Diary 2014/07/27 Lessons in Event Planning

Yesterday my company pulled off a very successful event for investment and entrepreneur immigration to the UK, the last stop on a 7 city tour of China by a Chinese immigration lawyer based in London, a financial adviser group, an incubator park and a UK education/study abroad services company. We had been preparing for this event for the better part of 2 months, with each team member having their tasks and role to play. I was tasked with organising the UK-team’s day-to-day, from airport pick-up to meals. But as I was to find out yesterday, I’m still a rookie.

The event itself was very stressful for me. My involvement in the organisation of it was quite indirect, and as such I felt a bit superfluous. All I could do was fret about how the venue was too small, how the swapping of the PPTs looked unprofessional on the screen, and how we didn’t have enough promo material to give a full package to every guest. I am definitely going to try and wheedle my way into this sort of thing for the next event we do, because I know I’m OCD enough to make sure the numbers are right, from chairs to brochures. Lesson 1.

Then, I even felt superfluous with regards to my own tasks. I had spent a good two weeks booking restaurants based on the information I was given on headcount and location, but at the last minute, the director of my company–who has WAY more connections than me and knows the city better than I do–had me cancel my reservations, booking us into monumentally better places for dinner. This made me feel utterly useless, but I was ultimately very happy with the way everything turned out, since the places he chose were a) perfect wrt size and decor b) delicious and c) places where he has membership cards etc. so was willing to pay for. The places I booked were smaller and inexpensive, so I suppose that’s just the way of it, something to do with “face”: I don’t want to affront the boss by picking something too ostentatious from the get-go, and he has the right to upgrade. Lesson 2.

The last major lesson goes beyond just event planning and ventures into the realm of health. For the longest time, my family and friends have a running joke about how I get “hangry” (angry when hungry=hangry, or as my brother recently minted: “freckish” for frustrated and peckish). But at the event yesterday I let it get REALLY bad, and realised that it’s not just a joke, it’s hypoglycemia from not eating. I haven’t consulted with a doctor, but I promise from now on to be more aware of it. I’m going to stock my bag with emergency sugar for times when I know I’m going to be out for a long while. I usually don’t have any problem because I love eating and probably eat more frequently than I should. Events like yesterday are more rare, which is why I need to prepare for them. Another situation where it can almost become life-threatening is when I’m underground, on a caving expedition. I have to learn that when it comes to packing food, it’s not just about the amount I can physically eat, it’s about the frequency of when I eat. More than 5 hours between intake and I can get dangerous. Yesterday was incredibly embarrassing for me, because after a day of basically just standing around and worrying, instead of being able to celebrate our great success (which I will get to below), I got incredibly irritated and confused, hardly able to walk properly or tell my colleagues what was going on with me. I knew how to say it in Chinese, but the words jumbled up when I tried to explain in more detail. It’s scary, and I’ve been through it before: all the colours kind of fade from the world, and this time I did feel the sluggishness of my body, struggling to do a simple thing like pick up my bag and get out of the car. After I ate something, it was magic: the colours came back, and suddenly it was like my hearing had returned too. I found it easier to understand the Chinese conversation going on around me again. For a while afterwards, I still felt quite weak, and it meant that I missed out on a lot of celebratory toasts, which was really disappointing since the party after was what I had been looking forward to all day. And I ruined it for not being more aware of my body. Lesson 3.

Before I get to the silver lining, there’s one more challenge I faced yesterday: the boss of my old company turned up to the event. Her company mainly deals in study abroad, but she’s opening up an immigration branch, making her our direct competitor. Not only that, but the circumstances of my resignation from her company were not ideal. I left before I could use the work permit they had finally procured for me to obtain a 1-year work visa (See Saga of Visa) because I finally found a better job offer which didn’t involve English teaching. She has since said that I betrayed her. Not only that, but the company I joined was where the boyfriend of one of her high-level manager’s works. Not something I told her. The boyfriend, now my boss, had actually been approached by my former boss to partner up on immigration. But he was offended by the deal she offered and refused. We didn’t tell my former boss that I was going to his company because it was a delicate issue, with his girlfriend still working there and all. But she found out yesterday. My boss and his girlfriend (my good friend as well) had been expecting as much, but it was still a big shock for me to see her there. We’d been assuming she’d just send her assistant to spy. Which was totally against our rules, by the way: media and potential clients only, NOT spies from the industry. I don’t know how she snuck in.  Anyway, it’s partly her fault I didn’t eat anything during the tea break, because I was trying to avoid seeing her by not going over to the tea and snack area. In the end we exchanged two sentences after the event, then she ignored me for the rest of the time. Since she had called me a traitor in the past, this was not unexpected. I was just glad when she left. It really threw me.

Finally I get to the good part: our success. Despite the shortcomings I complained about in the second paragraph, the turnout was great. And so were the results. At most cities, they only signed a couple contracts per city, but on the day of the event we signed 6. The record for the seven city tour. Thanks to the prep work of my company’s sales consultants before the event, these clients had already been half-convinced, so the lecture series just served to solidify their decision. These clients all have a week to consider whether they’ll actually go through with it, so there’s the chance that the total will drop off, but I’m optimistic. We have a lot of things going for us, and our customer relations is possibly our greatest strength. We make sure the client is well-informed and well taken care of, following them every step of the way. After yesterday, I’m even more proud of being a part of this team, positive I’m in the right place.

All in all, I learned buttloads from this event (I’ll have you know a “buttload” is a real measurement for wine: 2 hogsheads or 126 gallons). Spending the day speaking Chinese is becoming easier and easier (minus the low blood sugar moment), and I’m learning more about the city and what resources our company has access to through the director. I can’t wait for the next one!

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