This post is part of the HopSkip Planner Spotlight Series where HopSkip spotlight's planners across the industry to bring awareness of how they adapted to COVID-19, communicating and lessons learned and sharing how they are viewing the meetings and events industry in a post-pandemic world.
Name: Gayle Szuchman
Company Name: Events by Gayle
Job Title: Owner/ Event & Conference Planner
Years of Experience: 20+
How did you get your start in the events industry? What made you pursue this role?
At the start of my career I worked in Public Relations. I was drawn to the events niche due to the energy, creativity and excitement of event planning. Having always been a super organized, entrepreneurial and creative person, I realized early on this was the path I wanted to pursue. My first job was with an international children's charity where I was the events coordinator for a large international convention. From there I moved to the Event and Conference Services team at The American Museum of Natural History. I worked with Fortune 500 companies, entertainment businesses and high net worth social clients. Eventually I opened my own business; we conceptualize and plan corporate conferences and events, bridal shows and luxury social occasions.
How do you compare planning your first in-person event post-pandemic, to planning meetings/events pre- Covid? What was different and unique? What was similar?
Guest count strategizing! Pre-Covid we never had to consider guest count, unless there was a venue capacity limit obviously. During the pandemic/post-pandemic, guest count limits were fluid due to town and state ordinances. So there needed to be a Plan A, Plan B, and Plan C, for guest capacity. This created a high level of stress for some of my clients. Of course mask wearing at an event was something extremely unique and different as well as sanitizing stations. I feel that hand sanitizers and extra venue sanitizing should remain as protocol moving forward. Overall planning processes and crisis management remained similar for my events.
What was your number one challenge in hosting your first in-person event(s) and how did you overcome it?
To be honest, my own personal health and safety. I never considered this before the pandemic. As event planners, we are in the company of large groups of people when planning and managing events. We have high exposure to our clients, their guests, vendors, catering staff, venue staff, etc. My first event took place in the lull where the masking requirement was removed. I chose to wear a mask at the event, even though no one else wore one, to keep myself healthy as I had another event the following week and couldn't risk getting ill. Even though it was an uncomfortable situation, I felt that by keeping myself safe, I was keeping my next client's event safe as it was critical I was there to execute it.
What is the top learning that you uncovered from the last two years that you’re implementing in your planning process today? (any other tips or tricks you want to share?)
During some of the "downtime", I used it wisely to take a few certification courses. I completed the AllSeated Certified Professional Course. I can now create beautiful 2D and 3D floor plans for my clients. I also furthered my wine education by completing the Fine Vintage Ltd Food and Wine Pairing Certification. This allows me to offer my clients food and wine pairing assistance on a more professional level. I also mastered Zoom and offer event consultations online. Prior to the pandemic, a lot of time was spent traveling to meet a potential client or client. Zoom is a great time saver and I feel as productive as in-person meetings.
Due to the pandemic, our events community had to evolve, adapt, and grow. Many planners started to embrace new technologies as a result of the pandemic. What new tech are you using today in your planning process as a result?
As I mentioned previously, holding meetings online rather then in-person has been a very positive change due to the pandemic. Travel time and expenses have been reduced due to embracing this technology. During the pandemic I did pursue using a new tech platform for an online bridal show. However, I quickly realized via vendor feedback, that in-person expos is the preferred method and I waited until we can safely plan a face-to-face expo.
Since education and relationships are two major pillars in the meetings and events industry, any suggestions on how other planners can learn and network with their peers across the industry?
There are many professional organizations in the meetings and events industry that I recommend planners consider joining. There are great local and national organizations. I have made many valuable connections through local organizations. I have personally organized networking events for the wedding and event planning industry prior to the pandemic. It is also beneficial to attend general business networking events. I enjoy attending shows such as the Event Planners Expo in NYC. I have met some really creative and interesting vendors at that event which has been beneficial to my clients conferences.
This post is part of the HopSkip Planner Spotlight Series where HopSkip spotlights planners across the industry to bring awareness of how they adapted to COVID-19, communicating and lessons learned and sharing how they are viewing the meetings and events industry in a post-pandemic world.