My colleague Aayati told me a story recently. Her grandfather used to say that the day before an exam, one should not study at all. Instead, one should relax and do something else entirely so that the body could be calm and the mind do its own background synthesis. She told me this story when we were discussing the usual feeling of stress before a big event. In most events I have hosted and strategized for, there has been palpable stress on the day of the event. How can you reduce that? I decided to share some ways in which you can alleviate stress before an event. And I’ll do that of course via personal stories from my work experience.
I have been working alongside Dariusz Andrzejewski for a few years now. He is the director of a school in Poland and is responsible for hosting one of the most interesting conferences on education. Every year, Dariusz invites me out the evening before the event and we meet for a dinner of steak tartare and a vodka shot while going over a short discussion of the event. We are sometimes joined by others who have arrived early for the conference and those moments of informal bonding make us all feel more connected before the formal event. Conversation flows from gossip to work to everyday life and places in-between. Knowing some of the attendees and having a personal relationship to the brain behind the event creates a sense of familiarity which helps all of us involved in the event feel more at ease on the final day. Whenever I meet up with a new event organizer, I encourage them to make the schedule such that speakers and organizers and even attendees can meet each other before the event. No matter how radically innovative the format of an event and its content, having the stable ground of familiarity ensures that attendees have a more immersive experience and actually connect with speakers and other attendees of a conference/event.
Another way of creating familiarity is through caring acts of repetition. For the last 5 years (and now this 6th year), I have been hosting the Hotel Marketing Conference. When I started working with the event organizers, they trusted me to guide them on event strategy and let me host the event my way—with dynamism and away from a strictly-bound script. Not just that, about a month later, they hosted a gala to thank all of their employees and collaborators who had helped execute the event. Moreover, the invitation was for those directly involved plus their partner. This is not a common practice in business events in Poland and again, was a sign of their desire to make everyone feel involved and welcome. Their sense of continuing relationships did not end only with the event. Every year on Saint Martin’s Day, they send me a box of croissants in memory of St. Martin, the Polish saint who used to feed the needy. This gesture has let me know that they have kept me in their (organizational) mind even when we have not been working together. These acts, consistent and spaced-out, ensure a continuation of our working relationship. It does not leave us in a limbo from one event to the next after a year of no-contact and news. I find their way to be very successful in retaining meaningful work partnerships and collaborations.
Reflecting on the events I have hosted and the work relationships I want to build in the future, I realized I have been lucky to have met such people who focus on creating meaningful events. People often focus on the content of the event, the speakers, the venue but truly much more important is the overall feeling that an event creates in its attendees. We can make events much more successful if we give everyone who is a part of organizing the event a chance to get together before the actual day of the event. This creates a degree of familiarity between everyone who is a part of the process and eliminates an unnecessary layer of stress from the main day of the event.