In the hot seat with Sandra Lynch: The value of experience

Sandra Lynch, head of event management at Glasgow’s SECC, on a 30-year career

What first attracted you to the events industry?

Great question as I have realised that I have been in the industry just short of 30 years. I started work as an office junior for exhibition contractor Giltspur Expo Industries in 1987 (later bought by P&O Exhibition who in turn became OPEX Exhibitions). This was a great period, which I look back on with very fond memories of working in major venues throughout the UK & Ireland.

My training was very much on the job, managing orders for various services from shell scheme to floral displays and running the service desk during event build-ups and frantic opening mornings. I loved the fast pace of the industry and the turn round between events still impresses me to this day.

How has your career progressed at SECC?

I joined the venue in 2000, looking for a new challenge. The attraction was the variety of events in the one location. I loved that the space could be a catwalk one day, a plenary session for 3,000 the next, an exhibition or a concert thereafter. It was so exciting.

My role in 2000 was an event planner and I worked closely with organisers to offer logistical, technical and local knowledge to help stage their events.

In 2004, I was working with the European Respiratory Society. We were expecting 15,000 delegates and the event was using all our meeting rooms, exhibition halls, auditoria and additional external marquees. It was a big event and just what I was looking for as it challenged and stretched all my skills, not just the planning aspects but teamwork and budgetary control. Not only was the event a success it provided me with the opportunity to develop into management.

I was offered the role of planning manager and as our business has developed and grown so has my role.

As head of event management I now have a team of 20 with a further four joining over the next few weeks. Being part of the client’s team is equally as important to me as being part of the venue team, so from understanding what is important to the client, I allocate an event manager based on the bespoke needs of the client and the event.

We are an experienced team with skills ranging from live entertainment; concerts to corporate clients, exhibitions and our conferences.

What is your biggest success/challenge?

I am fortunate to have a very good back catalogue to choose from, however one does stay with me. I was working with a well-known major corporate restaurant client and their production team with a highly creative brief. The booking was for a single location, 10,000sqm over two days. We changed the configuration of the event space five times from registration and expo, seated lunch, to plenary and breakouts, ending with a drinks reception and gala dinners. Timing, coordination, teamwork, stamina and a great sense of humour was needed.

What trends are you seeing?

There is a demand for event space to be flexible and creative, moving away from the traditional configuration and making use interactive technology; digital assets, social media, live feedback etc.

Tip for saving time and money for organisers?

For us to save our clients time and money it is really important that we establish a good relationship to allow the client to share what is important from their perspective. This can be the look and feel of the event and the budget.

What can the events industry do better?

The industry is always pushing forward to be more creative, so for me it is about achieving this in a safe environment.

Mentor?

I have been very lucky to work with some very talented people within the industry and always welcomed their advice and guidance although more recently as technology moves so quickly it is the youth in my life both at work and at home who are my best mentors.

Prediction for future?

For me the emphasis will be to create a lasting experience

Advice for those seeking an industry career?

Look to gain practical work experience from a wider range of roles within the industry from catering, stewarding to finance, as you need a full appreciation of all aspects to make a successful event.

Ambitions, both personally, and professionally?

Eventually I would like to celebrate the spring equinox with 108 (Surya Namaskar) sun salutations as I love yoga, but have a lot of work to do on my downward facing dog first. Professionally, to be an active member of the best venue in Europe working on the best events with the best people.

Martin Fullard

Author

Martin Fullard

Martin Fullard is the Deputy Editor at Conference News. Formerly a web editor at a national newspaper in the Middle East and motoring journalist.

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