How to Become an Event Planner

young woman writing in a planner while sitting in front of a laptop
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Being an event planner isn't all about throwing parties; it's about creating programs that address the purpose, message, or impression that your client is trying to communicate.

Event planners work long hours to organize and execute the details of virtually every meeting format, including private seminars, public conferences, industry trade shows, employee retreats, and more.

The Event Planning Industry

A 2018 study by the Events Industry Council reported that global business events generated more than $1 trillion of direct spending, and supported 10.3 million jobs globally. The United States led the world in total event output, followed by China and Germany. 

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics defines three primary categories of professional planning: for meetings, conventions, and events. In 2018, the median pay for each type of planner was $49,370 per year. The specific duties required will vary depending on the specific industry, but all planners will typically be responsible for the following tasks:

  • Meet with clients to understand why they're holding a meeting or event
  • Plan the details of the event, including its time, location, and cost
  • Request bids from venues, caterers, and other service providers
  • Visit venues to ensure the usability and that they meet requirements
  • Coordinate rooms, menu, product giveaways, transportation, and other services
  • Oversee all activities to ensure that everyone is satisfied
  • Review bills, invoices, and approve payments
"Event planners [specifically] will coordinate celebrations such as anniversaries, reunions, and other large social events, as well as corporate events, including product launches, galas, and award ceremonies. There are also nonprofit event planners who plan large events with the goal of raising donations for a charity or advocacy organization. Events may include banquets, charity races, and food drives."

Event Planning Skills

To be successful, event planners must possess a variety of skills. Foremost, they should excel with verbal and written communications and have exceptional organization and time management skills. It’s also essential for them to have project management experience and be able to multitask. 

Self-starters who work great with a team and can remain calm and personable under pressure also tend to excel as event planners. Negotiation, budget, and staff management skills are necessary, as well as being able to interact with all levels of management. Successful event planners have developed sensibilities when it comes to venue selection, catering, production, entertainment, gifts, transportation, lodging, and conference services.

Requisite Degree

Those who pursue a career in event planning come from a variety of professions and academic backgrounds. Many employers prefer a bachelor's degree in hospitality management, business administration, marketing, public relations, or communications. However, many planners begin in other professions or enter through administrative roles that include meeting planning responsibilities.

If you'd like to boost your qualifications, consider taking the Certified Meeting Professional (CMP) designation exam, or earn your Certified Government Meeting Professional (CGMP) designation. The CMP and CGMP credential is available to convention, meeting, and exhibition event planners.

Getting Started

Plan your move into event planning the same way you'd plan your next event—with a strategy and detailed documentation. Get started with these steps: 

  • To gain valuable experience, volunteer your time with a non-profit organization or another business like a catering company, florist, event designer, or another event planner. 
  • If you're already planning events for another event organizer, move toward taking on more responsibility. It's often as simple as asking your manager for more work within the context of your next event. 
  • Join associations like Meeting Planners International or the International Live Events Society to network. The more people you know and the more relationships you develop in the industry, the easier it will be to build your career as an event planner.
  • Create an event portfolio to showcase your expertise and knowledge.
  • In addition to developing relationships with other event planners, network with outside vendors or partners. Caterers, musicians, or media personalities can all increase your exposure and circle of influence. 

The organization and time management practices of your own life are a clear indicator to others of your knack for event planning. Whether you're interviewing to work for another planning business or starting and growing your own, your goal will be to remain calm, organized, and always on schedule.