The Myth

I hear it all the time ..."Your job sounds FUN!" or "Wow your job is EXCITING!"

Yes, planning events is fun.  But I don't think it's quite the "CIGS & MARTINIS" everyone thinks it is.  There's far more to it than standing around drinking martinis, smoking cigs and being the life of the party.

The event planning industry is a double edged sword.  A good event planner works tirelessly to make sure the event goes off without a hitch.  And yet, in doing so, makes the designing, planning and coordinating seem effortless.  When guests of an event see the event planner greeting guests, smiling, engaging in lively conversation and the event is moving swimmingly it's easy to assume that the job is fun and easy.

In reality the event planner is likely tired, sore and mentally exhausted.  It's just the nature of the business that you never allow your guests to see you in that state.  Professional event planners are able to wipe the sweat from their brow, change clothes in a bathroom stall and appear at the start of the event as if they were an invited guest themselves.  That's what separates the good from the bad in this business and that's where both edges of the sword get sharp.  If the event wasn't polished and ready to go an invited guest would complain about how chaotic the event might seem, yet, when the event appears flawless the professional life of the event planner is "Cigs and Martinis".

1940s Dance Party vintage photo

Someone very wise once told me that as an event professional, "If you have too much to do when the event begins, you didn't do your job."  It's really the truth.  Imagine if I invited you over to my house for dinner and you walked in to see my family's dirty laundry piled all over the dining room, the kitty litter box on kitchen table and my wife waxing her legs  you would know I didn't plan accordingly.  The point is that an event coordinator's job is to do just that . . . coordinate. So when an event planner is running around with too much to do once the event starts, it's safe to assume they didn't do their job.

An event planner's job is at their desk.  Hands down - 80% of the job is contracts, phone calls, e-mails, meetings and spreadsheets.  By time you get to an actual venue and begin setting up the event, all of the hard stuff is done.  Now it's the manual stuff and frankly I'll take moving boxes, tables, stages and banners any day over conference calls, budget cuts, meetings, e-mails and typing out vendor, sponsor and talent agreements.

The event is created and laid out while sitting in a 4ft. by 4ft. cubicle under the same florescent light that exists in most office spaces.  So if that's the "FUN" and "EXCITING" stuff that the world thinks about when talking about a career in the special events world, I'll cheers a martini and light up a cig to that!

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  • I enjoyed reading your piece on the "the myth" centered on event planning. As one of your former students, I often remember the guest speakers--who were also Event Planners--that came to class and offered their experiences of what event planning really involves. One speaker mentioned “most of the time an Event Planner's job will consist of moving around tables" ha-ha. I also remember pointers that you mentioned on how event's never go exactly as planned. Therefore, it is important to know each job function that will be a part of that particular event so that as the Event Planner you will know how to resolve whatever problem(s) that may arise.

    For example, since your class I have become more involved in special events. For example, last summer, in July (2012), I volunteered at an event called City Chase, which was an event benefiting Special Olympics Chicago. I along with other volunteers was in charge of managing a hot dog eating station. It was a timed contest for City Chase participants. Anyhow, volunteers were to arrive at the location one hour before the event. When we I arrived at my assignment nothing was set up. The vendor that was sponsoring the hot dogs had his part of the event covered by cooking the dogs but that was it. There were no tables for participants to eat on, no chairs for participants to sit on, the station was setup outside, and as I recall the weather was not on our side, it was super-hot that day!

    I don’t know what took over me, but I ended up taking the lead in setting up the entire hot dog eating station. I and other volunteers found tables and chairs within the vendor’s company and we lined them up outside in an area where there was the most shade but still visible to the participants and onlookers.

    At the end of the day, it was fun and participants appreciated the effort we made to keep them as cool as possible. Many of them thanked us.

    So, I wasn’t the creator of the event but I was proud to take the lead in creating a functioning space the contributed to part of the event. It winded up being beneficial to those who participated. Those showing their appreciation by saying ‘Thank you’ made it worthwhile.

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