5 Things I Wish I Knew Before Starting a Career in Event Management

1. Event management is not glamorous, like at all.

My favorite saying is “it’s not a real event until your blisters are bleeding into your shoes!” Okay. Not really. But events are incredibly physical and strenuous in nature. It isn’t like what you see in David Tutera’s weddings or the Oscar after parties, at least not for the planner or manager. I have coordinated around 1000 events in my career that vary from corporate banquets, weddings, concerts, galas, and large scale festivals. ALL of them involve some serious blood, sweat, and tears. There is an incredible amount of walking, dragging rentals, tables, staging, glassware, or chairs all over the place, carrying heavy platters of food or flower arrangements, even climbing ladders or riding lifts to hang pipe & drape, signage, or ceiling swag. You will be sweaty. You will get blisters. You will occasionally smash a finger or toe. You will work 12, 14, 18 hour days. Events are not for the faint of heart. It takes a strong will to see an event all the way through from start to finish. But the feeling of accomplishment, in my opinion, is well worth the bloodied shoes.

Example: This photo was taken after a LONG 4 day concert series when I had been working at least 12 hours per day. At this point I was OVER it. My hair and make-up were destroyed, and I probably had taken my shoes off!

2. An event planner has to be a confident decision maker.

This is one that I really struggle with, and have struggled with throughout my career. Maybe because I started in weddings, and I really wanted to make sure the bride had her dream wedding in all aspects? Maybe it is just my personality to listen and try everything in my power to make it happen? I don’t like disappointing anyone, however, that is just not realistic in real event planning. There are budgets to contend with, structural limitations, public health considerations, and many other smaller decisions that need to made throughout the planning and execution phases of an event. Some decisions have to be made and dealt with right then, others can be brought to the stakeholders for opinions. In events, it’s important to be able to problem solve on your feet, and ask for forgiveness later. If the guests or hosts don’t notice the problem, then you have done the job you were hired to do. You can’t be afraid to make hard decisions to salvage the event. It’s the hard truth.

Example: Mr. Jimmie Allen here was performing for a benefit concert when 2 of his flights were delayed or cancelled. We had to make the decision to push his performance time back 2 hours and move the VIP Meet and Greet until the end of the show. He didn’t even have his clothes when he showed up and went on in his sweats! At least he was a good sport about it all.

3. Event managers can’t fix many problems the day of the event.

It is too late to try to fix anything the day of the event. You can try to salvage things, but PLANNING is the most important tool to ensure you have a successful event. That means creating timelines, check-lists, and contingency plans. It also means that you have to communicate these plan to the host, staff, vendors, entertainers, etc. No event will ever be perfect, but trying to communicate with vendors, entertainers, and other stakeholders the day of the event will usually cause added stress and problems. You have to know inside and out, what is supposed to happen, in order to easily solve problems that do arise. For example, you don’t want to be calling around the day of the event to find a DJ you forgot to book, only to find out the wind knocked over the top-tier of the wedding cake. Effective planning would have eliminated one of these issues which would have left you in a much better situation to handle the cake. Hint: in case the wind ever does destroy the top tier of a your cake, real flowers out of the arrangements make fantastic cake toppers!

Example: There is nothing major you can do or change once this party starts! I couldn’t have added or changed anything even if I tried. It was all about managing the crowds and getting people home safely at this point.

4. Communication is the most important tool you have for events.

Going along with number 3, being a solid communicator is key to success. I have pre-established timelines that outline specifically when I need to get information out to the effected parties. It is a pattern of continued communication that keeps everyone involved, informed, and helps head off any problems that you may not have anticipated. There is nothing worse than the rental company showing up with the wrong color linens because you forgot to tell them the host changed to white linens instead of black. This is also a learning process for event planners, coordinators, and managers. You have to establish a system that works for you. With my strategy, I was able to coordinate and manage 250+ events in a year with many happening on the same day. The other piece to this is being available to communicate with staff and vendors the day of the event, especially large scale events where it can be impossible to locate you in person. There have been many a-times I had my cell phone in my hand, my work phone in my pocket, and a two-way clipped to my shirt! Success comes with the ability to head off problems as soon as they come up, not an hour later or the next day.

Example: Communication is key when dealing with hundreds of vendors, booths, artists, staff, sponsors, compounded with thousands of guests. This beer festival had 20,000 people attend!

5. Event professionals will be underappreciated.

Here’s the thing, if you do the event well, it will look incredibly easy. That leaves you with unappreciative guests, hosts, clients, and there will be those that think all you do is make things “look pretty.” I have heard that phrase numerous times over the course of my career. I used to let it bother me until I realized that it isn’t until a person gets really in to the meat of planning a large scale event, that they understand the level of patience, creativity, perseverance, and skill that it takes to accomplish a single event. Event professionals have a high rate of burnout due to stress, and I believe this feeling of being unappreciated is part of the problem. It seems easy to the untrained eye, and therefore, you get treated like events and festivals just drop out of the sky ready to enjoy. They don’t understand your stress or why you are working 15 hours that day. Event planning and management is not a career for notoriety. You have to do it because you love it, and the challenge.

Example: The entertainers and the host will get all the glory in every event you produce. It won’t matter if you work for a venue, a non-profit, or event management company. Change your mindset to think that you are being paid to make them look better than they could. You are basically a make-up artist for venues!

Bonus! All event pros have to carve out personal time for some work/life balance!

I can tell you that it is SO easy to get into the habit of working on your events ALL THE TIME. I used to catch myself searching for decorations and rentals for a cheaper price, or messaging with different artists, or getting sucked into emails that “seemed” like an emergency when I should have been spending time with my family. With events there is a hard deadline. Most of the time the event date cannot be changed if you are not ready, so it gets to be really easy to get sucked down the rabbit hole, of worrying that it isn’t going to come together. This is where your communication skills and planning skills come in to play. Of COURSE you are going to be anxious as deadlines approach (or have nightmares about candelabras like me!), but make sure you are only taking on a work load that you AND your family can handle. Family should be number 1. Take care of yourself and your family first. Your planning skills will take care of the rest. You got this.

Examples: My littles at my daughter’s cheer competition. I learned I needed to cut back so I wouldn’t miss moments like this.

I want to hear from other event pros! What are some things you wish you had known before starting your career?

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