Where we go from here?

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While the current Covid-19 pandemic has greatly impacted the events industry, we are still here, working from home, and evolving into new ways of doing what we do best – bringing people together. Below, our lovely Event Service Manager Laura Williams has shared her thoughts on how this crisis has impacted the events industry, what we can learn from it, and, most importantly, where we go from here.

Here we are… going into week three of lockdown and it’s been a challenge on so many levels; some personal which I’m sure we can all empathise with but also for businesses. The events industry that we work in has been turned on its head by the restrictions against mass gatherings, our venues have been shut down and many of us are now getting to grips with working remotely from our home offices, kitchens, spare rooms, living rooms and so on. It’s easy to feel anxious about the direction of our industry – people are our business, after all. Events, by their very nature, need people and it’s our jobs as Event Managers and Conference Coordinators to build engaging events that connect delegates from all over the world, bringing them together to network and share ideas. Take people out of that equation and we’re left with a seemingly impossible challenge.

Rather than getting down about the situation and packing up our bag of tricks (which is the affectionate name I have for my event kit), I’d like to share the vast amount of positivity, ingenuity, innovation, and resourcefulness that I’ve encountered through my professional network and work colleagues. More locally, colleagues around the university have taken to remote working like ducks to water – using Microsoft Teams to engage with colleagues, teach our students and carry on the Brighton spirit.

Across the industry, I’ve seen a spike in webinars encouraging event professionals to engage with each other to share ideas and to share the challenges that we are all facing. I know what you’re thinking – sounds like a bit of a moan-fest – but that couldn’t be further from the truth! I’ve attended webinars about how to support your team with remote working, how to move events online and an array of wellbeing webinars on looking after yourself and your colleagues’ mental health during this time. Professional bodies have forgone any membership registration and fees in this time to ensure that they can reach out to professionals to empower them to keep on carrying on which has left me with a rather warm and fuzzy feeling.

Being an Event Manager in the higher education sector is an interesting little subset to the wider events community which is one of the things that I love about the job. But it does bring with it its own quirks and challenges, so it’s been fantastic spending this time talking to my colleagues in different universities. We’ve started up a mailing group for us to share ideas and best practice and also to see how each institution is dealing with how the lockdown is affecting core university activities and events.

As they say, the show must go on and indeed it will – we have been busy looking at moving planned events and conferences into the virtual sphere which has been a real eye-opener, to say the least. Online events are not a new occurrence by any means; virtual events take place all over the globe and have been the preferred option for event planners as a way to cut down on ozone polluting travel and minimize their carbon footprint. However, moving events to online platforms isn’t as simple as getting a subscription to one of the many video conferencing software that are out there – if that was the case, us event managers would be out of a job! Moving events and conferences online requires a deeper understanding of the objectives, purpose, and audience – what do we want the attendees to get out of this? Who is our audience? How can we keep levels of motivation and engagement up? After all, we’ve all been sat in that online meeting that’s gone on a half an hour too long whilst we’re stifling a yawn in what we think is a convincing manner. We can’t simply expect our event plans to translate to a virtual realm so we need to be asking these questions and really getting to the core of the purpose of these activities.

I love a good brainstorm as much as the next person so donning my imaginary Sherlock Holmes deerstalker hat, I’ve been investigating some of our regular events to see how we can best advise our clients when looking for online solutions. The result of this investigation is difficult to share in words so I thought I’d share my brainstorm/ brain dump/ incoherent scribbles to demonstrate my point… creativity is still very much key.

One of the things I love about events and the people that work in them is the originality and creativity that we exhibit through our events. Moving events online, on the face of it, sounds like it’s a job for the audio-visual boffs and tech teams – but event teams, fear not, do not put down your paintbrushes of imagination, your creativity wings will not be clipped. If anything, the online route of running events needs more imagination and creativity than physical events. How do you keep an audience of delegates across the world engaged in the content that they are removed from by miles and screens? How can we replicate the networking activities so valuable to physical events in a virtual realm? How can we best support our keynote speakers who thrive on audience engagement? I don’t have all the answers yet but I’m sure I’m only a few brainstorms away!

Meet the New Faces at Southcoast Conferences!

Welcome South Coast Conferences

Recently, the Southcoast Conference team had two new faces join the team, Erika Cummings and Yasmin Cotton, and we are so happy to have them with us. Read on to learn a little bit more about the two new staff members and what they will contribute to the Southcoast Team.

Erika is a long-term Brightonian, having spent most of her life in the city and she has three grown children as well as one grandson. She grew up in an international family, all mostly working in show-business, but has found her own path in event administration.

How did you find the role at Southcoast Conferences?

I particularly went onto the University of Brighton job vacancies site because I was looking for a role within the university. So every week I used to go through, see which new roles were up and I applied for this one.

What did you do before working here?

Before here I worked in HR. So I was in recruitment and I used to work for Airbus, which build and designed satellites and also the Mars Rover. But my main training and background is in HR and training.

What does your everyday look like?

Mostly emails, but then it’s writing up the contracts. It’s very process-driven so there’s lots of taking the bookings through the various process, making sure that everything is done. But we do get a little tied up sometimes – or I get a little tied up sometimes – with all the little things you can’t quite finish. And so once a week I have a mop-up of all the things I couldn’t quite finish because I’m waiting for a response.

How are you finding your new role?

Great fun. I like it very much. Great team, very interesting job. Something different every day. It’s not just desk-bound, we do get out quite a lot. It’s just varied all the time.

What is the best thing about working at Southcoast Conferences?

The team I think because we all get on so well. It’s lovely here, and with other people on the floor and there’s always interaction. You know, you’re not just sitting there with your head down, there’s always someone to chat to and they sort of build that chatting time into your daily work as well so it’s not as though somebody frowns upon you if you’re talking about “I’m a Celebrity” or something – everybody joins in.

Yasmin is originally from Worthing where she lives today with her younger sister. Last year she finished a Masters in History, War & Conflict at the University of Brighton and most of her free time is spent in the company of cheesy 80s murder mysteries.

How did you find the role at Southcoast Conferences?

I found the role directly through the Brighton University job vacancies site. I knew I wanted to work for a university and because I studied at Brighton I thought it might be nice to try and get something here. So I just kept an eye out for job vacancies.

What did you do before working here?

I come from a slightly varied office background. Before this job, I worked as a receptionist in a law firm, which was local Brighton based as well. I worked with them for about two years. Before then I was a secretary at Sussex police. So most of my jobs have been Brighton based.

What does your everyday look like?

Normally I come in, complain about how cold and tired I am, depending on what time of year it is and then I make a coffee. Then I check all the new enquiries that have come through on the emails, have a look at what the week is bringing in terms of the conferences and events and things like that. At the moment I’m also keeping an eye on all the summer schools due to arrive at the end of June.

How are you finding your new role?

I love it, it is really good. The team is really lovely and very supportive. It’s been great to go to the different events that Laura and Louise plan as well. So I got to meet loads of different people. It’s nice and varied, I don’t just sit at a desk.

What is the best thing about working at Southcoast Conferences?

Possibly the free stuff. The stuff that we get sent from different clients – Christmas was good. No, I’m joking. To be honest, it’s the team, I really enjoy working with this team. It’s a really nice atmosphere, so that is probably the best bit.

 

Welcome to the team, Erika and Yasmin!

 

The Friendly Face You See First – Casuals at Southcoast Conferences

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Southcoast Conferences has for years employed students from the University of Brighton in casual roles to help out at events, paying a competitive rate and training the students to gain essential skills in event management. The role is super flexible, allowing the students to fit paid work around their studies. The students assist with welcoming and registration of delegates, signposting, queries and everything else that might pop up during the event, being carefully trained to handle any situation that might occur and always representing the University of Brighton in the most professional and friendly way possible. They also occasionally help with administrative tasks and preparation for the events in the office.

Recently, Southcoast Conferences hired and trained a big group of new students to prepare for the busy spring and summer period, and some of them worked their first conference just after Christmas break: “I thoroughly enjoyed working my first event with Southcoast Conferences. I enjoyed the extra responsibility and admired the professionalism of the rest of the team. I also found that many of the delegates were extremely friendly, so it was also great to meet academics from all over the world, which led to some quite inspiring conversations!”

Talking to one of the other students employed by Southcoast Conferences makes it clear why this arrangement is extremely beneficial for the students: “I’ve worked for Southcoast for about 2.5 years now and I still love every moment of it. It feels like every time I come into work I learn something new and I really feel these skills are transferable and will help me be more employable when I finish my degree this summer. And Laura and the team are always super conscious of whatever the casuals can offer – I’ve gotten to use my writing-skills from my studies to help out with the marketing materials for the different events and I get to write content for the website as well. One of the other guys acts as a photographer at most events, so they are great at utilizing the different skills the students have to offer. So I’m not only working an exciting job and making money while at university, I also get to build up my portfolio in my field of study at the same time, which is amazing.”

The students gain plenty of professional experience and skills from working for Southcoast Conferences but this arrangement is just as beneficial for the full-time staff members, as Event Manager Laura Williams makes clear: “Being an events team within a university put us in the unique position of being able to use the incredible talent of our students and offer a real unique selling point to clients whether they be internal or external to the university. Clients love that our event staff are students and always comment on how professional they are which I completely agree with of course!,” Laura explains, “It’s a really lovely cyclical relationship – while it’s great for the students with the professional experience they receive, it’s also incredibly beneficial for us to work with students from different areas in the university because they bring different skill sets and perspectives. When we first meet the students at recruitment or training events, first in mind is always thinking about them as event staff, however, I really enjoy discussing their course and interests and career aspirations to see how we can work with them on a deeper level and offer them different opportunities aligned with their interests or course. For example one of our students has a real eye for graphic design and he helped us redevelop our website. We also have a PhD student working for us who has been able to offer support in the academic programming of conferences which are in line with his research area. More personally though, working with the students is one of my favourite parts of my job because its great meeting them at the start of their journey and watching them develop through their university life and being able to help them and hopefully enhance their experience of university.” 

From working with Southcoast Conferences the students learn about taking responsibility and working independently, being professional, friendly, and working in a team – and we are more than happy and proud to provide them with this experience.

 

Meet the New Events Coordinator at Southcoast!

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Louise Millard lives in Shoreham, grew up in Brighton and likes to go dancing with her husband during the week and for long walks on the weekends. She is also the Events Coordinator at Southcoast Conferences and with lots of experience in event management, the team is lucky to have her.

“Before I worked here, I worked for Brighton and Hove City Council. I worked at the library service, which was mostly at Jubilee Library in town. I used to manage the commercial and conference team there. We used to do room hire, venue hire and I managed the shop as well,” Louise explains.

Today, nearly six months after starting her new role, Louise is an integral part of the Southcoast Conference team and her experience working with the events so far has been positive: “I’m definitely really enjoying it. It’s really interesting because there’s a lot of stuff going on. The team is incredibly nice. We’re quite a new team so it’s great for all of us to be learning at the same time. It’s also lovely working for a university as I’ve never worked at a university before. So that’s really different. And working with the students and with our student event support staff is really cool. It’s nice to be involved in university events, like the International Orientation as well as conferences. My days look very different,” Louise explains, “If it’s an office day, obviously we’re based at Exion, and then it would be things like contacting people, checking up on emails, planning things, making lots of to-do lists, doing the logistical sides of the events, contacting the different departments, making sure we have all the details we need, setting up registration sites, lots of meetings – just making sure we’ve got everything covered. On an event day, we’ll go to wherever the event is taking place in the University and then we do things like setting up the event, managing the team we’ve got there, making sure the event runs smoothly. There’s always something different going on, so I really enjoy that.”

When asked what her favourite part of her new role is, Louise is certain: “The best thing is probably that great feeling when things go well and you’ve put the time in beforehand and then something runs really smoothly and it works and you get good feedback afterwards. When people enjoy the event – that’s probably the best part.”

So what is Louise looking forward to most in her new role?

“Honestly, I’m just looking forward to the day where I know where every building is,” she laughs when asked, “This place is huge.”

 

Welcome to the team, Louise! We are so happy to have you.