Strategic Event Planning Concepts
This transcript is from Episode 31 of The Savvy Event Planner Podcast
To listen to this podcast, please visit: http://SavvyEventPodcast.com/31
Interview only transcript.
Tom: Folks, I'm on the line today with Liz Weber. Liz, thank you very much for taking the time to talk to me here on the podcast.
Liz: Hey Tom, I'm happy to be here.
Tom: Thrilled to have you. Now Liz, you are a certified speaking professional. You're a certified management consultant. You have an MBA. You're an author and you serve on as a national board member for the National Speaker's Association. What I wanna know is, when do you find time to rest?
Liz: Well, I find a lot of time to rest Tom. There's a lot that goes on but I'm one of those people probably like you that I like to keep busy.
Tom: Could you share a little bit about your background with us and tell us how you got involved in speaking in the event industry?
Liz: Well actually, my undergrad degree is an international business. I grew up in a small farming community in Wisconsin and I thought I wanted to get away from manufacturing, farming. I just wasn't anything of interest to me so I got my degree in international business. I couldn't get a job in Wisconsin because I had no international experience, so I took an internship in D.C., and it ended up being a job that was phenomenal. And as part of that job, I was responsible for organizing conferences around the world. And so, I started organizing conferences and because I was the organizer, I end up invariably speaking to the group about some logistics to housekeeping details, all the normal things. But I also found that I really enjoyed being in front of the group and I had started to get a sense of that when I was in college. When I was taking an aerobics class, I realized I wanted to be in front of the group, teaching the class because then I could control everything but also that I could get paid for exercising. So, I started realizing early on that I liked being in front of the group like leading the conversation, like guiding the conversation. So as my work in Washington continued, I started getting more involved with creating training programs and ultimately got into consulting and speaking. So it was revolutionary process.
Tom: Now, when you were organizing these international conferences, can you share some of the places that you held these?
Liz: Sure. They were in Vaughn, in Tunis, in Caracas, in Mexico, in…let's see, in Japan, in Nairobi, Africa. Oh my, I'm just going brain dead here all of a sudden. I've been in 20 different countries.
Tom: That's amazing. Now, was there any event that you found harder to plan in in a certain area? Was there any logistics that made some place a lot tougher to plan an event?
Liz: Well, I have to be honest, I had assistance and it wasn't as if I was planning a lot of these on my own. I did a lot of these coordination with the American embassies in the various locales where I worked, so I had great support system. So, there was never any real language issue that I ever had to deal with. There was some security issues that were always interesting. We had an event in Monrovia, Liberia and everyone was out for dinner one evening and all of a sudden all the electricity died. And everyone at the table that I was eating with that worked at the embassy suddenly jumped up and said, “We have to go, we have to go.” And I said, “Why?” He said, “We have to get back to the embassy. We have to protect the embassy compound so that the locals don't jump over the gate and try to steal water.” And I was like, “Wow. What a way to have to focus your life to protect so that no one steals water.” It was just really eye-opening experience.
Tom: That's a pretty fascinating history right there. I mean I appreciate you sharing that with us. Now, you mentioned that you worked with the team and now one of your speeches that you give is “Up Your Game! Work Smarter. Work Together.” And it talks about making teams work together both more focused and more strategic. Can you share a little bit of that with us because event planners rely on their teams?
Liz: Right. If I can Tom, to really make it most helpful to the listeners is I really wanna gear this to event planners. So, “Up Your Game! Work Smarter. Work Together.” is really about being very, very clear as to what your role is in the organization. So for event planners, yes, your job is to plan events but what I would challenge your listeners to think about Tom is what role do you really play in the organization and those are two different things. Your job is to ensure that the events come off seamlessly, but your role quite often is something higher and more strategic than you may be giving yourself credit for. And what I mean by that is, your role is to ensure that your events convey the branding of your organization, help your organization move forward towards its vision of success, may help with the recruiting efforts for employees because there's a whole war for talent right now going on in the economy. So, I share those as some ideas as to be clear number one, what your role is within the organization. So as you up your game as an event planner, it doesn't necessarily mean to plan more events or to plan them more seamlessly or more effectively within a time constraint. It may mean up your profile and the importance of you playing in the organization.
Tom: Now, could the position or role change depending on the type of event that somebody's planning?
Liz: Absolutely, absolutely. And that's where it's important to understand what is the purpose of the event. I'm glad this is coming up because I was looking at information before our talk today and quite often when I work with event planners that are not as experienced or savvy in their expertise, they have a checklist and it's a myriad of things like meet with the catering crew, and meet with the AV people, and get the entertainment lined up and it's all these logistical checklist items. And what's never included on their checklist is a question saying, “What is the purpose of this event?” Is it to help with employee recruitment? Is it to help just simply be a time for all of us to come together and relax and enjoy each other one time a year? What is the purpose of this event? Why is money being allocated to this? What are ROE is expected for this event so that we are assured that we're gonna be able to do something like this again next year or how are we gonna need to tweak this next year to increase the ROE?
Tom: I absolutely love that. You're the first guest to really discuss this and I appreciate it. So, we get clear on the purpose of the event. How do we communicate with our team? Is there a way that we can make it clearer for them what their role is in this overall picture?
Liz: Again, this is interesting because just this morning I read in a magazine a quote by the CEO of Southwest Airlines Gary Kelly and basically he said, “Our culture here is to take care of our employees because when we do that and they know they're expected to take care of the customers, they'll take everything else as well too.” So I shared that because when you are clear as to the purpose of the event and what the CEO maybe expecting or what your committee might be expecting or need to see from this event, when you're clear on that and you're in alignment with what they're expecting, you can then more clearly communicate that to your team members in such a way that they can all see it in their mind's eyes as well.
So the clearer you can make the expectation and the vision for the event become clear to your team members, the easier it is for them to help you implement towards the outcomes you're trying to achieve. Because they're gonna be in a position then Tom to share ideas as to how to possibly up the event or change some of the anticipated or they're already planned activities to how to tweak them in a way to even more closely align with the overall objectives that you're trying to hit than what you already have planned. So it's a matter of real clear communication to your team members, and then as you need to be doing any way in event planning regularly meeting with them and communicating with them and tracking the progress of the checklist of items that have to get done, to identify what's working and what's not working and moving us towards the outcome that's desired for this event.
Tom: One of the things that we talked about when we chatted last month in our pre-interview call, we talked about adjusting your vocabulary because people don't always, even though they're talking the same thing, they often have different visions of it. So, can we talk a little bit about that?
Liz: Sure, sure. And this entry ties into the previous point I was making. If you wanna up your game as an event planner, my belief is that you need to be viewed by others within your organization as more than the person who puts on the events because quite often that activity in their mind, rightly or wrongly is simply and I'm saying simply in air quotes, “An administrative checklist type of activity.” It's very logistical in nature because historically that's how it's been done. But if you wanna up your game and change your vocabulary to be viewed and to work with them as something and someone who has a bigger role to play in the organization, changing your vocabulary to one that resonates with them is crucial.
So you need to get comfortable speaking in terms that is important that make sense, that resonates with others in the management team who have decision in budget-making authority, to help them help you go forward. So for instance, get comfortable understanding and using terms like ROE, return on event. What does that mean and how does every one of your activities in your line up of anticipated activities of your event affect ROE? When you're selecting your speakers or your entertainers or the venue or the food, how is that all bring you closer to ROE? Are you willing, in your vocabulary, to be able to explain to other members of the management team what you are doing to help them hit and here are some terms that you need to watch out for.
Help them hit their event outcomes, help them ensure that this event moves the organization closer to its strategic plan or closer to employee engagement or better help with the branding of the company. Whatever you're doing with the event, it needs to tie into the bigger strategies and the bigger objectives of the company, and you need to know what those are. Quite often, they're available on the website. Quite often, they're listed there and if not you will have heard about them through management meetings. You can ask your manager or if you're the manager find out what those are. But you need to use the vocabulary in terms that are financial in nature, that are more strategic, and that are more business oriented in big picture perspective oriented than quite often some of the logistical elements of event tracking list.
Tom: I absolutely love the information you're sharing today. I can guarantee this is gonna be a popular episode.
Liz: Oh, good.
Tom: Liz, question for you. Everybody talks about maximizing their ROI or in this event their ROE, is there a way that you can literally or are there any tools or ideas you have on measuring that ROE?
Liz: Absolutely, and here's where you have to be clear on what you're going for. Okay. Let's say for instance the purpose of the event is to really jumpstart employee engagement, to increase the feel and the rapport that employees have with the company because the company let's say in its employee evaluations too many employees are showing that they're dissatisfied with the company. They don't feel as if they have a connection with their managers, whatever; a very common scenario in a lot of organizations. So let's say that this event is the annual event that typically is put on because it's a holiday and they've always done it and most of the employees don't show up because it's boring.
So, if the intent of this particular event this year is to really kickstart the ROE to improve employee engagement, what you as the event planner need to do is you need to go and sit down with the HR manager, the HR director and say what are the issues that repeatedly come up that showed disengagement with the employees and this company. I would also suggest as the event planner you sit down with the handful of managers throughout the organization and say so what are some areas of disengagement that you see with your employees, so that you're understanding what it means to have disengaged employees.
So when you are laying out the schedule on a proposed agenda of how to bring in speakers or entertainers or whatever, you need to be able to bring in the type of programming that's going to help your HR team and the managers address this issue of employee engagement in a way that is appealing to the employees. That's information they have, you don't. So you can't work in isolation and just go bring in speakers that are gonna have you singing on the chairs and throwing nerf balls around the room, that's gonna be a fun event. It's probably gonna do nothing for employee engagement. So, you need to do more than just have people feel good for a one-day conference. You need to help them feel good about being there but you need to help them feel good about the company as well, and that's two different things.
Tom: Liz, during our pre-interview conversation, we talked about disjointed vision and how meeting planners can sometimes have different visions of an event than the people that they're planning the event for? As we're talking to all of these people in different aspects of the company so that we can meet their goals, is there any way for the event planner to know or realize when maybe not everybody's on the same page or has the same vision and how do we talk about those to get them to align?
Liz: That's a great question. And that actually I experienced something along those lines about three months ago. As a speaker, what I do before any event is I will reach out to the client. I will interview anywhere from the three to eight or more individuals who are gonna be key people who will be in that audience to ensure that I am addressing issues that are gonna be of interest to them, or that I'm gonna be addressing ideas that they need to hear as takeaways. So I do a pre-event interview with my client.
Now, in this particular case, when you got the event planner who is going to be asking different people around the organization what is your vision for this event, you're more than likely you're gonna hear a different perspectives which is what happened to me when I was doing this my pre-event questionnaire or pre-event interviews a couple of months ago. And I was getting widely disparate perspectives because what my event planner for the event was telling me was a certain of things that she had hired me for but when I was interviewing everybody, they were telling me different things that they didn't have the saying problems at my event planner had said. And I was getting incredibly nervous until I actually sent back two days before the event and I went through every single interview that I had conducted and I started to see commonalities.
People were saying the same things but they were saying them differently. And so what I had to do is find the commonalities and tie them together. And so I say that so when you were talking with HR or other managers or others about the vision for the event, you may hear what on the surface or initially appears very different ideas of what they need because what they may well be describing is how they want the event to look what certain elements they want included in the event. You need to hear what outcome they're looking for and there's a difference in that.
Tom: That was a great answer and Liz, I appreciate it. Now, we can come back to this if there something that maybe we haven't touched upon or something that we didn't get to mentioned, but I'd like to take this in a different direction now. One of your speeches talks about creating a three-year business plan and I thought this may be interesting to our listeners. Some of our listeners maybe wanna start an event planning business or some of them might already have one or at least the business in the event services industry, and yet others of them are executive assistance, HR personnel, marketing personnel. A business plan can also applied the word “career strategy” couldn't it?
Liz: Absolutely, absolutely.
Tom: So, what tips would you give to someone that needs to create a business plan? Let's talk a little about the way that's laid out.
Liz: Sure. Well, there's three key steps, Tom that are important if you're gonna do a one-year plan or a three-year plan, and let me just first say the reason that I recommend three-year planning for someone for someone who is in business or is in a senior level position had some major initiatives they have to implement. Most initiatives take longer than one year. And so, with three-year planning you're able to phase out initiatives over a three-year time for at a bare minimum so you can get some leverage with those initiatives over time, because quite often if you try to implement something in one year, sometimes you get it done, sometimes you don't but you don't have enough time to see if that new project or new service or whatever it is actually working very well or if it's giving you back what you wanted all within one-year time frame. So you need at least two years or three years to see if it's generating the type of return that you were looking for. So that's why 3-year planning is helpful.
But let me go back to the three questions that are really important to ask before you start any kind of business planning, whether you want to start your own business or you're already in business. And the first question is simply this, “Why am I doing this?” And it's bigger than to say, “Well, I'm thinking about starting my own event planning business because I just really love event planning and that's why I wanna do it. I wanna follow my passion.” That's lovely, but that doesn't pay bills. So, you need to ask yourself really, “Why am I doing this? Am I gonna start my own event planning business because I wanna take control of this? I wanna be able to work with the types of clients and organize the types of events that I really want, or I wanna create a business for myself where I can grow it to a size and make lots of money and that I can have a scalable of business like hire a whole team myself.” Why are you doing this? You have to love it number one but why else are you doing this? What purpose do you have for starting this business?
You need to answer that question because the answer to that question determines how aggressive your business is going to be. So, let's say that you wanna start a speaking business to support you and your family. That's wonderful, then the next question is, what do I need to put in place and how much money do I need to make to do that? So, if you wanna create an event planning business to support your family, that's why you're doing it. What do you need to put in place and how much money do you need to make? You need to identify how much money you need to bring in as an overall arching number to give you a reality check of whether or not you have the fortitude to do this. Because if you need to generate let's say at a minimum a $100,000 a year in business income, so that you can pay yourself enough so that you and your family can live, can you do that?
Many people could, many people cannot. So then you have to ask yourself, do I need a larger company, more money? 250,000, 500,000 a million, 2 million? You need to get comfortable asking the money questions, and then you need to ask yourself what do I need to put in place to do that? So if you have looked at the numbers and you identify that at a bare minimum you've got to bring $250,000 a year for your business to give you the type of financial lifestyle that you need for your family then what do you need to put in place to make that happen? What kind of client-based do you have to go after? What size events do you need to plan? What does their budget need to look like so that they can afford to bring you one to allow you to do the work that you're company is gonna do to make money?
So that's the second question. What do I need to do? And how much money do I need to make? And then the third question is, what do I need to start doing now? And that's really where you start stepping off in saying, “Okay, if I wanna create my own event planning business generating $250,000 a year, what I need to start doing right now is I need to start creating a perspective customer list of the types of customers I want to work with that will pay me the type of money that I need to make per project to achieve my vision for my company.” And so you have to start getting very clear on what you want, the size of the business you wanna have and then the types of customers that are gonna help you get there.
Tom: Excellent advice. Now Liz, as a speaker you've experienced I'd say what one or two events?
Tom: Have you ever been to a meeting that just kind of let you go shaking your head and it's something where you go, “Man, I hope to never experience that again.” Is there something that you could maybe pull out of one of those experiences and share with our listeners and say, “Please if you're planning an event, don't do this.”
Liz: Yeah, Tom. Actually, I wanna just encourage our listeners to again not underestimate or knock it a real strong read of your audience. Be really clear on what their comfort level is because I attended an event a number of years ago and speaker after speaker, entertainer after entertainer, was asking the group to do very interactive activities with one another, touching each other, rubbing each other on the shoulders and holding hands and spinning in circles and everything. And this particular group it was not within their comfort level to this. And to be in an environment when you're somewhat forced into that type of interactive activity, was really, really uncomfortable for everybody in the audience and I was just cringing for them as I was watching it. It was a real bad read on the selection of presenters and entertainers that they had lined up. It was a complete mismatch for the audience.
Tom: Okay. Now, you've also been to so many events that I'm sure there are some that just stand out in your mind above all others. We've all had that event where we went and we just, “Wow, that was done so well. That was just so amazing.” Is there an event that stands out in your mind? And if there is, why did it create that impression on you?
Liz: Well, I have a number of event that stand out in my mind and either it's because there was a speaker there that was surprisingly amazing. I hadn't anticipated to be impacted by that person's program and I was profoundly and I can still remember what their program was about. Or I've attended events where the sheer theatrics of it were just flipping amazing and so well-done that you couldn't help but get caught up in the energy and the excitement and the fun of it. Or other events, as you said in my introduction here I'm a board member for the National Speaker's Association, when I attend any of the NSA events, the camaraderie and the warmth and the friendliness of the members it's just amazing. So, it depends, it can be a speaker, it can be a venue, it can be the members and the personality of the group that's there. All of which the event planner has the ability to impact.
Tom: Now, when you mentioned the theatrics of an event can you just share with us an example of what you're talking about there?
Liz: Sure. This was in 2008, and it happened to be the National Speakers Association Annual Convention and it was in New York City. And the opening ceremony was just so well-done and the music was blaring, the theme for that year was NSA Rock so we had rock music playing. The main conference chair, when he came into the conference hall, they had it designed and all the theatrics were laid out so that he was brought in as if he were a celebrity and he had this all posy with him and it was so very, very well-done. And then one of the ideas that they transition to when they introduced the association president for that year, he came sliding across the stage with the backdrop like Tom Cruise when he slides across, comes into the floor in his underwear and his shirt for I can't think of the movie right now but people will visualize this in their mind they just had so many of the elements of rock and roll and music and movies so well-done that you felt as if you were in a movie theater. It was amazing.
Tom: Fantastic. Now, Liz, if there was one last thought that you'd like to share with our audience, what would it be?
Liz: Get comfortable in asking your client, whomever it might be. Someone inside the company or outside the company what else should we be doing to make this event the one that everyone will talk about for years to come.
Tom: That's a great answer. Liz, you've written a number of books. If somebody's interested in finding out more about your books, where can they find them?
Liz: Oh great, Tom. Thank you. Yes, they can either go to Amazon and search my name Liz Weber with one B and my books will populate there and if not, I would love for them to come to my website which is W, B as in boy, S as in Sam, L-L-C, that stands for Weber Business Services, www.wbsllc.com and they can go to the store on my website or if they follow me on Twitter or Facebook @lizwebercmc, they can find my products there as well.
Tom: Fantastic, and we will have links to all of those in the show notes. Liz, thank you so very, very much for taking your time to talk with us today.
Liz: Thank you, Tom. I appreciate it.
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