It’s the morning of the event. You wake up with a handwritten name badge stuck to your forehead – one out of the 800 badges you were trying to alphabetise last night in your hotel room. You then open your phone to see four missed calls from your sponsor, asking you to change the entire seating chart. You have thirty minutes to finish organising the name badges, rearrange the seating, and make yourself appear calm, cool, and collected despite all the chaos around you. Sound familiar?
How do You Deal with this Invisible Workload?
Event professionals are dragged down by never-ending to-do lists, overflowing inboxes, strict deadlines, targets and all those little tasks that would only draw attention if they didn’t happen. The stress, turmoil, and mental strain that event pros endure often goes completely unnoticed. It is these manual processes, these Invisible Workloads, that keep event organisers from being more strategic, more impactful and, perhaps most importantly, more well-rested. But this pace of life cannot continue indefinitely. It’s clear that you need to find methods and best practices to better cope with stress and find a good work-life balance.
Below are common issues all organisers deal with on a daily basis – particularly before, during and after a big event – and ways in which these problems can be alleviated.
BEFORE THE EVENT
1. The never-ending nature of the business leaves you feeling drained.
According to the lifecycle of events, you will experience busier times and quieter phases. Especially during the final weeks, you probably won’t get much sleep. However, if you’re already drained from your last event before the start of the next cycle, you won’t be able to dedicate yourself entirely to your upcoming commitments. It is critical to prepare yourself for those busy times.
Plan your downtime in advance. Put aside time for your family and friends, while making it clear to them that your availability is limited, in order to avoid disappointments later. Another thing to focus on prior to the planning process is yourself. In order to refuel, make time beforehand to concentrate on the activities that relax you the most. Another tip is to try to stop worrying about the outcome of your event and avoid setting unrealistic expectations for yourself. Stressing far in advance about what might happen can leave you feeling drained – before you’ve even started planning the event!
2. Your work-life balance before a big event is virtually inexistent.
As event organisers, we often need to be multi-tasking gods and goddesses, both at home and at work. At the office, we are expected to carry out the roles of bartender, IT specialist, checklist pro, traffic director, booth organiser… Alongside carrying out our actual jobs as event professionals. Outside of work, on the other hand, we juggle an entirely different set of hats. We might be fathers, mothers, spouses, friends and family members – and even the people closest to us often don’t understand the constant workload and pressure we experience. You often find yourself explaining your work issues to your family and friends at home, which means that your downtime is often overshadowed by your work life.
Maintaining a vibrant social and personal life whilst still effectively executing a high-intensity job can be very difficult. Particularly when you are juggling so many different roles – or different hats, as we like to call it. Social life and work life need to come together more harmoniously in order to offer you maximum peace of mind, whilst still allowing you to deliver on your professional goals.
The best way to achieve this is to keep both spheres of your life separate. First and foremost, try not to bring your work home. Working on proposals from your bed at 10pm on a Friday night might happen occasionally when the workload is particularly heavy, but do not make a habit of this. When done too regularly, you will start associating your home life with work, which will negatively affect your ability to switch off and destress. On that note, it is also important to avoid mentioning work wherever possible when socialising with friends and family. You don’t want all of your personal interactions to revolve around your profession.
Keeping the two aspects of your life separate will help you achieve a healthier work-life balance. You will feel more refreshed, as your downtime will begin to feel like a much-needed break rather than an extension of your workday. This will allow you to perform better at work and will leave you more prepared to ‘wear multiple multiple hats’.
3. The perpetual struggle to find the perfect venue is exhausting you.
Whether you are planning a VIP lunch for 10 or a global conference for 5,000 people, venue sourcing can take up an extraordinary amount of time. It is one of the most multifaceted aspects of the overall project, but also one of the most strenuous ones. Manually searching for, comparing, and requesting proposals for meeting spaces and hotels requires countless hours and can be somewhat mind-numbing. This simply isn’t an efficient use of your time; endlessly staring at the computer screen in this way will merely stress you out and prevent you from focusing on other equally important parts of the event.
You need to learn to prioritise effectively and to stop searching for unattainable perfection. No venue will be exactly as you envisioned it in your head. Make a list of all the absolute necessities that your venue needs and look for locations that are able to fulfil these specific requirements. Perhaps you are expecting a high turn-out of international attendees and therefore want the venue to be easily reachable from the airport, for example. Prioritise the functions that are most important to you, your attendees and your organisation. This will already begin to simplify your venue search immensely – to make life even easier for yourself, consider using a venue sourcing platform that automatically compares and contrasts different venues.
DURING THE EVENT
4. Even seemingly simple tasks such as badge printing can seem daunting to you.
This is the perfect example of The Invisible Workload; it takes up so much of your time, but people unfamiliar with the event organising trade might misguidedly see it as a quick and simple task. Managing badges, putting them in sleeves, attaching lanyards, alphabetising them… While these are all relatively simple tasks, going through all of these different steps can be hugely time-consuming and there is always the chance that something might go wrong along the way.
The best way to deal with this Invisible Workload is to take it slow. This advice might seem a little contradictory – there are so many tasks to complete within a short timeframe, so how could you possibly work through things slowly? It is easy to become overwhelmed by your Workload and rush through tasks as quickly as possible in order to move onto the next thing. However, in doing so you often risk making mistakes. To avoid falling into this trap, take some time before starting your badge-printing tasks to make a detailed list of every single thing that needs to be done. As you work through your checklist, cross out each task so you know exactly what you’ve already completed and what still needs to be worked on. Spending extra time organising all of your tasks beforehand will actually help you save time further down the line, as well as minimising the chances of making a logistical error at any point during this process.
5. You live in perpetual fear of last-minute changes
True story: ‘Twas the night before our event. Our key sponsor sent us an email requesting that all their branded content—stage banners, stand posters, presentation slides, and beyond—be swapped out with entirely new ones. Dozens and dozens of items. We went into overdrive (and over-panic, of course).
The next day the sponsor casually asked: “Hey, how was your evening?”. We stared at them in surprise and informed them that it was… “um, interesting”. We really couldn’t believe it! They had no idea that their last-minute request would cause such chaos and require so many extra work hours. To them, it seemed like no big deal. Unless you’re an event organiser yourself, you will never understand the burden and work that goes behind event logistics.
Unfortunately, last minute changes are just another part of an event organiser’s Invisible Workload. The best way to get through these stressful final-hour requests is to try to stay calm and keep a positive mindset. After all, although you should certainly always try to accommodate sponsors’ or exhibitors’ requests, you are only human and there is only a certain amount of work you can pull off in just a few hours. Just try to fulfil the demands as best you possibly can. Even if it doesn’t work out exactly as the sponsors or exhibitors had planned, do not blame yourself. Remember that you’re doing everything in your power, whilst working in an unrealistically last-minute situation.
6. During the event, you often feel more like a traffic director than an event organiser
When you first signed on to the job of event organiser, you never imagined that you’d spend such an extensive amount of time directing people around the venue. Guiding attendee traffic and making sure everyone knows where they are going should not be part of the job description. Whether attendees are looking for sessions, the IT staff is looking for equipment, or it seems like everyone and their mother needs directions to the bathroom, you spend almost half of the workday giving directions. These are all small and seemingly insignificant tasks that can increase your Invisible Workload tenfold. So what can you do to simplify your life in this respect?
It would be useful to learn how to delegate tasks to the people around you. Any Sales, Marketing or IT staff members that are working alongside you at the event should also familiarise themselves with the layout of the venue beforehand. That way, they will also be able to guide attendees, and the burden of wayfinding won’t fall entirely on one single person. Learn to loosen up, lose control a little bit and ask others to help you out from time to time. Additionally, an increasing number of event pros have begun to use software such as personalised schedules and interactive maps to help guide people around the event venue. This might be a useful tool to invest in, as it will free you up during showtime and allow you to focus on other aspects of the event.
Learning to delegate and automating wayfinding will also permit you to take a break during the event. Make sure you occasionally grab something to eat or follow the directions you’ve been parroting out all day and go to the bathroom yourself. Enjoying some moments of downtime amongst all of the chaos and madness is important. Without breaks, you will burnout pretty quickly.
AFTER THE EVENT
7. What happens if I get negative feedback from the post-event surveys?
You’ve finally come to the end of your event. You might be getting ready to breathe a sigh of relief and have already started making plans to properly relax and celebrate after this intense time period. But how can you be entirely sure that there is indeed something to celebrate about? Stress can often continue even after the event, as you wonder whether the attendees found their meetings, conferences and talks enjoyable and useful. This is where post-event surveys come in. Not only do they help you understand the strengths and weaknesses of your event through the eyes of your attendees, they also help you to make the necessary changes required to make your next one even more successful.
The event survey results have arrived. You have received some negative feedback as well as positive comments. Instead of taking this as a loss, remember that it’s impossible to please everyone. Bear this in mind when setting out goals and expectations for your next event. Prioritise the aims that you think are essential to hit next time, and focus mainly on achieving those. A couple of complaints about coffee quality or the one person who forgot to check the ‘Vegetarian’ option at registration and didn’t get their first-choice meal are hardly issues worth stressing over. As long as the event as a whole went as you’d hoped, don’t let negative feedback get you down. Take it in your stride and consider it a part of your personal learning-curve. Maybe stock up on extra veggie meals next time!
8. Everything you do feels like a failure. (AKA, reporting woes)
Your event reporting has come in, and it’s not all looking good. After all the painstaking effort you’ve put in throughout the entire event lifecycle, this can be very demoralising.
Despite this, don’t forget to celebrate the outcome of the event as a whole (even small wins are worth the celebration!). Try not to stress too much if something did not go according to plan. At least you now know what to improve on for next time. And no matter how tempting it might be to compare yourself to others, do not take benchmarking results too personally. Things go wrong and perfection is unattainable!
Alongside your reporting efforts, take time to reflect on where you personally added the most value and conversely on where you need more support. Be honest to yourself and your team. Don’t be too proud to admit to your shortcomings. The best way to turn something negative into an effective learning experience is to admit failure and to ask for help in the future. Draft a plan for the next event lifecycle, detailing all the actions you should be taking in order to ease future event planning efforts and streamline the goals you and your organisation are hoping to achieve.
9. Constant multitasking means you’re spreading yourself too thin and not completing tasks to your full potential.
Switching off after work might be an impossible thing to do. No matter which step you are currently at in an event lifecycle, you always seem to be out of time. However, tackling tasks half-heartedly does not satisfy anyone in the end. Either focus on the task at hand, or take a break to reset.
Breaks are critical. They allow you to replenish your energy reserves and enable you to see things with fresh eyes. Stay positive no matter what obstacle might be in your way. Using a gratitude journal and appreciating the small wins in life will have a positive outcome on your mental health and increase the likelihood of executing a successful event. Focus on smaller tasks rather than on the whole project. You will experience higher motivation levels throughout the whole event lifecycle.
EXCHANGE THIS INVISIBLE WORKLOAD FOR INNOVATIVE TECH TOOLS
In addition to incorporating all these practical tips, consider looking into software which automates a great percentage of your Invisible Workload. Cvent’s Event Management Platform effectively automates and simplifies the entire planning process. So next time you wake up to an unfinished batch of name badges or a seating chart full of unexpected changes, you will have a new and improved method to manage all the madness. Make sure to check out The Invisible Workload Lookbook to find ways to make your next event as smooth as possible!