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Professional Planners

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Professional event management is more than smiling, subtly glancing at name badges and schmoozing. Like other interesting and exciting dealing-with-the-public careers, professional event management is a demanding skill and a talent. It involves creativity, planning and organization, meticulous attention to detail, flexibility, time management, superior people skills, a high stress-tolerance level, resilience – and a whole lot of charm.

“Event management is a unique industry in that it requires you to wear several hats,” explains Erin Walton, the seasoned pro and contract instructor with NorQuest Food and Beverage Management. “You are sometimes required to jump in at a moment’s notice and move furniture, clear tables or calm the nerves of a frayed client. At other moments you are required to be an expert in project management, monitoring and overseeing the scope, timeline, budget and deliverables of any given event. You must possess a high level of tact and diplomacy and have strengths in communicating with various people groups.

“You must also be extremely resourceful, able to pivot, adapt and address anything that comes your way. A live event is like live television; the show must go on. Event managers must also possess the ability to identify and put out small fires before they turn into something unmanageable.

“The job demands a high degree of emotional intelligence and awareness, the ability to read a room and spot potential incendiary issues, before anyone else does.” She emphasizes that a professional even manager must also be a ‘people person,’ with strong communication skills, tact and diplomacy, strong organization skills and project management skills including budget creation and oversight.

“Supervisory skills are important because teams of individuals, including paid staff and volunteers, make it all happen. Part of being an effect supervisor requires empathy, leadership, communication and delegation. After all, no one cares how much you know until they know how much you care.”

Emma Pietroleonardo, general manager of the Edmonton Convention Centre works with (and relies on) professional event managers throughout the year. She explains that in the dynamic landscape of the event management industry, the roles of event managers and event planners have become increasingly nuanced, requiring a diverse skillset to orchestrate seamless and memorable experiences.

“Although event planning and event management are often used interchangeably, the jobs are different. Event planners primarily focus on the creative and conceptual elements of an event as the visionaries, responsible for design, themes and ensuring every detail aligns with the client’s goals. Event managers are the operational backbone, executing plans and overseeing the logistics that bring the event to life.”

While efficiency, coordination, organization and a knack for timing are crucial, an event manager’s people skills are routinely put to the test in dealing with the event organizers, the event guests and the event staff.

One of the simplistic misunderstandings about professional even management is that the job is just making a checklist and following it. Edmonton event managers grin and shake their heads. If it were only that easy! The role goes way beyond checking off lists. It takes an innate ability to anticipate the needs of clients, whether it is understanding the demographic of attendees, aligning with the client’s brand message or implementing cutting-edge technologies.

Working with event planners and event managers is also a big part of the job for Kim Mahoney, partner and COO of Edmonton’s popular and successful A Cappella Catering.

“Both jobs must have uncompromising attention to detail, strong communication skills, creativity and savvy about current and a solid network. It is important to have an effective client on-boarding consultation, to determine the goals, objectives and vision from the start.

“Understanding deliverables and client preferences is a must and helps to build trust and a strong working relationship. It also helps us decide if a client is a good fit for our brand of hospitality! Communication and collaboration are a two-way street.

Mahoney explains that, “Organization is critical – keeping notes, tracking conversations and changing requests. Maintaining a list of trusted third-party vendors is also very valuable as is timing and knowing the strengths and skills of your team. Schedule each person accordingly and delegate tasks aligned with their ability. A key responsibility of an event manager is the  details, because every detail matters.”

Pietroleonardo points out that a mastery of logistics is essential.

“A successful event manager not only understands the intricacies of logistics but thrives in managing them. From coordinating vendors and overseeing setups to ensuring the seamless flow of the event, event managers at the Edmonton Convention Centre exemplify the importance of logistics management in their role. Logistics extend beyond merely coordinating schedules and spaces. A skilled event manager possesses the ability to foresee potential challenges and swiftly implement solutions, showcasing their improvisational skills. This foresight is crucial in handling the unexpected, ensuring the event runs smoothly regardless of unforeseen circumstances.”

A vital aspect of successful event planning and management is being current, with not only the subtle ways the pandemic altered social interaction, but also popular trends continually change what event guests and organizers prefer, want and expect. Some prefer formal, others casual. Some events have moved away from buffet dining to individual or theme food stations or traditional sit-down style. And technology – AV, special effects and other options – continue to have a big impact on the feel and mood of the event.

Walton explains that event organizers have had to adapt to a new reality after COVID. They must be ready and able to pivot their event at a moment’s notice, they must possess skills in both in-person and virtual events and be adaptable as audiences are more fickle now (they value work/life balance more than ever, they change their mind about attending an event even after confirming based on personal issues or physical and mental wellness).

“Event professionals are required to be extremely creative and versatile as event goers demand more than just a standard event. They want an experience worth leaving the couch for and worth posting on social media!”

Pietroleonardo emphasizes that, “The professional event manager must adapt to the client’s wants and needs. The event management profession has undergone a transformative journey, adapting to the ever-changing needs of clients and the industry itself. Clients now seek more than just a flawlessly executed event. They demand an immersive experience that aligns with their brand and resonates with their audience.”

In response to the shift, event managers have refined their skills to anticipate and fulfill evolving needs. They have become strategic partners, deeply understanding the client’s objectives and weaving them into the fabric of the event.

“Collaboration is crucial,” Pietroleonardo adds, “with event managers actively engaging with clients throughout the planning process to ensure a personalized, impactful and safe experience.”

Walton notes that, “Being kind, treating people well and showing you care are the best ways to build relationships with clients, staff, volunteers, venues, suppliers, sponsors and partners. You catch more flies with honey! My advice is, ‘people first.’ If you have invested in people it makes it easier to ask for last minute requests, favours and help – all are usually parts of a successful event.”

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