Event stress and how to proof yourself against it

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Posted by , 7th May 2019

Trade show marketing disaster averted: Even show organisers can screw-up promotional plans as explained in this post from Exhibitors Only

Stress. It’s been around for a long time and it’s seriously damaging.

By damaging I mean it can kill you.

My brother came close to finding this out for himself very recently.

A heart attack felled him. Nearly forever.

His high level of physical fitness and keeping calm in the crisis he was presented with saved him from an early death.

He works for himself and a client had stiffed him for a large amount of money.

Worrying about how he would pay people he owed money to stopped him from sleeping for weeks.

The stress coupled with the lack of sleep became so great it triggered his heart attack.

See this article for more on the links between stress, lack of sleep and heart problems.

My brother was lucky to survive.

What has any of this got to do with you and the merry old world of events?

Events: A stressful place to work

A survey conducted by Forbes Magazine in 2017 listed the role of Events Coordinator as the 5th most stressful job that a person could do.

The only roles that ranked higher for stress were, in ascending order;

  • Police Officer
  • Airline Pilot
  • Firefighter
  • Soldier

Yes, if you work in events your stress levels are not too far behind those felt by frontline soldiers and that’s important to know.

I have worked in events for many, many years so I have experienced event-related stress first hand.

I’ve felt it many times and I’ve also seen its destructive effect on others.

Meltdowns, tears, shouting, threats of legal action, labour strikes… these have all been manifestations of event stress I’ve experienced.

There have been many others.

If stress doesn’t kill you it can certainly harm you but the good news is that you can protect yourself against this evil.

The method is not hard to learn or to put into practice. It just takes a little bit of discipline on your part. It’s called…

Future-Stress Prevention

Most of the problems that bring on those incidents of event-related stress I’ve highlighted can be prevented or removed by planning ahead.

It’s that simple.

When you devote time to event planning you can see cause and effect.

“If we do this, (whatever this is), then this is likely to happen…”

As a simple example, hotel rooms.

Leave booking of hotel rooms to the last minute and you may have to settle for a hotel far away from the venue and pay top price for the privilege.

More travelling time to and from the show and higher transportation costs for your team are likely to result.

A bigger and more stressful problem for corporate exhibitors comes from designing their graphics late.

Why? Approvals and sign-offs are needed from headquarters. This slows things down.

If the satellite office hasn’t picked up changes to brand guidelines it’s then likely that print and install deadlines will be missed.

Mega stress results for the stand manager.


I’ve seen exhibitors arrive on site expecting a stand to be there ready to move into but no-one had checked that the stand had been ordered. Major panic ensued.

As a very young exhibition organiser, I had to comfort an experienced designer crying on the show floor.

His design for a double-deck stand which had looked so good as a model, looked terrible when built.

Neighbouring exhibitors complained about the “eyesore” beside them.

Worse still, a high ranking government minister was due to visit the stand on the opening morning of the show.

The materials used to build the stand were all reclaimed. It was very avant-garde thinking for its time and I’m sure the model did look great.

But because the concept was so out there, a mock-up using real materials should have been built well in advance of the show.

The flaws would have been seen and a new or remedial design implemented.

Instead, our stand contractors rallied around on-site and helped as best they could to make things look more presentable.

Hindsight always gives us perfect vision. That’s not the point I’m making here.

Safeguarding your health: Protect yourself against future stress possibilities

We are not perfect creatures. Mistakes can be made but it’s the scale of the mistake that’s important.

Stress arises because we don’t feel in control.

When we can’t see an answer to a problem that we are suddenly presented with.

Often in response to this feeling, we project into our minds bad-outcome scenarios.

“Oh my god, now I’m really in trouble…”

This mental imagery and negative mind talk only increases the stress we are already feeling.

Your protection strategy

Future Stress is what we store up for ourselves by not preparing well ahead of an event opening.

When an event is months away it’s tempting to keep postponing preparation work but I urge you not to do that.

Instead, put a schedule together of the main tasks that need to be completed. Order those tasks by order of priority.

Book time into your calendar for each task. Stick to your schedule.

When working on one task think about whether it impacts on another.

Stand structures and graphics link together when planning your stand design as in how will they work together?

Will your stand builder be supplying graphics as part of their contract or will you need a specialist supplier?

Using digital screens?

Digital screens need power. What power supply will you need to order for your stand? Where will you need the power outlets to be?

Who is shipping your exhibits? Where do they need to be collected from and by when? Are they even in the country?

Explore the links.

Just don’t think “Good, I’ve ordered the graphics” if you haven’t double-checked that they will fit within the space allocated for them on your stand.

Check also that your suppliers are talking to each other and sharing information where this is needed.

For instance the digital screen supplier and your stand builder.

Has each one spoken to the other to agree how the screens will be fixed and when? Keep projecting forward to forestall problems on-site.

Better to find out now when you have the time to put things right.

With friends like these…

Ask any newly promoted manager about the thing that has most surprised (or shocked) them about their new role and they will usually tell you it’s managing the people who work in their team.

Whether a team consists of three people or three hundred there are usually tensions or people issues that have to be faced as part of the managerial role.

When it comes to managing a trade show stand, you need to have the best possible team working with you at the event.

Best possible means most cohesive and supportive.

You are relying on your stand team to play their part in delivering a successful outcome.

They will be your brand ambassadors, your sales team and if you pick the right individuals, your willing helpers when you need them to go over and above the call of duty.

When individuals don’t play their part or don’t show up as planned guess what… stress is likely to arise.

So just as I advocate planning and organising the physical aspects of an event well in advance, act in the same way about getting your team together.

Think about the people you want to be in your team and why that is.

What are the skills that each possess? If you don’t know everyone personally then think about the roles that need to be fulfilled and the ideal qualities for each.

Let people know well in advance about their attendance at the event.

Give them early notice about dates, times and travel arrangements.

If you think product training will be required, then get it organised.

Likewise, organise briefings about objectives for the event and who will be doing what on the stand.

Going through this process will highlight whether you need to employ external event staff or not.

If you do, booking early will help you secure higher calibre help. Get them for your stand before someone else gets them on theirs.

With friends like these…Part 2

One of the biggest removers of event stress comes from working with excellent suppliers.

These are people and companies highly experienced in event-related projects.

A poor supplier who lets you down will cause huge problems and a lot of stress. Believe me, I know what that feels like.

I have a mental list of companies that I will never work with again because they let me down when it counted.

They promised but didn’t deliver. Or, they delivered so poorly they caused major problems for me or my team.

On the other hand, I have a much, much longer list of tried and tested suppliers that I will go to when needed and will recommend to others.

These are businesses and individuals who first and foremost can be relied on to deliver what is required.

So, when it comes to sourcing your suppliers, do some background homework.

Don’t select a company just on price unless you are buying a common component. Ask to see examples of their work and request testimonials if you are commissioning something big and important like your stand.

Most important of all; ask for their installation or set-up plan.

When will the job be done? Ask for timings. Who will your on-site contact be? Do they have the contact details of allied suppliers?

Working this way enables you to see where potential problems might arise.

Become a details person, you’ll sleep more soundly as you get closer to an event.

Events: A great place to work?

Despite everything I’ve highlighted in this article, events are a great place to work. They are exciting and they will stretch you mentally and often, physically too.

I started working in events thinking it was a short-term career pivot but that pivot has lasted more than thirty-five years.

And yes, events, whether it be organising, building or exhibiting, can be stressful but the scale of the stress can be managed to a great degree if you proof yourself against Future-Stress.

I hope that you do. Your health may depend on it.

PS. An excellent place to find great suppliers is the ESSA website @ www.essa.uk.com

You’ll find a listing of 300 suppliers who include stand designers and builders, staff agencies, digital screen specialists, furniture suppliers and more.

Posted in B2B Marketing  /  Trade show advice  /  Trade show marketing

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