While we might think that we choose a life or career path, life has a habit of changing our plans and we might suddenly find that an opportunity has chosen us. Eventing market leader, Karen Ashwin, is the first to admit that she got into eventing 11 years ago 'almost by default'. Fortunately for her, she thrived in the dynamic, creative and pressurised environment of live eventing, going on to establish one of South Africa's first and to date, most successful eventing companies.
Karen Ashwin of The Event Co
But she is the first to warn eager hopefuls that all is not as it seems and that if you are considering a career in this field, then there are a few things to consider in terms of your suitability, aptitudes and abilities.
"When it comes to temperament," I would say that all the successful project managers I have ever worked with are adrenalin junkies," she says. "Not only do they enjoy working under constant pressure - they thrive on it and are almost at a loss when the heat is off." She defines pressure not only in terms of meeting deadlines and excellent time management, but negotiating with suppliers, meeting budgets, keeping clients happy every step of the way and most of all, dealing with eventualities as they crop up calmly, methodically and effectively.
So do not go into eventing if you thrive in a formal structured environment where things go according to plan most of the time or you can switch off your phone when the going gets rough. While planning is integral to your success, so is thinking on your feet, along with pre-empting and anticipating snags.
Excellent people skills, multitasking and maintaining an upbeat composure is another. While you might be having an exasperating time dealing with logistical issues, your responsibility to your client is paramount and for the duration of their project you are at their disposal to listen, take direction and respond to their demands. "The only time that you do not give in to your client is on an issue like safety or security, where other people are at risk," cautions Ashwin.
Do not go into event management if you get ahead by delegating," advises Ashwin. While organisation, delegation and management of other people play an important role, the event co-ordinator or project manager is ultimately responsible for a particular event or function. In other words, the buck stops with you - if something is wrong, you are the client's first and only port of call. "No excuses, no one to blame - you are responsible and you make it happen."
Ever wondered why event managers tend to wear dark suits? Well there is a perfectly rational explanation. While your corporate client might expect you to chat politely with captains of industry while you keep an eye on proceedings at the registration table, you invariably find yourself getting down to basics when the pressure is on. "Very early on in my career my company had organised a huge corporate year-end bash in an aircraft hangar in Cape Town," says Ashwin. "I had made an effort to look really good, sporting very high heels and an elegant outfit. Next thing I knew, I was sorting out a crisis in a portable toilet, complete with wielding some unmentionable plumbing devices to un-block a drain - well that was the last time I ever wore a skimpy cocktail dress to one of my functions."
The show goes on and as a project manager, so do you. For you, the project is only over when it is well and truly over - everyone has packed up, gone home and the bills have been paid. If you are traumatised by the thought of not being able to lead a perfectly predictable life or winning the best-dressed award at the function you have organised - then this job is not for you!