Gloria Nelson, CSEP Event Design & Meeting Management

Risk: Manage and Mitigate

August 08, 2007

By Gloria Nelson, CSEP

Event design and execution has many components, and the more sophisticated the more risk there is of something potentially going "bump" in the morning, noon or night.  So we need to look at each event through a litmus test of where we have potential risk.

Do you wish to eliminate it?  Shift it?  Manage it?  Or...assume it? Dependent upon the degree of risk, an action plan of each event component of risk can then be evaluated in how you will handle it.

Here's some food for thought in just a couple of the do's that will not only help you to be assured your resources are adequately covered, but also how you can have ink set to paper to "shift" the risk (holding breath now), SHOULD an episode occur:

1.)  Certificates of Insurance:  By having a certificate of insurance of all outsourced suppliers in your event file, this will not only allow you to be assured of adequate coverage, but also to be notified in the event the policy lapses prior to your event.  Note, having a copy of the declarations page or a photocopied Certificate of Insurance doesn't provide this protection.  You must have the agent of record place your name in the block of advisement so you will be notified in the event of termination or lapse in coverage.

2.)  Installations: I remember talking to my insurance agent many moons ago and feeling very proud when he asked, "Who gives the final sign-off and approval on the inspection of the items you subcontract that comprise the underpinnings of your events"?  Well, I believe each one of us would have done the same as I proudly announced, "Well...I do"!  That was a wake-up call that I will not ever forget.  When he advised that in having the final sign-off that our company was assuming all the risk....I sat up and listened.  He shared a simple means of "shifting risk" by merely taking the quotes or contracts from each event program and writing in the following text followed by a signature line that is then penned by the lead person on each segment of event installation.   It merely says:  Installed & Inspected By: ___________________________________

These are just two very simple things that can be done as a starting point in looking at and evaluating risk.  Always check with your own insurance agent as not only does coverage vary state-by-state, but it may also change if the state you're executing an event is different than the one where your insurance policy is written.

For a comprehensive look at understanding managing risk, look to the new text soon to be on the bookstands authored by Julia Rutherford Silvers, CSEP, titled, "Risk Management for Meeting and Event Planners".  It's available online at Julia's site by visiting or through for pre-orders .  This is a "must have" on any event professionals resource book shelf.

So instead of shifting in your seat over the safety of your attendees, perform your due diligence and when and if possible....shift the risk and mitigate the potential losses to your company or organization!

Certification: The ABC's of a CSEP

August 07, 2007

By Gloria Nelson, CSEP

The hallmark designation of Certified Special Events Professional (CSEP) is bestowed upon industry professionals who have gone through a similar process of other industry certification designations.  The CSEP is awarded by the International Special Events Society (ISES) after candidates have shown
industry commitment through education, performance, experience, service to the industry and also reflects their commitment to the profession of event planning and management through ethics and conduct.

Each candidate must qualify to apply with various criteria and then goes through a three part process including letters of recommendation proving experience and expertise; a multiple choice examination of industry terminology and a three-hour essay examination testing their knowledge by articulating the core competencies of Development, Pre-Production, Production and Post-Production within 47 areas of event management criteria.

One might ask, "Why is it important for me to have or hire a CSEP?", which then begs us to ask ourselves the question if we would prefer to go to a bookkeeper or a CPA at tax time, or a general surgeon or a surgical specialist if one needed to undergo surgery.

In our world of alphabet soup, by adding initials after your name, along with balancing the other acronyms in our industry, what does it really mean to garner your certification and what should it mean when you consider hiring a staff member or a third-party?  Here's a sampling as provided by ISES.

     *  Certification demonstrates commitment to the special events industry. Whether a CEO, department director or newcomer to the special events profession, garnering the CSEP shows your peers, clients, and the public your commitment to your career and your ability to perform to set

    * CSEP enhances professional image. The CSEP program seeks to grow, promote and develop certified professionals who can stand "out in front" as examples of excellence.

    * CSEP establishes professional credentials. Because the CSEP recognizes individual accomplishments, it serves as an impartial, third-party endorsement to your knowledge and experience. The designation defines you beyond your job description or academic degree.

    * CSEP improves career opportunities. Certification identifies you as one who can adapt to changes in work, technology, business practices and innovation. It gives you the edge.

    * Certification improves your knowledge and skills. Achieving your CSEP shows your competence by confirming proficiency and career involvement, thus assuring knowledge.

    * CSEP offers greater recognition from peers. As a CSEP, you can expect increased recognition from peers for taking that extra step in your professional development.

Robert Sivek, CSEP, CERP of The Meetinghouse Companies in Elmhurst, Illinois shares, "It is important to be recognized as one of the highly qualified people in my field. With many newcomers to the special events industry, I want my clients to know that I am dedicated to the profession." In essence, professionals who have garnered their CSEP in the industry have gone the "extra mile" to stand out amongst their peers after thorough examination with measurable psychometrics administered by a third party testing company. As with other certifications, the CSEP also requires re-certification every five years.

So as we look at all the "C's" in our industry, may this added bit of certification information help you to understand the process, as well as accomplishment, when looking at your own professional path as a planner and also what you may wish to consider when the need to outsource is required. The ISES website ( as a "Finder Service" located under the "Resource" tab also allowing you to search with a CSEP filter.

For those who are interested in the CSEP, visit the ISES website or call the Education Assistant at 1-800-688-ISES (4737).  So that's the ABC's of the CSEP!

First Do No Harm...

January 18, 2007

Having recently executed an event in


at the House of Harley, I asked the onsite event sales account executive if she would please provide the location, phone numbers and response times for both fire and police along with their average response times to their location.  Additionally who, if any, additional staff at the site were CPR or First Aid Certified by a bona fide organization such as the Red Cross or the local fire department.  Are you a card carrying member and do you practice CPR periodically to remember the protocol?

The event with only 40 or so attendees had a five page policy and procedure document given to each team lead to read, review, contribute to and share with their staff so we were all on the same safety/risk management page.  For anyone who has heard either Joan Eisenstodt or Julia Rutherford Silvers, CSEP speak on the topic of risk management, one would NEVER attempt to even venture out of bed, or at the best their home, much less attempt to coordinate a meeting or event!  But life must go on and so much the show….

Are we doing all we can to ensure the safety of not just our attendees, but our team members of staff and strategic partners as well?  Are we engaging them in the active process of planning and GAP analysis to see if we’ve missed anything?  It might sound silly, but I sincerely believe that each planner has equal responsibility in assuming a Hippocratic Oath to “first do no harm”.  It’s always better to be safe vs. sorry.  What say you?

Have you any experiences good, bad or ugly you’d like to share? 

Cheap Chic?

January 17, 2007

More and more frequently, we are being challenged to find cost cutting measures that deliver the WOW factor for either the same as the previous year's investment allocation allowed OR, possibly even less.  Many times as professionals, we think the HR Department is misguided by managers who fail to include "magician" in the job posting.  How many times have you felt like you've been charged with pulling something out of thin air?

Moving from a major metropolitan area to a much more conservative market that not only perceives events differently, but lacks the ability to hop in the car and drive to the wholesale fabric mart or a wholesale floral house or design house was a major adjustment.  However, when we stop and think for a moment about what other resources are now available online AND also in our own backyard, we get to thinking out of the box and can truly surprise ourselves.  Having a list like MiForum and other professional environs to "bounce" creative concepts or resources is always helpful too.  Here's a few of the ones that I've used that are reasonable and accessible:

  • Goodwill Industries Retail Shops (or local thrift shops):  Great for finding anything from costuming to containers for floral/centerpiece structure(s).    You never know what type of 3-D props you'll find either.
  • Hobby Lobby and Ben Franklin:  These stores can many time have clearance items available for less than wholesale!  Don't be afraid to do some mixing and matching either as an eclectic look, so long as it's within the same design element family is really fun.  So grab what you need in combos of low lotus dishes, 12" cylinders or if they're REALLY a good buy....grab some of those tall long neck 24-36" vases.  You'd be very surprised how inexpensive they can be.  Combined on a 12" mirror tile that you can get in twelve packs from Home Depot or Menards (this may not be the retailers across the nation, but they're regional in the Midwest), you can bounce anything with added candlelight and make a table look breathtaking.
  • Surplus Stores:  If you're doing anything that is jungle themed, MASH-oriented or a team event that you want inexpensive "uniforms", I've found the local Army/Navy store to be a treasure trove.  I located a 20x30' camouflaged net to use on a pipe and drape backdrop and got green t's and pants for the entire band and event staff.  It was a great value and the client realized quickly when being quoted fees that even while we were "buying it", it was far less expensive than utilizing a prop house for this particular theme.
  • Oriental Trading:  You'd be amazed at what little treasure troves you can find in this publication along with other novelty websites.  If it blinks, flashes or's HOT!  Make sure your lead time is ample so that you can "sample before you buy" in the quantity you'll need.  Buying a sample ensures it is up to your esthetic standards. 
  • eBay & Online Auctions:  Having recently done a private social event, we themed the evening as a Flight of Fantasy in celebrating a 40 year birthday for someone who had survived a brain tumor and now has two little beautiful girls...and his wife wanted it special.  She said her husband loves off and running went the creativity with the team.  I have the tendency to also like "authentic" design elements, so we created a departure gate, a passenger lounge and a faux airplane setup.  I actually found the oxygen mask and seatbelts used for safety instruction on eBay. This made me realize there's not only a market for what we need here, but I can always unload it and get money BACK if I don't want to inventory something!  Come to think of it, we haven't used those green uniforms from the remote landing strip theme.....maybe there's a listing on the horizon and some return revenue.

I hope these tidbits help stir some of your creative juices...and please, post other favorite finds to share.  As our dear friend Richard Aaron, CSEP, CMP says, "It's okay to steal ideas.....emulation is the most sincere form of flattery".  Designers in fashion do it every lest share and recycle what works and where you've found those treasures!  ~GN

Special Effects: Are they really special?

January 16, 2007

By Gloria Nelson, CSEP

The incorporation of special effects can be very dynamic, but are planners reluctant to use them because they perceive them to siphon off too much of the investment allocation?  One of my personal favorites are FlutterFetti wands that are tubes filled with tissue or mylar confetti and start as inexpensively as about $1.00 ea.  These are GREAT for themed events that have moments of involving the attendees, whether it's to honor someone's achievements, a company's goal that's been hit....a myriad of reasons.   Special effects can be very simple or as sophisticated and "high tech" as what you'd see on Broadway, at a rock concert road show or at the Academy Awards.

What are some of the basics?

  • Balloon Drops/Walls (Walls are exceptional in tandem with some type of reveal.)
  • Confetti/Streamers  (Strategic time and placement is imperative and they can be self-launched through the purchase of a system, or integrated through your production company.)
  • Dry Ice or Chemical Fog (This infuses either a stage or even areas where foods are served giving the environment an ethereal feel.)
  • Pyrotechnics (For both indoor and outdoor use and includes anything as simple as a flash pot box or a gerb to categorized "shells", but always use caution and work only with insured and licensed tried and true suppliers.)
  • Flying  (This has nothing to do with planes, but everything to do with bringing in an object or a person from the air.  This is not to be confused with the term "flying" when suspending speakers from trussing or rigging points.)

Why use special effects?  They add drama and create emotional impact.  Within the realm of the "experience economy" and a definite part of today's marketing mix, this is becoming more and more the norm in our worlds of edutainment and infotainment.  When used properly, they'll bring your event or meeting "over the top" without taking your investment allocation down the stewardship drain.

Special effects should be used:

  • To support the goals and objectives of your program.  They should be seriously considered and evaluated based upon ROI during the design/planning phase of your project.
  • They should have a dramatic effect and be used at what David Spear, CSEP would say in his world of pyro, "poignant moments" to create an emphasis within your program.
  • Integration in appropriate proportion to the overall event mix.  In other words, have a balance in the program, but think of how effects support the entire design and marketing commuinications message concept(s).

What do you want to watch out for in the process?

  • Use caution when sending out RFP's.  Don't be stingy with information as the more you share in collaboration with your potential strategic partners who handle these aspects of your event and are open for their feedback of how to make your program better, you and your ultimate "end user" will gain the greatest benefit and accolades.
  • Make sure all your suppliers are appropriately licensed and insured.  Note that if you want proof of insurance with an insurance certificate, which is appropriate, this will advise you along the way between contract and deposit to the date of event if the status of the insured changes.  However, if you wish to be added as an additional "insured", this could result in additional fees dependent upon the rating and escalated risk and this cost will be passed along to the end user.
  • Be cautious with quotes or proposals that come back imbalanced in comparison to others.  These items should raise red flags if their "overloading" you with their "stuff".   It is within the norm, however, to have a strategic partner put together their proposal and also offer "additional options" you may wish to consider if your investment allocation permits, that make sense within your event or program.

Please feel free to share some of your treasure trove and challenge cups here in what you've incorporated, what worked, didn't work and why so we can experience the benefits from peer-to-peer sharing!

We’ve Come a Long Way…

January 12, 2007

By Gloria Nelson, CSEP

Watching the birth of our industry, and seeing our society move from an industrial to information and now conceptual age, it’s had a monumental impact on the world of events. We’ve become high tech and high touch.  The more high tech our world has become, the more need for face-to-face encounters, especially special events.  As Boomers give way to Gen X, Y and Millennials we’ll also move our world up another meteoric notch in event management.  Experiential marketing has been born and with that comes a whole new order of researching, designing and managing events.  In the next few days, we’ll experience a peer-to-peer exchange of some of the biggest changes and the best tools….so stay tuned and jump on in and share!

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