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Wednesday Wisdom: How to Have Tough Conversations with Event Planning Clients

No one likes having tough conversations with clients. But with a little skill building and guidance you’ll be equipped to handle almost any scenario with flying colors! 

6 Soft Skills All Event Planners Need

Soft skills is a phrase most often associated with HR departments. People like to assume that they are fluffy activities reserved for rainy days when you have nothing else better to do, not the top of your event planning task list. But soft skills are really all about establishing an internal foundation you can use to support all aspects of your career. 

Soft skills are proven to be a core element in the success of most Fortune 500 CEOs – and for good reason. In professional trainer Peggy Klaus’ new book, The Hard Truth About Soft Skills”Workplace Lessons Smart People Wish They’d Learned Sooner, she notes the soft skills play a critical role in each of the following areas: 

  • Career self advocacy
  • Project completion rates
  • Interpersonal conflict with team members
  • Leadership ability
  • Criticism processing
  • Effective and efficient communication

And last, but certainly not least: interpersonal conflict with clients. Which is, of course, the focus of this article. 

Take a look at the following soft skills. How they apply to your work? Which ones you’d like to focus on moving forward? They’re all important but some might resonate more with you than others. 

1. Empathy

Empathy is your ability to both process and understand your own feelings as well as the feelings of others. If you’re highly empathetic, you’re likely very good at considering situations from someone else’s perspective and would, in most cases, allow that information to dictate your actions towards them. 

2. Active Listening

Active listening is all about how well you can hear and actually comprehend what a person is trying to communicate to you through body language, subtext, and emotion. People who can remember the name of someone they just met ten minutes ago are experts at active listening. 

3. Being Proactive, Not Reactive

When an unpleasant situation or exchange occurs, do you stop and consider the best course of action? Or do you say/do/act the way your impulses tell you to? The former is the most effective option because it helps make sure you are constructively working towards a goal rather than doing something purely because it feels right in the moment. 

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4. Understanding Body Language

Body language is a science and those who study it can uncover subtle nonverbal cues that allow them to better understand someone whose intentions, thoughts, or emotions are otherwise unclear. People who are great at reading body language know what certain eye, hand, and mouth movements subconsciously signal, even if the person doing them doesn’t realize it. 

5. Emotional Resilience 

If you’ve ever considered yourself to be someone who is good at rolling with the punches then you might have high emotional resilience, which gives you the ability to manage life and career challenges with a generally positive attitude. 

Now that you know what soft skills are non negotiable for event planners, how are you supposed to improve them? 

Skill Building Resources You Should Bookmark

We’ve compiled a list of great resources you can use to improve your event planning soft skills. 

  • GoSkills is a website and resource guide entirely dedicated to educating users on the nuances of soft skills while also including helpful courses for building them. 
  • Lifehacker has put together a list of 12 Books to Equip You with the Soft Skills in Demand that will help you hone your soft skills, become more adaptable, resolve conflicts with ease, and improve client communication. 
  • This Soft Skills playlist on YouTube offers 73 digestible videos on every soft skill you can think of. 

Building soft skills is well worth the effort but it does take time. For more immediate solutions, check out our suggestions for responding to the following uncomfortable situations. 

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10 Tough Client Conversations Most Event Planners Face at Some Point & How to Handle Them 

Here are some example scenarios you might find yourself going through one day along with practical steps you can take to resolve issues like it. 

1. Negotiating a fair event planning rate. 

A client approaches you with a really great opportunity – and they’ve even agreed to pay you your rate! Hooray! As you begin working with them however, they start requesting more and more of your time or services. You want to gig but know that the additional requests are not what you signed up for at this agreed upon rate. 

Ways you could respond:

Negotiating your freelance rate might feel uncomfortable at first but it’s important that you understand how much value you bring to the project. In a kind and casual way, let the client know that you’re more than happy to complete the requested tasks, remind them what the original agreement included, and add in your proposed fee for the additional work to help move things along. 

2. Setting communication boundaries. 

Your bridal client is very excited about her big day. So excited in fact that she can’t help but text you at 1am. On a Tuesday. And gets offended when you don’t reply back right away. 

Ways you could respond:

Communication boundaries can be added to your event planning contract. But if that ship has sailed, all you have to do is let the client know that you care about them and their event which means that, in order to deliver the best possible service, you’ll only be available by (your preferred communication tool) during (name the hours you actually want to hear from them). You can even set up email away messages that kick in at the end of your work day letting clients know what time they can expect to hear back from you by the next morning or afternoon. 

3. Knowing when to back down during a disagreement. 

You’re an event planner because you have excellent taste and are great at what you do. But your client has fought with you every step of the way. From the theme to the centerpieces, you don’t really see eye to eye on most things. 

Ways you could respond:

There’s a difference between letting a client have their way just because and gracefully choosing your battles. If you fall prey to the easy way out (letting them make bad choices that go against what they want or can afford) you’ll be the one they blame at the end of the day. Identify your client’s highest priorities early on and use those to gauge which disagreements are worth duking it out over and which ones are a waste of time. 

4. Dealing with a high strung or overly critical client. 

You’ve done a good job planning your first ever trade show. Yet despite receiving praise from the client who hired you, one of their team members always has something negative to say about your work. Their behavior is passive aggressive and no one seems to notice it but you so it goes unchecked. 

Ways you could respond:

Although it isn’t a reflection on who you are or your abilities as an event planner, constant criticism can feel really personal. Deal with highly critical people by first understanding that whatever problem they have is their problem. Continue treating them with as much respect and kindness as you would anyone else on the team but remember there is no shame in bringing the issue up with a trusted colleague. See what they have to say about it and if they’d be willing to play mediator so the two of you can hash it out. 

5. Standing up for yourself if clients are late on payments. 

You finally finished a multi day, cross country trade show and are eagerly waiting to enjoy the fruits of your labor. Which never come. You email the client and don’t get a response. You wait, email again, and wait some more, but nothing happens. 

Ways you could respond:

Deal with late payments by remaining polite and professional in every exchange, no matter how you really feel like behaving. Try to get them on the phone. And if that doesn’t work, contact the accounting department yourself to see what could be the hold up. Their answer might be telling – if they had no idea you were even on their payroll, you may want to get a mitigator involved. But first make sure to reach out at least one more time before you get that extreme. 

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6. Being honest when what you have to say is definitely not what they want to hear. 

That wedding hall that your happy couple put as their number one, ultimate, must-have non-negotiable? Yeah it’s booked on their wedding day. And you have to deliver the news.  

Ways you could respond:

No one likes to give someone disappointing information. But you can and should soften the blow by suggesting 2 or 3 alternatives that better suit their event goals. In this case you could show them a comparable venue that had all their most loved features from the first choice. And you can get a list of dates their first choice venue does have available instead. 

7. Coming back from misaligned expectations. 

The brand that hired you to do their product launch assumed you’d be promoting the event entirely by yourself, despite the fact that they have an entire marketing team dedicated to it already and it wasn’t included in your contract. They want to know why you haven’t posted or shared anything to their social media yet. 

Ways you could respond:

Miscommunication happens. It’s no one’s fault. Well okay, it was probably your client’s fault but you cannot point the finger at them. Instead, let them know there seems to have been a misunderstanding but that you’d be happy to renegotiate your existing contract to include the additional service. 

8. Responding to a client who is raising their voice at you or someone else.

You overhear your client yelling at an event staffer for accidentally dropping a bottle of wine as they were setting up. Everyone is looking but no one knows what to do. 

Ways you could respond:

Because you are the event planner, you are essentially the leader of the event as well. Step in and calmly ask what is the matter. Allow the client and staffer to explain their sides of the story. Then, without taking sides, suggest a compromise or simply remind your client of the fact that you ordered extra bottles anyways for this exact reason, so there’s no need to get too upset. 

Also it’s worth noting that a momentary lapse in judgement is one thing, but a consistent pattern of behavior that negatively impacts you and your team may mean you need to consider a more in-depth approach. Or, in a worst case scenario, terminating the contract. Mutual respect is a fundamental right for you, your client, and everyone else involved with the event. If a client cannot handle that notion then you are in no way obligated to stick around and participate in their mistreatment.

9. Respectfully parting ways mid-project. 

The scenario we just described becomes extreme and your client’s behavior towards you and/or people around you has become intolerable. 

Ways you could respond:

Legal counsel blogs note that it’s important to do so in writing but there are plenty of ways to politely terminate a contract. But before you do that, make sure you’ve taken the time to calmly address the situation with the client. They might not be aware of their behavior and sincerely apologize. 

If they aren’t receptive to the discussion or do not change their behavior, then follow the guidelines set out in your contract for this scenario. If you didn’t include them, you can still send a letter (attached as a PDF in an email that is being tracked with a third party app to confirm it was successfully delivered and opened) that outlines – in no uncertain terms – what you’re doing, why you’re doing it, when it officially takes effect, and what steps you will do to tie up loose ends. 

10. Addressing inappropriate comments or actions.  

A few offhand remarks your client has shared haven’t been career-ending-Tweet worthy but they definitely point to an unspoken set of beliefs they have that rub you the wrong way. It’s subtle so you second guess yourself – they can’t possibly mean what they just said, right? Until it happens again. 

Ways you could respond:

You might not see eye to eye with everyone you organize events for but that doesn’t mean you have to tolerate unacceptable behavior. The next time the client makes a remark of that same nature, use it as an opportunity to start a dialogue. Ask them why they said what they said. Explain how it makes you feel. If you aren’t able (or willing) to articulate why the remarks are so offensive, you can always limit in person communication and use phone meeting and emails to collaborate instead. 

Now, you’re ready to handle any tough event client conversation that comes your way. 

Want to learn more about common event planning problems and how to vet clients? Be sure to watch our video on starting an event planning business to set yourself for long term success! 

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