By Kaitlyn Wallace
In every profession, new professionals are in danger of making a series of classic rookie mistakes. But even the most experienced planner can slip up every once in a while, too. That’s why a refresher on the most common major meeting planning mistakes is a must for meetings and events professionals of all levels of experience. Read on to check in on your meeting planning process and patch up any processes that may have worn thin over the years.
One of the most vital parts of the meeting planning process is visiting your venue multiple times leading up to your event. Cliff Judy, Director of Professional Development and Member Engagement for the Missouri Community College Association, recalls the dangers of putting this step off to the last minute: “Every single time I do an onsite visit immediately ahead of the event, I end up realizing that there’s something about to be set up in a way we didn’t want… When you’re actually there onsite working with your main contact on the ground, you’re able to get yourself on the same page a lot easier.” Building multiple onsite visits into your schedule in the weeks leading up to your event will help avoid those last-minute scrambles that can come with digital communication and asynchronous work.
Every planner wants to be able to stand in front of their event and say that it’s their vision come to life. But the truth is, the meeting planning process is collaborative and team-based, and ignoring this reality can get your event into real trouble. “Be excessively organized,” says Tracy Orpin, Senior Meetings & Events Planner with the National Association of Insurance Commissioners. “Everything should be in one place so that anybody could find it if you dropped dead tomorrow. I always make a list of all the onsite vendors and share it. If for some reason I’m tied up over here, they can at least know who the lead is for AV or the hotel; I’d prefer they come to me first, but if for some reason I’m nowhere around and the house is on fire, our vendors can still know who to talk to.”
Building redundancy into your systems is the best way to ensure that your event will go off without a hitch, even if its fearless leader (you) has an emergency or happens to change roles. Judy echoes this point, emphasizing that “you have to approach your organization style by thinking about if someone else could understand it. Someone else in your organization may have to look at it even if you’re still with the organization. But also, if someone comes in after you and you’re on to some other role, you want to set them up for success too.”
One of the best ways to stunt your growth as a planner is to assume that every one of your events is perfect. “You’re not going to please everybody,” says Judy. “I always make sure to keep a list of feedback on my phone throughout the event so next year I can keep an eye on it. I’ll go through that list of feedback and check off what I’ve taken care of and what feedback doesn’t need to be taken care of.” Ultimately, you want to build your event-planning skills with every event; ensuring that you spot areas of weakness and strength will only serve to grow your skill set with every event that you pull off successfully.
Forgetting the 5 W’s
As planners, we are deeply immersed in our events from the beginning of the planning process. We have dates, times, and locations burned into our brains; we’re constantly working off a running physical and mental calendar that we carry with us in all of our location scouting and vendor communications. That makes it easy for us to forget that not everyone is privy to that same information.
“One of the biggest mistakes planner can make is forgetting to ask all the right questions,” says Orpin. “We’re so knee-deep in it that we know the answers. But for invitations and scheduling, you always have to run through the 5 W’s: who, what, when, where, why. It’s because we’re so engrained at the get-go; in our heads we know, and we assume that everybody else does too! That’s why you always have to ask those questions, and if I can’t answer them, I don’t have enough information on the invitation or vendor request.” Putting ourselves in the shoes of the attendee, vendor, or location contact is essential for clear and concise communication – and communication is the key to every successful event.
Start to Finish
Pulling of large and complex meetings from beginning to end is complicated for both the rookie and the veteran meeting planner; however, following a few staunch rules of thumb can clear up unnecessary confusion for every event. Just remember the cardinal rules: organization, communication, and verification. And don’t be afraid to implement our tips along the way!
Kaitlyn Wallace is a contributing writer from St. Louis.