Wednesday, March 6, 2013

a day in the life - event planning

Whenever I tell people that I plan events for a living, they always say something like "Wow! That sounds fun!" and I usually reply with "Oh yes, it is..." except sometimes, when it's not. Like when it's budget headaches, wanting people to ACT FASTER, waiting for permission to proceed, getting criticized because the food/invitations/food/music/food/timeline/food wasn't right (can you tell people love to complain talk about food?). So, before you go and start thinking this is a dream career, I want to let you know what it's really like, both on an office day (Rules! Paperwork!) and on an event day (Fun! Stress!).

My desk, on any given day. That is actually pretty neat.

Let me also say that academic event planning is a lot different from wedding planning or social event planning. I used to think that I wanted to plan weddings, but working in higher ed means that I work normal hours, few nights and weekends, and my paycheck is steady. Plus, no Bridezillas. This is just my take on working in academia, which is the only events job I have ever had.

I work 8:00 - 4:30, which is great. I have different, sometimes boring office tasks to do each day, from menu planning, filling out purchase order requests, submitting room set-up diagrams, ordering drinks, paying invoices, researching upcoming projects, creating timelines, getting contracts signed, zzzzzz. See, no glamour, but all completely necessary. I plan everything from weekly lunch meetings for 30 to Graduation for 300 to a 48-school competition at the end of this month with four receptions, two cash prizes, and over 100 alumni judges. But, all of my events require similar paperwork.

Last week I edited the program for said competition. This was before I realized that this schedule wasn't typeset correctly and had to adjust everything.

Event days are my favorite days. Some events, like the Receptions that follow Board of Directors' Meetings, are always the same - catered appetizers, takeaway desserts, and cocktail tables. Other times, like last week, I get something more fun to plan - a retirement party. For this one, I spoke with the woman retiring about six weeks before the party and learned that she loves to travel. So, I centered the party around that. My coworkers thought I was a little crazy when I started asking them to bring in souvenirs and Houston Texans memorabilia, but I was really able to make my vision come together to create centerpieces for the event (Remember, higher ed means that every dollar spent is student tuition money, so I have to pay special attention to budgets and can't really spend a lot on decor). And now, perhaps, my blog moniker makes a bit more sense.

{Click to enlarge}
Each table had a fun fact about why the place was significant and blank "postcards" for guests to fill out.
Houston Texans | Galveston Mardi Gas | Cruise | Las Vegas | NYC | Hawaii | Elephants (she collected them) | San Antonio

So, on this event day, my day went as follows:

8:00 - Arrive at Kroger to pick up flowers.
8:45 - Arrive at work. Make two trips (1/2 block each) to get all flowers from my car.
9:00 - Change into flats, throw hair in ponytail. Shove all flowers into vases. The hydrangeas are already wilting!
9:30 - Conference call with a vendor about a completely different event. Try to obtain free parking for guests attending the day's party (takes some crafty emailing).
10:00 - Begin flower arranging in the breakroom. I needed 9 table arrangements, plus one large arrangement to go in the Waterford vase given as a retirement gift. Answer about a thousand questions about what I'm doing even though a reminder email about the party went out that morning.
12:00 - Finally done with all the damn flowers. Clean up water from the breakroom tables so people can eat their lunches. 
12:15 - Transport all of the collected centerpiece stuff and flowers up to the room where the event will be.
12:30 - Unload and begin placing everything where I wanted it to go. Panic because there's not enough stuff for the New York table! Run around large conference room until I'm satisfied.
1:15 - Caterer arrives. I mildly offend him by saying that the quotes around "Happy Retirement" remind me of (Notice I hadn't eaten yet. I blame low blood sugar).
1:30 - Find more NYC and elephants through friends in the building. Sit at desk and consume as many crackers as possible while checking the emails that have piled up for the day. Call coworker from my cell to discuss another event so I don't have to be stuck in one place. Put all "fun facts" in frames only to realize Hawaii is missing! Panic! But our graphic designer saves the day by printing a new one. Drink a diet coke. Caffeine is the answer.
2:30 - Grab the corsage for the guest of honor - don't want to forget that like I did at the last retirement. Turn music on the '60s station, per her request, and stalk her until she identifies her friends and relatives who have joined us so they can be acknowledged  Take photos of all tables for bloggy purposes, but forget the Law Library table, oops.
3:00 - Party time. Heels back on. Sit awkwardly. People did come up to comment on the decor, so that was nice!
3:45 - Speeches! So glad I don't have to make one - I just had to make sure the mic was on and the gift was in place.
4:00 - Finally sit and eat something since I am pretty sure the guests have been fed. Wow, I am a good order-er. Either that or I'm starving.
4:30 - Most guests have left, so the guest of honor wants to leave to hang out with her friends. I start cleaning up, and luckily one of my suitemates offers to help.
5:15 - Return to office with a cart of decor and leftover food. I shoved the stuff in my office and the food in the staff refrigerator.
6:00 - Finally leave for the day - the best kind of exhausted!

The cake. It's nice, but not what I envisioned, and I didn't like the quotes!

So, I hope this gives you a peek behind the scenes of what event planning is like. Lots of work, some creativity, willingness to adjust at the last minute (I am TERRIBLE at that), and tons of attention to detail. Is it what you thought it was? Let me know. I love talking events of any kind!


  1. Your job sounds awesome! I would love to do something like that one day(I am currently still in college). I would love to know more about it....How did you get the job-- what experience did you have, what did you go to school for?

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