How did you become an event planner?
I got into events in a backwards way. I worked in salons all through high school. On the day I graduated, I got my hairdressing license and worked [as a hairdresser] until I was 26. I loved being a hairdresser, it was the best job ever! When I was 26, though, I had arm surgery and was told, “You’ll never cut hair again.” I cried a lot. Then I saw a teeny-tiny ad for the pilot year [of the events and conventions management diploma program] at Thompson Rivers University. I thought, That sounds so glam and exciting! That’s what I want to do. I was one of 13 [students] that first year, and it was very intense. We lived and breathed events from September till May.
During my practicum [with the Vancouver Convention Centre], I was handed a box of 100 registrations with checks. Nothing had been entered in the system, nothing had been ordered, and the conference was in three weeks. I eventually took a typing class, and [Events by Design] hired me after that. I’m sure they hired me because I was the cheapest. [Laughs.]
How did you segue into event design?
I became interested in event production. My boss at the time said, “I can’t see you doing that.” Then another company [Rare Indigo] called me and said, “We’re hiring an event producer, and we’d love you to toss your hat into the ring.” So I got a beautiful hat and a beautiful hatbox, put my résumé on top, and told them, “I’d love to toss my hat into the ring.”
I worked there for three years, until that company closed. With [event design], we didn’t really have boundaries. If you could think it up, we could figure out how to make it happen. I shifted from doing serious meetings to mostly corporate incentive events.
What are the differences between event planning and event design?
Event planning is a much more organized, rote way of doing things. You figure out logistics and focus on every minute of every day. People tend to consider themselves either really good at organization or really good creatively. There’s not often a lot of crossover. The people who are good at meeting planning are great. It doesn’t mean they can’t be creative — because they have to come up with any number of solutions on any given day — but they might not be interested in the entertainment or the décor or whole flow of the evening.
What’s one of the most memorable events you’ve worked on?
[One] was an event I worked on in September 2007 for the opening of the Fairview Container Terminal in Prince Rupert [Alaska]. This was a new container port that was a 20-hour drive from Vancouver and an eight-hour drive from the next closest town. We had to create an event on the construction site of a 52-acre port, and work with really limited resources, but also be respectful enough to create an event for both the people of the town and all of the dignitaries that flew in. We had no power, no water, and had a step-down transformer to bring power from 470 volts to something we could use. We had to build a sink with a hot-water heater so people could wash their hands during catering. We had to bring 600 people into a town where we had 74 available hotel rooms and two regularly scheduled flights per day. It was a completely crazy, insane, and almost impossible scenario, but it was a spectacular event.
What compelled you to take your current job with QuickMobile?
It was a natural segue for me. What I found after 20 years of doing [event planning and design] was that people were not getting to where we needed to be with technology. I had a hallway conversation with the CMO of QuickMobile, and she said, “I don’t know where I’m going to find someone who understands our business from a meeting-planner perspective, who can write about it and talk about it and blog about it.” I said, “What?! Tell me more about this magical job that sounds perfect for me.”
What advice would you offer to event professionals who are just getting into the game?
They need to be fluid. They need to understand that the old economy of getting a job and keeping a job for a long time doesn’t exist anymore, and really seek opportunities that work for them.