When it comes to an every day versus a nonevent day, there’s a world of difference in how individual meeting and event planners attack their day.
Plan of Attack
“My schedule is a little different than our event coordinators who actually help execute events on a daily basis,” says Katarina Scott, ballroom and events manager for CityFlatsHotel in Grand Rapids. “I’m primarily in the office Monday through Friday with a few weekends mixed in, so I primarily take care of all the bookings, client meetings, scheduling of meetings, scheduling everything that has to do with events when it comes to vendors and scheduling our own staff.
“So my approach when I arrive at the office is I have lots of to-do lists and things that I do on a weekly and on a monthly basis to keep our department running smoothly. My hours vary day-by-day based on what meetings I have,” Scott says.
“I start my day with as much caffeine as possible,” laughs Allison Beers, owner of Events North in Traverse City. “For both event days and nonevent days, I try to start them with a couple deep breaths to get centered, and start planning from there.”
Every planner deals a little differently with challenges on a daily basis. “You have a vision in your head as you want it to go one way and make sure that happens,” says Alanna Klomp, CMP, corporate event sales manager for the West Michigan Whitecaps and Fifth Third Ballpark in Grand Rapids.
“You might have to try different vendors. You want to make sure the end-product matches what your vision is. Staff is always a big challenge, making sure when you turn things over to your staff, they’re executing to your standards or your organization’s standards.”
“Communication is a big challenge,” says Hannah Wong, CMP, meeting and events manager for Special D Events in Ferndale and Detroit. “If the client and the vendors aren’t all on the same page and the communication isn’t there, that’s a recipe for things going wrong at an event. So I usually try to establish a relationship with a vendor or a client to make sure that my expectations are clear. They know how I like to communicate, whether it’s by email or phone, and how often, whether it’s weekly or monthly.”
Tools & Templates
MEETING AND EVENT PLANNERS UTILIZE VARIOUS TOOLS TO STAY FOCUSED AND ON TRACK.
“We use Smartsheet, which is a project management tool, for every event,” says Wong. “I have a to-do list, and that helps me keep track of it all for week-by-week. By the end of the week, I need to have accomplished this, this and that. We also use Slack for inter-office communication, which helps with event channels so we can keep in touch for informal, event-related conversations.”
“I use Formstack for online registration and FileMaker for attendee records and documents, speaker contracts, verification forms and communication with attendees,” says Laurie Nickson, of the Michigan Department of Education. “Excel is used for creating meeting logistics documents including roomsets, audio-visual and meal functions or counts.”
What about the stress or pressure that comes with planning?
“You have to be as prepared and organized as possible,” says Kate Walski, CSEP, owner of 307 Events, an event design and décor company in Traverse City. “The more prepared you are, the better you’re going to feel going into an event. If you’re running behind and you don’t have everything as organized as you’d like, that can be very stressful.
“It’s also important to run through potential scenarios of things that could happen that you might need to be aware of and deal with. So having a lot of foresight and making sure that you’re prepared for whatever might come up is key. Also, having a good work-life balance is important because, if you’re always working, this industry can really burn you out. So make sure that you take time for yourself and your family,” she says.
“I think it’s key to be able to be flexible in this industry,” says Brooke Purcell, event manager for The Henry Hotel in Dearborn. “Not every event is perfect. Being able to adjust without panicking is very important. Also, my checklists make me feel less stressed. I’m very much a list person, so if I have it written down, it helps me feel more calm.”
“I’m in an office,” says Wong, “where we have more than 15 people, so I’m constantly, even on nonevent days, bouncing ideas off my co-workers, seeking ideas and advice from them, making client calls, and participating with calls to vendors.”
“We have a pretty big team,” Scott adds. “I communicate not only with a lot of clients via phone, email and in person, but as far as our team, I’m surrounded by anywhere from one to five other coordinators, interns and staff members who are helping with event execution and setup of our events.”
Yes, there actually are times when a planner might enjoy working alone.
“I usually work alone when I’m doing registration stuff,” says Beers. “I like to be in the office, quiet, early morning, before anyone else is in, when the phone isn’t ringing and I don’t hear the beeps of emails. That’s usually a great time to work alone.”
“I work alone when making event orders,” Purcell says. “I find that when I have a quiet environment and there’s not a lot of things happening in the office, I get a lot more done when it comes to getting my checklist done.”
Staff meetings are a must for planners.
“Generally,” says Walski, “I have a meeting once a week with my staff, my floral design manager, our sales coordinator and our operations manager. We sit down and talk about all of the upcoming events for that week and for the following week. We go over all the details of the events.”
Says Purcell, “We have a daily banquet-eventorder meeting where we walk through three days at a time. On Thursdays, we actually go all the way through the weekend to Monday where we read through the event orders, go over everything from what’s being included on the menu to every setup detail, and then discuss if there are any questions or concerns.”
Planners are always on the prowl to learn more about trends and new concepts, places and venues.
“I get a lot of information from people in my office,” says Wong. “Every week, at our staff meetings we always try to ask people about new venues and new partners that they’ve worked with. We keep record of all the venues that we’ve used. We get all the magazines, including Michigan Meetings + Events! I keep track of a bunch of industry associations and get their emails regularly.”
“I’m part of MPI, the Michigan chapter,” says Klomp. “I attend a lot of their educational events to learn about those types of things. I’m also a member of MSAE, which puts on some educational events, too. Then there are newsletters that circulate via email and publications that we’ll read.”
Lovin’ Those To-Do Lists
CHECKLISTS ARE A MUST FOR MEETING AND EVENT PLANNERS TO STAY ORGANIZED.
“I use to-do lists,” Nickson says. “I have a checklist for every event planned, kind of a task-and-time line checklist. It’s on my computer, but I also post it in my office so I can see it all the time. If something happens and I can’t get into the computer system while I’m on the phone, I can turn and look at it right away.”
“I do something called bullet journaling,” says Wong. “That keeps all my to-dos and tasks organized.”
Planners are constantly reaching out to others for advice and ideas.
“I belong to several organizations, including MPI,” Brown says. “We’re in contact on a regular basis through industry meetings and networking at social events and trade shows that we all attend. If something unusual comes up, I’ll discuss it with them, get their opinions, see if they’ve encountered a similar situation and see how they handled it.”
Says Beers, “I try to read every publication that comes in the mail and daily blogs that come to me.”
Getting advice from mentors or others in the business is important for planners.
“One thing that I’ve learned is that you always should have a plan B,” says Klomp. “Things will not always go as expected, and there’s always another way to do it. You may have to enact that at any point during the planning process to make sure an event goes off smoothly.”
“Take it one day at a time,” says Scott.
Adds Wong, “Don’t be afraid to take risks.”
MEETING AND EVENT PLANNERS ALWAYS HAVE A TIP OR TWO TO SHARE WITH OTHERS.
“I think the No. 1 thing that I try to remember and always do is, no matter how great a meeting or event went off, there’s always room for improvement,” says Beers. “We sit down after every single event while we’re still on-site and while we’re tired and try to talk about what went well and what could’ve been better. And we try to remember them and pull those notes up for future events.”
“I think it’s important to stay invested in the industry as a whole and to continue to be learning and trying to educate yourself on new trends and to also network,” says Walski. “I think networking is one of the most important things you can do in this industry. You’re going to learn from other professionals, and you’ll be able to have a much better connection when you’re going to work with other vendors and other planners.”
Meeting and event planners spend various amounts of time preparing for events and activities versus searching for new clients or new opportunities.
“Ideally, it should be 50-50,” says Klomp. “However, some events do consume more of your time in executing and planning out the details of them. I’m fortunate enough that we’ve been able to hire an event coordinator here, so, once an event is booked, I’m able to turn it over to that person, which frees me up to bring in new business.”
“I probably spend 75 percent of my time planning and coordinating meetings and professional developments,” Nickson says.
PLANNERS LOVE TALKING ABOUT FAVORITE WAR STORIES.
“The nature of our job is to have things happen on-site and address them in a calm and organized fashion,” says Beers. “I’ve never had a natural disaster or anything that would be such a horror story that would make it one for the ages. It really does come down to planning so you can change gears if you need to if, for instance, it starts raining and you need a thousand umbrellas and ponchos.
“The craziest we had was two or three years ago when we were working with the Center for Automated Research, and they were up at the Grand Traverse Resort and Spa in Traverse City,” recalls Beers. “This superstorm came in and knocked out all the power the morning of the meeting. We just rolled with the punches and took it minute-by-minute and figured out what we could do to be best to get things running. Food and beverage wasn’t functional. Everyone was smart enough to be solution-oriented and tried to come up with what was going to be the best for everyone involved. The power came back on before the evening event.”
“One of our biggest issues most recently,” Walski says, “was when we were planning a big, corporate event, and we were working with the client to do a big décor element. The venue asked us to run it by the fire marshal. It’s a product that’s standard across the industry, and it’s used at all different types of events. So we didn’t anticipate it being an issue.
“But our fire marshal, about two weeks ahead of our major event, shut down that big focal point. So we then had to go to plan B, and we were able to do that because of the connections we have in the industry,” she says. “We had to go back to our client and explain why we weren’t able to provide this feature, but because we had some other vendors that we were able to reach out to, we were able to end up giving them a better one in the end.”
Laurie Nickson, CMP
Director of Professional Programs
Michigan Association for the Education of Young Children
Michigan Department of Education, Lansing
Event day: “I’m on-site and on my feet usually 16-18 hours. You’re putting out fires as you need to and making sure everything is running smoothly,” she says.
Nonevent day: “I’m not at the office at 6:30 in the morning. It’s a little more low key. I’m in the office working on meeting and conference contracts, logistics and programs, and more.”
Adds Nickson, “The night before I leave the office, I create a to-do list on my computer for the next day. So I’ve got a to-do list of things that I need to be sure that I’m attacking. And usually it’s prioritized. I check my voicemails and emails first and see what I can put off, unless something is urgent. If it’s urgent, I address it right away. If it’s not urgent, I go to my to-do list.”
Nonevent day: “I actually begin with a little spiritual meditation at 6-6:30 in the morning, just to get me prepared for the day. Then I head to the office. I have a dedicated staff of six planners. We typically start off with a 20-minute morning meeting in which we outline our goals and objectives for the day,” she says. “From there, we’re always in the midst of planning various events, so this is an opportunity everyone has—the core area they’re responsible for—to give an update as to where they are and if there are any problems they’ve encountered.”
Event day: “It’s crazy, but I love it. I wouldn’t change it for the world. I wake up in the morning always thinking two or three steps ahead. I think about the experience from the team’s perspective and from the client’s perspective. I arrive at the venue the day before or hours before the event to make sure the rooms are turned over from the previous event if there was one, and that they’re set based upon the event orders that we required. Three of my team leads and I do the walk-through—we compare the event orders against the room sets and make sure everything is in place,” Brown says
Brown approaches each day knowing that there are always challenges. “Each morning, I start knowing that, although we’re all caught up with everything based upon our clients’ specifications from the night before or week before, those specifications could change. And they change quite often because, a lot of times, when we’re doing events or meetings, we’ll have registration closing on a certain day. And, from there, that’s when we determine all of the other specifications required for that event as far as seating, different things we may want to distribute to our attendees and different things of that nature.
“A lot of times,” Brown explains, “our clients will come back to us and say, ‘I know registration is closed, but we need to add some people, so we need an additional 10, 20, 30 or 40 extra seats.’ My goal is to try to accommodate my client as much as possible. So we always leave room for changes in everything that we do when I’m designing and laying out the floor plan and the table settings. We try to accommodate and make provisions for last-minute changes.”