Interviews with Planners - Amy Orr
With over 20 years of experience in the professional meeting planning industry, Amy Orr has planned events ranging from 30 to 10,000 attendees. Through ORRganized Events, Amy has coordinated a variety of multi-day educational conferences, golf tournaments, air shows and fundraisers. In addition to conference and event planning she has since expanded her business to include association management. She loves how conferences and events bring people together in a community and for a common purpose.
Prior to establishing her own event planning business in 1997, Amy Orr served as Director of Meetings and Events for the California Chamber of Commerce for five years. In this role, she was responsible for planning and implementing special events including top-level Board of Directors Meetings; Legislative Receptions; an annual Business Legislative Summit for 800; Business Luncheon Forums; an annual conference of 500 for Local Chamber Executives; and the Sacramento Host Breakfast for 1,200 attendees, which features the Governor as the keynote speaker each year. In her role at the Chamber, Amy was involved in special events for various foreign and national dignitaries including President Bush, José Maria Aznar Lopez - President of Spain, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, President Paul Kagame of Rwanda; and President Vicente Fox of Mexico.
Prior to joining the California Chamber of Commerce, Orr worked for the California Grocers Association and General Merchandise Distributors Council (GMDC).
What is the best advice you have ever received as a planner?
"Will this be remembered in five years?" As a planner, I tend to be hard on myself, especially if something goes wrong. You have to remind yourself to learn from your mistakes or challenges, then move forward with a smile on your face. When I was just starting out, something had not gone perfectly at an event I was planning, and I felt terrible about it. My boss at the time, who was a gem, said, "Will this be remembered in five years? Probably not. You have to learn from it and let go."
We can strive for perfection - but at times there are things that can get out of our control, that can go south on you. Weather, economy, travel issues, any number of things. Sometimes a customer gets irritated with the way their name is spelled on a badge. The best thing you can do is to roll with the issues and find solutions to mitigate the problem - focusing on the customer first. Have integrity in all you do, focus on your customer, and work with all partners and vendors with respect, and things will work out.
What is the most unique location you have ever planned an event at? What was great, what was challenging?
An airport. I supported the planning of a three-day air show for 10,000+ attendees. It was a public event that involved using an airport, which required closing air space above the airfield for several days, planning for heat, crowds, and bringing in pilots from all over North America. It was an incredible venue and especially magical during the twilight show as you see airplanes performing formation flights or stunts against a sunset backdrop. The challenging part was working with so many entities to pull off the event: the city permitting process, fire department, airport tower, FAA regulations, insurance companies, performers, sponsors, food vendors, volunteers, etc. There was also limited parking, so we had to work with land owners or business owners nearby for parking access on their property. This particular airport was a smaller, more rural airport, so a lot of the amenities, hangars, etc. were a little on the older side, which made it more challenging.
What advice would you give to someone entering the business today?
Talk to as many people in the industry as you can to see which avenue of the industry appeals to you most. If you're creative you might like corporate planning with big budgets, or wedding and special event planning. If you love the hotel side of things, you might want to work as a conference service manager or sales person. You might find a fit with non-profit events, sporting events, fundraising events.
I love organizing, working with people and I am detail oriented, so I found my niche working with associations on their conferences and events. Once you decide your focus join the appropriate professional organization: MPI (Meeting Professionals International), ASAE (American Society of Association Executives), ILEA (International Live Events Association). Continue to grow your network, attend industry education events and webinars, and gain experience until you find your niche and perfect job!
What do you see as the most challenging aspect of being a planner, and how do you overcome that challenge?
So many details. Don't get me wrong - I love the details and thrive on them but there comes a point where you can burnout, especially right before or after an event. 95% of an event can go off perfectly, however; it is in a planner’s nature to feel frustrated by the 5% that went wrong, especially if it was noticed by your attendees. I have to remind myself to get support - additional staff or volunteers - to help with key things before I even think I need them. Building those teams is important. You can't do everything yourself, you have to let go, delegate and trust people. And smile - a smile helps attendees and you - even in the midst of a challenge - to look for the best solution to a problem rather than focus solely on the fact that there is a problem.
How do you think our industry will evolve in the next five years?
Technology will continue to challenge planners and attendees. We have to keep up with the curve, offering mobile apps and convenient ways to engage attendees before and after the event. However; it takes more time to engage in this way. We need to build that volunteer team or dedicate staff to support these efforts. Event design and event experiences are buzzwords now even in the traditional conference planning silo. If meeting planners don't keep up with the trends to keep things fresh and creative - while fostering learning, an event will slowly become irrelevant. For those in the more creative or experiential industries - such as concerts, weddings, etc. - the pressure to be innovative is always present but seems to be increasing both with technology -like drones- and with idea sharing platforms like Pinterest that have exponentially added pressure to the job of the event planners.
What makes you successful as a planner?
People have said that they appreciate that I can see the big picture as well as be detail oriented. I think those skills are important in planning so you can envision where you're going as well as the steps that will take you there. People skills, being a problem solver, keeping my technology skills fresh, and being organized have all helped me in my role as a planner.
In your opinion, what is the best and worst industry trend of the year?
For conference planners - the trend to have unique room setups for more interactive learning is exciting. Less staged with one person talking - more engagement gathering learning from the entire room. This can create a challenge as you try to plan for the right amount of seating within that set-up - but definitely more personal and the reason for face-to-face events!
One of the worst trends is the AirBNB challenge. This challenge has been around since the creation of Priceline and Travelocity - but continues to be a huge challenge for planners. Planners have to just watch their history - continue to be conservative with their hotel block estimates and also may need to get creative with ways to entice people to book within their block. One of the best ways is to have a really great rate that can't be beat online - so working with hotel partners on this is key. You'll still have people that will book offsite. You will need to plan for that.
See more tips from Amy here.
What is the best industry book that has helped you as a planner?
Studying for my CMP was very helpful - so the CMP process and books were a good investment.
Right now, as I expand my business into association management, I've found "The New CEO's Guide: Advice for the First-time, Aspiring, or Current Association Executive" by Beth Brooks, CAE very helpful and timely.
Please do us a little favor and share this post with others, for there’s a good chance that it will help them as they go about planning meetings and events.