In various surveys, event planners rate their jobs as highly stressful. Typically, it rates as within the top 5 of all time stressful careers. So what is it about the industry that makes our roles so stressful?

At the recent 8thAnnual Global Pharmaceutical and Medical Meetings Summit in Boston, I co-hosted a roundtable discussion about this topic. The delegates were split into 3 groups. The first group was asked to identify their top stressors in their jobs; group 2 was asked to list challenges that are out of their control and group 3 was asked to brainstorm tactics to mitigate stress.

What emerged was very interesting. Planners cited the following key stressors, most of which are out of their control:

  • Mergers & acquisitions
  • Strikes or union labour disputes
  • Ineffective timely communication from clients that lead to delays in decision making
  • Last minute unreasonable planning requests from their clients
  • Champagne expectations on beer budgets
  • Unpredictable severe weather emergencies (e.g. flood, fire) or infectious diseases that impact attrition rates

So what’s a planner to do to decrease the stress levels associated with these challenges?

Tactics varied, but the essence of it was to implement a risk management plan, replete with emergency preparedness mitigation strategies enabling planners to embrace the challenges and lower their stress level.

We have planned multiple events over the years and we fully understand the planning cycle. Hence, we can anticipate that there will be times when we need to pivot and change the agenda for example. We also recognize that there are tools that we should use to help reduce our stress levels such as establishing and monitoring our critical path and sharing this with our client at regular intervals. These checkpoints are key and need to be established early on. They are especially useful when the client communication is sparse.

To reduce your employees’ stress level, make sure you share your challenges. There is no need to take on all the stress. Your colleagues and/or employees can assist you in identifying solutions when a program budget gets slashed for example, yet you are still expected to deliver a high-quality product.  As a risk mitigation strategy, you should have a comprehensive database of vendors at various price points. This will enable you to quickly identify solutions.

As things heat up ~6 weeks pre-event, there are so many stress relieving tactics that may be effective to event planners. These include:

  • Eat well and ensure you get sufficient sleep
  • Disconnect from tech and distance yourself from work every evening. Working 18 hours days in the weeks leading up to the event can lead to burnout. Realize that you will be less effective if you are exhausted.
  • Take a yoga class or partake in any exercise such as going for a walk outdoors. This changes your mindset and has been proven to be invigorating
  • Engage in daily meditation – you cannot learn this at the last minute
  • Listen to music
  • Talk to a trusted friend or colleague about your feelings

On-site, we need to have a checklist with all the important phone numbers of our client representative, keynote speakers, vendors, and banquet manager so that if we need to shift suddenly, we can proactively communicate the change or escalate the decision if we need to evacuate for example. We do not need to be the on-site superhero and solve all the problems ourselves; we need to preassign roles to our staff and volunteers.

Changes are inevitable in any meeting or event; it is incumbent upon us to embrace these changes by being prepared to pivot and not sweating the small stuff!

Thanks everyone who participated at this session and to my co-facilitator Brenda Miller!


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