The Lifeblood of Events

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Volunteers are the lifeblood of many events and I can’t thank all of them enough.  For all those who staff car parks for County Shows to those who marshal Christmas Lights Switch-ons, all those who stand on road closures and all those who fundraise, all those who check tickets and those who take on site logistics.  Thank you.

Not all volunteers however are created equal and by this I mean that all are wonderfully different.  Some are more useful than others. Some are better at working in a team than others.  Some are great with the general public and some are brilliant at getting on with whatever is asked.  We all have our own strengths and weaknesses and it can be difficult sometime to co-ordinate those differences in such a way that all motivations and interests are satisfied.  There is no option for us event managers not to satisfy those motivations because we need those people to help us make the event happen safely so we need to prioritise making sure that all of those unsung heroes are supported and engaged in what we are trying to do.

To do this, we need to understand why volunteers want to be part of what we are offering and we need to recognise that there is no ‘one size fits all’.  For example, we are working with over 60 volunteers from the BA(Hons) Creative Events Management course at Falmouth University for City of Lights.  City of Lights is the largest lights switch on event in the UK outside London and as such offers Falmouth students the opportunity to develop their skills and apply their learning to a large scale project.  This year we have tailored the offer so that 6 of the 3rd year students are acting as team leaders for sections of the route and we have added in a full day of training for all of the volunteers in crowd management, communications, risk management and event logistics.  This is a hugely beneficial relationship for all parties with the course gaining profile and experiences for the students, the students developing their practical skills and the event having sufficient staff to ensure it can all happen safely.

Without this commitment from the University, we simply could not run the event and we are not alone.  Many events are dependent on the goodwill and commitment of volunteers at all levels from initial ideas through to implementation and evaluation.  With cuts in local authority budgets, event activity is increasingly reliant on volunteer and community action and this presents a challenge for the events industry as a whole.  How can we support volunteers in ensuring that their events are not only safely and compliantly managed (when often the volunteers involved don’t have the knowledge or experience and neither do they have the time to undertake training even if it’s available) but also that the events are creative and dynamic and meet and exceed audience expectations?

I’m afraid there is no quick or easy answer to this but working with supportive organisations such as Universities to create mutually beneficial partnerships is one way forward that reassures the event manager that the volunteers are  useful people and enables the volunteers to gain experience and knowledge.

Claire Eason-Bassett, Managing Director of Mackerel Sky Events

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Agile – Not Just Talking the Talk

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One of the events I enjoy most in our portfolio is Agile on the Beach.  We are entering our 4th year of working on this project and about 2 years ago, we decided that we should walk the talk and adopt Agile practices ourselves.

Agile has grown out of the software development industry and not all of it works as well for service based industries like event management but there are some aspects that are really making a difference to how we work.

At a strategic level, following an agile approach means that we focus on our customers’ and clients’ needs, engaging them at every part of the project development and delivery process, listening and balancing viewpoints.  This wasn’t a big shift for us as event management is inherently conversational and rarely follows a standardised process (in our experience anyway!) but it made us recognise that the value of our service is in the relationships we have with our clients.

We also apply Agile principles in how we organise ourselves and our projects.  We have thrown out the traditional gantt chart!  We of course still plot out what we think is going to be needed but we start with the cost and timeframe and work within this to create an event which is of high quality and achieves the aims and objectives.  It means we are advisors and guides for clients who perhaps have a thought of what they want but don’t realise it is unachievable or inconsistent and Agile resonates with our responsibilities, as per the Eventia code of conduct, to ensure that we advise appropriately using our experience and knowledge to create events that are of the highest possible quality.

Agile practice means that we are constantly working to eliminate waste in our processes and product, evaluating our supply chain and service every step of the way with internal and external feedback mechanisms built in.  We always evaluate but it used to be at the end of the project and now it’s more like every day!  We have a project board in our meeting room which is populated with projects on post-it notes that move according to the stage of the process that they are in and how far they have progressed.  Agile on the Beach has just finished ‘Evaluation’ and ‘Proposal’ and is now in ‘Design’ for the 2014 conference (www.agileonthebeach.co.uk).

We have had the pleasure of working with the Agile on the Beach team to develop our approach (particularly Mike, Toby, Allan and Belinda) and it is great to really learn from our clients, to understand why they are so passionate about this way of working and to develop a way of working that is impacting on our productivity and profitability.

 

Claire Eason-Bassett, Managing Director Mackerel Sky Events

Events for Events Managers

It’s one of those difficult circumstances of cobblers’ shoes. Organising events for event managers to attend often feels like we are putting our heads over the parapet for our work to be shot down in flames!  Your activity for your industry means that you have the most critical client and audience you could imagine.

We are organising Event Horizons with Falmouth University (6 & 7 February 2014) and we teach on the BA(Hons) Creative Events Management course there. Whilst we regularly stand up and teach students about best practice for event management and we take almost all of them on some kind of work experience during their university careers, so we invite them to evaluate and critically reflect on our event projects and us as an organisation, it is rare that we are in the position of creating and delivering an event specifically for our sector.  We have created a programme of speakers who we
believe to bring valuable and insightful perspectives on the industry. Rather selfishly, they are people who we want to hear from ourselves and who we know have something to share with our peers.  Having said that, I am rather nervous that our peers won’t like it or won’t see the value in what we have put together.

It’s not just in terms of the programme either, the delegates for Event Horizons will be the most critical we have ever had of our operations, materials, facilities and staff.  I know this because it’s what’s going through my head when I go to sector events like International Confex, the UK Event Awards or Summer Eventia.  I am actually a horrible person to go to
events with – I am pretty good at keeping my thoughts to myself (unless I am really impressed in which case I am happily vocal about it!) but then someone will ask “what do you think of it?”.

So, definitely a difficult audience to satisfy. However, complex projects are what we are best at so this is no different to the rest of our portfolio in terms of the standards that we are working to and the simple fact that is vitally important to us of walking the talk, keeping the promises that we make to our clients, auidience and partners.  We will of course make
mistakes – this is the first time that Event Horizons has been run – and there will be a range of perspectives on success or failure, but we will learn from them and make it better next time.

I think this is all we can promise actually.  That we will do our absolute best, work to the highest possible standards, but recognise that we can’t please everyone all the time so we promise that we will take responsibility, articulate problems, work to mitigate them and above all, learn from the whole experience.  Given that we are all learning all the time, there is then nothing to fear about running events for event managers, about putting
our heads above the parapet.  In fact, I want to go a step further and invite our delegates for Event Horizons to be as critical as possible and tell us what you want in terms of programme and how we can improve.  I want to tap into your experience to make sure that this is one of the best event management conferences in the world and of maximum value to individuals, organisations and the industry as a whole.

Claire Eason-Bassett, Managing Director Mackerel Sky Events