Jacqueline Cummins, senior operations executive at Informa, reflects on the journey from event management graduate to fully-fledged event prof.
Throwing my graduation cap into the air at Wembley Stadium having completed my event management degree, I thought I had the world of events sussed.
From running my student union’s Christmas party to budgeting costs for a charity gala, I thought I had gained a true insight into our industry.
Not to say that I was completely wrong, but after stepping into the office on my first day as an operations coordinator, the world of exhibitions quite literally swept me off my feet. I fell in love with the chaotic atmosphere but also felt a tremendous sense of trepidation – nothing that my university course had taught me could prepare me for the real life, hands-on, running through the exhibition hall, acting as the AV technician’s right-hand woman, keeping morale high, finding that speaker that went missing two minutes before the session – a job I now know and love.
My first major learning curve was realising that I don’t know everything, and that I never will know everything. Not knowing the answer to everything is okay. In fact, it’s more than okay: it’s normal.
I have gradually learnt that it is more important to have the confidence to be honest about what you do and don’t know, rather than pretending or beating yourself up for not knowing.
It’s more important to have the confidence to be honest about what you do and don’t know, rather than beating yourself up for not knowing
Our industry is constantly evolving, which means that naturally we must do the same. Whether it is a new process, a new piece of technology, or changes to the environment; all of these things have an impact on the way we run our events. The best we can do is jump on board and learn what we can. How can we learn as much as possible? Always ask the question.
A second lesson is using creativity. When we use the word creativity, lots of us think of colour; we think of art and entertainment – the fun stuff. What we don’t always do is look at using creativity with the less colourful things, which almost seems silly. The parts that need the colour often get overlooked; admin, spreadsheets and standard processes.
Not long after joining Informa, I attended a seminar about the importance of thinking outside and inside the box. It taught me how to look at things differently, and how to apply creativity to everyday tasks. Just by considering an alternative approach, my outlook changed, and I learnt how to use my creativity creatively.
Finally, and perhaps most valuably, the third lesson I have learnt is patience. In operations, everything is ‘go-go-go!’.
We are often forced to make quick decisions and turn things around in no time at all. It’s the nature of the job and it’s the part we all adore; a fast-paced environment where no two days are the same.
Sometimes, however, things take time. Yes, there are instances when we do not have the luxury of time to complete a task, but have you asked the question? Have you looked at the alternatives? Have you tried a different way of doing the task at hand?
Often in events we get sucked up in the whirlwind of deadlines and the pressure of work.
I look back at certain instances where if I had only stepped back for a moment and removed myself, I could have seen the solution to a problem staring me in the face. From this I have learnt to slow down, take stock and practice patience.
Now managing a team of two, I try my best to inspire the same lessons that I have been taught by my manager, peers and experiences. It is easy to plod through a job, bringing home the bacon, but never really connecting with what you are doing. The challenge is letting yourself fall in love with what you do, recognising how you can make an impact and then doing something about it.
Our industry is hectic. It demands a lot from us emotionally and physically, and we do what we need to do to get the job done. In the end, however, seeing all of your hard work pay off is a great feeling.
My advice for anyone wanting to take the leap into our industry? Do it. You’ll find yourself constantly evolving and growing, and the pressures of the job will help you to keep learning; not just about your role but about yourself as a person.