Event Manager in the Spotlight

Should we, as an event manager, disappear into the background, like a chameleon, or stand prominently in the spotlight? Ester de Graaf thinks that event managers should be more visible.

Kevin Van der Straeten
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Should we, as an event manager, disappear into the background, like a chameleon, or stand prominently in the spotlight? Ester de Graaf thinks that event managers should be more visible.


Hi Ester, welcome to our studio. You have years of experience with your own event company DDG, in the Netherlands. And now, you've also started giving online trainings, with SEM Online, for event managers.

And in one of the discussions we had before this shooting, you mentioned something, that tickled my curiosity. And that was: an event manager should be more in the spotlight. And not as a chameleon in the background.

Why is that?


Well, because I think the event manager is the most important role when they're being asked to organize an event. And they have the tendency to sit in the background. To wear black. And they're the most important person.


But isn't that supposed to be?

They're running the event. Everything should go smoothly. And nobody can notice that anything goes wrong or whatever.


Yes, there's a difference. They're two things.

On the event itself, it's good to be in black and maybe to not be too obvious. Because, you have actually thought of everything. So, it'll be completely smooth. Yes, the whole journey. During the day itself.

Whereas, what I actually mean, is that, when you start the project as such, it's so important to have that, sort of, leading role. To ensure that the set teams, that are pulled together on certain subjects, and you're the actual director of it all. You put it all together. And you ensure that it's smooth, from beginning to end. That is in the whole, sort of, pre-phase of the event.

Now, when it comes to the day itself, of course you're right. You know, most of the time, we actually wear black. And everything is smooth. Because you don't need to stand on stage yourself.

So, what I mean figuratively, is more that a person, an event manager, is someone that takes, sort of, the supportive role. From the beginning. Whereas I think it's important, that you, sort of, step up to the plate. And ensure that everyone that's in your, sort of, surroundings, in the teams that you pull together, that you're actually the one that directs everyone. And that just, sort of, knows about the subjects, and can, actually, lead people to the next phase. Lead them forward into this whole, sort of, project and this whole process, as such.


The role of an event manager is also changing a lot over the last few years.

You already mentioned it, because there are more and more points of interest you need to capture and bring together in one role.

What's your experience with that?


No, absolutely right.

I think, years ago, when you were an event manager, people actually thought that you could just take care of the logistics, of the actual production on the day itself.

These days, you find that you need to be a complete sparring partner. For your client, as such. Which means that you need to be able to talk about subjects, like data, for instance. What's the data strategy? Why do you actually use this event? What do you use it for? You know, one of the first questions, that I think you ought to ask, when you're in touch with a client.

Now, that's different from what it used to be, I find. Before, you'd just say: okay, you want to do an event? How many people? What are we going to do? And just run with it.

These days, I think you need to take one step back. And, first of all, question or scrutinize, first of all, your: why are you doing this? What are the objectives? And ensure that areas like data, content and communications, all of those areas, are covered.

And your client may not even have the answers to it. But it's so important, I find, to have the answers to those questions. From the very beginning. So, the whole process will be so much more...

How can I say? It will have so much more added value, in the end.


What I'm struggling with, is: that's a lot of knowledge for one person.




Should you be, as an event manager, an expert in all those fields? Or rather work with a team of experts.


Well, that's up to you of course. You've got...

You can decide, you know, to decide what your profile should be like. Like what your image should... Are you good...

When you're good at just the logistics and the event production, that's wonderful. I mean, if you profile yourself like that, there's absolutely no problem with that.

Whereas I find, especially from an agency point-of-view, when you're in touch with a client, first time around, they, sort of, almost expect you to, sort of, have some knowledge, at least, of all these areas. That we just mentioned. Which means that there could be two different people. One doing the actual pitch and the actual briefing, as such. And then several people to do the logistics and stuff like that.

But, that's so many different areas. And I find an event manager, ideally, in the ideal world, should know a little bit, at least, about everything.


Not only the role of an event manager's changing. But also, the market of event managers, is also shifting a lot.

What do you see there?


Well, I find it extremely interesting. Because before, of course, everyone had a permanent role. You had event managers, several event managers, within the company. Whereas now, you see the freelancers, the interim. So, there is a whole range of different roles that you can take on. Different ways of recruiting people. So, that gives so much more opportunities, for both sides. For the client side, as well as the other side, us as event managers.

So, yes, it's up to what you like as an event manager. You can decide yourself. Whether you want to be specific into one area. Or whether you want to have that, sort of, director's role, which I just talked about.

So, it's very versatile. it's absolutely interesting, I think.


What if you're going to sit on the client's side? How do you find the perfect match for your events?


Yes, well, very good question. It starts with the right briefing.

It's so funny, because I do all these trainings and I keep hearing myself say the same thing.

Briefing, briefing, briefing. That's what it's all about.


That's a big problem. A lot of companies decide to do an event, but don't have a good briefing.


Exactly, exactly. So, you know, when you start talking to someone, make sure that you find out exactly what the reason is, why they want to do this.

And there's so many other stakeholders, that may not be in that room on that very moment.

So, it could be you, but try to find out, what else is behind there. You know, what are their thoughts? Because, the worst thing is: you start with an event. Halfway through: oh, the CEO here, this man here, they've all got an idea, different ideas and it's not been put on paper. It's not been...

You know, it just, sort of, evolves as we go along.

Wonderful, sounds great. It is wonderful. But it's a bit hard to, sort of, project manage, let me call it that.


You started then, with giving the trainings. Why did you decide to go teach people?


Well, the funny thing is: you start a company, you start an agency, years and years ago. You grow, you grow. You become a manager.

Wonderful. Am I a manager? I found out I'm not. I'm not. I'm more, sort of, a person that...

I like to energize people. Like, some of my employees actually said to me, and I thought that was such a compliment, they said: well, you bring the best out of me.

I wanted to study psychology when I was young. And so I really look at people, try to see, you know, what energizes them. What, sort of, makes them tick. In the end.

So, over all those years, I taught all the employees. And at the same time, also my clients. About event management and what have you?

And so, at some point, I thought: I'd like to start something new. I'd like to, sort of, share my ideas and everything, with the world. So to speak. So, that's how I, sort of, pulled together, first of all: the idea of all the knowledge and the experience that I've got. To put them into online lessons, into trainings. So people can just, if and when they like, they can start the training. Pick up on all those, you know, ideas.

And I actually have Zoom-calls with them as well. So, it's not just online, but at the same time, it's very interactive.

And, coming back to the other question, is why did I, you asked me: why did I start.


Yes, why did you start?


Yes, well so, I taught the training to just give this knowledge to others. To share this with others. And at the same time, to help clients not only work with agencies, but also their other request.

When they like to see, have someone sitting next to them and taking on this job of event management. That I can help them try to find the right person for them.


There are a lot of our viewers, who want to start in our industry. With your experience, what would your tip for them be?


Oh, just: it's the most wonderful job you can have. Every day is different.

The tip I would give them, is: just start. Pick up the phone. Start talking to people. See what you're good at. Try to find out what you're good at. And, yes, just start working on it. And try to get, you know, get your knowledge.

Try and read stuff. Talk to people.


There are some very good books out-there.


I was gonna say: I use that book as well (ed. EVENTS 2 by Kevin Van der Straeten). So, use that book. That's a very good one. And try to talk to people and, you know, get in action. Start working on it. And we need you. We need these people.


Okay, Ester. Thank you very much for your enthusiasm in this episode.


Yes, sorry.


No great, thank you very much for coming over.


You're welcome.


And you at home, thank you for watching our show. I hope to see you next week.