Planners You Should Know In 2022 Series- Lauren Cramer, Turn-Key Events

Lauren Cramer, of Turn-Key Events, 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: Lauren Cramer

Company Name: Turn-Key Events

Job Title: Chief Event Planner

Years of Experience: 25+

How did you get your start in the events industry? What made you pursue this role?
I've always been involved in the hospitality business in some manner, be it as a chef on an island dedicated to marine biology research, working in catering and convention service departments in hotels, running my own gourmet deli and catering business, managing trade shows, user conferences, and industry events for a variety of companies. In 2015, I worked for a company that produced UX conferences and was responsible for all the logistical planning. Eventually, others asked me to run their conference based on how I ran the UX conferences. Thanks to a built-in clientele and an encouraging boss, I started my own event planning business (Turn-Key Events) and haven't looked back. I just celebrated my 7th anniversary.
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 several differentiators. Safety is always a concern of an event planner, but now we have a different element that wasn't considered pre-pandemic. So figuring out how to make the attendees feel comfortable and safe is a big priority. Testing and showing vaccination proof became a standard practice (though it is now becoming less strict). To help the in-person interaction, we created red, yellow, and green stickers for attendees to put on their name badges. Green for yes, I want to meet you, shake hands, and I'm good with socializing. Yellow is more cautious and wants to socialize but keeps some distance and no touching. Red - basically stay away, but honestly, it was so rare to see someone with a red sticker. If you felt the need to completely keep your distance and not socialize at all, you're not likely to come, and a virtual/hybrid event is more likely for you. The other difference is how F&B was planned. Thinking through the buffets more and whether we used servers to serve the items or keep them as self-serve. Interestingly the final product was a very similar buffet setup to what was previously being used. When it came to the live event with no hybrid experience, the AV needs to remain the same, but the room setup changed to accommodate for more social distancing.
What was your number one challenge in hosting your first in-person event(s) and how did you overcome it?

Getting everyone tested before the event or proof of vaccine. We instituted an upload feature on the registration system, and 90% of the attendees submitted proof or test results. The others showed the information onsite.
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?)
When scheduling speakers and staff, I often shared spreadsheet sheets showing schedules or sent an email to the individuals outlining where and when they should be somewhere. With converting over to virtual conferences, I found creating actual calendar invites with all the specs (instead of only sending emails and shared spreadsheets) ensured people would show up where they were supposed to be. Yes, it's more time-consuming on my end, but I no longer receive many emails before the event asking where and when someone should be somewhere.
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 on response time being several weeks, not just several days. Set expectations with the client so they know response times are longer, and service levels aren't where they once were.
Are you approaching contracting with hotels differently, post-pandemic?
I look over hotel contracts more carefully in terms of hidden fees that weren't there previously. Hotels are making up for lost ground, so they are charging where ever they can. I've seen hotels charge to plug into the outlets in the wall of the meeting space. Don't assume anything. If you think they may charge for something, ask for what you want and make sure it's in the contract. I'm amazed how many people don't negotiate outside AV and the internet in advance and have it in the contract. Doing it after you sign a contract is too late.
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?
Time management. Somehow they need to shorten the time it takes to respond to RFPs and contract negotiations.
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?
Like many planners, I had to teach myself the virtual platform world and how running an event in the virtual world is different than the live world. You are running two different types of events, and planning has to be different. For the virtual conferences, I had to do more training on whatever platform we used. So besides the actual training itself, I wrote up reference guides. With a live conference, if you were a room monitor, we might have had a meeting before the conference, and you were given a guide. For a virtual room monitor, there's more technology involved, so training was required. The training was hands-on so they could physically test out the platform and know how to use it.
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?
When you have the time, attend webinars focused on event planners. Even the vendors sponsored ones because you'll learn something about their product and that vendor. Though I'm a seasoned planner, I hear interesting and new ideas from the webinars I attend. Many of the attendees participate in the chat functionality of the webinar. If you ask for advice, people will give it. That's what I love about this community. Everyone is willing to share their experiences, both good and bad. I'm a big believer in sharing any templates I've made, sample contracts, etc. There's no one specific way to do something, so it's great to see how others set up their templates, contracts, etc.

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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