How to Cope with Stress – A Guide for Event Professionals
It is hard to talk about stress and how much it might be affecting us. As an event planner or manager, your job is a stressful one – it’s a given. However, being aware of this does not make it any easier to be open with others about how tough you might find it.
Many people thrive off the pressure involved in events management and it can be what makes us good at our job. Other times though, it becomes too much and we find it hard to cope – this is when pressure turns into stress.
Event Professionals & Stress
In the third Event Magazine survey released in January 2015, it was found that: “83 per cent of event workers said they believe stress to be a significant problem within the event management sector”.
We have researched the subject widely and pulled together the following advice on how to recognise the signs of stress and what to then do to manage and lower it.
Recognising the Symptoms of Stress
The first step in managing stress is being able to recognise its symptoms. Stress can manifest in a range of different symptoms – many of which are a result of our body entering a ‘fight or flight’ mode after experiencing pressure and associated anxiety. This leads to the brain sending out powerful signals as if we were in danger. Some of the most common symptoms of stress are feelings of anxiety, irritability and problems sleeping. As well as stress contributing to difficulty sleeping and even insomnia, without sufficient sleep, you never get a chance to reenergise and recuperate.
The Health and Safety Executive provide the following breakdown of stress symptoms split by emotional, mental and behavioural changes:
- Negative or depressive feeling
- Disappointment with yourself
- Increased emotional reactions – more tearful or sensitive or aggressive
- Loneliness, withdrawn
- Loss of motivation commitment and confidence
- Mood swings (not behavioural)
- Confusion, indecision
- Can’t concentrate
- Poor memory
Changes from your normal behaviour
- Changes in eating habits
- Increased smoking, drinking or drug taking ‘to cope’
- Mood swings affecting your behaviour
- Changes in sleep patterns
- Twitchy, nervous behaviour
- Changes in attendance such as arriving later or taking more time off.
Identifying the Causes of Stress
As an event professional there are a number of potential causes for stress. Like we have previously mentioned, one person’s source of healthy pressure can be another’s source of stress depending on the circumstances. The following are some of the more common causes of stress for event professionals:
Short Lead Times
The simple truth is that event professionals often don’t have sufficient time to plan and manage their event. There is a fine line between a healthy amount of deadline pressure to simply not having enough time – it is the latter that can be detrimental to your health. Within the event industry, lead times are getting increasingly shorter. Short lead times means you have less time to complete all the tasks you need to and find yourself working towards ever tighter deadlines.
In these situations, you need to be honest with yourself and your client about what you can deliver within the time frame. It is often the other people you have to organise like speakers and performers that may not be able to operate to a such short lead times. If something isn’t possible within the timeframe, then be upfront with the client – this can provoke a conversation about ensuring you have the resource and additional support required to meet the deadline.
With short lead times, you also have more pressure in regards to event attendance. Many people may already be busy on the date of your event and it is hard to build the required buzz to secure audiences in a short space of time.
When you are working to a short lead time, the tendency is to work long hours, including weekends and skip lunch breaks. In the long run this can lead to more stress and an inability to function. Many event professionals highlight how difficult it is to work long hours with insufficient breaks.
In the current economic climate, budgets for events have been squeezed. Despite less available funds, you are still expected to deliver show-stopping events. This can be a source of stress for many of us – both in terms of the extra pressure but also not fulfilling our own potential as event organisers.
So what can you do? Well, your priority is to stay on budget. Therefore the first thing to do is try and convince the client to increase their budget. Be honest with them and make it clear what the benefits would be if they could allocate more funds. If the budget isn’t increased, then you should re-evaluate your outgoings. Are they all essential and at the lowest possible price? You should now know your situation and should turn your attention to making full use of your contacts and thinking creatively about how to enhance the event without increasing spend – not an easy task!
At some point in your career, you will encounter a difficult or overly-demanding client. They will put pressure on you and make your job harder by changing and increasing their demands, being rude and generally obstructive. The effective management of clients, in particular difficult clients, is key to minimising stress. With all clients, including the difficult ones, you should clearly and methodically set expectations, detail all of the requirements in organising the event and agree on deadlines. If problems occur, you need to identify the exact nature of the problem and attempt to resolve it to their satisfaction. Put yourself in their shoes and work out exactly how an issue impacts them and what they need to be satisfied. Once you are aware of this, you can look at managing them more effectively.
Sometimes, you may find that there is an unavoidable clash of personalities. If this is the case and you can’t find a solution then look at getting a colleague to liaise with them instead.
Becki Cross in her excellent blog on How to Handle Pressure as an Event Professional offers the following practical advice on managing difficult clients : “To cover yourself ensure you put everything in writing, be it progress updates, approaching deadlines, any differences in opinion and the outcome taken.” And goes on to recommend ensuring, “there is a clause in your contract terms and conditions about non delivery of information as this can have a crippling effect on any event.”
When you are reliant on ticket sales for your event to break-even, and they just simply aren’t coming in then it can contribute to stress. You may be considering cancelling your event and thinking of all of the ramifications. Many sales come in the last two weeks before the event but this can still be a scary time.
We wrote a guide offering advice on how to increase event attendance.
Managing a Team
Being in charge of a team and organising them to perform various roles can be difficult. For some events, this can be a very large team of your own staff, volunteers, caterers, AV technicians and other suppliers. The best way to combat this is to define everyone’s roles so that everyone is very clear as to what they are doing and who they need to report into.
Read our Guide to Managing Event Volunteers.
When things Go Wrong
The nature of the events industry means that no matter how well you plan, how good you are at your job, things do go wrong. This can cause huge amounts of stress – a keynote speaker fails to turn up, your entertainment doesn’t show, the Wi-Fi is down, or the AV is plagued by technical errors. Try to keep calm and appraise if there is a solution, if not, then carry on.
It is pretty much a given that as an event professional you are good at time management. It’s one of the many assets that make us good at our jobs. A key part of effective time management requires us to prioritise our tasks and focus on those that will have the most impact. However, one of the main issues with stress is that it interferes with our ability to sort and prioritise these demands.
Prioritise important tasks
If you can identify the main goals of your event and the tasks that are key to its overall success, you can focus on achieving these first. This becomes even more important when you are working on one event but have several more in the pipeline at different stages of planning and development.
Keeping track of the prioritised tasks as well as your goals for that day, week and month can really help. The best way to do this is by making a list – you can also add timings to get a better idea of how much time you have. This type of organisation can be an effective way of tackling stress and regaining control.
You can make endless to-do lists, but they only become good at minimising stress when they are based on your priorities. You have to ask yourself ‘What do I actually have to do?’ – this should help you appraise which order you should tackle your tasks.
One way of organising tasks is by using the Eisenhower Matrix, which requires you to place each task in one of the following four categories:
- urgent and important
- not urgent but important
- urgent but not important
- neither urgent nor important
This allows you to focus on non-urgent but important activities. With more effective time management, you should be able to reduce the total number of urgent and important tasks.
When you are time-stretched, one of the first things to suffer is your work-life balance. With deadlines looming, you can find yourself working long days as well as weekends to get things done. This means that you don’t see your family and friends and when you do you may find that stress is having an impact on these relationships. It is hard to find a balance between your work and private life but it is essential.
Whenever possible, and we really mean this, finish on time. As well as this take regular breaks with at least a half hour lunch break where you don’t work. Get away from your desk, get some fresh air and try and not think directly about work.
Being able to relax and remove yourself from a potentially stressful situation is a great way of minimising your risk of stress. There are many forms that relaxation can take – from simple breathing exercises that you can employ as and when required to activities such as meditation or Tai Chi. The NHS takes you through some basic relaxation techniques here.
There is scientific research that strongly suggests that exercise improves self-esteem, sleep quality and energy levels, as well as reducing your risk of stress. Taking time away from work to focus on something completely different has huge benefits in itself – exercise is even better. Exercise can take many forms – it could be a morning run, a lunchtime gym session, a brisk walk around the park, a post-work game of badminton or an evening yoga session.
Help can come in many shapes and sizes but it is important to call upon it when you need it. When it comes to your own workload, delegate and allow some of your tasks to be absorbed by someone with more capacity. It’s also important to turn to your support network and speak to them about what is going on.
It is also vitally important to speak to your employer. They are often more understanding of the pressures that you are under than you might think. If you can come prepared with some potential solutions to the situation – this helps prevent you coming across as defeatist.
If you find that you are unable to reduce the effects of stress then you should consider going to your doctor. You may be concerned about medication being the only option but in reality there are other services and techniques that GPs can recommend like talk therapy. CBT (Cognitive Behaviour Therapy), mindfulness therapy or counselling.
Understanding Your Needs – 20 Bedford Way
Here at 20 Bedford Way, we understand the many demands on event professionals. We are always open to chatting about our facilities and your budget and how we can work together. You will only deal with one direct contact who understands your needs and will provide the support as and when you need it. As well as this, we are more affordable than many venues in Central London, and offer state-of-the-art AV along with experienced technicians at no extra charge. Give us a call on 020 7612 6143 or fill out an enquiry form.
Stress Tips App for both android and iPhone – for people experiencing anxiety from Anxiety UK
Header image via Miami University Libraries – Digital Collection on Flickr