If you’re curious about what it takes to be an event planner or event manager, here’s a crash course on how to start your career in event management.
First things first: What is event planning?
Events range from intimate gatherings to large-scale productions. These include parties, weddings, exhibits, conferences, trade fairs, product launches, award ceremonies, fundraisers, festivals, and performances.
To plan events is to take care of every single thing that goes into it. This involves the who, what, when, where, why, and how.
As an event planner, you meet with clients and brainstorm ideas that align with their vision. You present ideas about the venue, decoration, food, entertainment, and other relevant aspects. Together with the client, you agree on the budget and timeline for the entire process.
Prior to the event, you book the venue, equipment, and third-party vendors like caterers and performers. You make sure that the event complies with health, safety, and insurance regulations. You promote the event through social media, email reminders, and other communication methods relevant to the type of event.
On the day of the event, you make sure that everything goes according to plan. If you hit a snag, you need to be prepared with plan B, C, and so on.
After the event, you evaluate your performance and processes, so you can improve and apply learnings in your next events.
What are the career opportunities in the events industry?
You can work for an events company, for an in-house events team within a company, or for yourself as a freelancer.
- Events companies are purely focused on mounting events for different clients. They may work on different kinds of events or focus on a particular type.
- Across industries, companies may have in-house events teams. This team works on different kinds of events solely for one client, which is the company that employs them.
- You can also work as a freelancer and start your own company. (More on this in a bit!)
Depending on the scale of the event and the needs of the client, an events planner can be one person or a whole team. If it’s a team, you can look into positions like:
- Director, Vice President, or Head of Events: The captain of the ship who’s in charge of overall strategy and managing the team
- Event or Marketing Coordinator: Manages the day-to-day of the events process and regularly aligns with the Director
- Marketing Lead: Strategizes and executes communication to promote events online and offline
- Designer: In charge of the visual components of the event, which are cascaded down to third-party vendors
- On-Site Lead: The go-to person at the venue on the day of the event
So how do you start?
The best way to learn about event planning is to get firsthand experience of what it’s actually like to mount an event. You can start as early as now by volunteering for events at your school or community.
If you have no experience yet, you may be asked to start by assisting in tasks like putting up decorations, packing giveaways, or showing guests to their seats. No matter how small it may seem, each task ladders up to the big picture of the event and helps you build practical knowledge about the industry.
At OWN Academy, you can dive deeper into event planning with the help of experts. One of our Industry Coaches is Leanne Lam, the CEO and co-founder of Le Lumière Events.
Leanne was in the 10th grade when she unknowingly started her events career. She saw a newspaper ad calling for students to audition for a singing competition in Hong Kong. She thought it would be cool to join but ended up failing the audition. Through that process, though, she found out there were backstage positions available. By the next year, she was already chairman of the organization.
“I found my strengths and weaknesses through these extracurricular activities. I just kept trying things that I found interesting and I’m very glad I did. It was how I found out I was good at event planning and everything that I’m doing now,” says Leanne, who’s also a content creator, podcast host, and social media editor.
What qualifications do you need to get a job?
While there are certifications and undergraduate degrees in events planning, it’s more important to get hands-on experience and build connections. Word of mouth plays a big role in how you land—and keep—clients.
Leanne was in her first year at the American University of Paris when she dropped out to pursue a career in events. “I knew I was good at what I did and thought some real-world experience would be more beneficial. I told myself that if it didn’t work out, I could always go back to school. I’m not saying that college is bad or unnecessary, but it really depends on the type of job you want to do.”
Her parents were quite upset at first, but she was determined to carve her own path. “I was very, very passionate about what I did. I didn’t ask my family for connections or money. Through my actions, I showed my family that I was serious and sincere about my career.”
With a lot of time and effort, Leanne was able to prove herself and gain the trust of clients. “If you look at events on social media, you’ll notice that they are quite similar. With all the options they have, a client will choose you if they trust you, know you have good taste, and know that you can deliver on time.”
That’s not to say that Leanne didn’t encounter challenges. “At the beginning, I really didn’t know what I was doing. I experienced poor communication with clients and I lost money, but I took it all as part of the learning process.”
As you work on events, it’s important to keep your portfolio updated on Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn, and other online platforms. “Social media is one of the most important ways to promote your work. Especially for something so visual like an event, people really need to see it before they buy it. Building a following will help establish your credibility too,” says Leanne.
Another thing that helped Leanne move forward in her career is mentorship. “Because I started out so young, it helped me in reaching out to CEOs and industry professionals. They saw me as someone they could teach and I was determined to learn all I could from the pros.”
What’s the secret sauce to moving forward in this industry?
Event planning is a fast-paced world where both hard and soft skills are put to the test. You need to be on top of supplier details, guest lists, and a whole slew of logistical details. You need to know how to stay on budget and how to negotiate for better deals.
With all the moving parts in every event, you need to multitask, think on your feet, and collaborate with your teammates and third-party vendors.
Finding creative solutions is a crucial skill to learn. When the pandemic hit, Leanne and her team had to think out of the box to keep the business running. In the same way that restaurants ramped up deliveries, her team pivoted to planning events for clients to enjoy at home. They took care of the decor, props, and everything the clients needed, and had it delivered to their houses.
In this service-based industry, learning how to communicate with different personalities is very important. “Frankly speaking, you may face people who are difficult, illogical, and have terrible taste. You need to communicate with them in a professional way—and that is something that you can’t learn just by reading a textbook,” says Leanne.
One crucial tip she learned in communicating with clients is to keep in touch even after the event. “Message them just to say hi, greet them on holidays, or meet up with them even if you’re not planning an event for them. When they feel your sincerity, they know that they can trust you. You’ll be top of mind for their next events and for when their friends ask for referrals.”
Another piece of advice that Leanne learned from a mentor is to never overpromise. “In this industry, people will always want to ask for more. If you say yes and you can’t deliver in the end, it signals that you’re not trustworthy. Commit to only what is doable and walk the client through the reasons behind it.”
It takes a lot of hard work and persistence to make it in this industry, especially if you want to build your own company, but Leanne finds it incredibly fulfilling. One of her favorite events is a 60th birthday party that she organized for a couple.
“When they were younger, I don’t believe this kind of extravagant event existed or perhaps they weren’t in a place where they could afford it. Now they can celebrate with their children and grandkids not only the 60th birthday but also their successes in life. As an event planner, it’s so rewarding to see clients happy and creating joyful memories.”
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