Rich Bracken shares 7 tips for becoming the unstoppable meeting planner you were always meant to be

Rich Bracken

In Smart Meetings’ recent webinar, Become Unstoppable, attendees heard from Rich Bracken, a keynote speaker and executive presence consultant who, for over 20 years, has been evangelizing an impactful style of business navigation using emotional intelligence (EQ), empathy and mental awareness to achieve sustainable, positive change. A former event planner himself, he is a 2023 Smart Meetings Top Speaker.

When it comes to “becoming unstoppable,” as Bracken puts it, EQ is key. During the webinar, he took viewers through seven key pillars of EQ—mindset shifts—anchored by quotes from greats whose achievements exemplify their success in each pillar.

Watch the full webinar here.

1. Resilience


“I hated every minute of training, but I said, ‘Don’t quit. Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion.’”—Muhammad Ali

Resilience is the lifeblood of the events industry. In the face of the unprecedented chaos of the Covid-19 pandemic, it emerged stronger than ever, and today continues to leverage new technologies and changing trends with grace.

Amid continuous change and inevitable hiccups, Bracken explains, resilience is a matter of putting in the work to make small changes that improve your skillset every day.  “Sometimes you just need to get through things and bounce back stronger, learn from those experiences,” he says, also noting that it’s equally important to forego perfectionism and treat yourself with understanding. “Every mistake, every bad thing that happens, is a learning opportunity to grow and improve.”

He offered this call to action: The next time something goes wrong at your event, stop for 10 seconds and think about what you can learn from it and how to avoid it next time—and then move on. Continue with your day, and don’t allow the mistake to bring you down.

Read More: The Resilience of an Olympian

2. Fearlessness


“My only key to true success is having the confidence.”—Tony Hawk

Event planners need to operate with fearlessness on a day-to-day basis. And when people are confident in themselves, Bracken explains, they can be as fearless as they need to be.

There are two areas where fearlessness really comes into play for planners.

The first is in developing new ideas. Bracken recommends setting aside an hour each month, whether it be in four 15-minute sessions, two 30-minute sessions or even a single one-hour block. That time is dedicated to creativity: look up creative ideas and explore, however you choose. “Your creativity, innovation and desire to change increases when you take intentional time to be creative,” he says.

The second: Own the understanding that you are the subject-matter expert. Planners are notorious for saying yes, with the well-intentioned desire to deliver what everyone wants; but unfortunately, that isn’t always the outcome.

You can’t please everyone, and you can create undue stress for yourself when you take on too much. Bracken explains that, as the planner, you have the expertise to know what works and what might not. “If you want to challenge something,” he says, “be fearless in that moment and understand that what you have to say, what you believe, is valuable… Don’t be afraid to push back when it’s appropriate to do so.”

3. Obsessiveness


“I have been up against tough competition all my life. I wouldn’t know how to get along without it.”—Walt Disney

become unstoppable through obsessiveness with self careThe events industry, certainly, attracts competitive people. As Bracken says, “We all want to succeed; we all want to put on the best event; we all want to make sure that the wow-factor is there, that the experience is through the roof.”

But he adds that it’s important to back away from any kind of obsessiveness that leads to burnout. Instead, he says, “Be obsessive about taking care of yourself. Because you can’t compete at a high level if you’re burning on fumes.”

Planners are, more often than not, go-go-go; and the industry demands it. But Bracken recommends a different approach: Work self-care into your lifestyle in tiny bites, even five minutes. “Once you take that time to implement self-care intentionally,” he says, “you will perform at a much higher level.”

Read More: Why Meeting Planners Should Put Wellness First

4. Relentlessness


“I’ll do whatever it takes to win games. Whether it’s sitting on the bench waving a towel, handing a cup of water to a teammate or hitting the game-winning shot.”—Kobe Bryant

Bracken says Kobe Bryant’s outlook when it came to training and playing was infectious. Even more so was “his humility and his ability to want to serve those around him.”

Being in the events industry comes with a service mentality, Bracken says, but too often planners get caught up in the event, in different tasks and projects and they forget to pay enough attention to the team around them. “It’s important to understand that we are never too busy to stop and look around. Stop and pay attention to what’s going on.”

“So be relentless with that mentality, peel back that desire to serve, and try to take a little bit of an extra step: to engage, to serve, to communicate, to help those around us, both internal stakeholders, our team, our external clients, whomever they may be,” Bracken says.

5. Trust


“I just try to learn from every mistake that I make so that I never make them again.”—Patrick Mahomes

become unstoppable with trustBracken admires Mahomes for the way he communicates with his team when he makes a mistake in a game. He will always admit to it and make a promise to do better, and then follow through. This builds trust and reliability with his team.

All the key pillars of EQ that Bracken had shared up to this point—resilience, fearlessness, obsessiveness, relentlessness—”All of them build trust,” he says.

“When you show that you can bounce back with an emotionally intelligent mind, when you show that you’re engaging with a service mentality with your team and your stakeholders, you build trust,” he says. “When you understand that you’re giving guidance that helps the organization get to the goal that they want to get to, people are going to give you more trust.”

Read More: Work Smart: The Art of Communication

6. Passion


“The key to realizing a dream is to focus, not on the success, but on significance.”—Oprah Winfrey

“There are very few industries that can even compete with what we do from a passion perspective,” says Bracken. All the work planners do, the countless hours, the details, all come down to building an experience—and this is what fills planners with drive. But in the face of all the work that needs to get done, sometimes, at the end of the day, you might find yourself losing what is most important.

Bracken offers advice for rediscovering the passion that drives your work.

“If you’re an event planner, and you say, ‘Look, yes, there are a million things to go do. Yes, there are tight deadlines. Yes, the budget is not what I need it to be. But what can I do with what I have to work with?’

“To create an experience, to create an emotional transformation, to create, if anything, for [only] one person in that room, to transform them out of their daily activities and to transform them out of their daily mentality—that’s the fun part…What do you want people to think about? What do you want people to do? What do you want the outcome to be?”

Planners must take the time to think about how they can offer a transformative experience to a group, or even an individual, in order to remind themselves of where their passion lies and what they are working for.

7. Visualization


“As you think, so shall you become.”—Bruce Lee

In January 1969, Bruce Lee wrote himself a letter that Bracken read out loud: “I, Bruce Lee, will be the first, highest-paid Oriental superstar in the United States. In return, I will give the most exciting performances and render the best of quality in the capacity of an actor. Starting 1970, I will achieve world fame, and from then onward, to the end of 1980, I will have in my possession $10 million. I will live the way I please and achieve inner harmony and happiness.”

become unstoppable visualization imageIn the years to come, he would achieve all these goals—and more. His successful career is one thing; but, as Bracken notes, he also achieved his goals for inner harmony and happiness. He achieved these, Bracken believes, because he was so specific in the details. He included dates, money, timelines and specific adjectives. This detail led him to stay focused on those goals and, with that focus, dedicated to achieving them.

Bracken recommends visualizing not only for every event, but every day. Take five minutes in the mornings to think about how you want your day to go; when you face a hiccup, draw on that resilience of yours to learn and move on, and then return to focusing your attention on making the day, or event, what you want it to be.

“As we invest in ourselves and we focus on the things that we need to do for us, what does that look like? What does your best self look like?” Bracken asks. “That visualization, that crystal-clear picture of how you want to be that day will keep you on track.”