Most event planners today are self-taught and learn on the job. Either they wing it, and hopefully learn from their mistakes, or they learn from someone who winged it. The best case scenario is that they got to spend a lot of time shadowing a more senior colleague, who in turn may have learned from a colleague, etc. If you follow that chain back far enough, the original person winged it.
This apprenticeship model is pretty much how any trade is learned, from being a blacksmith in the middle ages, to today’s event planner, until the educational system creates a curriculum for teaching the trade in a uniform way. In the beginning, people who are self-taught are skeptical of the value of such an education. That is, until the things they see people learning spark an interest in themselves, and they say, “Hey, that’s cool that they are teaching people about that!”
That about sums up where we are in event education. ELI runs a 10 week online course on Event & Meeting Management Fundamentals. In reviewing the syllabus with the instructor, Kevin White, I had several of those “That’s cool” moments. Here are five things Kevin will teach in the course that most event planners should have mastered, but that many have not.
- How the Americans with Disabilities Act impacts live events. Though this landmark legislation was passed back in 1990, many planners still have little idea what the host’s responsibilities (and potential liabilities) are in this area.
- How to sell your event vision to the client. It’s no use brainstorming great ideas for an event if you can’t figure out how to get the client on board. Too often the person pitching the idea focuses on describing the idea, as opposed to how that idea will help achieve the event objectives.
- Learning proper project management skills. Getting the work done is only half the battle. If the client isn’t happy with “the how” you’re in trouble. Different people manage projects differently, and it’s critical to map out a game plan that properly manages client expectations with event deliverables.
- Keeping up with new software. I recently had a conversation with an experienced event planner who specialized in fundraising events. It came up that she tracks event attendance and table seating in Excel, and I almost fell out of my chair. If you’re using inefficient, old-school tools to run your event, you’re not only spending more time and money than you need to, but you’re possibly sending the wrong message to your client about your ability to keep up with new trends and ideas.
- Knowing how to calculate staff levels. This is a pet peeve of mine, and I was glad to see Kevin including a series of formulas. There’s no excuse for not having enough check-in staff at registration, or enough people to assemble and hand out gift bags, or not properly staffing a help desk. To me, those are signs of ineptitude.
Yes, the course will cover all the things you might expect, such as site selection, event design, hiring speakers and entertainment, food and beverage, registration and the like. Those things I knew would be covered. It’s the unexpected areas, like the five I outlined above, that really caught my eye, and made me proud of where we’ve come as an industry in terms of education.