“Tell me about a time when you had to quickly and creatively solve a problem while on site at an event.”
That’s one of my favorite questions I ask when interviewing event planners for a job. I find the answers incredibly telling because it gets at the most important skill set of an event planner. Sure, planning takes real skill and creativity, but where event planners add the most value to their clients is in solving problems. Because despite the best laid plans, something always goes wrong. A good planner solves the problem quickly; a great planner solves it and no one knows something went wrong at all.
In fact, I can’t remember a recent event where something didn’t change at the last minute. For example, at an office holiday party I recently planned, the centerpiece vases we ordered didn’t come in, instead we got far smaller ones. We didn’t have enough time to buy new ones and accommodate the original design, so we thought of a new idea on the spot. Not a single guest knew the difference, and I think I’m happier with the way it turned out because there was a bit more depth and variety in the design.
A small centerpiece switch falls on the minor end of the potential disaster scale, but planners need to be prepared for major changes as well. Right now there is some pretty unexpected weather in some parts of the country – I’m writing this from Nashville where it is currently 10 degrees and I will admit that I never expected it to be this cold here, even in January. I’m just an attendee to a conference, not the planner, but I’m sure the planners had to come up with some creative solutions, especially since at least one speaker (if not more) wasn’t able to make it because so many flights were cancelled!
The tricky thing about flexibility is that it can’t exactly be taught. But it can be practiced. It reminds me of flexibility with yoga. I love yoga but I’m not naturally flexible (in that way). But when I’m good about practicing yoga regularly, sure enough I start to feel like I can stretch a little farther, or a move doesn’t seem quite so difficult.
So if you’re a planner and you don’t find yourself incredibly comfortable with change, all is not lost – you don’t need to drop everything and search for a new career. But force yourself (gently) to become more comfortable with change. One of the best ways to be more comfortable with change and grow more flexible is to work through contingency plans ahead of your events. This is smart event planning no matter what, but force yourself to take the time to work through ALL the scenarios you can think of, no matter how far-fetched. Even if you consider yourself a flexible person and a great problem solver, contingency planning is crucial.
And when you do solve problems and no one notices, it’s okay to pat yourself on the back – you deserve it! And keep a mental file of your accomplishments, you never know when someone might ask you!