“I was sitting outside of a hotel in a massive Chinese city at 4am with a well known fashion designer from NYC, and realised that I felt good about what I do.”
Does that intrigue you? Then, let me start at the beginning.
I’ve been working on events ever since the London 2012 Olympics, many of the events since them being some of the most iconic events in the world. The one constant in my event career has been working around VIPs. Some you know by name, others by face, and some you won’t necessarily know by either unless you work in work and play in the same places as certain high net worth individuals.
In 2017, I found out I would be helping, as a concierge and logistics manager, some of the biggest names in the fashion industry on their trip to China for a global fashion forum. I had worked around VIPs before and helped them directly onsite, but this was my first time being THE person responsible for a large group of VIPs during both event planning and execution. I was, at first, starstruck, and that was soon followed by fear. I’m going to be working with WHO? WHAT BRAND? As time went by, though, I realized that I wasn’t starring in a sequel to The Devil Wears Prada. It was a pretty impressive roster of conference speakers and attendees, so I knew I should take notes. What did I learn exactly then and what have I learned since?
Before I get into some of those nuggets of wisdom – which hopefully let you learn from my discoveries and mistakes, relate to me if you’ve had similar experiences, learn something new to try next time or teach you to be the best VIP event manager out there – I want you to know that you should be proud of yourself if you’re in the position to work at a VIP event or around a VIP event. Be proud of yourself but also allow yourself to make mistakes.
When you’re starting out, it’s okay to make mistakes. It’s okay to experience things no one told you about before and be surprised, whether that’s pleasant or unpleasant, be proud of yourself and even be embarrassed. My experience won’t be the same as yours and yours won’t be the same as mine.
But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t share our experiences. So without further ado, here are three things I’ve learned while working with and for VIPs during the last ten years.
#1 Be happy and nice. Be a human being.
There are a lot of qualities needed if you want to work at VIP events and with VIPs from being organised and responsible to being adaptable and resourceful, but the one quality I’ve found that goes a long way is being happy. If you are happy, you put people at ease, you help others adapt to the event’s surroundings, and you deliver tough messages whilst being empathetic. Being happy can mean several things from having a good sense of humor to being even tempered. I think this is an innate quality that goes a long way but it wasn’t until I started working around VIPs that I learned how important it is to simply be happy around VIPs.
Let’s take the example of the above mentioned fashion forum. I had been the one to book all of their transportation and accommodation, work with them of their rehearsal schedules, and so on, and I remember after about a day working at this event that I was able to know when to turn it off and just be relatable. You need to tap into your intuition for this and read people so that your efforts come across as genuine rather than fake. The line between customer service and being fake can be blurry, so being human and being relatable is the solution to bridging that gap.
If you are passionate about what you do and connect to the person rather than the VIP label, that shines in your work. Treat everyone you meet as a friend and people will feel comfortable around you. In the case of the fashion forum, I received feedback specifically about my general happiness and relatability. As I sat outside of the hotel with a well known fashion designer one morning at 4am waiting for their airport transfer, I felt good about how I had conducted myself all week. It felt surreal talking to a VIP in a scenario like this. We didn’t talk about work. We talked about life. It even resulted in the exchange of phone numbers for further collaboration directly with one a VIP fashion designer in NYC. Their feedback? Being around someone “so happy and nice” was a breath of fresh air.
#2 Be helpful but not annoying. Just keep it simple.
Some VIPs know very little about their appearance at the event, their trip, or their schedule as they rely on assistants or publicists or agents. In this case, we can fall into the curse of knowledge trap if we rattle off a ton of details to the confused VIP. They may know very little about the event because you and their assistant hashed out all the details. Now, not all VIPs have someone doing the planning for them and some do it themselves. They tend to be independent. Nevertheless, independent or not, VIPs are busy people so the more you overcomplicate, the more they get confused. Communicate but don’t over communicate with erroneous details.
Let’s use another example. I was once waiting in a hotel lobby where some VIPs, who were on their way, were staying. I talked my team and discouraged them having so many people waiting with me to greet the VIPs. I explained that people would notice a large group of us waiting which is attention that we shouldn’t be drawing considering the VIPs were actors and actresses. As the VIPs arrived, it was my cue to welcome and brief them and get them checked into their hotel room. The welcome was nice, and I showed respect without fawning over them. I didn’t keep them outside the hotel so instead walked with them while engaging in friendly chit chat, and I explained that we would do check-in with a hotel representative in their hotel room. By that point I had gauged how much their assistant had filled them in, so when I left them to rest in their hotel room, I reminded them of their first scheduled appearance at the event and when I would be back in touch. I set the tone that I was helpful but not an annoying shadow.
At this particular event, one of my favourite actors always trusted that I was near and knew where to find me should he need anything. He was able to relax because I wasn’t hanging on his every move but I was available. At the end of the event, he came to me and thanked me for being so helpful and “chill”. I will take the word chill as a compliment any day. The moral of the story is to remember you are there to help but not overwhelm with details. You’re there to remember safety is important so your team should be small enough to contain and keep track of so that security and communication aren’t compromised and the VIP’s experience isn’t watered down. And always keep in mind, keep it simple and don’t try too hard (people can tell!).
#3 Never assume you know anything about a VIP. The VIP behind closed doors can be very different from the VIP in the public space.
There’s a difference to anticipating needs and wants of the VIP and assuming you know things about them personally. Before working around a VIP that you have seen, read or heard about, shed whatever feelings and expectations you have about them and use the blank slate theory. Someone can have an entirely different persona behind closed doors. One of the beautiful things about VIP events and exclusive spaces is that people become themselves whether that’s good or bad. Someone you assume has always been so nice may not be after all, or someone who has a bad reputation could be the nicest person you’ve ever met. Hence, the blank slate and never assuming you know anything about them.
The second part of this is to not assume a VIP will remember you even when you remember them. I’ve been in the scenario where I’ve seen the same VIPs at events on an annual basis. In one particular case, a certain VIP acted like they remembered me from past events which flattered me. So as soon as I brought up something we discussed at a previous event, they waved their hand in my face like I was a fan asking for an autograph and asked me not to bother them. In their mind, I went from staff to fan in 2 seconds. Talk about embarrassing! I learned that just because someone acts like they remember you doesn’t necessarily mean that they do. People are trained to be kind and personable and part of that means they act like they remember you. Unless they call you by name or say some detail that signals they remember you, use the blank slate. Pretend it’s the first time you have met.
Often VIPs do remember and introducing yourself again sparks their memory. I have not made that same mistake again and am not afraid to admit my error and how embarrassing it was. Now I just use the blank slate theory. A blank slate allows you to treat everyone equally with respect and service and good hospitality. And go easy on them, VIPs are probably meeting more people than we do, so if they don’t remember you or if they are having a bad day, don’t take it personally.
So there you have three of the lessons I’ve learned working at VIP events.
There are a lot more lessons, but we don’t have all day! I’ll cover more next time. Whenever you find yourself in these VIP situations, don’t forget what YOU experience and share with others what you learned (whilst maintaining privacy of course). When I started out with VIPs, I didn’t have that resource, so this is something that I hope changes. Let’s all pay it forward.
So, what should you do now?
Have you learned anything while working with VIPs that you want to share or want to hear my fourth lesson learned ahead of me writing another blog post? Come on over to Instagram @lauralloydevents and message me or DM me on LinkedIn at Laura Yarbrough-Lloyd and tell me what’s helped you today or ask me for my next tip!
Check out my 1:1 program, A Flair For VIP Events™. If you apply to work with me 1:1, I’ll be your coach, mentor, event bestie, accountability partner and cheerleader for 12 weeks and beyond, leading you to book your first VIP event, re-book it, and get referred for more.