This transcript is from Episode 1 of The Savvy Event Planner Podcast
To listen to this podcast, please visit: http://SavvyEventPodcast.com/episode1
Tom: Let's get this started. It's time for episode one.
Announcer: Welcome to the Savvy Event Planner podcast where insightful tips, strategies, tactics and case studies can help inspire you to engage guests and help create successful events. And now here's your host, Tom Crowl.
Tom: Hi and welcome to the podcast. If you picked this up you might be thinking, “Who is this savvy event planner, Tom Crowl?” Well, you've got it all wrong. I am not the savvy event planner. Say what? Why are you listening to me? You see, you are the savvy event planner. You're somebody who wants to get better at planning events. I'm just here to help. My name is Tom Crowl. I am a corporate comedian. I travel all over the United States doing shows for companies and during the past 30 years, as I've been doing this, I've attended thousands of events. I've seen what goes right and what goes wrong, but I've also made connections with a lot of people in the business, vendors who have created amazing events for their customers and that's what this podcast is all about.
We're going to be interviewing vendors, we're going to be interviewing other entertainers, we're going to be interviewing event planners to find out that works and what doesn't. Now maybe you've been to some of these websites that offer Seven Innovative Ideas to Great Events or Ten Things You Should Know About or Eight Dishes to Meet the Dietary Needs of Your Guests or Five Tips for Do-It-Yourself Event Planning. That's not what this podcast is about. This podcast is designed to give you great insights. We're going to talk about stories. We're going to share ideas. We're going to hopefully inspire you, and the savvy part of it belongs to you. Savvy meaning sharp shrewd clever wise. We're going to give you practical knowledge. A little bit of wit. We're going to offer you insights and hopefully some understanding and it's all going to happen on a weekly basis right here on the Savvy Event Planner podcast.
Now we've also got a couple of sites that go along in addition to the podcast. We've got savvyeventpodcast.com where you'll be able to find our show notes. For example, you're listening to this. If you wanted to get the show notes or any links we talk about during this program, all you have to do is go over to savvyeventpodcast.com/episode1. And that's episode in lowercase and the numeral one. So savvy, S-A-V-V-Y for those of you who are spelling challenged. Savvyeventpodcast.com and then just a slash, and episode whatever number it happens to be on, and obviously this is number one. This is our first one.
I really hope you're going to enjoy this. We're not going to waste your time. That's a big thing. And with that in mind, the first guest that I'm going to introduce for this podcast is somebody that I've known for almost 25 years. In fact, we're getting ready to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary next year. It's my wife. It's Dierdre Crowl. Now you may think, “Well wait a minute, Tom, you say you've performed at all these events all over the United States, you've met different event…why are you bringing on your wife?” It's because she is an event planner for her company. And right up front, I want you to know that I do not work with her. And I don't work with her because I don't want anyone at her company to feel like, “Oh well they hired Dierdre's husband,” that kind of thing, so I like to keep that professional split there. We don't want to create any improprieties. But Dierdre is honestly an amazing event planner and she comes at it from a couple of different angles. We'll talk about that during our conversation. So without further ado, let's get started on this first episode of the Savvy Event Planner podcast.
Dierdre, I know there'd be a million things you'd rather do right now than sit here and talk to me. But, for our listeners out there, would you tell everybody about your background in event planning and just give them some of the history of what you've done with events?
Dierdre: So I guess it's interesting, I've had a lot experience on every side of events from the time when we were performing together. I've been in hospitality in different phases from waitressing to bartending to finally banquet coordinating and actually planning a whole event as a banquet coordinator. And now as an executive assistant at a mid-sized engineering firm, I have the opportunity to use all the skills that I've built over the years to put on a variety of events, skills that I never thought I would use in this job, but they really have come to play.
Tom: So when you plan an event…first of all, we've talked numerous times about the event planner's biggest fear. So let's bring that right out in the open now. When you're planning an event, what are some of the things and concerns as you're worried about that some of your listeners may be thinking the same things and not verbalizing?
Dierdre: Oh my gosh, we're always afraid that it's going to fail. It's going to be miserable. The DJ's not going to show up. The food's going to be terrible. Bartender won't show up, guests won't show up. Come on, if you're out there and you plan events, you have nightmares about all of these things, right? So you try to do as much risk-planning at the front end as you can to avoid all of those disasters and planning is our best friend.
Tom: Let's talk about this risk planning because this is going to take us in a different direction than I originally wanted to go, but you brought it up. Tell me some of the things you consider when you're risk planning.
Dierdre: When I'm risk planning, really I'm planning for every contingency. So if you plan it out like a project, like you're a project manager for this event and you say, “Okay, what could possibly go wrong?” So the bartender could not show up, the DJ could not show up, so you just need to cover all your bases and make sure that you have either solid contracts in place or if they're your employees, they're trustworthy. And that's really in your control. Make sure as many of those elements are in your control as possible. So if you're doing an event at another venue, you are in close contact with the people at that venue to make sure that you've got every element under control that you can. And if you're doing an event at your own venue, then you have a lot more things under your control. What is the lighting going to be? What is…all those elements. What kind of electric do you have? What's…all those elements are a lot more under your control if you're at your own venue so you can mitigate risk according to your own, I guess risk tolerance.
Tom: Okay, well that leads us into a lot of things. You do work with other outside vendors. You've worked with…well, we did a…you did an event in Cambridge not too long ago. What was the company? The hotel that we…
Dierdre: Oh, the Hyatt Cambridge, which is fantastic.
Tom: The Hyatt Cambridge. So you had to deal with an outside contact for that. What are some…
Dierdre: A couple of outside contacts. So not only the hotel contact but also we had tours for the spouse…the spouse tours, the spouse events. So that was a separate tour company that worked through The Hyatt so it was a separate person through the original venue so it was a little tricky. So that was an interesting and a new experience for me.
Tom: Was there anything that you learned from that that helped you to trust these vendors so that you had confidence in the fact that they would deliver what they promised?
Dierdre: There's a little bit of a trust element that you're not really sure, but the Hyatt's been there for a long time. I've seen that they've done events with the Maryland Chamber of Commerce and with other…the Maryland Association of Counties has their winter event there every year. So I know that people that I know that I trust trust them to do their events every year. I've toured it, I've been in touch with them for a long time before I planned my own event there. I've had the opportunity to plan my own event there, so I had that little bit of a trust and from that I based the trust on the third party vendor for the spouse visits because I said, “If they trust this vendor, then I'm going to trust them as well and just pray that everything goes well,” which it did.
Tom: It did. It was phenomenal. I was on the spouse tour, folks. I was blown away with it. I ate an incredible lunch and everything else. It was an incredible time.
Dierdre: Okay, we planned that. That was one piece that we took into our own hands to plan.
Tom: Well, you did an incredible job. Thank you so very much. That was a great lunch, and I want to thank her company for bringing me along on that. Dierdre, we were talking about pleasing people because you go to an event and you want to make sure that everybody has a great time, but there's a reality to that. Can you share that and as an event planner, let's go on both sides of it. Let's talk first of all about the concept and then talk about it from the event planner side of it and then I'm going to switch it back over to when you were a catering manager and talk about that side of it. So let's, first of all, talk about…what is your opinion about pleasing everybody?
Dierdre: You can't. It's impossible. So really if you have the ability to poll people and find out really what they want, that's the best way to do it. And we do that at our firm. We've done that for our upcoming holiday party this year. We've polled people and said, “What do you want to have? Do you want spouses? So you want kids? Do you want…how much do you want to pay?” I mean we asked every possible question. If you have the ability to do that, you can control a lot more of it. You're still going to have people that aren't happy ‘cuz that's just the nature of the beast. If not, if you're doing an event like the event we did at the Hyatt where you have to take things into your own hands, you just have to know your audience. It's like being a good speaker, really. You have to understand your audience, know what they're expecting, and know what they want to see and then see what's in your purview to plan. And you choose your venue appropriately, you choose your food appropriately and hope that you can fit as much of that audience as possible. And still, even as we proved at the Hyatt, you cannot please everyone, even with the most amazing program. So you just have to accept that, understand that and move on, and understand that you made the most people happy that you possibly could.
Tom: Now when you, as an event planner, have somebody who is not happy are there any steps you can take to ease it out a little bit I guess?
Dierdre: I like to use the engagement theory and say, if I actually find out directly that they're not happy, which doesn't always happen. If I find out directly I'm like, “Oh, gosh, you know I'm so sorry. I'm so sorry you weren't happy. What were you not happy with? You know what? We would love to have you engaged in the process next time, so why don't you be on the committee?” And if you try to engage them, 9 times out of 10, they're going to completely back down ‘cuz they don't actually want to be engaged, they just want to complain. But if they do actually engage, then you gained that strength of having another person and you've pulled them onto your team and that makes it that much stronger. Again, sometimes people just want to complain from the outreaches and they don't actually want people that planned the event to know that they were unhappy.
Tom: Okay. As a catering manager, back when you were catering, and I know we're going back a number of years now.
Dierdre: That's okay.
Tom: When you had a client who had somebody who was unhappy, what did you as a…
Dierdre: That never happened! Brides.
Tom: How did you…yeah, you had a lot of brides. How did you deal with those situations as a catering manager?
Dierdre: Honestly, I tried to, in working with that client, and it's a different situation as a catering manager ‘cuz you're working one-on-one or one-on-three or whatever, or one on a committee with the people who are actually planning the event. If the actual client, the person that you've booked with is unhappy, I don't really recall that ever happening because I was very close in contact with them and communication is a key. And if you consider all the stakeholders that you have the ability to touch when you're planning an event from an event-planning perspective, that can make that process a lot easier. Again, you just want to communicate with the stakeholders. Now if there was somebody at a function that was unhappy, you just try to deal with that like you would in a restaurant or in any other situation. Do they not like their food? Was their drink too weak? You just deal with that person one-on-one. You look them in the eye. You listen to their concerns, and you try to mitigate it as best as you can, just like you would in any customer service situation.
Tom: Okay, now let's go back to your event planning at your company.
Tom: You've hosted numerous events. You said one of the fears was that people wouldn't show up, and I know that you have found some very innovative, in my opinion, ways to involve your audience and get the word out before the event ever happens. One of which was a logo contest.
Tom: So would you tell us a little bit about that particular event and what you did to involve people in advance, and how you got them to that event and excited about it?
Dierdre: So we were doing…our company employee committee decided to do a summer crab feast, and I thought a good way to engage people…we always charge a nominal fee, like $5 for a ticket ‘cuz that way if you don't charge anything, people say they're coming, but they don't feel like they have any skin in the game so they won't come. So it's a very nominal fee.
Tom: And that costs your company money.
Dierdre: Well, the event obviously costs your company money so if you charge a nominal fee to the people, they feel like they've invested in it and they're more likely to actually show up when they give their number. You know what I mean?
Tom: Yeah. What I meant by they cost your company money is if they don't show up, and you've counted on them, then you're paying for that seat or basically paying for that food, that person.
Dierdre: Exactly, you're paying for it either way. The charge that you're putting in place, five bucks, two bucks, whatever, for a ticket…
Tom: For a crab feed.
Dierdre: Right. Doesn't cover much of anything. Basically, it covered like, the giveaway baskets or something. But it just makes people feel like they have skin in the game so that's number one. Number two, I thought to really engage people's interest, we held a logo contest and the logo that was selected would be put on the giveaway. We did this a couple years in a row for the summer crab feast where we said use the company logo, I don't know if I can say the name of the company or not, use the company logo and make it summery, however you envision that, on a beach, whatever. Use your imagination. We'll collect these for a certain amount of time and judge a winner. And senior management, I pulled senior management together actually gave me a chance to get senior management together actually at a bar, hanging out, which was fun and looking through all the logos that were submitted. And we actually had quite a few both times and that winning logo was put on a beach bag or some kind of large token that was given away as the door prize. Or not door prize even but when you came into the event. So that really engaged people, and we had a lot of involvement from that. And people still have their giveaways. We've still got those bags hanging around, we've still got the beach towels hanging around that have those logos on them. It's pretty exciting. And that's our employee-owners. We're an employee-owned company so that pulls the employee-owners into the entire experience.
Tom: So that got them involved in it and probably increased your turnout?
Dierdre: Oh, certainly.
Tom: So tell us…you've done that a couple times. You've done the logo for the beach. Are there other ways that you've promoted your events through the company? How else do you let your employees know that this thing is happening and get them involved with it?
Dierdre: Oh, gosh, I used social media pretty extensively. Every year for the last three or four years…we're a big United Way company, so we do a big United Way event that's pumpkin chunking in Oktoberfest. We actually pull in not only our company but the entire community. And so we establish a hashtag for people to tweet out or Facebook out that they're participating in the event. We encourage people to work together to build some kind of pumpkin chunking trebuchet or catapult or whatever, and we just try to fire up interest, not only in the company but in the community. And the families have gotten involved, so if you can really pull in the families and encourage people to bring their kids and their families to an event, that increases your population automatically.
So that's really exciting if you can do a family event and the pumpkin chunking in Oktoberfest has really turned into that. Last year we actually had a moon bounce. People were like, “Hey, maybe we should have a moon bounce because we're bringing our kids.” I'm like, “All right, we'll have a moon bounce.” We have a moon bounce and pumpkin carving and this year we're going to have a kids' trebuchet little area to involve kids in STEM education because one of the families said, “Hey, we could have the kids build little trebuchets.” And I'm like, “Excellent.” So when you engage the employee and their family, it's personalized. It pulls everything in and really helps out.
Tom: Now you've done a lot with that pumpkin chunking because it started out pretty small if I remember correctly.
Dierdre: It was just internal.
Tom: And then you, because of the fact that you were holding it in the company parking lot, there were other businesses in your area that started noticing us. Tell us what you did to reach out to those people to bring them in because this raises money for United Way, correct?
Dierdre: It does. United Way and also for whatever our corporate charity is for the year, which our employee owners choose and vote on. Well, we've reached out, we…I use flyers, emails to the businesses in our business park, also vendors with whom we have relationships. I ask them to sponsor or participate, build a team. One of our neighbors, we asked them for parking rights in their parking lot because they shut off half the parking lot for machines to set up. Last year we had a food truck from the area come out. So it's really…and actually, one of the teams from the National Pumpkin Chunking Competition, which did not take place last year, they actually…we reached out to them when we found out they weren't having a competition and one of the younger teams came out and participated, which was exciting to have them. So it generates a lot of excitement. We get media excitement, and it's all good ‘cuz we're giving money to charity, we're pulling families in, it's engineering related, so it all fits together really well and just makes a really nice community feel. And if you can build a sense of community, I think you can have a really successful event.
Tom: That's incredible. I know you've had different people…you have a beer distributor who provides refreshments.
Dierdre: We don't, but I'm still working on that because I would love to have Flying Dog from Frederick.
Tom: How perfect would that be?
Dierdre: Here's the call-out to Flying Dog from Frederick to come participate in pumpkin chunking! Hello, how awesome is that? And I just heard that their pumpkin IPA is amazing, so I think that that would be an awesome tie-in. So here's a shout-out to Flying Dog, one of my favorite breweries.
Tom: We'll make sure we tweet them when this episode comes up.
Dierdre: We should tweet them because couldn't you just see their crazy, wild flying dog from their label going flying out of a trebuchet? It would be brilliant.
Tom: Now, Dierdre, you have also been in charge of the company Christmas parties.
Tom: Let's talk a little bit about…at one time you were doing those out of different area venues. Let's talk a little bit about when you were doing that. Can you share some of the different holiday parties that you were doing?
Dierdre: I actually have not participated…well, I've participated in holiday events out and about. When I've been in charge of them, people have really chosen the summer events, but two years ago our company did actually choose a holiday party. We were all planned for a local venue and then our budget got cut at the last minute ‘cuz transportation drives our business and transportation funding has not been great. So we were left with a date, a band, and a much smaller budget than we had originally anticipated. So we said, “Look, what can we do? Let's figure out how we can do this at our office.” So we literally…I drew on my experience in the theatre, ‘cuz I'm a theatre person way back. Drew on my experience in the theater, got some gels for the lights in the ceiling, pulled together some tables, linens, lots of different kinds of theme lighting, kept our band, and really transformed the fourth floor of our office into a party zone.
And we had projectors shooting wintry projections around, and we had glittery snowflakes hanging from the ceiling, and the sparkling little LED tea lights with the little sparkly, I don't know, filmy stuff that you can get for gift bags. We put that in the bottom of wine glasses, repurposed wine glasses and put the LED lights in there so they were very sparkly, lowlights on high tables and high wine glass lights on low tables, lots of linens, lots of… Oh gosh, we used the runners that they have left over from the printer that they print plans on. They're kind of see-through but thick. We used spray paint and shapes on there to make snowflakes, weighted those down and hung them from the ceiling with up lights. It just was brilliant and perfect.
We rented a dance floor, obviously, that was quite a large expense. The band who came in, they were friends of one of our employees, so they came in at a really decent rate no matter where we were going to be. Those were our big expenses. Then we got a caterer, we bought all the alcohol through a local contact. And we actually used bartenders from the catering service, which is pretty important from a liability standpoint just to throw this in there. If you're doing an event on your site, you really don't want to have your own people bartending because there's a liability issue. There's a liability issue with serving liquor anyway on your own site. But if you can have somebody else, a licensed bartender serving, that helps mitigate some of the liability for you. So that's a little aside. But it turned out to be quite a beautiful event and people were very surprised at how we had transformed the office. Like a pretty standard office with cubes and everything into just this amazing party zone with multiple bars, multiple food stations, a band, a dance floor. Yeah, it was amazing. It was also really a lot of work. I'm not going to lie.
Tom: You had a pretty good team for that.
Dierdre: I had an excellent team for that, and they were phenomenal and they worked so many hours in that office. We got really close because they were tireless, and I think it was just the most cohesive team from across the company, really across groups, multi-disciplined just devoted to making this work and it was phenomenal.
Tom: Were there any tips that you had when you were selecting that team or how did you develop those people around you?
Dierdre: I really just reached out and said, “Who would be willing to help?” And I had people that were ready to help when we were doing it off-site, and I reached out to the same group when we were had to come in site, and we had a meeting and I said, “Look, it's going to take a lot more work now. We can't just conceptualize and hand it off to somebody who's going to do it for us. We actually have to do it all, so it's going to take a lot of coordination.” You have to think about trash, and you have to think about all those little pieces that get taken care of when you go to a venue. They don't get taken care of when you do it at your own venue. You have to think of it. So what are we going to do for trash cans and trash bags and beer containers and bars? And how are we going to make all that work? I never expected when I came to an engineering firm that I would use my catering expertise, but that really goes into other duties as you expected, I guess. But it was a learning experience, and we just took our time. We were very methodical about putting it together and it came together brilliantly. And then we spent about a week cleaning it up, frankly.
Tom: Now do you have photos of your event?
Dierdre: I do.
Tom: Okay, fantastic. What we're going to do, folks, is on the show notes for this episode, which is if you go to savvyeventpodcast.com/episode1, that's the numeral 1, episode one, we're going to have a couple of pictures of Dierdre's work transformed if that's okay with you.
Dierdre: My team's work.
Tom: Her team's work, yes. Don't want to let out your team. Dierdre, I appreciate so much you taking the time to sit down with me on the very first podcast of the Savvy Event Planner podcast. I appreciate it. Eventually, I'm going to definitely want to have you back because you also do a lot of different types of events, networking events. You travel to conferences for the IAAP. You are on trade shows with your company, so you're doing a lot of different types of events, and I'd love to get more of your expertise in the future.
Dierdre: Sounds great. I'd love to come back.
Tom: Okay, thank you so much.
Dierdre: Thank you.
Tom: We covered a lot of different things during that podcast, but one of the things that I'd like to point out is what Dierdre shared: the fear that event planners have. If you're planning an event, yeah, you're going to have fears that nobody's going to show up or nobody's going to like it, but by sharing these fears and learning how others cope with it and deal with it, it gives you more confidence to create more successful events. And that is what I want this podcast to be about. I'd like to build a community here, and I hope you'll be a part of it because we're just getting started. So go over to the website at savvyeventpodcast.com/episode1 and comment. Let me know what you think about the podcast. What would you like to learn? What would you like to hear about? What would you want to find out about? Or maybe there's something you want to share. Talk to me about that too. Who knows, maybe you could be a guest on a future episode.
But drive me. Tell me what you need. And I'm going to run a lot of things by Deirdre, because I trust her judgment and if she says, “Oh, you don't need to share that, that's pretty common, just go here or do this,” that's what I want from you, too. Let's make this something really special for the event community. And I want you to be a part of the community so go over and make a comment. You can also connect with us on Facebook. In fact, I hope you will. Brand new podcast! You might be our first like. Go over to Facebook Savvy Event Podcast, just do that search and like the group and do a thing where you can follow it. I think there's a special link where you can follow the group so that you'll see the things pop up. Or leave a comment there and that way Facebook knows that you want to be involved with that group so it will start coming across your feed. That way you'll know when you have the latest and you'll be able to interact with other people that are in this community.
You can also hit me up on Twitter. Now, I don't have a special Twitter handle for this. We're just going with my regular Twitter handle, which is @TomCrowl. So it's just T-O-M C-R-O-W-L. We're going to talk about event planning and, every once in a while, you're going to see something else that's going on in my life come through, comedy or ventriloquism because I am a comedian ventriloquist. So you might see something like that come through, but it's not going to be a lot of it and just go on over and say hi on Twitter. I'd appreciate it.
Plus if you liked what you heard today, share it. I'd greatly appreciate that. The more people we bring in, the more perspectives we're going to have, the more input and it makes the group and the community much better. So if you liked what you heard and you think that, “Yes, we're going to be able to make this thing grow,” help me out. Help me do that. Let's spread the word. Do it on LinkedIn. Do it on Twitter. Do it on Facebook. Share it with your email list or your community or people at work who work with you on events. I really appreciate it and hopefully they will too, because hopefully they'll get something out of this and it will make it better for all of us.
Hey, if you go over to the website in the show notes for episode one, we do have an event planning checklist. That's my way of saying thank you so much for listening and staying with me through this whole thing. So if you go over it's what I call the Ultimate Event Planning Checklist. It's a number of pages that help you plan an event beginning to end. And if your event isn't as large as the checklist allows for, you can cut certain parts out. And who knows? Maybe you'll need something that isn't on the list, and you can share that with me and we can grow that event planning checklist so that it becomes truly an ultimate event planning checklist. Hey, listen, again, thank you so much for staying with me today. My name's Tom Crowl, and I'll hope to see you on the next episode where we're going to talk about going beyond good enough.
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To access the show notes, listen to the podcast or download the bonus files, visit: Event Planning Insights.