Tom Pick is a digital marketing consultant who works with event management platform developer G2Planet to share the company's insights and knowledge with corporate event marketing professionals.
18 Event Industry Experts Share Their Best Advice for Event Professionals
One of the attributes of the live events business that draws people to want to be part of it is its dynamism, its constant change. Event planners, vendors, and others involved in the industry thrive on the fast pace and endless evolution of new trends, technology, and practices.
It's not a sit-at-your-desk-during-business-hours kind of role. Event professionals crave travel, adventure, and the adrenaline rush that comes from producing an extraordinary experience for attendees.
It is a lot to keep up with. Event pros are bombarded with new ideas and information on a daily basis. How can you separate what's important from the noise?
One (very) helpful approach is to seek the counsel of experienced industry experts. So we did. We asked two dozen top event industry pros the following question:
If you could give event planners / marketers one piece of advice, what would that be?
Their responses were, not surprisingly, insightful and enlightening. And though each was unique, the guidance offered generally reflected one of six broad ideas:
- Be strategic.
- Balance technology use with the live experience.
- Never stop learning.
- Build (and actively use) your professional network.
- Be original (or at least "borrow" ideas creatively).
- Always keep safety and security in mind.
Here's the specific advice these experts offered to event professionals.
Start with Strategy
The most effective event planning starts with "why?" What are the business objectives for the event? How will you measure success? Planners who base their decisions on the answers to these questions produce events that are more valuable to their organizations, and raise the status of event planning within the company.
"Understand the power of events and what it means to be a strategic planner. Take pride in the work you do and learn how to do it well. Events are not glamorous and are not fun most of the time. They are powerful tools to support marketing and shorten the sales cycle. Understand the role you can play in helping your organization achieve their goals and adding to their bottom line.
Take this job seriously and present yourself as a professional. If you want to be a planner for a living because you like to decorate and choose florals, be a wedding planner or a social planner. Corporate event planning is about goals, budgets, communication strategy, effectively disseminating content, leading teams and keeping your attendees safe and comfortable." — Christy Lamagna, CEO of Strategic Meetings & Events
"Develop a really deep connection to your personal mission and the mission of your event. It’s very easy to stray from the center of your passion with as much change is coming at us because of the times we live in. If you can ensure everything you do is with purpose based on your north star, you’ll accomplish your goals." — Nick Borelli, president at Borelli Strategies
"Be obsessed with defining and segmenting your target audience. Participants are attracted to high relevance. You can’t deliver relevance without target audience obsession and an intimate knowledge of what keeps them up at night." — Dave Lutz, managing director at Velvet Chainsaw Consulting
"When it comes to technology, the people (speakers, booth staff and emcees), process, and technology all need to work together to create an awesome audience engagement experience.
If I could give a second piece of advice….I recommend that they take a hard look at the event design canvas and its methodologies. The Event Canvas book and methodology does a good job of helping meeting professionals operationalize this process." — Samuel J. Smith, managing director at Interactive Meeting Technology LLC
Use Technology that Enhances the Live Experience
These experts emphasized that event technology needs to accomplish two objectives above all. First, it needs to enhance the live, face to face experience of events—not detract or distract from it (which is why there's some skepticism about VR, but not about apps that facilitate networking).
Second, it should be simple to use so event managers can focus on enhancing their event or improving their efficiency using the technology—not on learning how to navigate screens or troubleshoot tech issues.
Event planners should keep those criteria first and foremost in mind when evaluating any event technology. And vendors should design for those factors as well.
"Always put the participants first. Focus on creating experiences, both online and offline, that engage. Only move on to other priorities after you've ticked that box." — Miguel Neves, founder at miguelseven.com
"Event professionals are often choosing anywhere from five to 15 technologies they're using for an event—from the event app, to attendee session tracking, to ways to drive productivity and networking, etc.. Make sure you have a good implementation partner who can help you ensure that these things work together seamlessly.
So, if you have social media walls and check-in apps and new kinds of registration technology, and even AI, make sure your implementation is solid and that you have partners to help you QA, test, and ensure a great experience for your participants.
Finally, hire a good partner to be on-site to help folks with all of the technology you've purchased for your event. Having an on-site help desk with tech people can really bring value to attendees. Most people truly appreciate having a place to go for help." — Tara Thomas, co-founder and CMO at The Meeting Pool
"Don't use a technology just because it's the newest shiny object. Use the appropriate technology for the situation. Be sure that it is the best and that your team is qualified to use it. Plan for contingencies, such as equipment breakdown." — Pat Ahaesy, CMP, CSEP, president at P&V Enterprise
Make Time for Learning
The events industry is constantly evolving: practices change, trends change, technology changes. It's easy to get caught up in the fast, busy day-to-day pace of planning and organizing events, and let learning slip.
But to be successful over the long term, it's vital for event professionals to make time for reading industry blogs and publications, attending educational conferences, and accessing other resources to keep their knowledge current and skills sharp.
"Regardless of where you are in your career, take a few hours out of your (crushingly) busy day and ask someone else how they do their job, ask about their equipment, ask about their kids. There are so many planners and marketers who have no idea what the A/V folks do, what the hotel back-of-the-house looks like, or what their registration / housing team does.
Go to the airport, hold a sign, and greet your own attendees for an afternoon, it can be life changing. To be the best in the industry, you must understand how all of the pieces come together to complete the puzzle." — Keith Johnston, managing partner at i3 Events and Publisher of PlannerWire
"Take time to work on yourself, not just your business and your events. Work on time to educate yourself through research. If you don't understand all of today's security issues, Google what the different terms mean, and the tools and techniques you can use to stay protected.
If you don't understand AV, invest in the time to educate yourself and learn more about it. So many times, planners are so concerned about the next client or the next event that they don't accomplish important personal goals. Take the time to do it. Schedule the time to work on yourself. That will enable you to ask better questions and produce more amazing results." — Will Curran, founder and chief event Einstein at Endless Events LLC
"Stay curious. If you’re not always learning, there’s a danger of stagnation. More than that, though, technology and AV can feel like a foreign language sometimes, but even learning just some of the basics can go a long way to making you feel confident and in control.
Rather than just flipping to the back page, crossing your fingers and signing on the dotted line with a silent prayer, with just a little bit of knowledge planners can enter into educated conversations with their AV and tech vendors, and ultimately make their events even better!" — Brandt Krueger, freelance technical and audiovisual consultant
Develop Your Network
Build connections at every opportunity--with other planners, vendors, consultants, influencers, venue managers, association people, etc. Look for opportunities to proactively add value: when you need something, people will be more likely to help if you've helped them first.
For event professionals, a network is a source of support from people who understand exactly what you'\re going through. It's a group of people who can answer questions first-hand about experiences with a particular venue, speaker, or technology. And if you ever find yourself unexpectedly "looking for your next opportunity"...it can be a lifesaver.
"The best professional decision I have made is to join (and become active) in professional associations (such as MPI, PCMA, IAEE, ICCA, and others). 80% of the volunteer work is usually done by 20% of the members. If you get active in your association, you are working with the influencers – the movers of that organization. It is one of the best way to make connections in this relationship-based industry." — Corbin Ball, founder at Corbin Ball & Co.
"Don't neglect your personal brand or your professional development. You are busy, but if you invest in those areas, you'll have an easier time getting your next job or tackling the next wave of innovation that hits us. Look outside of your bubble for those opportunities. Our industry crosses every other industry, so you can find fruitful connections in lots of places!" — Elizabeth Glau, customer success manager at Sciensio
" You can’t do everything yourself. One of the best tips I received as a young business owner was to surround yourself with those who do what needs to be done better than you can do it, and trust them to do it.
Know your vendors, build your event team, and trust they have your back. This frees you up to do what you are best at, what makes you the most money, or secures your positions, and what really makes you stand out as an event planner / marketer. Ask for advice from those who have gone before you, and really listen so you don’t have to learn the hard way!" — Tracy Fuller, president at InnovativEvents Inc.
"From an entrepreneurial perspective, I would tell event planners/marketers to try to learn from others who are where they want to be, and invest in marketing techniques." — Serena Holmes, president and CEO at Tigris Events
Think Outside the Industry
When looking for event ideas, it's easy to get caught up in one's own bubble—to "creatively borrow" ideas about venues, activities, giveaways, or other aspects of events from competitors or partners
To really create a remarkable event experience, look outside your industry—even outside the world of events in general. Quick example: photo booths were most at home in suburban shopping malls before they because a common fixture at live events.
"Don’t be a copycat conference producer. Stop looking for the newest and greatest formats, shiny tech tools, or ideas from other conferences. Instead, get outside of the conference and meetings world and look at unique experiences.
How does Starbucks attract a devoted following and why do we want to go to their stores? How does Apple woo us into their stores and why do we enjoy that environment? How do today's successful art museums create unique experiences around exhibits? What to festivals have to teach us about the customer experience? How do amusement parks and traveling interactive immersive experiences like the Marvel Experience keep us engaged for three to eight hours and leave us wanting more?" — Jeff Hurt, executive vice president at Velvet Chainsaw Consulting
"Have no fear. Take chances, be creative and think outside of the box. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach for developing a plan, and as our field evolves, there are new tactics to test at every step along the way. I’ve learned to take chances along the way, and having failures is part of recognizing what success truly looks like. If you’re going to fail, fail fast, and move on.
Many times I’ll check in with friends who work in similar roles across a variety of industries and float an idea to refine for success. I originally saw the Twitter vending machine at Twitter HQ in California and brought it to my financial services event in Montreal. It was an outside-the-box idea and not something we have done within our past events.
To implement it took a lot of hand holding, explaining, and showing to help give people the full spectrum of why we should have it. But in the end, it was a real success and that experimental idea not only enhanced our event but also deepened our delegate experience." — Marissa Pick, founder at Marissa Pick Consulting LLC
"There are too few people who know how to create better meetings, and this provides a golden opportunity for meeting professionals to stand out from the competition by learning how to design and facilitate them." — Adrian Segar, founder at Conferences That Work
Sadly, the safety and security of attendees requires increasing focus and efforts by event planners. Any large gathering may be viewed as a target of opportunity by the religiously deranged or the mentally unstable.
And physical security isn't the only concern. Malicious or criminal actors can take advantage of open or poorly secured wi-fi networks to disrupt activities or steal credit card numbers and other sensitive attendee data. All of these risks need to be factored into event planning.
"The concept of security at events usually revolves around hiring security guards, unless event managers are specifically told that they are responsible for non-physical areas of security like data protection, or for putting a crisis management plan in place. The increasing amount of education available in this area is helping more planners take the initiative and start those conversations within their organizations, to ensure responsibilities are clearly defined well in advance." — Danalynne Menegus, managing editor, Corporate Event News
"In today's environment, plan for emergency response to terrorist or terrorist-like behavior. If the event is high profile, a good security company on site is crucial." — Pat Ahaesy, CMP, CSEP, president at P&V Enterprise
That's a wrap! The top advice from these event experts? When it comes to planning events, be strategic, creative, and safe. Invest in technology that makes your job easier and enhances the live experience for attendees. And future-proof your career with continual learning and proactive networking.