When I returned to work at an event and association management company for the summer, I did not know exactly what my role would look like, but I definitely did not expect to be working with anyone famous! On my first day back, however, I was told I would support a fancy fundraising event where the guest of honour would be the football star Eli Manning. Better yet, a big part of my job was to shadow him!
Since this was my first experience meeting someone famous in a work setting, I asked around the office for some advice on how to be professional with celebrity attendees at events. Thanks to Amanda, Rachel, Geoff and Coralee for their input! Here were some of their suggestions.
Understand the Agreement
Beforehand, try to have a sense of the contract details with the VIP. This can also include contact with the celebrity’s agent before the event to set out the terms of the agreement. For this particular event, the contract stated that Mr. Manning would not provide any autographs to the attendees. Since I knew this, I was prepared to stop guests from asking for signed jerseys or napkins.
Set the Tone
Once the event starts, remember that the first few minutes of interaction will set the tone for the rest of the night. Although I was tempted to swoon at the 6’7” football star, I maintained a professional posture, shook hands, and moved on. Once we arrived at the first venue of the night, I offered the guest something to drink. This way he knew to take me seriously, but also that I was at his disposal.
Once you set the tone of the event, remember to make the guest feel like the VIP they are. In this case, he asked me for a coffee before the event started. The first person I asked told me there was no coffee brewed yet, but I didn’t accept that for an answer. It was important to make sure that all of the guest’s needs were attended too, even if this request was not convenient for me.
Add a Security Detail
This also means there should be a special focus on security for the VIP. While the venue likely has a security team in place, you cannot take the security presence for granted. For us, it was important to make sure that no attendees would go up to the stage where our guest of honour was eating, so I stood there myself to keep an eye out. You do not want your guest to feel like they are left to fend for themselves.
In addition to safety concerns, a lack of security can lead the guest to feeling uncomfortable, and this in turn can affect their presentation/speech. It reflects poorly on your event if the guest is nervous or unhappy during their time to shine; after all, they are the reason many people chose to attend the event in the first place!
Gauge the VIP’s Comfort Level
There are other ways you can make a guest uncomfortable besides inept security. One simple way of creating unease in your guest is to ask too much of them, or put them in a situation where they have to say no. During the event, I watched one event attendee whisper to our guest of honour to sign the back of her friend’s jersey. I could see that our star wanted nothing less than to do so, and it created an awkward situation for all parties involved. Stick to the plan for the event night and to the pre-established norms.
In some cases, the celebrity might be comfortable branching out of what was in their contract, to do additional meet and greets, a press conference or extra photos. However, just because they are willing to help out does not mean they should be milked for all they’re worth. It is not fair to the celebrity in question to pack their schedule full. While it may benefit your event in the short term, it can lead to a bad taste in the invitee’s mouth and they may not want to return to your event. In this case, our guest’s brother had come to this event in the past, and news of overburdening organizers would have spread quickly, potentially affecting the attendance of our guest.
At the end of the day, your guest of honour is also human. As experienced event manager Geoff says, “The minute you put famous people on a pedestal you make the situation awkward, so keep it real… We all came into the world the same way and we all leave the same way.”