10 Skills Every Event Planner Needs in a COVID-19 World

From technical knowledge to crisis communications plans to a healthy dose of empathy, event professionals discuss the skills and traits most crucial for the industry's new normal.

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As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to uproot nearly every aspect of our lives and businesses, event professionals have quickly developed new skillsets to keep their businesses afloat. BizBash caught up with planners around the country to learn what skills, traits, and bases of knowledge are most important in the world today.

1. Up-to-date knowledge of the latest restrictions.
More than ever, event planners should be prepared for all possible outcomes, says Melissa Park, a global event producer based in New York. “Personally, I am reading every event safety guideline and planning document I can get my hands on, and speaking with many contacts to better understand what they’re doing and seeing in their venues.” 

Park is also reviewing her past events to take note of elements and touchpoints that would have had to be modified in accordance with COVID-19 safety guidelines. “I then took it a step further and created solutions for each and every potential pain point I identified so that when the time comes, the delivery of a COVID-safe and socially distanced event is second nature to me,” she explains.

Meanwhile, Feyisola Ogunfemi, the owner of Statuesque Events in Laurel, Md., is closely studying restaurant safety guidelines. “Many states are not necessarily giving detailed guidelines around events besides size in the executive orders—however when you read restaurant guidelines, you can find much more detail on food service, seating, and other guidelines that can be incorporated into your event,” she points out. 

2. Basic familiarity with new technology and platforms—and how to troubleshoot.
Let’s face it: Virtual events are here to stay, whether they include an in-person component or not. Event professionals should have a working knowledge of what’s possible, and some familiarity with the biggest virtual platforms out there. 

Rachel Nelson, public relations and events manager for Margaux Agency in Los Angeles, suggests knowing basic troubleshooting for the inevitable technical difficulties. “The best way to deal with this is to come prepared for the worst,” she says. “Have test or practice sessions with all of your speakers to rule out all the technical difficulties. Make sure that your presenters and speakers know how to work the platform, which includes sharing slides, presentations, etcetera.”

Chris Chan—founder and CEO of Washington, D.C.-based 3C Strategies—agrees. “Technology has become much more prevalent in our planning process,” he notes. “We’ve had to learn several SaaS platforms in anticipation of possible switches to hybrid or virtual events based on regulations and client desires. We’ve also had to build up our production knowledge base as clients are demanding more polished video production.”

Related: From A to Zoom: Tips on Planning Virtual Events From Tech-Savvy Industry Pros

3. A general idea of accessibility requirements for virtual content.
Just like an in-person event, a virtual event should be inclusive for the widest possible audience. “Once you have a content plan in place, don't overlook accessibility. If your videos aren’t accessible to everyone, you're limiting your reach,” points out Justin Hartman, director of Mediasite Events in Madison, Wis. “Content should be easily accessed on any device at any moment. Closed captioning is also an important feature you need to think about when creating your video strategy. While closed captioning is a helpful feature to the hearing impaired, it has the added benefit of increasing search capabilities for your audience as a whole.”

And think globally, Hartman adds. “Relying on a virtual platform for future events is all about thinking beyond your conference walls by creating an entire online conference pass and experience,” he says. Consider making content your audience can reference year-round, and adding built-in translation options for different languages. 

Related: 6 Ways Events Can Be More Inclusive, Welcoming Spaces for All Attendees

4. Knowledge of how to study analytics for virtual events.
“Perhaps the unsung hero of a solid video strategy is the analytics, and too often people don’t fully utilize its power,” says Hartman, explaining that video metadata will give insights into viewing metrics that can improve marketing strategies and increase sales. “You’ll be able to analyze everything from registration to interaction to viewer behaviors. Who was the most popular speaker? Where did viewers disengage? How long do they interact with the content? With this valuable information, you can continuously improve your events and maximize attendee satisfaction.”

5. Enhanced social media marketing skills.
Due to increased competition in the virtual event space—and eventually, a crowded calendar of rescheduled in-person gatherings—social media marketing is a critical way to cut through the noise, says Willie Greer, founder of The Product Analyst in Memphis, who regularly works with event companies on brand partnerships. “Planners should be more knowledgeable about boosting, and the like, to be able to reach prospective clients. Continuous advancement, mastery, and knowhow in creating digital content, especially for marketing, is a skill set that will be beneficial for a long time.”

Related: How Should Event Pros Be Using Social Media During the COVID-19 Pandemic?

6. Strong business practices.
An industry dominated by entrepreneurs is no stranger to the need for strong business skills—which have become more crucial than ever, points out Michael Alexis, CEO of TeamBuilding, based near Seattle. “You need to not just create a high quality and engaging experience, but also support it with robust business practices and systems,” he says, adding that in an unstable economy, quality customer service means people will be confident booking and working with your company. "You need strong policies around refunds, rescheduling, and other possible outcomes.”

7. Familiarity with best practices for crisis communications.
“The entire globe was completely unprepared for this type of crisis,” notes Sherese Patton, founder and principal publicist of SLP Media Relations in Detroit. “I now know the importance of having a crisis management plan in order to counteract such a dire situation. We may never get back to ‘normal,’ and it's best to be prepared for the worst should the worst happen again.”

Make sure the plan is continuously updated according to new developments, and that your entire team has access to it. One way to expand your skills in this area is through online education courses, webinars, and networking, points out Rachel Mazzola, corporate event manager of Tripleseat, an event management platform that offers educational resources for planners. “Topics that every event planner should be exploring now are event crisis communication, emergency preparedness, contract negotiations, event design, inclusive event strategies, and virtual meeting and event management.”

Mazzola adds, “Once you have a strong foundation in these elements, put your knowledge into action right away! Come up with plans that will be useful to have on hand for the future, especially an emergency response plan if you don’t already have one.”

8. Ideas for evolving and expanding your current skill sets.
The best event pros always have a back-up plan—and that includes a way to keep your business afloat during times of crisis. “Take a look at what you already have access to and see how you can apply it towards generating new income. In some cases, this means looking at things you normally wouldn’t consider,” explains Jason Shaw, CEO of Round Table Marketing Group in Miami, who re-evaluated his company’s email database to find ways it could both create revenue and help the community. “We had hundreds of thousands of emails, segmented by location and interest. We also knew that the local restaurant industry had been hit as hard as we had. … We offered our database for free, with the understanding that they would pay us only for clickthrough on their specific CTAs instead of the usual astronomical costs of buying onto a newsletter or paying an email service.”

Shaw’s team also put together a suite of digital resources for local restaurants, bars, and nightlife establishments. “Taking the digital talents and strategies we had already spent years crafting, we immediately transitioned into this new space—and then we offered it to our neighbors and colleagues for next to nothing,” he says. “I know that when things start getting back to normal, these small gestures will not be forgotten.”

Gabrielle Norton, founder and CEO of 'Cause We Can Events in Nashville, has also found a way to generate new income by teaching wedding vendors how to attract clients on Pinterest. “With postponements left and right, I realized that putting all my eggs in one basket with this business was not a good idea,” she says. “I created a new website and in the last four months have managed to launch my very first e-course.” The new venture will bring in more passive income that can be put on hold when her live events pick back up, she notes. 

Related: How Event Vendors Are Adapting Their Services During Coronavirus—and Giving Back to Their Communities

9. Flexibility and creativity.
The ability to plan—and adjust those plans—quickly is more crucial than ever, says Ogunfemi. “As soon as our state loosened state guidelines, some clients wanted to get married ASAP," she remembers. “To prepare for reopening, planners should keep organized tentative plans, vendor lists, ideas, and more so that you can act quickly when approached by an organization or couple who wants to have an event right away.”

Amaia Stecker, managing partner of Pilar & Co. in Alexandria, Va., says the most successful planners will let go of their expectations of what an event “should be.” She says, “Those with the most successful outcomes right now, I believe, are those who let go of their attachments and expected outcomes for new solutions and opportunities.”

Now is the time to try new things, Stecker adds. “Don’t be afraid to share some of your less thought out, wild and crazy ideas. This is different from throwing things at the wall to see what sticks. Actually ideating and refining, widening thought processes to narrow opinions can come up with some top-notch solutions."

10. Patience and empathy.
When communicating with clients, vendors, or guests, never forget that the current climate is affecting everyone in different ways, notes Nelson. “Some are losing their livelihood, family members, friends, and jobs, and needs and values could have severely shifted from just a mere three months ago. It's important to take the time to get to know your audience again, show them that you care, and speak with empathy, humility, and compassion.”

Remember that it’s an industry built on relationships, adds Mazzola. “You can’t act robotic and expect to maintain good relationships. Taking the time to talk through problems and hear them out will help you to build stronger bonds with your clients in the long run,” she says.

And above all, be patient. “Let's be honest—on a large scale, nobody knows what's going on, how long this is going to last, and what this means for their company (and income, and family) in the long term," says Kate Strayer, event producer and brand marketing specialist for Entire Productions in San Francisco. "Many people are still figuring out how to comfortably and effectively work from home, let alone what their new virtual holiday party budget will be.”

Strayer adds, “With patience comes empathy—and with that, a more desirable business partner. No one wants to feel like they're being rushed to make a decision (even if we want to rush them to make a decision). ... Let's just try and show a little grace from day to day."

Related: 6 Ways Event Planners Can Maintain Client Relationships During the COVID-19 Outbreak

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