Event Planning Expert Tips

Alison Wenstrup - Owner and Event Planning Coordinator of Aviva Events
Alison Wenstrup, Event Coordinator

Good ideas, creativity and an organized event planning checklist can help make your event into a great success. Alison Wenstrup, the owner and event coordinator of Aviva Events, is involved with everything from intimate gatherings to elaborate weddings, fundraisers and corporate events. Alison took some time out of her busy schedule to share advice to help you with your party planning checklist, and share experiences in her career as an event coordinator.

Organized Party Planning

LoveToKnow (LTK): When you begin to organize an event, you gather information into an event planning checklist to help guide the direction it will go and what you will need to make it happen. What are some of the most important elements that should always be included?

Alison Wenstrup (AW):

  1. Budget: Try to make one and stick to it -- it is too easy to overspend without one.
  2. Catering: Even if you are doing the cooking yourself, make sure to research to determine how much you will food and beverage you will need to accommodate your guests.
  3. Timeline: For example, for a formal event, your invitations should go out two months in advance, but for a more casual event, 2-4 weeks is acceptable. If you create a timeline, it is much easier to remember the details, and to get through them all without being overwhelmed!

If all you have is good friends and good food, you can't go wrong! And if you've stuck to your budget during the process, it just makes it all the better.

LTK: An event planning checklist may not always catch all details or anticipate everything that could go wrong. What are some good tips to help lessen the possibility of problems that could occur during an event?

AW: First and foremost is a positive attitude. Things will go wrong; that is just the nature of the world! But if you can take them in stride, you will see that it's not a big deal and most of your guests will neither notice nor care. That said; it's always nice to make sure that your emergency kit and medicine cabinet are fully stocked (for the serious problems) and the numbers of several delivery services on hand in case of a catering or kitchen disaster. It is also nice to have some spare cash and several cab company numbers on hand for any guest that may enjoy one drink too many.

Party Themes

LTK: Themes can make or break the party. What are some of the most popular party themes? What are the most unusual?

AW: For a children's party, anything goes and there is no limit to a theme! The most popular are favorite cartoon characters or "princess" parties. For adult parties, I like to note that any theme can work -- if done in the correct way. When working with a theme, always take the more subtle approach. Otherwise, your adult cocktail party will end up looking like a children's party.

Party Budget

LTK: If your client has a tight budget, what are some ways you can save money without sacrificing quality or presentation?

AW: You can always save money if you are willing to put in time. That may mean taking hours to create invitations or centerpieces by hand rather than paying someone else to do so for you. Or, if you have a friend who specializes in a certain event-related field (music, catering, floral), you may be able to trade your time and talents in an area in which you specialize. For example, if you work in accounting, offer to help your florist friend with her taxes in exchange for a price break or a brief lesson in floral design. Also, contact local universities. Undergraduate and graduate students in fields such as photography and music are often times incredibly talented, but willing to work for less in order to build their portfolios.

Suggestions for Party Success

LTK: Do you have any suggestions that can help guarantee the success of a party?

AW: Your guest list can absolutely make or break your party! Make sure that there is a good mix of old and new faces, and be sure to introduce everyone to each other. The right mix of people will keep a party going all night, whereas the wrong mix can leave everyone in uncomfortable silence. Don't be afraid to invite your out-there friend or neighbor: it's always great to have someone around to spice things up!

Party Planning Careers

LTK: Party planning is an interesting field. What inspired you to move into this direction as a career?

AW: It is something that initially I just fell into. While in college, I studied Communication Arts with a focus in television production. But as a board member for several student organizations, I found myself planning many events and loved the process. It takes a certain, almost quirky, personality type to handle the stress of the job and to love the organization and details of it all, and it seemed to fit me perfectly. I contacted other local event planners and volunteered my assistance to gain more experience, and it grew from there! It wasn't long before I branched out on my own to create Aviva Events, and could not be happier with that decision.

LTK: What is one of your most memorable events you have ever organized?

AW: The very first wedding I ever worked on is certainly the most memorable. Somehow during the ceremony, the room where our supplies for the reception were being stored got locked... I ended up having to be hoisted up a wall and climbing through a window in order to get into the room and unlock the door! Definitely a memorable experience and a quick lesson in how "anything goes" while working an event. It all worked out in the end, and everything got from the church to the reception site in time, and the bridal party was none the wiser.

LTK: What do you enjoy most about party planning?

What I enjoy most is getting to know my clients and helping them plan an important day in their lives. Every person has a story, and I get to hear so many of them! My clients are all so different and have very diverse backgrounds; no two events are ever the same, and I love not always knowing what might come next.

LTK: Are there any types of parties or events you would not consider for a project?

AW: I will consider any type of event. In rare instances, there are certain events or clients that I may feel another local planner may be better suited for, and should that occasion arise, I pass on the recommendation.

LTK: What was your most rewarding experience as an event planning coordinator?

AW: It is so difficult to choose a single most rewarding experience. Throughout the event planning process, I typically become very close to my clients. After each event, the thanks I get from them, their friends and families can be overwhelming. But the most rewards come from working with non-profit organizations. When I can help groups create an event that raises funds to support their mission, all the hard work is well worth it!

LTK: For those of us out there that are considering a career in party planning, what advice can you give them?

AW: I would suggest starting out by volunteering with a non-profit organization. They have fundraising events on a regular basis and it is a great starting point for experience, plus very rewarding! Also, contact your local chapter of ISES (International Special Events Society), ABC (Association of Bridal Consultants) or MPI (Meeting Planners International) to learn about meetings in your area and start networking with other event planners and vendors.

More Information on Aviva Events

To learn more about Aviva Events, visit the website or call Aviva at 513-288-0356. Email Alison Wenstrup at Alison@Aviva-Events.com. Mail can be address to Aviva Events at PO Box 9391, Cincinnati, OH 45209.

By Sheila Robinson

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