to glowing feedback
Lauren and team confidently handle the challenges of virtual events
Lauren Wilson works for IR Media Group and manages a logistics team of three. On average, she and the team organize 20-30 events plus 30+ webinars each year. When 2020 went virtual, they were fortunate to not have to cancel any events and instead adapted and delivered all of their events virtually.
Lauren tells Melissa Paulden that the hours the team put in across 2020 “were crazy” but they rose to the challenges and they’re hopeful – as we all are – for at least one in-person event in 2021.
I started out working in an admin role for a Chartered Surveyors for about three years after leaving college. While I was in that role I got involved in the company’s charity events committee and from that point I knew the events life was for me! I left that role to study an Event Management degree at the University of Hertfordshire and during my studies, I was lucky enough to land a year’s placement at the New York Times office in London (formerly the International Herald Tribune). After going back to complete my degree, I held events positions at several publishers and an association, before joining my current employer (IR Media Group), where I’ve now been four years.
Thinking back to a life before the pandemic, I absolutely love the fact that events often bring the opportunity to travel. I’ve been fortunate enough to always work in a role where I could travel – whether that was to European city overnight or further afield, such as California or Hong Kong! Being onsite in another city, with the team you’ve worked so hard with, brings another level of adrenaline and accomplishment that I don’t believe you often get in other industries.
I’d say the standard two skills that every event manager has – organization and attention to detail! I’m a lover of lists for everything in life – work to do’s, shopping, life admin, dreams and goals! I work best with a detailed timeline and breakdown of tasks – our team checklist doesn’t miss a beat, and I’m often updating it with the tiniest of tasks, just so nothing is ever missed!
The best event I have ever organised was very early on in my career! I was working on a Luxury Jewellery Summit at the New York Times in partnership with Swarovski. That was the first time I had ever worked with high-level, important speakers and clients. One of the speakers was the fashion icon, Iris Apfel. Now, Iris didn’t use email (!), so I ended up having almost daily calls with her to organize her flights and itinerary to get her from Miami to Vienna! When we met in person she gifted me with a gorgeous Kate Spade purse to thank me for my help. That made me realize that being polite and going out of my way (even when things may seem inconvenient initially!) really does go a long way. Although it may often go unnoticed day-to-day, people are watching and recognize those who go above and beyond.
The best bit of feedback I had from something I’ve organised has to be from the last awards ceremony I organized in London in 2019. We held the event at 8 Northumberland and with the help of my AV team, we absolutely transformed the room with ambient lighting, effects, and best of all – exploding confetti balloon centrepieces! As our guests entered the room, they were blocking the doorway as they stopped to take photos. It really did look fantastic and the vision I’d had from the beginning absolutely came to life on the night! At the end of the ceremony the balloons exploded simultaneously – giving the crescendo everyone aims for at these type of events! Some of my colleagues have attended these awards for 10+ years and said this was the best one to date!
Working global hours while in the UK has been the hardest challenge working in events lately! It’s one thing traveling to Asia for a week and getting over the jetlag, but we ran a week of virtual events for our Asian audience in December while sitting at home in London! In addition, we’d also been working US hours the week prior to deliver events to that audience. The tiredness we all experienced was at the point of burnout and I do think there is an unsaid expectation to be available and online while working from home, we need to get better at setting boundaries in 2021!
At an in-person event, we rely on the AV team to press all the right buttons at the right moment. Last year, we were essentially running the show as we sent speakers live, transitioned to holdings slides, etc. I found that nerve-wracking, I’d much rather be the person coordinating the roles on the day, rather than running the show myself!
Our first virtual event actually ended after 30 minutes of being live – the entire platform crashed as our provider had a site-wide issue. We had to make a quick decision to either persist with the technology in the hope it’d come back to life, or cancel the event and potentially annoy 1,000+ delegates and sponsors!
Luckily for us, our audience and sponsors were extremely understanding. As a result, we’ve now got a thorough contingency plan in place – it’s bulletproof and ensures that the show will go on regardless of platform failures! Since then, our virtual events have had glowing feedback and typically, we haven’t even had to use the contingency plans we’ve put in place!
Our top virtual supplier last year was without a doubt, Think-AV. They produced the graphics and video files for our back-to-back awards ceremonies. I think we sent them 100+ hours’ worth of raw video files across all of the events to work with. The final production was always incredible – we’ll certainly be working with them again this year and highly recommend them as a reliable and quality AV team.
My top virtual tip is to prepare for everything and anything that could go wrong -from a platform failure to a speaker’s internet connection cutting out. I think audiences were quite forgiving last year, but now we’ve had plenty of time to adapt, the expectations will definitely be higher.
My advice to other event professionals would be: spend time looking at what other events companies are doing – we’re all new to this, nobody has got the perfect formula yet, but we can learn so much from researching what our peers are doing.