This Event Expert article focuses on relationships: building and maintaining great working ‘event’ relationships. Yes, running events requires us to build strong working relationships with a whole range of people. Some will work from the get go: others take time to mature…while others just lurch from one crisis to another.
Here’s my thoughts on some techniques you can use to help build strong working relationship and importantly rebuild them when things go wrong.
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Events – what could possibly go wrong!
Event are the ultimate live marketing experience. They are complex entities delivered without rehearsal. They are stressful. It is not surprising that emotions at times can run high: words can be said, misunderstandings occur, assumptions made, consequences of actions not articulated clearly…leading to conflict. This can be between – event planner and team: event planner and manager: event planner and client: event planner and contractor: event planner and sponsor.
In my experience conflict in the event planning process is never going to be a productive aside. When conflict does surface (these can be from some seemingly unlikely sources – busy people often miss / ignore the warning signs of discontent) what can you do to gently get the relationship back on track…without loosing your rag and or throwing your toys out of the proverbial pram. Neither work or ultimately make you or the receiver of your outburst feel any better about the situation.
Communication for success
I am sure you won’t be surprised to learn that it’s all about communication. Ask anyone who has experienced difficulties with a colleague or found themselves confused about what a client wants, will find out that a breakdown in communication was at the root of the problem.
As an event manager you’ll need to be able to develop good working relationships with a whole cross section of people. Here’s my thoughts based on personal experience of the ‘how to’ of effective communication in an event planning context.
- Good relationships are built on openness and honesty
- Effective communication has to be a 2-way process: the giving and receiving of information
- Listen ‘actively’ to understand: ask questions to seek clarification / confirmation. If wise then follow up and record a verbal agreement in writing.
- Think collaboration: rather than client / supplier v event planner
- Share information willingly (even the bad news and in this case quickly) and make it specific to the individual
- Take time to prepare, gather your thoughts before making a phone call / attending a meeting
- Be clear about what you need to achieve from any conversation – write a list of the things you need to say or find out
- Don’t rush – it may be sometime before you are able to connect with key individuals again. If you are going to run out of time make sure you arrange to reconvene
- Seek and gain confirmation of key information and decisions – if crucial: follow up verbal agreements in writing
- Do clearly manage and set expectations: saying no is ok and do introduce a hint of realism, if necessary.
- Keep an open mind – it’s not all about you!
- Be ready to show humility and flexibility to help build the relationship
- Never assume anything – ask for clarification if any part of you is unsure
- Be open to feedback: known as the breakfast of champions: feedback is a crucial part of our development and it should be welcomed and learnt from.
- Talking, meeting, calling are all good things…email is efficient but seldom effective and often misinterpreted
An effective event manager will quickly learn that their primary role isn’t to be the giver of information and instructions but to be a very active listener and observer, so that they can respond quickly to any information they receive. Keep your eyes and ears open, really listen to what someone is saying: ask questions and adapt.
Personally, I don’t think you can better a ‘face to face’ conversation to ensure that there is an efficient and accurate exchange of information and an opportunity for active listening. These conversations also allow you to pick up on how everyone is feeling.
I appreciate however that it is not always possible to conduct all communications in this way and phone calls, emails, texts etc. will have to be used.
Causes of conflict
There can be a range of things that get under an event planners’ skin and lead to conflict such as:
- Lack of timely and regular communication
- Not seemingly sharing the original vision – heading in different directions
- Artistic and creative differences
- Going off plan – too often
- Poor record keeping: keep records of decisions and remind parties
- Spending the budget: absolute clarity needed over what is being spent: what you can’t / can afford: impact of not now spending that money – effect on event
- Personality clashes: learning to work with ‘difficult’ people
- Poor time keeping – meetings, booked calls etc.
- Not making important decisions
- Not sticking to decisions previously agreed
- Lack of urgency – so creating problems further down the line
Using a ‘Restorative Conversation’ to rebuild working relations
Despite your very best efforts to be a good communicator there will be times when things don’t go smoothly and a breakdown of communication will lead to a breakdown in working relationships.
As soon as you become aware that things are not right you have to act…and quickly…to restore that even keel.
Based on ‘Restorative Justice’ methods a Restorative Conversation seeks to build and sustain good working relationships, resolve conflict and achieve good outcomes for people working together.
So how do you re-set a working relationship when things have gone wrong?
- Acknowledge it and do / say something – be prepared to accept that it may be something you have said or done (own it!!)
- It may be a simple misunderstanding – people receive information in different ways and it may be that some clarity is required
- It may be more serious and someone’s feelings have got involved – again seek clarity and keep the communication going
- Ask questions and really listen to the answers …really listen and hear what is being said (Don’t start preparing your answer as they are speaking: because you will not be listening!)
- Be prepared to be brave and if there has been a misunderstanding, speak up
- Work hard on building on what is clear and agreed – rebuild trust and confidence by being consistent and clear
Please try to avoid a show down; an argument as they are NOT restorative
How to have a Restorative Conversation
So how do you restore good communications? Use a restorative conversation and I will explain how they work
By preparing to have a difficult conversation using a restorative framework the chances that you will be heard and understood are increased and, the person you are communicating with will have the opportunity to respond in a constructive way
Think about what has gone wrong with your communication attempts and prepare to say the following at the beginning of your sentences:
- When you….
- I feel ….
- I need….
A restorative approach: revolves around explaining how somebodies’ actions effect you and how you feel.
- When you don’t return my calls, emails…I feel that there is something wrong and so feel unable to make the decisions you want me too.
- When you keep changing your mind about the venue, key messages, speakers… I feel confused and worried that we don’t now have a shared understanding about the what the event was all about
- What I need is to check back to the original vision, key messages and try and work out how we can better communicate with each other…as both of us ultimately want to deliver a great event
By really thinking about what you want and why and preparing to state it in a non-confrontational way, the person you are communicating with will clearly hear what you are saying.
It will not always work but by approaching difficult conversations in a structured and calm way you will get your message across and any communication breakdown will be improved. Having any kind of non-confrontational conversation is better than burying your head in the sand!
I believe that George Bernard Shaw said
‘The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place’
Work hard at being a good communicator, don’t think you have been heard…and understood, check, clarify and lead by example.
Remember the importance of clear language and importantly that you must really listen to understand and therefore speak to be understood.
I wish you well with all your communication as it is at the core of everything we do!
As ever it’s been a varied few weeks for me with for example: courses designed and delivered for The Shuttleworth Trust, Sheffield City Council and The Event School where I have designed and developed a brand-new outdoor events course for them.
I have also been consulting with Morphe (retail) and Beyond Luxury (Travel) writing their Event Management Plans and Risk Assessments for some upcoming ‘big’ events!
The nice thing for me apart from the variety is that all of my clients share the same desire to run successful and safe events and yes, I am very happy to help turn these occasional, accidental or newbie event managers into confident and skilled events professionals
How do I help event planners like you?
- I provide a range of in-house event management training courses and masterclasses covering all types of public and business events each tailored to clients’ specific needs.
- I have two on-line events courses “How to become an event manager?” and my How to organise successful events course – for those who prefer the on-line learning environment.
- I create and deliver subject specific workshops and talks
- I provide a range of event consultancy services and on-going support to those who have a specific need e.g. the writing of an event management plan and or want somebody who has been their many times before to help and advise them through the event management process
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About Chris Powell, The Event Expert
I run an event management training and consultancy company (The Event Expert) delivering In-house and On-Line event management training courses and event consultancy services to accidental, occasional and professional event managers. My objective is to give them the confidence and skills to design, plan, promote and deliver their own successful and rewarding events.
My courses are based on 20+ years of practical event management experience. I practice what I preach!
My clients come from the world of business, education, sport, the public and charity sector, training companies, tourism, creative agencies, universities and festivals.
Thank you for taking the time this article