Whether planning private celebrations, non-profit fundraisers, or corporate conferences, the goal of the event planner is to visualize their client’s idea and then bring that vision to life. But how do event planners accomplish this task? What does an event planner do, exactly?
In this article, we break down what event planning is. We look at the duties, skills, and experience required in professional event planning, as well as a variety of planning specialties. In addition to discussing “big picture” event planning, we dive into the details to answer the question, “What does an event planner do?”
So what does an event planner do?
What is an event planner?
Event planners are builders. They are tasked with taking a client’s idea, a concept, and designing an event that represents it. From event conception and stage design to technical programming and day-of event coordination, event planners manage the event planning process from start to finish. Planners work with vendors, suppliers, and venues to coordinate meal service, event staffing, negotiate pricing, and so much more. They create an event’s layout, establish the theme, and may even design marketing campaigns to promote the event.
In addition to being multi-tasking masters and expert designers, event planners are story tellers. They are charged with understanding what the client wants, designing an event that meet the client’s goals, and telling a memorable story to event attendees.
“Events should be provocative; they should make you feel something and should impact all senses. Regardless of whether it’s for a couple, a brand, or a product, the event should tell a distinctive story to each guest passing through.”
–Kristin Banta, Kristin Banta Events, inc.
What tasks does an event planner handle?
Event planning is a job that requires wearing many hats. Event planners are coordinators, organizers, moderators, and professional negotiators. They are designers, delegators, and task managers. As an event planner’s career grows, they are able to delegate more responsibility to coordinators and event staff, but not at first. Every event planner should be able to carry out the following functions:
Event design is one of the most crucial parts of the planning process. Planners create a vision for an event, a blueprint, which includes important visual details. In the design phase, event planners create a preview of what the event will look like by outlining the theme, layout, scenery, scheme, and other technical elements such as lighting or sound. As the process continues, planners work hard to create their design, incorporating event logistics along the way.
A keen eye is required for event planners who want to remain competitive. Pro planners are constantly on the lookout for exciting new event venues, vendor options, potential suppliers, and other resources. They know their market inside and out—every special event venue, every caterer, and every entertainer. They visit new attractions, try new restaurants, and scout new locations to accommodate a variety of future events.
Professional planners are responsible for acquiring any services or supplies needed to guarantee event success and attendee satisfaction. After designing an event and getting client approval, that’s when event planners really get to work. They are in charge of shopping for a variety of vendors and suppliers to secure everything needed for the event. Planners book the venue, build a menu, confirm caterers, secure the technology needed for the event, and so on.
In the initial stages of event planning, planners solicit venues and accommodations for quotes. They send prospective event venues, hotels, and vendors the details of their upcoming event, and request a quote for the products or services required. Event planners compare the received responses, weigh various quotes, and select the best proposal based on the client’s needs.
Event planners must be skilled in the art of negotiation. In almost every single stage of the event planning process, planners are negotiating. They negotiate event budgets with new clients as well as venue rental prices, vendor pricing, setup fees, and so much more.
If you’re not a “people person,” event planning may not be the right career choice for you. Event planners frequently work closely with clients to establish the objectives and theme for an event before they work with artists and contractors to put it all together. If the plan is moving along as expected, planners need to be able to communicate that information confidently, correctly, and collaborate with others to find the solution.
Many businesses, as well as individuals, plan events on a tight budget. Planners are tasked with creating and following a strict planning budget that adheres to their client’s guidelines. Meeting a budget often requires creativity and resourcefulness on behalf of the planner, so adaptability and critical thinking skills are a must.
Relationships are vital to successful event planning. Expert planning professionals have a trusted network of vendors, suppliers, venues, and coordinators on which they can rely. They cultivate mutually beneficial relationships with industry-adjacent businesses and receive referrals from satisfied partners.
It is the planner’s responsibility to find a balance between the client’s vision and their budget, and to work within the agreed upon parameters. Experienced planners know when a client’s budget is not going to result in the event they’re visualizing. They establish event goals, manage the client’s expectations, and work with the client and their team to find satisfactory alternatives.
An event planner’s job doesn’t stop when the event wraps up. Planners must also measure how successful an event was. After an event, many planners are tasked with providing an event report to their clients detailing whether the audience was engaged, if registration numbers matched attendance, and areas of opportunity for improvement. By analyzing the behavior of online audience members, measuring live engagement during an event, and following up with attendees after an event, planners can provide their clients with important metrics and data to improve future events.
“An event is not over until everyone is tired of talking about it.”
– Mason Cooley
What skills should an event planner have?
Year after year, event planning consistently ranks at the top of the list of the world’s most stressful jobs. To find success in the industry (without losing your mind), event planners must learn how to multi-task, manage stress, and stay cool under pressure. In addition, event coordinators, managers, and other planning professionals can benefit from having the following skills:
- Organization: Planning events is a complex process, and planners are often juggling many tasks at once. In order to keep the big picture in mind, reduce stress, and not get overwhelmed by their to-do list, event planners must be well organized.
- Time management: One of the most important skills seasoned event planners possess, time management is essential to career success in the event planning industry. Planner must be able to prioritize their task list and manage the time it takes to complete each task.
- Creativity: In order to meet client requests, stay within budget guidelines, and provide a memorable experience for event attendees, planners often have to rely on their ingenuity and creativity.
“Creativity and innovation is to events what the heart and soul is to the living.”
-Rehan Waris, Voiceworx Events
- Communication: Building strong relationships quickly is an important event planning skill. From communicating with vendors and venues to suppliers and clients, planners are responsible for ensuring that information is passed seamlessly and accurately. They are the primary line of communication between all parties involved in the event planning process.
- Delegation: Leading planning professionals are often in charge of multiple coordinators and other event staff, so the ability to effectively delegate responsibilities is crucial to planning success.
- Attention to detail: When it comes to event planning, the devil is in the details. Having a strong attention to detail is a crucial event planning skill; it can mean the difference between planning a good event and planning a great event.
- Negotiation: Event planners are skilled negotiators. Faced with negotiating reasonable vendor expenses, venue pricing, and their client’s final budget, event planners must be proficient in the art of debate.
- Expectation management: Event planners commonly encounter clients with unrealistic expectations. For example, a client’s dream event may fall outside the realistic realm of their budget or the capabilities of the hosting venue. The planner’s responsibility is to take what a client wants, what they have the resources to create, and to find a middle ground.
- Customer service: At the heart of event planning lies customer service. Whether helping a client see their dream event come to life or ensuring that event attendees have a memorable and satisfying experience, event planners are there to serve.
“We, as planners, are here to serve, serve, and serve. A client is all nerves on their big day regardless of what type of event it is, and it is our job to ensure the best service is delivered.”
– Lily Ehumada, Owner of Lily V Events
Are there distinct types of event planners?
The world of event planning is wide, and there are many different roads planning professionals can choose to take. Significant industry experience is required to specialize in planning particular events, so some planners choose to focus on a specific area of event planning, develop their skills, and grow their credentials.
Outside of general event planning, event planners may specialize in:
- Private event planning
- Corporate meetings, seminars, and retreats
- SMERF (Social, Military, Educational, Religious, Fraternal)
- Government meetings and events
- Non-profit organizations and charity fundraisers
- Large conferences
Planning meetings and events for government contractors or federal groups, for example, requires a vastly different skill set that planning destination weddings. Planners who find a passion for a specific aspect of the industry, or who prefer working on a specific category of events, often choose to dedicate their focus to becoming an expert in that area.
How are event planners, coordinators, and managers different?
While many of the duties overlap, event planners have more responsibilities than event coordinators. Event planners are responsible for the entire event planning process, from conception to execution, and many planners have coordinators on their team. Planners handle the “big picture” details, such as conceptualization and design.
Assisting the primary planner, event coordinators are often responsible for taking care of the smaller details of a planner’s event design. Event coordinators may be responsible for selecting and booking the event venue, communicating with vendors, or organizing supply deliveries prior to the event. Coordinators are also frequently responsible for event logistics and organization, ensuring that everything goes smoothly during the event. They are also typically on-site the day of the event, ensuring venue organization, smooth scheduling, and attendee communication.
The terms “event manager” and “event coordinator” are often used synonymously, but not in every event management team. Event managers have responsibilities that lie in between an event planner’s big picture duties and a coordinator’s fine-tuning tasks. Much like coordinators, event managers are responsible for ensuring that the planner’s plan is executed correctly and that the event runs smoothly. Event managers may also be in charge of promoting an event, planning a social media marketing strategy, ensuring attendee satisfaction, or assisting subordinate members of the event planning team as they fulfill their duties.
“A great event manager makes even the host feel like a guest.”
– Amit Kalantri, Wealth of Words
Can anyone become an event planner?
The short answer is yes! Many event planners come from other industries, such as hospitality, food and beverage, account management, and even corporate industries like accounting or marketing.
Whether you’re an experienced planning professional or interested in building an event planning career, training courses, professional designations, certifications, and continuing education classes can improve your skills.
A variety of classes, courses, and training opportunities are available for new and experienced event planners. Event planners can grow their skills through event planning and management courses from the Events Leadership Institute, Special Events Institute, or other renowned event training institutes.
- Professional designations
Designations are special licenses and certifications that are assigned to highlight training, expertise, or special qualifications. One of the most commonly acquired certifications for event planners, a CMP (Certificated Meeting Planner) designation may be obtained from the Meeting Professionals Association and the Events Industry Council. After passing the required exam, individuals with ample planning experience will obtain one of the most recognized titles in the industry.
In addition to obtaining a CMP, there are a variety of other professional designations event planners may earn, including:
- Certified Meeting Manager (CMM)
- Certified Special Events Professional (CSEP)
- Certified Conference and Events Professional (CCEP)
- Certified in Exhibition Management (CEM)
- Destination Management Certified Professional (DCMP)
Planners who keep up with the latest industry developments, technology, and hospitality trends often complete continuing education courses. In addition to building credibility, committing to continuing education helps event planners stay ahead of their competitors by keeping up with the latest technology and trends in planning.
While becoming an event planner doesn’t require completing specific courses or obtaining a degree in event management, many companies and organizations look for planners with certifications or other evidence of aptitude.
How do you become an event planner?
If you have a passion for hospitality and events, you can turn it into a career. Follow these steps to start cultivating the event planning career of your dreams:
1. Develop your skills.
Identify any skills or areas of your experience that need improvement. Take classes, sign up for training courses, and consult other event planners in your area. Spend some time working with professional event planners to see how they operate. Build a robust library of event planning tools, software, and other resources. Network, ask for advice from the experts, and develop your professional skills before you launch an event planning business.
2. Create a resume with event-related experience.
How does your previous employment experience relate to event planning? Account management, restaurants, hotels, executive assisting, and so many other careers include duties that will translate into an event planning career. Identify the positions, skills, and talents you’ve developed, and determine which of your previous employment experiences will aid in your event planning journey. Design an event planning resume that focuses on the aspects of your previous positions that will apply most to event planning.
3. Build a portfolio.
Create an event planning portfolio that highlights your relevant experience. Stage a photoshoot to show off your event planning skills. Highlight your style, previous event designs, and a variety of event setups. Include “before and after” photos that display your ability to turn the most basic venues into impressive event spaces. Take your professional portfolio to client meetings, networking events, and event planning tradeshows.
Gather and share testimonials from satisfied clients to boost your credibility. Design a top-quality professional website that displays your work and client feedback. Focus on building a strong online presence utilizing social media platforms with a strong visual focus, like Instagram, to showcase your work and build an online presence.
4. Grow your reputation.
Word-of-mouth recommendations can have a significant impact on the level of success a new event planner achieves. Building a strong reputation online and in your community can lead to additional client recommendations, future event bookings, and other business opportunities.
Strengthen your professional reputation by connecting with local venues, wedding planners, businesses, and agencies. Bring local businesses information about your business, introduce yourself, and assess their event needs. Plan local and community events to introduce yourself to potential clients and show them what you can do.
5. Find your niche.
What parts of the event planning industry are you most enthusiastic about? Do you have specialized training in a specific industry or strong skills in one particular area? As your career grows, you may find that you have a passion for a specific sector of the event planning industry. Whether you prefer planning non-profit fundraisers, weddings, or large corporate retreats, there’s something for everyone in event planning.
Now you know what event planners do!
Experienced event planners know that executing a successful event is often a race against the clock. No matter how much preparation occurs, anything can happen in event planning, and unforeseen hiccups can quickly eat away at valuable time.
Up next, we review tips and strategies that can help busy event planners save time and boost efficiency. Follow along to pick up 27 timesaving event planning tips, tricks, and secrets that every event planner should know.