What the Arctic Monkeys Can Teach You About Event Management

http://www.theguardian.com/music/musicblog/poll/2014/feb/20/alex-turner-brits-speech-what-did-you-think

Photograph: Yui Mok/PA Wire via The Guardian

One of the major talking points from the Brit Awards 2014 is the Arctic Monkeys acceptance speech for Best Album (their second award of the evening).  Alex Turner certainly divided opinion with his talk of sludge, swamps and rock ‘n’ roll.  People seemed to love or loathe it!  Watch the full clip at the end of this post or for comment see Alex Turner’s Brits speech – what did you think?).

At the end of his monologue Alex invites the Brits organisers to “invoice me for the microphone if you need to” and drops the mic to the ground.

As event organisers it struck me that this incident can remind us of few valuable lessons!  Here are the 5 things the Arctic Monkeys can teach us about event management:

1. Always have a plan B.  In this case it was a replacement mic!  Try to plan for the unexpected, including technical malfunction, whenever possible.

2. Be alert at all times during the live event and ready to react quickly.  In this case the sound technicians swiftly muted the microphone before it smashed to the floor.

3. People will always over or under run their allocated time.  However well you brief people, plan and rehearse timings, give cues, timing warnings, etc speakers and performers will inevitably always finish sooner or later than you have planned.  The key is dealing with it effectively to get the schedule back on track.

4. Never underestimate how unpredictable musicians/celebrities/creatives can be!  We have come across a fair few “divas” and egos in our time, particularly when working backstage at festivals and concerts.  People skills, diplomacy and patience are a must for Event Managers!

Another example of this from the Brits was Harry Styles from One Direction being at the toilet and arriving on stage half way through the rest of the group accepting an award!   

5. Controversy can be great for an event in terms of driving discussion, social media and press coverage.

Watch all of the action via this clip:

I truly think the Arctic Monkeys are lyrical geniuses and I am a big fan of their music; however if I am honest this act seemed completely unnecessary, forced and decidedly un-rock ‘n’ roll to me!  However it was certainly more entertaining and thought provoking than some of the other predictable acceptance speeches we heard on the evening!

I would love to hear your thoughts on this in the comments below!  In your eyes is Alex Turner a legend or a loser for his speech and subsequent actions dropping the mic?  What else can we as event managers learn from this incident?

Are Event Management Degrees Worthwhile?

Blog-Every-Day-in-November-with-RosaliliumIn October 2013 Conference and Incentive Travel Magazine published this article: The Big Debate – Are Event Management Degrees a Waste of Time?  The Event Wide Blog then responded with this piece: A Response from an Event Student and Joanna, another event management student, blogged about it here: To a Degree of Relevance.  Event Management qualifications certainly seem to be a controversial subject!  As a graduate with an event management degree myself (graduating over 10 years ago with a 2:1 BA Hons Events Management from Leeds Metropolitan University) I also wanted to write a blog post and to add my thoughts into the mix!

In the C&IT article Simon Maier from the TFI Group suggests that the degrees are too wide-ranging. He says “The content is too broad. It mostly covers management and logistics – very little about delivery, measurement, ROI and the full gamut of event technology. I suspect that not all the lecturers who design the courses are practising events professionals and tend to come from the academic, hotel or travel side.”

Obviously I only have first hand detailed experience of the content of my own course which I imagine has changed and developed a lot in the last 10 years and so it is impossible to speak authoritatively for all event management degrees across the UK.  I would suggest though that it was largely a business degree with elements of planning, finance, marketing, HR, etc, alongside the event planning specific content.  However with many of the modules we were of course expected to put the learning into an event context.

The events industry is varied and although certain principals and planning elements apply to any event genre the specifics of organising a conference are very different to managing an outdoor festival for example.  My degree opened my eyes to the many opportunities in the industry and like many I started the course thinking I wanted to get involved in music festivals and came out realising that actually conferences and corporate event projects are my forte and passion.

When I did my degree there were very few event management degree courses and Leeds was definitely the place to be!  We had less than 75 people in the year group and you could not progress unless you had completed a minimum of 48 weeks full time work placement in the industry.  This placement took place during your 2nd year and then you returned to university for years 3 and 4.  That first hand experience was essential and certainly made the rest of the university content more real, fusing together the academic with real life experience.  One thing that does worry me nowadays is the intake in each year group and therefore the amount of event management students studying each year.  In the current economic climate does the demand by students for work placements and jobs in the industry outstrip the actual requirement in the real world?

Another element that I really valued in my degree was the regular contributions from industry speakers.  This really brought to life the realities and scope of the world of events.
Glenn Bowdin was (and still is) the Head of UK Centre for Events Management, Leeds Metropolitan University.  He has written event management text books and is Chair of AEME (Association for Events Management Education).

I had some great lecturers and it was really apparent those that “knew their stuff” and had a lot of experience.  I particularly valued the knowledge of Nick Jordan and I was lucky enough to have Nick as my dissertation tutor (now a Senior Lecturer at Sheffield Hallam University).  Perhaps it was Nick that sparked my love of organising conferences too!  Of course not all of the lecturers encountered had the same level of experience and one in particular seemed to crack under questioning from inquisitive students and seemed to have only have organised a handful of events (they are no longer at Leeds Met I hasten to add!).  I agree that it is absolutely vital that anyone who teaches the event managers of tomorrow must have credibility and many years of experience running events.  A background in event management (not hotels, travel and tourism or academia) cannot be faked and so you will soon be discovered and lose the respect of the students otherwise.  Also to be able to direct research or advise students around their dissertation topic you surely need to have that deeper understanding?

We did plan, develop and execute some real events as part of our course although sometimes we had to undertake the planning for imaginary event projects too which was perhaps frustrating.  Looking back though I imagine it was very important as it gave us the opportunity to think big as if we were planning a really innovative event project with a complicated brief and a specific budget and is similar to putting forward ideas to a client and developing new opportunities in the real world.

I agree wholeheartedly with Simon Maier that delivery, measurement, ROI and event technology are vital elements to be studied.  The events industry is moving at such a fast pace I would hope that event management degrees are keeping abreast and tweaking their course content every single academic year.  Social media and health and safety are other vital components I would suggest should be given priority and whereas 10 years ago we learnt about video-conferencing, students today should be learning about hybrid events.  I know we had the opportunity to learn video editing for one module and skills such as this are obviously more important than ever for a well rounded event manager.  I hope also that all students at all universities nowadays (whatever the course) also have access to training in entrepreneurship, business planning and guidance on how to set up your own company.

One thing I think it is important to remember though is that University is not school or college.  It is about independent learning – research, critical thinking, study, reflection combined with work experience.  University is not about hand holding and telling people what to think and do – the student must come to their own conclusions and it is true somewhat that they get out what they put in (as with life in general!).

More recently I have had some links with the BA (Hons) Event Management Course at the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan).  I have had the pleasure of meeting the Course Leader and Senior Lecturers, I have presented to students about my career and experience of the events industry, I have participated in an industry focus group around course content and development, I have interviewed students for an events role, I have attended events organised by the students and I have worked first hand with several students who volunteered and came forward to work on a challenging event taking place within very short timescales.  I have to say I have been nothing less than impressed – the students have been really proactive and keen, the lecturers have a true background in events, the student intake each year is small and as part of the course they have to put on real events.

VolunteerWhen I graduated my industry work placement as well as the other voluntary and paid work experience I had gained were essential in helping me find a job.  Then in 2004 I set up my own company: Events Northern Ltd. (note I wrote an earlier blog post here about Starting an Event Management Company).  I know of at least 2 other graduates from my year group that did the same.  Others went on to top high flying jobs with some of the biggest companies in the events industry.  Inevitably though there were also many that didn’t go into the events industry and found jobs in human resources, marketing, retail and so forth.  I think it is a strength that our course was broad enough to allow this if people decided the events industry wasn’t for them.  The business elements of an event management degree and indeed the skills developed in terms of event planning are easily transferable, whereas someone without that event management background would not necessarily have the skills an event organiser needs.

I would suggest from an employers perspective if someone has a degree in Event Management this shows me that they are very focused on their career path (like I was – I couldn’t imagine studying anything else).  I agree that event experience would have the greater weighting if I had to choose between event management experience or having an event management degree but if recruiting I would largely favour someone with an events management degree rather than someone who had studied another subject.

I really do not envy current event management (or any students) today.  Not only do they have to pay high tuition fees (up to £9k per year) they also face a really difficult job market at the end of it.  Luckily the top students seem to realise that this is a competitive market and are raising their game and thinking ahead.

I have been impressed by the event management students I have come into contact with in person and also via Twitter and #eventhour.  They have shown an inquisitive and intelligent perspective, are gaining valuable work experience whenever they can (both paid and unpaid) and it is great to see them networking with event professionals via the virtual world through Twitter chats and face to face opportunities as well as taking the time to blog.  For me as an employer this shows real commitment.

In conclusion I would wholeheartedly defend my event management degree.  The academic preparation and inspiration it provided, in conjunction with lots of work experience has prepared me for my career as a professional event and conference organiser.  I would love to hear more from Universities that offer event management degree courses and find out about their specific course content and how they respond to this debate.

Personality Traits of Event Managers

Blog-Every-Day-in-November-with-RosaliliumAt EIBTM last week I had the opportunity to mingle with many event organisers (#eventprofs as we are affectionately known on Twitter).  Whenever you attend event industry exhibitions such as EIBTM, Confex, the Conference and Hospitality Show, etc or go on a ‘fam trip’ or similar opportunity which gathers event planners together you know that you are guaranteed to meet like minded people.  It seems that to work in the events industry you need to have certain character traits and this almost guarantees that you will get along with each other!  It made me think about what the key personality requirements are and I came up with the following list.

1. Friendly, outgoing and able to talk to anyone (about almost anything)!
An event organiser has a very public facing job in terms of face to face contact with clients and attendees so unsurprisingly you need to have great people skills.  If you are the shy and retiring type this probably isn’t the career choice for you!

2. Happy and positive outlook
The best event managers and the most successful people I encounter in life in general all seem to have a positive and optimistic outlook on life.  At Events Northern Ltd service with a smile is vital.

3. Confident
I think a level of confidence is required to manage people and attendees effectively and deal with any challenges that come along calmly with a level head.  Refer back to point 1.

4. “Grafters”
Event Managers often work very long, unsociable hours.  It is often fairly physical work too and you need to ‘get stuck in!’

5. Organised
The most obvious personality trait that an event planner needs is to be very organised and methodical, with excellent attention to detail.

I would love to read your comments on other key personality traits that event organisers should possess!

You may also be interested to read our earlier blog post: Business Etiquette Tips for Event Managers

Event Management – a Stressful Career Choice?

Blog-Every-Day-in-November-with-RosaliliumWelcome to day six of Blog Every Day in November (#BEDN).  The topic today is National Stress Awareness Day.

A recent article by the Telegraph has revealed that almost half of Britons consider themselves stressed.  Stress is one of the most common conditions experienced by people in the UK today. It can contribute to serious physical illnesses, and be a cause for obesity. People going to work whilst suffering stress contribute to poor performance of businesses and services, and can be a contributor to poor care, errors, and disasters caused by lack of concentration. The financial cost to the UK has been estimated at £60 billion or about £1000 per man, woman and child (source: ISMA Press Release).

National Stress Awareness Day got us thinking about how well we cope with stress and whether a little bit of stress is actually a good thing in terms of encouraging peak performance at work?

We read with interest this blog post: the 10 most and least stressful jobs in 2013.  In the study to determine this they looked at 11 job requirements that contribute to stress including:

  • the amount of travel required
  • growth potential
  • deadlines
  • working in the public eye
  • competitiveness
  • physical demands
  • environment conditions
  • hazards encountered
  • risk to life
  • risk to other’s lives
  • and need to meet the public

The role of an Event Manager can be stressful at times in terms, particularly in terms of immoveable and numerous deadlines (the event dates and milestones within each event project), working with the public (members of the public can be trying on occasions!) and perhaps even physical demands (on conference and event days I walk for miles, plus unloading, lifting, etc).  Likewise depending on the project and the event there can be a lot of travelling required (we ran a conference in Germany in May) and the environmental conditions can be harsh (outdoor events and the English weather – need I say more?!).

Overall based on the stress indicators they have suggested it seems that Event Management is certainly not a job for the faint-hearted.  Plus of course, however well you plan for every eventuality it is inevitable that the unexpected sometimes happens, leaving you to make immediate decisions about the best course of action to take, often in a very public arena and then to communicate that to the attendees.

Furthermore I would also say that running your own business can be stressful at times, whatever the industry.

Don’t get me wrong I adore my job and running a SME and I couldn’t imagine doing anything different, however with this in mind I was wondering perhaps if Event Manager or MD of an Event Management Company might actually make the list!  Alas it wasn’t listed, although I feel that in some ways an Event Management role could be more stressful than a Public Relations Executive which comes in in 5th place.  The full list of the most stressful jobs is below.

Most Stressful Jobs of 2013:

  1. Enlisted military (stress score 84.72)
  2. Military General (stress score 65.54)
  3. Firefighter (stress score 60.45)
  4. Commercial airline pilot (stress score 60.28)
  5. Public relations executive (stress score 48.52)
  6. Senior corporate executive (stress score 47.46)
  7. Photojournalist (stress score 47.12)
  8. Newspaper reporter (stress score 46.75)
  9. Taxi driver (stress score 46.18)
  10. Police officer (stress score 45.60)

Are you surprised by the list at all?  Do you think a little bit of stress can be good for your work performance?  After a hard day what do you do to switch off?  We would welcome your thoughts below!

Business Etiquette Tips for Event Managers

The Senior Lecturer and Course Leader for Event Management at the University of Central Lancashire recently asked for my top ten hints and tips on professional business etiquette for budding Event Managers.  I started thinking about my personal experience and the standards that are important to me and this provided inspiration for this blog post.

As an Event Manager it is vital to act professionally and ethically and to present a positive business image at all times.  We work in a people-orientated industry.  People buy from people and they want to work with those that they respect and have faith in.  You are an ambassador for the company you work for and your conduct adds to your “brand.”  Of course this post isn’t exclusive to the event industry – it will be useful to a broad spectrum of professions.

To be distinguished as a professional event manager and outclass the competition these are my personal top tips.

Timekeeping

Good timekeeping is essential.  Always be on time for meetings.  It is unprofessional to be late and you do not want to keep people waiting.  Should circumstances be beyond your control do of course have the courtesy to phone ahead and apologise.

Always arrive early on live event days – it is completely unacceptable to be even a minute late on the day of the event.  Leave plenty of extra time in case of unexpected eventualities.

Presentation

Good presentation and personal grooming is important.  Your dress must be practical and comfortable as well as smart.

Make sure that you give a proper handshake.

Stay calm and unruffled under pressure – keep your head.

Time Management

Good time management is an essential skill for every Event Manager.

It goes without saying that you must meet all deadlines – events will not wait!  Work backwards from the event date and effectively map the key milestones and deadlines leading up to the date and stick to them.

The nature of running an event does mean that a lot can happen just before the event day – last minutes bookings, substitutions, last minute requests from speakers, etc.  Be prepared for this.  Expect to work late as necessary to get things done thoroughly.

Attitude

Treat others with the respect you expect to be treated with yourself.

Have a positive, professional outlook.

Event Managers should be friendly and approachable and most importantly SMILE!  This is a people business and you should be warm and welcoming.

Correspondence

Develop a professional way of answering the phone.

Know how to write professional letters, faxes and emails.

Respond to emails and voice messages promptly.  However busy I am it is important to me to respond as quickly as possible to emails and any calls I have missed.  I definitely aim to respond within 24 hours but generally reply much more speedily.

Manners

Always ensure introductions are made between speakers, performers, clients and staff.  Be sure to use correct titles where appropriate (Dr, Professor, Sir) and full names.  Try to give job titles, organisations and a hook to enable a conversation to begin naturally.  This might be a shared interest, fact or point of view or some background information which will put them at ease with each other.

Don’t forget your manners.  Common courtesy seems to be a dying art but costs nothing.

Always thank speakers, sponsors, staff and clients – anyone that has contributed to making the project a success or paid for your services.

Business Etiquette

Get everything in writing.  This is particularly important when it comes to contracts, roles and responsibilities, deadlines, health and safety information, venue operations sheets and basically anything important!

Ask for constructive feedback.  Everyone likes positive feedback and affirmation but negative feedback can be extremely valuable if you listen, understand and improve as a result of it.

The customer is always right.  Unfortunately this may not always be true however if you receive a complaint of any description you must deal with it graciously.  Don’t interrupt (even with a solution) before they tell their story.  Then handle the complaint in a calm, rational way.

Act discreetly and confidentially.  Behind the scenes at an event you may find out some top secret information – perhaps that world class “superstar” is actually extremely dislikeable or perhaps you witness someone doing something they shouldn’t.  This is however your secret – it is not your place to sell the story to the media or gossip on social media channels! (or at least not if you want to continue to work in the events industry)

Approach

Find solutions for your clients, even if one isn’t obvious straight away.  Your clients pay you to make things work and “where there is a will there is a way!”

Offer your professional advice to ensure a successful event will be executed.  Clients often presume how things will be done but frankly this isn’t always the best way to do things.  It is your job to explain your vision and why your way is better, quicker, more efficient and will get results.  You have learnt from experience so let your clients benefit from your learning and expertise too – that is what they are paying you for after all.

Professionalism

Don’t complain.  You may have back ache/leg ache/head ache/be worn out from getting up at 4 am to be on site however your client does not need to know that!

Don’t bad mouth competitors.  Although the behaviour and way of working of your competitors can repeatedly baffle you it is not professional or acceptable to point this out publically.  If you cannot say something nice it is best just to say nothing at all in my opinion.

Be careful how you present yourself/your organisation on social media channels – never swear, bad mouth, don’t blatantly self-promote, consider that current or future clients/employers/employees could be reading your updates.  If necessary separate your business and personal profiles.

Separate business and pleasure.  As a perk of the job you will no doubt receive invitations to many glittering social occasions with free alcohol flowing.  Have a good time (naturally) but do draw a respectful line if you wish to receive other invitations in the future!

Business Ethos

Always give your best.  If you are a half-hearted event manager you will never succeed.

Learn from every project, client and event.  Strive to do things better.

Be understanding.  Speakers and clients are busy people and they cannot always meet the deadlines we impose, however much notice we give them.  Be prepared, adapt and be understanding even if it does cause you last minute work and stress.  And then smile, be understanding and don’t complain!

Applying standards of etiquette and protocol should become hallmarks of you and your company and an integral part of your brand.  As a professional Event Manager these are some of my ways of working.  What are your personal hints and tips for business etiquette?

Top Tips for a Successful Career in Event Management

The recent A-Level and GCSE results got me thinking about what advice I would give to anyone interested in Event Management.  You may be considering studying an Event Management degree and/or want to embark on a career as an Event Manager?

I was 17 when I set my mind on my future career path and I have enjoyed writing this blog post and looking back at the information and learning that I would give today to anyone just starting out on this journey.

Be warned and be prepared though; this is a very competitive marketplace with hundreds of people applying for every university place and job.  To succeed you will need to stand out from the crowd and be the cream of the crop!  Here are some of my top tips to give you the best chance of a long, exciting and rewarding career in the events industry.

Read all you can

Read as much as you can about the events industry, including event management books, industry magazines, press releases, blogs, websites, etc.  This is a fast-moving industry and it is important to keep up to date.  Not all of this information has to be purchased – there is a wealth of free information out there which will help to give you the bigger picture and teach you some of the basic principles about event management.

If you are looking to study for an Event Management degree authors such as Goldblatt, Getz, Bowdin, Watt and Tarlow (to name just a few) will help to introduce you to the subject area.

Don’t just limit your reading to purely event management based articles either, reading around marketing, customer service, presentation skills, health and safety, social media, creativity, project management, business planning, management, negotiation, finance/budgeting and so forth will all help in any future event management role.

Don’t specialise too early

Even if you are adamant that you wish to work in a particular area of the events industry I would urge you not to specialise too early, to ensure that you gain a broad range of skills and experience.  Although organising a music festival is a very different area of expertise to organising a conference or exhibition the basic principles of event planning are the same and experience of managing a live event in any shape or form will help to make you a better and stronger Event Manager.  When I started studying for my event management degree at Leeds Metropolitan University I was certain that I wanted to specialise in the music industry, organising festivals and gigs.  Throughout my career I have been lucky enough to work on every type of event imaginable; from fashion shows to awards ceremonies, exhibitions to weddings, music festivals to conferences, sporting competitions to open air movies and everything in between.  Today though, although I still really enjoy working on every single event management project, I get the most satisfaction from organising conferences and this has become my personal niche and speciality.

Organise anything you can

If you are considering working in the events industry you are probably already seen as the natural organiser within your friendship group – the one that makes things happen and generally looks after the arrangements and finer details.  Although organising friends birthday parties, holidays and nights out may be on a much smaller scale compared to organising public events it is still a little more practice for your future role and every little helps!

You can make other opportunities for yourself too.  Could you organise an event for a local charity for example?  If you are willing and able to take the initiative and help with fundraising on any scale I guarantee that they will be very appreciative.  And what about getting involved with your local amateur dramatics or other performance group?  That would be a great opportunity to shadow a sound and lighting engineer and to learn a little bit more about how it works behind the scenes.

During your career you will often be working with a tight or very small budget and so being imaginative, negotiating, making every penny count and generally making magic on very few resources is something that you should be working on at every opportunity (and your friends/local charity/theatre group will thank you for it too).

Get to grips with Social Media

You are no doubt already really comfortable with the internet and social media such as Twitter, Facebook, Blogging and Google+.  Incorporating social media and marketing into events is common practice nowadays so ensure that it is a routine part of your day/week too and think about how you could use it in a professional rather than a personal capacity to help promote your own future events.

Start to follow #eventprofs on Twitter and learn from the thoughts, knowledge and discussions they inspire and share.

Ensure you have a good computing skills

A lot of administration is required when planning an event and as an Event Manager you will need to be well versed in using a range of different software and tools.  Get as much working knowledge as you can of Microsoft Office (particularly Word, Excel, Access, PowerPoint, Outlook, Publisher) and also learn basic accounting, project management, web design, video editing, design, writing and marketing skills if you possibly can.

Being familiar with the keyboard and typing quickly will be essential!  Likewise experience of writing professional correspondence in the form of emails, letters, reports and budgets will be a regular requirement.

As an Event Manager you will need to be technically proficient in many areas so seize absolutely every opportunity to learn.

Get a driving license

Event Managers often work unsociable hours and venues are not always accessible by public transport, particularly at 5 am!  Likewise you will often have a lot of equipment to transport so having a driving license and ideally your own vehicle is essential in my opinion.

Volunteer and get work experience

Volunteering and paid or unpaid work experience are absolutely vital and this cannot be stressed enough.  This shows a future employer that you are serious and committed to your chosen career and hungry to gain experience whenever you can.  Find out about local events and event management companies and ask them if they have any opportunities for you to get involved.  Don’t just think this should relate to the live event period either – the hard work is done in the office during the planning stages in the weeks/months/year leading up to the event.

Often it is possible to volunteer for events such as music festivals and aswell as gaining essential work experience and knowledge of a live event you often get a free ticket and “time off” to enjoy the festival in return for a set amount of working hours per day.  Regardless of whether you have chance to work on large-scale events such as the Olympics, Glastonbury, V Festival, etc, or events on a more local level, nothing should be discounted.

Although it may be difficult juggling your paid work commitments with your eagerness to volunteer you must do it to set you apart from the masses.  This has to be done as a long-term investment as without proof of experience working on actual events you are unlikely to even get to the interview stage.  Show willingness to volunteer and prove yourself to an Event Manager and this may of course then lead to paid work in the future.  Without getting your feet on the first rung of the ladder though you are never going to progress and develop your skills.

Of course if you can gain paid experience in the events industry that is even better.  Be open-minded about how you can gain experience too, for example could you work as an event steward?  This is a good grounding in terms of managing crowds across a venue or event site, dealing with different health and safety issues and ensuring the smooth running and safety of all attendees.

Go to events

At every possibility go to a broad variety of events and observe how things are done as a spectator.  What has worked well, what could be improved?  Why do you think things have been set up that way?  How has it been marketed?  How is everything managed?  What did you learn?  Consider jotting down notes, questions and observations that you can refer back to in the future.

I hope this post has inspired you to begin your exciting career in event management.  I love my role as Managing Director of Events Northern Ltd and find it extremely satisfying and rewarding working on events both large and small.

We wish you the best of luck to fulfill your dreams too!