Friday 13th November 2015 was a historic day in British and Indian history. It was the day we witnessed the largest political gathering a foreign dignitary had every received in the UK. David Cameron took to the stage to welcome the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and was forced to stop mid-speech many times as the crowd cheered the Indian PM’s name.
Whilst I do not follow politics too closely right now, when I was asked to get involved I simply could not say no. The opportunity to work with Wembley Stadium and fill it for a non sporting event would be an exciting challenge within itself. Something which would require immense planning, teamwork and huge volumes of effort. It would test some of my skills and give me an opportunity to learn from others and grow.
I was fortunate enough to be working on multiple areas including ticketing for the event, coordinating with 480+ partner organisations and working alongside the media team for the event. It was an immense effort with scores of volunteers playing their part and the result was spectacular.
There were a number of issues at certain stages of the event as you can imagine with any event on this scale. Here are the top five business lessons I was reminded of when helping organise this event:
1 – Plan for the way you want things to go but also have a plan for when things go wrong.
It doesn’t matter how hard you work on something, sometimes the end result cannot be completely in your control. Important databases going down when you need them, both Prime Minister’s turning up late to their own speeches and adverse weather at the worst moment are all out of your control, but still situations you have to deal with.
Whenever making a plan always complete a risk assessment alongside it. The steps of a risk assessment are simple:
- Firstly you list all the possible things that can go wrong.
- Then you take each risk and decide how best to reduce or eliminate it
- Lastly you decide what needs to be done in each scenario should it actually happen to reduce the risk of panic (at least now you have an idea of the best course of action when the a risk becomes a reality)
However much you plan, something will also happen. That does not mean planning is a waste of time, it’s the opposite, don’t stop at just planning for the best case scenario, make sure you plan for the worst case scenarios too.
2 – Fill everyone in on the big picture (don’t need detail but need to know)
With huge events there is so much information that it is hard to know sometimes, what should be shared and what shouldn’t. You don’t want to overwhelm people with information that distracts them but at the same time you must always make sure they understand how their contribution is helping create something much bigger.
You don’t have to tell them all the details but everyone should know the big picture and on a very high level should know what is happening. It helps them to feel really invested in the project and helps them to see how their efforts fit within the bigger plan.
Giving them an idea of the big picture helps them make suggestions and changes which can positively affect your event too. For example, simply knowing who the Wembley Ticketing team were and what their general work flow entailed meant we could answer standard questions from the public ourselves rather than passing them straight onto another team. We were able to cut the workload for them as we had to reply to the public anyway (stating we would pass it on), however now we could give them answers to the most common questions instead of passing the work to someone else.
Remember, in big events nearly everyone is busy all the time. They do not always have time for your useful updates when you are ready to give them, so find better ways to do it. Record and audio clip or a video and put it somewhere where they can find it at a later time, a time when they are less distracted. Not everyone is ready when you are so find better ways to do it – video/audio communication is the future.
3 – Email sucks as a way to communicate for quick responses
Email seems very quick and easy. You write down what you need to say and send it, simple. But imagine when your teams start to grow and many people are constantly sending you emails. I’ll tell you what happens, people stop reading all emails. It just becomes to much too handle.
I’ve already said that video and audio communication is the future but instead of email we should get used to picking up the phone again. A quick 30 second call can often solve your problems and it’s much more efficient than email.
We even used a free conference call software alongside a free screen sharing software (join.me). They were instrumental in our communication alongside the popular Whatsapp. Group communication is very effective, but much more effective when the wording is considerable reduced (whilst Whatsapp seems similar to email communication, the length of wording in each conversation is considerable smaller).
As work piles up try not to use email. People stop reading it as they know it will take time to respond to everyone. If you call me I can give you an instant answer or advice and I don’t have an extra burden to look into later.
4- Cross team communication, better still have people work across teams
It’s interesting how most of my points are related to communication. Talented people are everywhere and they can get the job done, but it’s much more effective when they understand how things work outside their team.
I was fortunate to work across three different teams and at times I realised how important this was. There were so many times when someone in the team would have a question and instead of bothering another team leader, I was able to confidently solve the issue as I had appropriate knowledge of the actions required.
Wembley has a ridiculously high rate of ‘missing tickets’, higher than I imagined but apparently that is the normal Royal Mail delivery rate. Many of the people without tickets naturally came through the right channel to inform us but many would take to social media to enquire too. The media team did not get involved with ticketing so would simply forward the messages from social channels to my ticketing team. But when I also joined the media team, I was able to give them the right knowledge to solve those issues instantly. No more passing the messages on and delaying the action that needed to be taken.
It is really important that teams communicate with each other effectively but it is even better to have some people who work across teams. All those ticketing issues would simply have come back to me so I may as well help solve them at source by empowering my new team with the appropriate knowledge. Something which would not have been possible had I been in only one team. It’s perhaps not necessary everyone works in two or more teams, but some of your team definitely should. Not just help plan activities for those teams, but hands on work in those teams.
5 – Make sure everyone stops from time to time to enjoy it.
You team is important and their happiness is important to you too. Make sure they enjoy the process as it is inevitably stressful for everyone at times, but happy people perform best.
Make sure you take time out to have group pictures, time out to enjoy some food whilst not working and time out to step back and take in the successes you have already achieved.
Organising an event is a marathon not a sprint and each mile market should present a happy memory for all of your volunteers.