Over 15 years ago, early in my career as an event professional, I ran a wedding planning agency organising weddings for English‐speaking couples marrying in France. Invariably, the mothers‐of‐the‐brides gravitated towards me as they found me to be a calming and reassuring presence.
The ‘ability to remain calm under pressure’ is often underscored as an important characteristic of an event professional. Synonyms include ’composed’, ‘unruffled’, ‘level‐headed’ and ‘unflappable’. But what does it really mean to be calm and can we learn how to be calmer if this trait doesn’t come naturally?
The good news is yes! Neuroscience has revealed that remaining calm under pressure is not an inborn trait, but a skill that anybody can learn.
As an aside, I’d like to highlight that remaining self‐possessed and unflustered does not mean that event professionals cannot be passionate or excited. On the contrary, I believe they are complementary traits and that one actually reinforces the other, making our passion that much more compelling and believable.
I also wondered how much culture plays a part in this emotion. We’ve all heard the clichés about the ‘phlegme brittanique’ and seen examples of merchandising from the UK reinforcing this message.
Whether emotion is a matter of nature versus nurture is a recurrent question in the history of emotion study among psychologists. Some researchers view emotion as a universal construct, and that a large part of the emotional experience is biological. However, emotion is not only biologically determined but is also influenced by the environment. As a British citizen, born and raised in Yorkshire, I can attest to the adherence of my family to the national motto ‘keep calm and carry on!’
But don’t worry, ultimately it is not what happens to you that is important, it is how you choose to respond. I would even go so far as to say that event professionals are strides ahead of others in this area as we are accustomed to listing out options, considering back‐up solutions and devising plans A, B and C to any given situation so we already have a head start.
‘If you fail to prepare, you prepare to fail’ is certainly among the front‐runners as the inscription for my headstone when I move on from this world.
Here are my coping tactics for remaining calm when curveballs come your way...
Take a deep breath...
Deep breathing releases tension, calms down our fight or flight reactions and allows us to quiet our anxious nerves so we choose more considered and constructive responses, no matter the situation.
In turn, this ensures we do not overreact or start to take things personally, taking on a victim mindset.
Name the emotion
Don’t forget that you are not the emotion, say to yourself ‘I’m noticing that I’m feeling overwhelmed/stressed’.
Get curious and granular about the emotion and be kind to yourself, show self‐compassion as you would to a friend. Then, have the courage to act.
You’ve identified the granular emotion e.g. overwhelm, now think about how to combat it. Start listing out options, talk it through with a colleague or peer and don’t be afraid to ask for help. You are not expected to always have all of the answers. Start building your own personal ‘board of directors’.
In my experience, building solid long‐term professional and personal networks now for the future will pay off. Important allies, advisors and confidants are your currency to keep things moving.
Taking the helicopter view allows for more consideration and big picture thinking.
While elevating yourself to 5,000 feet (in your mind), ‘the rule of five’ often helps me put things into perspective. Ask yourself, will this still matter in five mins, five days, five weeks, five months or five years?
Ultimately, the answer is frequently ‘no’ to the majority of them!
Split your options into bite‐sized tasks
Looking at the whole is often more overwhelming than if you split it into the smaller steps it will take to get you to your end game.
Moreover, I find that breaking down the whole into individual tasks allows you to act more quickly and not fall into the procrastination trap. Always remain open and flexible and prioritise!
Never waste a crisis! While the COVID‐19 pandemic has caused chaos and devastation throughout the events industry, other aspects have become an opportunity.
We have learned new skills that can be applied to subsequent events. It has changed the way we organise events and the role you can play in shifting the mindset within your own association to future possibilities. Think about your new scope for influence in this area. Remain open and curious to further evolutions.
Think bigger, define your contribution at a higher level. Sometimes the greater risk is not taking one! Listen to your gut. The situation, crisis or dilemma you’re currently facing will pass and when it does, you will be able to reflect upon its impact on your long‐term self‐interest and the full scope of talents it has left you in its wake.
I've developed these habits over the years. They help me create a more general feeling of calmness throughout the day. I’m not perfect at them, but I do practice them, and they are always helpful.
1. A calm morning routine, incorporating meditation and journaling.
2. Breathing exercises. I set mindful moments on my calendar every day and just pause for one to 3 minutes to breathe and ground myself when the alert flashes on my screen. It’s good to build this into your daily habits and do it at the same times every day e.g. as soon as you sit down to work, just before lunch, etc.
3. Setting myself 3 priorities for the day. Do the most difficult one first! I also update my to‐do list at the end of each week ready for the following week allowing me a more care‐free weekend.
4. Regular exercise and stretches. Not only do my daily walks and Pilates classes help my body to relax but that is when my mind is most open and I’m able to connect dots and get creative!
5. Get plenty of sleep! 7.5 hours is my sweet spot.
6. Do more of the things you enjoy! Whether that be spending quality time with family and friends, walking or exercising more regularly, scheduling time to read/listen to podcasts, binge‐watching your favourite Netflix series or pampering yourself, it all helps to make you an A‐grade student in life!
About the author
Sharon Ashton, events director EURORDIS -Rare Diseases Europe
Sharon is a creative, accomplished and exacting event management professional whose passion is to design and deliver interactive events that motivate and connect participants and provide platforms for genuine exchange and learning. While delivering events that advocate for better lives for people living with a rare disease, Sharon also strengthens this community by solidifying trust and maintaining credibility. Moreover, Sharon fosters long-term and mutually beneficial relations with key strategic volunteers and wider stakeholder groups to further their respective goals.
The arc of her career spans conferences, capacity-building workshops, symposia, weddings, award ceremonies and fundraising gala dinners of all sizes in Europe, North America and beyond. Whether as a self-employed business owner, a director or as part of a team, Sharon is a collaborator who stays focused and poised. Her passion for detail – not only in creating an overall strategic framework but also the finer intricacies of the event experience – is unrelenting. Sharon has experience delivering online, hybrid and in-person events with measurable deliverables and proven return on investment. She recently completed a certification programme in online meetings from the Meeting Design Institute.