Approximately 80 percent of corporate meetings are organized by part-time planners, says Kristi Casey Sanders, director of professional development for Meeting Professionals International (MPI). "It allows them to express themselves more creatively than their typical day-to-day tasks, and they appreciate the opportunity to exercise their strategic thinking and financial management skills," she notes.
But Sanders admits that it is a hard juggling act to pull off. Successful Meetings found seven part-time meeting professionals who have mastered the art, and asked them to share their wisdom with the rest of us. Here is what they had to say.
BEFORE YOU GET STARTED
1. View Planning as a Career Opportunity
Always be open to opportunities to either assist with, or coordinate events. Planning an event is a high-profile chance to display project management skills to upper management. "It requires utilizing just about every administrative skill I can think of," says Lisa Olsen, executive coordinator/office manager, Dignity Health. "For assistants who do event planning part-time, it's a great addition to their résumés, so don't shy away from offering to help when your schedule allows."
2. Don't Overload Yourself
Be strategic in accepting the task of planning an event. Organizing a meeting is a huge commitment that requires part-timers to be very respectful of the other responsibilities they have. Don't commit to any event until you know its scope and timeline. The important thing is to know how much time and attention you can commit. "Event planning is a big ball to keep in the air, and part-time planners have to be careful that other balls don't drop because too much time and energy is being diverted to events," says Olsen.
When Olsen is approached about planning an event, she evaluates the scope of the gathering, its size, and how it connects to her area of work, and then she estimates how much time would be involved. "Often, I will take only a piece of the event that I know I can handle. If someone else is coordinating the event, I always communicate the extent of the help I can provide. If I am coordinating the event, I establish an outline with all the tasks required and the timeline, then gather a good team to start analyzing and breaking out the responsibilities. Delegation is critical. Just because you are coordinating an event doesn't mean you do everything! It's important to be organized and stick to the timeline."
3. Don't Unplug From Your Day Job
Event planning can be very appealing, but if your priority is executive support, then it's important to gauge how much time you can devote to [the event]. "Always communicate with your executive," says Olsen. "I have found in the past that when assistants don't do this regarding the time they are spending on events, the executives can often get frustrated, and that can cause tension."
It's necessary to understand the needs of your main job and ensure they are met, as well as the needs of the meeting. "Organize your steps and make a to-do list to make sure that you are on track," says Romanita L. Ross, office manager at the Chicago office of The Hackett Group. "I allocate time to accomplish my regular duties as well as my planning duties. It takes a lot of time management to juggle the two. I have to make sure that I organize all of the duties that I have to do for a particular day. For instance, I may give 40 percent to the planning portion of my job and 60 percent to my regular duties, or vice-versa."
4. Don't Go It Alone
"I encourage anyone who is not a full-time planner to collaborate with at least one other skilled professional when planning and executing critical meetings and events," says Stacy Leitner, senior executive assistant, City of Rancho Cordova, CA. "We all have blind spots, and collaborating with others can really help to ensure success. My greatest asset as an executive assistant is the network of people in my database. I have spent a career building, investing in, and nurturing relationships to make certain I can be successful when I am asked to make the impossible possible."
Steve Allison, professor
of psychology at Abilene
Steve Allison, Ph.D., professor of psychology at Abilene Christian University, and conference manager of the international conference for the Christian Association for Psychological Studies (CAPS), urges part-time planners to reach out to convention and visitors bureaus (CVBs) and tourist boards, even if their event is small. "I have learned a lot from my work in the conference planning and managing world; in some ways, it has been like learning a new language," he says. "The main piece of advice I give to part-time meeting planners is to partner with CVBs; doing so has saved me hours of work."
5. Get Educated
The American Academy
and Myopia Control
Sarah Witt, administrative assistant for The American Academy of Orthokeratology and Myopia Control (AAOMC), agrees and suggests that part-time planners not be afraid to reach out to members of the meetings industry. "It's important to go to the associations and ask questions; you can't know everything," she says.
Ross takes it a step further and encourages part-timers to take advantage of the educational opportunities offered by the meeting associations. "There are great educational resources that you can turn to at the meeting-planning associations," she says. "Also consider attending familiarization trips in the destinations you are considering for your events."