Chris Skeith: Collaboration in the face of adversity

In a column for Exhibition News, chief executive officer of the Association of Event Organisers, Chris Skeith OBE, says that with teamwork everything and anything is possible. 

There is no doubt that the last few years have been the most challenging for the industry, for business, and for people with lives and livelihoods challenged constantly.

The impact to businesses and individuals is far from clear and will take some time to be uncovered, but at the time of writing the signs are most probably the strongest yet, at least for the UK market. Various pieces of research and feedback from trade and consumer shows have demonstrated both pent up demand and a strong long term future for the oldest form of marketing – live events.

Recovery on a global stage will take a while, there will be bumps in the road, and I have no doubt the industry will come back stronger, and more efficient than before, with a greater sense of purpose and improved proof points for our customers.
With such a fast-paced and uncertain backdrop since the onset of the pandemic back in March 2020, we were reminded at the AEV Conference last November from the keynote, Chris Paton who told us ‘no plan survives first contact with the enemy’. However, we had to plan, we had to push forward with solutions, we had to create a framework to push for both the restarting and the reopening of the sector.

We were involved in lots of concepts, ideas and initiatives during the pandemic – many opportunities appeared and then disappeared just as quickly, but one thing stood out to me, namely All Secure. Not only has this stood the test of an ever-changing time – it is still the go-to document today.

A group of organisers created in essence an open source framework which was shared globally. Within AEO, AEV and ESSA our various working groups embraced the framework to create a blueprint, guidance and a pilot event, with such collaboration and speed that I’ve never witnessed before.

At the heart of any association is its members, and our numerous events, products and services are designed by and for them. The working groups have delivered some amazing things over the years, like the Talent Hub, HeadsUp, and during the pandemic including Project Confidence, the D&I Hub, and of course All Secure.

In record time, experts from different companies and across stakeholder groups created and adapted All Secure – guidance which was not only government-approved but it was linked and hosted on government websites. This is only part of the picture – within days a full-blown pilot exhibition and conference for 300 had been conceived, created and delivered by this smorgasbord of people working as a unit together for the first time, working on a single event for the greater good of the whole industry.

Their single aim was to show we could create safe, scaleable, dynamic events which they did, feedback from officials was incredibly positive, and this I believe helped to obtain an earlier reopening date which (whilst unfortunately was revoked as we entered another nationwide lockdown) showed the art of what is possible when the best of the best from the organiser, venue and supplier community come together to tackle industry-wide issues.

We are very fortunate across the associations to have many of those same people looking at future challenges such as sustainability, the race to net zero, and diversity and inclusion. Whilst a plan may never survive its first contact with the enemy, the team behind the plan adapt and change it to achieve the objective.

As we move forward existing and new challenges will emerge, but with the experiences gleaned from the most challenging of times, with teamwork and collaboration of the highest order, we stand to serve and look forward to tackling these going forward. Everything and anything is possible.

This column appeared in the March issue of Exhibition News

Read more here. 

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