Event planner Marsha Stoltman, owner of the Stoltman Group, has organized all kinds of gatherings, from weddings to big business conferences. But her current assignment, the upcoming MidJersey Chamber of Commerce showcase for conference and special event planners, will be under special scrutiny.
“Since it’s for event planners, it’s fun and challenging because they don’t miss a trick,” she says. “When you go just as a person, you can’t help but notice how the food is served, or how the seating is arranged, and so on. As an event planner, I’ll notice things at an event.”
The MidJersey Chamber showcase will be Tuesday, July 29, from 4 to 8 p.m. at the Stone Terrace in Hamilton. The free event will feature professionals from the hospitality industry, meaning people who plan everything from birthday parties to corporate retreats, including audiovisual specialists, conference centers, marketing, printer, entertainment, and children’s activities. New Jersey 101.5 host Dennis Malloy will MC the event. Concurrently the chamber is hosting the “Taste of MidJersey” event, from 6 to 8 p.m., where about 20 local restaurants will offer food samples. Tickets to the latter event cost $25 for chamber members and $40 for nonmembers. For more information on both events, visit www.midjerseychamber.org or call 609-689-9960.
Stoltman, a professional event planner for 21 years, grew up in St. Louis, Missouri, where her father was a tool and die maker and her mother stayed at home to raise Stoltman and her five siblings. Stoltman studied marketing at Southeast Missouri State College, but fell into event planning later in her career when she was working with a lot of newspapers at the Dow Jones company.
Stoltman came to Princeton in the early 90s when one of her bosses left Dow Jones to start an event planning company focused on newspapers called the Kelsey Group. In 2001, she founded her own business.
Stoltman, who teaches a class about event planning at Middlesex County Community College, has advice for anyone hosting something this summer, “whether it’s a child’s birthday party or a major conference.”
Two tools: The two most important tools for events large and small are the timeline, and the budget. “You have to figure out your budget and your timeline,” she says. “The timeline will tell you when you have to order a cake, or send out invitations. As for the budget, you have to know how much money you are spending, and what your goals are.”
Vacations: This time of year, vacations are a major obstacle to planning anything, which may be why the event planning industry tends to slow down a bit in the late summer. Even so, “always check your demographic group,” she says, to make sure there is nothing that would draw them away from your event. “If it’s a business event, have it in the week. Wednesday and Thursday nights are the best, statistically. A social event is obviously best on the weekends. You have to know your audience.”
Have a backup plan: The unpredictability of the weather is a factor even when it is supposed to be nice outside, be it polar vortexes or hailstorms. “You have to have a contingency plan,” Stoltman says. When her daughter got married in an outdoor wedding last September, she made sure there was a backup venue inside. (It turned out to be unnecessary, but it was still a good idea.)
Winter, on the other hand, can wreck even indoor events, even if the snow falls far from the venue. Stoltman recalls a conference she once organized in San Francisco that was almost shut down because of a blizzard thousands of miles away, on the East Coast. The snowstorm shut down airports and prevented half the attendees from attending. “It became a crisis,” she says. “What do we do? Should we hold the event anyway for people who are already here? Do we compensate the ones who couldn’t get here, and if so, how?”
Although well within her rights to not refund anything, Stoltman decided to refund half the money, and offer a 50 percent discount for next year’s conference. Since it was an annual conference, keeping the customers happy paid off in the long run.
Every detail matters: Despite having to deal with emergencies like that snowstorm, Stoltman says event planning is mostly about planning every detail in advance so that nothing is left to chance. For example, if a speech is scheduled to take place after a luncheon, the venue needs to be aware of the importance of serving the food on time, so that the speech isn’t disrupted by the serving of food and clinking of utensils.
Stoltman says the upcoming conference is a good chance for the general public to see what the relatively small central New Jersey business community has to offer. “We’ll have door prizes, and hopefully, a lot of conviviality,” she says.