What being a teacher taught me

I learned a lot from a group assignment we had this year where we had to run our own workshop for some fellow students. Our event was all about experience design with a focus on the 5 Senses.

Personally, I had never done much research into experiential design beyond reading the basics in Events Management: an introduction during my first year of study. So learning about ways experience design is used in reality was so interesting to me and I loved that it had a scope wider than just the events industry; from a retail perspective for example it’s of great importance as I found out from Gaetan Germain’s blog. I also learned about Jinsop Lee’s research into the how the senses are stimulated by different experiences in which he used graphs to grade each sense out of 10 while carrying out an activity for example riding a motorbike or making microwave noodles. As an event producer I learned that consideration of all of the senses are important in order to create a complete experience for attendees, but it’s also not necessarily best to stimulate all senses to 10/10 if that doesn’t suit the experience you’re trying to produce.

In terms of the actual execution of the workshop, I’m proud of what we were able to achieve. We blindfolded students and stimulated their senses in order to convey different decades including the 70s and 80s. Leading a workshop for a change was an important and useful assignment for a number of reasons:

  1. It meant that I had to know and understand the subject well enough to teach others, which means that the things I learned won’t leave my mind once it’s all over (as sometimes happens with essays or presentations). We had to be prepared to answer questions about what we had taught and I feel like that made me retain more.
  2. It scared me. Public speaking is mortifying on a good day, but teaching your peers is always 10 times worse. My main fear was wasting their time (I’m not a qualified lecturer, we’re in the same boat. What can I teach them?). But it was great, we did activities and presented information different to the things we’ve learnt from any previous lectures. Also, the 50-minute length was scary at first but now I think it gave us all time to loosen up, a 20-minute presentation is uncomfortable all the way through so I think the extra time helped, as well as the fact that the workshop format meant that we could be more informal and not talk at people the whole time.
  3. I worked with people I didn’t know before which meant I worked harder. There’s nothing worse than the one group member who is dead weight, and the worry of being that group member among strangers made me want to act on top form so as not to let the others down.

3 things that scare me about the events industry

The closer I get to graduation this year, the more I think about the things that are daunting me about being a fully-fledged event industry employee:

Am I ambitious enough?

I have had so much fun volunteering and/or doing small event jobs like stewarding during my time at university and it terrifies me that I can’t see myself loving coordinating events as much as I like just being a part of them. The level of organisation is daunting; if it takes me a week of fear before starting an essay how can I have the pressure of stakeholders and attendees on my shoulders? I don’t know if I want to be responsible for the things I’ve learned about during my degree; health and safety, sponsorship, day delegate rates, logistics, these things all quite frankly cripple me with fear and I can’t help thinking I’d have a much better time if I got paid for the role of ‘events volunteer’. post-graduation this summer, I should have the foundations of the skills I need to make events my full time career, that is so scary.

What type of events do I want to get into?

When I first decided I wanted to go into events, it was because I love award shows. The Brits, The Oscars, the Grammys, The BAFTAs, award season is one of the best times of the year second only to Christmas. Now that I’ve learnt about everything it takes to actually make an event happen, award shows sound like the worst thing ever: coordinating all those a-listers to be at the same event at the same time, making sure they’re safe before, during and after the event, broadcasting the event on live television, keeping timings precise and correct when Jolie’s train is hampering her ability to get on stage fast enough and someone’s let Clooney have too much champagne pre-speech. Just to name a few. It sounds like hell. So now what? I know that the options are endless and no event is the same. It’s difficult to specialize in one typology anyway as event types often overlap and are therefore hard to define (See Bladen et al, 2012 for typologies), but coming to terms with the idiosyncrasies and nuisances all of those rough event typologies (MINCE, cultural events, sporting events etc.) is daunting and, as we’ve discussed above, I may be unambitious.

Have I wasted 3 years on a degree I don’t need?

Will this debate never end? EVERYONE. IS. TALKING. ABOUT. IT. I am genuinely worried. Not worried that I wasted my time; if I’m honest, 18 year-old me A) wouldn’t be able to go into the industry knowing nothing at all and B) was an incredibly lazy teen. I know that after getting my a-levels I would’ve spent my time having an internal panic about life and the future, all the while taking no steps towards a career. To be fair though, part of my probably did go the university route because it came with a 3-year delay on real life. I’ve come to the conclusion that the degree was worth it for me personally, I needed it. But I’m so sure that the degree isn’t for everyone. When it comes to interviews for event jobs, I’m undecided about whether or not my degree will give me the edge over someone that has spent the past three years getting hands on experience in the field. After reading Cat Goulbourne’s tips for getting into the industry with or without a degree I feel like I’m on the right track, I’ve volunteered for event companies in the past and the amount of research I’ve done into the event industry over the past three years is huge in comparison to the amount 18 year-old me would’ve done without the motivation of a degree to work towards.

Aesthetic labour – to get ahead get a haircut?

As an events management student I try to make sure I push myself to get as much experience in the industry as possible. With this frame of mind in place I have applied to many a casual or temporary job opportunity in the vein of events like bar work, stewarding, front of house, promotion, anything that makes the range of experience on my CV look appropriately vast. In my humble opinion I’m not a fussy applicant; as long as I can get home safely post-event, I’m happy to try my hand at anything. There is however one requirement in the application process that causes me to shudder, stop what I’m doing and apply for
something else:

‘Please disclose your CV, a cover letter and a portrait photo of yourself.’

I noticed though, that this seemed to be a requirement for a large amount of jobs in the industry today1 and I’m probably shutting myself off from opportunities I could really benefit from. So I decided to look into it a bit further.

Is it just me?

I started talking to some other students on my course to see what they thought when they were asked to submit photos of themselves before being considered for a job:

Have you ever applied for a job where they asked for your photo with your CV? What did you think about it?

  • Nope, that’s a bit cheeky!
    I’d feel embarrassed, judged and uncomfortable if someone asked me
  • Yes, bars especially.
    I think it’s judgemental. I’ve only done it once.
  • Another fellow student had submitted photos on multiple occasions and got the job “in some cases but they purely judge on what you look like which isn’t really a company I would want to work for in the first place… sometimes jobs look for a certain type of candidate”
  • I think they could be a little bit discriminating and kind of makes me think that the whole thing is based on looks

While these conversations don’t in anyway equate to a scientific sample, surely it’s not an employer’s goal to implement a recruitment process that’s is off-putting and in some cases repellent to five budding soon-to-be graduates?

Is this legal?

The whole photo situation had faint connotations of prejudice and discrimination for me. I, of course, know that the majority of if not all service industry jobs rightly should vet their prospective employees to see if they fit the image of the company, possess basic social skills and check all the other relevant aspects of a person. However, I was under the impression that subtlety was key, why would a company want to advertise their possible aesthetic-based bias? And how can we be sure the image isn’t being used for other types of discrimination?  Actually, is this even legal?

According to the UK Government, it is against the law to discriminate against anyone because of:

age

being or becoming a transsexual person

being married or in a civil partnership

being pregnant or having a child

disability

race including colour, nationality, ethnic or national origin

religion, belief or lack of religion/belief

sex

sexual orientation

I don’t want to be overly pessimistic or paranoid, but what honest to god guarantee do we have that our image isn’t used to discriminate? Age, race and sex are all things that could be judged based on an image and while I wouldn’t be disappointed to miss out on a job with an employer who would do this, I also don’t think I’d want to be accepted by an employer who would do this.

Taking race for example, The Guardian reported that an inquiry “found that many job applicants of ethnic minority had changed their name or appearance to try to overcome prejudices – and when they did their scope for getting a job increased”. As a person with brown skin, I worry about both not looking ‘right’ for the job or getting the job simply because of a company’s obligation to fill a diversity quota.

Soft skills

After trying to put myself into the shoes on the other side of this discussion (rather than assume that the working world is shallow and I’ll have to get used to it), I thought of a scenario where sending a photo might be useful to me as an employer. Maybe the point of the photo is that some people aren’t put off by the request. Maybe it’s the basic confidence that these people have that the employers are looking for.

Confidence is what’s known as a ‘soft skill’. Soft skills as outlined by The Independent include teamwork, basic computer skills, emotional intelligence, lateral and critical thinking, time management and communication skills (written and verbal).  Nickson et al. (2004) studied aesthetic labour and found that there was a trend of employers valuing self-presentation skills (grooming, dress sense, body language, voice/accent) over technical skills or experience.

Used in this instance, as a shortcut to see who has at least one of these skills, I understand. Some soft skills are difficult or time consuming to train; How does one go about train2ing someone to be emotionally intelligent? The average company/business does not have the time to train people in grooming and style tips. If there was a definitive 100% proven course offering training and a diploma in confidence, most of us would sign up right away. While I understand the benefits of finding out if a service industry applicant has confidence, is well groomed and maybe looks friendly, it still doesn’t sit right with me. I’d rather be able to demonstrate my communication, computer and lateral/critical thinking skills at the same time as employers have the chance to assess my aesthetics.

While I’m sure that this won’t end any time soon and it’s something I’m going to have to get over and get used to in this industry, I still don’t see myself being comfortable sending my photo out with my CV; I just want to be sure that all of me has been accepted or rejected, not just my ‘look’.

 

 

(all images: commons.wikimedia.org)

Bad PR: An #OscarsSoWhite framework

This year, The 88th Annual Oscar Awards will be held. However, fresh controversy has consumed the coverage building up to the prestigious event. The uproar comes after it was revealed that all of the nominees for the acting categories were white for the second year in a row. Now it feels as though the whole ceremony has been tarnished, even as a Leonardo Di Caprio fan, it feels like the buzz has been taken out of the fact that it looks like this may be the year he finally win’s his first Academy Award.

The trending topic #OscarsSoWhite, coupled with the fact that big names such as Will and Jada Smith and Spike Lee have refused to attend the event, is a PR disaster for the event and many would argue that the integrity for at least this year’s ceremony has been lost. While the Oscars will likely survive this controversy, handling negative publicity is very important for events, especially in cases of repeat events such as these awards. Even events of a smaller scope should take note of what to do in times of PR crisis such as this due to the fact that they may not have the benefit of being an institution to fall back on. Without further ado; how do you solve a problem like the 2016 Oscars?

Marketing Donut have some tips for handling bad publicity:

  1. Prevention: “Planning and sound preparation can significantly reduce the ch3ances of getting bad press. Staff training is essential – your employees are ambassadors for your firm”
    Looking to the academy’s personnel: the president of the academy is an African American woman named Cheryl Boone Isaacs (right). All good so far until you look at who makes up the members of the academy and therefore who votes for the nominees and winners. According to the LA Times “Oscar voters are nearly 94% Caucasian and 77% male, The Times found. Blacks are about 2% of the academy, and Latinos are less than 2%”. The diversity issue isn’t helped by the fact that the ‘ambassadors of the firm’ don’t fairly represent the population of film industry.
  2. Managing bad publicity: “If your firm is being criticised in the media online, respond quickly, honestly and decisively. If you are at fault, own up and apologise”
    Following the initial controversy, the president of the academy released a statement in which she said “As many of you know, we have implemented changes to diversify our membership in the last four years. but the change is not coming as fast as we would like. We need to do more, and better and more quickly”. This statement came 10 days after the nominees were announced; not necessarily a quick response however one that admitted fault.
  1. After the PR crisis: “After getting bad publicity you need to produce positive PR. Emphasise some positive stories, such as improved practices and community involvement”
    Four days prior to the apology statement, news broke that the members of the academy held an emergency meeting in which they voted on changes that they say will increase their diversity by 2020. Their goal is now to double “women and diverse members” within the next 4 years. This quick turnaround and plan for improvement was a good decision. It shows that they know there’s a problem and they’re genuinely passionate enough to try and fix it quickly. Whether this helps this year’s negative spin and puts the shine back on Leo’s potential Oscar win remains to be seen.

I think this year has been tarnished and this takes away from 2016’s winners (isn’t winning a moot point when the nominee shortlist is so flawed?), however I do think that 4the post-#OscarsSoWhite PR has been as good as it could’ve been with such poor prevention. I think that people in the event industry, including me in my future career, should take note: prevent what you can, apologise for what you can’t, prove that you won’t let it happen again.

(Good luck Leo)

 

 

(all images: commons.wikimedia.org)