A Guide for Part-Time Planners

Here are 15 tips on how to execute great meetings and keep your day job

Guide for PartTime Planners opener

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."
 

GETTING STARTED

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, 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

Sarah Witt,
The American Academy
of Orthokeratology
and Myopia Control
Sarah Witt, The American Academy of Orthokeratology 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."


DOING THE JOB

11. Be Flexible

Be prepared for the unexpected. Changes happen, people are unpredictable, last-minute requests will happen. Someone will show up that you didn't plan on showing up. People that you thought would show up become sick or have travel issues and aren't able to come. "Planning for the unexpected is what takes you as a meeting planner to the next level," says Peggy Vasquez, chief executive assistant, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. "Always have a plan B, C, and D in place."


12. Be an Early Bird


Leitner of Rancho Cordova also recommends creating a detailed planning sheet that includes a timeline. "Give yourself plenty of time," she says. "And do not procrastinate!"

When Witt first began planning meetings, she used to wait much longer to start working on things such as group meal menus, and she often found herself in situations where she didn't have the time to deal with unexpected bumps in the road. "Once you are a few months out from the meeting, there isn't time for much else than moving forward and dealing with what you can in advance," she says. "I really try not to get behind on daily tasks because it's a snowball effect. Once you get a little behind on something, it can set you back weeks later down the line. Now I do things as soon as possible. I know my deadlines, and I try to meet them well ahead of time."


13. Reverse Roles
You've heard how "location, location, location" are the prime components in real estate. What matters most for effective meeting planners are details, details, details. "You need to picture yourself as an attendee of the meeting/event/conference and ask if everything is easy, obvious, appealing, enjoyable, and whether it surpasses their expectations," says Vasquez.


14. Check, Please
"Triple-check everything!  Confirm everything in advance, and always have a backup plan," says Leitner.
 

AFTER THE MEETING

15. Take Time to Recharge

Take time to stop and give yourself a break. You don't want to be worn out and sick by the time your conference is over, thanks to all the long hours and high-stress working conditions. "In my experience, burnout is a real problem when you have a huge event and other tasks to keep up with," says Witt. "For a good part of the year I work overtime trying to get it all done, and by the time the meeting is over, I am wiped."

"Finding the rhythm with all our responsibilities is a challenge for all of us," says Allison of CAPS. "I have to push away from the convention work during downtimes, so it doesn't preoccupy my time and energy. There is an annual rhythm to this work, so it's not a balancing act per se."
 
 
 
Questions or comments? Email [email protected]
 


This article appears in the August 2017 issue of Successful Meetings.

6. Keep Everyone in the Loop
It's important to keep the lines of communication open so all of the meeting stakeholders have the latest information on the status of the planning process. "Our organization uses a service called Trello, and our executive director and I share our lists so we can all see what we are working on and mark it off when tasks are done," says Witt.

Olsen keeps all her meeting notes and schedules in a Microsoft tool called OneNote that all team members working on the event can easily access. "Venue contracts, catering, presentations, etc., all live in that space so it's easily accessible," she says.

Try to streamline communication. "Email can be hit or miss, so we started using Slack for staff and board member communications," says Witt. "It's an easy messaging app for your phone and desktop that allows for different communication categories to keep topics organized."


7. Live by Lists
Keep lists and check them off daily. "I have several running lists of things to do, along with deadlines, and I make sure to look at them daily," says Witt.


Julie Perrine, founder and CEO of All Things Admin, a company dedicated to developing and providing training, mentoring, and resources for administrative professionals, suggests that part-time planners integrate their planning lists into their work routines just like any other new project or assignment. "Create a list of your key vendors and suppliers so that you can quickly solicit their help, get quotes, and delegate some of the details to them where possible," she says. "Rely on your documented systems and procedures to keep things running smoothly."


8. Follow a Routine
Part-time planners should create a system for executing events and use it every time they're called upon to plan one, advises Perrine. "Create effective forms, templates, and checklists to guide yourself through the countless details so you don't forget anything, and then do them consistently from event to event," she says, adding that she manages all of her events with a three-ring binder with tabbed dividers that keeps everything organized and portable. "My digital files mirror my three-ring binder with sub-folders mirroring my tabbed dividers so I can find whatever I need when I need it (and so can others) throughout the planning process."

Perrine also suggests planners update the system with things they have learned every time they do an event. "Having a good system in place makes it easy to quickly get into the details of event planning on top of all of the other responsibilities of your job," she says.


9. Stay Old School
Since part-time planners are juggling two separate jobs, it's crucial to stay as organized as possible. Using the latest technology to accomplish that is advisable, but not at the expense of tried-and-true methods. Like Perrine, Witt still keeps a binder containing all her meeting information, including items such as menus and hotel contracts. "I have it organized so that if I need to reference anything, I know where it is and can quickly access it," she says. "In Gmail, you can also put emails in folders, so I keep track of all the correspondence with our hotel event planner in one place for easy access if I need to look something up."


10. Build a Supplier Network
This year Witt is considering services to help streamline sponsorship sales and issues involving the exhibit hall and registration. "I'm learning that you don't have to do it all yourself, and if you have the budget to add in some services that can help free up some more time for you in other areas, your event will be better for it," she says.

Perrine is a huge fan of tapping into external resources to help plan events when there is a budget to do so, and when it makes sense, "especially for big events like sales launches or important events with a lot of VIPs like board meetings," she says. "Those are events where you want to ensure that nothing goes wrong."

Hiring the right audiovisual and event production group, working with an experienced event company for tents and equipment, contracting with the right venue, and making sure you have a reliable ground transportation company all make a huge difference in the success of your event. "They have ideas and insights that you are not going to have exposure to in your normal day-to-day work, especially as a part-time planner," says Perrine. "So tapping into their expertise and suggestions for how to do it efficiently and cost-effectively is invaluable."

Top Part-Time Planner Tools
Keeping track of everything involved in a meeting is not an easy job -- especially when it's your second job. Here are some tools that our story's experts swear by.

TRELLO: 
This app is essentially a list to keep track of all your lists.

ONENOTE: 
Another app designed to store lists, but also share ideas.

SLACK: 
A great app for real-time messaging that enables teams in far-flung locations to collaborate and keep each other up-to-date on the status of projects.

EMAIL:
The folder tool in all email systems is a fine way to keep track and organize all correspondence pertaining to your meeting.

HARD-COPY BINDER:

It's as old as the hills, but there's nothing better to reference in an emergency than a hard-copy record of all that's transpired.


6. Keep Everyone in the Loop
It's important to keep the lines of communication open so all of the meeting stakeholders have the latest information on the status of the planning process. "Our organization uses a service called Trello, and our executive director and I share our lists so we can all see what we are working on and mark it off when tasks are done," says Witt.

Olsen keeps all her meeting notes and schedules in a Microsoft tool called OneNote that all team members working on the event can easily access. "Venue contracts, catering, presentations, etc., all live in that space so it's easily accessible," she says.

Try to streamline communication. "Email can be hit or miss, so we started using Slack for staff and board member communications," says Witt. "It's an easy messaging app for your phone and desktop that allows for different communication categories to keep topics organized."


7. Live by Lists
Keep lists and check them off daily. "I have several running lists of things to do, along with deadlines, and I make sure to look at them daily," says Witt.

Julie Perrine
of All Things Admin
Julie Perrine of All Things Admin


Julie Perrine, founder and CEO of All Things Admin, a company dedicated to developing and providing training, mentoring, and resources for administrative professionals, suggests that part-time planners integrate their planning lists into their work routines just like any other new project or assignment. "Create a list of your key vendors and suppliers so that you can quickly solicit their help, get quotes, and delegate some of the details to them where possible," she says. "Rely on your documented systems and procedures to keep things running smoothly."


8. Follow a Routine
Part-time planners should create a system for executing events and use it every time they're called upon to plan one, advises Perrine. "Create effective forms, templates, and checklists to guide yourself through the countless details so you don't forget anything, and then do them consistently from event to event," she says, adding that she manages all of her events with a three-ring binder with tabbed dividers that keeps everything organized and portable. "My digital files mirror my three-ring binder with sub-folders mirroring my tabbed dividers so I can find whatever I need when I need it (and so can others) throughout the planning process."

Perrine also suggests planners update the system with things they have learned every time they do an event. "Having a good system in place makes it easy to quickly get into the details of event planning on top of all of the other responsibilities of your job," she says.


9. Stay Old School
Since part-time planners are juggling two separate jobs, it's crucial to stay as organized as possible. Using the latest technology to accomplish that is advisable, but not at the expense of tried-and-true methods. Like Perrine, Witt still keeps a binder containing all her meeting information, including items such as menus and hotel contracts. "I have it organized so that if I need to reference anything, I know where it is and can quickly access it," she says. "In Gmail, you can also put emails in folders, so I keep track of all the correspondence with our hotel event planner in one place for easy access if I need to look something up."


10. Build a Supplier Network
This year Witt is considering services to help streamline sponsorship sales and issues involving the exhibit hall and registration. "I'm learning that you don't have to do it all yourself, and if you have the budget to add in some services that can help free up some more time for you in other areas, your event will be better for it," she says.

Perrine is a huge fan of tapping into external resources to help plan events when there is a budget to do so, and when it makes sense, "especially for big events like sales launches or important events with a lot of VIPs like board meetings," she says. "Those are events where you want to ensure that nothing goes wrong."

Hiring the right audiovisual and event production group, working with an experienced event company for tents and equipment, contracting with the right venue, and making sure you have a reliable ground transportation company all make a huge difference in the success of your event. "They have ideas and insights that you are not going to have exposure to in your normal day-to-day work, especially as a part-time planner," says Perrine. "So tapping into their expertise and suggestions for how to do it efficiently and cost-effectively is invaluable."

ALTER EGOS
Seven part-time planners have contributed their wisdom to this article, and we appreciate the time and effort they have given us. Here's a look at their juggling acts.


STEVE ALLISON, PH.D.
Day job: Professor of Psychology at Abilene Christian University; part-time private practice in clinical psychology

Meeting planning duties: Responsible for the annual international conference for the Christian Association for Psychological Studies for the past 14 years.
 

STACY LEITNER
Day job: Senior executive assistant, City of Rancho Cordova, CA; co-owner, Admin to Admin, a company that specializes in professional development for administrative assistants; Faculty Member-Administrative Assisting Program, Brigham Young University--Idaho; Board of Directors, International Association of Administrative Professionals (IAAP); Founder of the blog, A Great Day's Work

Meeting planning duties: Responsible for several small and mid-size events per year for the City of Rancho Cordova.
 

LISA OLSEN
Day job: Executive coordinator/office manager, Dignity Health; co-owner/speaker/professional development specialist, Admin to Admin

Meeting planning duties: Responsible for several large events (employee service awards, leadership retreats) and then some events that are smaller but more frequent such as town halls and quarterly strategy meetings.
 

JULIE PERRINE
Day job: Founder and CEO of All Things Admin, a company dedicated to developing and providing training, mentoring, and resources for administrative professionals worldwide

Meeting planning duties: Currently responsible for three to five virtual training events per month, but in her past career as an administrative assistant in the corporate world she planned four board meetings per year, one major sales golf outing, monthly staff and leadership meetings, and quarterly teambuilding events, plus client site visits and due diligence visits as requested.
 

ROMANITA L. ROSS
Day job: Office manager at the Chicago office, The Hackett Group  

Meeting planning duties: Responsible for planning 15 to 20 events per year for The Hackett Group
 

PEGGY VASQUEZ
Day job:
 Chief executive assistant, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory; current past president for Women Helping Women and past president of the Administrative Professionals of Tri-Cities

Meeting planning duties: Responsible for at least one event a month that range from leadership workshops to one-day conferences to large events of over 1,000 attendees.
 

SARAH WITT
Day job:
 Administrative assistant, The American Academy of Orthokeratology and Myopia Control (AAOMC)

Meeting planning duties: Responsible for the annual meeting of the AAOMC.


DOING THE JOB

11. Be Flexible

Be prepared for the unexpected. Changes happen, people are unpredictable, last-minute requests will happen. Someone will show up that you didn't plan on showing up. People that you thought would show up become sick or have travel issues and aren't able to come. "Planning for the unexpected is what takes you as a meeting planner to the next level," says Peggy Vasquez, chief executive assistant, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. "Always have a plan B, C, and D in place."


12. Be an Early Bird

Stacy Leitner,
City of Rancho Cordova, CA
Stacy Leitner, City of Rancho Cordova, CA


Leitner of Rancho Cordova also recommends creating a detailed planning sheet that includes a timeline. "Give yourself plenty of time," she says. "And do not procrastinate!"

When Witt first began planning meetings, she used to wait much longer to start working on things such as group meal menus, and she often found herself in situations where she didn't have the time to deal with unexpected bumps in the road. "Once you are a few months out from the meeting, there isn't time for much else than moving forward and dealing with what you can in advance," she says. "I really try not to get behind on daily tasks because it's a snowball effect. Once you get a little behind on something, it can set you back weeks later down the line. Now I do things as soon as possible. I know my deadlines, and I try to meet them well ahead of time."


13. Reverse Roles
You've heard how "location, location, location" are the prime components in real estate. What matters most for effective meeting planners are details, details, details. "You need to picture yourself as an attendee of the meeting/event/conference and ask if everything is easy, obvious, appealing, enjoyable, and whether it surpasses their expectations," says Vasquez.


14. Check, Please
"Triple-check everything!  Confirm everything in advance, and always have a backup plan," says Leitner.
 

AFTER THE MEETING

15. Take Time to Recharge

Take time to stop and give yourself a break. You don't want to be worn out and sick by the time your conference is over, thanks to all the long hours and high-stress working conditions. "In my experience, burnout is a real problem when you have a huge event and other tasks to keep up with," says Witt. "For a good part of the year I work overtime trying to get it all done, and by the time the meeting is over, I am wiped."

"Finding the rhythm with all our responsibilities is a challenge for all of us," says Allison of CAPS. "I have to push away from the convention work during downtimes, so it doesn't preoccupy my time and energy. There is an annual rhythm to this work, so it's not a balancing act per se."
 
 
 
Questions or comments? Email [email protected]
 


This article appears in the August 2017 issue of Successful Meetings.