Starting a career in events was daunting before a global pandemic. Fear of an additional wave of the Delta variant may give some people planning pause, but now is the time to sharpen your skills and get out there. Events are already making a comeback, and after the pandemic has fully disappeared, not only will we see the usual events, but all of the makeup events from everything that was missed, plus people deciding to do something bigger than they normally would because they missed out on so much for so long.
If you have always wanted to be a planner, and wondered what it takes to get a job in events, here are some steps to help you get started in the business, and be prepared for the impending event boom.
Understand the different types of planning
To anyone outside of this industry, the typical assumption is that being an event planner means you do weddings and/or spend most of your time at parties, and that it’s a fun and glamorous job. While it is a great job to have, it’s more work than most people realize. If you’re a planner, it’s not unusual that you will be working nights and weekends in addition to regular business hours. While it may not be every night or every weekend, the field you choose to work in will have a strong impact on your schedule.
Generally, there are social and corporate events. Social events reflect personal events like birthdays, anniversaries, and most notably, weddings. (Although some wedding planners distinguish themselves from social planners because weddings are typically much more extensive and specific to plan.) Meanwhile corporate events are everything from client dinners, to large events, to tradeshows and conferences. There is a wide variety of work that is encompassed in corporate event planning. There are in-house planners, contract planners or you can join an event planning company like a Destination Management Company (DMC) or a corporate planning firm. Do your research and keep what you love about event planning in mind as you research the types of jobs that are out there. Knowing where you want to start is a key piece in developing how to get your foot in the door.
Talk to professional planners about their work
Once you’ve come to understand the vast opportunities within the events world, one of the best ways to really understand the job is to talk to someone with experience. The requirements for planning are very different, especially between corporate and social. While you may have seen yourself as a day-of wedding planner, with a little research you may find that you actually love in-house conference planning. While you can read about what differentiates the roles, understanding the day to day process will help you decide what skillsets are required and what time commitments are needed.
Assess your skill set
Event planning requires a variety of skills that may not seem obvious at first. Prior to the event itself, there is a lot of thought, research and organization you need to do. You need to clearly understand what the client (or your boss/team for in house events) is looking to see from the event, and then select the right space and vendors while maintaining the budgeting and well, planning. You have to consider timelines, guest experience, potential client and sponsor needs. Some planners source speakers, and manage entertainment too. Depending on the size of your team, these responsibilities might be shared, but you need to think about what you love about events and then what would qualify you to be able to do them.
It’s important to emphasize that having the skills is different from having the experience of doing it before. If you’re entering events for the first time, depending on the type of job you’re going for, you will not likely be hired to run the biggest show, but it’s good to have a goal of what type of event you would like to do and work your way towards it, or be willing to be a helper in a bigger event. Being organized, calm under pressure, on time, and good with multitasking are all essential skills for any event planner and a good place to start and then you can build out your abilities from there.
Educate yourself and get certified
Once you’ve figured out what type of planning you’re interested in, and where your skills are, it’s good to get ahead of the game and educate yourself where possible. If you’re interested in virtual events, learning a variety of software is helpful. MPI (Meeting Planners International) has local chapters and offers the Certified Meeting Planner (CMP) certificate, that many companies – especially corporations – prefer when looking at hiring an event planner. Give yourself a chance to stand out in the field and show that you’re serious by coming to the industry with some kind of education or certification.
This is the hardest part, undeniably. Depending on where you want to work in events, you may have to do a few initial events at little to no pay to gain experience. While Chicago Planner Magazine encourages fair and equal pay – certainly you shouldn’t be working for free forever – there is an “internship” period you should expect. The best time to do this would be simultaneously with your education, partially so that when you’re studying you have better sense of what you’re learning, and secondly for when you apply for jobs or submit proposals if you choose to work for yourself, so you can showcase your portfolio of experience.
Having done plenty of proper research involving the steps above, you should then reach out to various event planning companies to see if they may be looking for help. If you’re having trouble finding experience in the exact type of planning you’re interested in, consider working with a different type of event company, or even vendors who provide services for the types of events you want to be a part of. Understanding the set up process and organization that happens prior to the event, in addition to handling the various issues that can occur at and during an event are the key to a planner’s success.
Build your network
One of the most important things a planner has is their list of vendors. In addition to the skills and experience, knowing who to team up with, and who can create the experiences your clients or company need is the next step in elevating your portfolio. It’s good to not only know vendors for types of services but to have a few vendors that specialize in various styles and/or price ranges. For example, some photographers specialize in headshots and corporate photography, while some focus on fashion-style shooting, and others still offer step and repeats, photobooths, and live event coverage. It’s good to understand capabilities and specialities within various prices to ensure you can stay within budget, and have reliable sources who can help in case of cancellations or double bookings.