Jackie Penner at the Junction flea market at the Brickworks.

There is a lot of pressure on all professionals and businesses as they are being asked to grow and enter new markets. What kind of training do you think can address this imperative?

I think I may still be a bit ‘old-school’ in that there has been an extensive change in training methods over the last decade but I do believe the most important training people can get is through experience. Generally speaking, people learn the most by doing and if they cannot gain experience in new markets straight away, it is always beneficial to talk and create relationships with other professionals that have gone through similar processes. As an event coordinator, the more events I plan, the more I learn. Every event has the same basic principles but the type of event, the people you are planning the event for, and the particular details are all different. Even though the basis for planning a successful event remains the same, every event poses new challenges and new experiences. From these new experiences, it has encouraged me to be more innovative, adventurous, and expand myself in the event planning industry.

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How have new technologies affected training sessions.

New technology in training has forced individuals and businesses to challenge the typical way they are used to learning. For individuals, it gives us the freedom to choose how we learn, when we learn and what we learn – which has its benefits but also has its downfalls. For businesses, it requires them to do more research about the options that are available for their employees. The one absolutely necessary training that  professionals should have is social media. Everyone has seen how social media is taking over in so many different industries that without proper knowledge and effective training in this area, you fall behind quicker than ever.

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There are many interesting conferences, meet ups and of course online blogs for event planners, managers, any individual in the event industry … to share information and keep event planners inspired… what are your go to spots for inspiration?

To be honest, my main source of information and inspiration derives from twitter. I follow industry leaders in a variety of fields, as well as business professionals that I look up to and admire. There is SO much information posted through twitter on a daily basis, actually more like on a minute-basis, that it takes me all over the internet. I try not to limit myself to one source of information and inspiration because of the vast amounts available. When I am intrigued by a post or a link, I delve deeper. One minute I will be reading tips on how to grow my business and the other minute I’ll be gushing over a pretty pink wedding – twitter takes me all over the place and I love it!

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Do you see a philanthropic spirit entering into corporate spending. Do you see conferences and training sessions making an effort  to include a philanthropic element to their functions?

It is becoming more and more essential for businesses to do good for the community they are working in. The event industry is no different than any other. The companies that adopt this culture will have a competitive advantage in the coming years. As businesses become more aware of the need and benefit philanthropic initiatives can have on their company, then we will start to see this more in conferences and training sessions.

What are your experiences with the phenomenon of “unconferences” ie. allowing participants to join casual breakout conversations as a means to create new topics for discussion within the main conference or training session?

‘Unconferences’ is a great concept, if they are run correctly. I have seen it create extremely beneficial results for the participants and hosts and I have also seen it flop. The key to hosting a successful, valuable unconference is (ironically enough) in the structure and the facilitators.

What gets you really psyched about your job?

There are so many aspects about event coordinating that encourage and inspire me, and nourish the true passion I have for this industry. One thing that always resonates with me is the post-event high I get from seeing truly satisfied and prideful clients. Knowing that I can take care of the entire event planning process for my clients leaving them to enjoy the actual event in their name makes me strive for perfection in every event I coordinate. An event has so many components that people are unaware of that are absolutely essential for ensuring its success. Being the one to bring that all together in a seamless, elegant fashion always leaves me on a serious high.

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The buzzwords “disruptive innovation” is still in the air. What are your thoughts as a planner on how this much sought after insight can be in part facilitated by the event planner and the venue through the process of innovation.

I think event planners would be the first place to start if looking for more insight into ways of changing and improving aspects of the event industry. As an event coordinator, I am on the ground-floor all the time – I hear exactly what people want, I see how values on different areas of events are continuously changing, and I am challenged to adjust, adapt, create and inspire based on all of this. It is up to me to ensure an event is planned to perfection, but it is also up to me to come up with new, innovative ways to bring events to life. I will not be caught resurfacing the exact same ideas, designs, procedures, etc. It is up to me as the event professional to produce new, innovative, exciting ideas for my clients to ensure their events are memorable, stand out and exceed expectations.

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Trends in catering for meeting and planning/education sessions…

Nutritious options. Gone are the days when ordering a pizza for the lunch break was encouraged and common. Today, professionals are after power food which is nourishing and substantial to keep them focused and alert. (But I mean, a cookie never killed anyone right?! ☺)

Do you see a trend towards a more healthy set of culinary choices? Is there a demand for creativity and imagination in the catering menu of these sessions?

Definitely healthy food options for events are becoming more sought after by planners and clients. More and more when booking venues for my clients one of the top 3 areas we look at is food. Does the venue offer more than just a platter of deli-sandwiches and cookies for lunch? What types of salad as a meal do they have? It is becoming less acceptable at events to serve only deep-fried hors d’oeuvres. Venues and chefs need to continually develop new ways to incorporate nutritious, healthy food choices into their banquet/event menus or they will fall behind the competition.

Business and philanthropy. Many groups, corporations and agencies are getting wise to the idea that a portion of the revenue whatever they are doing can be designated to non-profits and causes. Whether it be straight up cash or volunteerism, what have you seen in this area that inspires you?

Locally I see the real estate companies hook up with Habitat For Humanity Restore Centres, which I think is a fantastic match. Now I am not sure how they have been doing this and I am only noticing recently because of social media, but whatever the case, I like it. There are countless organizations to be affiliated with and these days it doesn’t make sense for a business not to get involved. Another partnership I’ve seen is wedding industry professionals and agencies such as Wish Upon a Wedding or Wedding Saviours- another fantastic match to give back within your industry.

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If you could prioritize six features in a space to hold a meeting and planning training session or conference what would they be?

Natural lighting for sure would be near the top of the list – how productive and creative can you be meeting in a room with no windows? Not very.

For the others, I would say….

The size and shape of the space itself – is the layout of the room amenable, is there enough room for multiple setups.

Food and beverage

Built-in technology

Comfortable seating

Adequate air flow

There is an increase in spending on team building as people realize the benefits of investing in this area can result in increased camaraderie and can revive enthusiasm. What are your thoughts on this? What in your experience are effective team building activities?

Cohesiveness and positive employee/employer/team rapport is extremely important for a business, especially small business, to be successful. When it comes to the event industry, it is extremely important to build trust, respect and confidence between yourself and your employees. When it is your company and you are essentially the brand, it is impossible to grow your business without fully investing in quality employees that share your enthusiasm and ultimately who you can trust. In my experience, I have found the simpler team building activities to be the most effective and well received. From a small business perspective, having your employees over for dinner in your own home and enjoying a simple evening of food, drink, music and conversation in a casual space is fantastic. Having the employees over, they get to know the business owner on a personal level which builds a relationship with them and makes an employee feel more invested in the company. As simple as that is, I think it has a huge impact for the success of small businesses. Other activities I have seen to be effective are short, planned activities the group does together, where no one person is singled out, for example rock climbing or go karting. It gets people slightly out of their element, doing something they don’t normally do or maybe have never done before but again. As a group doing this activity together, it gives people a commonality to chat, laugh and reminisce about at a later time, which forms a base of a relationship they can build on.

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What kind of training do you think creates real workplace change? How do trainers engage their learners and motivate them effectively?

The most effective training to create actual workplace change, I think, has to be personal and non-threatening. Trainers need to be able to connect on a personal level in order to engage and create a want to change within their clients. This could be as simple as telling a personal, somewhat vulnerable or embarrassing experience which relates to the topic at hand.

There are so many new levels of connectivity when professionals get together now. What new technologies have you seen in action that have a positive contribution in a meeting and planning, or conference setting?

The most prevalent right now, without a doubt is social media. It’s enabling professionals to connect in so many ways we haven’t be able to before. It is expanding networks at a rapid rate and at the same time allowing professionals to create more meaningful connections. The support through social media within the event industry is completely remarkable. Never before have you been able to see so much support, enthusiasm and encouragement from people in the same industry as you who essentially could be your competition. It amazes me every day I sign on to twitter, Instagram, linkedin, facebook, pinterest…(and the list goes on!!) and see the shoutouts of support to event planners in their same city to those on the other side of the continent.

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What stands out in your mind as an event you have lead, or attended as a participant as memorable and why?

Most recently, I would say a community event I worked on for the last 9 months with a volunteer committee of local business people. The event was an outdoor music concert geared towards the baby boomers and was an effort to raise funds for the Halton Heroes Foundation. Working with such dedicated, community focused and giving people who all had full time careers, and some even with businesses of their own to run, was an incredible experience. We built the event from the ground up starting at nothing. We secured sponsorship money that helped in our ability to plan food and beverage donations and over 1000 people attended the event. The end result turned out to be fantastic and through the ups and downs during the entire process, I learned a ton!

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Thank you Jackie Penner for sharing your great insight.

Jackie Penner from Jackie Penner Events

Photography Paul McNulty