Expo 2015 seen from the inside
“Fiera MiCo Milano Congressi” could not but be among the leading actors of Expo, the great World Fair that closed on 31st October last setting an all-time record of 25 million visitors.
Tasked with managing the two largest indoor facilities dedicated to conferences and meetings (the Auditorium and the Conference Center, with a seating capacity of 1,020 and 326 respectively), “Fiera Milano Congressi” had yet another opportunity on this extraordinary occasion to express the professionalism and skills unanimously recognized by operators from all over the world that in recent years have chosen the Portello area facilities for their meetings and events.
Needless to say, only a complex organization enriched by experience gained with top-profile events – not the least of which the management of the European Semester – and the flexibility able to solve even last-minute problems, could have met a challenge fraught with such difficulty. The merit belongs to the whole team of “Fiera Milano Congressi” and its time-tested suppliers (“Volume” for the audio-visual media and “Nolostand” for the setting up), trained to provide in real time equipment and materials, organization and support, but also to entertain and develop relations with delegations and corporate clients for a result that always meets the expectations.
In the front line, present nonstop in the Expo offices and pavilions during the 6-month event – always assisted daily by the colleagues of “Fiera Milano Congressi” – were Alessia, Ilaria and Alessandro, whose assignment was to organize and direct “traffic” often chaotic and full of unforeseen events. We go back over this experience with them from the beginning to discuss the more or less frequent problems, the need for quick decision-making, the successes and little curiosities, but also the many – and unrepeatable – emotions experienced.
Question: It’s one thing to work for meetings that have an “incubation” of months and even years, and something else to organize and decide with just a few hours at one’s disposal. How did it go?
Ilaria: Now I can say that it was a truly extraordinary and exciting experience. In the beginning I didn’t know what I was getting into except in a general way. It was a bit like facing the open sea: you have to navigate, to map the route, but you still don’t know the force of the waves and strength of the currents.
Then, once you’re there, little by little, you find yourself in the morning organizing a meeting or event for the afternoon; deciding on the spot became natural. I don’t say routine, which it never was because the problems were always new and different and I had to come up with solutions right then and there. I can say that in terms of my professional growth Expo has been a fundamental experience.
Question: You and the others began at once, right from the inauguration of Expo, and you finished on October 31st, closing day. Without a moment’s rest. What did your work entail and what were the knottiest problems?
Alessandro: Hosting an average of three events a day for a total of about 400, our commitment was total. Making the dates fit, setting up the rooms, attending down to the last detail required by customers, offering technical support for shows staged by outside operators (ballets, magic shows and so on) was never simple, also considering the logistical bottleneck due to the fact that the transfer of materials within the Expo area was allowed exclusively at night.
In the few hours available we in fact had to dismantle the event that was over and get ready for the next one, sometimes upsetting the set-ups. Efficiency and organization and attention to detail were the cornerstones of our work. But also creativity in solving unforeseeable last-minute problems.
Question: In the everyday work at “Fiera Milano Congressi” you have different duties. At Expo there was no division of roles, each of you had to take care of a full range of matters. What was the secret of this interchangeability?
Alessia: The day-by-day activity helped us to understand and foresee the problems that might arise; we chose to cope with them in common. This explained the broadening of our expertise to include other sectors where we were inexperienced. But our real strength was a camaraderie that became complete over time.
Always bearing in mind the objective and sure of being able to count on the knowhow and organization provided by our colleagues of “Fiera Milano Congressi.” Yes, because the on-going assistance and presence of our “Fiera Milano Congressi” colleagues was essential for our work. At the “front,” so to speak, there weren’t just us three, but in turn also our Portello colleagues.
Question: Which were the most important events that you worked for?
Alessandro: We hosted different types of events that reflected the different facets of Expo. The highest-profile events of an institutional nature were three in number: the Agriculture Forum (MIBACT), the International Culture Forum and the FAO World Food Day. A great many events were tied to the corporate world and to associations, from Confindustria to Finmeccanica, from Assolombarda to Federcasse, and from Confartigianato to Enel to mention just a few.
And then the events organized by the various countries for the National Days with conferences, shows, ballets, theatre and so on. As you can see, the events where highly differentiated, which called for a proper organization and personalized answers. The extreme flexibility of management and the organization – qualities unanimously recognized of which “Fiera Milano Congressi” is rightly proud – helped us in this venture beyond a shadow of doubt.
Question: Many worlds, many cultures, many traditions and customs. Which were the most curious episodes that you experienced in contact with persons so different?
Ilaria: One will suffice: the organization of a play put on by the youth of the “Casa circondariale” of Bollate. It was lovely and captivating, a relational experience that really enriched me. Not to mention the ironic comment of the governor of the prison: “You know, the show isn’t complicated, the kids are good actors; the only problem is that they change often and every time we have to start all over again.” Many were the gestures and displays of kindness by the delegations of the countries that we gave hospitality to, each and all, how to put it, personalized, characterized by the culture of origin. This, too, is a way of knowing, discovering.
Question: It’s time to draw conclusions. What do you take away, in human and professional terms, from this exceptional experience?
Alessandro: Apart from having lived a truly unique experience from the human standpoint, which made it possible to get to know and engage every day with persons of different languages and cultures, an obvious reason for professional growth was having to deal with completely different situations and to solve problems very quickly, problems that I couldn’t even have imagined the day before, by adapting my way of thinking and acting. And all this in highly independent fashion. Then the fact of having to organize more than one event practically simultaneously made me acquire abilities that I didn’t have. Despite the hard work and the commitment called for that was exceptional, I would repeat the Expo experience already beginning from tomorrow.
Alessia: It was a formidable, unrepeatable experience. Without a doubt for me it was a time of great growth, professional and human. The swift decision-making required every day and every hour, without time for second thoughts, which was our “daily bread” of these six months, allowed me to increase my quotient of security and awareness on the job. The human relations, then, are an extraordinary chapter, which I won’t be able to forget.
Ilaria: I was starting from scratch for an experience of this scope. A bet. I didn’t know in detail, and no one could know, the problems that I would have to face. And in the beginning this was at once difficult and exciting. Then – I speak for myself but I think my colleagues would agree – I learned the ropes. We knew we had a “well-trained” organization backing us that we could count on at any time, and that was a source of serenity for our work. In the matter of emergency management instead we could rely on only what we had available “in house,” it being impossible to draw on the skills and on the warehouse in the daytime. It was the “acid test.” I found myself moving desks around, searching for microphones, finding new solutions then and there. Stressful alright, but also rewarding because it made me discover some resources that I didn’t think I had. And then, of course, the whole network of relations, the relationships with persons who couldn’t have been more different in terms of traditions and cultures, was a unicom that I’ll remember as long as I live.
The success of “Fiera Milano Congressi” at Expo also bears the signature of Paolo Paravano, head of “Venues Functioning,” who was always on the front line to make sure everything went according to plan and, above all, ready to find a solution when a plan was lacking. His job at Expo – or rather twofold job, because he never broke off from operations at the Portello office – was a little bit of leadership, a little bit of problem solving, a little bit of being a “mastiff” vis-à-vis the partners. A huge workload, even for someone like him used to managing the offices of the congress centres that refer to MiCo.
“Look,” he begins, “at the outset I was unhappy, I didn’t think I’d manage what with the complexity of the relations and coordination – involving partners, suppliers, bureaucracy, other operators present at Expo – and all at the same time. It seemed to me that I was in over my head. But it only lasted a little while. We – myself and all those who worked for Expo – had to adopt a military type organization. Schedules, logistics, costs all had to “balance” on the final line. Then of course there were unforeseen events that we had to take into account. When that happened we had to trust in our experience, in our ability to improvise and find solutions right then, and by that I mean in the very near future.” An example? “One of the first nights when we hadn’t even had time to get settled in I get a phone call at four in the morning with someone advising me that the sets hadn’t arrived for an event. In no time we got ourselves organized with what we had available – unfortunately, there was no chance of getting any other material in. And at ten o’clock in the morning the event kicked off on schedule without anybody suspecting how we had revolutionized the original project.”
If we picture the facilities managed by “Fiera Milano Congressi” at Expo as a theatre, the work didn’t consist of just setting the stage, but also of imagining the theatre itself, which had to be “invented” from one time to the next depending on the event. And all within a few hours. “For the International Culture Forum – which included a live RAI broadcast and the presence of Minister Franceschini representing Italy – we devised a projection in the round, which is to say a screening on all the walls of the Pompeii site; in the middle of the hall were some of the recovered stolen objects that the ministry had made available for the occasion. The result was brilliant.”
Lots of nice snapshots provide enduring photographic proof, not to mention the indelible memories of those who took part. As soon as each event was over the staging was dismantled to immediately begin getting ready for the completely different one to follow, with as many as 120 persons working together. A virtual “war machine,” that of “Fiera Milano Congressi,” which was also appreciated by institutions such as the UN and FAO, as evidenced by the sincere letters of gratitude received from them. “Our work received recognition from all the customers that made use of our services; for us EXPO was a showcase enabling us to become better known by both the major world institutions and the companies that held meetings and conferences.”
The happiest moments? The unforgettable situations? “The personal relations, yes, the ties that bound us. There were many of us working together, some “Fiera Milano Congressi” regulars and others we had never met before, some of whom for just one staging and others on more than one occasion. And yet, the shared experience gave birth to a unique fraternal relationship, intense and deep. For instance, we would celebrate every first day of the month all together with a toast, some pastries and an exchange of opinions, even inviting the security guards and all those who were around us. What I’ll bring away professionally is the recognition received from our interlocutors of the organizational capability and international credibility of Fiera Milano Congressi.”
Now, more than a month after the close of Expo, a few details for the record are still missing. When the record is complete Pavarano will go back to his usual job. Any nostalgia? “I’m not sentimental, but I admit that during the closing ceremony, amid fireworks, music and dancing and lots of people in the decumano, Expo main walkway, I found myself with a few tears on my face and a little pang in my heart.”