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Kerry Lee Doehr

The Difference Between Being a Professional vs. Being Professional

Holding yourself to professional standards is hard work, but it will make you stand out in the world of all "event professionals."

From “professional” event planners yelling at the top of their lungs to other event partners who are not performing, wedding planners taking off their shoes and running barefoot throughout the rest of the event because “that’s what they do” when their feet hurt, joining guests in drinking alcohol during the event, to a more recent jaw-dropper--a venue who invited me to host a workshop at their private location so they could promote it and not only did they not have the equipment they said they would (so when I arrived I had to call my assistant who was in Los Angeles to drive up and bring me what I needed), the location had not cleaned up from guests who stayed the night before with beds unmade, trash still in place and … wait for it …dirty underwear and used feminine hygiene products left out that I had to frantically pick up before my guests arrived.

As the Farmers Insurance commercial says, “We know a thing or two because we’ve seen a thing or two.”

Being a professional means you are hired to carry out a task or series of duties. You get paid to do certain work. But being professional involves a whole other level of standards and standing out. You can be a professional anything, but not be professional doing it.

There is a difference between “casual/comfortable” and “sloppy,” and in a world where sloppy is becoming more widely accepted by professionals, making sure one is professional is more important than ever both in branding and in the contribution to longevity of customer loyalty that translates to revenue.

Think about it: In a world with so much marketing noise that will drown out all the marketing and advertising you can throw money at, as well as with industry competition being greater than ever, one must think of ways to stand out. It turns out that one of the best ways possible to do this is something that is free and has been around forever—being professional.

What are some of the top characteristics of being professional?

Adhering to ethics: Knowing who you are--your core values and sense of right and wrong. Not accepting bribes or kickbacks; doing the right thing when no one is looking; paying your staff what you say you will and on time; following up on your word; cleaning up messes/wrongs that you made--and admitting you made them--and then making them right; and being able to express dissatisfaction directly with other colleagues if expectations were not met and working on a solution to ensure it doesn’t happen again (as opposed to talking about them behind their backs). The best professionals who are professional know their core values and adhere to them in all situations.

Minding your manners: Knowing when and how to use your phone in front of others; saying please and thank you; being on time; allowing others to speak; not dominating a conversation with a personal agenda; shaking hands with eye contact; making introductions when appropriate and making sure no one is left out (even if--and especially when--you don’t care for the individual(s) present ); not asking fellow event partners for constant discounts and freebies for your own agenda and thereby burning bridges and relationships; knowing that it is never OK to join clients/guests in smoking, drinking or eating at an event; returning emails and phone calls within the proper amount of time (in case you didn’t know, it’s within three business days at the most), etc.

Handling conflict and pressure effectively: In the middle of all hell breaking loose, what is your strategy? While everyone feels the need to explode--and let’s be honest, there are times when you deserve to explode--everyone is watching: guests, event partners (vendors) and more. And believe me, they will talk. Not getting results with a trouble-making guest or event partner who is not doing their job? Professionals who are professional have a strategy. They’ve learned to master the art of being direct with such power and control that not only are they able to change the situation, but people are in awe how they commanded such results so swiftly and effectively with little to no drama involved.

Showing strong leadership skills: Consummate professionals know that they don’t hold all the answers. But they know the importance of taking time to figure it out and, more importantly, they will come to the best decision for all whether the others like it or not--and whether they themselves like it or not. This is because their commitment to the higher good goes beyond any one person or agenda. They have an innate sense of integrity, ethics and holding the big picture that will benefit all.

Communicating effectively: Professionals who are professional know how and when to communicate. They know what must be treated discreetly and understand the volume and tone in which they must communicate in for the circumstance.

Appreciating the art of discretion: As event and hospitality professionals, we hold a lot of confidential information on our clients and guests, and sometimes we see some downright awful things. True professionals do not talk about any of it with others (at least with names). This industry is small, and it will always get back to the person about whom we spoke. Always.

Understanding the art of customer experience: This means going beyond what the guest is asking for and providing that. This goes beyond customer “service” and provides a memorable experience that wows and delights guests. This is where true professionals who are professional outshine everyone in their industry.

Wearing proper attire: While looks aren’t everything, in business, presentation is part of how people perceive your trustworthiness, your authority to lead and your brand. Dress for the client’s event style; dress for the venue at which you’re working; if you don’t know what’s appropriate, ask around or ask a mentor. But let me assure you: Birkenstock sandals or going barefoot are never appropriate when someone has entrusted you with one of the most important days of their lives, no matter how “casual” the event. Certainly a three-piece suit may not be necessary for every event and professional dress code standards have relaxed over the years (consider the fact Nordstrom now allows bare legs on women employees though the company used to require women to wear hose, and Disney now allows men employees with facial hair). However, a professional in the special event or hospitality industry who is being paid to carry out the task of service to others should look like someone in charge and trustworthy to all generations and tastes. These are all potential future clients watching you.

Some of these may appear elementary and not worthy of comment--but if everyone were doing them, I would not have had so many stories to share indicating otherwise. How you look, carry and conduct yourself is part of your “business card” that you leave all the guests attending your event as well as the event partners working your event (who are also referrals for future business). It sets you apart.

Being professional in a world that increasingly accepts sloppiness as the norm will become your distinguishing hallmark and contribute to your business longevity and legacy in a way that all the printed marketing and advertising in the world can never do.

Kerry Lee Doehr is CEO/Founder of event planning business Santa Barbara Wine Country Weddings and Events, as well as Engaging Inspiration, a consultancy dedicated to leadership, communications and education for the special event and hospitality industry. She is committed to progress in the industry that goes beyond trend and design, saying, "Who we are and how we handle ourselves ethically is more of a barometer to business longevity and branding than all the money in the world spent on advertising."

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