Hosting the world – the inside secrets from London 2012

2012 has been a wonderful year to be living in London.   On July 27 the Olympics turned overnight from an expensive charade into a fantastic, community-building festival with the whole world arriving to join in.  I remember seeing my first London 2012 volunteer on the Tube that day, and thinking “Smart uniform – but I wonder what they do..?”.  Well, it all became clear as over the following fortnight the Games Makers – all 70,000 of them – made the biggest impact on the Games, the visitors and the spirit of the occasion.

I spoke to Penny West, a solution-focused practitioner and colleague who was also a Games Maker team leader at the Excel arena, home to the boxing, wrestling, table tennis and taekwondo .  She agreed with Lord Coe, chair of the organising committee, that the volunteers made the difference between a good Games and a great Games.  Penny was impressed with the selection and training offered.  “Morale was really good – they selected the right people on the basis of person skills and common sense. “

The key role of the Games Makers was to welcome people, greet them, make sure they got to the right area, and say goodbye at the end.  (I experienced all this – very impressive, particularly the farewell from the stadium).  This all amounts to good hosting.  This was clearly recognised by the organisers, who provided training focused around six key hosting actions:

  • Be Inspirational – act to encourage those around you and go the extra mile
  • Be Distinctive – show your own personality, we don’t want robots
  • Be Open – approachable and honest to everyone, if you don’t know something then say so and find out
  • Be Alert – use your sharpest awareness to notice what’s going on around you and respond
  • Be Consistent – treat everyone as an individual, work out their needs and help them – even at the end of a long shift
  • Be part of the Team – support your colleagues and look after each other

These are great guidelines for hosting anywhere.  I  am particularly struck by ‘Be Distinctive’ – it’s great to see that we’re getting more comfortable with the idea that everyone is different, and the differences are what makes the world go round rather than being something to be minimised and avoided.  I was lucky enough to spend an evening at the athletics in the main stadium, and the Games Makers were particularly prominent at the end of the night, helping people find their way out, get to a Tube station and so on.  I was high-fived at the stadium exit, and then encouraged on the (rather long) walk to West Ham station by a succession of volunteers each giving it their own touch.  “Cheer if you’ve had a great day!”, urged one.  Fifty metres further on, his colleague admitted “He takes you up, I bring you down again…”.

Alertness is also a key aspect of hosting.  I sometimes say that a host is never doing nothing, even if they’re not doing anything.  Sharp eyes can notice and respond to issues as they emerge, or even just before.  Hosting is not a matter of sitting around until called upon, it’s an active full-body participation sport.  Just wearing the uniform on the Tube was enough to change the dynamics of interaction with the public, according to Penny – “people would naturally chat and interact with you”.

Penny also told me that there was a great deal of attention to detail – both from the organisers and the Games Makers.  “There was a lot of learning as we went along, with a debrief at the end of each shift.  And then at the end there was a party at Excel for all the Games Makers who had worked there – lots of acknowledgment of those who had contributed, a podium was erected, congratulations to the leaders of different activities, a photo gallery of people at work.  Everyone was given a souvenir athletic baton in a box as a thank you, and we all had badges to wear – bronze, silver and gold.  It was really well thought-through.”

By the end of the event, the Games Makers had made a huge impression on the event and on the watching world – they even had a special place in the closing ceremony.  The whole thing has a 98% attendance rate from the volunteers – so clearly everyone felt part of something and didn’t want to miss out.  That’s the power of hosting – creating something that people WANT to be part of, in a way that INCREASES the participation as the event emerges.

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