Becky recently delivered an event management training session to members of the local community – read more here…
Freeman Brothers Funeral Directors first began serving the town of Horsham, in West Sussex, in 1855. The company has since grown to incorporate a further three branches – in Billingshurst, Crawley and Hurstpierpoint – working with a range of customers throughout the region. The funeral industry has changed significantly, and Freeman Brothers aims to support the communities it operates in via a variety of means. There is now a greater range of roles within the sector than ever before, but Freeman Brothers is unusual in employing a full-time Community Co-Ordinator, to engage with the local community and determine how the business may support other organisations.
Becky Hughes has been Community Co-Ordinator at Freeman Brothers for two years, and joined the company with a wide range of events management experience. This year, she successfully pitched an offering to Horsham District Council’s Voluntary Support Service. Becky subsequently delivered an event management training workshop to a group of delegates – she explains more about the experience here.
My remit when joining Freeman Brothers was to support the community with a hands-on approach. I’ve volunteered at a variety of events, from quiz nights to lunch clubs, in addition to liaising regarding sponsorships and advertising, plus providing raffle prizes and friendly advice. I’ve felt for a while that there could be a more effective way of sharing some of my most valuable knowledge – things which fall outside of the scope of funerals per se, and noticed a potential opportunity earlier this year.
Horsham District Council’s Voluntary Service makes use of a variety of links – both within the Council and outside of it – in order to deliver free or subsidised training sessions to those working for small community organisations. I spotted that whilst there was a great workshop with the Council’s Events Safety Officer – an incredibly useful topic! – and brilliant content being delivered by a local social media expert, there didn’t seem to be anything relating to event design and logistics.
I met with the Voluntary Service to share my idea, and they were very enthusiastic! A date was set for October, and booking opened during the summer. It was fantastic – if a little scary – to hear that the workshop was filling up nicely, which for me was also proof that the topic was welcomed.
I’ve studied and worked within the events industry for over a decade, and did feel as though I may have set myself a tough task by attempting to fit all of my professional knowledge into half a day. After all, I spent four years studying for an Events Management degree, and although my content didn’t have to be delivered with the idea of delegates passing a range of assessments to a high standard, I did want them to leave with more answers than questions!
I prepared my content carefully: it can be really difficult to know where to start with running events, and there are many different schools of thought – each event is different, as is each person organising it; you quickly learn no two people do things in the same way, and that there isn’t necessarily a finite ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ way to do things.
I drew a little from my theoretical and academic experience, but I knew that the delegates would mostly be looking for practical advice. Some theory is always welcomed, but they didn’t necessarily need the science of queueing theory, or the anthropological history of events and tribal behaviour to be explained in grand detail! With this in mind, I underpinned parts of the talk with theory: for example, I pointed out that events are intangible as a product, and expire once they finish. Furthermore, they don’t occur spontaneously – as was pointed out to us whilst I was at university, someone was responsible for making the Ancient Olympic Games happen!
Another point of reference I used was Priya Parker’s book, The Art of Gathering, which I read during the summer. Much of the book was incredibly useful, but I wasn’t giving a lecture on the book alone so, although it was one of my favourite concepts, I left out Parker’s section on ‘priming’ (that is: how you interact with your delegates during the build up to the event). However, I did reference the fact that the book describes venues as ‘a nudge’, and that they come with ‘scripts’: Parker explains this beautifully – that from venue alone, we have an expectation, as there are ways we assume we must behave in different environments. For example, we enter a classroom with a different expectation to how we feel when we arrive at the supermarket. By this token, the venue we choose for an event sets the tone, whether it’s that we’re using a hospitality suite at a sports stadium for an executive board meeting, or hosting a charity fundraiser in a warehouse building.
I was pleased to ultimately deliver the workshop I prepared to ten enthusiastic delegates. They arrived first thing on a Tuesday morning eager to learn, and having already considered some things I’d asked them to think about. Namely: what kind of events they might be running; what events they’d ultimately like to run; what they were afraid of in terms of running events; what excited them most about running an event; and what the best event they’ve ever been to was.
The majority of the session focused on pre-event work, which itself I split into two sections – how to plan, and the preparation immediately prior to the event taking place. The delegates got stuck in to an activity early in the session, when I gave them a list of tasks and asked them to put them in the order that they’d complete them, with the caveat that none of this is written in stone. With 14 items on the list, I fully expected for no two groups to have matching lists, and I wasn’t disappointed. All three groups came up with slightly different lists, and none matched mine! There had been some heated debates as they worked, with the most frequently asked question being, ‘How can you book a venue without setting a date?’ (Answer: it is a bit of a chicken-and-egg situation, but it’s a question of priorities).
Having discussed everything that we’d do beforehand, I gave my top tips for what event managers should be doing whilst an event happens – it may surprise you to learn that it comes down to ‘nothing’! The logic here is that event managers need to be available to answer any question, or deal with any unexpected situations which occur – it’s surprising how often this happens! – and that therefore giving yourself a defined role to play or a responsibility other than this to uphold creates further difficulties. In addition, keeping yourself ‘free’ allows you to take a moment to enjoy your achievements, make a note of any significant things that you’d change in the future, and take vital breaks!
The final part of the workshop covered how to evaluate events, from taking delegate feedback to seeking the opinion of staff and volunteers… having taken a well-deserved rest and booked the next event, of course!
If you’d be interested in learning how to run events with minimal stress, the next session takes place on 11 March 2020 – click here to book!
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