The story behind our online, student organised International Welcome Event
MSc International Events Management students Arwa Alfailkawi and Angela Richards discuss how they utilised their skills developed in their degree to organise a fantastic International Welcome Event for our students in the middle of the Covid-19 Pandemic.
Tell us a little about your course.
I’m currently studying MSc in International Event Management The course is very interesting and entertaining, despite the COVID situation. The course itself has covered different topics which are highly in demand in the market and the event industry. From the Digital Business and Entrepreneurship module which introduced me to business digital transformation, the differences between the business models and the importance of big data. To the Search and Social Media Marketing Module which is highly requested in any industry, to the Project Management Leadership Module which has prepared me for the workplace and professional environments. The final module is my favourite - Principles and Practices of International Event Management. It covered all aspects of event management from operation to the evaluation.
The MSC International Event Management course teaches you the real-life practical skills needed for the events industry, and the assignments get you to apply this knowledge to real-life scenarios. The course leader and the teachers on the various modules so far have been excellent. They are extremely knowledgeable in their field and are very passionate about it.
What do you find interesting about your course/area of study?
AA: I really like the variety and diversity of modules, even with assignments we were always encouraged to be creative with our approaches. We were also taught how to use different software and tools which are highly required by employers. Honestly, the course allowed me to push my limits and give me the confidence to try new things.
AR: I have always found event management interesting and exciting, my own personality traits fall right into characteristics of anyone working in events; organised, creative, pay close attention to detail etc. Doing this course now has been almost a natural fit for me, but if you want to know what specific area of event management I am most interested in, it would be live events. This covers an array of events I know, but anything that is live from festivals to sporting events is what I love.
How did the idea for the International Welcome Event come about?
AA: We were asked by Charles Knight / the school director to come up with an event brief to welcome international students joining the school this September. We decided to list all the activities people usually experience while attending a normal freshers fair, then we came up with three main elements which are socialising, joining and discovering societies, finally learning more about the university facilities. Then the planning process started was ordinated based on these three elements.
AR: When we began brainstorming, we first thought about the type of events that get put on during fresher’s week, and of them how many could we turn into a virtual experience. We loved the idea of a ‘fresher’s fair’ because it combined many different activities and we were keen to offer variety. Once we had that foundation of an idea we kept expanding it until it became this huge idea - we reigned it in over the planning process but that was only because we couldn’t get all of the resources we needed; else we would’ve ended up with an even bigger event!
Which aspects did you organise? How was the process?
AA: We all worked together as a group in the planning process which included the schedule and the structure of the event. However, my main roles were handling all the external stakeholders from societies to all the talented Salford university students who participated in the event. This included replying to emails, arranging meetings and preparing material. I also handled all the marketing material from designing the marketing graphics to the digital handout which was sent to all registered onto the event. Additionally, on the day of the event, I was the person behind the scenes who handled the tech part of the event.
AR: Each of us had to take on multiple roles during the process because there were only 3 of us in total. I was the project manager unintentionally, it just sort of happened. I was also responsible for liaising with our sponsor Charles Knight. I worked heavily on the operations side of the event, that included answering all the ‘how,’ ‘what’ and ‘when’ questions such as how are we going to host the event? What activities will we run? When do need certain tasks to be complete etc. I was responsible for scheduling and managing everyone’s time to ensure we could pull it all together on time.
What were some obstacles you encountered during the organising of the event? How did you overcome them?
AA: One of the main challenges we faced in the planning process was trying to reach out to socialites, especially with planning being carried out during summer break, as many people were not checking their emails constantly as well as the COVID situation. This made the planning process take longer than expected. Thus, we decided to contact them on their socials and ask them to check their emails. Another main challenge was during the delivery of the event, we had some technical issues earlier in the day with streaming the pre-recorded videos. As soon as we discovered the issue, we tried to find a way to make some changes in the streaming platform setting ( zoom settings ). We also communicated with the societies to inform them about the situation and find an alternative situation. For instance, the main part of the comedy society slot is pre-recorded video, so we decided, if a problem occurred, to instead direct people to YouTube. Luckily, the videos didn't cause an issue.
AR: Overall, communication was the biggest and hardest obstacle to overcome. At one point the three of us were working from different places over the world so we had to be aware of the time zone differences. We relied almost entirely on participating societies and guest speakers for the event to happen so communication with them was crucial but not always easy. I wish I could provide some good advice on how to overcome this but ultimately if someone is unresponsive to you and you need their input - you have to find a way around it, either find someone else or do it yourself if you can. Theres no room for excuses if something doesn’t go ahead because you’ve been let down by a participant, you always need a plan B and C! Also add to that each one of us experienced problems with wifi connection at some point during the planning.
What support did you get in process of organising your event?
AA: We received amazing support from all the societies who were very flexible and easy to communicate with. We also received endless help from the marketing team at the business school who helped us with the notification emails and posting the social posts.
AR: From day one we had the full support of our idea from our tutors and sponsor. They gave us the go ahead and we pretty much got on with it. If we needed anything from them we could contact them for help but actually, we pulled it together ourselves.
How did the day of the event go?
AA: The first thirty minutes were a bit stressful, but in terms of timings, everything went smoothly and people started to interact. I would say it was a success for a first time experience.
AR: The first couple of hours before and the first hour of it going live was quite stressful because we had no idea what to expect. This was the first time SBS have done anything like this so we had nothing to compare it to for reference. The day ran really smoothly, there were one or two minor technical difficulties that we were expecting (the quality of live streaming video) but we were prepared for those delays and were able to provide solutions to some of them. It’s strange because naturally, you expect everything to go wrong on the day but nothing did, together we worked really hard to iron out any technical difficulties that occurred, the schedule had been thoroughly planned and rehearsed so we knew what to do and when to do it. It went really well!
What was the highlight of the event?
AA: I really loved the dance society slot as they hosted a live dance class on zoom which was incredible and the comedy night by the comedy society which was so much fun to watch.
AR: For me, the highlight was seeing all of the societies we had involved do their bit. Throughout the whole process, they were so professional and excited for the event, it was just so great to see them perform, they were the true stars of the event and I hope we did them justice!
What did you learn from the process?
AA: I actually wouldn’t expect myself to be able to handle a full virtual event from A to Z remotely. However, this experience allowed to prove myself wrong and gain so many skills including time management, communication skills and the ability to use and test different tools for marketing purposes or streaming purposes.
AR: So much! I could write a page of all the things I’ve learned in doing this. I think the biggest learning curve was how to manage an event from home. As I said before, the 3 of us worked on this event together but never even got to be in the same room as each other. This is true for everyone who took part in delivering an activity on the day, every meeting we had was a video call. Seeing that we could still put on an event from beginning to end all from the comfort of our own homes was a real eyeopener for me. It just goes to show how adaptable we can be when the time for change comes.
What skills have you developed because of this project? How do you think this will help you in the future?
AA: I actually can’t count them, with a period of 6 weeks I was able to upscale all my skills and personality to a different level. We were able to deliver and evaluate an event without meeting in person even once. It also taught me to keep learning and never to be afraid to ask questions or even for help. Surprisingly, you will be quite shocked about how much people are willing to help you out.
AR: I think the skills that have benefited the most from this are leadership skills and problem-solving. As the project manager, it was important that I kept everyone on track so I was always having to think 2-3 days ahead of everyone else to make sure we didn’t fall behind at any point. Furthermore, throughout the planning process of this event, we had to constantly think outside the box because traditional methods of doing things weren’t an option any more. This was also the first event of its kind here at SBS so we didn’t have anything we could turn to and say ‘this is how they fixed it last time they did this event.’
How do you think your course at university has prepared you for working life?
AA: As this is my second degree, I could happily say that the course has helped to develop not only on an academic level but also on a personal level. It improved my communication skills and the ability to try things out.
AR: This course has allowed me to showcase my skills in a real-life experience, from which I can take real-life lessons learned. This course has also helped me develop skills in how to market myself. I think one of my biggest shortfalls is that I just don’t know how to sell myself - I’ve got plenty of skills but I don’t know how to make that known to people. This course has helped me to understand the best methods and ways to do this, and it’s something I can continue to develop even after I finish my studies.
What advice would you give to someone who is considering doing your course?
AA: I highly recommended the tutors are supportive and encouraging, they care about your mental health as much as they care about your academic outcome which isn’t something you always see in all academic institutions. In terms of the degree itself, I can confidently say it is not like any normal degree, you will see the development within your personal life and academic life. The course will help you with your creative thinking and professionalism in the workplace.
AR: Make sure you bring a good attitude and lots of passion! And, as it is with all things in life, you will get out what you put into this course. There’s tons of opportunity to expand on what the teachers deliver, the reading lists are extensive and brilliant so make use of the resources and take full advantage of this course!
What do you plan on doing after you graduate?
AA: I’m really interested in the cultural sector of the event industry, with current COVID situation and the cancellation of the events. I’m planning to do short courses that are required for the cultural sectors to improve my skills and prepare myself for the time when the industry is back on its feet. As long term plan, I’m planning to do a PhD about cultural events and movement in the MENA region.
AR: Usually, I would have a solid plan of what I aim to do, but with the Corona-virus situation the way it is, it’s impossible to predict what the events industry will look like 3, 6-12 months from now. So my plan, for the time being, is to continue to work on my skills, to push myself and to create opportunities using my skills.