There’s a reason that event planner is ranked among the most stressful jobs in the US by Forbes. The organization, the focus, the care, the handholding, the sleep deprivation, and the creativity that goes into planning an event is unparalleled. What actually goes into planning an event for 4,500+ people? With most of the work being done behind-the-scenes, essentially “invisible” to many in the organization, few understand the hours that go into planning an event. How does the invisible workload of the event planner manifest? I’m going to show you.
What is Cvent?
Cvent has been an active partner of event professionals since 1999. Our goal? Create technology that cuts down the time and money spent on manual planning processes, improves the attendee experience, and makes events program more profitable. Not only do we create technology to help the meetings and events industry, but we also hold events—1200+ a year. This year, I got to take a behind the scenes look at our largest event, Cvent CONNECT.
Getting off the Plane
Slot machines ping and flash in the airport. From the moment you arrive, you’re primed for what to expect. An adult Disney World. Excitement to the extreme. There isn’t a city like this anywhere else. Hot, dry air coats you from head to toe the instant you step outside at the airport.
Welcome to Las Vegas.
A golden lion stands guard outside the third-largest hotel complex in the world. The MGM Grand will be home for the next week, a week that has been in the works for more than a year. Cvent CONNECT, an annual user conference held in Las Vegas, NV, is the premier event technology conference where event and hospitality professionals come together to connect, learn, and engage.
Meet the Team
- Rachel Andrews, Director Of Meetings & Events, Cvent CONNECT Overall Lead
- Paulina Curto, Manager Of Meetings & Events Marquee Programs, Cvent CONNECT Lead Logistics – Manager Of All Things Specs/Programming
- Allyson Evancheck, Manager Of Meetings & Event Operations, Cvent CONNECT Innovation Pavilion
- Robin Clark, Manager, Trade Shows & Events
- Lauren Allison, Senior Meeting & Event Planner, Cvent CONNECT Trade Show Trailblazer
- Kayla Sommers, Meeting & Event Planner, Cvent CONNECT Special Events, Evening Events & Food And Beverage Connoisseur
- Amanda Greenspan D’Souza, Meeting & Event Planner, Special Events Support
- Bianca Cruz, Meeting & Event Coordinator, Cvent CONNECT Tech Tour Lead & Innovation Pavilion Support
- Barbara Pavesi, Senior Trade Show Planner, Cvent CONNECT War Room Manager & Ancillary Support
- Abi Rubenmeyer, Meeting & Event Coordinator, Cvent Connect Onsite Registration Lead & Staffing Management
- Manpreet Kaur, Senior Manager, Meetings & Events, Cvent CONNECT Rooming, Onsite Staffing Needs, Etc.
3 Days Until Doors Open
Friday, July 5th
Today, the staff office, or war room, is calm. So far, only planners occupy the space. Most arrived in Vegas two days earlier in an attempt to quell unavoidable jetlag and be nearby as setup began. It’s Friday, three days before the conference opens with a round of training camps and a Leadership Summit. There are three days left to prepare for more than 4,500 attendees.
At this point, it’s about organization. First step? The infamous war room. Called that for good reason, it’s where all key decisions happen, kind of like the NASA control room. One table commands the room, though there are others set up for the intruders who will float in and out throughout the event. The main table is for the core team. Walkies are unloaded and arranged in neat rows along with badge scanners, laptops, digital signage, mics, RFID, routers, printers, and more. Large sheets of paper are taped to the walls, calling out different events within the conference. Boxes of all sizes are pushed and shoved under the correct sign, waiting to be ripped open by the shiny steel of an X-ACTO knife.
The planning team has their marching orders, and each is focused on accomplishing their tasks. From managing the trade show build to handling deliveries, each planner has a job. It isn’t just the planners who have to worry about the coming days. This early event setup also involves the Cvent creative team, a mix of graphic designers, photographers, and videographers, who need to oversee signage as it arrives and is installed.
A member of the Cvent Creative staff stands before a never-ending row of windows, brilliant sun filtering onto signs laid along the carpet. Attendees will walk past more than forty windows each day to and from the conference. Why not make them count? Funny phrases, product announcements, and brand messaging punctuate the signs in a bright font.
This is the day that things need to happen. If the contractors fall behind loading-in on day one, the setup timeline will be thrown off. The space in the MGM Grand is blank. On the one hand, the emptiness of the conference center means that there are unlimited options when it comes to branding and designing the space. On the other hand, it means that the setup is extensive. From signage to structures, technology to activation, there is a lot to do. The task seems impossible, and for a less seasoned staff of planners, it might be. However, the planning team has been doing this for years.
Today, the team is focused but in good spirits. No one is (currently) fighting a losing battle against sleep deprivation, a battle which will wage war on the entire staff by Day 2 of the conference. The remains of a Starbucks run occupy the tables and unopened Red Bull waits on the side table.
Major milestones for the day have been met. The registration desk is almost ready to go, the Innovation Pavilion has been started, the Trade Show looks like a graveyard of white, and lighting rigs are still low to the ground in the general conference space. With a space this size, not everything can happen in a day.
The war room shuts down early, locked doors forcing the end of the workday. There will be late nights to come, but this isn’t one of them.
2 Days Until Doors Open
Saturday, July 6th
A whiteboard sits in the middle of the room commanding attention, decorated with a neatly lettered list. The running to-dos for the day, spanning from small to large. There are boxes to unload, pashminas to roll, bags to stuff. The task of the day? Manual labor. While automation in the form of event management technology has taken over planning processes and aids with logistics, some things require a good old set of hands. The team breaks into groups, ready with their assignments and grabs less entangled staff to aid in their efforts. Lunch bags get unpacked, stuffed with fliers and pins, and repacked into cardboard boxes, ready for the hotel to take for the Cvent Celebrity room drop. Pashminas in cream and navy are rolled and packed into buckets, awaiting general session and the onslaught of ‘too cold’ attendees.
Workout clothes are the uniform today, but as the minutes pass and the clock approaches 11:00 am, members of the planning team disappear and reappear in pressed dresses and statement earrings, ready to start the event off on the right, high-heeled, foot. The Hotel Pre-Con – a kickoff meeting hosted by MGM for the Cvent planners, vendors, and all hotel essential contacts to ensure a successful event - marks the official start of Cvent CONNECT with a champagne toast, a nod to the partnership between venue and the event.
As morning turns to afternoon, additional marketing staff flows into the war room, fresh off of a five-hour plane ride. They enter in fits and spurts, each one bringing a new wave of excitement. Happy welcomes bounce against the padded walls as reunions occur, reconnecting coworkers who work in different offices. With 4,500+ employees, the marketing, sales, customer success, tech, creative, and planning teams who work the hardest on Cvent CONNECT plan from offices states and countries away. One planner brings a present with her. Tanks, toting the planner mantra, It’s fine. I’m fine. Everything’s fine, which are donned immediately. The heels are off now, sneakers relaced, and it’s time to tackle the strenuous day. There are boxes to unpack and move, collateral to label and organize, and swag to relocate throughout the conference space. Little successes are celebrated with gusto. Every time a task is marked as complete, a ribbon, called the Celebration Stick, is swirled in the air.
It’s clearer today the roles of the planning team. The ladies split off to their sections, grabbing helpers along the way. Paulina sits hidden behind a newly constructed monitor in the war room, driving the ship. Lauren supervises the trade show. Bianca and Allyson run back and forth from the Innovation Pavilion to the war room. Babs rolls her trusty cart loaded with swag throughout the event space. The Innovation Pavilion is supposed to be completed today but based on the tools and diagrams still lying around, it won’t be. The Trade Show, a space that will hold 350 exhibitors, is on its way. The basic booths are built, creating a maze of plywood and metal. Registration is almost ready. Rows of iPads and badge printers sit idle, ready and waiting to check-in attendees.
At 5:00 pm, the entire team meets in the war room. Creative, planning, and marketing congregate for a Wine and Walk, a guided happy hour inspired tour of the space. It’s been a long day and there’s more to set up, but the walkthrough is crucial to empowering the other team members to champion their projects. There is laughter as the group sips from plastic cups and takes in the rapidly changing space. Three floors, two escalators, endless rooms for sessions, and an entire building dedicated to the trade show. It seems impossible that the space will be filled with attendees in a matter of days.
1 Day Until Doors Open
Sunday, July 7th
This early, the casino floor is occupied by two types of people. Those with cocktail glasses to their right, still out from the night before, and those clutching coffee cups, ready for a new day. Lights flash, slot machines sing, oxygen is pumping. t’s hard not lose your sense of time.
The war room is buzzing. Conversations take over the previously quiet space, filling it with energy.
“This isn’t right.”
“Can I borrow you?”
“What’s the Wi-Fi password”
“What can I help with?’
“Have you seen Paulina?”
“Why can’t I stop eating?”
“The Untouchables,” otherwise known as the planning team, are the ten people who are needed by each other and who are needed by everyone else. Calls, texts, Slack, drivebys. There are running lists and to-dos to follow up on while answering questions from executives and new arrivals. Trust has been placed in the hands of the jetlagged and sleep-addled who run around in a hurricane of chaos, trying to find their way back into the momentary calm of the eye of the storm.
There’s tension now, it’s unmistakable. Major stakeholders are in the building or will land soon, which means feedback is imminent. Already, they’ve noticed the misspelling of a directional sign that will have to be reprinted. New technology is being fussy during keynote run-throughs and adds hours onto rehearsal. Contractors are everywhere, building and hanging whatever’s left.
It’s going to be a long day.
The planners are no longer alone. A deluge of staff has arrived. As the largest event technology conference, Cvent primarily staffs with its own. Sales reps are ready to meet with clients, customer success is prepped to answer any question. Their work doesn’t start for another day, but until then they’re put to work. Notebooks are placed on chair after chair in general session. More bags, this time for VisitDallas, are stuffed with chips, salsa, and a surprise for another room drop. Never underestimate the allure of free stuff.
Let the countdown clocks begin.
There are true deadlines today. The Innovation Pavilion has to be ready by 2 pm on Monday. The main conference spaces need to be set by the end of the day. A key touchpoint, the registration desk, is almost ready. Colored lanyards fill hangers and iPads smile out into the foyer, waiting for attendees to register and collect freshly printed badges.
A sign has been ordered, a rush job that will be back ready in less than an hour. Kayla dissolves into laughter as she brings the sign into the room. The request for a 3x4 sign was taken literally – rather than feet, the printer used inches. It’s the little things that keep the mood light.
Tours run back-to-back for new arrivals. The space that’s begun to feel like home to some, is still brand new for others. The weekend, a logistical game of Tetris marred by manual labor is in the final push and, as the saying goes, many hands make light work. While the planning team knows more than anyone, they can’t take on every task. Delegation is left in the hands of those who were put in charge of a project earlier in the day. The hours fly by, yet the day doesn’t end. Red Bull has been opened and eyes are heavy with sleep, but the planners soldier on.
The last task of the day has finally arrived, the final walkthrough with key stakeholders. There are less than twelve hours until attendees flood the space.
The moment we’ve all been waiting for…
Monday, July 8th
Attendees arrive and grab badges in seconds, ready for the week to begin. They look around in awe, taking photos at the ball pit on the first floor, sending last-minute emails from the couches on the second floor, fixing plates of bacon and eggs on the third floor.
Walkie talkies are on low in the war room, filling the background like a police scanner. There are final set-ups to do, computers to log into for the Feature Flash Theater, rehearsals running for the Excellence Awards before the room is taken over by the Leadership Summit, dancers twirling around the general session stage reworking choreography, and more. Everywhere you look, there’s activity.
But the life of a planner never stops. This isn’t the only event the planning team is responsible for and often, deadlines overlap. In the midst of orchestrating staffing and more, Abi signs papers for the event she’s working on in a few months, the invisible workload of planners buried beneath the shiny veneer stakeholders see.
It’s barely 8:00 am the morning of Cvent CONNECT – Day 1, otherwise known as “showtime.” Months, weeks, days, seconds of devotion, focus, frustration, and love have gone into this moment. None of the late nights, the missing signage, the reworked diagrams, the last-minute decisions, the worry is noticeable. The team stands united in black, the universal clothing choice of planners. Pencil skirts, jumpsuits, tailored dresses. If you aren’t paying attention, you might not notice them, but they’re there. The definition of a boss. They stand as strong silhouettes, high in their heels, surveying the scene with an earpiece in one ear and a phone in hand. They’ve prepared for this for more than a year. They’re ready.
To learn more about Cvent CONNECT, head to the website to view past sessions, speakers, and more. Want more pics? Check out our Instagram.