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Planners You Should Know - Edward McKinley, The Aspen Institute

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January 17, 2023
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Reading time: 3 min

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: Edward McKinley

Company Name: The Aspen Institute

Job Title: Meetings and Events Coordinator

Years of Experience: 4

How did you get your start in the events industry? What made you pursue this role?
 
I started in the events industry after acquiring a couple of internships that allowed me to experience first-hand the intricacies of planning small meetings spanning one day to 50,000 attendees over a week. I pursued a role in the events industry because the work and the outcome of said work generates not only joyous but gratifying feelings. I get to challenge myself in many different aspects which lends itself to allowing me to become an all-around better individual.
 
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?
 
I think the differences between the two are vastly different though the expected outcome will always be the same in my opinion. Excellence will continue to be the standard outcome for meetings/events. I think now, there is a consistent little buzz in your ear about the elevated sense of safety and risk and how those are extensively woven into every element of your meetings/events. I think the structure of the work remains similar, you will always have the same elements of an event, but I think you tend to ask more clarifying questions, and be more specific in your language and explanations post-pandemic.
 
What was your number one challenge in hosting your first in-person event(s) and how did you overcome it?

I think advising on how events can still meet the expected outcome, even with elevated precautions. Stakeholders want to know now how they can keep everyone attending their meeting/event safe, and they want to know if those elevated precautions will interrupt what they are trying to achieve. Convincing them that success can still be obtained, just with slightly different adjustments.
 
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?)
 
The top learning that I believe aids in my planning process today is all about the delivery of choices. I find that when you are delivering choices to stakeholders/clients to choose from, you have to be extremely deliberate about how you lay out those choices. There is a myriad of aftereffects from the last two years that contributes to the larger society that affects what we do as planners/coordinators. We may be privy to more information than most given what we do. How we consolidate that information to deliver it to others should be very intentional and direct. Individuals always want to know their choices for what best suits them.
 
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?
 
Leave no room for ambiguity and be flexible where you can.
 
Are you approaching contracting with hotels differently, post-pandemic?
 
Yes, you absolutely have to have a different approach. Particularly with the world adapting to a hybrid model and hotels have gone through the changes they have, you absolutely have to adjust and pivot, increasingly, as it relates to insurance and safety.
 
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?
 
Making sure they are direct and upfront about what their capacity looks like. Sharing what success looks like specifically for my organization. No one event is the same, but events do share similarities. If hotels are able to share more and be more open, I think that will go a long way.
 
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?
 
Being a part of a non-profit, you have to be really selective about the technology you bring into the organization since it serves so many different individuals. We have adapted to utilize Social Tables and Wrike Project Management. Both have aided my team in supporting events in an efficient way. 
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?
 
Definitely joining an association will help. That's how I've been able to keep abreast of what's going on 
 

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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