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10 (Harsh) Truths Nobody Tells You About Being an Event Planner

By Becki Cross

A lot is written and observed about the traits of Event Managers and what it takes to be a great Event Planner. On the flipside, however, some of these common characteristics we share and our demanding career path can actually be a nightmare for those around us, at home, work and play.

In this post we explore the downsides of our work as an #Eventprof. This is essential reading for anyone training to be an Event Manager or starting out in the industry and should strike a cord with all Event Planners. This light-hearted post is a special thank you to our friends and loved ones who put up with us day in and day out and love us anyway, despite these foibles and our unconventional jobs!

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harsh truths of being an event planner

Perfectionist or Control Freak?

Attention to detail matters a lot in this job, for obvious reasons. However there is actually a very fine line between a perfectionist and a control freak. If you believe that you have to do everything yourself to ensure your high standards are met and struggle with delegation you may have crossed the line!

Do you believe that everything will crumble if you do not micro-manage every single detail? Try to keep a healthy perspective and reality check yourself otherwise with so many details to manage on every single event you can easily burn yourself out with stress and anxiety. Remember events are about team work for the greatest chance of success.

It is also sometimes inevitable and completely outside of your control when things go wrong. At times like these you need the right side of your brain to take the lead, rather than the methodical, task-based and logical left side. When you have to think on your feet and react quickly you really show your worth as an Event Manager. It takes nerves of steel not to crumble and to take control of the situation authoritatively and quickly and to smoothly direct a new plan of action. On the plus side there is no time to worry about it and the adrenalin often kicks in. You really must “Keep Calm and Carry On.”

All Work and No Play

Many people envy the role of an #eventprof. It is true that the job can have many perks, but it certainly isn't always as glamorous as many people imagine!

In reality it is hard work. It involves long, long hours and plenty of pressure to ensure everything goes to plan. If you are looking for a set 9 to 5 job this probably isn't the career for you to choose. Flexibility is key and you need to be prepared to work relentlessly and for as long as necessary to ensure that everything is ready on time for your event.

Moreover, when the event is in full swing on the day/night there is often no time to relax (or even sometimes to eat!). At the end of the day you are putting on the event for other peoples benefit, delight and objectives, you are there to do a job and not to enjoy yourself!

Of course jet setting across the world or even just to other towns and cities sounds exciting but often you have little or no time to explore the outside world before you are back on the plane/boat/train/car back home again.

Shhh. Don’t Tell!

Another misconception about our job is how lucky we are to work with celebrities and famous people and this is true most, or at least some, of the time. It is great to truly appreciate how someone has deservingly got where they are through talent and charisma and seemingly managed to stay grounded.

HOWEVER I think every #eventprof has horror stories of egotistical, downright rude and dislikeable characters we have had the “pleasure” to work with. But of course what happens backstage, stays backstage - or at least until I write my memoirs!

It’s Not All About You

One of the greatest skills of an Event Planner is actually fading into the background! You are not the star of the show, you are there to silently and efficiently work behind the scenes so that the event happens as if by magic.

Of course people should know where to turn if they have any questions or concerns but humility is actually a very important attribute for every Event Manager and this is a good marker to me of a successful event.

Sociable and Outgoing? Or Simply too Loud?

This profession seems to attract those that are fairly confident and outgoing, which makes sense in this public facing and customer orientated role. However it is important to realise that what is sociable to one person can sometimes be seen as overbearing to another. I have certainly met some marmite characters in the world of events.

The best #eventprofs are able to judge a situation and the characters involved perfectly and blend in as the circumstances demand. Like a chameleon they are well practised at keeping the conversation flowing on seemingly any topic, champions at asking questions, listening and showing an interest and of course able to inject professionalism, humour, intrigue and storytelling as required.

Tech Obsessed

For many Event Managers their role today is closely interlinked with technology and social media and seems to demand being online 24/7. To others we can appear to act like teenagers, or even sometimes be perceived as being rude, constantly checking our smart phones. However we are “working” – honest! In social media quick responses are essential so replying promptly across multiple social media channels is important. And it can be tempting to check ticket sales, reply to that email, update your to-do list and start planning that next blog post while your phone is at your fingertips.

Just please oh please do not fall in to the 75% of Americans that admit using their smart phone on the toilet….

Cranky?

Time and time again Event Management is listed as one of the top ten most stressful jobs so can you blame us for being a little tetchy sometimes?! An event really is the ultimate immovable deadline and stress levels and patience can sometimes run a little thin at pressurized times!
And to be frank after a LONG, HARD event day of non-stop talking and endless smiles looking after guests it is nice to simply be quiet!

And yes, on event days we can easily cover 20 miles plus so we are fully entitled to moan about our aching limbs and blistered feet too!

What Time Do you Call This?

18 hour days and finally falling into bed at 3am after running a dinner or awards ceremony or rising at 4am to run a conference or exhibition is part of the job spec. Hopefully you have an understanding bedfellow as many people wouldn’t dream of keeping the hours demanded as an #eventprof. And of course being an Event Planner you will no doubt have multiple alarm devices set just to ensure you wake up at the necessary time and in case the first 2 alarm clocks don’t work, which can be a little frustrating for your other half if they were hoping not to be disturbed.

Once An Event Planner Always An Event Planner…

When you go to an event organised by someone else we still cannot help ourselves. Do we switch off and enjoy not being in the driving seat for once? NO! Instead we seem to go on auto pilot, opening doors, directing people, solving other people’s problems. The strange thing is people seem to naturally gravitate towards us as if they think we are in charge! Event Management is in your blood.

Just Enjoy the Moment?

Furthermore we can’t help but wonder “why have they [the Event Planner] done it that way? I would have done that differently” whilst also appraising what they have done well and what is and isn't working.

At festivals and concerts in particular I find myself completely fascinated watching the crew do their jobs and appreciating the quick set changes and the sound, vision, lighting and special effects in minute detail. Does this detract from my enjoyment of the event though? No – not at all!

In Conclusion

I know lots of amazing Event Planners who are fantastic at what they do as well as great people to know. However there is definitely a flip side and the traits that make us dynamite Event Managers and our over-demanding careers can also make us frustrating friends, lovers, family members, work colleagues or acquaintances. I hope that we are worth it!

Can you identify with any of the truths in this post? What other honest confessions would you add to this list? I would love to have your input in the comments below.

about the author

Becki Cross
Becki Cross is Managing Director of Events Northern Ltd, a UK event and conference management company established in 2004. Becki set up the business in her early twenties and is particularly passionate about conferences, innovation, entrepreneurship and the legacy of events.Becki is also the Deputy Editor, Community Manager and Contributor to EventMB, her dream job alongside event planning!Follow Becki via @beckitrain.
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  • Nicely done. As a “presenter,” I have had the opportunity to work with a wide variety of planners, mostly inside types but also a few practitioners who were supporting my clients. You see a wide range of personalities and there are sometimes some clashes as to how to implement some aspect of the program and to balance the desired delivery outcomes with the needs of the venue. Generally, event planners are a joy to work with and I find your article spot-on as to the common dynamics.

    • Thanks Scott. I bet you have some stories/truths to tell! We are a strange and unique breed of people! But the Event Planner and speaker (or performer, etc) relationship is an important one to ensure the success of the event.
      Becki

  • Joanne Egan

    Hear hear! Becki – excellent post as always

  • Nico

    I would add the aspect that people around the event get very excited when it comes closer to the event date while eventprofs stay rather calm due to their experience and are not getting excited. or they just seem rather calm.

    • So true!

    • A very important skill! I have heard that so many times “you are so calm, nothing ruffles you!” It is important to stay calm and clearheaded. Although not always easy!
      Becki

  • I recently wrote a similar post on my own blog. Interesting…

  • Scott Masters

    I was recently running a high profile charity dinner. When the client observed how calm I was, I replied that it was my role to take on the stress of everything to ensure that they didn’t have to be concerned and as everything was in hand, there was no need for any concern.
    The truth is that until the last element of the night was completed, my stomach was in knots! Projecting confidence goes a long way to keeping the important people happy & we do it despite the personal price we pay!

    • So true Scott.

      The best description I have heard is like a duck – making everything appear effortless whilst paddling like mad (or brain working on overdrive) underneath if/as necessary!

      Keep smiling!

      Becki

  • Per Scott Masters’ comment; any good Producer (or, in this instance, Event Planner) should have virtually nothing to do on Show Day. If s/he’s running around, putting out fires, s/he’s not prepared. Hence the inclusion of the word, “planner.” Everything should already have been talked through, walked through, run through and Delegated. Show day is about keeping the client happy and away from the Production… 😉

    • Vanessa Dubay

      You make an interesting point but it’s a definite oversimplification. An essential element of an Event Professionals’ job is managing the human aspect. Directing people to the bathrooms who for some reason can’t seem to read the giant 6ft directional sign, ‘hand-holding’ nervous speakers, making sure spilled wine on white table clothes is looked after, holding back the hair of the nervous recipient of the big award while she looses her cookies before her speech meanwhile instructing someone to inform the MC he’ll have to speak for another 5 minutes while you get her cleaned up.

      Event Professionals can plan, delegate and run through everything until it’s second nature to the event team but as long as events are about humans we’ll always specialize in dealing with the unexpected.

    • Hi Kile
      I agree that this is correct most of the time HOWEVER you cannot plan for everything or envisage every single possibility unfortunately. As an Event Planner you also need to be ready and prepared for the unexpected too, keep calm and change course if and when required. I think this is when you really prove your worth dealing with the unexpected. Would you agree?
      Becki

  • Spot on Vanessa!
    Becki

  • Fantastic. I would love to read it Heather!
    Becki

  • Jewel Drinkard

    I concur with Kile; however, as eventprofs we’re dealing with humans and in my experience even with the best planning techniques there’s always the unexpected to deal with.

  • This post totally touched my heart! I’m an #eventprof and
    you hit the nail on the head with this post. The only thing I’d add is when
    being an event professional creeps into your dreams and often become
    nightmares. During event season I dream about my events all the time, my
    coworkers, my sponsors, my event location. It is amazing how even when you try to rest and turn it off it creeps into your subconscious. I usually laugh at how silly the dreams are, but it would be nicer to dream about vacation or something other than work.

    • Thanks Lisa!
      And yes, freaky dreams or nightmares are common with me too! Brain working overtime! Great observation!
      Becki

  • Really enjoyed reading this. So many people only see the “fun part” of what we do but as well know planning an event and just attending an event are very different. It is also true that it’s next to impossible to turn off event planner mode when just attending and event. I can’t look at staging, lighting, catering or decor without a critical eye. Thanks for the great piece.

  • AG

    My husband is constantly telling me I get ‘Me Time’ when I’m conference. He doesn’t seem to understand that passing out after a 18 hour day of constantly “being on” is not ‘Me Time’.

  • Thanks for sharing, made me appreciate our event managers even more!

  • My wife happens to be one of those “great event planners”, and, yes, I am living this nightmare every day. One my areas of expertise is talent development, and when addressing the topic in lectures, I actually love to use many of the examples that Ms. Cross has included in her article. The definition of a talent I use is “something (a behavior) that you cannot not do.” I first heard this from Bill Erickson, Co-Founder of Kenexa. The fact that great planners, whether working or on vacation, walk through any venue and automatically deconstruct, analyze, and reconfigure it in their minds is fascinating as are all the other examples identified by Ms. Cross. Planners need to recognize these quirks as unique talents. Don’t ignore them. Planners wanting to accelerate the development of their unique talents – those things they cannot not do – into serious professional strengths and become “great” should find and work with a coach who’s approach places talents and strengths at the core of their coaching philosophy.

  • Jennifer Matyjasik

    Great article Becki! As a corporate event planner, I too would agee that this career path is not for the faint of heart. All your points are very true and I would even add to your list the pressure to stay on budget. Sometimes you are dealing with several hundred thousand or even millions of dollars for an event. You are in charge of all those expenses and executives are depending on you to ensure costs are contained and budgeting reports are accurate. As you mentioned, there are often 3 am wake up alarms to catch a flight or set up a tradeshow booth or meet with catering before breakfast service starts. Event planners are the first ones up and the last ones to bed. I think the most exhausting part though is constantly being “on’. You always have to be smiling and helpful to the 100 – 1,000 guests at the event that may approach you. The interuptions are non-stop and I sometimes liken it to being a mom to dozens and dozens of young children that constantly barrage you with questions. I once had someone follow me into the ladies room because she wanted to know what was on the lunch menu! (Like that question couldn’t wait 2 minutes till I was done.) However, for every person who can be “high maintenance” or complain, there are many others that seem to appreciate all the hard work that goes into an event to make it look effortless and be succesful. It’s that satisfaction of a job well done and putting smiles on other peoples faces that keep me coming back time and time again despite all the pressure and long hours.