What’s it really like to be an event planner? What aspects of your job do you love? What lessons have you learned along the way? With our ‘Confessions of an Event Planner’ series we aim to get under the skin of our interviewees and find out what it really takes to be a creator.

Hannah Sheppard, Clownfish Events

We kick off the series with Hannah Sheppard, Event Director at Clownfish Events. Hannah has more than 15 years in the industry, with experience spanning from corporate conferences to private parties for high net worth individuals. She recently took over London’s Borough Market for the launch of the BOSH vegan cookbook and is now in ‘full swing’ planning Winter Wonderland and Narnia themed Christmas parties.

A part of my job I wish I could change…

“Having worked my way up the events ladder, the thing I miss is getting my hands dirty. I started my career at Chelsea Harbour Design Centre working in interior design and furniture design. The first event I looked at was London Design Week, which is where I got my love for combining events and design together. I’m very arty and creative but I don’t get that hands-on experience as much as I used to. For example, we’re doing a big event in January and we’re creating a book arch. It was something I conceived and designed but then I handed it over to my lovely technical team to build it. I don’t get to be part of that anymore and that’s what I miss.”

What I was most surprised to discover when I started working in events…

“What took me by surprise was the level of budget that people put into events. It was quite dramatic, especially for private parties. To give you an idea, for the private market, we can be putting on birthday parties with a budget in excess of £80,000. Of course, once I got into the technical aspects of event planning I saw how quickly the money can be spent if you were putting on a big production.”

The advice I wish I’d been given at the start…

“It’s an odd one, but I wish someone had told me, when I started, just to learn to breathe properly. It can be very overwhelming when you’re starting off in this industry. You’ve got to learn very quickly that it doesn’t matter what’s going on in the background, you have to have a calm, cool, collected exterior because your client feeds off that. I think if I’d learned to breathe properly years ago it would have kept the anxiety at bay. It’s important not to doubt yourself and just believe you can do it because the show must go on and you have to deliver.”

Something I wish others understood…

“I really wish people understood how long it takes to plan an event. I think people think you just wave a magic wand and these beautiful events just miraculously happen – they don’t. There is an awful lot of planning that goes into the backside of an event and it can be over a course of months. Sometimes people come to you with a last minute event and say ‘can you make it happen?’ Of course we can, but we’ll have to work through the night and it requires enormous dedication from our team. In some ways, it compliments us, because when they’re at the event, people see it as being seamless. It’s because we’re calm and everything is under control, but I would love people to understand the lengths we go to.”

My secret weapon is…

“It has to be my little black book of contacts. Without that book of contacts, we’d be lost. Within events, there are hundreds of different elements when you’re thinking about full design. For example, if we’re looking for a particular rose for a wedding, or a particular printed bit of material that we’d like or if we want to create a magical arch and we’re looking for the right willow to construct it – our little black book has all the contacts and suppliers that we work with to produce all the elements of an event.”

The biggest lesson I’ve learned…

“…is that no two events should be the same. For example, back in the summer we had two eighteenth birthday parties and both clients wanted to have the same theming, although they’d come to us independently. They wanted club themed parties and it could have been tempting to roll out the same event for both but we know that the personality of the client has to come through into an event. It’s so important that those little touches are breathed into the planning and that you deliver something truly bespoke.”

My hairiest moment (and how I pulled it back)…

“A hairy moment, which was also hilarious, was when I was organising a charity gala dinner. I was working with a lovely group of volunteers who had created the most beautiful flower displays on individual pedestals. One of the guests got far too close to one and brushed against it, making it wobble. I could foresee it crashing down and really ruining part of the event and managed to dash across the room and save it. But, somehow my arm then got stuck inside and I couldn’t move! Luckily the CEO who I knew really well spotted what was going on and came over to help extract me before anyone else realised.”

My secret ambition is…

“To own my own venue. I would love to own a venue in central London, ideally with some green space. For me, it’s a bit of a nightmare to find the right venue in London for what we require. What I would like is my own space that we could decorate and transform exactly how we wanted to for each event and which fitted all our needs. Then we could invite people to come to us and experience the real us without living our designs and our ideas through our clients’ vision.”

What the attendees don’t know is…

“The attendees have no idea about the meticulous planning that goes into an event. We make our jobs look easy, but really it’s hard, and, without the planning, it would exhaust the sanest person. It’s all in the little details, but they’re the bits that people take away as guests so they’re important.”

This was embarrassing…

“I was organising a conference and my client rung me half an hour before she was due to turn up on site to tell me that her car had broken down on the way. She was screaming at me in a fit of panic because she was supposed to be introducing the conference, talking about her company and then introducing the speakers. Public speaking is something I don’t do – I organise events; I put everybody else in the limelight. I remember her pleading that I needed to do it and I found myself saying yes and then standing up in front of 500 people, introducing the conference, the colour of a tomato!

However, something I did learn fairly early on is that in the event industry you need to push yourself and put yourself out of your comfort zone – and that is definitely one of the most embarrassing ways that I did it. I achieved it and I got a round of applause, so I was quite pleased with myself, but I will never forget the colour of my face as it was being projected on the screen behind me.”

You may not be a seasoned event organiser with stories to tell yet, but it’s easier than ever to get started! Check out our resources page and access a host of ebooks, guides and tip sheets to set you on the right track.

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