What you do love about life?
I’ve always been a person who’s full of energy and I used to live entirely for work and I moved on and set up my own business about a year ago. With some losses in my personal life, I’ve realised how important it is to spend time with friends and family. I’ve really prioritised that now and I make sure that every day I get in touch with at least one of my friends, I have a conversation because that just brings me joy beyond anything else. I love working, of course, but without the people who make you happy, what is life about?
What do you do to live well?
I do as much of everything that I can. One of my big things is that I make sure I feed myself really well every day. I live on my own, but it’s a really important thing for me to eat well, you know. I make a lot of bread, my mom is a formidable baker and I was watching it one day and I thought, you know, I ought to give this a go and she got me this bread book and I was hooked. So pretty much every day I make bread but I cook a proper meal every day. My other big love in life is music as well so there’s always music in this house and probably me singing as well. I live in a place where I can walk by the river or the canal and I take that time for the fresh air every day and just enjoy it even if it’s raining really hard.
We all really enjoyed your talk in Birmingham and what led us to invite you to speak at the show was your book that you’ve just written, Events Are Easy. Why did you call it Events Are Easy?
Essentially, it’s the book that I wish I’d been able to read when I first started out in events. The title is a little tongue in cheek because it was stolen from something somebody said to me in the workplace, which was events are easy its just some people in a place at a time and it happens. I still to this day don’t know quite how serious they were, but I’ve always had this belief that when somebody says something, there tends to be a grain of truth in what they think, or they wouldn’t have said it in the first place. So I thought about all of the people like me who kind of fell into events management, and it’s not what I trained for. I’ve got a PhD in composition and music, that was always my plan for life, but I learned events and learned how fun it is and how rewarding it is to get people together in a place and create an environment that they can work in. So when I had some time, I thought I’m going to go back over all of the things that I’ve learned and all the different types of events that I’ve done and try and create something which is not academic. It’s deliberately not academic. I mean, it’s referenced and it’s researched, but it’s written in a friendly way, as if I’m chatting to you.
So if you’re one of those people who’s told, go and organise an event for us, and a lot of people are, and they think, where on earth do I start with that? I wanted to write a book that you could just dive into, and it starts with what’s the purpose of your event and who’s coming. It deals with the who, what, when, where, why aspects of it, but actually dives in to how to apply that in the modern world where we really need to find more equity for the people who come to our events and we need to be sustainable in what we do. So I’ve tried to apply those things all the way through and constantly coming back to purpose, regardless of whether you’re doing a little meeting or whether you’re doing what you do, those formidably huge exhibition based events with all of the catering and the networking and all of that kind of stuff. There’s even a whole chapter on networking because there’s so many networking events now. And if you look around, very few of the people who organise them are events people at all. So that was the purpose behind the book.
We work in such a fast paced environment and world. It’s so easy just to get an event done and then move on to the next thing and not take the time to debrief and reflect. What are your thoughts on the importance of looking back?
Well, I think there are two things to think about in terms of reflection. One is on the event itself and I think it’s really important when you’re the organiser of the event, that you absolutely take control of the feedback mechanisms and that you put as much time into planning how the feedback loop works with your attendees and with your suppliers and everybody else so that you are engineering it for constructive criticism. Over the years I’ve received so much feedback, and it’s taken me a long time to learn this, of people giving you negative feedback on the day which you fixed. But very often that feedback goes to somebody else who wasn’t really involved in the planning, and that’s the only bit they see. So the impact on you and your work life can then be negative when it didn’t need to be.
I think you have to be able to spark those conversations with the people who are in the room in a positive way, sometimes we make a mistake when we plan for an event and if you don’t hit the mark, then you have to put your hand up and say, yeah, we didn’t get it right. Events are a time limited thing even if you do the same event year in, year out, you know this, each one is that specific time and place and it’s really kind of crucial as far as I’m concerned that you see that as what it is and you learn from it but you also let it go. You can get yourself really quite wrapped up in the moment, if something goes wrong and you are probably the only person who remembers it in the long run. As long as you learn from it and you take it on and you do better with it next time then that’s great.
I think the other part of learning is actually evaluating ourselves and I think as human beings, we are very good at seeing the negative and what we can’t do in our lives which is healthy, because if you know you can’t do something and you’re not good at it, then you have an opportunity to learn and do better. The thing that I reflect on is that we should spend more time celebrating the things we are good at and understanding why we’re good at them, because if you can do that, then you can build a life around your talents and your skills.
My great-grandmother is often quoted in the family because she always said to my mum when she was a kid that everybody has a talent whether it’s laying a table or whether it’s playing the trumpet in an orchestra, it doesn’t matter. Everybody has a talent for something and when you can latch on to that and find what it is that’s one of the things that will give you happiness and satisfaction, but it’s also a good starting point if you want to learn something else.
My own personal example, when I moved on from having permanent employment and I set my own business up I wanted to focus a bit more on the coaching side of life. I’ve always found that great satisfaction from helping other people to untangle their stuff and to move forward. I realised that there aren’t many people who are doing that in the context of events, which is one of my greatest loves of my life. I’m using something I know that I’m good at, but not just for me, but because I see the benefit for other people and what I’m really learning now is that when other people come to work with me, we’re focusing on the things where they can have success. The untangle for them very often comes from realising that actually they are really good at something and sometimes you have to let go of the things that are difficult or tricky or getting in the way. When you have that sort of deep understanding and you can see that something is really positive, sometimes those things that you might let go of you can come back with a new energy and you can do everything you can to actually become good at those things and take your life where you want to.
Tell us about the importance of making speakers feel welcomed at events?
I think it’s really important for us in the event industry to understand that what we do is about people and it doesn’t happen without people, if you’re inviting someone to speak at an event, they might have all of the expertise that you’re looking for, but you’re also putting them on stage in front of other people. I used to operate a concert hall and i’ve seen some of the best musicians that i’ve ever encountered standing behind the stage green with cold hands, feeling absolutely awful. There’s always a note of self doubt for most of us in the back of our heads. Have I actually said anything that you wanted to hear? Have I said what you wanted me to say at your event? Have I given you what you needed for your program? I think we do well as organisers to be conscious of that.
The way I see it and I talk about this a little bit in the book that in all of those types of contracts we have to keep our side of the bargain you can’t ask everybody else to come and do stuff for you and then not meet and greet effectively at the beginning. It was lovely coming to CHS and having those guys, Mark and Hamish and the technical crew from Visions was brilliant. They looked after me from the moment I arrived and having that set up and that warmth of a cheery hi from everybody in the morning, being able to then just walk on and say, right, okay, I feel comfortable.
My message to anybody who works anywhere in the event industry at all, or indeed if you’re hearing this and you’re putting on an event for the first time, be really conscious of your speakers. You know in the entertainment industry they refer to the talent, which is yeah sometimes there’s a bit of a misnomer, but if you think about those people as being the gold dust – they are your programme. You can eat all of the lunch that you like, but if you’re a content-led event, you’ve got to absolutely look after those people in the way that they want. Some people want to just be left alone, other people want kid gloves. Don’t resent any of it. Just look after them, give them a big smile and they will give you absolutely the best.