Event production lessons from the Sochi Winter Olympics

Sochi Winter OlympicsSochi’s Winter Olympics have come to a close. The British athletes brought home a record-equalling medal haul, despite speed skater and medal hope Elise Christie being disqualified not once, not twice, but three times. Despite the controversy leading up to the Games and continuing security fears during the event, the actual events at Sochi generally went smoothly. The Sochi Winter Olympics had by far the biggest budget of any Olympic Games so far, including the Summer Olympics in London and Beijing. While most event production companies can only dream of getting their hands on a budget of tens of thousands of pounds for a single project, let alone millions, there are still a whole host of event production and event management lessons that we can take from Sochi.


A big budget doesn’t mean a flawless event

As the Olympics kicked off, it seemed as though the whole western world was begging for something to go wrong. In the build up to the games we’d heard about Russia’s controversial human rights record and approach to various social issues, unfinished accommodation for athletes and press, and the shooting of hundreds of stray dogs. The opening ceremony, however, was a lavish celebration of Russian history. Some commentators complained that it glossed over some rather less savoury aspects, but let’s be honest, every Olympic host is the same. Then, a technical error occurred. One of the five huge, hovering snowflakes failed to transform itself into an Olympic ring. Social media users were triumphant – particularly when a photo was released of President Putin watching the ceremony on TV, where all five rings had formed successfully. It emerged that the president had been watching rehearsal footage, but the blunder overshadowed the rest of the spectacular opening ceremony. Despite the huge budget and numerous rehearsals, the opening ceremony failed to go off without a hitch.


Lesson: No matter what your budget may be, the extent of your planning and the number of rehearsals you undertake, technical problems may still arise. Even if you deal with them swiftly, they can still put a dampener on the remainder of the event.



The organisers responded to this technical problem head-on. In the closing ceremony, the failed ring situation was re-enacted by circles of performers. This rather unexpected direct acknowledgement of the mistake showed that the organisers weren’t hiding from it, and furthermore, it revealed that they had a sense of humour! Self-referential humour is always tricky to judge correctly, but given the sheer quantity of media coverage dedicated to the technical hitch, the organisers got it right.


Lesson: Confidence and professionalism are fantastic traits of event production teams and event hosts, but being unafraid to make jokes at your own expense is also important. It’s a great way of diffusing the awkward situation that might emerge following a technical fault.


Set design and venue re-use

The organisers plan to make further use of the venues both for the football World Cup in 2018, and other events and concerts in future. Further funding for winter sports following a successful Games for Russian athletes should help to keep them in good condition, and avoid them simply becoming abandoned like many of Athens’ 2004 Olympic venues.


Lesson: Set design can drastically change the character – and even function – of a venue. Venues can be surprisingly versatile, and easily tweaked so that they can host a variety of events. The potential of set design should not be overlooked.


Celebrate those who matter

The closing ceremony of the games celebrated the athletes themselves, acknowledging the fantastic performances witnessed over the previous two weeks. This ensured that the majority of the athletes were appreciative of the organisers’ efforts – and even stayed to enjoy an athletes-only after party.


Lesson: Events should make those who’ve done well feel rewarded. Even if you’re not holding a formal awards ceremony, a few special touches can go a long way to making your guests feel valued.

R&B Group now look forward to the next major international sporting event – the World Cup in Brazil! In the meantime, if you want to benefit from our award winning event production and event technology, speak to us now!