When you're a little kid, you always want to grow up to be something really cool, like an astronaut or an actress. Eventually you realize that isn't really a plausible career path for you, and you think about becoming something far more realistic. During my sophomore year at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, I realized I still hadn't found that “plausible career path.” I was on my third academic major — a pretty impressive feat considering I had only four semesters under my belt — and at a loss as to what I was going to do with a degree in “Leisure Studies.” Then one day, out of the blue, I decided to become an event planner.
Maybe it had come to me after reading one too many tabloids about movie stars and the grand parties they attended. From what I could tell, the event planning industry was fabulous and exciting — planning parties by day and attending them at night. I envisioned socialites coming to my parties and the paparazzi snapping their cameras at all the glamour and glitz of my events and guests. I became determined to pursue my new dream job.
Having no experience in the industry, I sought to immerse myself in the world of special events the following summer. My first hands-on experience came when I was hired as an intern for Total Event Resources in Inverness, Ill. I was excited to be spending my summer doing something so interesting and cool. My friends who were toiling away in cubicles envied that I would be spending my summer getting “paid to party.” In college-student terms, I was psyched.
THE AGONY OF DA FEET
That feeling of excitement and my dream of magnificent parties were crushed immediately. My second day on the job, I chose my favorite 3-inch stilettos to wear for a trip to downtown Chicago for site visits and meetings. By noon, I couldn't feel my toes. By 4 p.m., I was considering switching from my normal Starbucks mocha to shots of espresso. Fourteen hours after I had awakened that morning, I was finally at home and in the comfort of my bed. I was crabby, practically crippled by my choice in footwear, and wondering if it was too late to find a relaxing job … like air-traffic controller!
Despite my crazy day, I was intrigued by all that I had seen and decided to stick it out. That summer turned out to be the most fascinating I've ever experienced in my (whopping) 21 years.
I learned so much about the special event industry, business operations and life in general. There were the joys of conference calls, dealing with dysfunctional printers and learning that Office Depot has everything I could ever possibly need. I wrote press releases and sales letters. I attended client meetings, socialized at industry events and came to the realization that multi-tasking was my only means of survival in the industry.
That summer taught me more than I ever would have learned inside the classroom. A textbook cannot explain to you that the client is always right, no matter how wrong you believe them to be. Or that planning an event is like pulling something incredibly large and spectacular from thin air. I was amazed the first time I saw a proposal come together for an event, sometimes in less than 48 hours. Next thing I knew, that proposed event was being executed with the grace and perfection that would lead one to believe it had taken months to plan. Seeing that happen all summer long proved to me that nothing can prepare someone for this industry like experience.
I was lucky enough to gain my experience from a group of incredibly talented women who mentored me through my summer of special events. Those women made me a firm believer that everyone needs to hire an intern. Everyone in this industry has something to share with the younger generation. At large universities like mine, the concept of teaching us to plan events is just beginning to come to light among the faculty. There is no academic major for event planners, but there are always students in my classes who are pursuing a future in the industry — and have no idea where to begin. This is why you need to share everything you know with someone younger … right this instant! Not only does it help the student gain valuable knowledge that can't be learned anywhere else, but it also creates a wonderful relationship between employer and intern that benefits both parties.
I asked my boss, Kathy Miller, president of Total Event Resources, to explain what the employer gets from having an intern. “Interns are often ambitious and eager employees who are like sponges,” she said. “They soak up everything you give them and are often willing to do anything to gain more experience.” From firsthand experience, I can say that this is definitely true! I was always more than ready and willing to run around town trying to find something obscure, like '80s-style men's blazers, or do hours of research on venues in another city … anything to learn more about any aspect of the industry.
It is that mentality that makes interns so beneficial — they will soak up everything you teach them. Employers of interns have the opportunity to mold their students any way they want. Ideally, this creates a perfectly trained employee who can go on to graduate college and return to the company for “real” employment.
If all of this isn't persuading you to go out and hire an intern, consider this — interns are often younger than you are. A younger generation in your business can bring a whole new aspect and perspective to your work. There was a time in my internship when a client wanted a country music star for an upcoming event. Because I attend school in central Illinois, I consider myself a pretty big country music fan! With the help of my trusty iPod, I introduced my co-workers to many of my favorite country music artists, whom they were then able to take back to the client. Younger generation employees can help you see what the newest fads and trends are that can help create an incredibly hip event. When it comes to the latest drinks and club environments, there is no better source than a 21-year-old!
As for my dreams of fabulously chic events, I can't say that dream was never fulfilled. I attended some truly great events that summer, as an employee of the company that had created them. I was lucky enough to be asked back to Total Event Resources for my winter vacation, and now like to consider myself their “permanent intern.” Though, nothing can ever replace my first summer with the company — it was an eye-opening, exciting and truly special event.
Total Event Resources 1613 Colonial Parkway, Inverness, Ill., 60067; 847/963-1448; www.total-event.com