We need to talk……

……four words that would on occasion make a cold shiver run down my spine. But I’m not here for that conversation.

I’m writing about the need to talk.

To talk. To converse. To communicate. Effectively.

We need a dialogue, a tete-a-tete, a consultation, a sit down and thrash this out.

We need more than one person or group in a room, constructively talking with each other. Not a Zoom or panel where one group is talking to a group of people who already agree with them and nod encouragingly, while being silently observed by many others.

We need to be constructive in our comments, and to quote many a good leader “don’t come to me with problems, bring me solutions.”

Fairly sure all the above can be applied to myriad situations, but this is my whisky blog, so you already have an idea of where I am going.

For those who may not know, I am ridiculously enthusiastic about whisky; not just the drink but the people, even more so those people who are new to whisky. I have enough experience in working at whisky events, working in male dominated industries, working as a leader, managing people, managing projects and in my endless career a serious bent for Health & Safety.

I am also a brand ambassador for a whisky company.

Just over 3 weeks ago, the London Whisky Show took place at Old Billingsgate. As usual it was three days of fun, ridiculously demanding work, seeing so many people. Meeting old friends and new. The show had its highest numbers ever (I think, maybe I will get TWE to confirm), but it was busy. It wasn’t the first show since CV19, but an uptick in attendees.

For those who don’t know, the layout downstairs is quite open with space to move around. Upstairs is a little more compact. Stands facing each other along the “corridor” and are packed in quite closely next to each other.

Now, here is my H&S head:

  1. I pulled our stand out a little to give space to be able to move around easier. It can get a little claustrophobic behind a small busy stand, plus when surrounded by lots of people you need a way out. It’s quite simple. You need exit space.
  2. I made myself aware of who is around me exhibitor wise, talk to people, be aware of who my neighbours are.
  3. Know where security is. Who are they? How are they dressed? How can I contact them?
  4. Read the exhibitor pack. It holds the information regards H&S during the day, contacts etc.

So, under HASAWA 1974, as an employee, I have done my checks. As an event organiser TWE have done theirs. This is the conversation. This is two groups working together. Now, the last part of this conversation is the client. On the website there is a code of behaviour for everyone who buys the ticket. This part is the “unknown.” TWE had taken measures regards behaviour expectations from visitors at the show, but what they can’t do is know that everyone has read them, taken them on board and will behave accordingly.

So next step is further risk management. This is in the form of security, exhibitors agreeing their part of the H&S contract. The rest? Well, that’s down to people holding themselves and each other accountable.

Having worked in area’s that need high level H&S legislation and enforcement, I can tell you now, NOTHING is ever perfect and not every scenario is covered; new ones pop up all the time.

Now, I’m an eyes everywhere person, watching and monitoring crowd behaviour, understanding from experience which session may have more issues than others. Saturday afternoon can be quite fraught at this show. More people, more alcohol = more problems.

I used to be a Licenced Door Supervisor (a bouncer). If you’ve met me, you’ll appreciate I am suited to that job. But it came with amazing training, and I have a skill set many don’t. I can see who may cause a problem and when, sometimes hours before it happens. But we’re not in Minority Report so you can’t remove someone because they MAY behave a particular way. But my skill set also gives me the confidence to be able to step in and deal with problems should they arrive.

It also means that when I am in a room, or any kind of space, I am looking for doors, exit routes, and with regards to whisky shows, how stands are set up, how people are behaving.

Now, next to my stand was a stand monitored by a full female team, who are not particularly tall (fact not opinion). That stand was busy, and should it have had any problems, trust me, no-one would have seen it. The exhibitors would have been blocked from view very quickly and easily. So, a conversation needs to happen about set-up, and we need to design more safety into that somehow.

So, with all the work done to make an event welcoming and safe, there will still be people who have a negative experience, whether they be visitors or exhibitor/event staff.

To recap:

Organisers have done full due diligence regards H & S.

Exhibitors have done full due diligence regards H & S.

Visitors have been advised of expectations and various other H & S on the website.

These are the three parts of this conversation.

So, what happens if someone has a negative experience?

Well firstly, we need them to speak up, if possible, at the event/venue. The sooner the team know of an issue, the quicker it can be resolved, and the person supported appropriately.

If that wasn’t possible for whatever reason, then as soon as possible after, contact the event team by email or telephone. My advice is always put something in writing. Your experience is important. Your thoughts are important. There is NO silly scenario. If you felt blocked from getting to the stands to enjoy the whisky, say so. If you felt ignored by exhibitors at a stand for whatever reason, say so. But say so to the people involved so the next conversation can start. The conversation that is about your experience, and what can be done to try and ensure it doesn’t happen again.

If a stand was too busy there can be many remedies: firstly, the simple one, walk away and see if it’s a little less busy later. If it was too busy all day, then the feedback is that that stand needs to be bigger, or in a different space.

Thirdly, if you have the confidence (and I say if, because I know too well that many don’t) find a way to speak to someone on the stand. In all my time doing this work, which is few years now I have not met ONE exhibitor who doesn’t want to take a little time to help someone. Most of the people who do this work do it out of passion…because its too much hard work to do just to earn a crust. We want people to have an enjoyable experience.

Now, what doesn’t work is not speaking up to those who can help. Speaking blankly into social media to highlight a displeasure or negative experience is useless. The entire world is not on social media and many of the bigger company’s socials are not managed in-house, so your comments will not go to those who can help you.

Social media is not a space for meaningful, constructive resolution behaviour. We see it every day, we know this.

There is also an element of unfairness in bringing something to social media without having been in conversation with a company/person first. Give them the opportunity to listen and help you. Your conversation with them could highlight something they didn’t know was happening and can also lead to change in company training, behaviours ect and not only does this help you, but everyone else who then visits that show or venue.

In all these spaces, events, venues etc if a person has behaved in such a way to negatively effect another person, verbally, physically etc and they can be identified, then something can happen to remove the privilege of attending such spaces. A ban can be put in place, a membership revoked.

But in order for these things to take place, we need to have those conversations.

I don’t believe in “X-only” spaces. But I do believe we can make things easier for people. I personally am not great in crowded spaces, and if my head isn’t in the right place, I can have a panic attack. Could event organisers arrange shows that are a little quieter? Less people? A different set-up? I expect so. But has the need for that ever been identified, I expect not. Not in a direct constructive way anyway. It’s likely a ticket may cost more due to overheads of an event taking in less people at a time, but its still an option and yes, it should be looked in to.

So, lets start talking to each other better. We can find solutions together and we can all attend an event or visit a venue feeling confident that we will have a pleasant experience.

And my commitment to you, as a visitor, as a fellow exhibitor, as member of the whisky community, I’m keeping my eyes out for you, I will listen to you, and I will help you.

As always, love to you all.



Published by Claire Vokins

My am involved in whisky and horticulture. I own a small professional garden care company with a focus on working in a sustainable way. Whisky enthusiast. Studying "Politics, Philosophy and Economics" with the Open University. Stoic.

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