Unveiling the Dark Curtain: A Journey to Learning Event Production

Raise your hand if you willingly volunteered to be in this industry. Okay, now raise your hand if you accidentally fell into this crazy world of events and wouldn’t have it any other way?  Today I will walk you through my journey to the dark side and my journey learning event production. 

For me, I fall into the category of the latter. Through the eyes of society, some label me as an event planner. To others, I am seen as a P.Y.E. (Pretty Young Entrepreneur). Basically, someone too young to be in this industry. That’s a story for a different day. I never really took on the form of what society tends to push me into a box and stereotype in the work culture.

A Little About Me

Most days I like to think of myself a little like Ina Garten. If you know anything about Ina, her primary objectives are to be efficient and hospitable in every way possible. She is always throwing a one of a kind and memorable event. The event always includes a signature cocktail and does it all while wearing a smile. Telling you at the end of the day that as a contingency plan, that if you don’t have something “store bought is fine.”

I’m a twenty-something-year-old millennial. Seven years ago thought I knew what I was signing up for when I was recruited for my first event. I started out at the information booth for a 12,000 person event. I was required to be a “know it all” for lack of better words. Who knew something so simple could be so complicated? On a daily basis, I would receive a myriad of questions from A to Z. Where’s XYZ session? How do I get to this hotel? Can you help me with the Conference App? How do I get to this room? Where’s the coffee? Where’s this sponsor? Do you Linda Bloom my colleague and where I can find her? To top it off the event industry was new to me. I was fresh and green out of college neither experienced or attended an event of this magnitude. 

Although it was intense and many times nerve-racking I started on my quest to learn to become more attuned to all the pieces and the teams that make up any successful event regardless of the host company.

While in the midst of learning the different components, specifically learning event production, I quickly realized how unique the events industry is. When you take a step back we exist as a separate ecosystem, naturally evolving with the times.  

The Dark Side

The first encounter that brought me to this realization was what I call the “dark curtain”. Just a glance behind it for a moment would send you into the upside down. I can remember it like it was yesterday.  It was my third year planning events on a Monday morning when pure chaos broke out. I was working as the on-site coordinator trying to get the main room ready for the General Session. My lead had asked me to make contact with the room manager or producer before opening the doors. I had not a clue or ideal on where to start.

Aimlessly I walked around, looking for the producer who was in charge. I imagined them to fit a stereotype I had created in my head based on everything I had ever seen on television. You know the ones all dressed in black, with a headset and always with a serious face? However, at this point that seemed to fit the profile for most of the crew hustling, and bustling backstage. They chose not make eye contact with me as I smiled graciously looking for someone to ask me if I needed help or directions.

The Nightmare

Finally, I made my way to the front of the house.  I found the production team sitting and managing the production board and the back of house logistics. I walked-up and patiently waited for them to complete their tasks to acknowledge me and ask if I need some assistance. After a solid ten minutes, I grew tired of huddling over them with anticipation.  No one was paying any attention to me. They didn’t they care that I was standing there patiently just waiting to ask them a question. I thought, they can’t be thinking I’m standing there for my health?  So again, I attempted to gain their attention. I cleared my throat and meekly asked is the lead producer or room manager around? Still, no one heard me. I thought to myself again; this is just lovely why are these people are so rude?

 

The Battle

It was time to put my big girl pants on. With my voice a little louder and a sterner tone I asked the same question.  They all looked up at me like they hadn’t noticed I had been standing there for the last 15 minutes. Are you serious? Their response to my question was met with a shrug. Then they muttered: “I think they walked to the back of house behind the black curtain”. They pointed and shooed me off at the same time. At this moment I was thoroughly annoyed. I knew I only had 10 to 15 min before the session was to start. To top it all off these people were wasting my time and I still didn’t have an answer. But I’ve never been one to give up, and I just needed to find another road.  

I beelined to the back of the house where I pulled the curtain back. To my surprise, it was a like a mini army of people all stashed behind this one area. There were a ton of laptops, soundboards, cords, and wires everywhere. Had I just stepped into the Matrix? There would be no possible way for me to find the producer. The room was pitch black, and to add insult to injury, everyone was wearing black. I didn’t even have a name or face to put to this person.

Here I am in the dark, climbing over wires and attempting not to fall.  I tried to look like I belong while trying to grab a glimpse of the whites of someone’s eyes. Finally, someone asks me “do you need help with something?”. I paused and wondered what gave it away,  perhaps it was my 3-inch heels and bright red blazer. Or maybe I looked like a frantic lost child in the middle of central park.  I proceeded to let them know that I was looking for the producer or room manager. They gave me a slight smile and pointed me in the correct direction and said: “You can find Lindsay over there with the red glasses she’s the Production Manager.” At this point, not only was I feeling annoyed but perturbed. Why was the production team so complicated and so unfriendly.

Was this what you had to do to be part of their Fight Club? Here was the dark side for me. You know that moment where Anakin turns to the dark side as a Sith. He doesn’t even recognize that he’s evil. Then later down the road, he becomes the Dark Vader and all of his doings as a Sith become in vain.  At this point, I would have chosen to sit with The Force.  I would have chosen to be with the brilliant and wise Yoda any day of the week if this was the life of event production.

When I finally reached Lindsay, she wasn’t that much more pleasant. I had told her I needed her direction for when the doors required to be open. She gave me a nod and that she would let me know when the time was right. I started to question, what was I doing wrong? In my eyes, we are technically on the same team. We should understand the other person’s needs and be willing to work hand in hand. How could we get to the point where we can understand one another and be able to coexist without pointing fingers or letting the other team fend for themselves?

The Unveiling Ceremony

It wasn’t until a few years after that event that I was able to see the light at the end of the tunnel. I realized where the broken link had occurred. When I discovered the issue, it was an exciting discovery. Those that I’ve worked with would consider themselves not to fit in the “corporate culture”.  Yet those of us that put on events whether consciously or unconsciously possess the same mindset and issues that exist in the more prominent corporations outside of our industry.

The difference between working with a typical team and an outstanding team is how they work together. You may have five different departments. But each department doesn’t consider themselves as a codependent of the other but interdependent. They are in a mutual relationship. With this type of connection, the department isn’t only focused on what they have to bring to the table individually but the company as a whole. In this mindset, you are more likely to ask questions on behalf of other departments. Or perhaps overshare information and details that could be helpful to someone outside of your department’s team.

Starting from Within

Personally, this was the missing piece to the puzzle and a problem that I wanted to address in our industry.  I couldn’t bear to continue being in a culture where I am unwilling to be fully immersed in learning event production or other areas of event planning. Refusing to assist across the board to all team members. The best example that I used to describe my controversy is similar to when you travel to another country.  When you travel, you aren’t open to the possibility to adopt the culture, the food, the language, the people, their hardships and everything that makes them up as a country.

You can’t expect the native people to that country to be willing to help and invest in you if you’re not willing to do the same. When we can work together, no matter how different our fields our from one another in the end collaboration between everyone creates a successful event. Yes, even when your first keynote speaker bails out on you.

Taking Action

Now that I had realized my AHA moment it was time to get to work on pulling back the dark curtain.

Acknowledging that I couldn’t go around on my soapbox asking the events industry to change its norm. I knew the change had to start with me.

The most significant question for me was what steps was I willing take? What did I need to work on and change that would have a domino effect amongst my colleagues?

Over the years, I’ve developed a simple plan of attack. Recognizing that creating a new habit takes time and repetition I created my plan. Each year I take the time to develop a new initiative and to analyze my approach from the previous year to see how effective and what I’ve learned from the industry. My key pointers over the year have led me to the following points below. 

 

learning event production

 

Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

A neighbor by today’s standards merely is someone you live within proximity.  But I want to take it way back to the days where one would make an effort to get to know their neighbor on an in-depth personal level. Back when you would be available to their neighbor at any point and time. I started to apply this concept a few years ago and have seen such a shift in my relationships across the board. A shift in relationships with all teams varying from the hotel staff to the IT department. Yes, of course, I’m busy running around like a madwoman, but so is everyone else and without these people, I honestly wouldn’t be able to do my job.

When you’re onsite for weeks at a time, these individuals become more like your extended family members and sometimes really close friends.  If you’re lucky you get the opportunity to see them year after year sharing with them what’s going on in your life and learning about theirs. Not only do I take time to understand them as a human being, but I take the time when I have the opportunity to dive deeper to understand their role on site. Understanding these small details help me to become more productive in my tasks and vice versa. Things that I wouldn’t have learned if I wouldn’t have taken the time to ask in detail how they were executed. We get so busy in this world that we sometimes we live on assumptions and forget a personal one on one communication is vital.

 

Learn it All

Personally, my motto is that regardless of your age you should keep moving, keep learning and keep loving. In such a fast-paced society it’s easier just to stay in your lane and stay focused on your job at hand.  But I find it better to widen your scope to learn other fields. They may assist you in grasping a better understanding of your area. Although, the goal is never to learn everything to be self-servant or a personal gain to myself. The goal is to be better informed and able to speak more clearly into those types of conversations.

My earlier experience I shared led me to understand that since I had not a clear understanding of how a production company operated. I wasn’t the best communicator when explaining in production or AV terms what I needed. For me, it made sense because I was looking at it from a specific angle. But for those on the other side of the spectrum, it sounded like I was speaking a different language. Whether I decide to read a technical article about Clearcoms, DSM’s and PBP’s or assist locally onsite as a P.A., all of it has started to shift perception and the unveiling of this dark curtain by learning event production.  

Party of One

Sometimes in the business, you are precisely that, a party of one! The one person that has to do and know everything from beginning to end but you never let the client know that your “WE” is just an “ME.” When you start to scale up the size of your events, there are more teams brought to the playing field. In that growth is where things start to get a little convoluted. I’m sure many of us would agree that there is a lot of finger-pointing on the days we are stuck on back to back calls or better yet known as  “death by conference calls.” Have you ever been on one call, where a person has asked a question, and the answer is just that it either isn’t in their scope of work or that they’d need to get in contact with John Doe?

This is neither timely or productive nor does it make it easier for the client to have to figure out what’s going on. As a reminder, the client has other responsibilities outside of this event.  We eat, live and breathe this on a daily occurrence. Is it so challenging to pick up the slack and take on the responsibility and be a team player across the board?

For example, previous clients have asked me a question about how many lavs are scheduled for a general session even though they’ve been the sole contact with the production company. It’s never my intention to push the client back onto the AV company; I would rather take on the responsibility and call up the Production Company to figure out the answer. This is true even if I have not been in previous communications with them.  With all the multitudes of groups working onsite, we have to be more intentional as working as a party of one instead of 20.

The Revolution

By no means do I think this will eliminate the problem. This won’t solve all disconnection between the logistics and the production side in the events industry. However, but I do believe it starts the conversation. That’s better than not discussing at all.  On a new journey to discover the other side of the curtain, I have recently decided to explore learning event production further. Although I have not chosen to switch sides completely, my goal is to take my personal experiences as a planner to delve into learning event production. This often means getting more involved behind the scenes, having conversations with close friends and studying more about the similarities than the differences. This allows me to be able to share my story and observations with the new and rising generations in the hospitality industry to hopefully spark a true change. 

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from Endless Events https://helloendless.com/learing-event-production/

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