ lives? Your own life?

I have often missed out on friend’s birthday parties, have had to cancel plans numerous times and even missed the hubs’ nasal surgery because I was traveling. Being on the road seventy-percent of the time several months out of the year, it happens. I’ve missed blogging conferences and other charity events. This does not apply to all planners, but if you go the corporate route, you can expect a lot of travel. While a lot of people think the job is all glitz and glamour, it’s often seeing nothing more than the inside of a hotel ballroom or makeshift office. There are those trips where free-time won’t exist. This month in Vegas, I was up before the sun rose and in bed after it set each day. I did not see daylight until the day I left. If you have at-home obligations you may want to reconsider being an event planner.

5) Are you okay keeping track of hundreds or thousands of other people, let alone yourself?

Not only are you keeping track of things like their registrations, hotel confirmation numbers and meeting schedules, they really do think you are a magical being who can get things. Lots and lots of things! Often event planners can pull a lot of strings, this is true. And your meeting attendees will know it. It’s both a compliment and a curse to be so relied upon. When you are at your busiest and when something is going wrong, you can absolutely count on nine people talking to you at once for something they need right then and there. Like a dinner reservation on the busiest night of the year in a city hosting an industry-wide conference at a restaurant that has been booked solid for at least half a year (yes, I still got the reservation). Only want to fend for yourself? Reconsider this path as a profession.

Event Planner
More like 90…Photo credit: Chris Shipton, Event Manager Blog

6) Are you okay that work doesn’t stop at work?

There is no such thing as 9 to 5 as an event planner. There are times I am up at 4:30am on calls with Europe and in the office late on calls with Japan. Because I work with colleagues on the other coast, there are plenty of 6:30am calls, too. You will work weekends and have weeks without a day off. You’ll get tired and cranky. You WILL have those days. And you still need to be a team player and on your A-game. Need a 9 to 5 gig? Events may not be for you.

7) Can you maintain a budget like a champ?

I oversee a budget that is not only spent for my team and department’s events, but it is sometimes used for other departments in the company. It can be a challenge to make sure everyone is on the same page. This requires regular communication, clearly setting expectations and a constant tracking of spends. It also requires pushing back on requests when appropriate – not always easy, I know. When the Senior VP asks me where numbers stand, you bet I’m ready with a spreadsheet to go over what has already been spent and what is assigned to future allocations! If you hate balancing your checkbook and keep track of how you spend money in your head by using the “guestimate” method, you’ll want to make fast friends with Excel.

8) Can you take constructive feedback?

EVERYONE has an opinion. EVERYONE. Why is the carpet so light? Why pipe and drape instead of wall wraps? 80″ monitor? Too small! The food should have been brought out at 7:41am instead of 7:45am. I like 2003 Pinot instead of 2004. My suite faces west, not south! Car pick-up sent a charcoal Lincoln instead of a black Mercedes! Some people will have no tact. In fact, they can be downright jerks. If there is nothing to complain about, they still will find something. You’re the subject matter expert. You already know everything that’s going to happen. If you can consider it from the attendee point of view, it helps. And lots of deep breaths. I send out a post-event survey. It helps me become a better planner (even if I won’t be ordering 200″ screens). If you don’t have thick skin, you need to develop it in this profession.

9) Can you remain calm under pressure while displaying the patience of a saint?

Okay, perhaps saint is a strong word. Often people will tell me, “Heather, I don’t know how you do it. You’re so calm.” Oh believe me, every planner will tell you that there are moments of complete and utter panic. Moments you want to run and hide in a corner. But you know that in the end, everything will work out. It will all come together and it does. Still, if you are prone to emotional outbursts or a very sensitive person, event planning may not be your calling.

10) You have read all this and still think it could be worth it.

It is. It so totally is.

Event Planner Business Traveler of the Year
In Hollywood receiving the Business Traveler of the Year Award

Have questions? Have a checklist item of your own? Add them to the comments!