Does this sound familiar? “It’s really your relationships, your team that helped make these wins,” reflected Traci Hong, assistant vice president of corporate events at LPL Financial, and a guest in this week’s Smart Chat Live! conversation, “The Great Contemplation: Lessons in Leadership for Empowering Your Events Team.”

Hong was joined by speakers Cindy Brewer, principal of LEO Events; Natasha Ashworth, manager of sales programs and events for FedEx Services, and Shelley Hodgkinson, senior director of event solutions at Walmart. All are members of Canvas, an invitation-only, industry-changing collective of corporate brand and event visionaries in a noncompetitive idea exchange and peer network.

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The two-year hiatus from events stretched us—we learned how to use virtual tools and that working from anywhere is possible. “During the pandemic every single one of my team, without fail, learn something new,” Hodgkinson remarked. Now, work teams and their leaders are working to find new work-life balance solutions.

These senior-level meeting professionals shared invaluable insights that speak to events team dynamics that work, the challenges of creating events and leading in a new social and business landscape, as well as the skills and practices that strengthen your team and make you a better leader.

Winning as a Team

“Walk before you can run,” was Hodgkinson advice when it came to getting back to a new normal. All parts of a team need to come together piece-by-piece to create a magnificent whole. Hodgkinson continued, “it’s the people around me—watching them grow every day and enjoy their role. I think that is the biggest win.”

As we’re returning to full-fledged events, Ashworth noted that what must remain at the core is “a servant’s heart.” Keeping a smile on your face can be tough, but pivotal. “It’s so important to have a good team,” said Ashworth. But, what does that look like? Ashworth spoke to the diversity of her own team, specifically in how much experience they bring to their role and where they have room to grow.

Confronting the Challenges

We’re also learning that full-fledged events require maintaining hybrid access, and this new standard requires event production teams to stretch their skills ever further. Events personnel are now running both live and virtual event spaces simultaneously, for nearly every event, noted Hong.

Not to mention, there’s a sentiment of rustiness that can follow us back into big events. “Just packing my suitcase…took me twice as long,” explained Hodgkinson. “But it’s not just [event teams] that’ve forgotten how to do it, it’s the attendees, as well.”

To hear the full discussion, watch the webinar on demand.

Hodgkinson praised the engagement that followed attendees back into events. Reflecting on a recent corporate event, Hodgkinson talked about how people who, in the past, were questioning whether they really needed to go to some meeting, were instead excited. “Everybody was re-engaged.”

“People need to refigure out how to engage and socialize.”

Another challenge Brewer raised was developing initiatives that motivate employees to bring their A game back, whether from the home office or the corporate office. Hong responded that her company has implemented a campaign that sets parameters for what it means to show up, attend meetings, dress properly and “not have a cat in the background,” while still extending an understanding that the world has changed and burnout is still paramount to prevent.

People need to refigure out how to engage and socialize. Hong also mentioned the potential of having a mandatory background for virtual meetings, “to help provide that extra touch of professionality.”

“We have the Great Resignation also happening at the same time. Our goal is to try to give reasons for people to return to the office, but to also stay engaged when they’re not in the office,” said Hong.

Motivating Teams, and Nurturing a Culture of Communication

“Whether you’re a third party, an events agency or a supplier, you’ve always been a part of our team,” said Hodgkinson. “We’re embracing our extended families, as well as [our] own team, to learn from them, to learn from us, and make sure we get that balance.”

“Keeping relationships has been my biggest cheat of getting through challenges,” divulged Hong. Reach out to people you’ve worked with in the past to ask how they may have handled certain similar challenges, she suggested.

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Hong also reminded the audience that “not everybody’s career is a long-term career in events.” A true mentor listens, recognizes and supports a team member considering moving to a different company that might be a better fit.

“Enterprise-wide, [we] take a break and recharge and really focus on little activities you can do during the day to take a break and recharge your mind,” suggested Hong.

Defining what it means to work from home with more specificity of expectations also helps to prevent burnout, said Brewer. Ashworth added that she tries to manage her team like she’d like to be managed. “You don’t want to apply unnecessary pressure,” Ashton urged. “Be respectful of your team’s time and their family time.”

When working at home, responsiveness is vital, Hong said. Establishing a culture of healthy communication is key to keeping your team on the same page. Healthy communication means not sending after-hours emails and texts to your team, as well as ensuring your teammates understand that you want them to communicate their needs. “No one can advocate for you better than yourself,” asserted Hong.

“Trust is everything. We’re in this together; we trust each other together and we’ll go places together, as long as we’re all on the same mission.”