What do Alastair Campbell and Mental Health have to do with the Events Industry?

Holly Beddingfield 4 March 2019

In the final week of February, thousands of event industry professionals flocked to west London’s Olympia venue for International Confex 2019.

If you’ve been to Confex before, you’ll know it’s a bit like a playground. Exhibitors are there to show off their best assets, whether this be a range of world-class speakers, bespoke planning services, or experiential marketing companies who work exclusively with liquid nitrogen. Yes, this really is a thing.

The colourful array of stands are interspersed with platforms and stages, and throughout the two-day event, there are a few keynote speeches. On the Wednesday, Alastair Campbell  made an appearance on the main stage to talk about politics  and mental health .

With his firm reputation as the King of Spin and Tony Blair’s righthand man, as well as his role on the People’s Vote campaign for Brexit, the political content was expected, and an expected crowd gathered. However, it was Campbell’s words on mental health that really struck a chord with those watching.

Earnestly, Campbell shared his own struggles with mental health. He spoke of the depression that consumed him during his years as a news editor. His issues culminated in a nervous breakdown, hospitalization and psychiatric attention.

Campbell’s storytelling was particularly pertinent when landing on the ears of the events industry.

The industry, by nature, is built on pressure. We have strict deadlines, and often a very small window in which to showcase ourselves. Months and months of hard work boils down to the grand reveal moment – the event – and all outside judgement rests on its performance alone.

In many ways, events are like exams. We ‘revise’, or plan our campaigns for months on end, working towards the final deadline, or the ‘exam’. Also, like exams, we have external pressures. It might not be our parents and teachers hoping we reach the top grade, but we do have clients with extremely high expectations, a company reputation, attendees to impress, bosses who control our career progression. And then there’s our personal, self-imposed pressure, which is often our harshest critic.

Of course, events are complex by nature. There are many strands to get right: concept, marketing, execution. And credit to us, we are well-trained in getting this right. We learn from our mistakes, we listen to what our clients want, and we work with great teams with a variety of strengths.

Yet, things can still go a little pear-shaped. We are liable to unforeseen circumstances. It is not unusual for us to have to cater to getting hundreds of delegates to an event when the ground is covered in six inches of snow and public transport has halted. We even learnt how to deal with the knock-on effects of a volcanic ash cloud. Thanks, 2010!

When things go wrong, our stress levels rise. We go into fight or flight mode, and the pressures around us tell us that the only option is to fight. After all, your entire value and success will be determined from this one event.

The structure of the event industry means always working towards our deadlines – the events themselves. This means that our workload can slowly creep up, and before we know it, we have reached a crescendo of work. At this point, we feel a burn out, but the show must go on.

But it isn’t all doom and gloom, and there’s where Alastair Campbell comes back in. During his speech at Confex 2019, he emphasized the importance of not defining people by their mental health. That means encouraging people to speak up about their issues, and not judging them for doing so. If someone shares that they struggle with stress or depression, these aspects of their mental health do not define them as a person. They are merely factors which should be considered during the planning and execution of events.

We should remember, however, that mental health issues, like stress or anxiety, do have their benefits. Campbell stated, “I can’t imagine living in a world without pressure, and sometimes it can be helpful.” The events industry is run by professionals who feed off pressure, and in these high-stress scenarios we deliver some truly incredible events. We cannot ignore the amazing feats we can achieve when we are under pressure. With the backing of a supportive team, and colleagues who are open to discussions about our mental wellbeing, we can continue to execute the highest quality events, and look after ourselves along the way.

For further information or to book Alastair, call us on +44 (0)20 7607 7070  or email  info@speakerscorner.co.uk .

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