Special Events Blog
Cattelya Wongkongkatap

To Run an Event, It Takes A Village

Cattleya WongkongkatapSimilar to many event professionals I meet, I fell into the industry.

During high school or college, event planning wasn’t a career goal. While my father owned a restaurant during much of my childhood and I spent many formative years in the kitchen, my chosen major was ultimately economics. After college, through a series of twists and turns, I ended up back in a kitchen. From there I started working at events, moved on to sales and became an event planner.

There weren’t many mentors around for me. As a woman working in a male-dominated kitchen, or as the new salesperson scouting for leads, it seemed near impossible to find anyone willing to give advice or provide support. Much of what I’ve learned has been through my own experiences (the nice way to say “trial-and-error”), and it’s taken years.

When I found myself working at a university, it never occurred to me to seek out students and provide them the resources I never had. Fortunately, shortly after starting in a new office, we hired a graduate student as a part-time assistant.

She was new to the events field, having planned personal events but nothing professionally.  We had to learn to work with her, and she with us.

The timing was perfect--we had a huge event on the horizon and a limited planning calendar. I was conveniently taking a project management class for my MBA degree. Together we figured out how to determine our deliverables, set a schedule, assign tasks and cope with changes. It worked for us and we continued using this process for our events.

Over the years, as graduate assistants have come and gone, it’s a skill they’ve continued to learn and take with them.

In addition to the hard skills, they learn the soft skills as well. Whenever possible, they attend meetings with me, learning when to speak up with their ideas and when it’s better to listen. It’s mandatory that they take a lunch break. This teaches them a balance between personal time and work time. They see how the frustrations that they may experience in a classroom--such as working with uncooperative classmates--can translate into the real world.

Success does not come from a vacuum, but rather a series of a concerted efforts. As we slowly build towards more equality in the workplace, especially for women in the events industry, consider spending some of your efforts on the next generation of planners. In addition to building your own support system, you may find that providing one to a young professional in the industry can be mutually beneficial.

Cattelya Wongkongkatap, CMP, is a founding board member of the Association for Women in Events and director of events at the Milken Institute School of Public Health at George Washington University in Washington. She is a chair of the Career Development Committee of Meeting Professionals International’s Potomac Chapter and volunteers to teach Certified Meeting Professional classes for the organization. 

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