Five Tricks to Breaking Into The Special Events Industry

All special events have one common thing: they can’t plan themselves. Each has a focused and committed team working to accomplish that perfect event for their client. Would you love to get paid to do that? You’re not alone. Here are some tips to get you in.

Industry networking
The opportunity to meet and interact with other events professionals is second to none.

Celebrity weddings and galas. Charity fundraisers and product launches. Movie premiers and album release parties. Corporate retreats, conferences and meetings. These events all have one thing in common — they can’t plan themselves. Each has a focused and committed team working together to accomplish the appearance of a perfectly planned event for a client with a goal.

If you’re reading this article, it’s likely that you’ve looked at the perfect photos of a celebrity wedding or charity ball in your favorite glossy, or heard an account of an amazing marketing event and thought, “Wow, I’d love to get paid to do that!” You’re not alone.  From the outside, the special events industry has all the appearances of a fun and glamorous career path.

While it can be fun, the above couldn’t be further from the truth. Now don’t get me wrong. It can be incredibly exciting and deeply fulfilling to see an event through from initial concept and design to the hoopla of the day of. But all the same, it is very hard work and the glamour is sometimes hidden in the cracks. It involves playing mediator for various personalities, incredible attention to details, and time management like you would not believe. An event specialist needs to learn key skills and must be willing to spend time getting their hands dirty. One of the hardest parts is just getting access to the industry as a newbie. Below is a short list of my tried and true methods to getting into this industry and getting people to take you seriously.

Get Experience – Jump in With Both Hands

If you’re still in college and considering event planning, design or production, think about getting your degree in these fields, or the related fields of hospitality and marketing. Many programs offer internships or externships. The International Special Events Society has a list of schools on their website that offer degree or certificate programs in event management and other related fields.

If you’re like me and spent your college years denying your inner event planner, your best bet is to pound the pavement (or the Internet) and seek out companies that you would like to work for. Contact them, explain your goals, and offer to intern for free. Alternately, you can ask if they need day of assistance. Either method allows you to get the hands-on experience that is crucial for success.

Get Real — Figure Out Where You Fit

The event planning industry is multifaceted. Career paths range greatly and there are many options. From venue coordinators to floral and event designers, wedding planners to event producers, the tasks are myriad, and there are tons of options. Once you’ve met a few people who are doing their part full time, you’ll begin to have an idea of where you might like to be. Now is the time to get real. Ask yourself these five questions:

  1. Am I organized and creative?
  2. Can I visualize others’ thoughts when they can’t?
  3. Do I like dealing with people and juggling personalities?
  4. Can I think on my feet and act with grace under pressure?
  5. Am I good with numbers and other precise details?

If you’re good with dealing with incredible pressure and personalities, high emotion events like weddings may be for you.

The answers to these questions can indicate where you should focus your efforts and professional development. Someone who is creative and very visual may do well as an event or floral designer. Those who are most at home with numbers, details and logistics might want to focus on the production and coordination aspect of events. If you’re good with dealing with incredible pressure and personalities, high emotion events like weddings may be for you. Don’t discount the fact that many major corporations have their own events department, and there are also companies that specialize in meeting planning for other industries. That is an option if you’re looking for an events career and want to stay in corporate America.

Get Connected – Join Professional Associations & Networking Groups

The events industry has quite a few professional associations and organizations that new industry members can get involved with. The opportunity to meet and interact with other events professionals is second to none. There is a virtual alphabet soup of associations that you can get involved in, but I’ve listed the most recognizable here. Most organizations do have annual membership dues. They vary by group, but they are a very worthy investment in your own success.

  • The International Special Events Society (ISES) has chapters around the world that meet monthly to network and discuss special topics in the industry. The association also hosts “The Special Event” annually, an event that is host to the elite of the events industry.
  • The Association for Bridal Consultants (ABC) is a leading networking and educational association for the bridal consultant segment of the industry. They offer continuing education in the form of seminars, a professional development course, and an annual conference titled “The Business of Brides.”
  • The National Association of Catering Executives (NACE), according to their website, “offers members, partners, and the public a variety of rich resources that support, promote and enhance the catering and special events industries.” Focused on the catering industry, they provide education, a job bank, and chapters around the country.
  • Check Facebook, Meetup, and LinkedIn for regional networking groups. Each will have their own guidelines, meeting schedules and mix of professionals, but it will be to your credit to get yourself out there and learn as much as you can.

Get Educated – Attend Continuing Education Events & Industry Conferences

Once you’ve gotten your feet wet, met fellow pros, and figured out where you feel you fit, it’s time to get a deeper understanding of the career you’ve chosen. For true and lasting success, it's a good idea to keep your mind fresh and current by attending at least two seminars and one conference per year. It’s also a good idea to spread your attendance across the organizations you're a member of so as to get a good cross section of the current timbre of the industry as a whole. Take what you’ve learned with you, digest it and make it part of your practice.

Get Committed — Give Back, Invest in Yourself & Your Industry

Once you’ve explored the facets of the events industry and learned as much as you can, you should have a good idea of whether or not you have the passion and drive to move forward. Now decided this is for you, get involved! Share with others via Facebook, Twitter and other social platforms. Volunteer to help organizations such as Wish Upon A Wedding. Consider getting certified either through ISES or Meeting Professionals International. Commit yourself to growth and the free exchange of ideas within the industry and you will go far. The paths within this industry are as varied as the roles that exist. Now that you’ve seen the tools, go ahead and get started.  You have nothing to lose — and once you start, it will be hard to stop!


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