The Female Focus: Nadia Nawaz-Khan

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Introducing Nadia Nawaz-Khan

This week we caught up with Freelance Event Director Nadia on the importance of setting boundaries as a freelancer and how to keep a calm head when you hit a curveball. She has been responsible for delivering some seriously high-profile events for major sponsors of the UEFA Champion’s League Final along with Coca Cola, FIFA and BMW. It’s safe to say she is the supreme queen of getting s**t done.

What did you want to be when you grew up?

As a highly ambitious 10 year old, I tried several different things on for size… gymnast, horse-rider, dancer, but after my first trip to the theatre I knew I wanted to be on the stage. The whole concept of performing, entertaining people and making them feel things that only live theatre can, pulled me in. I enrolled in drama school as soon as was physically possible and stayed put for 10 years, my national diploma is actually in performing arts!

How did life lead you to where you are now?

Performing arts taught me much more than acting, it was a big part of my social education. It definitely helped with my overall confidence and the desire to continuously push my own boundaries. Whilst I was finishing my diploma I ended up doing some promo work for an agency that ended up turning into event management. After working as a TV and radio commercial co-ordinator for a couple of years, even though the events side started as something on the side, it ended up getting more and more interesting and I well and truly got the bug. I was offered an opportunity to move to Melbourne and set up the events department of a start-up agency and that was a real defining moment in my career, I realised it was working with people I loved… just not necessarily having to perform for them!

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Biggest career highlight so far?

“The most satisfying part of working in events is actually getting to see the end result, and how much people engage with all your hard work.

If I HAD to pick one; the first welcoming party for Heineken, for the Champions League Final is up there. We held the event in a disused power station in Berlin (complete with the rats the size of CATS! #werkperks) but the crew were absolutely brilliant. The client team and the agency team just gelled and I met some of my best suppliers who work on most of my jobs. That’s definitely a win, when you find your go-to people in the industry that you know deliver, understand how you work and like to work with.”

Are there any freelance frustrations that you've discovered since going solo?

One thing that can be difficult depending on the agency is your integration in to the team. Especially at a senior level, some people can see you as another stop in their progression or a threat to their role. Some will make the minimum effort to include you as they know you’re only there for a short amount of time. I’ve been very lucky with the agencies I’ve worked in and made some real friends and strong working relationships, but it’s not always like that.

I think overall agencies are definitely trying to implement a more workable freelance model and it’s clear the effort some go to. Not only in the culture of the agency but positioning their roles with permanent team members to manage this ahead of the person starting. 

As a freelancer, you can’t choose the people that you work with and 9/10 times they’ll be great, but I would say always make sure you communicate any issues to your line manager if you think it is preventing you from doing your job. Ultimately you are your own business and your ambition to deliver the best event shouldn’t falter because you don’t work somewhere full-time. 

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How do you organise your time?

“Creating a consistent structure to ensure there’s an order to things and everything is delivered on time is a big part of my role, but it can be tricky. It’s really important to create your own boundaries between work and personal life. I’m very lucky as my husband Matt works in the same industry so he understands when I have to work late, or go away and can’t call or text. Friends and close family have got used to it now but it’s hard when you go weeks or months without seeing them, but I think sometimes that does mean we ending spending more quality time together because we know we need to make the most of it.

I have to admit I’m not particularly good at switching off and that could be down to the job itself or my personal approach; either way it’s something I need to make a conscious effort to do as it doesn’t come naturally.”

Surely even with the best planning and timings in the world, sometimes things must go wrong - do you have any advice or tips on how to handle the sticky moments?

With so many factors at play, there’s always a curveball waiting in the wings. The important thing is to remain in control. You must be a swan; gliding on top and paddling like mad under water, out of sight from the client. Talk to your suppliers, be honest with your client and never promise anything until you're 100% certain you can deliver. As the person on the 'front line' it's easy when things are heated or a little frantic to become a ‘yes’ person but this only puts you under more pressure and you'll instantly regret it. 

You're now in a position where you can choose the team you build around you... what do you look for in someone you're looking to bring on?

That all depends on the type of role I'm looking to fulfil; however generally speaking, how someone portrays themselves is important. Clarity and confidence with enthusiasm and not being afraid to roll up your sleeves are big ticks in my book! 

What has been your experience of being a woman in your field?

There are certain brands, which prefer to lean on people similar to themselves which can be frustrating but from an agency perspective, I've always felt like I've been treated fairly. 

Most of the crews onsite are predominantly male and they sometimes double take when I'm the one with plans in my hand or making decisions. I’ve never felt like I’ve needed to make any special extra effort to be taken seriously… I think they know by my tone, I'm not there to muck about!

There is a refreshing wave of younger women in senior positions both client side and agency that I have the pleasure to work with, it’s really encouraging to see a shift in the tide.

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Who are your biggest role models?

Whether it’s predictable or not, my mum is my number one role model. We have very different careers but my work ethic, my confidence to acknowledge when you achieved something and when you needed to rethink to do something better, comes from her.

My second inspiration is my husband Matt, someone I continue to learn both from and with. We work on projects together regularly, which I know many people think is their worst nightmare, but for me it’s great. We work in very different ways so I will always go to him as my sounding board; knowing that he will always take a step back and apply the wider lens which is sometimes hard to do when you're in the thick of it.

What advice would you give to someone starting out in their career that you wish you'd known?

People have a misconception with working on high profile events that it’s all glamour … but having to stop an ice cream truck from sliding down a hill in torrential rain and knee deep mud at a festival is not exactly champagne and caviar.

Also, make sure you enjoy it. You’ll have some late nights, some all nights… BUT you get to work in one of the most exciting industries with people who are continuing to create experiences that have never been done before. It's worth it.

Most importantly, always remember these two words. After. Party.

 It ain’t all glamour - but Nadia does get to hang out with Santa…

It ain’t all glamour - but Nadia does get to hang out with Santa…