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Stress Matters presents Once Upon A Pandemic

Once upon a pandemic: Chetan Shah

The third in a series by Stress Matters, who have been asking those across the events industry - how are you doing?

Co-founder of Micebook, Chetan Shah, on how lockdown gave him new opportunities. 

I’ve been an events person for the past 20-25 years, although I’m an imposter; I should be an accountant, but I’m having a good time!

Right now, I’m doing fine. When everything hit, I needed to be busy; I’m happy when busy even if I’m not making any money. We’ve created a lot of content on Micebook and a community who we have been able to hopefully give something back to during this terrible time. Things have moved so rapidly, and as a small company we’re agile. We’ve been able to deliver interesting and relevant content, reacting to the market and the market needs. Pre-lockdown, we had a group of 35 leaders discussing Covid-19, this group has grown to around 100 now. It gives us a temperature check of what’s happening and we share the outputs with our community. I read through all emails and opportunities I receive. I’m not turning things down, I’m working all hours of the day and weekends, and hopefully not making myself stupidly busy, but I have to do the right thing for the company and build it to be the best it can be.

I had wanted to do a podcast for a few years, there were always barriers to doing one - a studio, equipment, how do I record and put it out there, but over a weekend I learnt how to do one and released it on iTunes. I’ve found people are much more accepting of speed over perfection and we’ve been doing a podcast every weekend since. Lockdown helped me break down my own barriers.

We’ve delivered webinars and virtual events. We had an amazing speaker, an ex prisoner of war who helped bring our first virtual event to life. He drew parallels between isolation and capture, relatable to our isolation in lockdown. We had brilliant feedback and people felt like they were at a live event and energised at the end – a real high point for me. We also did a FAM trip to Italy in September. It was great to be together for the first time since March, bouncing ideas around and being inspired by conversation. I used to hate airport security, packing, being patted down, but I bloody loved it.

A low point has been seeing people lose their jobs: people who aren’t able to flip to the virtual world, those who represent destinations, or worked for hotels which have now closed. We build relationships with people, agency, corporate, and suppliers, who have now gone, and we don’t know when they’ll be back. It has made me appreciate the industry, connections I’ve made, conversations I’ve had. Meeting people wise, we’re spoilt in this industry, flying all over the world and becoming a bit blasé, but what’s going on makes you appreciate the small things that were once taken for granted.

I’m a morning person; from 7am until midday I’m motoring through, then after lunch around 3pm, I’m terrible, just staring at the screen waiting for things to happen. I run a couple of times a week and I’ve been going for lunchtime walks, they lift my energy levels in the afternoon. I also do it for my own health, posture, mental wellbeing, as we’re not commuting anymore and I’m sitting in front of a screen for 12 hours. Saturday mornings I also spend thinking, sketching and brainstorming, I let my mind wander away from a screen. I also use this time to share and talk through ideas with my wife. I draw whilst she is talking which helps give me more clarity.

I have learnt I’m still a control freak. I’m not handing over as much as I would like; I want to give the team more responsibility and accountability, but everything is still new, from virtual to other initiatives, and I want to hold on and know what it is before I let go. I also enjoy hosting and I’ve learnt I’m vain with a big ego, I want to be front and centre. However, my team has been amazing. I’ve had to cut the cloth accordingly in terms of team members and budgets, but everyone’s been incredible and still contributing so much. Our industry is full of many people running great companies, it’s been inspiring to see how they’ve embraced the new world and quickly pivoted to deliver for their clients.

I’m positive about 2021. I believe it will be a rocket, there will still be bumps on the trajectory, the virtual world will still be exploding, but live events will also be coming back. People want to get back to live events, although I do think it will be different. There will be a battle, particularly in this sector, many great opportunities, but challenging to find the right ones. It won’t be a stellar financial year, but it will help mend some of the foundations that have been broken, and it will put a stable base in place for 2022. I also think freelancing is going to blow up next year, agencies will have downscaled, but the enquiry book will be growing.

My advice is if you want to stay in the industry, if you’ve been furloughed, or made redundant, keep in the industry. Keep reskilling and stay part of the conversation, but don’t wait around and do make sure you’re building your skillset. Whether you’re stacking shelves, you’re still building your professional career, your team working abilities and you never know when these skills may be relevant. Customer service skills I learnt when I was 14 and worked at Homebase still apply today.

If you would like to share your story, please visit www.stressmatters.org.uk/pandemic-stories for more information.