Guest Author: Gurinder Whall, Your Event Mentor
"We need to plan our annual conference” says The Boss
Plan a conference? ....me? But what do I know about organising events?!
Does that feel familiar?
Very few administrative staff set out to become event organisers. One day, something that should be really be dealt with by an event agency, lands in your in-tray and you’re soon on a stressed out, fast-track ride to event management land.
You won’t just hit the ground running, they’ll be some serious skidding and tumbling along the way too.
And if that’s not enough, it’s all being wedged in to an already packed-to-the-max daily schedule… travel and hotel bookings, organising the diary, setting up meetings and generally being the all-seeing, all-knowing oracle for The Boss.
Ever the professional, many administrative staff take whatever comes their way in their stride. You’re used to dealing with the unexpected, the last minute, even the unusual. Practice makes perfect and the more you do something, the better you get at it.
No pressure… but…
However, event planning has many unique challenges and the biggest challenge is facing the fact that your practice in this field is all being played out in public and there’s no-where to hide if things start going pear-shaped. That can be an immense amount of pressure for anyone.
You really don’t have time to start creating new systems and processes to keep your event planning smooth and pro-active, so you do what you can and hope for the best. Yes, you may find yourself stuffing badges and delegate packs late into the evening before the big day, but you’ll get your head down and get it done.
You’ll probably already have fumbled your way through learning about budgets, how many people a gallon of coffee will serve, optimum meeting room configurations (don’t forget those obstructing pillars), why a good AV person is gold dust and how demanding and temperamental those VIPs can be. Dealing with the simple logistics is challenging enough, and that’s before you even get to meeting architecture and ROI.
I’ve been organising a wide variety of events for nearly 20 years…everything from arranging and minuting a 2-hour forum for 15 people to handling all the logistics of a celebration event at St James’ Palace for over 250.
I’ve organised tightly-timed coach tours of working hospitals across a traffic-ridden London and put together surprise boat trips for teams (and dealt with a delegate who refused to get on the boat). There really is an immense amount of pride and satisfaction at the end of the day knowing YOU did all that.
But I, too, started as an accidental event planner, so I feel your pain!
From accidental to expert
I actually trained as a graphic designer and, after seven years designing books and being immersed in print deadlines, strict budgets and organising suppliers and contributors, I realised my strength lay in continuing to develop these skills somewhere else.
I jumped ship and became the administrator for a high-profile national programme of a large membership organisation and rapidly had to deal with a wide range of people …it was all a far cry from the quiet, creative space I had been used to.
It’s taken many years of things going wrong for me to understand what structures and systems I need to put in place to ensure those fails don’t get repeated. And as well as working on client events I’ve now got enough knowledge and experience to advise individuals and organisations, empowering to deliver their own meetings and projects more efficiently with less stress.
And things WILL go wrong! It’s inevitable that with so many pieces of a complex jigsaw needing to come together within a short critical, time-frame, some of them will fall off the table, or just not fit. Every event is different, even if it’s an annual one.
“Learn from the mistakes of others, you’ll never live long enough to make all those mistakes yourself” – Groucho Marx
Network, not just with other administrative professionals, but also with other event organisers, share the wins and fails and hopefully you’ll start learning what critical bases need to be covered to minimise stress and maximise producing a great event for everyone.
Have I stood outside a hotel waiting and wondering why the delegate transfer coaches haven’t turned up? Yes.
Have I booked 3 days’ worth of speakers for the wrong week? Yes!
I’ve even had to leave an event just before it started due to a death in my family.
I wish I’d had someone to guide me through the early years and be a sound-board for my slips and trips. Like many of you I have a cool, calm and fast-thinking approach to deal with the unexpected and I’ve learned one major thing about myself in the last 20 years – virtually nothing phases me, and that’s helped me build the confidence to take on new challenges and trust myself that I can deal with whatever comes up on the day.
The key is not to react with “I can’t deal with this” but “HOW can I deal with this?” and you’ll find yourself coping with whatever the day throws at you. And if you think you might be a "freeze" or “flight” type rather than a “fight”…then I would highly recommend mindfulness and meditation to support your on-the-job learning.
For starters, to get a clear handle of the main areas you need to think about for any event or meeting, download my free event planning checklist here.
Trust yourself. You’ve got this.
Author - IAM Staff
There are an increasing number of campaigns to raise awareness of mental health and reduce stigma. Mental health conditions encompass a large spectrum and are often co-morbid. Everyone’s experience of mental health is different and can be very draining and difficult to self-manage. We cannot pretend we know how it truly feels unless we have been through it ourselves. In a previous work life, I was a psychological support practitioner and although I had a strong understanding, I will still never truly know how any of my patients felt.
This idea of lived experience has been touched upon in some pieces for this week’s mental health campaign (8th-13th May). The Mental Health Foundations commissioned survey found only 34% of workers who had experienced a mental health problem felt well supported by their manager (the importance of management was touched upon in a previous blog post, from increasing research in the area). Line management is considered essential in driving a business’s culture, so naturally it should be considered a key element in supporting employee well-being. 86% of respondents, agreed that their job and being at work was important to protecting and maintaining their mental health (people who had experienced a mental health problem were most likely to agree to this), which strengthens the argument of business putting extra efforts and measures to mental health. Nonetheless, only 47% of managers felt confident to support an employee if they hadn’t experienced mental health themselves.
Many campaigns previously have concentrated on reducing stigma, which of course is important. But are we slowly reaching a point where we need to stop concentrating on “reducing the stigma” and concentrate on raising awareness and improving accessibility? If this remains the “focus”, will it simply keep reinforcing an element of “different”? This is why this campaign for me, is particularly positive.
The mental health foundation, have set the theme as “surviving or thriving?”, changing the tone of mental health campaigns from “mental health costs Britain £25 billion in lost productivity” to focussing on good mental health being an asset to a business and what is added to the economy by people in the workforce who have experienced a mental health problem.
Therefore employee’s should put in measures to support and break the barriers for employees seeking help. Another study found almost half of people with physical health problems and subsequent mental health problems were in fact more worried to tell their employer about their mental health issues, rather than their physical health (Loughborough University/Mental Health foundation, 2009). Therefore, we need to praise companies promoting mental health and addressing some of the barriers stopping people approaching their employer. Alongside clear policies, there needs to be a commitment from leadership teams (including in investing in education for management) to help create a workplace culture supporting mental health. Some companies, for example, BT have previously reported that its mental well-being strategy has led to commercial benefit through increased productivity (Wilson, 2007).
Guest Writer: Adam Fidler - Adam Fidler Training Academy
I worked as a Senior Administrator for over 20 years; I now specialise in the training and self-development of people that carry out that role. Yet more recently, we’ve seen a big turn in the industry, at home and abroad, and I want to share with you what’s happening. EAs, PAs and Administrative staff have always felt a little under-valued – and that their job was not given the status and credibility it deserved. Then in the early 2000s when new technology, such as the internet and mailmerge was introduced, administrators were told that if they ‘knew’ technology, that would give them the edge, or the competitive advantage to remain valuable in their firms. Little did anyone say that some 20 years later, everyone would now do Word and Excel, and that far from being a differentiator, those skills would become the the norm.
Being good at ‘skills’ is certainly something to be proud of (after all, I was a high-speed typist and shorthand writer), but I recognised even at the age of 20, as a new secretary, that if I wanted to progress and become more powerful in the admin role, I needed more than just ‘skills’ on my CV.
The tide has certainly turned – and in the work that I do, I have been championing EAs, PAs and Administrators to think about what now, in today’s world of work, their ‘differentiators’ are. What’s a differentiator, I hear you ask? It’s something that sets you far apart from your contemporaries, and others within the same role. It’s when you personally raise the bar, change perceptions and give your colleagues and your Executive, a totally different perspective on what your job is.
Now this has all come at a time when, interestingly, we are seeing more Admin professionals empowered than ever before. In the UK, and Europe, we have an abundance of Assistant and Admin Associations and Networks; whether ‘in-house’ or a national body. That’s great – and it gives those in the role confidence to learn and grow. But, we need to ask ‘What gives those people credibility?’ and ‘What are those people doing to differentiate and elevate their roles?’.
Naturally, staying ahead of technology plays a big part – but that will only get Admins so far. The next step, in my view, is getting Admins to become more credible and valuable through the additionality (yes, that’s a word from education world) they can provide. Examples would be the Assistant who is also a competent Project Manager, or the EA that line manages other staff such as Reception or a group of Team Assistants. The things that traditionally ‘managers’ would do – are now being passed on to their Assistants.
If Assistants want to get credible, and gain the respect they deserve, then doing more of the same won’t wash. By leaning towards taking on more responsibility, and learning the traits of sound management, the Admin becomes not just a reactive, run-off-the-mill person, but someone who is an essential and integral part of the management team.
You may know this – I’m sure you do, but without reinforcing the role this way, we deflate it back to ‘secretarial’ work. Secretarial work will eventually be outsourced or automated; but the complex activities, that require human interaction, diplomacy and sound judgement, are what will remain. The synergy between ‘management’ and ‘support’ will get increasingly blurred.
If ‘Admins’ are to remain in a job, then they need to cross that line and become credible by their execution and ability to get things done without much support from those they support. That’s how I worked for 20 years – even as a junior secretary, I shadowed my boss and did project work. Not because I had to, but because I knew if I didn’t take ownership and expand my competencies, no one would do that for me.
The Executive Assistants I train are crying out for more involved work; they’re bored with the day jobs of transacting all the time. And my advice when they say ‘But the boss won’t let me…’? Do it anyway – for yourself, if only to prove what you can achieve. Then, if that boss or organisation doesn’t support you, you simply prepare yourself for the next move. There are 3.2 million people doing admin roles in the UK alone, but I would surmise only 25% of those are actually ‘stepping up’.
Are you one of them?
By stepping up, Executives give their Assistants raises, and not roses!
Adam Fidler is the Principal of Adam Fidler Academy, and specialises in the education, self-development and training of Executive Assistants. You can learn more about Adam at www.executiveassistant.org
Guest Writer: Vivien Mensah @ Cornerstone42
Looking for a new role can still be stressful and time consuming. But the tables are turning, the power is shifting in the favour of the candidates, or it should be.
The admin profession should think wisely and use their new found power carefully. I would advise that you think about these questions before you even start to job hunt.
- What do I want from my next role?
- What industry/industries interest me?
- What are my strengths?
- What is important to me regarding my remuneration? (flexibility, holiday days, parental leave, development etc).
The benefits part is very important - did you know, Glassdoor data reveals that 4 out of 5 employees prefer new benefits over a pay raise, and 3 in 5 people say that benefits and perks are among their top considerations before accepting a job?
Career Coaching and Development
There are many reasons why admins move on from the roles for new opportunities, this ranges from being demotivated due to being under utilised, devalued, lack of advancement, training and development. Candidates want to work for companies who value their contribution and invests in training and development.
Actually, there are many companies who do invest in their people. They want to attract and retain the best people. It is a matter of researching who they are and finding out what opportunities they have.
How do you test whether the potential company actually invests in their employees? Simply, ask. Start with friends, family and contacts. This is where networking and your network really is invaluable. Ask in a discreet manner, that doesn't give too much away. If you can confide in someone who works at the company to get an honest answer, even better. Utilise your network to find out if they know anyone who has had/or has a relationship with the company, that is a great insight. Then of course we have the big World Wide Web whereby you can research and find information on the organisation. Find out how the company is rated by the people who work there, their culture and plans for investing in their employees.
In order for you to find the right role it is imperative that you spend some time thinking and researching "what you want".
IAM members can recieve a free initial mentoring service from the Cornerstone 42 team, as well as a free CV appraisal service.