Event experts are a diverse lot, ranging from editors to consultants, planners, vendors, and service providers.
Yet their top challenges are surprisingly consistent. When we asked a collection of top events industry leaders and influencers, "What's the biggest challenge you face in your work?", almost 90% of the responses fell into just four categories. Less than a handful were miscellaneous, one-off responses.
The top challenge faced by event professionals, by far, is time management. Essentially half of our respondents identified this as their top challenge.
Keeping up with the pace of change, and education (of clients, co-workers, the market) were the next most popular responses, each cited by nearly a quarter of these top event pros. These two answers were followed closely by the struggles of finding and managing clients.
Here are the details behind the top challenges faced by event industry experts.
Event professionals are busy people. They are called upon to manage copious details with fixed deadlines, often outside of "business hours," in a fast-moving industry with constantly shifting tastes and trends.
So it's little wonder "time management" or some close variant thereof tops the list of challenges for people who work in the live events space. Here are more specific answers from several top event pros.
"My greatest personal challenge at work is reminding myself that I can’t take on new projects right now. I want to read every book, accept every paid offer to speak, mentor and coach everyone who asks for help, add more charities to the list I already support. It’s a lot of work to stay on track." — Christy Lamagna, CEO of Strategic Meetings & Events
One of my biggest challenges "is not having enough time. Having a time machine would be fantastic." — Will Curran, Founder & Chief Event Einstein at Endless Events LLC
"My biggest challenge is giving all of the great ideas and initiatives the time and attention they deserve." — Michelle Bruno, President at Bruno Group Signature Services and Publisher of Event Tech Brief
My biggest challenge is "deciding how I should spend my time. I have short-term and long-term plans, and new opportunities continually appear. There are a lot of choices I can make, and I constantly need to choose." — Adrian Segar, Founder of Conferences That Work
"The biggest challenge is maintaining some semblance of work/life balance. We like to say that at EXHIBITOR we work hard and play hard, and I think that’s true. But the real truth is that we never stop working in the sense that we’re constantly thinking about this industry and how best to serve our readers. And because we’re always discussing and/or launching new awards programs, research initiatives, and one-off projects, there’s never a dull moment." — Travis Stanton, Editor of EXHIBITOR Magazine
"Every day, there are opportunities to write, or partner, or even develop a new product or event, but with so many opportunities you have to decide when NOT to pursue an opportunity. This is something I have and am still learning to manage, as my personality is of the kind "let's do it all." But the simple fact is you can't." —Adam Parry, Editor of Event Industry News and Director of Event Tech Live
"Time management. Because I do so many different things and travel quite a bit (not to mention family life), it’s easy to get distracted or just 'off schedule”' Sometimes I’m reading industry articles when I really need to be sending invoices or returning a phone call. I read Getting Things Done a long time ago, and still use a lot of those techniques. Lately, I’ve been refocusing on the 'Less than 2-minute rule:' If you think of something that needs to be done, and it will take less than two minutes, just do it." — Brandt Krueger, freelance technical and audiovisual consultant
"A shortage of time combined with the need to switch back and forth between extreme multitasking and the focus required to go deeper on some subjects. (That isn’t just me, right?)" — Michael Shapiro, Senior Editor of Meetings & Conventions
"My biggest challenge is time, same as all event pros. That, and keeping up with social media and industry changes. This career is a hard one to balance family life and business life." — Tracy Fuller, President at InnovativEvents Inc.
"My biggest challenge is having enough time! It's a global world; events are happening all over, in all different time zones...Events have a hard stop: things have to be done, they have to be ready to go by the time the doors open. It can be a lot of work to make sure people get things done professionally the way they need to, in a timely fashion." — Tara Thomas, Co-Founder & CMO at The Meeting Pool
Keeping Up with the Pace of Change
This is sort of a special case of the "time management" challenge. Given all of the other tasks, responsibilities, and details event professionals are required to manage, finding time to read, listen, and attend conferences to stay current on the latest industry trends and technology is a particularly vexing quandary.
Here's what some of the industry leaders had to say.
"The biggest challenge is the speed of change and being a lifelong learner without enough time concentrate. I consider myself 'Millennial Minded' even though I am so far from being a millennial, but keeping a fresh perspective is always a challenge." — David Adler, CEO and Founder at BizBash Media
"I think I share a common challenge with many event professionals: keeping up with technology change! As this is my full-time job, I likely spend more than the average amount of time doing so. Innovation is alive and well in the events and exhibitions industry, and new ideas, software and tools are popping up daily." — Corbin Ball, Founder at Corbin Ball & Co.
"The world of publishing has shifted drastically on every level over the past decade. A switch from print to all online, reader's habits, creating value for advertisers, etc. it's all constantly in flux. Keeping on top of it all, as well as the news, is a massive challenge." — Rachel Wimberly, President at Tarsus Media
Travis Stanton: "The biggest professional challenges are staying on top of what is a constantly evolving industry, and serving a broad swath of readers with varying budgets, experience levels, booth sizes, and industry sectors. Though we publish 12 issues per year, that’s not nearly enough editorial real estate to print every story my team would like to write." —Travis Stanton, Editor of EXHIBITOR Magazine
My biggest challenge is "staying on top of everything that’s happening. This is a huge industry with a lot of moving parts." —Leo Jakobson, Executive Editor of Incentive | Senior Editor of Successful Meetings
Another key role of and challenge for event professionals is providing education. As the following quotes illustrate, this may mean educating the market, clients, internal leadership, or event attendees.
"With content marketing being one of the strongest drivers for companies, everybody is doing some level of content creation and promotion. How do you differentiate unbiased, independent content from brand content?...Our commitment to high quality, research-driven content has been the only reason why we've been able to constantly grow, surpass competitors, and shine in a sea of poor content. Yet the level of noise is detrimental, confusing and ill-advised in good part. My challenge? I want to fix that." — Julius Solaris, Editor at EventMB.com
"Convincing people that social media is worth the investment of time and resources... the question of KPIs and success is always a tricky one... It's always still challenging to have to make a case as to why social always should be a part of a cohesive communications plan...For many marketers it’s a question of convincing teammates why they should invest time and or energy into the field. " — Marissa Pick, Founder at MP Consulting LLC
"Our biggest challenge is educating people, filling in the knowledge gap about AV and production. For example, we just launched a course on how to hire AV companies. We want to help people understand there's a better way to do this process than sending out a generic RFP specifying how many speakers, remote mics, etc. are needed. We also try to help clients understand our recommendations and the ramifications of different AV decisions. We'll explain why we're recommending specific equipment in specific locations, and how changes will impact the attendee experience." — Will Curran, Founder & Chief Event Einstein at Endless Events LLC
My biggest challenge is "helping our clients sell the need for change in complex governance structures." — Dave Lutz, Managing Director at Velvet Chainsaw Consulting
"Teaching—it's about how to continually provide (event attendees) with engaging learning experiences and having to reinvent content in an interesting and memorable way. Being exposed to the newest developments in event design production and technology in the Event Tech Lab helps a lot with this challenge." — James Morgan, Founder at James Morgan Associates
Finding and Managing Clients
For planners, vendors, service providers, and consultants, managing the business side of the events business is an ongoing challenge. Demand tends to be "lumpy" (e.g., spring and fall are the most popular times of the year for trade shows and corporate events). Trends, technology, and relationships are constantly evolving.
This makes balancing business development with execution an ongoing challenge. Here are specific comments from top event pros.
"Landing new clients is always a work in progress. It’s my responsibility to make sure we have not just the right clients but the right number of client events on our calendar... At the same time, I want to keep hiring new people and give them the opportunity to be part of the industry so I have to keep feeding the machine while maintaining a balance." — Christy Lamagna, CEO of Strategic Meetings & Events
"The biggest challenges I face are time management and taking on the right clients. I want to help everyone in our industry more than anything, but I have to be smart about who I take on because I have a finite amount of attention I can give." — Nick Borelli, President at Borelli Strategies
"Getting clients to commit to signing a contract is more challenging these days, but the biggest challenge we face is managing the clients once they are signed. Events can be expensive and stressful, especially for individuals or corporations hosting an event for the first time. I spend a lot of time coaching our clients through the process and reassuring them they are in good hands and it will all work out." —Annette Naif, Event Producer and Founder at Naif Productions
"I find it challenging to move with the ebb and flows of business—sometimes it’s very busy, then we slow right down. So, you don’t want to over-hire or run too lean and not have enough support. In this industry, when it rains it pours; so our team needs to flow with it when the work is coming in!" —Serena Holmes, President & CEO at Tigris Events
A Few Final Challenges: Tech, Focus, and Image
Event technology is designed to solve challenges for event professionals, by giving them new capabilities and improving efficiency. But as a couple of experts pointed out, sometimes the technology creates challenges, either because its "one size fits all" design means it actually fits no one well; it's difficult to use; or it's poorly supported.
"The biggest challenge and greatest blessing in events is technology. We all know good tech can help events scale, run smoothly, and create amazing attendee experiences. But the cost and complexity cripple many budget/time strapped organizations." — Keith Johnston, Managing Partner at i3 Events and Publisher of PlannerWire
"There is a lot of technology out there that we would love to take advantage of, but it can be complicated when it doesn’t meet all of our needs. We started looking into an event staffing software product three years ago—but since they only displayed shift by shift rather than the entire project, we decided to build our own platform. This has been a very long, expensive, and time-consuming road." — Serena Holmes, President & CEO at Tigris Events
Focus can be another challenge for event professionals. But given the importance of time management (see above) in the live events space, focus is essential:
"It’s easy to get distracted. I am a creative person and enjoy tackling new problems and creating something new. However, we count on profits from our business operations to fuel our growth. Our business needs to stay focused on the bottom line to fuel our success." — Samuel J. Smith, Managing Director at Interactive Meeting Technology LLC
It's fitting to close with a final, industry-wide challenge from Christy Lamagna, author of the new book The Strategic Planning Guide for Event Professionals. Too often, event professionals are denigrated as "party planners." That will change only when event marketers are able to articulate the contribution of live events to overall marketing and strategic goals, and to quantitatively demonstrate the value of events:
"I have an enormous challenge with the industry as a whole-how planners are perceived, how we behave, how we allow ourselves to be treated. Until we evolve from event planners into event strategists we are going to be overlooked, undervalued, overworked and frustrated." — Christy Lamagna, CEO of Strategic Meetings & Events
Time management, the pace of change, the need to educate disparate audiences—event professionals face a number of significant challenges. Fortunately, they are a creative and energetic group. Overcoming obstacles and making the magic happen is what they do.