25 things we’ve learned in 25 years in the events industry

Paragon Events' president Renee Radabaugh reflects on what she and her team know after 25 years in special events

Reflecting on the last 25 years of planning meetings and events, so much stands out. It’s amazing how the industry has changed.

I can recall hand-registering thousands of attendees for an event as their paperwork rolled off a noisy fax machine, and planning major conferences without the benefit of a smartphone, tablet or even the Internet.

In 25 years, my one-woman party planning business in Boca Raton, Fla., has evolved into a multi-faceted, award-winning corporate event planning firm with over 30 employees and office locations in eight cities worldwide.

In celebration of our 25 years as a company, my team and I sat down to reminisce. While telling our stories of success and challenges, we began sharing what we’ve learned. What advice would we give a new planner breaking into the field? What experiences could a fellow planner relate to?

Soon enough, we had compiled a list of over 100 things we’ve learned in the events industry. We narrowed it down to our 25 favorites--one for each year we’re celebrating--and share it here. We hope our list rings true to our fellow planners and gives insight to those who are new to the industry. Enjoy!

1) Have a backup plan
Despite the most careful plans, Murphy’s Law holds true: “Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.” The power will go out 15 minutes before the keynote takes the stage, and there will be a downpour over your fabulous, outdoor food-truck lunch. Have a Plan B.

2) Expect the unexpected
Sometimes the tour guide will accidentally miss your corporate bus tour of Washington D.C. monuments, but we can still make it happen. We’ll Google some local facts and take the mic. Things happen, but we’re better because of it.

3) Love your team
A supportive team is absolutely essential to a successful event. A good event planner knows that there are too many components to efficiently manage alone. Thank and appreciate the ones helping you behind the scenes.

4) Stay organized
–-Alissa Contero-Brown, Paragon Events event coordinator
Organizational skills are imperative to an event planner. Make lists, write things down, keep a binder, back up your files, and utilize organizational software such as CVENT, BaseCamp or GetPlanning.

5) Event marketing is key
–-Kacey Mullaney, Paragon Events social media strategist
You can plan an incredible meeting or event, but what’s the point if no one comes? Event marketing is important; implement a plan and market your event early and often. Use online platforms as well as print mediums, and recruit industry contacts to help spread the word.

6) Be flexible
Flexibility is key to keeping yourself sane and your clients satisfied. If your first choice isn’t available, have a second option and move forward confidently.

7) We aren’t magicians
Clients sometimes think we’re able to produce large-scale events on a tiny budget or tight timetable. While we’re proud to say we have pulled off some pretty impressive last-minute and budget-friendly events, sometimes it’s OK to suggest something more realistic. 

8) Your work is your signature
This is another well-worn “Paragonism” that we hear and say often. Your work will often precede you. It’s important to remember that the quality of your work speaks volumes about you, so make sure you’re saying the right things.

9) Sometimes it’s just not worth it
We’ve all experienced difficult clients; the ones who seem dissatisfied no matter how hard you work or how far you bend over backwards. Sometimes it just isn’t worth the mental drain- stick with people who appreciate the work you put in.

10) Dream big!
–-Kristen Antony, Paragon Events international meetings manager
One of our mottos at Paragon Events is, “If you can dream it, we can make it happen.” We’ve come up with out-of-the-box ideas and decided to go for it--with incredible results. Imagine walking into an event while a dancer dangling from a chandelier serves you champagne, or enjoying a candlelit meal on the lawn of the Lincoln Memorial.

11) It’s stressful
There’s no denying it. Even a recent CareerCast study ranked event planning as the fifth most stressful job in the U.S. Buckle up--our industry isn’t an easy one, but a successful event makes it all worth it.

12) Use contracts
–Lisa Johnson, Paragon Events lead accountant
Contracts, contracts, contracts! Write down what you’re agreeing to do and what it’s going to cost. Make sure both parties sign before starting work. It’s common sense, but important to stick to.

13) Don’t overpromise …
Customer service is closely tied to your role as an event planner, but be careful with your promises. Agree to realistic and manageable responsibilities that are included in your contract.

14) … but over-deliver!
Don’t agree to too much, but when the opportunities are there, feel free to go the extra mile! That’s what keeps your clients coming back and recommending you to colleagues.

15) Stick to the budget
--Francesca Radabaugh, Paragon Events operations manager
Monitor an agreed-upon budget, and don’t exceed it without approval. A budget is a living, breathing document; a moving target that when managed well helps your client succeed and makes you, as its manager, an invaluable partner.

16) Ask the right questions

Don’t forget to ask questions and get the answers you need before diving in. What size is the event? Who are the attendees? What is the budget? What is the goal of the event? These important details can drastically change the course of planning.

17) Don’t reinvent the wheel
This is one of our best-kept secrets to success and one of Renee’s most-used “Paragonisms.” Use your existing resources and experiences to build your event. Tweak forms, documents, contracts, checklists and proposals before starting from scratch. Use colleagues and Internet research--so much is already out there.

18) Learn from your mistakes
We can apply this to all aspects of life. Mistakes are bound to happen, but they’re worth the trouble if we learn from them and don’t repeat them. View errors as chances to improve, and your career will benefit from it.

19) Embrace new technology
--Eddy White, Paragon Events graphic designer
When Paragon Events was first founded in 1989, the fax machine was the hottest piece of tech on the market. Fortunately for us (and our clients), we were willing to take on computers, smartphones, touch screens and apps as they appeared, and our efficiency and expertise has skyrocketed.

20) Give yourself enough time
Sounds simple, but easy to forget. Things inevitably take longer than expected. Give yourself extra time and everyone will be more efficient, especially if you happen to finish ahead of schedule.

21) Make a list and check it often
Working for Paragon Events means becoming a Master of Lists. We are the proud users of a tried-and-true 280-point event checklist; we keep this list on us and updated at all times, referring to it constantly. Don’t let things fall through the cracks.

22) Ask for help
Event planners are usually organized and in control, which means asking for help can be difficult. The best planners know that trying to juggle too many things can result in dropping some of those things. Ask for help and deliver better results.

23) Handle the big stuff first
Don’t dive into the minute details too early. Make sure you have your foundation in place before you start choosing linens.

24) Keep calm
--Kayla Schwenk, Paragon Events assistant director of meetings and events
Even in the midst of emergency, a calm demeanor helps the entire team keep a cool head and leaves attendees feeling confident that things are under control.

25) Love what you do
Above all, don’t forget that we chose this career path because we love this industry. We’re organizers, we’re producers, we’re creators, we’re directors- we are planners.

Paragon Events is celebrating 25 years in the meetings and events industry. Under president Renee Radabaugh, the company is headquartered in Delray Beach, Fla., and has office locations worldwide.

 

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