Working in events is stressful? It doesn’t have to be
We’re increasingly told that the events industry is one of the most stressful sectors to work in – but it doesn’t have to be that way, according to Will Glendinning, live event producer, director, designer and occasional adventurer.
It seems to be a widely held belief that working in events is stressful.
There was even a survey last year suggesting one role in the events sector was the fifth most stressful job in the world. Are things really that bad? And if they are, why tolerate them?
Whenever I see clients, event teams, organising committees, agencies or individuals struggling with live events, it can in almost every situation be traced back to one of four issues, none of which are really about the live events themselves.
There are no qualifications required for being able to say you’re able to do almost anything at all at any level when it comes to procuring, producing, or managing live events and exhibitions. As a result, there is an enormous amount of inexperience in play.
It’s a double-edged sword. Without experience, how do people learn? The answer, of course, is having the right support structure, but often this doesn’t exist, and people with either very little or just a few years’ experience can be left exposed: procuring, producing, designing or managing live events unsupported.
The same is true of the wrong experience. So often people try to apply project management, procurement practices, or processes that work well in other sectors to live events. It rarely works very well.
The result of this inexperience or the wrong experience is typically poor decisions and a lack of foresight or perspective, resulting in unnecessary and avoidable stress for themselves and those around them.
If you’re going to use or hire those lacking enough or the right experience, make sure you’re willing to accept the consequences: stress and potentially long hours. More usefully have, get, or put in place the right support above and around them.
2. Wrong structure
Live events are at their core straightforward, yet they are often made complicated and lack the right support structures. And again there is nothing stopping anyone starting an agency, an event business, or building an in-house event team, regardless of whether they have any or enough or the right experience.
More often than not, event team structures are designed with either a business’s aims or a client’s expectations in mind rather than what is best for a specific event. This is an issue I see time and time again and it’s where insanity originates.
If a team is structured to deal with the business or client’s requirements first, that team is inherently going to be compromised when it comes to dealing with the live event’s requirements, which are different, leading to, yes – stress.
Get the right team and talent with the right experience in place, get the right support structure in place, so that everyone has someone to fall back upon. The event comes first. Make sure that a team’s structure is designed to support the needs of the event first and everything else second.
3. Enthusiasm and fear
These are the hardest issues to mitigate. They sound different but have similar consequences. Live events are inherently exciting and high profile in some way. Because they are exciting and with so much invested emotionally, it can be difficult, heart-wrenching sometimes, to leave them be for any period of time. Similarly, people involved can be nervous or fearful about leaving them be for any period of time.
It is perfectly possible to shift work and staffing requirements such that no one works excessively long hours, however, many people choose not to due to enthusiasm or fear that something might go wrong without them. This is human nature. It’s avoidable but most people choose not to avoid it.
You can call it enthusiasm, passion, responsibility, stupidity, whatever adjective you want to use, but this is the reason I work long hours when I choose to do so. It’s the only time crazy hours should really be considered. It is avoidable though. Not avoiding it is a choice.
There is an argument I hear often that there isn’t always the money to staff projects properly or clients won’t pay for this, that, or the other. This is another big topic, but there is almost always a way, especially when you look at what is being spent unnecessarily elsewhere.
Live events with their constantly changing requirements, uncertainty, immovable deadline, and being very public, can make even the most mundane tasks feel like hard work. The pressures this can put on people, particularly those with less experience, can be immense.
Regardless of what you’re going through yourself, have some empathy and consider what others could be going through.
It’s at this point I’ll typically be told that certain talent, key clients, stakeholders, the public even, or important people, are who they are and come with a certain, less than desirable attitude. This is true and you’re not going to change them. You have a choice though. You can choose not to work with them or you can learn how to not let what others do or say affect you in any meaningful way.
Are these stresses avoidable?
Are the exceptional stresses and long hours so widely reported a mandatory part of working with live events? Well, if you let them, yes, but if you learn, if you develop, and if you try to do something about them, for the most part, they’re avoidable.
If you look at professionals at the top of their game in other high-pressure environments, they tend to be extremely calm. A chef at the top of their game will themselves be calm and collected and have their brigade working in near silence – calmly. A trauma surgeon overseeing a patient in casualty will calmly and authoritatively issue instructions and orders to the medics and doctors treating the patient. A military or police commander will operate calmly and issues orders calmly.
Live events are no different. People at the top of their game tend to be calm, considered and operate without drama. The stresses perceived and/or endured in the event sphere are a lot more to do with inexperience, structure, enthusiasm and attitude than they are to do with events specifically, and this is an important distinction to make.
All too often inexperience is left unsupported or exposed, or supported with inexperienced or inappropriate support and a lack of empathy for what others could be going through. This absolutely leads to stress. It is completely unnecessary though and, again, nothing to do with events themselves.
So be careful out there and if you see someone struggling or stressed, see which of the issues above are the cause – and then work out what you can you do to fix it or help, either on this event or the next.