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What It's Really Like: Volunteer Experiences with Event Academy

Last updated December 8th, 2017

Volunteers are essential for the smooth-running of the events industry: almost all events would fail to run at all, let alone effectively, if it wasn’t for the volunteers who give up their time to help out.
But what many volunteers may lose in terms of time, they gain in valuable experience, event management insight, and opportunities to build a network of contacts. And it’s because we know how essential all of these are for professional event managers (and their CVs) we offer Event Academy students plenty of opportunities to get involved with live events as volunteers …

What it’s really like: what kind of events?

Event management is all about networks, and when you join an Event Academy course you instantly tap into our vast industry network. We’re often the first port of call for many corporations, charities, companies and agencies looking for volunteers to support events, which means our students can literally access all areas of events. For instance, students on our courses have recently had the chance to volunteer as part of:

And of course there are many more! The London events calendar is always thriving, whilst we also help volunteers to gain roles in international events, so whatever the course (even our online courses), wherever the event and whatever the time of year, there will be opportunities available.
Current postgraduate student Nelson McMillan agrees it’s the range of events which has had an impact on both his experience, and his future in the industry:

“… volunteering gave me exposure to parts of the industry I never had much experience with. I found that helpful with my decision making when it came to where to take my next steps into the events industry.”

What it’s really like: what kinds of roles?

From backroom or front of house, to stewarding or social media, there are all kinds of event roles and volunteers can find themselves pitching in to support any of these. Of course, there are times when a volunteer with strengths in a particular area, such as technology or digital production, can be called on to use those skills in a designated volunteer role.
But the great thing about volunteering is that it also offers an opportunity to explore roles which offer a particular challenge, can help develop skills you’d like to strengthen, and may include the chance to take on leadership roles and responsibilities.
As such, Nelson’s volunteer role as Project Director for the opening night of the acclaimed We The People’s recent Film Festival, on the amazing HMS President venue meant he had one role, but lots of skills to deploy and responsibilties to uphold:

“As Project Director I was responsible for the health and safety of all people who attended the event on the night. I was also responsible for overseeing the operational schedule for the night and ensuring our timeline deadlines were met in the planning phase. An additional responsibility involved me having to help with the marketing role and the Audio Visual technology set-up.“

And it’s not just opening night which brings chances to take up a particular role as part of volunteering. Another of our postgraduate student volunteers at the WTP’s Film Festival, Tiziano Piervisani, had a role in supporting the organisation of a special screening, on the evening following opening night:

“I managed the relations with the director of the movie, sponsored the event and the logisitics. I had to respect the timeline and achieve the objectives of the event … everything was super-exciting!”

What it’s really like: what are you asked to do?

Of course, with any volunteering, there are different levels of responsibility and challenge, so the more volunteering and events experience you gain, the greater the responsibilities you can be given.
This was certainly the case for Francesca Ricci, also on the Postgraduate course and member of the WTP’s volunteer team. Francesca took on a production role in the organisation of the opening night, with responsibiity for sourcing suppliers – an essential aspect of any event, but especially important for a dry-hire venue, such as HMS President.
So, by acting as volunteers, each of these students (and the many others involved in the overall festival) gained not only industry insight and skills on running events-within-events, but also in team-working on the production. Speaking of which …

What it’s really like: how can volunteering help you become an event manager?

The fact that volunteering puts you out there, in an industry-relevant role is something which really counts when it comes to gaining vital experience, as Tiziano shares:

“If you don’t have any experience in the event industry, these [volunteering] opportunities are perfect.”

But it’s not the only benefit – volunteering can also help you to establish yourself professionally, as Chirag Patel, alumni from our Postgraduate course who’s now a Content and Production Manager, found:

“Volunteering’s vital … some of my jobs have come from initial volunteering jobs; it’s a chance to get yourself out there in the industry.”

For all of our students, being a volunteer really enriches a CV with that all-important hands-on experience, but for many of them, it can also lead to active roles which are career opportunities.
So back to Nelson, who’s gone from strength to strength as a student with us. Flushed with the success of We The People’s Film Festival – delivering a resoundingly successful event which achieved all objectives within a very low budget, Nelson credits this volunteer experience for helping him achieve success at interview and move forwards in his event career path:

“This particular example [We The People’s Film Festival] helped me secure a placement and receive feedback that I outshone other candidates because of my concrete volunteering examples.

This has also been true for another colleague on the postgraduate course, Suzie Burton. Suzie’s not only gained vital experience of events themselves, through volunteering as part of the course, but there’s also an extra in her experience which she feels gave her the edge when it came to interviewing for her next step: that London link, where studying and volunteering on the live postgraduate course means really getting to know London and its venues well.
As someone who wasn’t local to London, Suzie felt that through the course, work placement and volunteering, she gained numerous opportunities to experience what London has to offer for the events industry and feels: “my knowledge of London, venue knowledge, has really paid off.”
As such, Suzie has now successfully landed a salaried role in events with a high profile global investment company, to start in 2018 once finishing her qualification at the end of 2017. But of even this success doesn’t mean a break in gaining experience, as Suzie, Nelson, and their other course colleagues end their course with a final project for 2017: a special event in aid of the Teenage Cancer Trust.
Want to find out more about their event and the superb venue they managed to secure?
And finally, in case you’re wondering about the experience of volunteering, from the point of view of those agencies, charities and companies who work with us, David Wardrop, Director of We The People’s Film Festival has plenty to say about the success of the festival, which “depended so much on the time and leadership given by students of the Event Academy”.
What’s more, when it comes to the value of volunteers, he also has the last word, from his own blog post about the festival’s success and the respect he has for the professionalism of the volunteers involved:

“It’s the volunteers from the Event Academy who make our festival work! They are great people and we are adding their names to our United Nations Association Young Professionals Network mailing list”

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