With the next generation of events professionals adjusting to the ‘new normal’, introducing new talent to the industry and how live event students are completing their studies without live events has become a topic of paramount importance among university course leaders and prospective students. For the past 16 years, Lecturer, Liam Devine has taught a 10-week evening course in Major Event Management at City, University of London and, despite the plight of events calendars given the current pandemic landscape, six students joined forces to organise a real – albeit virtual – event to mark the end of the course.

“We discussed how we would do it and when term finished, six students decided to take it upon themselves to produce it for real,” Devine told TPi. “They’ve worked pretty much flat out on it in their spare time ever since.”

The end result was a discussion between leading event professionals from a range of fields about how COVID-19 has affected their events to date, what comes next as the country cranks back into action again over the next few months, and what they think the long-term effects will be on the industry.

Held on Zoom, the meeting was livestreamed to the Uni’s Short Courses Facebook page. The speakers comprised an “eclectic bunch”, in Devine’s words, of familiar industry insiders including: Music Venues Trust’s Niall Forde; National Museum of Wales Event Manager, Mared Maggs; Tour Music Live MD, Trevor Williams; Ginger Owl Productions’ Helena King; Tickets.com Australia’s Brendan Carroll; COP26’s Mark Malone and Nikoo Sadr of Rum Shack, part of Glastonbury’s online events.

“When COVID-19 hit, it was hard to adjust to the change from in-person contact, to building working relationships online, however, the weekly online lectures ended up being a great, productive escape,” said student, Cristina Barone.

During the webinar, Barone assessed the comments that were sent in by the viewers and communicated them to the panel ahead of the Q&A section, near the end of the event. “Professionals in the industry are very happy to give their time to helping others who may be at the beginning of their career, or not as far along in their career as they are,” Barone reported.

“We had such a great panel of professionals who are at the top of their game, and it was a real privilege to have them take part on a panel that was arranged by a group of short course students.”

Fellow student, Priyanka Gundecha, was tasked with the role of booker for the webinar, which involved sending out invitations and liaising with the guest speakers during the planning process. “We were very fortunate to have a panel of highly experienced event professionals and it was incredibly beneficial for us to hear their thoughts and how their sector of the industry is currently coping,” Gundecha said. “A key takeaway from the webinar was the panellists’ reassurance that the industry will overcome hardships and that events will be back.”

Despite the uncertainty surrounding events in a post COVID-19 world, Gundecha believed that gaining as much experience as possible is vital to not only expand and develop transferrable skills but to also set yourself apart from other prospective job applicants in the future. “Whether it is completing courses or volunteering at events, I believe that every experience is valuable and can make a difference,” she said. “As you gain more experience, you also continue to network and build relationships with other industry professionals. It can be very disheartening when dealing with job rejections, but I would advise to keep persevering and sending out applications, as someone will eventually say ‘yes’.”

Equally, Barone believes the biggest barrier to breaking into the fiercely competitive events sector is experience, as with most creative industries. “A lot of companies want to hire people with experience, but how can you get experience when people won’t give you the opportunity to gain it?” she hypothesised. “More companies should be giving a living wage and paid opportunities for people to start their career and gain experience.”

Despite the lockdown of live events, learning resources are at a premium. Gundecha has spent lockdown completing online courses in order to develop her skillset and knowledge. “I am constantly inspired by my colleagues, mentors and friends in the industry, who motivate me to keep learning and improving. I am continuing to complete online courses and am exploring new job opportunities now. In five years’ time, I hope to still be working in film and entertainment PR, and contributing to the delivery of creative, memorable and effective publicity campaigns.”

Asked where she saw herself five years from now, Barone said: “I would love to be working in events still, and my dream would be to work on music festivals or tours.” At the time of writing, the webinar has over 3,500 views and is still available to watch on the City, University of London, Short Courses Facebook page.

“The event was a big success,” Devine enthused. “Event Management students across the UK, including students from Plymouth University and Leeds Beckett University, tuned in to ask questions.”

The Major Event Management course starts again on 29 September and is now open for bookings. “Completing this course at City Uni was a great experience, during which I enhanced my knowledge about the key elements within the planning and implementation process of major events, such as budgeting, risk management and sales,” Gundecha concluded. The webinar is available to view on the Facebook link below.