Americans are experiencing stress like never before.
According to the American Psychological Association, 43 percent of adults are suffering adverse health effects, and a large percentage of visits to doctors’ offices are the result of stress-related problems. In fact, a steady diet of stress is responsible for the majority of illnesses and has been linked to such life-threatening conditions as heart disease, cancer, stroke and immune system disorders. Emotional problems like depression, anxiety and insomnia are often traced back to stress. Unfortunately, the meetings and events environment is one of the highest stress-inducing industries in which to work. But stress can impede your ability to do your job effectively. And in the meetings and events industry, job effectiveness and client and attendee satisfaction are paramount to a meeting planner’s success.
According to Karen Fiorini, meeting planner and founder of Global Planning Source Inc., most planners think time is their biggest stress, but her observation is that managing relationships within a business context is the biggest stress.
“You always want to build toward making new relationships for the future of your business, but it is important to maintain the current relationships you have,” Fiorini says. “Another stress is the feeling of having to be ‘on’ 24/7, and juggling crises back at the office while putting out fires onsite.”
Amy Grace Collins, event planner and owner of Amy Grace Events, says that event planners are dealing with a unique set of stressors that many industries just don’t face. “We are, in many cases, managing one of the biggest dreams or wishes our clients have had in their lives,” Collins says. “At the end of the day, our clients have the final call, and many times, we may not feel that it’s the right one, which can be stressful when your reputation and brand are on the line.”
“Our clients have the final call … which can be stressful when your reputation and brand are on the line.” — Amy Grace Collins
These days, the three bandits that rob us of our productivity are stress, time constraints and procrastination. Americans are more stressed than ever. Events with very low budgets, including nonprofit events, tend to be some of the most stressful functions that corporate meeting and event planners face.
“There are always a lot of moving parts,” Collins says. “Many times, there are a higher number of vendors than we would typically work with because of donating services. And sometimes you have to pull tooth and nail to get some of the basic needs for an event due to limited funding.”
Fiorini has found that international travel outside of North America is often hardest for people to adjust to because they are out of their comfort zone due to time change, language barrier and difference in cuisine.
“I strive to make sure attendees have the comforts of home, but still embracing what the world has to offer and I want them to enjoy the experience of the destination,” Fiorini says.
Will Curran, chief event Einstein at Endless Events, says the key stressors event and meeting planners often face are time management and balancing all their tasks.
“Event planners wear many hats, from scheduling and budgeting to balancing clients and vendors,” Curran says. “Sometimes with so much going on and sudden changes, things fall through the cracks, and event planners often feel overwhelmed like they are racing the clock.”
Changing our mindset about the role stress should play in our lives is an important step to take when managing stress in today’s meetings and events environment. In the extraordinarily stressful meetings and events industry, many skilled professionals somehow still believe that if they experience stress, they just aren’t trying hard enough.
Symptoms of stress are not symptoms of weakness. It’s unrealistic to believe we can prevent all stress; rather, we need to incorporate healthy stress reduction strategies to maintain physical and emotional balance in everyday life.
“We think the best way to handle event planning stress is to prioritize your tasks and roll with the punches,” Curran says. “By creating lists and prioritizing what is really important, event planners can have a clear plan to tackle their never-ending to-do list. Murphy’s law is strong in events — there will always be something that goes wrong, whether a caterer is delayed or flowers show up in the wrong color. Learning to roll with the punches at events can really help reduce stress during planning and events.”
Taking care of yourself emotionally may involve scheduling relaxation into your day: making sure you take a lunch and coffee break, getting regular massages, going for a walk and spending time deliberately focusing on positive things. In addition, allowing yourself to distinguish between a client’s problems and your own is important. Client service means attending to the needs of the client, but not taking on their woes.
“People need to put a priority on the things that keep them healthy and balanced,” Fiorini says. “And they need to schedule their priorities. In our industry, that’s not going to be possible every single day, but you counteract the busy workdays with time off. There is always time in your calendar to do the things that make you happy that are not always work-related. A work/life balance is the key to my success.”
Many factors contribute to stress and the ability to manage a work/life balance, but planners should consider focusing on their strengths and outsource the other professionals. “Don’t try and be all things to all people,” Fiorini says. “Know your peaks, your genius zone. Are you a morning person? Assign yourself tough, high-concentration tasks in the mornings. Don’t leave the tough tasks until it’s nighttime or vice versa. And make exercise a must-do, not a should-do.”
According to Collins, a meeting planner’s life, family and priorities must come first.
“Clients can easily become a dominating force in your day, and if you don’t set expectations in the beginning, it can become a constant disrupter in your personal life,” Collins says. “Late-night texts and emails filled with ‘panic’ of what’s a pain point for them, many times are standard industry issues which will easily be fixed. But because you’re managing a concerned client, you feel the need to immediately respond. This creates a dangerous precedence — namely, constant availability.”
“I don’t have enough time.” Have you ever said that? It basically means that you want more hours in the day or you’re not using your allotted time to your best advantage. The reality is that most people don’t need more time, they just need to re-prioritize the time they’ve got.
Time is rationed out to every one of us at the same rate — 1,440 minutes a day, 365 days a year. What makes us good or bad time managers is how we use those minutes. Some people view time management as a quick gimmick to cram more activities into their life.
Actually, time management is a systematic process that helps you live your life the way you want to, efficiently and effectively. The result can be a far more satisfying and rewarding existence. Curran suggests planners set boundaries and allow time for self-care. Let your clients know your working hours and stick to them. If a client calls you at 10 p.m. and you have office hours clearly set, don’t pick up.
“If you don’t control stress, it controls you,” Collins says. “We’ve all been there. We have all let it creep into our lives and run us in a way that isn’t good for our health, our happiness or for those around us. The busier you get, the more stressed-out you’re going to get. I find a lot of friends in the industry say, ‘Well, when I make more money, I’ll …’ but no matter how much money they make, they don’t pause and find out the root cause and start to work on reducing it. You only live your life once. If you don’t take a moment to manage stress, your life will pass you by, and you will never feel a part of it.”
Meeting planners should take a step back. Practice a moment of gratitude. When you feel that stress creep in, pause for a minute and take a deep breath. Write down your stressors. Usually once written out, you can either accomplish them or feel they hold less validity on paper than in your mind.
“As event planners, we want to always do everything for the client. We want to make them happy and the event a success so often that when a client calls you at 9 p.m., you pick up your phone,” Curran says. “But don’t do this. It is possible to keep you and your client happy without being at their beck and call 24/7, which will surely overwhelm you.
“By doing this, you won’t feel like you are constantly on the clock and feel that urge to reply immediately,” he adds.
Another way to create a healthy work/life balance is to unplug. In today’s world, this is hard, but the rewards are great. As Curran explains, being constantly plugged-in can create
a lot of stress in an event/meeting planner’s life with the constant emails and notifications.
“Take a step away and spend time with friends, read a book, meditate or watch your favorite show,” Curran says. “You will feel so much better after a break.”
There are several apps and tools out that help meeting planners stay focused and eliminate stress and feeling overwhelmed. Below are a few of Curran’s favorites.
Sanebox: Like many professions, an event planner’s inbox can be a huge stressor. It’s a constant battle to make sure you are seeing the emails that are important and filtering through the spam. Sanebox helps by cleaning up and organizing your inbox so you can get your life back. With Sanebox, you can eliminate distractions, get notifications when someone opens important emails and make sure important emails stay right in your inbox so you can see them!
Todoist: Todoist is an app that allows you to make “to-do” lists and put deadlines on tasks. You can make as many separate lists as you would like to organize. It will send you reminders when tasks need to be completed. This app is very helpful to a busy planner juggling multiple tasks and jobs.
Trello: Curran uses Trello to create assembly lines for streamlined production. But there are so many uses that would benefit event planners. You can share a Trello board with your entire event team and move/assign tasks to the person that needs to handle each portion of your event. This not only makes it clear who is designated for each task, but allows event planners to have a quick glance at what progress is being made and what needs to be done.
Workout Apps/Subscriptions: It’s been proven time and time again that working out can greatly reduce stress. Event and meeting planners are constantly on the run and crunched for time. For this reason, Curran recommends a subscription-based workout program or app. These programs allow you to fit in a good workout anywhere with the click of a button and can accommodate any time restrictions and fitness levels.
“You are blessed to be working in a profession you love,” Collins says. “Enjoy it. We are truly blessed to help create moments and experiences for people on this planet to enjoy. So take a moment to enjoy what others in your life have planned for you.”
Curran agrees. “When it’s your off-time, really take breaks … whether that is going for a run outside or getting coffee with your friends,” he says. “You can’t help others if your cup is empty, so self-care is crucial to remain calm and in control as an event planner.”
If a planner does not get a handle on the stress of their job, they will more than likely burn out. On top of that, a meeting or event planner’s personal life and health will also suffer
for the abundance of stress, and it could affect their relationships, well-being and so much more.
“By establishing a work/life balance, you have time to spend doing things you love,” Curran says. “Recharging and de-stressing allows you to give it your all when you are back at your office and working events.” C&IT