It’s always hard returning to work after a bank holiday weekend. That extra day is such a gift and you just want the weekend to continue. So when I turned on my work phone on the Tuesday morning (30th May), I wasn’t quite prepared for the emails I received over the weekend from Health Education England (HEE) and the Ministerial Visits Office:
“Matt Hancock MP, The Secretary of State for Health and Social Care wants to launch the NHS People Plan on Wednesday.”
“With NHS staff in your Trust”
“Good choice. Our staff are great!”
“Lovely! Is that next Wednesday or the one after?”
“You mean, this Wednesday as in … tomorrow?”
And so began my week. I was to assemble 60 staff representing a range of roles, professions and grades, to be part of the launch and take part in workshops discussing why the NHS is a great place to work and what would make it even better. The event would last 90 minutes.
I love a challenge and I’m pretty cool under pressure but … gulp!
Guide to event management
My view of event management is that it is rather like arranging a wedding at short notice. A handy skill that I have not needed thus far in my life but you never know! (My rates are very reasonable!) You need a venue, timings, people, refreshments, and you need to tell them what’s happening (e.g. purpose of event).
It might seem obvious, but it’s at times like this that you realise the value of the relationships you have with others. We decided to host this visit in one of our mental health units. I am not based there so was reliant on local staff to help me with room bookings, and with shifting groups and meetings to alternative rooms. Everyone without question was very accommodating and helpful. I tracked down who could reserve a parking space for the Minister’s car, who could break it to the catering manager that we needed to order refreshments without the usual 24 hour minimum warning, found out what the tech was like in the venue and had a think about each stage of the visit and who needed to be positioned where. Our client’s CEO was on annual leave so the Chair made herself available. We were there. We had done it. And then … the visit was cancelled!
This is not an unusual scenario. Secretaries of State are very busy with competing priorities, in an ever changing political landscape. The word was that they still wanted us to host the launch and were looking at his diary. We stood down and notified people and un-did the arrangements we had put in place, thanking everyone for the speed of their response.
Wednesday came and went. The idea of holding the launch on Monday (3rd June) was mooted but not confirmed. I had Thursday off as my partner and I had tickets for the cricket at the Oval. But I couldn’t help sneaking a look at my work phone in case we got the green light for Monday. It was looking unlikely as the US President was visiting then and it was thought that the launch might not get the level of media attention sought.
Then on Friday, we got a tentative green light for a Monday launch. I emailed everyone – again! Informing them of the new date and timings. The room was fortunately available and I bugged the parking manager, the catering manager, security, two reception teams and briefed the communications team about key roles. I did a recce with the co-ordinator from the Ministerial Visits office and their media lead. They couldn’t actually see the room as it was the end of Ramadan and was in use for Friday prayers. But they saw how it would all work and we walked the walk.
My plan to go in on Sunday afternoon to set up the room was scrapped as the room is used for weekend activities for inpatients in the unit. So we (comms team) opted for an early 7am start on Monday to layout the room, set up a registration desk with name badges, get the technology cranked up, direct people as they arrived and the myriad of other tasks needed.
Once again, the value of having good relationships came to the fore especially when you are not in your usual place of work. We needed a cable to link a laptop to the projector. The Lead Nurse came by and produced one out of nowhere (we would have been scuppered without it.)
During the event, someone needed to print an email, a hole-puncher was asked for, post-its, wifi code, scissors. Between us all, we accommodated all requests. The event went off brilliantly. Over 60 staff attended. The Minister enjoyed contact with them and they enjoyed bending his ear and telling him how it is, and their ideas.
Later that day, my thank you list was extensive. People were very complimentary to me about how well the event went, (including the Minister’s office and HEE) but there were at least 20 people who made it a success.
Recipe for success
So my recipe for success in event management is to make friends everywhere you go: caretakers, cleaners, tech people, security, reception and local colleagues – these are your best friends at high profile events. And be as helpful as you can be when others need your support because it’s relationships that save the day when you’re under pressure.
And the gorilla slippers? That’s what I was wearing the previous Monday at a different event, herding (I mean encouraging) colleagues, service users and visitors to our client’s Mile in My Shoes exhibition on the same site. Which illustrates beautifully why I love my job: no two Monday’s are the same and you get to use different skills for different situations. Now … what’s happening next Monday?