By Cindy Atoji Keene
Planning a party is more than concocting little drink umbrellas or writing up name tags. Although most people don’t even know that professional meeting planners even exist, it’s a multi-million dollar industry, according to the Convention Industry Council.
From negotiating with vendors to organizing entertainment, figuring out room configuration, coordinating parking, budgeting, site selection, liquor liability, and more, there are dozens of details that go into organizing a successful meeting or event, said Boston event planner Lo (Lauren) McShay. McShay, proprietor of LoLo Event Design, an event consultation and design firm, is a former advertising account executive who has taken on such challenges as transforming a private New England home into a Miami-style gala for a spring party; throwing a blue jeans ball; and organizing numerous weddings. “I apply the principles of large-scale production and dedicated client service to design an event, not just coordinate it,” said McShay, who also has a presence on the Etsy marketplace, peddling hand-crafted décor elements such as cocktail stirrers, table numbers, and wine charms that she creates for her events. One such artsy touch is a lavender satchel that she makes for all her bridal parties to sooth pre-wedding jitters.
Q: The sign in your office is the old British ministry saying, “Keep calm and carry on.” Do you encounter many such moments?
A: For weddings in particular, I’m working with clients on one of their biggest days of their life. They have a huge financial investment, so it’s not even just being a bridezilla but just trying to control so many different details. At the end of the day, though, we’re throwing a party that celebrates two people that fell in love. It’s not brain surgery or curing cancer – it’s just a party.
Q: How hard is it to stick within budget for an event? How can you be sure to balance “wants” with “needs?”
A: It’s much easier to stick to a budget when you start planning with the whole pie in mind. Often clients will approach me after they've booked their venue, which typically accounts for 45 percent of your budget. If you over spend on that slice of the pie it’s much harder to rein it in and get your top “want” list items.
Q: What was your favorite event that you helped plan so far and why?
A: My favorite event to date has to be a wedding at The Eastern Yacht Club in Marblehead. I love adding modern elements to classic New England buildings, which this venue lent itself to. It’s one the few venues that has an outdoor dance floor on the ocean and this couple took advantage of it. There was so much love on the dance floor not only between the couple, but their friends and family. It’s what every wedding should be.
Q: Food is such an integral part of a party. What’s the best appetizer to serve?
A: Guests are often running late, but who wants to be seen shoveling bulky food into their mouth? I’m a strong advocate for bite-sized passed appetizers that aren’t messy but simple and delicious to eat.
Q: Planning your own wedding what one of the reasons you were inspired to become an event designer. What did you learn from your own ceremony?
A: Make the first dance short, since it can seem to last forever. Secondly, better safe than sorry. We were one of those horror stories where the cards were collected in an open basket and someone stole the gifts from the reception. Now I recommend a birdcage or interesting lock box.
Q: What’s the oddest request you’ve ever received?
A: Being a dog sitter while the bride walked down the aisle. Here I was nervous about making sure the bride got down the aisle, while the couple was more concerned about the dog.
Q: Have you seen the movie The Wedding Planner? What did you think?
A: I’ve absolutely seen The Wedding Planner and love it, expect for the part where she falls in love with groom. Bad karma for life!
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Meet the Jobs Docs
Patricia Hunt Sinacole is president of First Beacon Group LLC, a human resources consulting firm in Hopkinton. She works with clients across many industries including technology, biotech and medical devices, financial services, and healthcare, and has over 20 years of human resources experience.
Elaine Varelas is managing partner at Keystone Partners, a career management firm in Boston and serves on the board of Career Partners International.
Cindy Atoji Keene is a freelance journalist with more than 25 years experience. E-mail her directly here.
Peter Post is the author of "The Etiquette Advantage in Business." Email questions about business etiquette to him directly here.
Stu Coleman, a partner and general manager at WinterWyman, manages the firm's Financial Contracting division, and provides strategic staffing services to Boston-area organizations needing Accounting and Finance workforce solutions and contract talent.
Tracy Cashman is Senior Vice President and Partner of the Information Technology search division at WinterWyman. She has 20 years of experience partnering with clients in the Boston area to conduct technology searches in a wide variety of industries and technology.
Paul Hellman is the founder of Express Potential, which specializes in executive communication skills. He consults and speaks internationally on how to capture attention & influence others. Email him directly here.