I have worked as an Event Planner for a major university for over a decade. I plan university events, including alumni get-togethers at sporting events, annual employee celebrations, donor fund-raising events, student-parent visitation events, and student orientation events.
Planning an event usually involves a number of steps, from the initial concept to meeting with major event participants and leaders to coordinating with catering staff and logistics coordinators.
As a university event planner, I oversee the entire project from start to finish. When a department decides they want an event, they submit a requisition to me and I schedule a meeting with their event leaders to develop an event concept plan. I work with them on the event theme, the highlights of the event, menu planning, event site, and identifying the participants. Throughout the entire process, I meet with the departmental liaison on a regular basis to make sure we are meeting scheduled milestones leading up to the event date.
Probably the biggest misconception about event planning is that it is all about parties. In reality, I plan many events that have nothing to do with parties at all. Frequently, I plan what would be the equivalent of corporate meetings.
Event planning involves a great deal of attention to detail and a great deal of hard work. It is common for me to work long hours in the days leading up to a major event, coordinating with caterers, facilities equipment managers and decorators. For smaller meetings and events, I meet with caterers and department leaders several times to make sure all of the details have been covered and addressed.
I find working as an event planner very satisfying. In the past, I worked at administrative office jobs, but was bored sitting around doing the same thing all the time. As an event planner, I get to do different things all the time. Although I spend time in my office doing paperwork and writing out specific plans for each event and documenting the process, I also get to spend lots of time meeting with people, going to different event sites and being very physically active.
If there were one thing I could change about my job it would be the amount of paperwork I have to attend to daily. Since I work for a university, there are specific protocols I have to follow to make sure everything I do is documented.
For example, when I have a meeting, I have to take minutes and then follow-up every conversation with an email to all of the meeting participants. I also have to document how much time I spend on every single activity I engage in so that the so department of the project I am working on gets charged accordingly. This can be very tedious at times.
I actually got started as an event planner completely by accident. I was working in Human Resources and they needed someone to help with the annual employee holiday party and I stepped up to help. I found that I really enjoyed working on the event and did as much as I could to participate in the process.
When the position opened up for the event planner, it happened to come through our department first, so I went ahead and applied and was delighted the supervisor remembered me participating in the employee holiday party planning. He was so impressed with my enthusiasm and I had helped friends and family plan large events in the past (weddings, family reunions, etc.) he took a chance and hired me. It also helped I am an avid cook and enjoy entertaining a great deal.
One of the things I have really learned is necessary for this job is excellent communication skills. I have to be able to help department managers make major decisions about what kind of event they want and nail down all the details so I can deliver the exact event experience they desire.
Often, this means that I have to be able to tactfully guide them in their decision-making process and make sure that their choices meet with university guidelines about acceptable activities; for example, our university does not allow dancing or alcoholic beverages at university-sponsored events, which can occasionally be an issue for student or alumni events.
Probably the most stressful part of my job is dealing with department managers who want an event but who keep changing their plans. They do not understand the amount of coordination that is required to plan a large event.
For example, they may keep changing what they want on printed materials, such as invitations or program hand-outs, or they may repeatedly change their minds about what menu items they want for the event. With each change, additional time is needed to meet with the other departments or vendors that provide services. Additionally, it costs extra money to make changes and can have a huge impact on the event budget.
In many cases, I am held responsible for managing the event budget, so it can be difficult to tell a manager that they cannot make wanted changes simply because their budget will not allow it.
Although I got into event planning by accident, I have taken many business and hospitality college courses along the way to improve my skills. For anyone wanting to become an event planner, I suggest at least an Associate degree in some aspect of the hospitality industry.
Additionally, I think basic accounting is helpful, because you will be required to work with budgets and should have a good understanding of fiscal management. Other skills that are mandatory for success as an event planner include excellent communication skills, time management skills and project planning abilities.
I love what I do for a living. I make over $70,000 a year and have four weeks of vacation every year. One of those weeks is during the winter break, when the university shuts down. While that may seem like a huge salary in most of the United States, where I live it is not actually super-high. I would love to make more money, but it is enough for my needs at this time in my life.
If I could see into the future and write my own ticket, I would branch out and have my own event planning service. I would love to work with large companies planning corporate events and also offer services for weddings, family reunions and other events. I would also love to have a full-service event planning business that includes catering, party equipment rentals, photography, and music.
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