How to Become an Event Planner
Worldwide, the special events industry is worth an estimated $500 billion, with profits continuing to rise. If you’re just about to graduate from college and haven’t yet decided on a career, or you’re fed up with your sedentary 9 to 5 job and need a line of work where you can interact with people rather than just a keyboard, then you might want to become a certified event planner. These well paid and highly in-demand professionals plan social events for hotels, corporations, theme parks, cruise lines and non-profit organizations.
Becoming certified as an event planner requires some creativity on your part since there are no statewide or nationally recognized certification programs in the United States. However, with personal initiative and advance planning, you can become a certified event planner by following these steps.
Decide what kind of event planner you’d like to become.
Decide what kind of event planner you’d like to become.Think about whether you want to be known as a generalist event planner (you’re willing to help people plan any kind of event), or whether you’d rather specialize in certain types of events (such as wedding receptions, high class corporate events, sports events, etc.). The latter choice allows you to develop a specific expertise in one field whereas the generalist approach will enable you to select across a broader range of events. There are benefits and drawbacks to both approaches that you should consider – for example, generalist work means that you will have a wide range of events available to possible booking of your services but you won’t necessarily be able to distinguish yourself as being unique; whereas, specialist work would enable you to become renowned for certain types of events but unless you are prepared to travel across the countryor you live in a big city, this could limit the options for your services being booked.
- Attend trade shows where you can get feedback from professionals on the pros and cons of the industry.
- The types of events include weddings, fashion shows, corporate sponsorship events, diplomatic events, celebrity parties, conferences, fundraisers, openings and Open Days, sports events (for example racing cars and horses, football, tennis, etc.), business and product launches, travel accommodation, birthdays, anniversaries and celebrations of people and companies, commemorations, government sponsored events, etc. It is also expected that you will be able to organize any type of meeting.
Talking to the client to be clear about their needs is one vital aspect of event planning
Learn more about event planning before you invest money and time in training.Make sure you know exactly what’s involved in this highly specialized line of work.
- Research the profession to identify a certified event planner’s job duties. These duties include locating sites for events, working with caterers, entertainers and decorators, creating lists of attendees, designing invitations, supervising mailings, managing technology, and making special accommodations for guests when necessary.
- You’ll be expected to do all the research and footwork for your clients. The ability to use technology and networking for this purpose is essential; while you can question your client for some of the information, often the client won’t know and doesn’t have the time to fill you in on what’s essentially your duty anyway.
- You’ll be expected to design and theme events from start to finish. Some clients will be more hands-on in this area than others but the design aspect still falls squarely inside your obligations. Keep a compilation of ideas from the start of your event planning career so that you always have solutions to suggest and draw on.
- Part of the process of planning events is developing your proposal for the event, even before you win the contract. Be aware that this is time-consuming (requiring thought, content creation, photographs, design ideas, etc.) and you may not even win the job. It’s advisable to develop a fee for this work or you might have your ideas “borrowed” with nothing recouped.
- There will always be more things to take care of than any list can ever describe fully. Be ready for anything and everything to be thrown at you, and be ready to have to constantly liaise with people, even if you think you’ve already sorted things!
Rain, hail, or shine, you’ll need to keep an even temper and have solutions ready
Assess your own abilities. It is very important to be honest when assessing your own abilitiesbecause this is a strenuous and demanding role. You will need to be happy to interact and network with people constantly, even at odd hours. Ask yourself the following questions to help determine your suitability for the role:
- Are you creative, well organized and very detail-oriented? Being organized is even more important than being creative because you are responsible for the smooth running of everything, while you can always call on other people for the creative input.
- Are you able to think laterally and outside of the box?
- Do you like to work as part of a team? Are you also patient and able to clearly convey what is expected of everyone within the team?
- Do you have the physical stamina to work long hours on your feet in a fast-paced setting? This isn’t a 9 to 5 job, so you’ll need to work during times that other people would consider “down time” such as on weekends.
- Can you handle pressure, especially the pressure of last minute changes and quick fixes when things go wrong?
- Are you comfortable working with technology (for example, audio set-ups, PowerPoint and computer usage, etc.)? If not, how do you intend to brush up this skill?
- Do you have good business acumen, including the ability to negotiate, persuade, and receive and give feedback?
- Most importantly, are you good working with people from all walks of life? Excellent people skills are vital in this profession.
- Get relevant hands-on experience.This helps you improve your people skills, a crucial part of an event planner’s job. It will also be the best way to make a decision as to whether or not this is work you’ll love doing. It’s wise to try work in event planning for at least a few months before considering formal training, even if you just seek work experience.
- Work as an assistant at a hotel or for a caterer, or seek job shadowing opportunities with a professional planner. Get to know what it’s like to work behind the scenes at events that you someday hope to plan.
- Volunteer to plan fundraising events with community groups.
Seek formal qualifications or training
Pursue formal training.Although training isn’t necessary to become an event planner, it’s a good idea because it will ensure that you have good knowledge to begin with and can show your clients certificates, feedback, references, etc. There are several ways to get formal training, from getting a degree to apprenticing. What you do will depend on the funds you have available and the availability of training options in your area. The following possibilities are open to you:
- Apprenticing with a professional event planner: Apprentice in a support staff role with a professional event planner and work your way up the company’s ladder.
- Completing formal education through a college, vocational school or online program: Study hospitality management, public relations or hotel administration at a trade school, college or university. Attend information sessions to find out more about a course that interests you.
- Online study: Complete a special program designed only for event planners. Find these programs at such websites as Meeting Professionals International. (Follow the education links to view a list of college and university programs that can help you become certified.) There are also various webinars online that enable you to study online.
Get involved in organizing events as soon as possible, even during your study or training vacation breaks
Boost your credentials before applying for professional certification. Gain the kind of hands-on experience that will help you land a job or start your own event planning business.
- Build a portfolio of relevant experience that you can show to prospective employers and to professional associations that offer certification. Keep records of any events you helped to plan, such as photographs and professional references from clients and vendors attesting to your reliability and expertise.
- Apply for certification with reputable event planning associations.Contact the various trade organizations associated with the event planning industry, such as Meeting Professionals International (MPI), the International Special Events Society (ISES), the Convention Industry Council (CIC), or the Society of Government Meeting Professionals for assistance. Consider membership of a relevant trade organization as well; the benefit of belonging to trade organizations is the fact that you’ll meet many contacts and find job opportunities through networking and resources only available to members. If you are or have been a student in a recognized event planning course, ask about possible membership discounts, as memberships can be pricey when you’re first starting out.
- Note the difference between “certification” and “certificate”. While it is possible to get a certificate in event planning from training, it is not possible to get certification from a school. The difference is this: a certificate is the paper you’re given by a school at the completion of a program relevant to the field of event planning. A certification, on the other hand, is a professional designation given by a trade organization and it will only be obtained after you have a proven track record of professional experience and have successfully passed the organization’s tests. Each program varies in the level of professional experience required, so you’ll need to contact the organizations individually to find out if you meet the requirements; if not, keep working until you meet the requirements, as the certification will definitely improve your reputation within the industry.
- The most recognized certifications are those offered by the Certified Special Event Professional (CSEP) offered by ISES; the Certified Meeting Professional (CIC), and the Certified Meeting Planner (MPI).
- If you are aiming to be very specific in the type of event planning that you’re doing, look for specific trade organizations, such as the Association of Bridal Consultants and Weddings Beautiful Worldwide if you’re planning to be solely a wedding planner. The specific organizations are likely to be of more assistance when you are tailoring your event planning services narrowly.
Are you keen to be in charge or be staff?
Consider how you want to get started. It is important to make a decision as to whether you’re prepared to start your own business or consultancy or whether you’d like to start out by working for someone else. In the latter case, you’ll get the benefit of someone else’s experience and booked clients but you won’t get paid as much and it’ll take longer for you to establish your own name. On the other hand, starting from scratch can be hard work and requires funds, business expertise, and a lot of determination; if this is your preferred option, read about starting small businessesand the types of strategies to use, as well as the pitfalls to avoid.
- Be aware that some markets are already saturated with event planners. Do your research well in advance of setting up your own business or consultancy. Don’t lose sight of the fact that you can still offer something that is better and more unique than the existing crowd even in a saturated market but what you’re offering will need to be extraordinary, and you’ll need to be very determined and consistent.
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