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Event planner turned delegate

What is it really like to sit on the other side of the fence of event planning? Teresa Allen, Event Project Executive at BI WORLDWIDE recently took on a group travel experience as part of her sabbatical, revealing some surprising conclusions.

Having organised and managed events all over the world for the best part of a decade, I knew before taking my two-month sabbatical that I had the confidence and abilities to plan and create my own travel itinerary and try something different. My travels included a solo tour of New Zealand and finished with a group tour of Bali. Little did I know what a valuable experience it would be to see life through the eyes of a delegate and what benefit it would give me for managing my future client incentive events and personal travel. Here’s what I learnt…

1. Timings: Act immediately on anything that is within your control to save energy for any extreme unexpected challenges

All event planners will know that for a smooth-running event, everything ideally needs to perform like clockwork. On paper this is pretty easy, but when you get real life and real people involved, things can quite quickly start to bend out of shape. I’ve always found that within the first two days of any group travel arrangements, it is always quickly evident to single out which individual seems to get easily distracted or seems to work to a different time schedule from everyone else. In Bali, the same was definitely true. The conversations started with ‘We are missing one person’, ‘Who are we missing?’ and shortly turned into a joke of ‘Where’s Gary?’, ‘What time are we supposed to be meeting Gary?!’.

As an event planner, this can be a source of frustration and anxiety if it happens multiple times in a day, with the clock ticking on and the carefully planned schedule starting to crumble before your eyes. If I’m really honest, it was actually quite refreshing to be able to sit back and not have the stress of figuring out the knock-on effect and implications of being behind schedule and how to make up the time but I equally felt quite empathetic to our travel guide who was no doubt experiencing just those same thoughts and feelings. Luckily, with some suitably articulated advice about the necessity of good time-keeping and everyone being responsible for ‘not letting the team down’, improvements were swiftly made . . . although I can certainly vouch that the jokes still continue to this day!

2. Details: If you are ‘the person with the details’, resign yourself to that fact and take it as a compliment! Furthermore, try to inject personality into your communication style to entice important documents to be read!

There appears to be something about being part of a group of delegates that turns every intelligent adult into a forgetful child! As soon as you hand over the responsibilities and organisation to a nominated leader, it is like an unwritten rule of new-found freedom that allows you to regress to a place where you no longer have to think for yourself or be accountable for any details or information that should be retained. Amongst the most frequent questions (which embarrassingly I have to admit I even found myself guilty of asking a few times) were: ‘Where are we meeting?’, ‘What are we doing?’, ‘Where are we going?’, ‘What do we need to wear?’, ‘What do we need to bring with us?’.

Before my trip, I was always gobsmacked when delegates failed to retain any information and forever wondered, ‘how do they ever manage to go on holiday on their own?’ or sometimes to the extreme of ‘how do they manage to get by in general?’! . . . but now that I’ve lived on the other side, I can appreciate that it is simply a great sign of enjoyment and relaxation. If there is someone else who has all of the answers ready to roll off the tip of their tongue, why wouldn’t you take advantage of that?

With foresight and wisdom, our travel guide quickly learnt that if there was a lot to remember, it was best to use the advantages of technology and send a WhatsApp message to everyone with the all-important details, so no-one had to admit they had a terrible memory (or wasn’t listening!).

Another interesting concept on the ‘details’ front was in the presentation of the Joining Instructions. As I am normally the writer of these documents, I don’t get the opportunity to read the details from a detached point of view. I loved the fact that a list of important information (which is normally as exciting as reading small-print T&Cs!) could be injected with personality and be written with a slight tongue-in-cheek sense of humour to cleverly make you want to read more. Adding a character and voice to what are essentially mundane facts, added life to the details and encouraged additional pre-travel excitement. Whilst I know our corporate clients will always be more formal in their communication, I am certainly inspired to add a little more creative lyricism where I can.

3. Surprises: Always leave something off the publicised itinerary to bestow an edge of mystery

There is something to be said about the magical quality of a neatly wrapped, unopened present tied with a bow. The suspense and expectation as to what is inside makes it all the more exciting before the final reveal is discovered. Experiencing a tour on my trip where I only had a brief outline of the activities involved and didn’t fully know all the finer details was an unusual treat for me and I quickly found that I loved the anticipation and mystery.

One morning it was scheduled that we would have a waterfall swim and picnic lunch. In my head, we would arrive at a fairly standard gush of water into a pool below and sit on the nearby rocks for lunch; simple but picturesque. Reality was somewhat different. It turned out that we had to undertake a short, adventurous walk on a natural trodden dirt track, meandering past increasing heights of trees, vegetation and jungle-like foliage, listening to the birds and experiencing nature at its best with increased anticipation of where we were heading with each step.

Finally, we descended a steep set of steps and turned the last corner to unveil the most enchanting, fairytale-esque curtain of waterfalls. It was breath-taking! Not only was it stunningly beautiful and completely unexpected, but even more special was the fact that we were the only people there. It was ‘exclusive’ and felt like our own private slice of utopia. After a refreshing dip in the cool waters, our appetites were satiated with a traditional picnic lunch of rice, vegetables, chicken, egg and tempeh; all beautifully wrapped and served in a banana leaf. A sample of local fruits to finish allowed our taste buds to experience some new flavours and textures. All in all, it felt like we soaked up the true essence and soul of Bali’s Mother Nature.

It just goes to show that my preconceptions were clearly far off the mark, but it made the end result even more memorable and emotive. Had I seen pictures or a full description beforehand, I know my experience at the time, and indeed my response looking back, wouldn’t have been nearly as remarkable or poignant.

"I believe a conscious blurring of the lines between an event planner and delegate is guaranteed to create the perfect event cocktail; lovingly crafted, impeccably balanced and aesthetically pleasing with a surprising and tantalising after-taste to leave you wanting more."

  • Teresa Allen
  • Project Executive

4. Spontaneity: Allow a little flexibility for impromptu decision-making and include some unscheduled free time in the itinerary

Years in the events industry has drilled into my veins that everything from the chunky travel and accommodation bookings to the finest of details in décor theming or menu tastings and food presentation has to be meticulously planned from start to finish. I have inadvertently even taken this into my personal travel experiences, not wanting to leave any stone unturned or anything to chance. I always do pre-trip research and have pretty solid thoughts and plans of what activities I want to do and where I want to go.

On a couple of occasions during our tour in Bali we had some small pockets of ‘time at leisure’. Unknowingly to me, this was like being handed a little gemstone gift of unidentified potential! I discovered that it felt quite freeing to ‘go-with-the-flow’ and make some split-second decisions based on what options were available, what I felt I fancied doing at the time and what the majority of the group were planning to do. Who knew spontaneous decisions could be quite so liberating? I can openly confess that I normally feel stressed by not having things planned out, but having experienced a shake-up from the norm I can vouch that when things evolve organically and happen on the spur-of-the-moment, the outcomes can feel remarkably exotic!

Bali proved to me that having everything ‘just so’ can sometimes be too predictable and create a barrier to random circumstances appearing. It is often said that life is all about living on the edge, well, I’m not sure I can go quite that far (I do work in event management after all!), but a healthy mix of pre-planning with a dollop of spontaneity and openness to suggestion is definitely something for me to aspire to for future travel experiences.

To conclude, what have I learnt from my time ‘on the other side’?

Taking part in a group travel tour engulfed me in a rush of emotions that I don’t normally experience. I remember after my first day of the tour saying to my roommate ‘How amazing has today been? How are we ever going to top this?’ (I hasten to add at this point that every day was just as incredible). The sheer joy and elation of taking part in activities (*fly-high yoga, Balinese cooking, sacred water temple blessing, trekking up a volcano for sunrise, snorkelling a WW2 submarine shipwreck all get a double thumbs up from me!)  I’ve never had the opportunity to do before and not always knowing what to expect is a feeling I definitely want to bottle up and savour.

Before the trip, I thought that I would spend a lot of time thinking how I would do things differently or what I would change if I was the event manager leading the tour, but I was surprised at how I relished the experience of being able to put my events hat down and embrace the new change of scenery playing the role of a delegate. This invaluable perspective helped to highlight what is really important to anyone attending an event; they want to know enough detail in order to be prepared but with a dose of the unexpected to form the cherry on top.

Whilst our main aim as Event Managers will always be focused on the operational logistics and management details, the importance of understanding the audience and the impact from an experiential point of view is vital. Putting yourself in the shoes of the delegate often poses questions of ‘what would I want if it were me?’, ‘what would make me remember this in years to come?’. I would argue that we all naturally do this but only to a certain degree; we ‘think’ it but do we really ‘feel’ it? A deeper degree of connection is needed so maybe the solution is to take part in group travel ourselves so that we can fully understand what it is like to be on the receiving end.

There is a famous quote; ‘Don’t judge until you’ve walked a mile in someone else’s shoes’ and I have to agree that seeing things from a different perspective has been insightful. The most striking conclusion that assimilates all of my learnings is that communication is the key; not only in what you do say but also in what you don’t say.

I believe a conscious blurring of the lines between an event planner and delegate is guaranteed to create the perfect event cocktail; lovingly crafted, impeccably balanced and aesthetically pleasing with a surprising and tantalising after-taste to leave you wanting more.


If you’d like to learn more about incentive travel we offer our clients at BI WORLDWIDE, get in touch today!

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