I recently met a great bunch of ladies in Manchester all from a large, global organisation. Their job titles ranged from PA to Team Secretary and they had come along to my presentation on “Top 10 Tips to De-Stress Your Events” for an Institute of Administrative Management’s CPD evening.
There was a wide range of experience between them and as we chatted throughout the evening we discussed some of the things we’ve all had to deal with when planning and delivering a variety of events.
And just like me, they’ve learnt how to deal with all sorts of challenges, in the heat of the moment, when things are going wrong and there’s no time to think…only to act.
Many administrative staff have all the qualities of good event planners… highly organised, used to multi-tasking, great interpersonal skills, creative, flexible and pro-active. If you Google the skills required for an event planner and a PA, they’re almost identical.
But it takes a certain kind of person to be a great event planner, someone who can deal with the unexpected, and quickly and quietly pick themselves up and move on to the next project with no loss of momentum.
My first 7 years in the world of work were spent as a graphic designer for an international publishing house. When I decided to jump ship, I became the administrator and co-ordinator for a national programme at a large membership organisation. I organised meetings, took minutes, juggled several projects simultaneously, all the usual administrator roles. But I also had to hit the ground tumbling as I picked up the reins to organise a national healthcare conference with high-level NHS representatives and Government Ministers. I had no guidance, no mentor and no experience. It took more than a few deep breaths to get through the planning meetings alone.
20 years later, the nerves still occasionally come when I’m involved in something new but I’ve learnt to trust my ability to cope even in the face of the little voice whispering “can you really do this?” So, drawing on the conversation with the lovely ladies in Manchester and my 20 years of event planning, I’ve put together my top 10 qualities of a great event planner…
Loyalty and respect – for everyone from The Boss right through to the operations crew at the venue. Great teamwork relies on having each others’ backs when the going gets tough and avoiding the blame game when things go wrong.
Agility and stamina – who hasn’t had to run to the local deli for a platter of sandwiches when the lunch didn’t turn up for that meeting of VIPs?! I once ran to a local supermarket because a delegate wanted blackcurrant squash and the client had only organised plain water to accompany lunch. And it’s not just the running there…it’s the returning looking unphased and unruffled….you need to be pretty fit to accomplish that! Top tip…if you like wearing heels when you’re working, wedges are much easier to run in than stilettos.
Discretion – from dedicated prison officers to over-stretched NHS staff, I have sometimes found myself having a polite chat over lunch with a delegate that has then turned into a heart-to-heart and people have sometimes revealed very personal information to me. I see it as a compliment that a guest feels comfortable enough in my company to share something intimate. I always respect their confidence by never sharing anything I’ve been told with colleagues or other delegates.
A never-ending smile – AV gone down? Keynote speak AWOL? Conference packs gone astray? You’ll frantically paddle away under the water sorting it all out whilst maintaining a big smile (keeping it real!) and a warm handshake for all those guests arriving with the expectation of a fantastic day.
Lightning decision-making skills – “If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs…” I’m sure Rudyard Kipling wrote “If” with event planners in mind. There’s no time to get flustered when things go pear-shaped. Keeping a cool head allows you to trouble-shoot extremely quickly and calmly. Panickers and ditherers…step aside!
A high pain threshold – toothache, stinking cold, period pain, migraine, screaming feet from heels being a bit too high….you learn to suck it all up and crack on regardless. All with that never-ending smile still in place.
Tenacity – persistence and determination are usually what’s needed in the twilight hours when you’re opening all the completed conference packs up (again) because the sponsor’s new brochure is hot off the press and needs to be included.
Resourcefulness – over the years I’ve compiled a lightweight, easy-to-carry mini tardis of event kit bits, all in miniature form, that come in handy in an emergency. Everything from a lint roller for the speaker with a very fluffy white cat, over-the-counter painkillers, to double-sided tape for fixing a trouser hem that has come down.
Modesty and humility – inevitably you’ll have performed to your peak and delivered an amazing event, but if you’re hoping for a grand thank you for a job well done, best put your pride aside and quickly and quietly move on to the next project. I take my biggest satisfaction from the occasional written feedback from guests saying they felt valued and well-looked after.
Self-belief – 20 years of event planning and delivery have taught me that I may not always have the experience to tackle new and sometimes daunting challenges but, I’ve learnt to trust myself. Having a strong instinct to provide excellence on every level inevitably sends me in the right direction to learn, upskill and armour myself better for the next big project.
What special qualities do you think make a great event planner?
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