Clever Carly: The Art of Saying No

When—and how—to say no in the planning process

Hello, my magnificent planners!

I don’t know about you, but as a planner, I tend to be a people pleaser. I want to make sure everything is perfect for everyone I work with, which means sometimes I have a hard time saying no: no to projects that I don’t have time for, outlandish requests, tasks that seem impossible and so on. Instead, I say yes, pile everything atop my proverbial plate and drive myself—and my team—insane trying to make it all work.

Here’s the thing: Over the years, I’ve learned that not every meeting, client or undertaking is worth the pressure, sweat, frustration and hard work I put into it. Instead, I’ve learned to say no. It’s a hard muscle to flex, let me tell you. But often saying no is better than agreeing to something that is mismatched from the start—especially when saying yes prevents you from doing the projects you thrive on.

I’d hate to turn down a challenge when I know that there is potential for great growth and success. But there are some planning situations that call for a firm no. Here’s where I’d draw the line:

1. The project isn’t a good match for your skill set.

Everyone has different skills, and it’s important to know your strengths and weaknesses. Hiring a diverse team that you can delegate tasks to can help balance out any vulnerabilities—but even then, no team is perfect. The reality is that some projects might not be on par with your vision of what an event should be or with your methods of execution. In this case, I’d suggest respectfully declining involvement from the get-go rather than throwing a meeting that isn’t up to your standards. There will be other projects that are better suited to your strengths, and those are the ones you should put your efforts behind.

2. The client is constantly changing the plan.

There are a lot of planning decisions to be made, and at some point, choices need to be approved to be able to move forward. But if your client is constantly switching directions, the result is an onslaught of timeline delays, missed deadlines and maybe even missed opportunities. As the event planner, it’s your job to keep to the schedule and stay on track—and if that means saying no to a client request, then so be it. Instead of saying no outright, kindly remind the client of the calendar and what could be at stake for the event if planning falls too far behind.

3. Client requests don’t fit the budget.

Money woes are consistently one of the biggest difficulties that planners face, and that’s no surprise when you think about all of the big meeting ideas and goals to be achieved versus the limited amount of funds allotted to make those dreams come true. If the client comes to you with a larger-than-life request, or one that is plainly out of the budget, you can first try to find a compromise. For example, is there a way you can fulfill the ask by shifting around—but not increasing—the budget? Or achieving it on a smaller scale? If you can make it work, great; but if not, you’ll need to politely remind the client of the financial situation. No one likes to hear the word “no,” so come prepared to the conversation with comparable alternative ideas.

4. The partnership isn’t productive.

Being an event planner means partnering with many different types of people—clients, vendors, sponsors and attendees are just a few that come to mind. I use the word “partner” because the relationships you develop with people during the planning process really are a partnership. You’re all working together to produce a spectacular event; alone, you accomplish nothing. And like all relationships, planning partnerships can get complicated. If at any time you feel like the partnership has turned to a dictatorship where you’re not respected, feel uncomfortable or are subject to tasks that are not a part of your role—it’s OK to say no.

At the end of the day, you have a job to accomplish, and if that partnership becomes a roadblock, something has to change. For example, if your client or a vendor is treating you like a personal assistant, it takes time and ability away from actual planning duties. The best thing you can do is open a dialogue, come up with an action plan to carry out the rest of the planning process and carry on.

Again, I’m always aiming to do as much as I can to make every event perfect. But when a project or request comes at the expense of the meeting, take time for some deep consideration. Recognizing those moments might be difficult, but in retrospect, saying no will be something your future self shouts, “yes!” to.

Until next time.

Plan well,

Clever Carly