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ISES Pages November-December 2009

ISES Pages November-December 2009


Folks always express to me their interest in earning the Certified Special Events Professional designation. While they understand the importance the designation has in our ever-growing and increasingly competitive industry, many mention their apprehension to dive in feet first as they are uncertain on what to expect or how to prepare for the exam. Let me try reducing some of those fears.

My very honest and simple answer to people's preparation uncertainty is to know everything on the CSEP content outline. The content outline is a candidate's guide on what to expect on the exam; in fact, every question on both the multiple-choice and short-answer portions ties back to the CSEP content outline. The content outline is available under the CSEP section of the ISES Web site at and free for all to download. While this document might seem overwhelming at first glance, experienced event professionals should not have to learn anything listed in this document. My response to those who feel inundated with information is, “If you have been working in the special event industry for more than three years and have the points required to sit for the exam, chances are you already know most of the information on the outline.” For many, this is what you do on a day-to-day basis. Focus on the areas that you are unfamiliar with.

The CSEP exam does not have an official study guide or a practice exam, but there is no need to fear as there are plenty of resources that can assist you in successfully completing the exam. After reviewing the content outline, identify areas where you need extra preparation. If technical production is an area that is unfamiliar to you, find an ISES member or a friend who works for a production company and learn from them. Don't know anything about foodservice? Find a caterer friend or, while it may sound archaic, find a book at the library or research the Web. We all prepare for exams differently. Find out what works best for you.

Do you have a friend or colleague preparing for the exam as well? Start a discussion group or, better yet, locate an existing CSEP in your chapter/area who can help mentor your exam experience. You might even be surprised on how rewarding preparing to take the CSEP exam is. I know it was for me, especially with the amount of knowledge I gained during the process.

The biggest area of concern I've heard from potential candidates is in regard to the short-answer portion of the exam. As this is the first event industry exam to be Web-based, I understand your hesitation based on the factor of the unknown. To familiarize yourself with the system, a tutorial is available on the ISES Web site under the CSEP section that will help you understand how to navigate the application.

So what exactly is on the exam? I could tell you, but what's the fun in that? What I can tell you is that during the short-answer portion of the exam, each candidate will be given the option to pick one of two event scenarios. Each event scenario provides the candidate with similar information including but not limited to: type of event, attendee profile, location, calendar, goals and objectives, and budget. Once a scenario is selected, the candidate is asked a series of questions which the candidate must answer by applying event-management techniques. This information isn't cheating; it's all in the content outline.

When taking the short-answer portion, read the questions fully and write a short, concise answer. As event professionals, we are inherently creative and can go on for hours about a really cool event design or installation. Unfortunately, you only have three hours to complete this portion of the exam. Many candidates will “blow out” the first few questions and will come up lacking toward the end. Try to leave your creativity (well, most of it) at the door and give only the details you need to answer the question completely. If the question asks for three examples, do not give 10 — there are no points for extra credit!

If you are eligible to take the exam, go for it! The benefit and prestige of holding the designation outweigh any of the apprehensions that you may have when you are going through the preparation process. Our industry is always evolving, even more so during the current economic climate. The CSEP designation just might be the competitive edge you need to set yourself apart from the rest.

Name: Kris Shea, CSEP

Company: Walt Disney World®

Address: P.O. Box 10000
Lake Buena Vista, FL 32830 USA

Web site:


When business is good, many business owners barely have the time to manage current growth, let alone plan strategically for the future. Ironically, economic slowdowns offer owners and executives something incredibly valuable: time to think. Change can seem risky, but it is equally risky not to improve and grow. The purpose of this article isn't to advocate for risk-taking; rather, it is to suggest steps to follow in taking measured risks with your business. Although I am no expert, I have practiced what I preach — I recently merged my company with one of my main competitors, and I am happy to share what I've learned along the way.

Yes, you are, whether you realize it or not. As a small-business owner, you've already proven it. The decision to leave the world of salaries, office hours, vacation days and group insurance is a big risk in itself. Presumably, you weighed the pros and cons, measured the probabilities of failure versus success and decided you could live with it. You are already predisposed to embracing uncertainty if the potential benefits are worth it. In my case, my friendly competitor was an even bigger risk taker than I--she came to me with the idea, which had never even crossed my mind. I was open enough to consider it, but needed to do some research first. I am, after all, a planner.

Maybe you didn't do much research before starting your business (e.g., your business plan was in your head or scratched on the back of an envelope), but you should do it before making any dramatic changes now. As is standard in planning an event, the first step in managing risks is recognizing what they are. In considering the merger, my colleague and I met with business consultants, read books on mergers, and talked over all the issues we could think of that might cause us problems (choosing a name for the new company being the most obvious!). The experts all told us what we already felt intuitively — that the merger was a great idea.

Once you make the decision, you'll be raring to go. Change is exciting, and if you are confident in your decision, you won't want to wait to implement it. Take your time to put everything in place, and your plans will be more successful. We knew that the launch of the new company would be infinitely more powerful if we had our new branding and Web site ready when we announced it. So instead of immediately telling the world our big news, we recognized the value of the publicity we could gain by assembling a strategic launch plan first. Over the course of the next four months, we re-branded (name, logo, Web site, etc.) and re-strategized (mission statement, HR strategy, sales, marketing, etc.) all under strict confidentiality in order to attain maximum impact at launch.

While it is good to research and prepare, don't use planning as a way to procrastinate. Set a date and stick to it. As we approached our launch date, we found many things that we could have used as excuses to push the date off: many of our forms and procedures hadn't been consolidated or aligned, we didn't have company T-shirts printed yet, etc. But what really needed to be done was done, and we went with it. One of the most amazing byproducts of a big change in your business is how much it energizes you and your staff. It feels like a start-up again.

Once you've taken the risk and embraced the energy, now you need to manage it. The excitement can motivate you and your staff to become change junkies as you think up more and more great new initiatives to undertake. At best, this can be frustrating, as you can think of new ideas much more quickly than you can implement them. At worst, it can be dangerous — focus too much on what to do next and you forget to excel at what you're doing now. This has been the hardest part for us — the momentum has been so strong, it's hard to slow down. We are frustrated that we haven't been able to consolidate our SOPs faster while decorating the new office and hiring and training new staff. And find interns. Every day, someone on our executive team has a really great idea of what we should be doing. My new mantra is, “Let's put that on the three-year plan.”

The main point is this: If you have researched and planned for a big change in your business, it doesn't feel risky. It feels like the most logical and obvious move in the world. It just looks like a risk to others. The biggest challenge, once you've made the decision to go for it, is learning to embrace but manage the momentum. We haven't mastered that yet, but we're working on it. Maybe in three years.

Name: Tanya Posavatz, CSEP

Company: CLINK

Address: 606 E. Third St.
Austin, TX 78701 USA

Phone: 512/236-0264

Web site:


In a year when the economy bottomed out and companies pared back, many felt that the only way to save their events was to strip them to the bare bones with “extreme measures” being the justification. Decreased budgets led to some interesting challenges from a decor perspective. We needed to help our clients with determining value, and found it prudent to use the strategy of “go big or go home.” This is about budget as much as it is about scale. A few large, well-placed items can be far more impressive than multiple items that are small or mid-sized, which are weakened by trying to cover too much with too little.

Now is not time to reinvent the wheel but to pick a wheel that exists, “Armor All” it, put on a customized hubcap, and create an event specifically for your client. The buzzword is “customize” — not “custom build” — when budgets are restricted. Often cutting an event totally is more detrimental to morale and company profile than having a trimmed-down version of the annual event. As designers, we have had the opportunity to work with our clients to create some fabulous new designs while working with what we already have in stock, a strategy that has proved to be of great benefit to our clients.

Although this shift has been pronounced, some clients are still willing to spend what they have in previous years but have been given the mandate “don't make it too lush or extreme,” as the perception of lavishness would be all wrong. “Perception” has become the new four-letter word; the questions “how will it look?” and “how will we be perceived?” are the touchstones for planners from some of their clients.

This economic shift has led to some specific trends in design, focusing on subtle tones and color palettes and eschewing flash for an air of calm. Clients are asking for clear, minimalist, “enviro-surrounds” where lighting and special effects become the paintbrush and texturizer in the hands of a talented lighting director.

Soft taupes and beiges are being paired with marine colors and off-white for windswept looks, or with shades of brown, sienna and saffron for a calm version of the spice route colors, or with cream for a café au lait palette. The soothing color palettes of grays — from platinum to charcoal — and green — from celadon to mossy — are being paired with pinks, yellows, lilacs and peach shades, and into fuchsias, teals, cranberries and golds in 2010.

It is a very eclectic year ahead with huge diversity in looks. Textured patterns are being blended with Bohemian and south Asian colors for depth of design and diversity, in tones of hot pink, persimmon and celadon, layered with texture from brass mosaics and jewels for an exotic appeal; this is the complete antithesis to the minimalist look. Still another trajectory favors shades of green and pristine white or cream for an eco-friendly direction.

Now is the time to show your clients your appreciation and give them even more value; let them know where they can cut back without ruining the integrity of the event. It is time to expect the same consideration from co-suppliers. These times will teach us to be even more creative, even more disciplined and even more diligent in qualifying clients' “needs” and “wants.” Seeing clients through tough times will solidify our relationships with them even more in the good times.

This is a time to be proactive rather than reactive. By helping our clients, we are really helping ourselves in building and fostering relationships … and at the end of the day, great design being equal, clients go where they are valued.

Name: Leslee Bell and Bryan Bell

Company: Decor & More Inc.

Address: 1171 Invicta Drive Oakville, ON L6H 4M1 Canada

Phone: 905/844-1300

Web site:


As the holidays approach, it is a time to be grateful — grateful for family, friends, good health and strength in difficult economic times. I don't think I've met one person, in any industry, who has not been impacted by the economic downturn. Yet, we have all persevered, continue to weather the storm, and see a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel.

In good times and bad, it is important to rely on our “people” — our network of business professionals who sustain and support us — our team. If it weren't for these players, we could not have amazing events. I have such a team, and I am proud to say that my team includes ISES members. They are my event “family.”

The ISES family comprises a network of worldwide professionals who number more than 6,000. With more than 40 chapters in the United States alone, there are ample opportunities to sign up and become a part of an amazing society of incredible event professionals. The ISES vision — “Dedicated and educated to deliver creative excellence and professionalism in special events” — is a principle that every ISES member subscribes to. ISES members continue to educate themselves, stay at the top of the industry, and adhere to the highest level of integrity and ethics.

ISES creates cutting-edge opportunities for continued event education and intimate networking opportunities. The recently launched ISES Community, a social networking platform on, has been an incredible success. Available to members only, the network enables ISES professionals to create a profile and rub elbows with industry leaders and associates as virtual friends. Online discussion groups are a great way to hone your skills and share your own tips and leadership.

ISES offers too many benefits to name here; benefits are listed in the member center at Many local chapters have their own benefits as well. Check with your chapter's V.P. of Membership to find out more.

December is the month to join ISES — it's the December membership drive! For only $199, you can become a member until June 30, 2010. That's seven months of membership and an unlimited amount of value — tangible and intangible. I so strongly believe in the value of ISES that I have been the chairperson of the International Membership Committee for two years and have served on the committee for three. Fellow ISES members who have joined me on the committee are just as passionate about ISES as I am. We trust in the society and all it has to offer.

My ISES membership has been a gift. I have been gifted with education, networking opportunities and friendships. I am grateful for these gifts and I urge you to reap the same rewards. Thank you, ISES!

Name: Jenne Hohn

Company: Jenne Hohn Events

Address: P.O. Box 6513 Napa, CA 9458 USA

Phone: 707/337-3490

Web site:


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