Are you as cool as a cucumber, or a headless chicken?

FlappersHow do you respond in a crisis? Are you a flapper? How do you prefer to make decisions?

We would probably all like as much time and as much information as possible to be confident of making the right decision about something. Maybe you feel that you are making decisions all the time with none of the time and information that you would like. Maybe having to respond without the information is an uncomfortable experience for you….however you feel, making decisions quickly about important stuff is something that event managers have to do all the time.

We aren’t necessarily comfortable with it but perhaps have developed the ability to make good decisions under pressure through practice and a bit of event intuition. I know that the decisions I make on event are based on a whole heap of activity leading up to it. I can only make good decisions if I have thought through some of the basics first and if I have completed all of the documentation so I know exactly what my parameters are.

It is important to know the legal aspects, safety requirements and production process well enough to be able to draw them all together to find a solution. And build a team around you who can help you do that but make sure you use them. In fact, get people on board who are better than you and can collaborate to create a better-than-plan solution.

With all of these resources at our disposal, we are well equipped when we have to respond to an emergency. We need that team to work to their optimum, to instinctively know what to do in their section so that we can together ensure safety for all but doing so in a professional, friendly and consistent way.  If we can do so in a way that is consistent with the overall event experience as well, then we are definitely working above and beyond the plan!

Claire Eason Bassett, Managing Director, Mackerel Sky

Stretching Ourselves Beyond the UK .. and it’s exciting!

yoga-stretchingWe have just won a contract with Cornwall Council to project manage the Cornish representation at the Lorient Interceltic, a festival in August in France. This is great news and we are really looking forward to getting started but it also poses a challenge to how we work.  This will be the first project that we as a team will deliver outside the UK so our capacity to work over distance and communicate in another language will be tested.

We are of course planning now to ensure that we have the right resources in place (and it’s compulsory French lessons across the team) but this project will stretch us a bit. All within our capability but it’s new and interesting and a different way of working that we are learning to accommodate. This learning is to the benefit of all of us – not just the staff team but also our wider clients and strategic partners as we are developing even more skill and expertise.

It’s a fine balance between taking on new challenges and stretching too far. Perhaps we know how to balance this from our own perspective, knowing our own capacity and ability, but when we consider an organisation it can be more difficult to gauge exactly where that balance is. It means that we won’t necessarily get the balance right all the time for all of the team; some of us may have to learn something completely new, some may find time or resources are stretched and this may take us out of our comfort zone.

But going beyond our comfort zone is what makes us continuously improve what we do and how we do it and that’s where the benefit is for the organisation, for us individually and for our clients. We increase our skills and capabilities means that we increase our capacity, which means that we can improve our development and delivery of projects and take on new contracts that stretch us even further. And there is the virtuous circle but it only works if we learn from every project, continue to stretch ourselves and apply it across our portfolio, sharing practice across our team.

We use Agile management practice to ensure that we gather this learning at every stage, reflect throughout the project as well as at the end, and engage everyone in developing what we do and how we do it. Using these Agile techniques enables us to increase capability and grow as a company of learning experts!

Claire Eason Bassett, Managing Director, Mackerel Sky

Wishing you a very happy Christmas!

xmashatonbeachFor us, Christmas is an opportunity to take a breather. We have had a fantastic year with major events delivered successfully and as ever, we have continued to learn and develop our skills. But more than being a break, this festive season is an opportunity to reflect, recover and refresh.

So let’s just stop. For a bit. Let go of the ‘must do’. Walk away from the emails and social media. We know that they will be there when we come back into play in a week or so.

Now is the time to revel in being with people we love, in taking time to relax, in the comfort of it all; to remember those who are going without this year, those who are on their own, those who are far away; to enjoy space and time to be creative, space to just be.

This space is a vital part of being able to do what we do. To connect with whatever fuels us individually is part of recovering the ability to be the best that we can be. For me, this year is about it being the first Christmas that my son really understands and gets. He is so excited and his joy is infectious. I am seeing the world in a whole new way. He understands the reason and meaning behind Christmas more deeply than we do as adults. He knows the Nativity, not because we have drilled it into him but because he gets it. He doesn’t care if it’s perfect or not; he just wants to be with us.  His joy is what is refuelling me this Christmas.

And once refuelled, we are ready to constructively reflect, learn and refresh to go into what promises to be another great year.  This is not about just thinking over what has happened but is also about identifying what we have individually and collectively learned over the last 12 months and sharing that across the team.

So, we’ll be raising a glass or two to celebrate all that has been achieved this year and we’re taking some time off so we are back firing on all cylinders for January, ready to take on 2015 and all of the opportunities it may hold. Cheers!

Claire Eason Bassett, Managing Director, Mackerel Sky

Never mind PR – all feedback is good feedback, even when it’s bad!

sleepingjudgeOne of the hardest things about what we do as event managers is that we create projects and events that are ambitious and creative and when these take place in the public domain, our audience become judge and jury. More often than not, that judge and jury are happy, wowed even by the whole experience but just sometimes we find that in their view, we are wanting. That our work isn’t up to scratch from their perspective and that someone (I.e. You) should be held accountable.

The process of receiving that feedback from our audiences can be incredibly difficult to accept and process. We naturally fixate on the negative comments and our first response can be defensive. We put our hearts and souls into these projects, even more when they are community based events, and when we get negative feedback it can feel like it’s all being thrown back in our faces, so it’s perfectly normal to be defensive.  However, it’s not a particularly productive response.

Considering the opposite extreme, we equally shouldn’t dismiss such feedback as not having any value, especially if we are only saying so to preserve our own ego. All feedback is valuable – someone has taken the time to share their views – so we need to take it on board and as a minimum incorporate it into the evaluation and reflection process post-event.

This is hard work because emotions are involved and they are involved because we are creating experiences and setting expectations in our marketing that sometimes don’t come to fruition in the same way for everyone. So people are disgruntled. They may perceive that something hasn’t been thought through when the opposite is true – the solution that has been found has been thought about in great detail because there isn’t an easy fix and what’s been agreed is a compromise. The more complex the project, the more likely we are to have negative feedback.

We need to be grown up about it, even when they are being hostile and making it personal. We have to swallow our pride and ego and listen to them. This is vitally important. Don’t assume that you know what their complaint is before they have said it. Listening to the complaint is a valuable part of potentially rebuilding the relationship with them and it means that you will get all the detail of the issue which means you can do something about it (potentially).

We can promise to take their feedback on board and include in evaluation; we can promise to adapt the plans for next time; and we can apologise for the offence or disruption or upset caused. An appropriate apology goes a long way in re-engaging that person and the conversation opens an opportunity to explain some of the decisions made, particularly those of a practical nature. This grown up approach is a means to ensure that we get the truth out of the complaint that we can do something about and enables us to bring our audience closer to the project, maybe even bring them into the project, moving them up the relationship ladder (Christopher et al, 1991).

So we can be as grown up as we like, not everyone will reciprocate and sometimes journalists misuse it to create non-existent news stories, so I recommend getting some media training and building a support network who will help to pick you up afterwards and remind you of all the good you have done.  For every complaint I have ever had about an event, there have been tens of not hundreds and thousands more that have been overwhelmingly positive. So my last suggestion is to train your brain to balance the positive and the negative to get a real picture of your success.


Claire Eason Bassett, Managing Director, Mackerel Sky Events