In this guest blog, we discuss events and innovation with Sarah Keates, Events Manager for TechSPARK and a variety of national events and festivals (not including her work on weddings…) about how event management is misunderstood and more.

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Sarah Keates guest blogWorking in events came about almost by accident

When I was working as a Science Communicator, I decided to go back to university as a mature student to study the making of things (AKA Interdisciplinary Textile Design), and so my role moved over to a part time position on the Events Team within the centre. At the same time, we students had to organise fundraising events to make enough money to put on shows, and I discovered that I was better at managing events than most other things! My entire career has progressed from that moment on.

Only event managers understand the challenges of timings

If there is one misunderstanding about events management that crops up over and over again, it’s that everything can be done immediately. People think that we can completely change part of the plan with just two days to spare, and do not realise that something that is technically small can be a huge challenge if there’s not enough time to get it done.

Of course, we’re victims of our own success: a good event manager will make it look easy, and as soon as someone else steps in and you start sharing with them the parameters needed to make an event run smoothly, they are shocked.

Always prepare for a disaster

Whether it’s a contractor cancelling, bad weather, sickness, law changes – you have to prepare for the inevitable major problem happening. That happens for every event, it’s just a fact of life, and being as prepared as you can be for all of those eventualities should mean that the event doesn’t collapse in on itself. It’s why I have a simple rule: do not leave any preparation tasks ‘for site’, while you’re at the venue physically setting up an event, you simply won’t have time for anything except the here and now. By that point, it should all be done leaving space for you to deal with any other issues arising head on.

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Sarah Keates guest blogOne of my proudest moments (so far) has been turning down an extremely high profile company to an event

VR World Congress 2016 was one of those beautiful moments when everything just came together. Headline sponsors, co-workers, and even my friends had asked us why we hadn’t decided to hold the event in London, but Dan Page, Ben Trewhella, and I were determined to do it in Bristol. We live here, we work here, we know the tech scene is incredible, and we were determined to prove them wrong.

We sold out months in advance, and ended up having to turn down a couple of high profile companies’  requests to attend. I honestly couldn’t have imagined it in the hours spent pulling it all together. The moment that I realised we had pulled off an almost perfect event was when the delegates left the cutting-edge conference, full to the brim of top level talent all located in the South West,  to take a short guided walk through the scenic Castle Park landing in a riverside venue to all state: “Now I see why you held this in Bristol.”

From then on, Bristol’s presence on the events map has come into its own.

I’m a woman in tech events who doesn’t like needing to mention it

We’re fortunate in Bristol that we have plenty of women kicking ass in leadership, technology, and business – often all at once. But outside of Bristol, it’s still a struggle to change mindsets and expectations of what women do within technology. We hear about disruptive thinking, about diversifying to make companies better, but it seems to be men saying this to men. We need to normalise women at every level of leadership and in every industry, and until that happens, we have to talk more about it.

The creative event work space is unusually balanced: the gender gap is smaller, with no one surprised at a woman operating a cherry picker or ordering people around. Getting that same balance on the stage is the next challenge, but there are some great initiatives and dialogues opening up about it. For VR World Congress 2017, our first speaker announcement only contained women, but we still had frustrating moments like female speakers dropping out and suggesting men in their place. It’s why my work with Shift really matters to me.

I’ve had a year at TechSPARK, and I’m even more passionate about tech and events

The last twelve months have been a huge eye opener as I’ve seen more of the business side, not just the technological making side of the sector. I love it! It’s ignited my passion for the tech industry, and made me even more proud of Bristol. We’re determined to make the SPARKies Awards even bigger and better, and I’m focusing on more meaningful and interactive regular meetups, including making Techie Brekkies synonymous with an engaging and provocative morning to start your day.

Discover just some of tech events that Sarah manages here.

Sarah Keates guest blog