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

OK, 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.

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 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 mph 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. 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 sync. 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   – “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.

Know how to tend bar

I spent the first few years of my career as a bartender and I am still faster than most of  the guys at your local pub 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.

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.

Keith Johnston

Keith Johnston

Keith is the Managing Partner of i3 Events but is most widely known as the outspoken publisher of the event industry blog PlannerWire. In addition to co-hosting the Bullet List and Event Tech Pull Up Podcasts, he has been featured in Plan Your Meetings, Associations Now, Convene, Event Solutions, and has appeared on the cover of Midwest Meetings Magazine.

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