9 Non-Planning Things Every Event and Meeting Planner Should Know How to Do

Success for Meeting and Event PlannersOK, so when I say “know” how to do, I am not saying become an expert and teach courses on these things at the University of Babawala. I am simply saying that you should have a good idea of how they work, what goes into making something with them, how to fire up, how to start them or otherwise get them going, working, moving or operating correctly.

In fact, what I am saying is that you should probably have the “Dummies” book on your shelf for every item here if they make one.

This is also not a complete list by any stretch so I expect you all to leave a comment and let me know what are some other “nontraditional things” meeting and event planners should know.

Now, on with the show!

Know how to use Photoshop CS4 or 5 and or Photoshop Elements

Photoshop is the Mack Daddy of photo editing programs and most of your designers, photographers and other creatives are using it. Wouldn’t it pay to take one weekend, read the dummies book and know how it works? I actually read “Photoshop CS4 the Missing Manual” and I am now pretty good with the program.

After you take the time to learn the program, you will know what your designers go through (yes, you were being an ass when you asked for that in an hour), you will be able to edit family photos like a champ and even pinch hit at an event if something needs to be done fast and dirty like cropping, editing or resizing.

Trust me, get the book, and learn the program. Get the trial version of Photoshop full or just go get Photoshop Elements for about $80.00.

Know how to work the Audio Visual Equipment

OK, I am not sure if they make a dummies book for this so at your next event where you have a nice A/V set up, ask (nicely) for your chief A/V guy or gal to take an hour (slip them a few) out of their day to show you what everything is and what it does.

Again, you are not looking to be a pro but when someone says “the switcher for the Sat Feed dropped and we cannot get another” it won’t sound to you like “blah blah blah Sat Feed Blah Blah”. Knowledge is power, use it.

You will also know not to yell at the A/V folks for the sound levels when the ass-hat speaker is holding a directional mic over their heads or 10 feet from their face. You will understand that sometimes, the fault lies not at the A/V booth but lies instead with the speaker or the equipment you have chosen.

Know how to back up a box truck

Seriously, this can come in handy. Go and rent a U-Haul Truck (a big one) for a day and take the time to learn how to back it into a space. See how they work in traffic and understand why it takes them extra time and why they can’t go 85 on the highway.

This will allow you to make decisions when you are on a site selection trip and you are thinking about choosing a venue. Knowing and understanding the trucks will allow you to understand the loading dock and if you can get your equipment in. This can save you a TON of hassle.

Know how to expedite in a busy kitchen

I spent a lot of my youth working in busy kitchens and I know what goes into getting the food out of the windows, onto plates and out to the guests. You should know too. This is the art of expediting food. An expediter is almost like an orchestra conductor, they are some very hardworking, smart people and in addition to getting all of this done, they are the main liaison between the wait staff  and the kitchen staff… they are good people to know.

This will help you when you are looking at a venue and knowing whether that meal should be plated or buffet. Really, this is something that can come in handy because although the venue may be perfect, it may not be ready to serve 500 plated meals, they will do fine with a buffet, but not making 500 plates come out picture perfect for that special event. Maybe they don’t have the room, maybe they are too perfect or a host of other reasons.

You may not be able to actually do the work (insurance) but if you are on good terms with a hotel or local joint and ask nicely, they will probably let you in the kitchen to observe the process for 30 or 40 minutes. Take the time, don’t just poke your head in and say OK, you need to see what they do when food comes back, when plates are dropped or when they run out of an item.

A professional kitchen can be a work of art when they are all working in synch. You may actually enjoy this project.

Know how to use a wheelchair and crutches

This is something that your special needs folks will love you for. Just because a venue is ADA compliant, does not mean that it is user friendly. If you take an afternoon learning how to get around in a wheelchair (you will suck at it), you will at least understand what some of your attendees will have to go through to get to that perfect room you chose   – “Oh, how awesome it is only up 1400 steps, and look at that cute ramp, it looks like it goes straight up”….. yeah, you try it.

Using crutches will help you understand how people with other special needs feel about your perfect venue.

Know how to tend bar

I spent the first few years of my career as a bartender and I can still tend bar faster than most of  the guys at the local TGI Friday’s and I am willing to bet $1.00 on it. I kick ass. Because I know how it works and what is involved, my events always have enough barkeeps to keep my attendees happy and well lubricated.

How do you do this? This is not easy but if you go to your local pub, they may have a charity night where people can tend bar and all of the tips that are generated by you go to a local charity. If not, ask, most places are open to this kind of thing (especially if you have a ton of friends that will come in and support you) and they can advertise it to get business on a Monday night.. cause they ain’t lettin you behind the bar on a Friday.

Know how to off load your event equipment

The next time your event is loading in, ask the guys if you can help. You will then have an understanding of what it takes to make your event look good and how much time it can actually take.

This came in handy when we had a loading dock problem at a venue in New York City and they were going to have to off load a block away. I knew that we were going to have to add an hour to the schedule and we were able to adjust accordingly.

You will also be a little nicer to the guys that are schlepping your crap because you will now know the blood sweat and tears your event causes when you pick the wrong venue with a loading dock that is a mile away.

Know how your onsite registration process works

It is amazing to me how many meeting planners have no idea how the badge printer works, the registration software or even the check in process works. An hour before any event, walk through it as the person doing it and then as the attendee.

If you have a registration volunteer that screws the pooch and fails to show up, you can get someone else up to speed and walk away confident that although it may not go smoothly, it will go.

Know how to go with the flow and stay calm

Shit happens. You have to learn to stop being so ridged. Things happen and you must adapt to be a successful meeting and event planner (professional). When things go south, knowing how various parts work together will enable to think on the fly to produce a spectacular event even when the shit is hitting the fan. You will also learn the Zen of staying calm.

Go into an ER, a Firehouse, the busy restaurant in town and sit and watch. Watch how everyone there has practiced, practiced practiced to do things right the first time. This pays off. Knowing how things are going to go in your mind’s eye will enable you to be calm.

At our events, clients and staff are all told to come to me in crisis. Not because I am some super cool Mofo with a Zen Vibe and a pocket full of Xanax, it is because I have gone through most of what has happened and thought out every scenario so that when it goes south, I am able to make decisions in mere seconds.

When it is over, people say “how did you do it” and I just smile and wink (that in itself inspires confidence). I do not waiver, I do not hesitate and I do not second guess myself and I NEVER show that I am unsure of myself.

I evaluate, I decide and I act all in about 10 seconds. That comes from knowing how all of the moving parts go together. You can do this too; you just have to put in the extra effort to learn everything about your event and not just what they taught you at CMP School. Again, it is not hard, you just have to know what goes into your event beyond the spreadsheets, budgets and menus…

If you want to get to the top of the pile in the meetings and events industry, you have to know more than you are taught in school or through your CMP or whatever courses you take. You must know every facet of what makes an event an event and how to over come the challenges you will face without going ummm or ahhhh… you have to know and the only way to know is by doing.

About the author

Keith Johnston

Keith Johnston is the Publisher and Chief Writer Guy of PlannerWire | You can learn more about him here , connect with him on Twitter , Facebook , Google + and LinkedIn.


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  • Keith, this is a great post, with some seriously good advice. Before I came to @eventwist, I worked directly in events production and can vouch first hand for the need for each and every item on your list. In this profession, it helps to be a jack of all trades, because if something can go wrong, it will, and you need to be ready to jump in and help or at least inspire confidence in your clients that you understand and can manage the problem.

    Here’s another one I like: Learn to anticipate personal crises and be ready to help your clients/exhibitors/guests out of unexpected situations. Prepare a first aid/personal assistance kit that contains not just basic medical supplies but also commonly needed toiletries and stuff you used to be able to buy at Woolworth’s, including hand sanitizer (although I don’t think they made hand sanitizer back then), wipes, basic hair products, nail file, barrettes, elastic hair bands, tampons and pads, sewing kit, clear nail polish (fixes runs in panty hose), gum, mints, antacid, etc. It also helps to have a contact list of local stores for more advanced needs, like pharmacies, hardware and houseware stores, copy/printing shops, office supply stores and food markets. Just think about the worst things that have happened to you when you’re all dressed up and ready to face the world, and be the one who comes to the rescue.

    I’m sure you could think of a few other things to add to this list… :)
    -Deborah Pannell

    • You make an awesome point about having the emergency supplies list and you are a hero to the person you help (Yes, even I am not above running for feminine hygiene products in a pinch).

      I once did a post on my “event planner supply kit” and I think that I am going to revisit that one and add some of the items that you listed because although I have most, I never thought of clear nail polish, hair bands and a few others. Those are some wicked good ones to have on hand.

      You do have to be that Jack of All Trades because you just never know. A personal crisis that is more serious can happen as well, how many of us are prepared if an attendee comes with a “I have to get home, my child went to the hospital” or something worse. What do you do? These things should be thought out before hand……

      Also, have a roll of gaffer tape, like duct tape, it can fix almost anything…

      Great comment, it really got me thinking about some things that I need to change!

      • Ha ha! Yes, clear nail polish is definitely on that must-have list for women who are dressing up. We’re basically talking about a being a pumped up version of the ladies room attendant. With gaffer’s tape. (I totally forgot about that. I think it can do almost anything.) You know what’s also really good to have, one of those mega swiss army knives with the survival kit alongside it. You know the one I mean? You never know… in case of a blackout? And what about a mini mag-lite?

        You realize, the list could go on and on…

        • Oh Heck, forgot to reply. I love the Mag Light and the Swiss Army Knife. You know what I have in my box now is the Leatherman Tool, those all in one pliers, they are handy.

          Mag lights also come in handy as a hammer on occasion, try that with that plastic thing LOL

  • Great post, Keith.  I agree, it is very helpful to have those experiences.  That is one of the reasons I love having worked in so many different aspects of the event industry.  Just at the conference center I worked at I took care of the AV part, kitchen part and bar tending.  Loading in an event? Check.  Photoshop? Check. In most areas I know just enough to be dangerous.  In fact so dangerous, they probably wouldn’t let me near a box truck!

  • Great list and fantastic comments.  Having just had to connect a laptop to an LCD under pressure with all attendees in the room on Friday, I was grateful for my limited a/v skills.

    To add to this list – I often speak to college students about getting into the industry and always tell them to learn design and layout software (Adobe InDesign) and Excel.  And I do a lot of web design, so basic html language goes a long way also!

    • Hey Sheila,

      That is actually a really good thought. Knowing a little web design is never a bad thing and to have a basic understanding of HTML can get you out of a jam or two.

      and I think that they should make Excel mandatory at birth….

  • Interesting… Know how to back up a box truck. Done this before and it’s not easy. The lady I almost ran over wasn’t happy either.

    These are really jack of all trade things.. Bar tending is a good one

    Also go with the flow. Too often when people are stressed out it is written all over their face and it freaks people out

    • You are right! These are Jack of all trades type of things and that is what a meeting or event planner needs to be. You can be a an expert at planning, but you really do need to know a little bit about every part of what goes into an event so that you can make educated responses to a crisis and not be shooting from the hip!

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