By Brittney Wichtendahl
What do you do when a $600 wedding cake is collapsing in on itself in July’s humidity, the bride and groom haven’t cut it yet because they are instead getting photos together in front of the giraffe pen, and you’re still reeling from mediating an argument over dance floor space between the band and the photo booth operator? Keep calm and carry on, of course—oh, and seriously question whether a career in event planning is where you really want to be setting your sights.
My time spent as an events intern at a zoo this summer taught me so much more than I ever knew there was to learn about the world of planning events. In addition to weddings, we put on birthday parties, corporate meetings, and public events including family nights and brewery events with live music. Planning for any kind of event begins months in advance. When working for a non-profit, you must always keep the budget in mind. Luckily, with private events, people would come to us to host their party. However, they have their own vision and control of the guest list. For public events, we not only had to think of themes and activities, but secure sponsorship for each event, which was crucial, and ended up being a much more elaborate process than originally imagined. We always had to have a back-up plan in case the weather on the day of the event forced us inside, and there was no way to know exactly how many people would come. After the end of each event, we than had to tear down everything, and that same night, we would always have a meeting to discuss what worked and what didn’t. Afterwards, we were all usually exhausted, but having the meeting immediately following instead of waiting until the next day gave us a chance to remember everything clearly and get everything out.
I would agree with the assumption that weddings were the most fun part of my job. That does not mean, however, that they weren’t hard work. Weddings involved a whole different level of pressure for perfection. You have to be “on” at all times, and if anything is going wrong behind the scenes, you could not let the bride and groom know until absolutely necessary. The example I began this blog with was about a real wedding I not only worked this summer but was in charge of since my boss was out of town. I experienced a few things about event planning on that day that made me wonder if I was crazy for ever taking on such a position.
One thing I learned that day: arrive early. You can never be too early for an event that you’re putting on, and because I knew I was the go-to person for the vendors arriving that day, I felt I couldn’t be there early enough. This is how I managed the band/photo booth situation—if I had arrived at the time my boss told me it was okay to come in, I would have missed both of them by an hour, leaving some other zoo employees with the mess who weren’t involved with the event.
The second thing I learned is to breathe. Hyperventilating or crying and calling your mom will solve none of your problems. The bride and groom hired you for their day, you have to muster all your inner strength to put on a smile and delegate where necessary. When one of the catering staff found me and said, “The cake is falling,” of COURSE it felt like my stomach was in knots, but I couldn’t dwell on that or go gawk at the botched confection. I ignored the terrible feeling and instead ran across the zoo to pull the couple from the giraffe pen so they could have their few pictures with their cake in a side conference room. At another wedding, two members of the bridal party got into a physical altercation for which the police were called before the guests even started to arrive. You could never imagine that these kinds of things are going to happen, but when the unexpected does occur, you need to think quickly on your feet instead of running to the bathroom to text your friends, “Cops at the wedding!”
Lastly, working events, especially weddings, has taught me that it is a very rewarding kind of work. People come to your events to have fun, and usually they return if you’ve done a good job. For weddings, you’ve just facilitated a day the bride has dreamed about for years (and you get to be a part of helping her get ready and see their first looks—probably my very favorite part.) Yes, your feet will ache like you never thought possible after a full day of running around and setting up, but the ‘thank yous’ and smiles from guests will be worth it. I realize that sounds cheesy, but trust me. The bride whose cake fell still got to eat it and dance until after midnight with her friends. I got sent home with leftover cake crumbles and a head spinning with new experiences to draw from for next time.