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"Three Steps to Become an Event Planner"

Event Planning Job Description

What Exactly Does an Event Planner Do?

Maybe you've decided you want to become an event planner, but you're not sure what the "day-to-day life" of an event planner looks like.  After all, event planners can't always be at an event; there has to be some planning involved, right?

This page will look beyond the typical event planning job description and will, instead, give you a "behind-the-scenes" peek at what it's really like to be a planner. 

As I always say, event planning is much more than just pretty decor, fun entertainment, and good food. Then, you might ask, what is it really about?

The short answer? 

An event planner creates, organizes, and supervises every element
of an event, meeting, or incentive.

Sounds simple enough, doesn't it?

But that's just the event planning job description. The reality is so much more.

But First, Let's Clear Up Some Misconceptions….

Misconception #1
One thing that I want to clear up right away is a big misconception about the life of an event planner. More than anything else, I hear people say "I want to become an event planner because I don't want a desk job."

Well, I have some surprising news for you: 

99% of event planning is a desk job!

It's called event planning for a reason….you'll spend about 99% of your time planning an event, and only 1% of your time is spent at the event.  The exception to this is if you become a corporate meeting planner, in which case you'll spend a lot more time at your events; because most meetings last 2-5 days.  

The planning side of event planning is very much a desk job.  It will feel, at times, like your computer or your laptop is attached to your hip at times.  You will have hundreds of emails to keep on top of, lists to cross-check, research to do, schedules to create, and budgets to continually update.  

However, there are times when you have to be "out and about" too.  You will have to do site inspections to check out venues, meetings with vendors, meetings with clients, meetings with caterers, decor to pick out, and on and on!

So in that sense, event planning is not your typical "desk job."  It's not a job where you never get to leave your desk.  Plus, the work is different every single day; unlike many "desk jobs" where the work is pretty repetitive from day to day.  I just like to clarify this, so that before you commit to becoming an event planner you understand that a lot of your time is spent at a desk.  

Misconception #2 

Another misconception about the life of an event planner is that you "get to party for living."  

A lot people, when they envision the life of an event planner, picture her at her event; in an elegant party dress, smiling while she mingles and soaks up all the compliments for putting on this fantastic party, meeting, or gala. She's simply basking in the glow of a job well done, wine glass in hand, and loving that she's getting to party for a living and not sitting in a cubicle.

Again, the reality is slightly different!  

When you're at your event, you are running around like a headless chicken....putting out fires (figuratively and, sometimes, literally!); making sure the vendors all provided what they promised; wondering where your keynote presenter is or why the entertainment is at the bar; following up with the caterer to see why they have beef when you ordered fish; handling questions from your attendees or the VIPs or the venue; and trouble-shooting all the millions of last-minute problems.  It's hardly the glamorous life as portrayed by Jennifer Lopez in "The Wedding Planner"! 

The Life of an Event Planner

Why Do Events Take So Long to Plan?

So, now that we've clarified a few things that event planning is not, let's look at what it is!

First of all, a lot of people often ask how long an event takes to plan.  That, of course varies greatly; depending on the size of the event, an event can take three months, six months, even a year to plan. Larger events can take even longer to plan.  For example, they are already working on choosing the city for the 2024 Olympics.  

Why does it take so long?  What has to be done so far in advance of the event?  Here's a really basic overview of some of the elements that have to planned fairly far "out" prior to the event:

  • Six months to one year before the event is to take place, the event planner receives her assignment.  A meeting or event concept and a general set of dates will usually be decided upon.
  • Then she will need to find a venue that can accommodate the event.  She will need to pick a venue, and many venues book up years in advance.  If it's a corporate meetings, she needs to choose a host city, and then a host hotel.  Finding the right venue or hotel for your event can be the toughest part of the job; and THEN you have to work with their available dates….so the earlier you are able to book, the better.  
  • Registration must be set up, and the attendees need to be invited to register.  If people are coming in for the event or if the event is hosted somewhere else, travel must be arranged, and hotel rooms booked.
  • The main entertainment needs to be selected and booked.  "Big name" or celebrity entertainment often book out years in advance, so this needs to be determined as far out from the event as possible.   
  • The content, if it's a meeting, must be finalized.  Keynote speakers need to be selected and booked, and all material needs to be written, proofed, and printed.  Presenters need to be provided with scripts, or create their presentations; and this takes time.  
  • For either a meeting or an event, the technical requirements need to be figured out and solidified.  Is there staging?  Lighting?  Sound?  Screens?  Multi-media presentations?  Good A/V or production companies usually book far in advance.  
  • Does transportation need to be provided? If it's an event, where will people park?  If you have to  work with the city on permits or securing lots, this can take a long time!  
  • Who will staff your event?  Quality on-site staff often book months in advance.

As you can see, there are a lot of important elements that need to be factored into your event.  Quite often, you'll find the "perfect" element (venue, band, presenter, florist) only to find they are already booked on your event's date.  So the more time you have to plan, the better!


A Day in the Life of an Event Planner

So what does an event planner do every day during the three, six, or twelve months prior to her event?

Here's a bit of a "day in the life" of an event planner:

  • 8;00am: Arrive at your office, or perhaps work from home.  If you have international clients in a different time zone, you might report much earlier or later.  I worked for six months on an event  that took place in Switzerland; so about three days a week I reported to work by 4:00am  in order to be able to work with the client over the phone on the event.  
  • Turn on your computer and see that you have 247 new email messages (since last night).
  • Check your voice mail and realize that you have fifteen new messages (this is just your office voicemail, it doesn't include your cell phone).
  • Dig out your "To Do List," which actually requires a notebook and is not just a list.
  • Begin any number of tasks, including negotiate contracts, crunch numbers in an impossibly small budget, call the hotel to talk about the layout of the room, study the menu to pick out the food, call the production company to talk about the size of the stage, or call the keynote speaker to talk about what he'll talk about. Email the printer and ask him to email you a copy of the flier or brochure or banners, email the caterer to tell them how many vegetarian options you think you'll need, follow up with the web designer on the registration site, contract with the travel agent to book the flights, and follow up with each of the tiny requests from the attendees.
  • Eat lunch at your desk because there's no possible way you have time to go out.
  • Run out for a meeting with the caterer, or the florist, or perhaps do a site inspection of a venue.  Go back to the office to finish things up.
  • Pry yourself away at 6:00pm, to go home for a few hours before coming back tomorrow to start all over again!

Of course, every single day is different as an event planner; and that's why many of us love the job!  That's what most people mean when they say they "don't want a desk job"….if you want variety, excitement, and no two days that are ever the same, then you will LOVE your career in event planning!  

But there's one more area of the life of a planner we still need to consider…what's it like on the actual day of your event??

…and a Glimpse Into a Planner's Life the Day of the Event!

So, of course, the whole reason most people want to become an event planner is the excitement of working the actual event!  

After months of preparation, of planning, of dreaming of this day, it's finally time to switch from "planning" mode and jump into "on-site" mode….it's time for your event to go live!  

  • Try to get some sleep the night before….but that almost never happens.  
  • Get to the venue as early as possible.  Even if it's an evening event but you can get to the venue by 10:00am, do it!  Of course you'll have your vendor load-in schedule that I discuss in my Planning Events Course; take your laptop and your phone and work while you supervise load-in and set-up.  There are always plenty of last-minute issues that pop up, so it's best to be there as early as possible.  
  • Anything that can be done early, do it.  There will be enough last-minute emergencies to deal with as the day progresses.  
  • Make sure all of your vendors are clear on where to go to set up.  Make sure the parking lot is clear for trucks, and the loading docks are clear for loading.  
  • I always touch base with my entertainment or presenters, just to make sure they are clear on the report time and where to go.  They are usually the most visible element if things go wrong; and yet they usually don't report until shortly before showtime.  
  • Supervise all vendors and make sure set-up is going well.  Touch base with the caterer or the venue food & beverage team; make sure everyone is on the same page for timing.  
  • Make sure the restrooms are clean and ready, if your guests are driving make sure parking is ready.  
  • Set directional signs in place.  
  • Coordinate with all vendors and venue on the timing.  
  • Walk the entire event as if you're a guest; do you see anything wrong?
  • Time to start the event!  Stay on top of the bars and food, make sure there's enough of everything.
  • Supervise your entertainment or presenters, make sure they stay on time.  
  • Try to take a few moments to enjoy your own event!  
  • Ok, now the night is almost over.  Are the doors ready?  Parking attendants or buses in place? 
  • Supervise the "exit" process, make sure everyone gets out safely.  "Sweep" the venue; check all chairs, tables, and restrooms for any purses, coats, etc that your guests left behind (or for any lost or otherwise incapacitated guests!).  
  • Now it's time to "strike," or take everything down.  Are your suppliers aware of the schedule?  Make sure the loading docks or service elevators are available. Make sure your vendors are fine with the strike schedule and procedure.  

PHEW!  Finally, it's over.  It's about 3:00am, and you can finally think about going to bed and resting your feet.  

Of course, there is still the final billing and the "post-con" meetings….but otherwise your event is done.  Until it's time to start planning for next year….

Ummm...I'm Not Sure This is For Me...

If you are starting to think that being an event planner isn't quite for you, don't despair! There are plenty of other opportunities that still allow you to work in the exciting world of events, without having to be the one in charge of the chaos!

There are many, many other ways to be involved with events, in jobs where you're almost always on-site at an event, and not at a desk.

For instance, you can work for the caterer, a decor company, transportation, production, or in a hotel. In each of these jobs, you can still be a part of large, exciting events, without having to be the one to coordinate every last detail.  Some people prefer to be a piece of the pie instead of the chef, and that's perfectly ok.