Preview: Students get hands on

Getting worthwhile experience while studying event management at university can prove difficult. But, says Mike Fletcher, an ISES initiative could change that.

The International Special Events Society (ISES) has turned to a group of eight students doing an event management degree course at Thames Valley University to ensure the success of this year's Regional Education Conference (REC), entitled 'Live Communications in the 21st Century'.

The students, each responsible for different aspects of organising the conference planned for 19 April at the Novotel London West, are competing over grades for their project management module as well as gaining hands-on experience in conference planning.

Last year's REC attracted 150 delegates to Excel and, with the help of the students, ISES is hoping next month's event will draw over 200 visitors, all eager to learn from both client experiences and industry expertise.

"The society's two main principals are networking and education and we now have the social side of the business very much in-hand," says ISES regional vice-president of Europe and Africa, and former ISES UK president, Arthur Somerset. "By involving these students we are investing in the future of this industry. Should they go on to work for corporate companies then the relationship between clients and agencies will benefit from their greater understanding of how the industry operates. Should they go on to work at an agency then we've helped to nurture the next generation of entrepreneurs."

Somerset and DNA Productions director Matt James first encountered the Thames Valley students over a year ago when they visited the University to speak at a lecture. ISES director-at-large and managing director of Moving Venue Management, Richard Beggs, then encouraged the University to involve the students in the planning of the REC. Following a pitch in which seven teams put forward ideas, three teams were chosen to work together and produce the conference programme.

"In past years, Thames Valley would use its graduation ceremony as this module's live exercise, but the students wanted actual industry experience," says student Martin Fowler. "We produced a list of ideal speakers and we're now focused on the realities of who we can actually attract to speak. Many of the guest speakers that have taken the time to visit the University and talk to the students have now also agreed to speak to the industry."

Client speakers that Fowler and his team have secured for this year's ISES REC include Orange's head of commercial and brand partnerships Julian Diment, and Toby Burnham, head of media management at Freud PR. Burnham and Diment will discuss the management of the Orange British Academy Film Awards in their session entitled, 'Tales from the Red Carpet'.

"The awards were largely ignored by Westminster Council for several years until they understood the value of hosting them. Now Westminster Council has taken this event to its heart. It's an interesting story of how the local authority and the organiser have come to work hand in hand," says Fowler.

Further confirmed speakers include Dr Anja Schmidt-Ott from the German experiential agency Vok Dams Group. Scmidt-Ott, together with The George P Johnson Company, will provide the European perspective on event management in their session entitled 'Why did they do that?' Meanwhile, Moustafa Al Hamwi, general manager of B-Marketing based in Dubai, will offer up a more international perspective in his session entitled 'How did they do that?'

Last year's REC saw the introduction of an interactive audience poll conducted via a Who Wants to be a Millionaire-style system. "The results, although interesting, were slightly fluffy so this year we aim to produce a stronger debate around the answers," says ISES marketing vice-president Robert Wright. "Using interactive meetings software Talk IQ, delegates will be able to use their mobile phones to register the answers to given questions and then a panel of industry experts will debate the answers in a session planned for the afternoon."

By using the team of eight students to run the ISES conference, Somerset hopes that the topic of student internships will be high on the agenda of conversations during the REC's breakout sessions. Somerset wants ISES members to agree to allow students to spend three months in each company, which would be worked into the event management curriculum of certain universities. "A structured internship organised by a specialist recruitment company would ensure a legacy that the special events industry can be proud of," he says. With this in mind, the industry will be watching closely how the students perform as they showcase their developing skills to possible future employers.

To find out more about the ISES Regional Education Conference email Delegate registration before 18 March ensures £25 off the conference fee. After the 'early bird' has expired, registration for the conference is £225 for ISES members and £275 for non-members.

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