theSQUAD Creative Event Management Company Johannesburg
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Shoshin: Event Management With An Open Heart and Open Mind


The word Shoshin refers to a beginner's mind—a state of openness and wonder that allows a person to approach life unfettered by the preconceptions, biases or habits associated with knowledge and experience. Looking at the vast empty spaces an event often has to fill, Shoshin seems like something an Event Manager with a vision needs!

We spoke to Kelly McGillivray, owner and Squadron Leader of theSQUAD Creative Events about how Shoshin plays a role in big event creation and so much more!

Hello Kelly, thanks for your time!

 It is as if every event is a tabula rasa, a clean slate, for which you need beginner's mind or Shoshin thinking, to stay fresh and have the energy to imagine bringing a huge event to life, especially during COVID?

We love a blank canvas! It means that we can do what we want, fill the space with ideas and even though we are restricted by regulations at the moment, this doesn’t mean that we need to be restricted to boring ideas or the standard.  The client tells you what they want to achieve and then you create a picture in your head.

It is like Shoshin because you need to forget pre-conceived ideas.  You start sketching out the idea and then you start thinking about the colours and then you start filling it with all the meaty bits. Then it is all the extras – how you look after the client,  how you look after the crew and how you make magic. It always astounds me that it all starts with a brief that turns into an idea and then when you walk into the space and have all the expertise around you from creative to technical to make magic.  Once we get the brief and the ideas start swirling it is always such fun seeing it all come together when you start building up the event.

 Looking at one of the last jobs you did and the huge studio space at Urban Brew one wonders - how do you come up with a creative idea to fill such a space?

The initial brief for that job was for a hybrid event – so we needed to find a venue that had enough height,  and space to hold 200 people and a full set and camera crew and tech team behind the scenes – it was months of venue discussions.  COVID has taught us that nothing is final until it is final.  Urban Brew has great spaces for events and for studios – so we managed to book the space for both Hybrid and pure online, we worked on the idea for months and then we hit our second wave and it went back to online only. Then we needed to redo the drawings.

From the first brief, to brainstorm to reality - what change?

 The brief can change a million times and sometimes even the objective too, with COVID anything is possible. On this particular job the brief changed numerous times based on the changing regulations and being very cognizant of health and safety. We did three different versions of the set design,  we researched many, many venues,  we were even going to Cape Town at one stage.  Towards the final hours it always comes together.

What do you love about setting up of events?

 The rule on our set ups is that you have to have fun and then work hard. The tech guys have to make sure that the sound system is up and running as soon as possible and if not I always have the portable speaker on standby.

I have a couple of favourite tunes (Got to Give it Up – Marvin Gaye and You give me something – Jamiroquai) and that there is always coffee, snacks and a jar of sweets – happy, fed crew means that they work harder and they are more appreciative.  I love seeing the flight cases arrive and the faces that you have not seen since the last set up or even the set up before that.  The smiles and the hugs or elbow pumps - it is a family - a crew family.  It never gets old seeing all the elements being lined up, cables being laid and the set pieces that look like lost shapes that have not found their space yet…

What do you do during down time while trussing etc is going up?

 There is no downtime! Even though you are setting up, you are still doing the last checks on the scripts,  the AV elements that are flying over the airwaves in high res,  checking up on your other clients,  making sure that you have not dropped a ball and that your scheduled deliveries are actually on the way.

Sounds stressful?

When they bang the trussing together I want to lose my marbles. That’s because that is usually when I need to concentrate on something important. Then the “beep, beep,  beep” of the cherry picker stars as they rig and focus the lights. Next time I need to put on a hard hat and go and help – that will teach me!

How involved are you in the technical set-up? Do you spot things needing to be changed?

I am not involved in the nitty gritty and I would never be able to call the thingy majigy that goes into the what-you-call-it, by its real name. But I know what I want it to look like,  I know what I promised the client – so I am involved in the aspect that I am there and I am asking the right questions and I am challenging the norm.

What do you mean by that?

For example, change cables and feeds for the screens and I challenge the crew too – asking them to put in talking-head screens because I want the international speakers in Canada and Ireland to look like and feel like they are in the room with us.

Did you study Event Management?

 I never studied anything to do with events or technical, so I learnt along the way – by experience and asking the right questions.  I am honest with the crew and tell them that I know nothing and that they need to school me. I shied away from virtual events for a long time because it was out of my comfort zone and to be honest it felt like Live TV. Which is not my favourite because it is a completely different stress – once it is being broadcast you don’t have any control!

What happened during this last big event?

We set up for three days and then a full day of tech set up and going through the script and then rehearsals and then show day – we had quite a complicated set – set pieces,  custom made hexagonal shapes,  a hanging logo,  lots of lights,  space for LED screens,  talking head screens for the international speakers.

With how many people on stage?

We had eight speakers in total and an Master of Ceremonies  – three of them were international so we were dealing with time zones and really tired doctors… Two doctors from Canada and one from Ireland plus the local doctors one from Cape Town and the doctor in Johannesburg who was  recovering from COVID so we had to stream him in.  We did both the doctors launch in the morning and then we pre-recorded the dieticians launch for broadcast the next week – so we were clever and utilised the same set and stage for both events. At any given time we had 30 people on set.

How has Shoshin helped with being on set during the pandemic?

We have to have an open mind and an open heart. The crew have had minimal work for a year are so very grateful and hungry to work.  All crew that were on set for the rehearsal day and event day had to be COVID tested – unfortunately for us – we had two members of the LED crew that tested positive so they could not come back to set and had to be replaced.

What precautions do you have in place?

We safe guard as much as we can – we have multiple sanitising stations around the venue, as well as fogging the venue. We do that before everyone comes in,  in the morning – just to make sure everyone is double safe.  Everyone has to wear their masks and we remind everyone to make sure they sanitise.

Crew catering is no longer a buffet but individually packaged food for the crew and client. So those costs have increased, and we have added in COVID line items into our budgets – sanitiser, fogging, tests etc.

How do you stay calm when the clock is ticking and it looks like there’s a huge amount to do?

 By the time it gets to the countdown we should have all our pantone yellow ducks in a row and then you have to hand it over to the team. We’ve put in the pre-production over the weeks, months and sometimes days. But there are always challenges and curveballs. It is about how you handle them that sets you a part. There is always the eerie calm before you go live whether it is a live event or a virtual one! Then when the show caller counts you down to going live you take a deep breath and you go with it - because by that stage there is NO going back.

What is your favourite thing about an event like this?

I love seeing it all come together – all the puzzle pieces, the idea,  the team,  the client,  the crew – it all just slots into its right place.  But hate not being in control – when something goes down or there is a bug in the system and there is no explanation for it or there is human error. I’m also not a fan of the “hurry up and wait” – when you have to wait for it all to come together. It happens in sequence and my instant gratification personality struggles with that … But I am working on it.

How long does it take to strike a  venue? 

This always floors me – what takes the days to get up – then takes six hours to come down!

So interesting Kelly, many thanks for making time to share this with us!

Contact: Kelly McGillivray