As an alumni of Leeds Beckett University and the UK Centre Of Events Management I was excited to be invited to take part in #FutureEventProfs and The Big Conversation at International Confex yesterday.
The events formed part of the university’s celebration of 20 years of events management education in the UK. The initiative aimed to bring industry and academia together to visualise what will be needed in terms of skills, knowledge and education in the next 20 years.
Having graduated in 2003 (and feeling very old) I have seen a huge amount of change in the industry and working practices. With the current rate of change, and disruptive forces in business in general, it looked set to be an interesting discussion.
After assessing the coffee options available at Confex (anyone who has met me will know that this was a crucial decision to start the day) I took a brisk walk around the trade show floor to help get my bearings. I then made my way to the conference room hosting the graduate panel for #FutureEventProfs. The session was designed to allow students to question the panel on our current roles, career paths and seek advice and recommendations.
Some of the tips included network as much as possible, don’t be afraid to do voluntary work to build up your experience and be flexible. Perhaps not the most original advice but to my mind still some of the most important, particularly in the events industry. I also urged the students to consider the culture and personality of a company when job searching – is it a good fit for you? Later on, I found out that over a quarter of the students present indicated they would want to set up their own business and may not have understood the positioning of this message. I again highlighted my original tips – gaining experience and networking. Don’t run before you can walk.
It was nostalgic to think back to when I was in a position similar to them. It raised questions about my time at university. Did the events management course provide me with the knowledge and insight for my future career? Is it possible to provide academic content that is 100% relevant in such a fast-changing world? Tough questions to answer. What I did recollect was the connections I made and the diversity of people I met whilst studying. It was a rare opportunity and something I still value very highly to this day. The connections and friends I made then are now among my business associates – again highlighting the importance of your personal network!
After a chance to have some one-to-one conversations with the students in the break it gave me an opportunity to reflect on my career. From my placement year in the industry, numerous different roles, working out of offices in Leeds, Antwerp, Amsterdam and London, and delivering 400+ events in 30+ countries to now managing a team of 20. Chatting through this it was clear I have packed a lot in since 2003!
The Big Conversation started in the afternoon. For me this was the main attraction of the day. An opportunity for education, industry, associations, students and graduates to debate the future of the industry. I am not sure how regularly an event of this nature has happened in the past but to my mind it is clear that more collaboration is required to ensure we help develop future talent.
Following some interesting presentations that focused on the 2036 outlook by Jackie Mulligan from Leeds Beckett University and Tom Johnson of Trajectory, the Big Conversation started with gusto. Some of the key discussion points included:
- Blending educational journeys with work experience, digital and course work
- Opportunities for students to specialise in their final year
- The need for one voice in the industry to meet the educational needs and develop talent
- More practical skills are required from agencies. Should vocational apprenticeships be more widely available?
- The need for more creative, technical, sales and marketing skills in graduates
Above all I came away from the event realising how much I still enjoy working in events and hope I managed to pass this enthusiasm on to the students. For me my passion now lies in working with senior clients as part of a team where we challenge perceptions, provide guidance and consultancy, help set objectives and develop agendas and content. Looking back my original enjoyment stemmed from having a job that allowed me to travel to far flung destinations. Whatever the reason you want to be in events embrace it – it will no doubt change with your personal journey – but gives you the initial step into an exciting and growing industry.
For me, the next two years are very hard to predict, let alone the next 20. I see adaptability and speed of key importance as well as personalisation. We also need to consider where an event sits in a multichannel communication strategy to help understand the impact and importance and identify true objectives. Finally, as an industry and individuals, we need to ensure we keep developing, learning and taking inspiration from others.
The change ahead of us is no doubt going to be challenging but this also makes it exciting. For those individuals and companies that can ride this wave it can provide untold opportunity. The students I met yesterday are in the perfect position to do this – if they are brave enough.