Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Throw an Art-Themed Party or Event

There's something very New York chic in the idea of a Gallery event.  Wine and light fare mixed with high ceilings and artwork.  Well, we can't let New York have all the fun.  So today I'm encouraging you to do something less Chicago-style deep-dish and more artsy ala The Met.  While I normally shy from trendy things because they tend to be so here and gone, I do think it's good to create an atmosphere that's different and fun.  Art never goes away, it just changes.  Parties never go away either, so just change it a little.

Mars Gallery, Chicago (West Loop)
Step 1. Venue
It's best if the venue has white walls to compliment an art gallery theme, but it isn't necessary.  (Here is a great list of Chicago Galleries) If you're not actually having a gallery opening, you aren't focusing entirely on the art.  Red walls, blue walls...whatever gives your event a funky feel is a good start.  You could also go the classy route and look for a mansion or classic, old-building style place. For a modern look, a warehouse/loft space is great.  There are lots of venues as listed on yelp here.

If you're doing this in your own residence, I doubt you'll want to repaint the walls so just skip to Step 2. 

Recreate your product/logo like an Andy Warhol
Step 2. Decor
Whatever space this is you will want to make it feel as gallery-like as possible if it isn't already.  If you are working with a gallery, make it as focused as possible.  Why are you having this event?
If it's business try to see if you can incorporate an "artistic" version of logos & products in with the art.  Maybe even pictures of employees and/or clients.  Be humorous or serious -- either way it's an opportunity to be creative!
If this is a party in a residence, the first step is to create as much open space as possible which will probably require moving some furniture.  Depending on the size of the place and how many people will be attending, you will mostly likely want to condense furniture locations -- you still want to have some seating available, but you don't want it taking up your wall space.  Form squares with your furniture with it all facing each other.
For either residential or gallery events, you can also incorporate different artistic options using TVs for imagery.  You can do slide shows or various creations -- if you want to do something on your laptop, you can hook it up to a TV using an HDMI cord.  (Click here to learn how to hook it up.  If you don't have an HDMI cable you can get one from

Step 3. Details
This is really the fun part.  Get into the little details that best work for why you're holding this event and make it your own.  Things like palettes for name tags, naming the drinks after famous artists (I'll have the Van Gogh Cosmo and my friend here would like the Salvador Dali Martini),  Artsy Guessing Games, even creating coloring books that can be based on whatever you are doing for the evening.  But let's not forget --Food Art!  You can always add art if it's a residence.  Get museum-style prints from or check out who gives you the option of framed imagery.

There are some many options and ideas for an art-themed party or event that I could go on forever!  But instead, I will let you be creative, but you can always reach out to me for help, ideas or to help you throw it.  (See my contact info below.)

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Monday, September 24, 2012

"Watch Out For Roaming Charges"

While reading this great article someone shared on LinkedIn, I was so alarmed when I read the astronomically high numbers that I knew I had to share it.  Whether you are an event planner or not, travel for business or pleasure, pay attention to your cell phone bills!  The roaming charge horror stories are a solid reminder of that.  In addition there are some great tips on how to avoid these charges.  The one I didn't realize: Switch your device to "Airplane" mode to turn off wireless devices but still pick up free Wi-Fi.
This situation is so intense that in Australia & New Zealand it's become a legal issue, as discussed in this article

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Using Free Operational Tools is Okay Too.

Money is important, but so is time.  There are many ways to operate businesses, interact with clients, vendors, etc. and to achieve the things you need every day.   Programs can cost lots of money in addition to the people it takes to maintain it.  If you're part of a bigger business, that's just part of doing business, but what about the little guys?  When it comes to operation, I don't think having all the flashy stuff is terribly important.  If you can find something that works, then do it.  Part of why I love the internet is not just for social media, but you can educate yourself and learn about so many things and then do it yourself.  Recently, the company I work for was looking to get an internet management account.  They mentioned how pricey things were so I emailed our Director at corporate and said "why don't you use Hootsuite?  It's free for small accounts and not very expensive to add more."  She'd never heard of it but said she'd look into it.  I haven't heard back about the final choice --chances are they are still deliberating -- but I think it proves an important fact:  Less can be more, or at least the same.  So before you think you need to spend a bunch of money on products, programs and systems for your business, do a little research and ask around and potentially save yourself some money.  If it's in the budget, allocate it for something for your employees, or additional promotion or reinvestment into the company.  Take the time to recognize what you need, be organized about it and think what would help you function at your best.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Gallus Events

 All bloggers know it's important to check out other people's blogs.  So today, I encourage you to check out this UK group's blog on getting a great audience to your event.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Building Positive Business Relationships: Be Open and Ask Questions

It's easy to get caught up in the politics of day to day business.  We see people go about things the wrong way, be pushy, selfish and unfair yet often times it seems these people get rewarded for their bad behavior because they end up getting what they want.  Right now.  Some people do use the selfish, bulldozer approach to "success."  But if you're looking at a long-term career, don't be so easily persuaded.  I was recently talking to a friend who is leaving her job.  "I don't know how my boss keeps that position but I'm glad I'm getting out before things get worse and I'm stuck with him by myself."  As a human being I would hope no one would ever feel that way about me, but in this situation her immediate boss left, expanding her responsibilities and would ultimately mean working with a man notorious for being awful and intolerable.  I could have a whole discussion on what psychological instabilities cause some people to become so terrible that something like this is a common statement about them, but I like to keep things relatively brief.

It's important that we see negative behavior and become determined not to do it.  It's easy to stoop to someone else's level, get mad and want revenge or to say "Well, if (s)he can do it, so can I!" Yes you can but do you really want to cause someone else the same frustration you have?  Do you want to be that person to someone else?  Hopefully you answered no, and if so continue reading.  If you said yes, smack yourself across the face and get a grip, man.

The best way to build relationships is to be genuine.  You need to care and to listen and to relate.  You don't need to remember everything every person says to you but you should try to remember the basics.  One thing I've been trying to do is ask someone about the last thing we spoke about last time I saw them.  I.e. "How was your son's baseball game?"  I know it's basic stuff, but when I'm busy and running around I don't always remember to take a minute and ask someone about their personal life.  That's why it's a bit of a challenge.  Show people that they are important to you and it goes a long way.

It is the same for customers and co-workers alike.  I notice this sometimes when emailing people.  Everyone is very formal and professional in the beginning, so sometimes I will try to throw in a more fun or casual sentence here or there, just to see how they will respond.  Once you relax the situation, most people will too and then personality emerges.  If I'm on the phone and neither of us seem terribly busy, sometimes I just ask people about their company and what they do because I'm curious.  People like to talk about their company, their work and inevitably themselves and so not only do I learn about a field or company, but that person on the other end knows I am interested in who they are and what they do.  They are valuable to me and not just because I say "You're a valuable customer!"  I show them. 

My pet peeve is going to networking and professional events and have people say "So how's business?"  There's 2 main reasons why I hate that statement:

1. You're not acknowledging that you are talking to a person .  Whenever someone asks me that I always feel like they're just trying to get information out of me that they can use for a cost-comparison analysis.  They also tend to be the person who walks away 3 sentences later.  Besides, we all know most people fudge numbers a bit or perhaps highlight better sales times than others, particularly if they've had a bad year.  And if they don't exaggerate then they are vague and often that's where the conversation dies.  Sometimes they'd rather not talk about it, which can be true even when numbers are good.  There's fine line between professional conversation and giving too much away, or at least that's how I feel.  However, I have seen people rattle off numbers down to the dollar like it's a wikipedia info page which then leads me to questions their sensibility.

2. It's non-specific, uncreative and impersonal.  I usually try to ask people what their job includes so if I meet someone instead of saying 'Oh, I know that hotel.  How's business been this summer?' I would say "Oh, [business], that's a great place!  So what do you do there?  What's an average day like for you?"  This gives me an idea of their role, how the person views their job, what they do & don't like.  It opens up conversation and allows me to actually learn something about the person standing next to me instead of drilling them for statistics. Granted, some people are better at that than others.  I always hope that at the end of the day, people feel like their experience with me was positive and that they spoke with someone who actually cares about what they care about.  This is what builds clientele that will follow you.  This is the kind of interaction that is important.

When looking at a long-term career path, whatever you're doing, if you're a good and friendly person who others respect, it will get you farther.  No one becomes successful without interacting with other people.  So even when it seems like Joe Schmoe over there is getting everything he wants, you have to remember that at some point he will plateau or head straight back down.  You can't spend your whole career pushing people aside and then be surprised when no one is around to help pull you up.  Cheesy? Maybe.  True?  Definitely.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

BizBash Idea Fest 2012

BizBash is one of my favorite event planning information resources.  I find it to be really interactive via the LinkedIn forums and also very informative.  I like that it's broken up into regions/major cities  that allows for local information with a general, consistent set up for all the cities.  So of course, this year, I think every event planner should look into attending BizBash's Idea Fest.  These take place in all of the major cities including Chicago.  On November 14th you can sign up for the day event which will be at Merchandise Mart, downtown.  Prices vary depending on what events you decide to attend.  To find out more information or to register, go to

Have a question about event planning?  Have a great tip, information or a story to share?  Post it to my facebook page:
If you'd like to work with me, email business inquiries to

Monday, September 10, 2012

Social Media Monitoring Tools

Today, I felt that I must share this really great article for following your analytics.  Julius Solaris Event Management Blog is one of the most informative information tools out there in the event planning world.  This article by Corina Mackay is an easy must-read if you're looking for easy ways to keep up with your analytics!  5 Social Media Monitoring Tools

Thursday, September 6, 2012

4 Tips for Planning an Event in Chicago

Each city has it's own vibe.  A great event planner can create the feel of that city for his or her clients, whether or not (s)he lives there.  While all the obvious things like venues, transportation & decor are important knowing how to plan in a certain city is also important.

The Chicago Convention  & Tourism Bureau (CCTB) has excellent resources on doing just that.  There's information on every part of the city. I am planning a trip to Boston, which I've heard great things about but have never been.  I thought about planning an event for Boston and while looking at a map, realized that I still didn't have a clue.  How far is point A to point B?  Should my friend & I be renting a car?  How easy is it to get a cab?  I'm sure I can do my homework, but it's not the same as going and knowing for myself.  So with that in mind, here are a few things to know about planning a trip to Chicago.

1. Weather
Chicago has crazy winters.  Being positioned right along Lake Michigan means that it's constantly windy and the weather is more intense than other surrounding areas, particularly downtown.  There's more humidity, more cold...  It's also all over the place.  Global warming aside, I remember earlier in the year when we went from 30 to 50 to 70 back down to 40 degrees in about a week.  That was spring time and while that's not normal weather it's still not completely surprising.
Knowing this is important because your travel time can get backed up, especially in winter.  This can affect your venue or activity plans.  Obviously you can't not plan on doing things on the chance that the weather might be bad, but it's definitely something to keep in mind if you're at a time that's in-between seasons.

2. Sports, Conferences & Summer Festivals
This is a business dinner, why would I care about sports or conventions or festivals?  Because they will block up the roads and suck up hotel space.
If you are a meeting planner or even a tourist but you're looking to come during a big convention, event or sports weekend (for example, the Ryder Cup will be bringing 200,000 people to the city who don't normally live here) then you should know that.  It's a lot of restaurant reservations, a lot of hotels, a lot of transit...  make sure you check what's in town.  Lollapalooza, the giant music festival, practically shuts down anything in a mile radius of Grant Park. These type of things will affect pricing along with availability and possible congestion/detours/shut-downs. 

3. Transportation
Chicago has an incredibly efficient transportation system.  If you're group is low key, or if it's not professional, I often suggest it.  However, it can be confusing.  Trains aren't labeled "north/south, east/west" they are labeled by stops.  Make sure you know where you're going and don't hesitate to ask someone.  If it's something you're using often, get a small map and make notes.  For example, if you're taking the red line (which can drop you off at both Sox & Cubs Stadiums) you may want to know that the "Howard" direction is north and "95th/Dan Ryan" is south.  Little details like that make life much easier.  Trust me, when crowds are giant and trains are coming, you find yourself jumping on whatever train "feels" like the right choice.  So if you have it written down, you'll make an informed choice instead of a panicked one.

4. Ask the People That Work There
When I work with out-of-towners, they often ask "how far are you from...?"  I live here and work here, so I know.  If you're planning for someone, don't hesitate to get on the phone with the concierge at a hotel or call anywhere you're booking to try to get as much information as possible.  Your clients will appreciate the accuracy!

Have a question about event planning?  Have a great tip, information or a story to share?  Post it to my facebook page:
If you'd like to work with me, email business inquiries to

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

4 Tips for Tipping

People often wonder about the etiquette for giving tips and gratuity.  "How much do you give someone if...?"  "Do you tip someone for that?"  In some professions, tips are expected, particularly in service industries like restaurants, hotels, salons, etc.  But what about that awkward in between.  There's the expected tip, but what about additional, extra tips?  There's not always rhyme or reason to the whole thing, but here are my 5 tips on tipping (in no particular order).

1. Tips are expected but they aren't mandatory.  Tip appropriately based on the quality of service, but still tip.
I work in an industry where most of the people survive on tips.  Restaurants pay their employees below minimum wage because it is anticipated that they will make extra on gratuity.  Depending on the industry, I tip regardless of how good or bad the service is.  10% is a low tip, by standard, 15% means it was good, 20% is great.  I usually tip around 20% unless service wasn't good. Service has to be horrendous for me to leave no tip, but I have left a small amount, which also acknowledges a lack of happiness with service.  If something was bad enough not to leave any tip, you should probably be contacting a manager of that employee rather than leaving nothing and never coming back. 

2. If someone is paying for a service for you, make sure they've covered tip.  If not, you should be tipping on the total, original value of the service.
 Let's say your friend gives you a groupon for a massage.  The original value of that massage was $100.  Your friend bought it for $45 and you're getting it for free.  What no one remembers to read in that fine print is that the person giving you that massage has bills too.  They are giving you the same service they would have given a customer who paid the full $100.  So make the effort to see if your service includes tip either when you arrive or by calling ahead. Don't tip on $45, tip based on $100.  Have cash ready for the full, original amount.   Keep in mind, most establishments can't just charge your credit card without an actual charge/service attached to it.  And even so, the numbers on the book could deduct the cost of the service automatically which may result in the worker losing some of that tip.

3.  Money can not replace genuine gratitude.
While you shouldn't be cheap you also can't overdo it.  Not everyone deserves money for every little thing they do.  If a hired help assists you doing something extra, it's polite to tip them but be careful because sometimes trying to give someone money can also appear insulting.  It's a fine line between these 2 things and honestly, it's a case-by-case kinda thing.  Money is not meant to replace genuine gratitude.  Once at one of my jobs, I retrieved a woman's bags and helped her carry a few things to her car.  The place wasn't even officially opened for the day yet but she just stopped in early.  What I do remember was the slightly pompous way she walked around and after the task was finished, she reached in her expensive purse and shoved a $20 at me.  Maybe it was because I was still new to the whole thing, but it seemed excessive.  I got a sense she was trying to get me to feel indebted to her for such an unnecessarily generous tip.  Clearly she must be very wealthy if she's handing out 20s like grandma's holiday cookies.  So I refused it.  I think we managed to offend each other.  Catholic schooling taught me to be helpful for the sake of being helpful...for free.  In retrospect it probably wasn't so terrible, but the combination of obligation and the need to show off wasn't something I missed.  Was it wrong to tip me in such a situation?  No.  But there's something to be said for looking someone in the eye and saying "thank you."  I'm not saying don't tip, but if you are, make sure that it's meant to be a genuine thank you and not a "here, peasant -- have a gold coin for your troubles" kind of thing.

4. Personal versus Professional
If your friends move you into your new house, you usually buy them pizza and beer and promise to do something nice for them.  If you have a moving company you pay them based on how much stuff you have and how long it will take.  Most people know that tipping is not something you do when a personal relationship is involved.  Thank you cards, maybe a gift card perhaps some gas money...  When you think of it though, we tip people we know, just not always with cash. 
Example: I live downtown, 3 blocks from my job and within a 5 block radius of my apartment are 3 grocery stores, a starbucks, nail salon, bank, post office, public transit and a mall.  It would take me more time to find a parking space than it would be to simply go to my destination by foot.  Needless to say, I don't have a car.  So when I took the 2.5hr train ride to my parents' house every weekend 5 weekends in a row to help out when my sister was sick, my best friend would drive 45 minutes out of her way to pick me up from the train station and drive me to my parents house which was in the complete opposite direction of her own.  Every trip I brought her a bottle of wine, especially picked for her from la bella cita.  It became a creative challenge for me and something she enjoyed -- or so I think.  I'd try to throw in some of Potbelly's amazing oatmeal chocolate chip cookies (my favorite & hers) every now and then.  The idea being to do something nice or special.  I think the essence of tipping is doing something nice or special and that people on both sides of service often forget that.  When questioning whether to give someone money think did (s)he do something that earns it? If the answer is yes, then ask yourself is giving this person money appropriate?  If not, think of something else to do that is nice.  Get a business card, send a letter to the company.  Making good effort to inform someone's higher-ups about how great they've done is important as well.  But use your judgment and always make tipping part of a courteous act.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Corri McFadden for Gateway Green's Annual Fundraiser: OfficeMax's Green Tie Ball

Have you ever realized that the Chicago expressways always seem to be very clean?  Did you know that it's not government, but rather private organizations maintaining it?  Chicago Gateway Green beautifies expressways with plants and sculptures while keeping them clean.   Hundreds of thousands of plant life have been added through the years, increasing the standard of Chicago living; and needless to say, projects like this don't get funded on their own.  This year OfficeMax is sponsoring The 21st Annual Green Tie Ball which helps raise funds for Gateway Green, an event co-chaired by Corri McFadden whose new VH1 hit show House of Consignment, is based on her amazing luxury business eDrop-Off.  Although she's busy preparing for NY Fashion Week, Corri took some time to tell me more about why you should attend this incredible event happening Saturday, September 15th at Finkl & Son's at 2011 N Southport.
Corri McFadden, Owner & Founder of eDrop-Off

The Chicago Event Planner (TCEP): How early in advance do you start planning this event?
Corri McFadden (CM): As soon as one is completed, they start planning the next year.

TCEP: What was the inspiration for this year's Alice in Wonderland theme?
CM: When I signed on they had already chosen the theme but I really liked what they were planning to do with it.

TCEP: Is it just going to be some pictures, sculptures?  Do you know how they intend to make it different?
CM: You're supposed to feel like you're in Alice and Wonderland.  There will be scenery changes, wall art, illusions -- things will move around like they do in Wonderland.  It's meant to be a very memorable place.

TCEP: That sounds awesome!  Are you using and event company to help organize this event?
CM: Yes, we are using Absolute Productions.

TCEP: Are you looking for any volunteers? Would there be opportunities for recent grads or people who are looking to gain more event planning experience to help with the function this year or in the future?
CM: Absolutely!  We are always looking for volunteers.  This year we were looking for around a hundred and we are still looking for a handful for set up and donations.  There are silent and live auctions too.  If anyone is interested they can contact Gateway Green at 312.540.9930

TCEP: What is your fundraising goal for the year?
CM: Last year $379,000 was raised and this year we're hoping to raise $500,000 or more!

TCEP: Are there any specific projects that this fundraiser is aiming to help?
CM: The Expressway Partnership Project.  Last year over 115,000 pounds of plants and trees were planted and all of it was privately funded.  Much of the work they do is unseen.  Ever notice how there's no trash around?  They clean that, they are responsible for a lot of the beautifying that you see but don't think about.

TCEP: Are there ways for those who can't attend to still participate?
CM: You can always make a donation to Chicago Gateway Green and you can of course purchase tickets on the website.

TCEP: What can attendees be most excited about?
CM: There's great entertainment lined up for the evening.  Pete Wentz and DJ Rock City will be performing.  There will also be great food from Chicago restaurants and a casino tent sponsored by Rivers Casino.  Rivers Casino is sponsoring a raffle as well.

TCEP: Will you be there?
CM:  I will be there, up on stage.  Get a ticket and come say hi!

If you would like to get tickets or make a donation to the event, click here.

I would especially like to than Corri for taking time out of her busy schedule to talk about this event.  Visit her website for eDrop-Off or visit a store front at either Lincoln Park or Gold Coast.

Have a question about event planning?  Have a great tip, information or a story to share?  Post it to my facebook page:
If you'd like to work with me, email business inquiries to