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5 Skills Today's Event Pros Need to Know to Keep Their Jobs

Are you staying relevant as an industry professional?

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Photo: © ArtFamily/Dollar Photo Club

Howard Givner (@hgivner) is the founder and executive director of the Event Leadership Institute.

Jane R., the head of a 25-person event department at a financial company, has just been asked by her C.F.O. to cut 20 percent of her staff as part of a restructuring. Which five planners will lose their jobs? Or, put another way, which 20 planners will keep their jobs, and why?

Liz and Thomas both work as event producers at a boutique event agency. Both started at the same time and have roughly the same skill set. Yet Liz just got promoted while Thomas did not. Why?

When we at the Event Leadership Institute sat down two years ago to create our Event Management & Meeting Fundamentals course, we knew we had to cover the basics of planning: site selection, budgeting, room design, content delivery, food and beverage, sustainability, etc. That was the easy stuff to nail down.

Much harder, but far more important, are the soft skills that make one planner prized over another. We thought hard about identifying and teaching the game-changing insights that win the devoted loyalty of a client, whether internal within a company, or external if you’re working as an independent professional. Identifying these skills has been a key to the course’s success, which this month is now being offered online, in person in New York, and, for the first time, in person in Washington, D.C.

Here's a peek:

1. Success is in the eye of the client.
The last thing you want to happen is to think you’ve done a great job in executing your event, only to find out afterwards that the client is not happy. What you think of as success is not always what the client cares about. The skill is in helping the client really articulate what their goals are, who needs to be impressed at the event, etc., and then tattooing that information on the forehead of everyone who works on the event. There is only one benchmark for success, and that is determined by the client.

2. Process leadership.
Events are measured in hours, but the planning process is measured in months. You can execute a stellar event, but if you drive the client crazy in the planning process they’ll never work with you again. Smart planners know that the how is just as important, if not more so, than the what. To be indispensable to your client, you need to take the lead in framing things in a positive light, take their temperature frequently, and establish a communication protocol that works for your client.

3. Learn to speak to the client.
Event professionals talk in their own language. We talk about minimum guarantees, load-in times, and B.E.O.s. We forget that our clients who pay for these events are in a different line of work. They’re using events as a vehicle to accomplish something that’s important to them, and planners need to show clients that we get it. Instead of talking about the amazing stage set you commissioned, talk about how that’s going to really elevate the company’s branding and messaging to its clients.

4. Be a trusted advisor, not an assistant.
Imagine you’re being sued for something, and while meeting with your lawyer you suggest a legal tactic you saw on Law & Order. Would you want them to say, “Whatever you want; you’re the client!”? Of course not. You want the lawyer to be the savvy professional and push back when you have a dumb idea. The phrase “the customer is always right” is a mindset for good customer service, not a road map for being a valued advisor.

5. Curation is king.
There are a gazillion ideas floating around the Internet these days. Information about venues and resources is everywhere, for free. Today’s planner needs to be a smart curator and be able to guide clients on how to choose the right idea or resource for their event. Otherwise you’ll be just another mindless planner on the bandwagon of whatever new idea is making its way through the trade press. Instead you need to be able to say, “That idea is a great fit for X, but if we’re going to implement it at our event, these are the concerns we need to address.”

Teaching planning and logistics, it turns out, is the easy part. Helping industry professionals master these soft skills, however, goes a long way toward making them invaluable to their clients and lays the foundation for a successful career in events.

Disclosure: BizBash is an investor in the Event Leadership Institute.

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