Planning resilience: Facing today’s challenges as an event manager

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event manager

Do you have the most stressful job? Each of us is faced with perpetual challenges in our workplace that seem to be continually increasing and adding to our stress levels. With the current climate of economic uncertainties, increasing workloads and unrelenting demands, most of us will likely claim we have the most stressful job.

CareerCast conducts an annual assessment of the most stressful careers. Surprisingly, or not so surprisingly, event coordinator was ranked No. 5 in 2014 and No. 8 in 2015 as the most stressful job. Making the top 10 is not an achievement most of us want to own as it means we face stresses close to that faced by active military personnel, firefighters, police officers and airline pilots.

Why is this a reality for event managers?

There are so many challenges and contributors to our stress levels. The sheer volume of details that need to be managed and monitored is suspect. Perhaps it is knowing that the events we deliver have a definite end date with no mulligans; no ability to do-over what did not go perfectly as planned. No matter how detailed our best-laid plans, it is difficult to have contingencies in place to cover every possibility for what may go awry.

Here are some current challenges event managers face with some tips that may help:

Shorter timelines

Timelines for managing our events are continually getting shorter. While it is arguable as to why, it is most important to be prepared to work within them when that last minute project arrives.

We need to ensure that we have a firm understanding of the goals and objectives. An initial consultation with the event stakeholders will provide an opportunity to clarify what they expect to be achieved. This will prevent time wasted heading in the wrong direction.

Other ways we can cope with shorter timelines include:

  • Tracking our progress and keeping stakeholders informed. It can instill a greater sense of urgency leading to expedited decision-making.
  • Expediency comes through repetition and defined processes. Develop and implement steps we can follow to ensure completion of each project. Knowing and practising these processes will prepare us for easy delivery on short timelines. Utilizing well-developed templates are necessary to complement each process.
  • If we deliver our events in the same region, build relationships with suppliers. Know who is responsive and reliable so we can draw upon them when timelines are short.

Increasing complexity of contracts

Over the past decade or so, we have seen contracts become more complex. Facility contracts, for example, have grown from just a few pages to several dozen with the inclusion of sliding scales, attrition, minimum guarantees and other clauses. Event managers almost need to have a law degree to negotiate some of these contracts.

While some may have the luxury of having an internal legal team to draw upon, not everyone does. For those without we can to turn to colleagues in our industry or potentially outside legal advice.

There are plenty of opportunities to educate ourselves. Online resources abound with webinars, articles and websites dedicated to this matter. Books and educational sessions at industry conferences are also great resources.

Another option is to develop our own contracts. Many suppliers, including facilities, are willing to use outside contracts. We will face an initial investment having a law firm draft them, but we can rest easy knowing the obligations and expectations on both parties are sound.

Shrinking budgets and rising costs

Events in these uncertain economic times are faced with rising costs and shrinking budgets. Added to this in many circumstances is a stakeholder expectation for the same level of delivery. How do we do more with less?

Begin with looking at our budget and asking for every item, “is it necessary?” and “does it support our objectives and the outcomes we desire?” If not, remove it.

Other strategies for handling shrinking budgets could include:

  • Asking if there are any budget items where a supplier may be willing to provide their product or services in exchange for in-kind sponsorship
  • Look at ways to innovate with the use of technology. Can a speaker with high travel costs present their session by Skype? Can a virtual attendance model be introduced that will outweigh the costs of having some delegates attend onsite?
  • Many educational institutions are building conference facilities with built-in audio-visual equipment. Save on AV costs by utilizing such venues that provide all-inclusive pricing.
  • Make extended use of our keynote and plenary session speakers. Having them present a breakout session can reduce the number of speakers required.

Comparing apples to oranges

It can be difficult to compare quotations received from suppliers; like trying to compare apples to oranges. How do we know if one supplier has missed items crucial to the delivery of their services? How do we begin to compare what one supplier is offering to that of another when their quotations are Greek to us?

  • Focus on outcomes. There are many ways to achieve the same result. Providing audio-visual companies with an equipment list is not a good approach. They may have different equipment or one may have a more complex approach than the other. By clarifying what we expect as an outcome affords them the liberty of determining how they will get there. It makes them more responsible to deliver the expected result.
  • Where possible have the suppliers, in their quotations, provide renderings, or pictures of comparable projects. This will provide us with a visual element to better assess who will make the best partner.
  • Education and having resources to draw upon are also important. Take the time to learn about the services our suppliers are providing. Make connections with other industry professionals to whom we can turn to with questions.

Non-transparent suppliers

It is a very competitive marketplace in our industry. Every supplier is looking for an edge to win our business. Unfortunately, too many try to compete on price because all too often it is the lowest bid that wins. This leads to some suppliers withholding items in their quotations that may be needed for our event. After signing the contract we may face unexpected additional expense.

Focus on having our suppliers quote on the outcomes we require instead of just providing lists of equipment or services. We can then make it part of their contract that they are to provide everything required to achieve the outcomes. Where possible, include a clause that indicates the final invoice cannot exceed the quotation and if anything is missed they are obligated to provide it for no additional fee.

Having a basic knowledge and understanding of the services our suppliers are providing is an asset. Experience is a great teacher, but an investment in educating ourselves will accelerate our ability to identify when suppliers are not putting their best foot forward.

Misdirected stakeholders

Event managers are professionals and experts in the delivery of events. Stakeholders and clients can derail our well-developed processes when they are distracted by shiny things — things we know are not vital to the event’s success. This can lead to added stress and slowing down of management processes.

  • Find ways to instill trust. When they have faith in our competence and ability to deliver they will have less desire to interfere. No interference removes the opportunity to misdirect our focus.
  • Develop strategies to keep our stakeholders informed of our progress. Communication is the foundation of gaining and keeping their trust. Maintain a critical path and reporting process. Ensure they can see that timelines are being met and schedules followed. When they see the event coming together, the desire to step in will be inhibited.
  • When we find ourselves being sidetracked by stakeholders, re-focus them on what matters. Point them back to the goals and objectives and clarify how their shiny thing supports them. This will help bring them to the realization that it doesn’t matter.

In dealing with the challenges we face, enough cannot be said about education and connection. For young people entering our industry, consider pursuing a formal post-secondary education in event management or in business. For the seasoned event manager, seek professional development opportunities whether through books, seminars or industry conferences. One of the best online resources is the Event Leadership Institute, which makes educational videos available taught by the top minds in our industry.

Get connected and involved in a local chapter of Meeting Professionals international (MPI), International Special Events Society (ISES), Professional Convention Management Association (PCMA) or the Canadian Society of Professional Event Planners (CanSPEP). A great network is the Senior Planners Industry Network (SPIN).

Staying current and on top of our daily challenges will lead to a very rewarding career, and hopefully a lot less stress!

About the author

Brent Taylor, CMP, CMM is a Partner at Timewise Event Management Inc. based in Edmonton, Alberta. He is very passionate about the meetings industry and believes strongly in education, professional development and setting industry standards. Connect with Brent online at www.twitter.com/brentjtaylor and www.linkedin.com/in/brentjtaylor.

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