When’s the last time you made a mistake while planning or throwing an event? It probably didn’t feel very good, but mistakes often have a silver lining. Why? Because it is usually from these failures that you learn some of the most valuable and important lessons of your career.
Of course, we can’t just go make a ton of mistakes every day to make sure we’re always learning, so we spoke with five event planners to find out their biggest event flops and the most valuable lessons they’ve learned from them.
1) Give Attendees an Open Line of Communication at All Times
Robin Oloyede, Communications and Events Director for Texas State Optical and Global Account Manager for Helms Briscoe
One of the biggest mistakes that I have ever made during my decade of being an international planner is assuming that attendees are reading the information that is sent to them before they arrive to a conference. In 2014, I coordinated a conference in Mexico with 200 attendees coming in from the United States, half of whom had never travelled internationally.
In all pre-conference materials, we gave each attendee a three step infographic on where to find their charter bus on arrival. Three steps! Once we arrived, only half of them read their information. There was a lot of confusion and it was a total mess. We eventually got everyone rounded up, but the transfer time to the resort doubled, causing delays in other areas of our program.
What I Learned: I learned to create constant opportunities for our attendees to keep in touch during times that they may feel helpless. Since that time, we have implemented the use of mass text, apps (such as DoubleDutch) and even implementing more ways of finding places, such as international airports, to allow attendees to feel knowledgeable throughout their conference experiences.
2) Trust Your Gut
Cori Dossett, professional meeting planner
I would say the biggest mistake I have made is not speaking up “loud enough” for my needs especially when working with hotels. I worked with a large, big box hotel on a program for 600 people a while back. I knew my assigned CS was awful, and mentioned it to a few colleagues in passing, but did not press the issue because I did not want to cause any issues. I did not listen to my gut. However, by not speaking up, I had to work with a truly inept and unprofessional individual for months, which caused many extra hours of work on my behalf (and cost my company money as well).
What I learned: I learned to follow my gut—it is strong and always right. I know when something is wrong but ignored “that feeling.” Our hotel contacts should trust us as planners, knowing we have their best intention and interest at heart. Gut feeling or not, if something feels off, speak up. Your boss, client, venue and leadership should respect your professionalism and concern.
3) Make the Post Event Plan a Priority
Sarah Sebastian, Creative Director of Rose Gold Collective
I think one of the biggest mistakes event planners can make—myself included— is to not think through the post event as much as the pre and live elements of the event. When I am deep in planning mode, trying to ensure the event goes smoothly, often times the post engagement doesn’t get as much attention.
What I learned: The call to action or recap post is what keeps the event alive once the event doors close. Post event planning is a crucial and sometimes overlooked, part of the planning process. Asking the right questions and thinking from a higher altitude can help your ROI and continue to grow the success of the event for the coming years.
4) Be Flexible With Your Ideas
Kelly Jacobson, Content Creator at Illumin8
When I first started planning events, the biggest blunders were always with set-up. I would have an idea in my head and then execute it well, but it was always missing a component when event day came. Whether it was adding height or measuring the available space, my displays looked off for a few events, resulting in a last-minute, stressful change of design plans.
What I learned: I learned to take the planning part of event planning to a new degree. Aside from printing vendor contracts and contact information, I drew diagrams of displays, did a trial run the day prior to the event, and always added height.
My advice for others to avoid making this mistake is to be flexible with your ideas. While Pinterest or your imagination might offer a grand idea for your event, it may need a little tweaking to fit the specifics. Double-check any materials (especially fabrics and accessories), display measurements, and so on.
5) Make a Checklist and Check It Twice
Jenifer Gay, Owner of Blue Flamingo Weddings
The biggest mistake I made might not seem like a big deal to some, but it certainly was to the bride and groom and that’s all that matters when planning a wedding. I made was leaving a box of expensive, special ordered, personalized key lime cookie favors on my desk that were supposed to be placed at each place setting at the reception of a very expensive 3 day wedding. The reception was 1 hour and 40 minutes away from my office, so there was no way to go back and get them in time. I had to admit my mistake to the bride when she arrived. The bride wasn’t happy. I rectified my error the best way possible by offering to bring the favors to the farewell brunch the next morning. When you are a perfectionist like I am, a mistake like this will eat away at you for years.
What I learned: Obviously, I needed to have a better system in place. My advice to everyone is to have a checklist of EVERYTHING you need to bring to each event. Check off each item on the list BEFORE you leave your office or warehouse. I actually already used a general checklist, but I didn’t add to it for items unique to each event.
Now, I have my standard list and I add the unique items that are my responsibility as the wedding is planned. I have never forgotten anything since and I’ve discovered I am much more relaxed and have peace of mind because I am much more organized than I had been before trying to remember every little unique thing without adding it to my list.