Interviews with Planners – Diane Tighe

Diane Tighe is the director of catering and conference services at Washington Duke Inn and Golf Club, a AAA Four Diamond Award-winning hotel, in Durham, N.C., located on the campus of Duke University. As director of catering and conference services, she leads all the Inn’s conference planning initiatives, which entails servicing the many meetings, conferences, incentive trips, corporate getaways and intimate trade shows hosted at the Inn.

What is the best advice you have ever received as an event planner?
My best advice came from a quote a client shared with me: “What I didn’t know I didn’t get right.” It is really a huge part of being a successful event planner. You have to know how to ask questions as well as be able to dissect information given.

What is the most unique location you have ever planned an event at? What was great, what was challenging?
In our hotels parking lot.

What was great?
It was great to think outside of the box. We had to position a tent in a location that had a 12-foot slope over the course of a 120-foot run. The area had to have trees and lighting relocated. We had to create a sub floor, and work around the larger trees that we were not able to relocate.
What was challenging?
Working with all parties involved to make sure everything and everyone was on the same page. It took a week to remove and relocate trees and lighting, load in the sub floor, construct a function tent as well as a tent for a kitchen. Securing additional rented kitchen equipment and lighting. These were all additional factors along with adding a ramp that created a 12-foot grade at the entry. Securing safety rails, and because the temperature decided to plummet two days prior to the event, heating needed to be added to insure the comfort of our event attendees.

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What advice would you give to someone entering the event planning business today?
You must be passionate about wanting to connect with your clients. You need to be a great listener to understand your client’s needs. You need to hear what they are telling you, and be able to ask questions on what they are not telling you. You cannot be an order taker! You need to be an excellent communicator with your event team, and with your clients. You need to make sure you have all your details lined up, you need a plan A, plan B and sometimes a plan C.

What do you see as the most challenging aspect of being an event planner, and how do you overcome that challenge?
The most challenging fact of being an event planner is receiving last minute information that was not made available to you when it was needed, then figure out how to overcome that challenge? Make sure you surround yourself with the best vendors and event staff. Building strong relationships with your team is invaluable when you have a curve ball thrown at you. You need to be able to adapt quickly, and remember, it is never a one man show. As an event planner, you are part of a team. You need to make sure you have team members, who like you, are dedicated to executing a successful event. Challenges happen, you need to be flexible, move quick, and think on your feet.

How do you think the event industry will evolve in the next five years?
We will see more involvement with AV technology. The ability to produce a meeting that will stimulate the guests and motivate everyone to reach a desired outcome is enhanced when event attendees are engaged. We are seeing a trend with clients using more AV in their meetings to enhance the delivery for their attendees.

What makes you successful as an event planner?
Never saying I have done it all. Always looking for new, out of the box options, and ways to WOW my clients. Building relationships with my event clients and letting them know that I am part of their team. I know I have one time to get it right. There are no do-overs in the event industry.

In your opinion, what is the best and worst event industry trend of the year? 

Having more of a Ted Talk style dialogue and fireside chats for stage sets.
Having a boardroom table that is way too big for effective dialogue.

What is the best industry book that has helped you as an event planner?
Actually, I would have to say instead of a book, being involved in event community associations has been more of a help than any book. NACE, ILEA and publications like BIZ BASH and Meetings Today.

What is the one tool or item you can't live without on a daily basis as you go about your event planning job?
My cup of coffee! And then having a great team of co-workers. I truly could not do anything without them.

Diane Tighe, CPCE
Director of Catering & Conference Services, Washington Duke Inn and Golf Club, and JB Duke Hotel
Phone: (919) 490.0999 ext. 6129 to speak with a meeting specialist

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