A Reluctant Sage

Interns and young colleagues often ask me what it takes to be a successful planner. I admit I find their inquiries a little “off-putting”. I don’t see myself as a grizzled old pro, but I suppose that’s how they see me and, I suppose, that’s exactly what I am.  So, I recently decided to surrender to their flattery and think carefully about what I consider the skills required to be a successful event planner. I began by reviewing the step-by-step process I used when planning my last complex event. If you ask me, here’s what it takes to be a successful event planner.

  • Strategic Thinker – The most important piece of the meeting and event planning process is defining the strategy. If a client doesn’t know why their having the meeting, they shouldn’t have one.
  • Project Manager – After developing the strategic plan I develop a framework for tracking deliverables, deadlines, and keeping track of all meeting elements.
  • Financial Manager – Developing and adhering to a budget is a critical part of an event planner’s task. I am not a CPA or a CFP. It took time to develop this skill, but it is essential to delivering value to an event client.
  • Administrative Mastery – A successful planner must be a good administrator. Let’s face it, there’s an enormous amount of paperwork involved in the meeting planning process. If you like to fly by the seat of your pants, you better get over it. Orderly administration is essential to successful event outcomes.
  • Human Resource Professional – The successful meeting planner must be able to evaluate, select, train, motivate, and direct staff members, volunteers, and vendors.
  • Stakeholder Manager – This complex skill is especially critical to meeting planners. Every meeting or event has internal and external stakeholders – clients, CEOs, board members, participants, officials, and sponsors. It is essential to define what’s important to each of them, then prioritize and coordinate those interests. It’s a pretty neat trick if you can pull it off.
  • Designer – The design of meetings and events has become an increasingly important competitive element. Attendees expect to be wowed by your meeting’s design theme or your meeting will fall flat in comparison. Although I usually engage a professional designer, I cannot afford to take a hands-off approach. I have the best feel for what my audience anticipates and have a firm grasp on the message my client is trying to send.
  • Marketing Manager – There’s no such thing as a one-size-fits-all marketing plan. Your event has multiple audiences that may want to attend, so it’s important to define who those potential audience segments are, articulate what they care about, and determine how you’ll reach them.
  • Nice Person – Meetings and events are social occasions. They are so complex that it takes a comparatively large team to put them together and “getting along” with people is an indispensable skill for forming and leading large teams. You have to naturally care about people, respect them, and have a sense of humor if you expect to “make it” in this game. In other words, you may be a hard-working genius, but if you’re not a nice person you will never succeed as a meeting planner. 

Old – But Not Grizzled 

This is what I tell my young colleagues about what it takes to succeed as a meeting planner. All of the skills above, however, will not “add-up” to success unless they are informed with a massive dose of enthusiasm. I may be “old” but I’m not “grizzled”. I love what I do.

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