No two days are identical in the life of an event planner. Some days, you get to create the most romantic and unforgettable wedding moments, and some days, you plan political events that make history.
So what makes a good event planner a successful event planner under constant time pressure, global media attention and uncertainties? We talked to two professional event planners to learn more about their experience.
READY TO FIGHT NATURE OR HOST WORLD LEADERS?
“I can come to work and never know what kind of event I’ll be planning.” David Duffy, Assistant Director of Food and Beverage at JW Marriott Hotel Hanoi, told me over Skype.
It cannot be truer for David, who got a phone call one day in February, informing him the possibility of hosting world leader at his hotel.
“Having the experience of working with the world leaders before, I know that there’s a commonality into how you approach it. You start with what they’d be expecting, then provide more in-depth security features.”
“Having done it three or four times, you get the experience and you get the confidence.”
While I looked stunned by the thought of hosting history makers in short notice, David described one of the many large-scale events he organized with calming confidence.
Talking to David about his event planning career was an absolute eye-opener. With 15 years of experience under his belt, not many know that David’s initial career goal was actually in computer engineering! During his studies, he worked part-time in catering around the UK in sporting events, hospitality, music festivals, etc. Having these hands-on experiences made him realize that he was no longer interested in pursuing a career in IT. He then re-enrolled in university, majoring in hospitality management this time.
He started his hospitality career with an internship at the Baltimore Marriott Waterfront Hotel as a Banquet Server. Five years and a few jobs later, David rejoined Marriott as an Event Operations Manager in Manchester. In 2016, he moved to Hanoi, Vietnam, and became a part of JW Marriott Hotel Hanoi.
“For many guests, it’s their first time in Vietnam, so it’s fun to get the opportunities to be creative on the F&B side and impress them,” he said.
One of the most memorable events David has brought to life was a conference for a global aviation association, where all the big players in aviation were involved and bad weather hit the event unexpectedly.
“For the gala dinner for 700, we had organized 100 floating tables on our lake. With the lights on the trees around the lake, it looked stunning.”
“But we started seeing the clouds and rain coming in and within an hour, we had to move the event back to the ballroom.”
By making good use of the existing elements in the ballroom, the team urgently changed the backdrop to create the right ambiance for a gala dinner. Hearts were racing, all hands on deck, and the show must go on.
“We had to call on everyone on duty; we had the chef out of the kitchen to reset the dining settings and the General Manager was out arranging table cloths.”
“I think it was the only time I could tell the GM what to do,” David joked.
Everything turned out perfectly in the end. “The organizers came and said, ‘It was epic!’ None of the guests knew – they thought it was part of the plan. It was a testimony of what a great team I had,” David said proudly.
“BE A PART OF SOMETHING BIGGER THAN ME”
A good event planner makes no mistakes but an exceptional event planner thinks further and breathes in new elements from their brand. Edward Wang, Assistant Director Of Beverage And Food of W Shanghai – The Bund, is one of the exceptional ones.
“I love coming to work every day and to be part of something bigger than me,” Edward said sincerely. “I love organizing MICE events because I can meet a lot of people who share the same passion.”
Having worked in hospitality since 2002, Edward has worked at various global hotel chains before joining W Shanghai – The Bund in 2016 and is specialized in branding.
When he knew that he was responsible for organizing the Marriott APAC BMSC and GM conference, where company CEO Arne Sorenson and other Global Management members would join, he made sure to add a “fun” element to the corporate event.
“We have helped clients such as JP Morgan and Deloitte organize leadership conferences before, where a personalized setting was required. But it was the first time for us to host such an important Marriott corporate event here at W Shanghai, so I had to make sure my team and I do an excellent job with the service, transaction, food and decoration,” Edward recalled.
To showcase W is all about keeping it fun, Edward and his team went beyond catering only to the corporate needs of the event by delivering creative experiences to their customers.
He transformed the coffee break at this corporate event into a local farmer’s market: serving staff wore the traditional QiPao and attendees could play mahjong.
Time pressure was the biggest challenge of the event. “We only had one hour to set up after the conference and before the banquet. So we worked like the army – everyone had to be precise and they needed to know what they were doing.”
There was no time for rehearsal but Edward trusted his team to deliver, and they did not disappoint.
WHAT MAKES A SUCCESSFUL EVENT PLANNER?
Throughout their career, they have met many excellent candidates, but David thinks that having operational experience can be the X factor for being a successful event planner.
“People who have been in the operations have experienced the world and the pace in the industry,” he said.
“Besides, communication skills are absolutely critical. We are working in a global environment and with people from different parts of the world. We need to understand the wishes of our clients and especially why.”
“Understanding why our clients ask for certain things and the emotions behind it can make sure that the right thing is done.”
Edward emphasized the importance of being passionate about your job.
“Event management can be messy and event planning is a highly demanding job, so it’s critical that you are full of passion for what you do every day.”
“Be flexible and always ready for the next change,” he added.
THE FUTURE OF EVENT PLANNING
“Customized personalization will drive the future of event planning,” Edward predicted.
“Like the Marriott app and our conference app, attendees can search for activity suggestions around the area and download a customized map around the hotel. Restaurant tips are also provided according to the needs of the event.”
Sustainability is something that event planners cannot overlook when planning their next event.
“Choose a venue partner that is environmentally conscious, has low energy consumption, help eliminate plastic bottles from meeting rooms, etc,” David suggested.
At JW Marriott Hotel Hanoi, 100,000 plastic bottles have been saved annually after the hotel switched to more environmentally-friendly alternatives.
When it comes to F&B, sourcing locally and actively engaging with local farmers to produce ingredients that meet global food standards can create a win-win situation for both the hotel and their host country.
“But whatever you do, in the end, it’s about creating an experience for your clients that they are going to remember for the rest of their lives.”
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