Nickie West, event director at the FIT Show, examines the skill set required for ops and calls for a universal training manual.
Before putting pen to paper after being asked to contribute to this column, I thought I’d ask for some guidance. I was offered the following: ‘Think of a life event that has helped you in your ops role, or depict a day in the life of an ops manager.’
After several days of pondering, and with scarily nothing on the page, I came to two conclusions: one, no individual event that has aided me in my role is remotely interesting or exciting, and two, no two days are ever the same.
Getting dangerously close to deadline, I took a walk back through the last few days and decided that, as it consisted of a very long lunch with a contractor, the NEC party and festive shopping for the team, I owed it to myself to reconsider the approach. It was Christmas after all, and the bosses are highly likely to be EN readers.
I decided to bring my twin girls into the discussion, as they have arguably given me the most translatable skills for the world of ops, and offer the most similarities. I’m not just talking about dealing with toddler tantrums, although scarily enough I’ve seen some similar outbursts in my working life.
Juggling ever-changing environments, learning on the job, adapting to different scenarios, crisis management (it seemed like it at the time), budgeting, entertaining, communicating, making decisions on the hop, cajoling, persuading, teaching, encouraging, negotiating, engaging, organising, guiding, instructing, managing, rewarding, and multi-tasking are just some of the skills required both by parents and by those working in ops.
It’s quite rare to really drill down and analyse your own role and the skill sets required, in ops anyway, because you’re usually too busy just ‘doing it’. But when you do consider the huge range of tasks that form the role, you appreciate the depth and breadth of competences that are needed to successfully and safely deliver exhibitions and events. This makes it incredibly difficult to recruit and train for the role, as it does require a countless range of abilities.
Negotiating contractor terms, briefing feature designs, creating and managing budgets, scheduling, liaising and working with exhibitors and contractors to ensure their ROI – this small snapshot alone allows you to easily realise the required skill set needed to build a show. It goes way beyond being organised.
The pre-show and on-site service an ops manager delivers can literally make the difference between a good and bad show for contractors, exhibitors and visitors. In addition, the role, performed well, is vital to the financial success of an exhibition, so no pressure!
Luckily, the UK exhibition market is full of some absolutely fantastic ops people, both in-house and freelancers. For the future, it would be really amazing if we could ensure that their combined abilities and experiences could be captured somewhere to create one big training manual for people coming into the world of exhibition ops – it would be like everyone singing from the same hymn sheet.
This ops column will eventually make a great collection. Given that, and as I believe the best learning is achieved from the mistakes of other people, I reckon we should all offer to write about our biggest mistakes, the worst situations we have faced, the dramas and how we managed them. However, I’m not throwing my hat in the ring to go first, unless of course my name can be listed as anonymous.