Evening of Sass with Steve Kemble

IMG_2888It’s always great to carve the time to meet up with industry colleagues and enjoy a night of education and fun!  ISES New England did a great job at their May meeting choosing the Music City Queen docked behind the Boston Harbor Hotel as the floating venue for an evening with America’s Sassiest Lifestyle Guru, Steve Kemble. Steve’s infectious laugh, hilarious comments and candid stories entertained and educated us all on how to create a brand that allows us to showcase our best qualities and connect with the RIGHT clients.

Here are a few takeaways from Steve’s chat:

  • Figure out who your ideal client is and focus on them – find out how you can over deliver and make them want to come back for more!
  • Create a brand and a tag line that works for you.
  • Use a focus group to test your brand building.
  • Choose your company name and brand wisely and walk the walk – live it in how you dress, what you drive and how you face off to the world.
  • Consider tying your brand to YOU – and connect on a personal and real level with your clients so they get to know you.
  • Overhaul your website and launch it only when it’s finalized.
  • Get savvy with Social Media – create a blog and post regularly (I listened Steve!), tweet and post on FaceBook and Instagram.
  • Market yourself in various forms – newsletters, articles, television or radio.
  • Consider hiring a publicist – they can help you to juggle all the channels and coach you on taking the right steps to skyrocket your brand.
  • Don’t overlook your professional image – from a handshake to thank you notes – make an impression that is lasting and positive and showcases your talents and style the way you want it to!

IMG_2889UD Kitchen hosted delicious Thai-Asian bites, and Gordon’s Fine Wine’s and Liquor’s provided refreshments. Thank you also to Shutterbooth New England for the fun photo booth!

A big shout out to my friend and colleague Karen Salhaney and the recent Event Management graduates who joined her. It was great to meet them all and host a mini-book signing of my Event Planning and Wedding books!  It’s inspiring to see their passion for the industry and the steps they are taking to prepare themselves for successful careers as event professionals!  Congratulations to all!

Best Practices: Planning Tips

2010-06-04 22.05.54 How much should I spend to create a proposal?

It depends on the client and the scope of the project. A PowerPoint presentation made from your laptop with photos and diagrams may be appropriate for the corporate client. Multiple bound, tabbed binders presented to the board of directors for a nonprofit might make an impressive statement. A DVD with photo slide show from past events might “wow” a prospect. Find out who will attend the meeting and how many other companies are bidding, and ask them what they prefer before you spend the time, energy, and money on creating something that they would not appreciate.

Are production schedules really necessary?

From setup schedules for equipment and rentals, to time for the caterer to arrive, prep food, and heat up the ovens . . . all the preparations should be clearly laid out so everyone is ready to go when the party begins. Ordering monogrammed materials or securing permitting from local authorities for tenting needs may take more time than you realize, so make sure your schedule starts well in advance so no one is disappointed. If you develop a production schedule from the beginning, you can add in all the details to make sure nothing is left out.

2010-06-04 22.06.02 Does every event need marketing materials?

You would not necessarily think of a wedding as needing “marketing materials,” but consider how you will help your client present the event to the guests. Information from including a personalized website, save-the-date cards, and to in-room welcome cards listing the schedule of events would be appropriate to develop for a social client. Professionally printed materials may work for corporate or nonprofit clients while a computer-generated and copied flyer or a email blast or Evite would be acceptable for a school fund-raiser or community dance. Base your suggestions for marketing materials on the event client, budget, and culture of the client event to develop print or advertising materials that are a perfect match.

Do I need to worry about what resources my vendors need?

Absolutely! If you have a lighting company providing decor lighting, you will need to know what power they will need and make sure your venue has this available. If it is a tented event, you may need to secure a generator. Once the band, the caterer, and the lighting company all tie in, you may blow a fuse and end the party in one flip of a switch! Other needs include tables for caterers to prep on or a DJ to set their equipment on. You may need to consider listing a section in your vendor contract that asks them to detail what their needs will be including food, rentals, services, or utilities. This will help avoid any disappointments once the event begins.

Join me in a FREE COURSE – A Career In Events – What’s It All About?

Each semester, I visit the University of New Hampshire to chat with students in the Intro to Event Management class about what it’s like to be an event professional.  I get such a great response from the class – here are a few comments I have heard in the past:

“I didn’t realize what it was really like and all the different things a planner can do! Working with nonprofits, in communities and with people that really don’t understand how to pull all the details together. I know I can make a difference!”

“It’s great to know that you’re not just a ‘party planner’ and there’s a whole world of professionals out there with jobs that actually pay well.”

“There’s a lot more to it than I thought – knowing how to use software programs, being active in social media and being able to create and manage planning documents and spreadsheets – but that’s what makes planners true professionals.”

“I like that I can use my creativity and my business sense at the same time – doing a job each day that I really love!”

So, I decided to create this FREE COURSE and offer it to ANYONE, ANYWHERE through my online education school, to help all those who are wondering…Is a Career in Events Right for Me?

It’s simple to enroll – just complete this ENROLLMENT FORM and create a user name and password on our Student Site to begin the course. There are five topics with video presentations, resources and tips as well as a chance to share your ideas, concerns and questions in forums – with ME!  I’ll be your coach and mentor during the course and answer any questions you have about becoming a professional event or wedding planner.

Please don’t hesitate to contact me with any questions as I am always here to help!  I look forward to seeing you in the virtual hallways of the Special Events Institute!

Executive Director and Founder

Career Tips: Working out of the home

IMG_4610Business software seems very expensive. Do I need event planning software right away, or should I wait until I have multiple clients?

To get your business off to a professional start, I would recommend a basic office suite that, at the very least, includes word processing for letters, proposals, invitations, and menu cards, and a spreadsheet program for budgets, lists, and charts. (You can add to this with specialized software for wedding planners as you grow.) Doing things from scratch will help you develop some basic skills to keep your business and your clients organized and to help you understand the basic steps of your wed- ding planning business. If you don’t want to invest in financial software, you could create your invoices in Excel, but as soon as you can, it would be worth streamlining things and moving to a program that interacts with online banking and your receivables and invoices, such as QuickBooks.

How do I separate my household to-do lists from my event business or wedding planning to-do lists?

While lists are important, too many lists can be overwhelming. Since you may be responsible for being at every business appointment and lacrosse game, a master appointment schedule is the way to go. To complement your appointment book or smartphone or computer calendar, to-do lists will keep you on track to get things done on time. Too many items on your lists can be difficult to manage, so consider grouping them by clients or projects. I am not advocating leaving out details—in this business, it is important to remember even the smallest task—but to organize them in a manageable fashion. I recommend having a notebook or computer document that you can use to create your to-do list, which can be updated daily or weekly. I also have a notebook by my bed that I use to jot down things that I need to get done the next day; by writing them down, I can put them out of my head and get a good night’s rest. I also have small note- books and sticky pads handy in my car and purse for phone messages or things I don’t want to forget; I jot them down and transfer them later to my master to-do list. For your home tasks, consider using a corkboard or message area to enlist the help of other family members in getting things done, thereby removing some of the burden from your shoulders.

I don’t know any specialty vendors. How do you compile and build a list of vendors/resources?

The best way to find good vendors is to ask someone who has used them. If you can put together a networking group to share ideas and issues, you will learn who your colleagues are using and who they have had success or problems with. If you join an industry group such as the International Special Events Society (ISES) or the Association of Bridal Consultants (ABC), you will have access to monthly meetings and wedding professionals who attend meetings and are members. These are great resources for building your little red book of names and contacts. Don’t be afraid to ask hotels or country clubs you visit who they have had success with. They will be happy to share their top picks for floral designers, photographers, or limousine services.

How many clients should I take on in my first year?

Depending on how much time you have and whether you will start your business full-time or ease into it will determine how much you can take on at the start. My advice would be to apprentice with an experienced planner at the outset, and also offer to help a close friend or family member with his or her nuptials. Start with a smaller wedding with traditional details and ease into the destination or multicultural affairs. During high wedding season (spring and fall), you could end up with a wedding each weekend, but I wouldn’t take on more than two per month to start with. Once you get your planning timelines established and resources lined up, you can take on more as you feel comfortable. At the beginning, you will be doing most of the planning, meeting, and legwork yourself, so make sure you allot sufficient quality time for all of your clients to keep your business and reputation solid.

Spring 1 Term begins March 9th

Join us for our Spring 1 term which begins on March 9th and runs through May 3rd. Register for courses in our Special Events Certificate Program or for one of our Specialty Courses – Academic Event Planning or Weddings. You can find more about the classes on our MORE tab or register on the GET STARTED tab. Join event enthusiasts from across the globe in these award-winning courses to launch and expand your career as an event professional!
Young Businesswoman

Here’s what one of our student had to say:

“Overall, I greatly enjoyed my first course with Special Events Institute. I learned a tremendous amount – more than I anticipated.


My favorite topics and assignments included creating proposals in topic 5 and topic 7 which involved budgeting and financial/time management. They were both informative and the activities allowed me to explore and experiment with creating tools for events that will prove to be incredibly necessary.


The informative videos that went along with some of the topics, and the interactive assignments were really gratifying, both based on educational value and fun! Thank you so much more this experience and I look forward to moving on to course 2!”

Are you ready to join the next class?  What are you waiting for!  It’s fun, informative and if you have been thinking about taking the next step to get the confidence to plan events like a pro – we can help.

We also offer college credit through the Van Loan School at Endicott College and credit hours toward your CMP recertification.   For more information, email us at info@SpecialEventsInstitute.com or call us at 855-271-6636.

Meet Your Instructor: Karen Salhaney

karen salhaneyKaren Salhaney is SEI’s current instructor for Course 5: Event Management and Leadership.


What made you decide to become an event planner and what do you currently do professionally (aside from teach with SEI)?

Becoming an event planner was not a career I intentionally planned. As a matter of fact, I was running a successful Insurance Agency and never thought I’d ever blossom into an event professional.  However, it was through my philanthropic leadership while I was volunteering at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital that I discovered the love of bringing people together in a positive way — this magical feeling came from organizing fundraising events.  Over time, I came to realize that my passion was deeply imbedded in the event industry.  I thought, instead of managing insurance portfolios, why not manage events.  I took my volunteer experience and transferable skills of critical thinking, organization, and building good relationships which eventually evolved into a fulfilling event planning career.  I started at a Trade Show Exhibit firm, then to owning my own Event Management Company and finally to being a Director of Events for a nonprofit organization  I currently consult and teach Event Planning — and feeling very satisfied!


What SEI course do you teach and why do you enjoy it?

I currently teach the Event Management and Leadership course at SEI.  Being confident and well prepared while managing people and projects is critical. This course elevates ones competencies and confidence in the areas of events, financial, service and business management — all absolutely necessary as an event leader in our professional.  I get a lot of joy watching a student excel when they utilize the management tools that SEI has provided when planning a successful project and unveiling their creativity.


What was the biggest challenge you’ve faced as an event planner?

As we know, having a good relationship with clients, vendors, employers and your event team is very important.  As much as we can feel prepared through the event process, my biggest challenge where the times that communication was lacking.  I have discovered that we can not assume anything when planning an event and that it is better to over communicate then under communicate.


What advice do you have for the current SEI students?  As an event planner, being an astute listener can help ensure you come up with a special event that the client wants.  While listening seems like an easy skill to master, always remember that you involve:  paying attention, understanding and remembering.


When hiring, what type of qualities do you look for in an event planner new to the industry?

For me, it’s all about being positively authentic, efficient and organized.   When it comes to hiring an event planner, I will always choose the person who has a polished appearance, is respected, a positive attitude, is extremely resourceful and is always enthusiastic.

Congratulations to our Scholarship Winner – Kimberly Doell!

A big shout out to Kimberly Doell, Conferences and Special Events Coordinator at Bryant University for winning the International Special Events Society Rhode Island Chapter scholarship for a complementary course at the Special Events Institute. We asked her a bit about her background and why she wanted to enroll.  She’ll be joining our Event Marketing Course which begins on January 5th.  Here’s what she said…

Kimberly Doell

Kimberly Doell – Scholarship Winner from Bryant University

Why I wanted to win –

I love learning! I am excited to increase my event industry knowledge and participate in one of the Special Events Institute classes!

Why I am in events –

I was lucky enough to realize at a young age that I wanted to be in events. Despite knowing this, I did not go to college for event management. I decided to attend Bryant University and major in finance to gain a solid business background. I had jobs and internships in the event industry during college and was fortunate enough to land my current event job at Bryant.

What I love about events –

What isn’t there to love? Okay, that’s a joke. I’m organization freak, so I really enjoy the logistical side of events. What I love most is watching people experience the events we create. That’s what makes all the hard work worthwhile.

But really, my favorite part is blinging out my event binders. See below:


The Event Team at Bryant University

The Event Team at Bryant University

Event Binders created by the team at Bryant University

Kim’s “Blinged-Out” Event Binder for Commencement 2014

Why I value education –

I try to soak up as much knowledge as possible; whether it be from a formal channel, such a class, or from industry articles or even people. My favorite quote is from Bill Nye – “Everyone you will ever meet knows something you don’t.” There is always something new you can learn from people or resources. If you can take away just one new concept or idea, it is worth it. I think the only way to enhance your knowledge and career is to continually learn.

Meet Your Instructor: Mark Sonder, CSEP

We are very excited to introduce you to one of our newest instructors, Mark Sonder to the SEI team!



Industry expert, author, speaker, professor and named “Meeting Industry Guru” by Successful Meetings and Meeting News Magazines, Mark Sonder, Certified Special Events Professional, has worldwide experience in the strategic planning, development and management of multi-million dollar entertainment programs.

Sonder is the Chief Entertainment Officer at the award-winning entertainment agency Mark Sonder Productions, Inc., celebrating its 30th anniversary in 2015.

He has authored the full-length hardcover book on entertainment programs and operations, entitled, “Event Entertainment and Production” (Wiley & Sons). He has spoken from The Philippines to Trinidad and across the USA.

Mark acquired ViewPoint International Event and Destination Management Company, New York City’s full-service premier DMC in 1997. ViewPoint custom designed and produced programs, special events, spouse programs, tours, transportation, show and sporting program tickets. They also contracted venues for meetings, conventions, trade shows, exhibitions and incentives. Sonder sold his company 10 years later.

He is a Lecturer of Tourism Studies at The George Washington University’s Master of Tourism Administration’s Degree Program in Washington DC. In addition, Sonder taught at the Harrah’s Hotel School at UNLV for 6 years.

He was a founding member of the International Special Events Society and belongs to a number of professional industry associations.


What made you decide to become an event planner and what do you currently do professionally (aside from teach with SEI)?

I am the Chief Entertainment Officer at the award-winning 30 year old national entertainment agency, Mark Sonder Productions, Inc. I am on the faculty of the Master of Tourism Administration diploma program as well as its Event Management Certificate program at The George Washington University in Washington DC. I have literally written the book for the meeting and event industries on entertainment, through the Event Series published by Wiley, entitled, “Event Entertainment and Production”.


What SEI course do you teach and why do you enjoy it?

Although I haven’t been assigned as yet, it will be Event Marketing, a course I teach at The George Washington University, or Event Management and Leadership, as I have been a visionary and pioneer in this industry.


What was the biggest challenge you’ve faced as an event planner?

The largest challenge I have ever faced is an impromptu negotiation which I found myself in the middle of between The House of Blues and a major international pharmaceutical company.  Fortunately, I am a uniter and not a divider so after getting their respective attorneys on the phone while sitting at The House of Blues with the pharma client, it all worked to everyone’s satisfaction and the show went on!


Why do you believe getting a certification is important for event professionals today?

The importance a certification shows fellow industry colleagues, employers and clients alike that that person has gone through a certain amount of training and has passed a certain level of qualifications.


What advice do you have for the current SEI students?

I would be preaching to the choir as you are already enrolled in a fine certification program.  In this challenging economic time where organizations appear to have allocated less budget toward events, please go to work at a pre-exisiting company and receive a guaranteed income through your salary.


When hiring, what type of qualities do you look for in an event planner new to the industry?

Qualities of perspective employees for my company would include:

Exciting opportunity to work with our entrepreneurial company in a fun, casual atmosphere! In this job you will have the luxury of having your office, preferably out of your Washington DC area home! If you meet the following description AND you have the background outlined below, We’d love to hear from you!

In this position you will represent, demonstrate, and sell Mark Sonder Productions’s product and services to Fortune 500 organizations, meeting planners, hotel and casinos. Cold call on new prospects in an effort to meet and exceed sales quota and grow assigned territory. Attend local/regional networking and trade show events periodically. Follow up on inbound calls and inquiries regarding products and services. Maintain accurate and current account records utilizing company contact management system. Attend, the meetings/events/shows in person. Answers to Mr. Sonder.

Requirements for consideration include:

— At least 3 years of successful sales experience

— Strong understanding of various software, and Internet capabilities

— Proven ability to negotiate and close a deal

— Proven track record in exceeding sales quotas

— Experience in selling regionally, nationally and/or internationally

— Recognition as a top producer in current organization

— Experienced and successful in selling 6 figure deals

— Experience and success with sales quotas of $1million+


— High performer seeking perfection in job related tasks

— Absolute passion about job responsibilities

— Ability to solve problems and work with minimal supervision

— Excellent verbal, written and presentation communication skills

— Ability to handle multiple tasks simultaneously

— Willing to travel, if applicable


– Entrepreneurial environment

– Challenging and fast changing business environment

– Innovative and creative atmosphere

– Getting the job done is more important than the hours of work

– Customer service oriented

– Fun and casual atmosphere

Compensation is based on total industry revenues from the practice with no base salary. This is a true entrepreneurial venture meaning you get out what you put in. Income has no limits. If interested and qualified, please email Mr. Mark Sonder, CSEP at msonder@marksonderproductions.com.


Welcome to the SEI team Mark! We are excited to have you on board!

Career Tips: Becoming a Wedding Planner

HTSHBWedding2EdI am graduating from college and want to start my own business. Will brides be willing to hire someone who may seem young and inexperienced?

The best way to get hired is to begin as an apprentice with a more experienced planner. The early stages of a client relationship may include an initial meeting where you serve as an assistant to the seasoned planner. As the planning progresses, you will have the opportunity to show your value as you offer advice and take care of the countless details involved in the planning process. This is a great way to get a handle on the process while being under the watchful eye of a pro.

I am a teacher; could I run a wedding planning business as a second job, seeing that I have weekends and summers off? Is it even possible to juggle this new venture with an already-existing job?

It’s not only possible but advisable to consider another plan for income when you are just starting off in the wedding planning industry. You will want to have some financial support, whether it comes from another job, a loan, or a partner who helps with your living expenses while you get your company off the ground. Meetings with vendors and clients can be worked around a light or part-time day schedule. Weddings are often on weekends, when a typical Monday- through-Friday job would not interfere. Consider easing into your new business to keep your stress level down, at least when it comes to finances.

I just helped plan my sister’s wedding, and it was a great experience. How can I get my feet wet in the industry?

Consider approaching a church and asking if they have a day-of-event coordinator on staff. It may be a paid or volunteer job, but it will get you in the wedding mode quickly. Or, contact an established planner and ask if he or she needs help with setup on wedding days. Most planners would love to have an able and willing person who is passionate about the industry assisting them; a person who will treat the wedding process with the attention for detail that is necessary. Even if you aren’t paid for some early projects, it will give you the experience you need to launch your company and give you something to reference with a new client or prospect.

Are wedding consultants in demand today? Is it a growing industry?

While many industries go through slumps from time to time, for special event planners, the wedding market tends to remain consistent. Even if the economy takes a dip, weddings will still be celebrated and busy people will still call on professionals for advice and assistance. While budgets may be smaller, wedding planners can add value by offering ways to cut costs and still get a memorable wedding day. People still believe in the institution of marriage and celebrate this custom with a festive affair. With couples approaching their nuptials at a later age, both often employed and busy, hiring a wedding planner is a must! Destination and multicultural weddings have also become increasingly popular options for a specialized segment of the wedding planning industry, adding to the demand for experienced planners.


Career Tips: Marketing your business

DecisionsShould I specialize or generalize?

It depends on your skills and interests. I have developed a broad scope of services for my company, which has allowed me to ride through economic and seasonal changes. It also provides variety in events and clients and keeps me fresh with my ideas and concepts. The downside of variety is being diluted in your approach or confusing to clients that really want that “wedding planner” or “meeting planner.” I have tried to keep my Web site organized and easy to search for clients that only want to see my new social events or learn more about nonprofit work I am doing. If you are passionate about weddings, be a wedding planner. If you love to work with kids, be the best children’s party planner around. Don’t be afraid to throw all your event eggs in one basket. But if you like variety, make sure you are up on the differences between event markets and can switch hats easily.

Do I need to take advertisements out in local papers?

It’s not a bad idea to advertise if you know that the ad will reach the people who will buy your services. There are other ways to get your name out there, including sponsorship, trade show attendance, networking, and volunteering in your community. Word of mouth goes a long way in passing your name to the right potential client. Build your reputation event by event by delivering the kind of service you are proud of. Don’t underestimate nontraditional ways of advertising. All of these marketing tactics can help get your name out to those who may need your services.

Should I join a professional organization?

Joining a professional group will benefit you through networking with vendors, potential clients, and potential staff; provide education and resource information; and give you a chance to perfect your skills while serving as a leader in the industry. There are plenty of opportunities to assist with monthly meetings and industry events and try your event skills out as a volunteer. You will also develop a reputation in the industry and make contacts that can generate business. Don’t expect to get a lead at every meeting or justify your expenses at a conference with direct business. Sometimes it takes months or years for your name to be recognized and for business to come your way. But in the meantime, you build your event skills and people skills by being active in the industry.