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Tips from the Top (Part 1)

A Two-Part Series on Event Planning with Answers & Ideas from Marie-France Watson

We sat down with MPI Montreal-Quebec Past President and the EVENTr Co-Founder and co-creator of The Illuminate Project Podcast (TIPP) Marie-France Watson, an event strategist and certified event designer to pick her brain on tips for those of us that are just getting started in event planning.

Roll with the new normal

In her possibly most timely piece of advice, Marie-France cautions that as the world opens back up and we begin to leave Covid behind us, “Going back to normal is a fallacy.” Instead of working our way back to the pre-Covid routines and flows that we all had disrupted, she implores us to instead move forward, accepting that every industry (especially the event professional industry has undergone a total makeover in the last year and that as every consumer’s needs have shifted, so have the needs of the events that engage them.

She predicts a very long “hybrid” phase for events that will last until at least the end of 2022. It is safe to say that International events will remain complicated from a financial to health perspective in the months ahead and that individual comfort level will vary greatly from person to person which will need to be taken into account.

Many companies and individuals had to basically condense 10 years of their technological change management into less than 1  and most customers are going to expect the enhanced level of on-demand engagement that technology can provide as a general standard – the tools and enhancements everyone has invested in are not going anywhere. That being said, Marie-France also predicts a much more accepting audience when it comes to integrating technology into your event design. Organizers have seen the benefits it brings in terms of outreach, cost-efficiency, and inclusivity.

All changes & major historical events considered, Marie-France reminds us that there are some things about event planning that have fundamentally remained unchanged, such as managing client expectations. “Technology is a tool, not a solution,” She says, “Just because it’s online doesn’t mean our jobs aren’t relevant – just the delivery mechanism has changed,” She goes on to say that where one may have been tasked with setting up a physical roundtable for meetings, with name-tags, placement, and supplies to coordinate before Covid, you now are tasked with choosing the right technology to achieve the same impact virtually as was in person. We have to take a step back and think about the purpose of each of these activities and translate that into a virtual medium.

Keep that communication going strong! 

With a mindset in event design, Marie-France says that one of the most common mistakes fledgling event planners of all kinds make is not properly understanding the stakeholders involved – She advises to take the time to design and take the time to understand your stakeholders’ true priorities and not just what they communicate to you since “stakeholders and event planners don’t speak the same language.”

However, good communication shouldn’t end with the stakeholders: an event team is only as strong as its level of coordination. In the world of event professionals, we know that any plan is just a starting off point and that the chances of it remaining unchanged are slim to none, so you’ll want to make sure you keep your team updated with new developments. Remember: there is no such thing as over-communication when it comes to planning your event to perfection – particularly in a virtual medium! 

Technology is your best friend – lean on it! 

It’s a wild world of technology out there, whether it’s software that manages your marketing campaigns, a program that helps you manage RSVP’s, or communication software that helps you coordinate all the moving parts of your event. Make your life easier and event smoother by taking full advantage of the options you have. Saving time on reconciling lists & deadlines can only help you when it comes to realizing your event’s full potential.

When it comes to making a final decision on which software you’ll be utilizing Marie-France Watson suggests that what you should look for is flexibility and a strong relationship with developers. “Tech is a moving target,” she explains, “no event is the same and there are always new challenges so you must have good relationships with your developers.” She also recommends open-source software when possible since it gives you the option to integrate it with anything and further develop it as you need. However, she warns not to “put the cart before the horse” and make sure that you ask yourself what you want to accomplish with your event before asking yourself what tools you should use.

Your event timeline is your Bible

It should represent the ideal flow of events based on your client’s preferences. If you keep updating it religiously as your vendors confirm and adjust their various service times you will save yourself some big day-of headaches and will be able to spot a flaw a mile ahead and a month in advance. Marie-France also insists it’s equally important to carefully plan the foundation of your event and get it right in the early stages of your event production, “You waste a lot of time if you don’t get the foundation right in design.” Not taking the time to design in the beginning will end up costing you much more time trying to put out fires later down the line.

Delegate

As much as you’ll want to make sure absolutely every tiny detail is perfect – trust me, you can’t. Event planning is a team effort so trust your team and avoid burnout by playing to their strengths when delegating the workload. And on that note – make sure your event partners are dependable sources of talent that you can lean on to begin with! “At the end of the day, events are about people connecting,” says Marie-France, and that starts with your event team.

Expect a little chaos

“Plan for the worst and hope for the best,” says Marie-France. Stay vigilant and be prepared for things to go wrong. Avoid last-minute headaches by making sure you have backup plans in place in the event (pun intended) that things don’t run as smoothly as you’d like. Think backup power sources for equipment, triple-confirmed event staff, implementable weather alternatives – plan with the expectation that everything that can go wrong will.

Marie-France recounted a planning nightmare from her early event design days when she wasn’t made aware of accessibility issues at a venue until the night of her event. She said she refused to let failure be an option and that she had to instantly get her Macgyver skills out: with absolutely no ramp-rental company available so last minute and nothing but the shipment crates brought by her vendors, Marie-France basically did some extremely fast research and became an instant pseudo-accessbility-code-expert. She was able to not only construct a safe to-code access ramp for differently-abled attendees & employees and help them have a seamlessly enjoyable night, but to prove to herself how capable she is of being the super-woman that her clients needed her to be. She jokingly added that, “Our world is built with constraints and those help us become more creative.” 

Scheduled Self-Care is Mandatory

Events are intense – ranked amongst the top 10 most stressful professions. Not scheduling some decompression time after your big event is sacrilege! While we’ve given you a pretty solid checklist that will help with keeping your calm on the job, the only way to keep your head fresh and in the game is to make sure you’ve got ample me-time to physically relax, spend quality time with family and friends, do the things that bring you enjoy, and remember what your motivations were to work so hard to begin with! 

We hope these few elements will help you successfully navigate your foray into event planning.  And most importantly we hope you will fully enjoy that special vacation you have been planning right after the event, a well-deserved break to recharge! And remember: no event rolls out perfectly to plan! Accepting that and rewarding yourself for doing your best and letting the rest go is, by far, the best gift you can give yourself.

Brianna Hendon, Business Intelligence Research