The Mindset NinjaA Mindset Blog
What now for events?
Published: 12th May 2020
This Article was Written by: Nik Moore - The Mindset Ninja
Finding Professional Growth in a Reshaped Events Industry:
For all we know the events industry could bound back quickly and surprise us all. Being frank though, I think our guts tell us that this may not happen for a while. The point is, none of us really know what will happen in the future. So, what can we therefore do to still be here when the events industry does return?
In this article I open up a discussion. One that introduces just one approach we could take so that this time, in 5 years’ time, we’re all still responding to our calling whilst working in this beautiful industry.
Albeit life has become unbelievably surreal of late, we all know, nevertheless, what’s happening in the world. We’ve all become experts on the impact this virus is having on the economy in a short space of time. And I can say this with some authority based on one key principle……because we’re all deeply involved in it.
And it brings me to an acronym that seems to be doing the rounds once again in the corporate lexicon: V.U.C.A.
It’s a V.U.C.A. world out there!
PART ONE: Adapting to a V.U.C.A. world:
What is V.U.C.A.?
It’s a definition for the world and how we interact with it. It’s stands for Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous. Essentially it means that the wider world is beyond our control.
And we feel this more than ever. This pandemic, and the resulting Government regulations imposed on us, have stripped us bare of much of the control we have on our own lives. All for good reason of course. Saving lives is priority number one on the list. But a close second is the economy and the question is, how will this affect our industry, our respective companies, our jobs and, ultimately, all our futures?
Just what can we do?
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Take the Growth Mindset approach:
I’ve been a Conference and Video Producer since 1996 but several years ago I also changed my life’s trajectory by learning a new trade. Layered on top of being a Producer, I’m now also a qualified and certified Executive Business and Life coach. And the latter has brought a new perspective on how the Events Industry is evolving as time goes by.
And at the heart of the work that I do, I’ve come to realise that with all the facets of my work, whether I’m actively and operationally being a Producer or, alternatively working 1-2-1 with a client or with a client’s team as a Coach, everything I do involves growth.
Growth = Acceptance.
In order to grow it all starts with acceptance. Accepting that there are things beyond our control. This one sentence in itself can be life changing. Let me explain.
We cannot control the inner voice that causes us to chew over things. To ruminate. To dwell on potential future scenarios (that often don’t materialise anyway).
It’s called catastrophising. And we all suffer from it in varying amounts as individuals.
And one of the quickest ways of breaking the shackles that bind us to catastrophising is putting into perspective what we can and cannot control.
Focussing our efforts, attention and energy on those things that we can control is hugely empowering. And that introduces us to the concept of a growth mindset.
What is a Growth Mindset?:
Well, it’s the opposite of a fixed mindset. A fixed mindset assumes that we cannot change our future.
A growth mindset however is one which is open to possibilities. Open to the perspectives of others. It’s a mindset that, possibly most important of all, is accepting that change can happen. We all can change. And now is the time more than ever where we need to do just that. Adapt and change.
No more “massive buildings”. We’ll be more online than ever.
If you agree with this article by the bosses of Barclays and WPP, and if their prediction is indeed accurate, there won’t be a lust for massive head offices in the future. Simply because gathering in large groups is not advisable. Certainly not for a while anyway.
On top of that new perspective, we’re also now more accustomed and conditioned to being online.
Due to lockdown one of the spin offs has been that we’ve felt some of the benefits of online working. Only a few weeks back many of us hadn’t even ever used Zoom or Microsoft Teams before. But now we’ve “flexed that muscle” and experienced some of the positives associated with online working. We’ve also felt the benefits of less time travelling. Financially there has been a drop in plane, train and automobile expenses. We’ve had greater focus without the distractions of the person at the next desk constantly disrupting your concentration. Lots of benefits.
Does the fact that there is less of a desire to gather in groups in the short-term also mean that it pulls the shutters down on the events industry?
You simply cannot replace the power of a live event:
I’m preaching to the converted here. Nothing replaces the impact of a live event. If you want to influence the behaviour of another human being, there is nothing as powerful as face-to-face. To dispute this is arguing against biology. It’s just how we are wired. We are primed to connect with other people and technology absolutely cannot replace this.
Taking live events away means you take away the opportunity to network, collaborate, share ideas, feed off the energy of others. Expand both mentally and emotionally (and perhaps physically with all the rich food of the gala dinner.) Nothing can replace quite the power of the live event.
But there’s another place which gets close. And it’s found in every office around the globe. Such places are often tucked away at the side of the open plan office and, ironically, they’re not often seen as places of crucial importance to the active heartbeat of any organisation. In fact, I’d argue that many companies around the world would not perform anywhere near as well as they currently do without the existence of these locations.
Water coolers and coffee machines.
Where will the water coolers and coffee machines be in the future?
There’s good reason why people always say that the best conversations happen at the water coolers and coffee machines and it’s because of “meeting anxiety”.
Without getting too “zen”, creativity thrives in the brain when something called the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS) is in balance. We’re all too familiar with the two extremes of the ANS. Fight or flight mode at one end and “Can’t be bothered” mode at the other.
Fight or flight mode is triggered all too often in the workplace due to that thing we call stress. And meeting anxiety is a mild form of this. People can get slightly anxious knowing that it will be their turn at some point to talk during a meeting. And when we talk during a work meeting we are exposing our “core self” in front of other people. Part of our identity is exposed. When we openly share our thoughts and ideas in front of others, part of us feels vulnerable. This sensation varies dramatically in different people of course, but for many of us “meeting anxiety” is very real.
So down the water coolers and at the coffee machines, there isn’t the same expectation to contribute ideas and thoughts. Conversations flow easier because the ANS is balanced and in between the two extremes. We’re less stressed at these locations. We feed off another person’s energy more easily at these locations. Clear and lateral thinking thrives automatically at these locations.
So, what’s the link between V.U.C.A. and watercoolers?
If we can only control what we can control in the world, and we know we have to adapt (and quickly) to the changing world, yet we can’t gather at a live event……then how can we find new locations for the water cooler conversations?
Ahhhh, what a question. And the answer is simple…..
….I don’t know!
You have the answer:
What? I hear you say. I thought business coaches knew all the answers to business success? Sadly, not true.
The job of the coach is not to give advice but to unlock the answers already there inside the client. As the coaching metaphor goes, a coach doesn’t hand the client a rope in order to pull the client out of a metaphorical hole. The coach gives the client a ladder so that the client can get themselves out of it.
And now more than ever, this is what needs to happen inside Event Companies.
Well, the good news is that, from speaking to a number of clients in the last few weeks, many companies around the world are indeed doing precisely what I’m now going to detail in the rest of this blog, and that warms my heart to see.
Yet some aren’t. And I hope therefore what follows can be used as a spark that can generate a new series of decisions that can lead to a new future. One that survives this terrible global situation.
Creativity is the solution:
Creativity is the solution. Creativity will help us find new products, services and approaches which will protect the future of the Live Events Industry.
And the best bit……..this creativity doesn’t exist solely inside the heads of the leaders in Event Companies. It lies in the team. They also have the answers.
The only way to truly see any given situation is to see it from at least 3 different perspectives:
Gregory Bateson, the Social Scientist, hypothesised that in order to truly understand anything you have to see it from your own perspective, that of the other person as well as from the perspective of a neutral position. Like a fly-on-the-wall.
I can say that from experience it’s a concept that has changed my own life plus it supports that wonderful saying “seek first to understand before being understood”.
So, if rapid, creative and quick solutions provide us with the solution to our immediate crisis, and provide us with the next steps in terms of how to create products, services and approaches that give our clients what they want and need, right now, then those creative solutions are most quickly created, and with the best chance of working, if we lead our internal teams in such a way as to create the right “pressure cooker” for these ideas to be cooked up.
Create a container for Psychological Safety:
Remove the boss barrier. If we re-visit the “meeting anxiety” concept again, nothing creates this more than having a bullish, opinionated and uncaring boss. I remember back at the start of my career in the 90’s. These bosses were much more plentiful. Thankfully they seem to be disappearing as time passes.
People feel more anxious, and therefore less creative, when an intimidating manager is ruling the roost. Creating, however, a space for people to open up, a place where people feel their opinions are valid and listened to, and a container where people are encouraged to speak up, throw crazy ideas out there, and not to feel that their energy is stamped out; this all leads to the perfect nurturing environment within which new ideas flourish.
PART TWO: Assessing our internal and external resources:
If creativity is the solution then it may be encouraging to hear that we’re sitting right on top of it. We can tap into it both internally, within our own teams, as well as externally, through existing relationships we have with our immediate networks of clients and suppliers.
Who do we have internally who can help? And who and what externally can we tap in to?
The name of the game is to leverage both our internal skills and resources as well as pull in external skills and resources in pursuance of finding these new solutions.
Internal: Do an Internal Strengths Audit:
Once a container for psychological safety is created, and people feel like their “inner selves” are permitted to show up, now is the time to fill a meeting room with the right people. (An online meeting of course during lockdown).
I’m more of an advocate for focussing on your strengths rather than identifying and strengthening your weaknesses. Why? Because when we craft a lifestyle / job moulded around allowing our strengths to shine, we become more passionate about it. And when we’re passionate, we get into “flow”.
And when teams get into flow….wow, the results can be game-changing for a company.
In flow people are highly-tuned; in high resonance with each other. The group’s output is highly creative. People feed off each other’s energy.
Create an internal task-force:
So, by inviting the right people into a creative session, one that has the sole purpose of conceptualising a new future for your company, this can have huge implications on how you adapt to this crisis.
Let’s call this your task force. This is all about bringing the right people into the room to make sure all facets of your new future are covered.
And people from all levels of the organisation, not just the senior managers. Because often senior people aren’t involved in the fine details of day-to-day operations and interactions with your customers. They may not therefore be on the precise wavelength of what customers want to the same extent as front-line staff.
Think about who needs to attend such a session:
- Front-line Producers / Production Managers / Account Directors etc.
- The C-Suite
The role of this task force is to identify what internal strengths you already possess and how these can be leveraged to shape your new approach to adapt and survive in the short-term…. and then to thrive in the medium to long-term.
Here’s a simple fact of life. And one that I observe in every coaching session I run. People have hidden skills and talents. None of us live up to our full potential. We always have hidden “stuff” in there that we haven’t yet discovered.
So, our job as leaders is to extract those hidden skills and release the latent potential of our teams. And our teams may not yet even be aware that they have these hidden skills. In fact in order to prove this to be true, think about Research and Development. New products simply wouldn’t exist unless people discovered new ways of doing things. Things that had never been done before. So now is the time to unearth these hidden gems that lie in waiting inside the minds of our team members.
Their next role is how to go about making this all happen.
What about external resources?:
With whom can you make alliances in other areas which will open up new products and services? The Events Industry has traditionally been about live, face-2-face, physical meetings. We’re not traditionally the front-runners for developing online collaboration tools. We rely upon people like Zoom, Microsoft, GoToMeeting etc. for this.
But what about blending our unique skills with digital solutions?
For instance, with my own company, the tap was, like so many others, turned off when we went into lockdown. The first thing I did, within half a day, was to make contact with existing partners to create new products.
First, I had an online meeting with one of my most trusted suppliers who builds digital marketing funnels, websites and online lead generation tools. Then I spoke to another of my suppliers, someone who largely works as a conference facilitator, and within 3 weeks we had started working on a new company delivering online coaching and facilitation products and services. A blend of “live” and digital.
And here’s another interesting question. Do live events even have to go digital in the short-term? Are there other solutions out there that still comply with regulations?
If you don’t know, perhaps you could see what other people are doing.
Check out what other people are up to?
I thought long and hard about including this section. All too often we can listen too intently to the opinions of others and we can benchmark our own results based upon their performance.
We all see people who have seemingly instantly adapted and are getting huge financial rewards already. And this in itself can be demoralising. So, the first thing I would propose is listen, but listen selectively.
Actively seek out people and groups who are seeing what works in this changing industry.
Because listening to the right people at the right time is a fantastic resource in order to gain external inspiration.
What are they saying? What is working? What isn’t? Who has empirical evidence of future trends emerging? Tune into them. Tune out of people who make out to be soothsayers that predict the future of events.
I myself have found that jumping onto webinars from reputable, established, highly respected companies has helped me enormously to open up my own perspectives on how I can adapt. As for many of the comments on LinkedIn and Facebook, I tend to ignore the majority.
But with a bit of careful planning and research, we can find where those great webinars are happening so that we tune in and learn from people who deserve to be listened to.
PART THREE: Experiment:
Time to get stuff out there!
I think that nothing has proved this concept more than what we’ve observed happening in the pharmaceutical market off the back of this pandemic.
A new drug normally takes years to come to market. But when pressure is so intense to find a solution, look at the progress being made regarding a vaccine to prevent Covid-19. (And on that note, can I take this opportunity to thank all the medical people in the world. You guys are truly amazing and I know I speak for everyone reading this article – we love you!!)
It’s the same principle in the world of Events. What if events don’t come back for 18 months? What then? (Again, I can hear the soothsayers predicting when this will happen but the truth is….nobody can accurately predict this). So, what should we do?
How can we model the same approach as the pharmaceutical community?
The answer: Get stuff out there!
Nothing makes the Growth Mindset grow faster than trial and error:
Coming back to the Growth Mindset again, when I coach clients, every single session ends with one thing. Action!
No action = no change.
But it’s deeper than that. It’s actually about 3 things fundamentally:
- Do something but start quickly and small
- Learn from feedback
- Adapt and refine
Events, by nature, are often massive “beasts”.
Hundreds of people, you need a venue, flights, travel, AV, production, working with the client team, slides, scripts, videos to produce, gala dinners, workshops, accommodation, project plans and scheduling, those infamous last minute client slide changes…….. the list goes on.
If we think about converting all of this into a new way of delivering it, we’ll simply “freeze”. The sheer transition from traditional events into whatever they will look like for you in the coming weeks and months, is too big for many of us to wrap our head around.
So, start small. Try “stuff” out. See what works and what doesn’t. Refine and take to market.
Worried about your reputation? Mess about with “stuff” before taking it to market.
If you’ve followed the steps so far; you’ve got your internal task force, you’ve created a container for them to “show up and contribute”. The team is generating ideas. A new future is starting to emerge conceptually……. then:
- how about creating a new product?
- trial it internally, (bolstered even perhaps by family and friends also being part of it),
- mess about with it….
- …and experience, first hand, what works and what doesn’t.
- then adapt, refine and take to market.
What I myself learned from people half my age:
I took this inspiration from my own experience working with people entering into the industry. I train and coach people at the beginning of their event careers and often it brings me into contact with people in their early 20’s. I find this work magical and thoroughly nourishing. And during their training they have to create their own events. It’s part of their course work.
And, as with all of us, they’ve not been able to do this recently. So, all their events have gone online. This has all happened in the space of weeks.
If we take inspiration from this group, people who haven’t even yet worked on a real live event, then just look at what can happen in such a short period of time?
And the question is……after having run these online events, will they learn from it? Absolutely. A lot in fact!!
You may have heard the phrases “learned helplessness” and “learned optimism”. All they mean is that we learn to either “freeze” or “go forth and conquer” having learned from our past experiences. So, if you feel like you’re “freezing” currently, perhaps I could inspire you with the phrase “nothing comes of nothing”.
Anything, however small, that takes you forward even one, single step, at least moves you in the right direction.
So, what can we do quickly to try out our new products, whatever they look like, in a small way, in a quick way, with people involved internally (or externally with clients), so that we can try it out. And, as a growth mindset involves trial and error, what better way to get new products and services created. Start today. Start small. Learn and adapt. Take to market.
PART FOUR: Be the Torch Bearer: Leadership:
I often recite this line with clients.
Be the torchbearer. Illuminate the path ahead and light the way so that your team can follow you.
Many years ago I got asked to help a global organisation communicate one of their town halls. Traditionally it had comprised a presentation where financial data was delivered. The usual stuff; statistical updates to keep the team abreast of performance levels. I introduced to them the concept of Human Storytelling. It’s wrapped up in this simple phrase:
“People are far more likely to sign up to a cause, not a plan”
The client embraced the idea wholeheartedly and regularly now pumps out human stories to its entire organisation which has changed the emotional climate internally.
And it’s a great example of being a torch bearer.
People follow you into the future if you emotionally move them. If you paint a picture in their mind’s eye of an exciting future. One with opportunity. One where success is ready and waiting.
I appreciate that these words don’t spring to mind currently because of the pandemic, but people still need optimism, they still need a sense of opportunity and they still need to feel that success is ready and waiting for them.
Nothing has changed.
Again, allow me, if you will, to repeat this. Nothing has changed.
People still need to feel like the company they work for is moving forward. That there is a future. That it looks like “this”. That people will be doing “that” when it arrives. That people will be saying “this” and “that” once it has been realised. And the more you describe what “this” and “that” looks like, the more you’ll find that your team are signing up in droves to such a “cause”.
There’s a great formula I often recite. It’s based upon the work from many years ago of Beckhard and Harris:
C = [ABD] > X
C = Change
A = Level of dissatisfaction with the status quo
B = Desirability of the proposed change or end state
D = Practicality of the change (next practical steps, minimal risk and disruption)
X = Perceived ‘pain’ of the change (discomfort, exposure, difficulty, risk)
Or, in simple terms, if we get people excited about a new future, one that seems better than the here and now, and if we remove the obstacles in the way to make it easy for us to get there, then people will follow. That’s being a torch bearer.
I know that now may feel like the time when it doesn’t feel right to be a torch-bearer, after all, is now the right time to be seen to be positive? Well, yet again, this again all comes back to V.U.C.A.
Do we fall victim to external circumstances beyond our control, or do we do what we can with what we can control, to ensure we get through this crisis as an industry?
Diversity. Now is the time to fully embrace it.
With everything said so far in this article, isn’t now such a glorious time to really exercise that concept of celebrating diversity?
We’re all now familiar with the phrase “We’re all in the together” and hasn’t it been phenomenal to see humans reaching out and connecting with others emotionally? At a level that transcends colour, gender, sexual orientation, demographic as well as transcends our own opinions and beliefs and allows us to appreciate those of other people more?
We’ve all been put in the same boat during this crisis and we seem to have seen beyond our own biases and judgements and connect with other people who are like us….people affected by this global threat.
So, a huge lesson, I feel, has been taught to humanity. We’ve re-connected with the gift to see other human beings as just that. Other human beings. Other human beings of the same status as us. Facing the same challenges as us.
So how can we seize this opportunity of having this new insight and carry it back into the workplace?
If putting together a creative task force and leveraging the internal strengths of its members is now of utmost importance, how can we see people for who they really are? How can we use this to identify the key strengths that we need in others to take us all out of this situation that we’re all in. It’s all thanks to the people we employ, or that we lead, who will help us find this new way, together.
The end is just the beginning:
The irony is that we’ve ended on the subject of leadership. Yet leadership is required from the very start.
- Great leaders promote an aura of not allowing us to be controlled by things beyond our control
- They espouse the philosophy that we have to adapt to change
- They nurture and encourage people to have conversations at the water coolers
- They create psychological safety for people to open up and share their inner thoughts
- The recognise, celebrate and encourage people to tap into their latent inner potential because great leaders know that it is there where the real performance of the company lies
- They help the team to think laterally and connect with external resources and people to help the company grow
- They promote experimentation. Trying “stuff” out to see what works and what doesn’t.
- They are happy to have the courage to grab the torch and become the torch bearer, painting a picture of an optimistic future and making people feel involved in the journey of how to get there.
- They realise that standing still is not an option
- …….but most of all, they listen……great leaders are also great listeners.
So, who am I to tell you what the Reshaped Events Industry will look like?
Precisely. I know no better than the next person. But what I do know is that people within the events industry are unlike any other. The role of an Event Producer recently got voted as the 5th most stressful job in the world. It takes guts to work in events.
We’re exceptional individuals. Truly exceptional. We have to:
- be creative,
- be empathetic,
- be well-organised,
- be good with finances,
- be able to pitch and win business,
- be able to sell and develop accounts.
- we have to be team players and collaborators.
- we have to be likeable whilst being flexible with our clients.
- we have to manage enormous pressure and stress…..and we do it beautifully!
- we have to be committed and determined. After all the show must go on
- …….I could go on….
In short, I am humbled and proud at the same time to call myself an event professional. It’s the reason why I went into coaching and the reason why, on top of all the other corporate work I do, I make the time to train and coach young event professionals.
We’re great people. We can adapt. We will survive. We will thrive. What it looks like……only you and your team will know.
So, please allow me to finish with these 3 simple sentences:
Here’s to the future. And here’s to your future. Whatever it looks like for you.