Nan-in, a Japanese master, met with a university professor who traveled many miles to learn about Zen. Nan-in served tea. He poured his visitor’s cup full, and then kept on pouring. The professor watched it overflow until he no longer could restrain himself. “It is overfull. No more will go in!” “Like this cup,” Nan-in said, “you are full of your own opinions and speculations. How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup?” *
Although it was not Zen I was searching for with my first job, I had plenty of preconceived notions about what the “real world” looked like - what it meant to be an employee, a colleague and an event professional. As a very recent graduate in convention and event management, having worked plenty of jobs both on-campus and off, I felt I had a pretty good grasp on the industry I was about to enter. Very quickly I realized that I needed to “empty my cup” to become the event professional my company and clients needed, and EPIC provided the resources and years of experience that took me from ‘recent grad’ to ‘event professional.’
The event industry is all about apprenticeship. And while you can learn a lot from great degree programs, some things can’t be taught in a classroom or from a textbook. A first year in the “cold, dark land” of salaries, insurance benefits, and 401Ks, I’ve not only learned a tremendous amount about what it truly means to be a successful event professional, but how an innovative agency can add value - real value - to both corporate and nonprofit clients.
Lesson One: The small things are the big things.
One of the hardest lessons in events starts with throwing away the often comforting phrase offered by parents and friends: Don’t sweat the small stuff. In this industry, it’s not only an event professional’s job to plan and execute elements both big and small - but often times, it can mean the success or failure of an event if the “small stuff” falls through the cracks. And while EPIC and event pros are definitely hired for their “big vision,” they become invaluable client-partners, year-after-year, for their enthusiastic attention to detail and how those details can create big impact.
Think a piano player is just for background music? Utilized fully, an accompanist becomes an integral part of an event, covering not only speaker transitions but setting mood and tone before a critical fundraising moment, or scoring and sustaining the energy of an event. In a short time with EPIC, I’ve seen it numerous times…sweating the small stuff or paying attention to every detail pays off in significant ways for our clients. Attendees may not know “why” some events are more impactful than others, but good event professionals sure do.
Lesson Two: There’s no “I” in “event.”
In an industry that requires an immense amount of collaboration and communication, the term “team” takes on a whole new meaning. You work with internal client teams, vendor teams, committees…AND you work with your team. We like to call ourselves Team EPIC because that’s truly what we are.
This team is a large part of our value to clients, as with EPIC you don’t just get one planner, you get a small army of event pros that have your back and want your brand to soar. Functioning in this team has taught me to take ego “off the table” to let the best ideas rise and successful events come to fruition. In this team, communication is not just important, but critical. Carbon copying is not an inbox filler, but a key to operating in the “if I get hit by a bus tomorrow” scenario, so that clients always have a fully functioning, up-to-speed and ready-to-serve team working for them.
Lesson Three: Problems are opportunities.
In the ever-evolving event world, last-minute, on-the-spot decisions are the name of the game - and our ability as a company to do it is often times why we are hired. Time is always at a premium and problem solving is the most-pressed key in our brains. An education equips you with the knowledge to analyze situations and apply tried-and-true solutions, but often in events, “tried and true” isn’t applicable…nor existent.
How do you make split-second decisions to protect an event’s integrity in the face of interruption, technology challenges, power outages, fire alarms, you name it? How do you reconcile warring vendors, anxious clients and serve stakeholders at the same time? How do you troubleshoot creatively and budget consciously? Event planning is about planning and preparing for all the possible things that could go wrong. You live and breathe the mantra of “what can go wrong, will go wrong” and have multiple plans lined up for when it does. I’ve seen colleagues do it multiple times throughout the past year: we make the immediate decision - tackle the task at hand with a sense of urgency - and do it with a smile on our faces.
No matter what I believed that bright and sunny day when I rearranged my tassel and prepared to dive into the thrilling, challenging world of meetings and events, I’ve come to see it’s about details, collaboration and problem solving. Oh - and it’s about working for the right people that can teach you the best practices because of their proven success! And while I definitely had to “empty my cup” at the beginning, it helps to know that I’ve chosen an industry where you can keep adding cups... and fill them with unforgettable lessons and experiences.
* Zen Story: A Cup of Tea - thestonemind. (2012, February 27). http://thestonemind.com/2012/02/27/zen-story-a-cup-of-tea/