I’ve worked in live events, sports and entertainment my entire career. My family would argue that career began in the 7th grade when I planned the middle school talent show, but nevertheless– the long days, early mornings, late nights, tight deadlines and constant pressure has become so much a part of the fabric of my professional and personal life, that I’m not sure I’d know how to fully function without it. To say that as event professionals we’re used to operating under immense stress would be a grossly casual understatement.
When you choose to work in a live event environment, particularly outdoor events in temporary venues, you choose a life full of uncertainty. Hurricanes, mudslides, lightning storms, blizzards, wildfires, drunk drivers, mafiosos, threats of terrorism– I thought I’d seen it all. But COVID-19 presented a whole new set of challenges– not in the speed of its onset, as we’re used to adapting and overcoming immediate changes in circumstances, but in the longevity of the uncertainty that trails ahead of us for months and maybe years to come.
Regardless of what industry you’re in– your current state is likely in flux. How do you make effective business decisions when the assumptions change daily? How do you lead a team to be productive and protected? This isn’t just applicable to the business world either– I’m taking the same approach with my three year old.
A few key learnings from my 15+ years managing chaos:
As a leader– your actions, body language, mood and approach, both overt and subconscious are going to immediately influence how your team and your customers react to the situation. It sounds cliche, but put there’s a reason they tell you to put the airplane oxygen mask on yourself first. You will be incapable of helping others and leading effectively if you’re unable to process your own stress and anxiety. Good sleep, regular exercise, healthy eating and dedicated time to de-stimulate will put you in the right headspace to make rational, non-emotive decisions and project calm to the team.
There’s two constants when you work in events: constant change and bad weather. An old mentor shared a motto when I was first started out: Semper Gumby. Your best laid plans are going to change numerous times before you get to the finish line– and sticking to your initial plan too rigidly is a sure way to get left behind or become obsolete. Know your values and the framework for how you make critical decisions, and evaluate the latest assumptions and criteria to make the best decision you can. And be humble enough to admit when you were wrong, pivot and continue to adapt as the circumstances change around you. Lift your head up and look a little further down the road to make sure you can see the next set of bumps coming.
Normalizing stress is important, and vulnerability and humility from the top are a good first step in accomplishing that. This is the time to lean back on your company’s or team’s values– which likely have something in there about “team first” or “focus on people.” Don’t just pay lip service to it– take radical steps to embody it. In times of great stress and anxiety, I like to make sure I’m checking in on the full team– encouraging them to be compassionate with each other, reminding them of our priorities, allowing them the space to react and asking them what they need to be successful. And most importantly– we take dedicated time every week to celebrate the wins.
COVID-19 will re-write the way we all work, do business, attend events and interact with nearly every facet of society. Those who tell you now what the future will be likely don’t have any greater intelligence or insight than you do, and panic-chasing what “could be” is not an effective long term strategy. Take care of yourself, take care of your team, and be nimble to adapt to the circumstances as they evolve.