Planners You Should Know - Jill Peters, Health Sciences Association of Alberta

Jill Peters, of Health Sciences Association of Alberta, discusses how she honed her skills over the pandemic to now be in position to overcome the challenges that the new meetings/events landscape brings.



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. 


Name: Jill Peters

Company Name: Health Sciences Association of Alberta

Job Title: Events Planner

Years of Experience: 12

How did you get your start in the events industry? What made you pursue this role?
I was always a planner, even when I was kid. I was on every party planning committee in school. After university I found myself in roles where there was always a planning component, whether it be community events, fundraisers, education sessions etc. I moved across the country and started working with a student association and had the opportunity to learn the ins and outs of the booking and talent management industry. I also completed a Project Management Certificate which helped to further hone my organization and leadership skills.
I then started my own business and planned numerous social and corporate events for clients. I adopted the motto: Create, Connect, Inspire. My goal is to always create opportunities where people get to connect to each other, to a brand, to the values of an organization and in turn become inspired to act on the goal of the event, whether it be to donate to a cause, become more engaged with their organization, celebrate achievements/milestones, become a loyal customer etc. Luckily, just prior to the pandemic, I started on with HSAA as their events planner, a role that allows me to continue to grow and learn as a planner.
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?

There are many similarities in planning pre and post pandemic, as the root of event planning and project management essentially stays the same. Post-pandemic planning, however, requires planner to consider different risks than before. The health and safety of our members, guests and staff has always been top priority, but now more than ever, communicating the health and safety risk mitigation strategy is important so that people feel more comfortable attending in-person events. By utilizing the technology that we have gained comfort using over the past 2+ years, we are able to meet people where they are at and in turn be even more inclusive than we were before. We now offer in-person, virtual and hybrid events, meetings, and education sessions.
What was your number one challenge in hosting your first in-person event(s) and how did you overcome it?

The number one challenge in planning our first post-pandemic event was not knowing how many registrants would be able to attend once event day came. We were flexible with our registration process and there were a lot of Covid-related factors that could potentially impact attendance. We did have more cancellations and no shows than any other event, but it was expected to some extent. We updated the venue as early as possible to lower catering numbers where we could to limit waste, and we worked with the hotels we held room blocks in to manage last minute cancellations to mitigate financial loss. We have strong relationships with our vendors and are thankful for the flexibility and accommodations we were granted when negotiating late changes to some of our agreements.
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?)
Strong communication is key. More frequent and more detailed communication has been necessary to help the team be successful in planning large events, especially when our planning meetings are largely hybrid with a mix of people joining in-person and virtually. It makes sense that there is more hesitation and that there may be more social/emotional/physical/logistical barriers to attend events, so having a solid communication plan to share timely information with members as well as multiple avenues for registrants to ask questions is extremely important. This helps them manage their expectations in advance allowing for a more relaxed and engaged presence at the event. Communicating early with vendors about any factors that may cause us to change our plans has proven to help us maintain strong relationships and to mitigate loss for both our association as well as the vendors.
With hotels short-staffed, and RFP lead time shortening, what is your advice to other planners to overcome these obstacles when requesting hotels for proposals?
Plan early and have details worked out in advance so that the RFP process runs smoothly and offers you options that will work for your event. Be clear on what you need and want for your event to run smoothly. If you are working within a tight budget, let that be known in the RFP so hotels and vendors can work on their numbers to offer you something within budget, or rule themselves out, depending on their position. Being clear about budget and non-negotiables upfront will save everyone time and resources. Also, don’t be afraid of a 2-3 year agreement with a venue that really works well for an annual event, but ensure that there is language in the contract that allows for rates to remain competitive if the market changes drastically from year to year.
Are you approaching contracting with hotels differently, post-pandemic?
Yes, I am a bit more cautious. I ensure that contract language protects both the association and the property in the case of a cancellation or postponement. I check in early and often on room block pick up, I then try to predict how registration will trend and communicate this to the sales manager, so they know what to expect.
What is the biggest area of improvement that you think hotels can make when either responding to your RFPs or during the contract phase of your event?
Having more detailed property information and an online RFP form directly on the website would be helpful to expediate the process.
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 thankful as I am to have access to Zoom and to Teams, it has been fun experiencing virtual meeting platforms that have more personalization functions to explore like Kumospace. Upon return to in person meetings new ways that improved accessibility to our events and meetings in the virtual world include offering online access to event materials, using more closed captioning for live virtual and in person events, using recording features and sharing highlights to groups of members to view at their leisure have all become more of the standard. Having the option to virtually complete and securely sign off on contracts, reports etc. is a real time saver. It is near limitless really, what we can do to increase inclusivity within our events.
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?
Interactive lunch and learns would be a fun way to network with other event professionals across industries. The education portion of the networking event could be recorded and shared with those who could not attend.

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. 

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