Putting an event together is an act of labour. So many factors involved, so many people to coordinate with, a lot of expense—monetary and otherwise—is at stake. So, of course, no client who goes to an event organizing company or seeks out a host would want anything to go wrong. They would want everything to be as close to perfect as possible. This is why it’s important to focus on the people you hire to host your event. The right event host will fit your values and needs like a glove; the wrong one will be like shackles. And unfortunately, I have been the latter on a couple of occasions.
Nobody is infallible—from the highest official to the most “ordinary” human, everyone makes mistakes. So, it’s no surprise that I have made my share of mistakes and a few more keep getting added to the list each year. I believe mistakes, those made by others and those made by me, have been my greatest source of learning. So, I would like to share one such instance today.
At the start of this year, I was getting ready to host an event for a company who I was very excited to work with—they were giants in their field—and I put in a lot of time and effort to prepare for the event. Sadly, there was an organizing company arranging everything, including the meeting between me and the client. On principle, I try to work at events where the client and my values are aligned. But when the organizing agency approached me, it was about a week from the event and I made the first mistake of agreeing to move further on such short notice without meeting the client. I was distracted by the name. Unfortunately, the meeting finally happened less than 24 hrs before the main event and I learnt that our values could not be more different. The client wanted everything scripted, with no room for free conversation and even though I respect that difference, it is not the kind of work I seek.
Here I made my second mistake. I know now with the magic of hindsight that I should have either stepped out of the event seeing how we were a bad fit for each other, or, I should have just swallowed my feelings and finished the event the way they wanted, learnt from the mistake I made and not repeated it in the future. Instead, I froze and after curtly informing them that I was not comfortable hosting the event in this manner and them informing me that they don’t want it any other way, I agreed to go ahead. If I had spoken to the client way earlier, instead of a meeting less than 24 hrs before the event, I would have learnt if we were a good fit. So, my first and second mistakes both set the ground for the way the relationship with the client further unfolded.
The final mistake, which really was the nail in the coffin of that work relationship was the day of the event. I decided that in some instances I would deliver as I deliver and for the rest, I would stick to the script. If they saw the amount of value that spontaneity would add to the event, they would understand and change their mind about scripted events. Unfortunately, that was not true. They absolutely did not want any changes and when I went off-script and introduced two speakers using data I had found from my research, my tablet was flooded with messages from the organizer asking me to revert back to the script. My persistence was not welcome that day and when I reflect on that event, I feel badly for how I handled the whole thing. Looking back, I know that my mistakes were that
- I wasn’t attentive enough to what was transpiring overall
- I thought I knew better when I really didn’t
- I was stubborn
The mistakes taught me how I need to stick to my principles and voice them at all stages of client interactions and they also taught me what event organizers can be mindful of when hiring an event host or emcee.
What can you do to make sure that you have the right person for the job?
1) Do your research– It’s important to know that the person you hire fits the needs of your event. It can be that someone is fantastic at their job, but they just don’t have the right kind of energy for your event. If you research ahead of time, you will avoid any circumstances like the one I mentioned above.
2) Define your values– Not just your company but an event itself is driven by some values or non-negotiables. Perhaps you would want everyone to remember the event as high-energy or perhaps you would want everyone to interact with each other. So, energy and openness might be high on your list of values for the event.
Keep those values at the top of your list when you look for external collaborators for your event. This will work as a compass to guide you to those who would be the right fit for you.
3) Look at experience– Recently I was listening to an older episode of Trade Show University where Wendee Lee Curtis spoke about the importance of hiring an emcee or event host who is already familiar with a subject area. For example, imagine you like two event hosts but one of them has already hosted in the area of digital marketing or nanotech or whichever specialized field your event is in. Just like in any other instance, the person who has previous experience brings a familiarity and comfort to the event that a beginner might not be able to. So, look for people who already know (at least to some degree) what they are doing.
The right fit is important not just in personal relationships but also professional ones. No matter how short the duration of your work relationship, it is important to be aligned with one another so that the final result is the best it can be. And it would be good if sharing what I have learnt and openly communicating the mistakes I have made will help you understand what it is you are looking for when you organize an event the next time around.