9 January 2019

STRESS AND LONG HOURS – are often considered to be an inherent part of working with or in live events. Like any work, live events and exhibitions have their stresses and issues, but any insanely long hours and incredible stresses, in my view, have little to do with the live events themselves and are, for the most part, unnecessary. They have a great deal more to do with experience, structural issues and, understandably – emotions.

Tricky to cover in depth with a single video, but as part of a broader aim to help brands, governments, agencies, and whoever else – create, procure and produce live events with greater value and impact, this 6 minute video offers some perspective on the stress and long hours often associated with events and exhibitions and how to mitigate them. Being the most fundamental issues affecting everyone involved, I’ll be exploring them in more detail in due course…


Hi, I’m Will Glendinning, I’m a live event producer, designer and director.

When people find out that I work with live events, most of them ask me or they tell me rather, that it involves massive stress and long hours. It seems to be a widely held belief. There was even a survey last year suggesting one role in the event sector was the fifth most stressful job in the world.

Yes, there are stresses, all jobs have them, but are things really that bad? And if they are, why tolerate them? Now I will freely admit I’ve done my fair share of long hours, overnighters, and endured all sorts of stresses, but that doesn’t make it right or necessary.

Whenever I see clients, event teams, organising committees, agencies, or individuals struggling with live events, it can in almost every situation be traced back to one of four issues, none of which are really about the live events themselves though.

These four things are inexperience, the wrong structure or poor support, enthusiasm or fear which are more similar than they sound, and attitude.

Let’s look at each. Firstly, inexperience. Unlike certain sectors, construction, law, and medicine, to name just three, there are no qualifications required for being able to say you’re almost anything or able to do almost anything at all at any level when it comes to procuring, producing, or managing live events and exhibitions. As a result there is an enormous amount of inexperience in play.

It’s a double-edged sword. Without experience, how do people learn? The answer of course is having the right support structure, but often this doesn’t exist, and people with either very little or just a few years’ experience can be left exposed, procuring, producing, or managing live events unsupported. The same is true of the wrong experience. So often people try to apply project management, procurement practices, or processes that work well in other sectors to live events.

Like putting a square peg in a round hole though, it rarely works very well. The result of this inexperience or the wrong experience is typically poor decisions and a lack of foresight or perspective resulting in unnecessary and avoidable stress for themselves and those around them. If you’re going to use or hire those lacking enough or the right experience, make sure you’re willing to accept the consequences, stress and potentially long hours, or more usefully have, get, or put in place the right support above and around them.

Secondly, the wrong structure or poor support. A little like the previous point, again so many companies, organisations, committees and agencies develop their own structures and approaches which always seem to be slightly different. Live events are at their core straightforward, yet they are often made super complicated and lack the right support structures.

And again there is nothing stopping anyone starting an agency, an event business, or building an in-house event team, regardless of whether they have any or enough or the right experience. More often than not event structures are often designed with either a business’s aims or a client’s expectations in mind rather than what is best for a specific event. This is an issue I see time and time again.

If a team is structured to deal with the business or client’s requirements first, that team is inherently going to be compromised when it comes to dealing with the live event’s requirements, which are different, leading to, yes, more stress. This can easily be rectified though.

Get the right team and talent with the right experience in place, get the right support structure in place, so that everyone, yes, everyone has someone to fall back upon. The event comes first. Make sure that a team’s structure is designed to support the needs of the event first and everything else second. Now this is a big topic far beyond the scope of this video, but it’s something that I’ll be exploring and discussing in more detail in due course.

Thirdly, enthusiasm and fear. These are the hardest issues to mitigate. They sound different but are kind of the same. Live events are inherently exciting and high profile in some way, shape, or form. Because they are exciting and with so much invested emotionally, it can be difficult, heart-wrenching sometimes, to leave them be for any period of time. Similarly, because all live events are high profile at some level, people involved can be nervous or fearful about leaving them be for any period of time.

It is perfectly possible to shift work and staffing requirements such that no one works excessively long hours, however many people choose not to due to enthusiasm or fear that something might go wrong or not quite perfectly without them.

This is human nature. It’s avoidable but most people choose not to avoid it. You can call it enthusiasm, passion, responsibility, stupidity, whatever adjective you want to use, but this is the reason I work long hours when I choose to do so. It’s the only time crazy hours should really be considered. It is avoidable though. Not avoiding it is a choice. There is an argument I hear often that there isn’t always the money to staff projects properly or clients won’t pay for this, that, or the other. This is another big topic, but there is almost always a way, especially when you look at what is being spent unnecessarily elsewhere.

Finally, number four, attitude. Live events with their constantly changing requirements, uncertainty, immovable deadline, and being very public, can make even the most mundane tasks feel like hard work, and the pressures in turn this can put on people, particularly those with less experience, can be immense. The last thing anyone needs is bad attitude.

If you deal with other people in any way, shape, or form, bear this in mind, regardless of what you’re going through yourself, have some empathy, consider what others could be going through.

It’s at this point I’ll typically be told that certain talent, key clients, stakeholders, the public even, or important people, are who they are and come with a certain attitude. This is true and you’re not going to change them. You have a choice though. You can choose not to work with them or you can learn how to not let what others do or say affect you in any meaningful way.

These are the four most typical causes of the long hours and stress often cited as being part of working with live events. Like any work, working with live events can be stressful and can be extremely hard work especially when there’s so many moving parts.

However are the exceptional stresses and long hours so widely reported a mandatory part of working with live events? Well, if you let them, yes, but if you learn, if you develop, and if you try to do something about them, for the most part they’re avoidable.

The choice is yours.

Thoughts and questions welcome, and I’ll speak to you again soon.