In-Person Events


What Field Marketers, Brain Surgeons, & Pilots Have in Common


Kirstin Fulton


If you guessed “We have an inordinate amount of details to manage,” bravo you! Like surgeons and pilots, field marketers juggle a massive amount of information—and need to keep their cool while doing it. And though the stakes aren’t life-threatening (thank goodness), planning and running a first-class event is nonetheless a stressful endeavor. But you can ease that pressure by working some key techniques for organization and self-management. Here are our top tips for staying calm and collected while building a fantastic B2B event.

Set expectations

For surgeons (undoubtedly one of the most high-stress jobs around), setting expectations is a proven factor in better patient experience and recovery. You too can improve the experience of your clients—and everyone else involved in the build— by setting clear expectations.

To be clear, this not the same as goal setting, but the two are inextricably linked. Once you’ve laid out your goals—from event plan to post-event management—you need to establish the expectations for how to achieve those goals. Say you want open your event with a top-tier keynote. What your senior leadership expects to pay for that speaker will likely vary from what the speaker expects to earn. To reach your goal, you'll have to temper expectations on both ends. So learn how to set and manage expectations across many channels, from internal teams to speakers, vendors, the media, and venue management.

Start with a template

Do pilots use a template? You bet—it’s called a flight plan. They’d never take off without a specific plan backed by historic and to-the-minute data. It’s a great model to follow. Planning a B2B event includes too many details to track without a template—one that’s fully accessible to your internal stakeholders. Templates are as much about organization as they are about transparency and communication. When building your event outline, start by looking backward. Is this an annual event? Pull last year’s trackers—along with the notes of what worked and what didn’t—and use them as a model. Alternately, start with a brand new template like our comprehensive Event Planning Toolkit.

Make a checklist

Some inventions are so critical, they stand the test of time.

  • Bread.
  • Paper.
  • Zippers.
  • Checklists.

A comprehensive checklist is the ultimate organizational tool. Without it, literal chaos would ensue, as Shankar Vedantam explores in his Hidden Brain podcast Check Yourself. The bottom line: Don’t underestimate the importance of this simple tool. Whatever the job, there’s a checklist to match, one that covers the steps of every imaginable situation. And we’ve created a one specifically for event planners. Bonus!

Learn how to prioritize

The ability to prioritize is almost like rhythm—either you have it or you don’t. But we’re positive you can learn to prioritize well, even when everything is at the top of your to-do list. RescueTime offers a great structural plan to work through priorities in the now and the future, but for something simpler to guide your decision making, here are our three big tips:

  • Clear the tiny tasks. Take the first 30 minutes of your day and take care of all the simple emails and one-offs. This clarifies all your big priorities for the day.
  • Eliminate partner roadblocks. Before you dive into a big personal project, try to address requests and concerns from others that will hold up their production (thus the production of the event).
  • Eat the frog. (Okay, we borrowed this one.) In short, tackle the most important job or issue first thing. Clearing a difficult task that would otherwise haunt your day can propel you forward with a greater sense of productivity and confidence.

Communicate—but don’t over communicate

Air traffic controllers deal with an incredible amount of stress. But pilots can seriously mitigate that by providing controllers with up-to-date information. So, even though your job isn’t to land a plane in a major airport, the lesson stands: Don’t keep important details to yourself. When planning a b2b event, every partner should have the necessary information to meet their goals. (Did you catch the key word there?) Only the necessary information. Over communicating is dangerous, and can cause the same effect as not sharing at all: people will stop listening and end up with nothing learned. So before you email the full sales team with a registration update, remove the gritty details about the massive software glitch that consumed your Wednesday. In the end, they don’t need to know.


Imagine a surgeon performing an operation without support? It’s almost asking for disaster. Surgeons know the critical importance of delegating to a skilled support team so they—the team lead—can do their job as perfectly as possible. They’d never imagine doing everything themselves, so why would you?

Strong event planners are forever guilty of taking on tasks that they can easily delegate. The reasons are many—most of which point to having great passion for the event. So no bad there. But the truth is, delegation is a leadership skill that not only enhances your team’s abilities, but also improves your own performance. If delegation is your Achilles Heel, Harvard Business Review offers some tips for improvement.

Remember the end goal

Whether you work to heal patients, safely land hundreds of travelers in London, or run meaningful events, getting mired in the details can clog up your smooth planning process—and soon you can find yourself off track to reaching your goal. Author Neil Gaiman equated his life goal to a distant mountain: “I knew that as long as I kept walking towards the mountain I would be all right. And when I truly was not sure what to do, I could stop, and think about whether it was taking me towards or away from the mountain.” So work to always keep focused, and make each choice through the lens of your end goal.

Anticipate issues

Something is going to go wrong. Sorry to be so blunt, but facing that fact early can save you some agony later. Whether it’s some of the common event problems, or something random like a cabbie strike on the day of your midtown Manhattan conference, you need to be ready. Brainstorm the possibilities and have contingency plans ready.

When in crisis mode—keep perspective

Not every crisis is a crisis. PiIots and surgeons know this. To work through a genuine emergency, they must know the difference on a clearly technical level. But often, as Steven Pink explains in his book Crisis Communications, a crisis is subjective. What is urgent to one person is not necessary urgent to anyone else. But like electricity, if urgency is given more and more conductors, it will soon be surging through your whole operation. So be the one to cut the current. Learn some calming techniques specific to event planners and head into your field meeting committed to being the problem-solving, pacifying presence your team needs.

As surgeons and pilots consistently show, even the most high-stakes, high-stress jobs can be managed well with the right tools. So when planning your next B2B field meeting, implement some of their fundamental strategies, and see if they make a difference for you, your team, and the end product.

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