Though she’s only a few years into her career as an event planner, Jordan Cannella has quite the resume. For the last three years, she’s worked with a team of 14 to plan SEEK, a five-day conference for Catholics with an average annual attendance of 15,000 people. For their virtual conference last year, 27,000 people participated.
This year, Cannella and her colleagues are planning SEEK ’22, which will happen in-person in Salt Lake City. We sat down with her to hear about the tools that make her job—and day—smoother.
Cannella has found businessman and productivity guru Stephen Covey’s six-step planning process helpful with time management. Each week, she goes through these steps, which involve defining goals and then blocking time accordingly, to make sure she’s using her time in a way that aligns with her priorities and purpose. “I like six-step because it helps me stay on top of my projects in a realistic way,” Cannella explains. The six-step model includes adding blocks for unstructured or unscheduled time to catch up or take a breather.
On event days, Cannella has a set outfit she wears. She dresses in all black with a puffy vest on top. “It’s like a utility vest that has everything in it—my walkie, everything,” she says. Cannella has discovered that wearing a similar outfit every day is one less thing to worry about, and her vest serves as a catchall to store everything. She recommends that event planners find an outfit that helps them feel comfortable and confident, taking into consideration logistics of toting around whatever tools they’ll need on event days.
Smartsheet has been a game changer for Cannella and her team in terms of project planning and management. ‘’Smartsheet looks like a sleeker Excel document, and we utilize different formulas to keep track of due dates, progress and critical tasks,” she explains. All of those items can be exported into a report for the department director and conference manager when they need to assess progress or identify areas that need attention. Cannella finds Smartsheet exceptionally helpful for tracking her communication with hotel contacts and all of the deadlines associated with room blocks.
Cannella says that connecting spiritually with her teammates and approaching their work with a spirit of collaboration is essential for success. When they were working remotely due to the pandemic, she corresponded with her colleagues online through a chat tool and scheduled regular Microsoft Teams meetings to make sure they didn’t become disconnected. They also blocked the same window on their calendars each week to pray for one another. When COVID-19 restrictions allow, they attend a chapel service together weekly.
“Having time to reconnect with God through Scripture reading and meditation during the day helps put what we are hoping to accomplish as event planners in perspective,” she says.
Despite the described tools she uses on a regular basis, Cannella encourages event planners not to discount the basics. Technology has automated and organized tasks, freeing up our time to be more productive. But, sometimes she just needs a screen break.
“Sometimes when I get stuck trying to figure out a transportation or housing issue, I just get an extra-large sheet of paper and pen and brainstorm. It’s honestly so helpful to step away from what’s digital occasionally and go back to a literal drawing board,” she says.