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The Way I See It… Organising Events – A Bluffer’s Guide


Female speakerYou've organised training in external venues and now those organisational skills are being exploited to the full – you've been put in charge of a full blown event. But where do you start? Adam Baggs offers some pointers.

The latest research from the Meetings Industry Association (MIA) reveals that more than three-quarters (79%) of people organising events do so based on their own knowledge – even the selection of venues. Now while this approach is obviously understandable for a professional organiser with years of experience, research and networking behind them, it is worrying that part-time organisers could be forced into following the same pattern.

After all, it’s estimated that UK business spends more than £20bn on events each year. And without doubt, when invested wisely, that budget can have a substantial impact on your business, through increased sales and motivation, and better communication and efficiency. But it’s unreasonable to assume that someone already swamped with work issues, can be tasked with organising and running the annual conference effectively without support!

So why do some companies fail to realise that their training professionals may - despite a great deal of enthusiasm - require assistance when organising conferences? The stress levels of even the most experienced professional event organiser are frequently tested to their limit by clients’ venue choices, technical problems and bad catering – but surely that stress is nothing compared to that of the training professional trying to do a full day’s work in a personnel role before starting work as a part time organiser!

Help available
Tony Rogers, chief executive of the British Association of Conference Destinations (BACD) and also executive director of the Association of British Professional Conference Organisers (ABPCO) says: “Whilst I appreciate budgets often mean it is impossible to utilise the service of a Professional Conference Organiser (PCO) or agency, it is still imperative that part time organisers seek professional advice through the various mediums available to them. With so much information available from tourist boards, the internet, the press and industry trade shows it would be foolhardy to waste company money by organising events without tapping all those sources of information.” Those with part-time organising responsibilities would be rewarded by taking some time out to study each of the resources mentioned by Rogers.

Suzanne Holmes, a representative from the Meet Heart of England marketing partnership explains some of the benefits of approaching local tourist offices: The Meet Heart of England partnership includes eight bureaus from Coventry to Stoke-on-Trent, working together to provide venues information, hotel finding and booking facilities as well as advice on excursions and activities. “By working together across such a large area we are able to provide a substantially better service to those looking for event solutions as we are not tied down by county borders,” adds Holmes.

The Internet is an ever-growing resource for event organisers, not only providing destination and venue information but also sources for advice on organisation and service providers. The BACD’s website, for instance, contains briefing documents, fact-sheets and plenty of other useful information, while can provide a link to almost every conceivable event resource.

Jill Hawkins, a director of Friday’s, the events industry PR agency, also highly recommends the industry press. “With at least 10 key magazines and another half dozen news websites there is incredible competition to produce high quality publications filled with news, opinion and educational features, anyone organising events either professionally or as part of another job should be subscribing to at least the top three.”

Obviously, there’s no substitute for face-to-face advice, and the event industry has all the credentials and experience necessary to put on the best shows in the world. For a really concentrated learning experience part-time organisers should take Rogers’ advice and take a few hours to visit an industry trade show.

Duncan Reid, the event director of International Confex, Europe’s largest exhibition for event organisers, is not entirely convinced about the 79% figure reported by the MIA: “Certainly some organisers rely upon personal experience, but they must have attempted some research at some point. After all, no-one is born with an in-depth knowledge of which venues in West Yorkshire are capable of holding 300 plus delegates!” Reid does agree, however, that part-time organisers need to be closer to the industry, something they can achieve through attendance at exhibitions, and he recommends thinking carefully about which you attend. “Taking the time out of the office to visit a trade show needs to provide a return on the time you are investing as a visitor. Read the show guides and previews, seeking out those shows with educational elements and the right breakdown of exhibitors for your needs.”

Despite all this talk of research don’t forget that if a training professional considers their time is best invested in their core tasks, hiring a PCO or event agency can be the best way forward! Emma Swales, marketing manager at exhibition and event service provider Nimlok says: “One of the great advantages of bringing in an expert is that they can understand client needs, create a suitable response and then deliver accordingly – whatever the event type.”

However, Stephen Norcliffe, commercial director of The Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre points out: “In some cases it is not necessary to use a PCO or agency. Many of the top venues have their own internal event managers and if as a part time organiser you are settled on your venue choice, it makes financial sense to tap their skills and get them to do all the hard work, particularly as the cost of their work is covered in the venue fee. Why pay for something and not use it?”


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