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Category Archives: Life

Life Lesson: 5 Ways to be Your Own Advocate

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Throughout my life, I’ve learned a time or two – the hard way – that no one else is going to seize opportunities for you or voice your opinion. You must be your own advocate.

My most vivid memory of this life lesson was on the campaign trail in my former career. Our candidate was elected and the celebrations were coming to a close. Yet, one big question remained. What do I do next? Do I have a job? We were promised that, yes, we would all be placed somewhere within the new administration; however, days then weeks passed without any senior staff members sitting down with me to discuss my future.

It wasn’t until I started asking some of my peers that I found out that job conversations WERE taking place – for those who were bold enough to wait outside the office door and track down senior staff to MAKE them have this conversation. The people that controlled my fate were beyond busy and weren’t going to make time for me unless I demanded it. I had to become my own advocate if I wanted that job I was promised.

Things worked out. I was finally given the attention I demanded and got the job (I thought) I wanted. While I didn’t stay in this role long, it was a necessary turning point in my career and in my life. I was slapped in the face with the reality that if I didn’t muster up the courage to seize my own opportunities, they were surely going to pass me by.

I want to now share with you some of my hard-learned lessons on ways you can become your own advocate and seize life’s many opportunities – before someone else does.

  1. Build your personal brand

If you’re committed to becoming your own advocate, you must work to build your personal brand just as a publicist does for celebrities. This doesn’t mean securing guest appearances on the Today Show, but it does mean creating a valuable set of skills and qualities that can be marketed to potential clients or employers. Here is a great starter guide to help point you in the right direction. A strong personal brand is a valuable asset and wise investment of your time because it follows you wherever life may lead.

  1. Network internally and externally

For some reason we think of networking as only taking place at socials and mixers where everyone is wearing a stick-on name tag and shoving business cards down each other’s throats. This isn’t reality – and hardly even “networking” in its truest sense. Be aware of opportunities to network internally as well as externally.

No matter your current job, there is a valuable opportunity to build relationships with (and impress) your peers and higher-ups. This is an obvious opportunity if you want to move up within your own company, but it’s also valuable if you want to move on. You never know who other people know and the more people that can recommend your work, the more opportunities you will have at your finger tips.

  1. Actively seek opportunities

Life will rarely ever spoon feed you your next big break. You need to be out in the field – everyday – hunting down opportunities. The people I know who are their own best advocates are the people who get aggressive about knowing all the opportunities that are available to them at any time. They may not be in search of a new job, but they still keep their ear to the ground for anything interesting going on. By the time you realize you’re ready for a career change, you’re already behind the curve. Stay connected on social media, inquire within companies that interest you and keep an open conversation with your peers – who should also be on the hunt!

  1. Stay educated

I can’t stress enough the importance of becoming a lifelong learner. This makes you well-rounded, knowledgeable and interesting. It also keeps your eyes and ears wide open to an array of opportunities that people who are less informed would overlook. Staying well educated is like staying in shape. If you should be presented with the opportunity to run a 5k – or interview for a job – you are fit to jump right in with far less preparation and training than those who do not “stay in shape.”

  1. The right time is always now

Finally, develop a sense of urgency in your life. As your own advocate you cannot become complacent. This is one instance in life where patience will not serve you well. You cannot afford to wait around for the next opportunity to present itself; otherwise you will risk falling into the trap of waiting around forever. Opportunities are always around us. While not every opportunity is a large stepping stone to our dream career, those tiny pebbles do stack up. Get excited, get motivated and become urgent about your need to advocate for your best interests.

What are some ways in which you could benefit from being your own advocate? Share your experiences by commenting below!

 
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Posted by on September 8, 2014 in Business & Success, Life

 

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7 Ways to Effectively Manage Busy People

busy people

Whether it’s a client, a boss, a friend or a spouse, we all have those one or two extremely busy people in our lives. I’m not talking about the “busy bodies,” but the truly busy, nose-to-the-grind-stone people who are booked almost all day every day with important tasks.

While their exhausting schedules challenge them, they also challenge us with how we can break through the noise to communicate with them. The good news is that it’s not completely impossible to get timely responses from these people. It simply takes managing them in a different way. Here are seven ways to help you effectively manage busy people and their busy schedules.

  1. Use clear and concise messaging

Getting answers from a busy person can be like pulling teeth. Even if they get the time to read your email or listen to your voicemail, they’re usually called away to the next task before they can provide you with the information you need.

Reduce the friction of this process by using clear and concise messaging. Your emails should be brief, to the point and should highlight exactly what you’re asking of them. Dates, times and location should also be bolded or underlined so they pop out. By cutting to the chase, you save them the time of reading through paragraphs to get to the point and increase the chance they’ll have enough time left over to shoot you a quick reply.

  1. Consolidate the number of messages you send

There may be times where you need 3 or 4 things from a busy person in a single day. This most commonly happens when it’s one of my clients. Rather than shooting off an email every time I have a question, I keep a running list for that day (or that week) and several hours before close of business, I consolidate these requests into a single, clear and concise message.

Think of it this way, the more messages you throw into an already inundated inbox makes it even less likely that you’ll hear back from them that day, week…or ever. Be a part of the solution, not part of the problem.

  1. Schedule meetings far in advance – and confirm them

Finding a tiny time slot on a busy person’s calendar can create a game of email or phone tag that just never ends. For my busiest clients, we scheduled our reoccurring meetings for the quarter or even half of the year all at once. This got the meetings on both of our calendars nice and early and allowed us to plan around those dates. Expecting to find an open time in a busy person’s calendar just one week in advance is like walking in to the most exclusive salon in town and asking for an appointment that day. Maybe you’ll get lucky, but it’s far more likely you’ll get asked to come in 10 weeks.

Additionally, once you have these meetings set far in advance, be sure and follow-up several days before the meeting is set to take place. It’s likely the busy person has long since forgotten about this obligation. If they don’t have a secretary (or reliable calendar reminders) there is a good chance that you’ll get stood up.

  1. Provide briefings prior to events

For some of my busy clients, I schedule them to attend events such as fundraisers, public appearances, speaking engagements or media events as part of our communications and branding strategy. In these scenarios, it is also my responsibility to adequately prepare them for such events with details like directions, what to wear, other dignitaries in attendance, how long they’ll be speaking and what topics they should cover.

I place all of these details in a single-page template that serves as an event briefing and send them several days in advance to prepare my clients in mere minutes for the event. They love the efficiency of this process and the depth of the details I provide. As a busy person, your life is a whirlwind. If you can help them to feel more prepared and organized, you will quickly make a good impression.

  1. Anticipate their needs and questions and address them before they have to ask

When communicating with a busy person, you should strive to answer all of their questions before they have to ask. This eliminates back and forth communication that can drag on for days – even weeks.

For example, when setting up a meeting, don’t simply email them with “Can we schedule a time to meet?” This question produces so many more questions. Instead, be as descriptive (yet concise) as possible. Include why you want to meet and approximately how much time you’re asking of them. Also propose several dates, times and locations from which they may choose. This allows them to confirm all of these details for you within a single response, rather than through an unreasonably long email chain.

  1. Make meetings as convenient for them as possible

Simply put, come to them. In most cases, I think it’s fair to schedule a meeting somewhere mutually convenient for you and the person you’re meeting. But for a busy person (especially one who is paying me or may potentially pay me), I make it as convenient as possible for them. Why? Because every minute they spend commuting to a further location is less time they can dedicate to our meeting. I’d rather drive a little further and make the meeting last a little longer. It also shows you respect their time and it also provides them with a good first impression of how easy you will be to work with.

  1. Minimize their to-do list (take on as much as you can for them)

Finally, lessen their load as much as you can! For my busy clients, we will cover a laundry list of to-do’s during each meeting. While they’re perfectly capable of taking on many of these tasks, it’s not their time best spent. I take on as many of these tasks as I can; leaving them only with the smallest items that absolutely cannot be done without them (like asking a donor for a large amount of money). But even for these tasks, I still work to prepare and remind them so that it’s as easy as possible. I never mind taking on these tasks, because when they’re in my hands I know they’ll get done when I want them done. And with busy people…well, that’s just not usually the case.

How have you made dealing with very busy people easier? Share your experiences and insights by commenting below!

 
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Posted by on September 1, 2014 in Business & Success, Life

 

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5 Ways to Build and Maintain a Useful Database of Contacts

stack of business cards

A business’s direct marketing and public relations efforts are only as strong as its database of contacts. Think of your own process for building and maintaining your database. Do you pay much attention to correcting outdated information or to entering new contacts in a timely fashion? If not, there are many opportunities to improve this right now!

Whether you use a robust Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system or are just getting started with a single Excel spreadsheet, here are 5 ways to build and maintain a useful database of contacts – and improve the effectiveness of your communications tactics as a result:

  1. Schedule a reoccurring time for database cleanup

Whether it’s you, an employee or an intern, someone should be designated to the task of database upkeep. The time to go in and clean up the incorrect and outdated information is not the day before you need to send out a mass mailing. People who manage their database in this manner are the people who find it to be an impossible and overwhelming task. Do a little bit of upkeep once per week or month by setting a reoccurring date on your calendar and sticking to it just as you would any other work task.

  1. Enter new information as soon as you receive it

Don’t wait for a stack of business cards to pile up on your desk before you sit down and enter this information into your database. Again, this fuels the feeling that this is an impossible and overwhelming task. Worse yet, you might accidentally toss these cards before you capture the information. Don’t risk the confusion and the loss of valuable data. Take 3 seconds to enter the information as soon as you’re at your computer rather than letting it build into an insurmountable task.

  1. Collect contact information everywhere you go

So what about building your contact list? One of the most basic and essential ways to do this is to find an opportunity to collect contact information at every event, especially events that you host. So many businesses overlook this opportunity!

Some effective ways I have seen this done is by collecting business cards at the registration desk and doing a drawing for little prizes as an added incentive to provide your contact information. If you’re selling a product, capture your customer’s contact information at check out. If this is online, the process can be made automatic. If it’s in-person, enter their information into your database as part of the process of ringing up the order. High-tech or low-tech, there’s no excuse to not ask every attendee or customer for their information.

  1. Be mindful of marriages, deaths and divorces

Even the most carefully crafted message will lose all effectiveness if you’re sending to an outdated list. As things change in your contacts’ lives, such as marriages, deaths and divorces, you should take care to update your database accordingly. For a large list, keeping up with all of these changes is a challenge. Start with the obvious. If it’s a local list, scan the newspaper regularly for notices of these life events. For a large list spanning far outside the local area, plan a yearly communication to your contacts that gives them an opportunity to correct any outdated information with a simple reply or completion of a form. This courtesy – and care for your contacts’ information – doesn’t go unnoticed!

  1. Include as much information as you have for a person

You need to accept the fact that it is impossible to have complete consistency among all contacts in your database. For some people, you may know everything from their birthday to their dog’s name. For others, you may only have a salutation and a last name. It’s important that you do not place too much value on consistency to the point that you build your database around the least common denominator. What I mean is, any tidbit of information you have for someone, create a column to enter it into your database. Even if they are the only person that fills that column, all information is valuable and you will surely regret discarding it at some point in the future when it could have been of value. For all the more effort it takes, include as much information as you can for every single person.

BONUS TIP: Know when to grow

As you continue to build a useful database of contacts, there will come periods of growing pains where you will need to upgrade your current process to something better suited to your needs. Back when you had less than 300 contacts, sure an Excel spreadsheet may have gotten the job done. At that point, you simply didn’t need a full CRM system like SalesForce or Zoho.

As soon as you are pained by the limitations within your current process, it’s time to immediately start the process of exploring other options available to you. The way you collect contact information should never prevent you from accurately tracking information and fully utilizing it. Don’t wait for the day it all comes crashing down; identify early and often when it’s time to grow!

How have you struggled or succeeded with maintaining your own database of contacts. Share your experience by commenting below!

 

 
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Posted by on August 25, 2014 in Life

 

My Personal Experience with Personal Fundraising: Tips to Help You Reach Your Goals

I am very grateful for my generous supporters who helped me exceed my personal fundraising goal--But I definitely had to work for it!

I am very grateful for my generous supporters who helped me exceed my personal fundraising goal–But I definitely had to work for it!

On Saturday, August 9th I took on a difficult challenge that pulled me outside my comfort zone. The physical endurance was only one aspect that made this experience unlike anything I’ve ever done. The personal fundraising for a charitable cause was completely new to me as well.

As I wrote in my blog explaining the GORUCK challenge, personally asking for donations isn’t something I’m comfortable with. I’m not used to not being in complete control of reaching my goals. Usually, it’s solely my hard work and efforts that earn me the prize.

From this whole experience, I walked away with quite a few new skills I never knew I had in me. One of which is my ability to set a fundraising goal – and exceed it. With the help of family and friends, I raised more than $1,200 for rare disease research. This was $950 more than I thought I was capable of receiving. What did I do to reach my goal? Here are some of the techniques I found to be most effective for personal fundraising:

Carefully choose your fundraising goal

In order to reach a goal, you have to first set one. I underestimated how important this number truly was for my own fundraising. If your goal is too small, donors may choose to give you a smaller amount than they would have it was twice that amount. Additionally, once you reach that goal, you have less power behind your plea for donations – even if you wish to continue to raise funds beyond it.

On the flip side, too lofty of a goal can turn donors off and make them feel like their small donation is merely a drop in the bucket. So where’s the middle ground? First think of the “safe” number that comes to mind, the one that you know you could reach with only about 60% effort. I would suggest setting your goal at twice this amount. This makes donors – at any level – feel like they can contribute to your success. It also holds you own feet to the fire to not get complacent or lazy with your fundraising.

Be strategic with who you ask

Simply put, people must be asked. If you don’t provide your family and friends with the opportunity to easily make a donation, you’re missing out on a huge opportunity. And as I preach with any other type of communication, you must be strategic. If you start asking every single person in your social network (even ones who you have no real relationship with) you’re bound to come off looking spammy and desperate. Let’s be honest, only a small fraction of these people will actually donate.

Save your time and effort by narrowing down a core list of people who have your back and have supported you throughout other moments in life. These are the people that deserve a quality solicitation and will most certainly have the greatest return on your investment.

Make it direct and personal – don’t rely on social media!

Once you’ve narrowed down who you want to ask, you need to make it personal and genuine. Simply sharing a link to your fundraising page on Facebook may garner a few “likes” and words of support, but it does nothing to compel people to make a donation. Your network is able to easily hide between the virtual curtain and don’t feel any personal pressure to support you.

Combat this by writing an email, a letter or picking up the phone. Craft your message directly to that person and the relationship you have with them. While your core “ask” may be the same, add in a paragraph or two that shows this is not a mass message.

Be strategic with the timing of your asks

If you ask too far in advance, you are likely to get the response of “Sure, I’ll support you.” But then these people don’t feel the need to make the donation immediately and the task gets lost among their more pressing to-dos.

You should make your first ask about one month in advance of your fundraising deadline. You can even use this as the reason why you’re contacting them at this time. This also allows enough time to go back and follow-up with these same people in a few weeks, if you don’t hear back.

Ask for specific amounts

Asking someone for a certain level of donation can be tricky, but it is also effective for closing the deal. This amount will vary for every person on your contact list. Consider their personal financial situation, how well they know you and whether they have supported you at a certain level in the past. Together, these pieces of information will direct you toward the appropriate amount to ask for.

Why this is so effective is because it can compel people who have the means to actually give at that level. Otherwise, they may make a smaller donation than you were expecting. Additionally, for contacts who have limited means, you can encourage them to donate by asking for just $5. The direct ask lets them know that this amount is what you expect and what you’d appreciate; it’s not too small to make a difference.

Give away something of value in return

Even though this is a charitable donation and the “warm fuzzies” should be a good enough reward, people still like to feel as though they’re getting something for their contributions. This does not have to be monetary or material. I wrote a blog on why I was fundraising and this allowed me to initiate the conversation again with my networks. Moreover, it gave deeper insight into why this cause is so important to me.

People want to know that this is something you truly believe in, that it’s something you are committed to and something that’s unique from anything else you may have asked them to support in the past. Share this by writing a story, hand making an item to raffle off or giving a small token of appreciation to every donor.

Stay organized

Remember that list of contacts I told you to put together? Do yourself a favor and put that in a spreadsheet. You can then track who you contacted, for what amount, on what date and note any correspondence you’ve had with them. This will show you the appropriate time to initiate a follow-up or another means of communication. This will also be a big help when it comes time to thank your donors.

Follow-up, follow-up!     

Use that organized spreadsheet as a tool to carefully time when and how you will follow-up with each person you contacted. Sending an email with no response and failing to follow-up is your own missed opportunity – not your donors’. Much like hiding behind the virtual curtain of social media, people can easily brush off a single email or voice mail solicitation. Sending one or more personalized follow-up messages makes it harder to ignore. A no is as good as a yes, and that’s all you’re asking for. If someone can’t donate, that’s fine. Ask until you receive a response either way (then track it on your spreadsheet).

Thank donors immediately AND post-event

Finally, show gratitude! Once you’re alerted that someone made a donation, immediately thank them with a quick message. Then, hand write (yes with a pen and paper) your formal, post-event thank you notes. I’m a big fan of including a picture from the event along with a personal message to each donor. This is such a critical step for completing the fundraising process. You may have already gotten what you wanted out of your donors, but remember that for any future fundraising efforts, they will likely be the same network you come back to and will remember this experience!

P.S…my fundraising page is still live and open for donations! It would be a missed opportunity not to ask, right?

Have you had the experience of personally fundraising for a charity or cause? Share what you found to work – and not work by commenting below!

 
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Posted by on August 18, 2014 in Life

 

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Why We Need Rainy Days

cat looking at rainy window

It has been a gorgeous summer in Pennsylvania. After a long and cold winter, we have earned these warm and sunny days – and there have been many! A couple of weeks ago I had some (rare) free time during a Sunday afternoon. My first instinct was to find something to do outside that would allow me to enjoy the day; however, the skies were ominous with a pending thundershower. As I stood by the window, I took a deep breath and felt a wave of relief wash over me. What an odd reaction to have to a dismal day? No, I didn’t feel sad, depressed, frustrated or annoyed. I felt relieved.

Reflecting on this feeling and the circumstances of the day made me realize something quite important. We all need rainy days in our life. Obviously the rain nourishes and revitalizes the earth, but it does the same for us.

My relief came from not feeling like I had to find something to do make the most of the nice weather. I had an excuse to be inside – and to just slow down for a little bit. On this particular afternoon, I watched a movie from start to finish (a nearly impossible feat for a mother of a toddler). That’s it. That’s all I accomplished and had nothing to show for it. Or did I? I felt focused, rested and happy. It’s the first time in a long time that I turned off all other distractions and was fully present in the moment. I can’t remember the last time I did this, can you?

On a sunny day, I feel like I need to be outside walking, running or at the park with Holden. I feel guilty making him play inside when I know all too soon winter weather will come rolling in and we’ll be locked up for months. Even when we’re inside during naptime, the blue skies inspire me to tackle work projects and chores at a dizzying pace. In the afternoon we’re on the go again, running errands or back to the park. And after dinner? You guessed it; we get outside as a family! I’m proud of my active lifestyle that has allowed me to accomplish all that I have, but even hybrid moms need to idle every so often.

On a rainy day, we move slower. There’s no rush to get to the park; it’s not even an option. Naps seem to last a little longer and watching more television than usual is completely acceptable. If errands can wait, they do. Getting toddler in and out of a car seat is even more of a miserable chore when rain is pounding on your back. Maybe best of all, without the sun shining through the windows, I don’t notice the little finger prints that should be cleaned off as well as every other surface you can imagine. It all waits and we rest.

I don’t take for granted that the “sunny” days, when I feel energized and productive, will always be around – so I make the most of them! But I no longer dread the “rainy” days that serve an equally important purpose. These days revitalize my soul and force me to slow down long enough to appreciate the need for balance. The weather is a funny thing; somehow it knows exactly what we need even when we do not.

What purpose do rainy days serve for you? Share how you have found balance in your daily life!

 
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Posted by on August 11, 2014 in Life

 

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At the Intersection of Passion and Purpose

10494784_10202231742782727_9108465356469470019_nOver the last two years, I’ve taken my casual relationship with running and turned it into something more dedicated and committed. I feel stronger than I ever have in my life as I embrace this newfound passion for pushing my limits and accomplishing what I had always deemed “too hard” or “too uncomfortable.”

My passion for running and fitness couldn’t have peaked at a less expected time in my life. For 9 months of the past two years, I spent pregnant with my first son. And for another 13 months, I spent recovering postpartum and juggling the schedule of a breastfeeding, cloth diapering, baby food making, Hybrid Mom. Though I had what could have been a laundry list of excuses to skip workouts, I found myself looking forward to this sacred time in my day where I could refocus and reprioritize even during life’s most challenging moments.

Fitness had always been a part of my life, but what has made this new chapter so different is that instead of working out because I hated my body, I was doing it because I loved my body. A run wasn’t something I drudged through just to check off my to-do list for the day. It was personal time that I savored for as long as I could, throwing on extra miles and pushing myself to run faster to make the most of my time pounding the pavement. I was starting to see amazing results, running consistently under 7:30 min/miles for runs of 8+ miles and feeling like I had barely tapped into my potential.

Then, just as it does every year, fall turned into winter and the bitter, icy conditions forced my outdoor running into hibernation. At first I missed it like a best friend that moved away. Then I went stir crazy. I was stuck in the house with my infant son all day with no desirable way for us both to burn off some energy. My husband was in tune to my frustration and how much my lack of physical fitness affected my mood. At first, he hinted and then strongly suggested I try at least ONE class at CrossFit Pneuma, a CrossFit gym located merely steps from where we live. It took several months (and several miserably cold road runs) to convince me that I needed another outlet to fuel my passion during the “off months.”

My first class took half the time of what I would spend running, yet I was out of breath, sore and unable to do even one more burpee (wasn’t that evil to start me off with those?). So THIS was High Intensity Interval Training?! For the past 8 months, my passion for both CrossFit and running have progressed as steadily as my performance. I’ve completed both crazy and impressive workouts and am no longer intimated by a barbell (I have the calluses on my hands to prove it). Even with the much anticipated return of warmer weather, I couldn’t imagine leaving the CrossFit community now. Running fuels my independent athleticism while CrossFit provides the element of teamwork that pushes me further than I ever would on my own.

This is only the back story of my personal passion that now leads me to a big decision I have made in the past several weeks. Staying in shape has made me a happier mother and wife and a harder working entrepreneur, but I still felt as though it was lacking an element of purpose considering all the time and effort I put into this passion on a daily basis. Do I have anything to show for it greater than myself? I struggled with this question.

Then an answer presented itself – and I now stand at the intersection of passion and purpose.

Photo from last year's GORUCK Challenge

Photo from last year’s GORUCK Challenge

On Saturday, August 9, right about the time the sunrises, I will join a small team of fellow inspired athletes as we partake in a GORUCK challenge. We will endure 5+ hours of PT under the direction of an experienced Special Operations Cadre as we complete “missions” across Pennsylvania’s capital city. We will walk 7-10 miles while carrying things like boulders, cement parking curbs and telephone poles. We will get wet, muddy, sandy and maybe even a little bloody. And we will do it all while wearing a backpack full of bricks. This is not a race – it’s about teamwork. It’s not about facing the limitations of what you can’t do – it’s about pushing through them to discover what you can.

Photo from last year's GORUCK Challenge

Photo from last year’s GORUCK Challenge

This event is a vehicle for me to take my passion for fitness and pair it with a purpose much greater than myself. Starting now and through the challenge, I will be fundraising for Uplifting Athletes, a national nonprofit that raises money for rare disease research. Read more about my very personal connection to this cause on my fundraising page.

Asking for donations (even for charitable giving) isn’t something I’m comfortable with. I’m not used to not being in complete control of reaching my goals. Usually, it’s solely my hard work and efforts that earn me the prize, but for this challenge, I’m relying on you, my family, friends and acquaintances to get me to the $1,000 mark. This is all the more reason why it’s so important for me to take on this challenge. It will push me outside my comfort zone physically, mentally and emotionally. And most importantly, it will prove that my passion can have a greater purpose.

Photo from last year's GORUCK Challenge

Photo from last year’s GORUCK Challenge

Please take a moment to visit my fundraising page. Any donation would be a generous show of support for this challenging adventure and for the rare disease community. If you’re unable to donate, consider simply reading more about the mission of Uplifting Athletes so that you might be inspired to find a way to uplift someone around you who is fighting their own battle.

Together…WE ARE…Stronger!

-Stephanie

 
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Posted by on July 28, 2014 in Life

 

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10 Things to Remember When Planning a Professional Event

corporate event planning

Throughout my career, I’ve played the role of “event planner” more times than I can count. Fundraisers, golf outings, press events, clay shoots, meet and greets, prayer breakfasts, networking mixers, seminars and conferences are just some of the various types of events I’ve helped to plan. For each one there’s been a different venue, audience, menu, setup and marketing strategy. It’s been a whirlwind!

This experience has helped me to create quite the “tool box” of tips and tricks for successful event planning that can only be gained from my own trial and error. Oh and there have been many errors! Now I have professional events down to a work of art. I can anticipate the unexpected and I come prepared to address every odd request you can imagine. To help you do the same, here are 10 things to always, always remember when planning a professional event.

1. Be overly specific, assume nothing

I have many real life examples of event planning follies where I assumed something simple – like there would be a chair at the registration table – only to be left scrambling at the last minute over silly details. I’ve since learned to assume nothing and specify everything. When I’m in the event planning role, I can’t afford to be torn away from more important tasks to handle these types of mishaps. I work closely with the venue to specify the essential details (without being condescending, of course). Even if I risk looking a little too Type A, it’s a small price to pay for a well-executed event and a happy client.

2. Don’t be literal with the headcount

While I advise to be very specific with the event details, I don’t advise to be specific with the headcount. Inevitably people who have RSVPed will not show up and others who did not RSVP will. It’s the ebb and flow of event planning and somehow it all works out. What I’ve learned is that so much money is wasted on overestimating headcount. Instead, I underestimate the guaranteed count by at least 5 (if not 10) people. At the event, the venue can always pull out a little more food (for which they will also charge you). And at least you know you are paying for exactly what’s being consumed, which can be a cost savings of a couple hundred dollars!

3. Anticipate people arriving early (and staying late)

When I’m running logistics for an event, I always arrive at least an hour in advance to set-up, troubleshoot and acclimate myself with the venue and staff. I also do this because I know that a handful of early birds will arrive a half hour early as well. I hate to be caught still setting up (though it would totally be understandable), so instead I beat them at their own game! I also anticipate another group staying past the end of the event to eat and chat until the staff starts vacuuming over their feet. This means I, too, also stay late to ensure a professionally executed event from start to finish.

4. Bring a “tool kit”

You will always have a need for scissors, tape, extra name tags and pens. I can’t emphasize enough how often this has saved me the time of having to ask the venue to search and bring these items to me and how it also helps me to look extra professional and prepared. Slip these items in your laptop bag, and even if you don’t need them, you’ll have the peace of mind that you’re one step ahead.

5. Be accessible

When planning an event, you will need to be accessible and on your feet to address any issues as they arise. Maybe it’s someone at registration who said they paid, but their name isn’t on the list. Or maybe a side dish needs refreshed at the buffet that a server hasn’t yet noticed. I’m all eyes, all ears – and always on my feet at events.

6. Call upon helping hands

In order to pull off tip #5 of always being accessible, you need a competent team of helpers to assist you with being in multiple places at once. When I’m putting out the big fires, I rely on others to manage the registration table and greet guests. What this also means is that I have to prepare easy to manage lists and clearly explain the process to my helpers to ensure they know what to do even when I’m not around.

7. Keep people comfortable

People with full plates and full glasses are happy people. For the most part, people won’t remember the venue or the color of the table linens, but they will remember if they were well fed. Don’t skimp on food or drink and make sure that it is out before guests arrive and is left out even after the event ends, in case people choose to mingle after hours. Also, be sure your menu matches your ticket price. If people are paying a couple hundred dollars to attend a fundraiser, don’t give them chips, pretzels and a cash bar. Show them a good time! I promise you, this is always money well spent.

8. Strategically time your (brief) remarks

Hosting an event and not taking a moment to address the crowd is a really wasted opportunity. You may not be the most confident public speaker, but you can at least put together a few sentences especially if it means promoting the purpose of the event. Timing is everything to ensure people are paying attention. Plan to take the mic (and do use a mic) about halfway through the event. This will catch both latecomers and early-departers. Your remarks also give the event closure. If people need to take off early, they can feel like they have at least stayed for the most important part of the event.

9. Take advantage of the opportunity to market your services or future events

Use your remarks and printed promotional materials to market your services or future events. Give people something (verbally and physically) to take away from the event. You’re footing the bill after all, the least you can do is gain some promotional value from it! If this is an annual event, have a date set for next year’s event and promote it. If the event is not annual, give people some other call to action like a special discount on services if they purchase that day. If nothing else, at least invite them to visit your website and connect with you on social media.

10. Remember, it’s not about you!

It’s your event, but it’s not really about you. It’s about your guests. They are the ones either paying to be there or offering themselves as your captive audience for a few hours. Respect their time and make each guest feel special by greeting them, even if only briefly. Also keep your guests in mind when selecting a venue and food choices. Some restaurant off the beaten path may by a stone’s throw from your home, but it’s a trek for your guests. And just because you like a menu of red meat and potatoes, be thoughtful about your guests who may prefer some variety.

To boil down this entire list of corporate event planning advice, I simply urge you to be hospitable and genuine. Put the extra thought into the details to make this a pleasant experience for your guests so that they remember you for hosting a fun event, not wasting their time. Both extremes leave a lasting impression and you have the power to choose the outcome!

What other things would you add to this list? Share your event experiences (good and bad) by commenting below!

 
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Posted by on July 14, 2014 in Life

 

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