Interviews with Planners - Harris Schanhaut

Harris Schanhaut, CME has been managing conferences, meetings and events in diverse industries, including automotive, medical, travel, technology, financial, pharmaceutical, wellness, and manufacturing. He has been published numerous times in trade magazines, and has been a speaker at industry events since 2003.

Schanhaut was a co-chair of Meeting Professionals International (MPI) Greater New York Chapter’s Strategic Partnership Committee, which was named Committee of the Year. He was on the Board of Directors of the Trade Show Exhibitors Association until July 2009, where he received the President’s Award for service. Schanhaut was on the Board of Advisors for BPA Worldwide, the monthly forecasting board for Trade Show Executive, and was Chairman of the Board for the Event and Exhibition Industry Audit Commission. He is a repeat guest lecturer on the topic of events and trade shows at St. John’s University. He is currently a member of MPI and serves on the Educational Committee.

What is the best advice you have ever received as an event or meeting planner?
Ask why the event is desired. Could the same, or better results be achieved by other methods? If planning the event is the way to go, get an agreement up front from your key stakeholders on what the MEASURABLE desired objectives will be. Then design the event experience to achieve the event’s objectives.

What is the most unique location you have ever planned an event at? What was great, what was challenging?
The situation is more unique than the venue, which was a parking lot. I was putting together a large IT conference with a heavy military influence. The bulk of the event was hosted indoors. With the cooperation of Holloman Air Force Base, I was able to bring in a Predator Drone. It was not flown in, it had to be brought in on a tractor-trailer. The parking lot was not designed for heavy trucks. I could have taken the easy way out by selecting a lot that was far away from the main event. Instead, I worked closely with several teams to confirm the truck could make the needed turns, and I was able to display the Predator Drone quite close to the main event.

What advice would you give to someone entering the event or meeting planning industry today?
Think very hard about your career path. Managing events is one of the most stressful jobs out there that does not involve putting your life on the line (i.e. Military, Police, Emergency Responders). You will either hate it and get out as quickly as possible, or you will be hooked for life, like me.

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What do you see as the most challenging aspect of being an event or meeting planner, and how do you overcome that challenge?
Last minute changes, dictated from the outside, create the most havoc. In one specific instance, my event was to start in a few hours, and we were ready! A Vice President, with whom I had not previously worked, came by and demanded changes. This would have brought us significantly over budget. I analyzed the costs and told the VP, that I could implement these changes if he would send me an email within 30 minutes, agreeing to cover the added expenditures. Instead he stormed off. For future events, I made sure he, or one of his team members, was represented in the planning meetings.

How do you think our industry will evolve in the next five years?
Technology will become much more dominant. I would love to walk into a venue, be able to toss an orb - like the one in the movie Prometheus - and within seconds, get a scaled, detailed image of the room in 3D. Then be able to place furniture to be able to view the room scaled in Virtual Reality.

Big data will also play a bigger role, from survey analysis, to live feedback and analyzing live traffic patterns. We also have to make our event registration systems more secure to deter hacking. Event safety will become increasingly important as terrorists will see large groups of high profile targets as very desirable.

What makes you successful as an event planner?
I listen very carefully to what my key stakeholders want to achieve, present plans, and get buy in before moving forward. Once in progress, I remain agile, being able to role with changes of direction.

In your opinion, what is the best and worst industry trend of the year?
The best trend is the vast influx of technology, if used properly, not just for its own sake, but to enhance the event experience and capture valuable data.

Color fads are useless.

What is the one tool/item you can't live without on a daily basis as you go about your event or meeting planning job?
If I have to list one tool that is absolutely essential, it would have to be the Internet. It offers unlimited resources, including venue information and third-party ratings. It helps planners review and compare vendors and venues easily.

Harris Schanhaut
Strategic Event Designer
Affiliations or Memberships: Meeting Professionals International

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