A Journey From the Air Force to the Event Planning Course – Part I

Some people learn a profession, graduate from school, enter the workforce and stay in the same role with the same company for decades. Other people’s professional journeys cross many industries and involve many job titles.

When you find something you’re wildly passionate about, you stick to it. That’s what Susan Phillips did when she discovered her knack for event planning.

Today, she is the CEO of SGP Conferences and Events Ltd., Simply Great Planning, based in Toronto, ON. A full-service event management company, the SGP team produces events from receptions and gala dinners to city-wide conventions and trade-shows. Having executed events for businesses, government and associations, Susan has built a huge network of suppliers and has expert knowledge of event logistics. Her team works with organizations to save them money, reduce their stress and produce unforgettable events.

In a recent Meeting Pro Podcast, Susan sat down to shed some light into her journey to a 25+ year career helping associations and companies plan and execute professional conferences and events.  Our thanks go out to Mark Latimer of Centre Stage AV for the opportunity.  Click here if you would like to listen to the full podcast.

Here are the highlights of the podcast!

How did you get into the live events industry?

 I didn’t have a typical career path as an event planner. I graduated with a degree in Inorganic Chemistry with a minor in Business Administration which was paid for by my summer job as a welder. I then, not so logically, became an officer in the Canadian Air Force working as a Communications and Electronics Engineer.

I was reading the newspaper on a quiet Friday afternoon with my feet on the desk and didn’t notice that the Group Colonel was visiting. He came into my office and stated, “You are obviously not busy enough, so you’re organizing the Christmas party.” Anyone who has served in the Forces knows there are much worse punishments, so I happily took on this extra duty.

The party was a success and I quickly became the go-to person for retirement parties and holidays. Within a year, I started to organize a professional development conference for Officers in my trade from across Canada.  Things were slightly different back then.  If I didn’t have enough rooms for guests, I issued them a sleeping bag and reserved the drill hall floor!  Luckily for my clients today – I no longer do that! ”

What skills that you learned as an Officer do you find most helpful as an event planner?

“My years as an Officer provided me with exceptional skills in event planning. I have the leadership and decision making skills learned as a commissioned officer and the troubleshooting skills and IT knowledge from my years as a Communication Engineer. These skills help set me apart from other event planners.”

What do you love most about the work you do?

There are so many parts of my work that I love that it’s difficult to narrow it down to just one. I love watching an event transform from an idea to a detailed plan right through to the event itself. I also enjoy interpreting the post-event feedback. I love helping organizations begin to create their event by working with the end result in mind. I also like helping clients design event objectives that make it easy to measure and demonstrate the return on their investment. When you’ve been a part of the planning process from the beginning, it’s so exciting to see the finished result and realize that your work has helped your clients create a positive, productive and successful event.”

How do you ensure your events leave a memorable impression?

Getting past and future participants involved in discussions on social media platforms helps keep them more engaged. Starting relevant conversations before the event, participating in them during the event and then adding to them after the event has finished keeps people interested in next year and helps to craft future content. If participants see that their ideas are being listened to and incorporated, the events become more memorable for them. In essence, it makes the event come to life for participants and creates a memorable experience.”

What did you learn early in your career that has made all the difference?

I learned early on to surround myself with a team of experts.  At SGP Conferences and Events, we have an expert team that includes graphic designers, social media and marketing experts, and IT and web developers who complement the suppliers that we work with to create events. It’s my role to amalgamate all of them together, somewhat like a contractor in the building of a house.  I ensure my clients have the confidence that their events are being put together by a team of masters and that they are putting on the best event possible.”

Click here to access Part II of the podcast highlights.

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