As you know, one of the key activities of ARENA CS is the organization of events for foreign companies. We see that demand in this segment is rapidly increasing, and more and more foreign organizations choose Ukraine as a platform for their events.

Why does it happen? We have a beautiful, hospitable and friendly country, which has already earned a reputation as a hospitable hostess. This is already being spoken and written about.

You might have noticed yourself that in our country events of an international format — competitions, sporting events, and thematic forums — have increasingly begun to take place.

Passions of football fans died down, emotions cooled off, the Champions League final- is over, which our hoteliers and apartment owners will remember for a long time to come.

What about me? Against the backdrop of this growing trend of international recognition, I wanted to analyze how strong Ukraine is with its professionals who can hold an international event at a high level.

And it will be about simplicity and clarity in communications – knowledge of foreign languages ​​by the staff and hosts of event-companies. From my own experience, I know how troublesome it is to select a really competent English-speaking event host (without mentioning other languages).

Why is the event host so important? Let’s be honest: it’s pretty easy to select promo-staff, as well as hostesses who speak English. And technical specialists are also enough nowadays. But finding a host who is able to cope with the program and who feels comfortable in interactive programs (including improvisation) is not an easy task. The whole dynamics of the event rests on him, he controls the processes and feels the change of the emotional waves of those present.

We were thoroughly interested in this issue, and I can say that today in Ukraine a maximum of 15 event hosts can boast of an impressive portfolio of projects in English. And we are talking about the hosts running live events that know how to improvise without reading his script.

Who are these people? You know them very well because they showed themselves perfectly on Eurovision 2004 and 2017. These are Pavel Shilko, Masha Efrosinina, Vladimir Ostapchuk, Grigory Reshetnik, and Alexander Skichko. Football and boxing fans remember the amazing work of Sergei Velichansky and Andrei Astakhov during EURO 2012, the Champions League final of 2018 and boxing fights at the Sports Palace. This is indeed a high standard of skill.

How did they manage to reach such a strong level of cooperation with an international audience? Let’s ask the professionals ourselves. We will also learn how to choose an English-speaking host for your event and check his level of language proficiency.

Andrey Astakhov: “Foreign language is your advantage”

Andrey, welcome. Thank you for agreeing to answer our questions. You know that in our country there are a lot of professionals in organizational and technical matters, but with the event hosts, things are not so optimistic. Few people can hold events at a high level. Therefore, we decided to show those to be looked up to. You – for example. Share your experience with our readers and tell us how you did it. And as an exclusive, tell me more about French.

How and where did you learn English?

Everything is on the up-and-up: I learned Latin letters thanks to football. Being a child, I was wondered how the names of the players should be written, namely in foreign languages. Once I started, I was immediately carried away by it. I was really surprised at how funny some letter combinations are read. It was difficult, and in some places incredibly difficult. It seemed to me that quick, clear and distinct pronunciation – is a separate super-ability. And challenges always attract me. So, thanks to football, a passion for languages ​​appeared. And then the school period began and later a deeper immersion while studying at the faculty of foreign languages.

Do you speak any other languages besides English, Russian and Ukrainian? I mean foreign languages.

Yes, I also speak French.

Tell me, when and in what conditions did you have your first event in English?

The first event is always remembered. And it was a very interesting story in my case. Christmas Eve, the call from the event agency at 16:00: “Andrey, we need an English-speaking event host for the wedding, are you taking it?”. Imagine a wedding for 8 people. Moreover, the groom, best man, and groomsman were from Lebanon. I had only 3 days to get prepared. As a respectable event host, I noted everything, prepared a script, improvisations, and all the same, consulted with the teacher to be safe. I received a blessing from him and did everything just fine. This was my first time.

How often do you get invitations to host an event in English?                                   I will say briefly: every year there are more and more of them. And I am glad because the language must always be trained to stay in the best shape and good emotional mood.

On what basis were castings/selections for large projects where you participated?

I have two European Football Championships 2012 and 2016 under my belt. How did the casting process look like? Well, it all started with preliminary Skype interviews, then I was invited to a meeting to talk in person, and later I was told the good news “Andrey, we hire you.” And I was all for it!

What are the most curious situations that happened at your English-speaking events because of a possible misunderstanding of cultural or conceptual peculiarities? And how did you manage to get out of such situations?

I remember it was in France. After one of the matches, we did a debriefing. Saying “we” I mean speakers from France, Germany, and English television people. And so I decide to tell a joke on a football topic.

A football referee finds himself in heaven, where he begins a conversation with the Apostle Peter. The apostle asks what good deeds our hero-referee did during his life. He replies that he is most proud of his decision to put in a penalty kick against Liverpool at Anfield stadium in the match with Everton (their most principled opponent). Peter says that he does not remember such a match, and the referee replies that the match has not yet ended …

from the football fan perspective, the joke is quite funny. But after my story, there was silence in the room for a long time. The problem is that I did not know how this anecdote sounds in the original and quickly translated it in our Slavic manner, wanting to impress the British. Later I found out that in English such an anecdote does not exist at all. Who knows, maybe it will be translated. And if you are not a football fan, then it was angry fans who “sent” the referee to Peter.

Do you feel competition with other English-speaking event hosts? And how does it manifest?

I take it as an alliance and cooperation. The universe is generous, and there is enough work for everyone. The main thing is that the event itself, its participants, spectators, and listeners could benefit from it in the end.

What events are more often English-speaking in your practice: weddings, corporate parties, conferences, ceremonies? Which of them are the most difficult to host?

I have got all of the above on my experience. What is more difficult? You know, I do not want to boast of myself, but even the most difficult event, with proper preparation, can be carried out easily. Herein lies a secret of being a professional event host – having a lively yet relaxed style, even if you feel excited on the inside (there’s no avoiding it). If you are worried, this means you care about the overall result and really love your job.

What is important to you when preparing for an English event? How do you prepare for it? What can hinder you?

The most valuable thing about our work is time. Therefore, the only thing that hinders is a catastrophic lack of time. You have to sacrifice your sleep.

What is the best way to do it if the audience is mixed – both Ukrainians and foreigners – to involve two event hosts or one can quite handle it?

This is a matter of choice and a specific solution. Personally, it’s more convenient for me to host an event in several languages. And everything goes smoothly, without a hitch and unpredictable incidents.

What can provoke Ukrainian event hosts and showmen to actively learn the language?

I think it’s the market demand. When the event host rejects the next request for hosting in a foreign language, an internal motivator should work out inside him: “Come on, buddy, go for it! You can do it.” A foreign language is your advantage. It is not innate but acquired.

How can increased competition in this market affect you?

I will repeat myself and emphasize: I have been following the principle of the generosity of the Universe all my life and believe that everything that is meant for me isn’t going anywhere.  Just for an example … In 2008, I worked in Donetsk on TV, hosted a travel program. At the same time, I was the host of weddings. It was the end of May, and I started to panic a little bit: there were almost no orders and invitations for June. How can this be? And at the beginning of the month, I was invited for shooting in Tunisia. This is a sign. By the way, the following July was completely packed.

What event would you like to host in Ukraine? What is the “event of your dream”?

Recently, at a boxing tournament in Kyiv, I stood in the same ring with the legendary ring-announcer Michael Buffer. Talking to a legend and getting a compliment from him can be compared to fulfilling a dream. And if we talk about a specific event – I dream of acting as a ring announcer at Madison Square Garden in New York, and after that, to host a wedding for the champion the next day – can be the same place. Therefore, thank you for your questions, I’ll go to work on the realization of this dream.

Pavel Shilko: “Speaking English and hosting an event in English – are completely different things.”

Where and how did you learn the English language?

I believe that, in a literal sense, it is impossible to learn a language perfectly. I began to learn English at school. I was even the winner of the All-Ukrainian Olympiad in English. Of course, later on, I continued to study and develop knowledge already within the framework of professional competence.

Do you speak any other languages except Russian / Ukrainian? I mean foreign languages.

I have repeatedly hosted events in several languages. Speaking of records, the largest number of languages was used during the presentation of the Euro 2012 match – Ukrainian, English, Spanish, and Polish.

Tell me, when and in what conditions you had your first event in English?

Oh, that was so long ago, about 20 years ago, so I don’t remember the details anymore. I can only say that it was a wedding of very respected people, whose names I cannot tell you for obvious reasons.

How often do you get invitations to host an event in English?

There is one nuance here. Recently, I have been more often engaged in producing and other projects. However, if I accept some invitation, then 90% of such events are in English.

What events are more often hosted in English in your practice: weddings, corporate parties, conferences, ceremonies? Which of them are the most difficult to host?

Mostly balls are in English, often charitable ones, where 80% of the participants are foreigners, and 20% speak Ukrainian / Russian. Also, these are conferences and corporate parties.

What is the best way to do it if the audience is mixed – both Ukrainians and foreigners – to take two event hosts or one can handle it?

Personally, it’s convenient for me to host an event alone. I do like to deftly and appropriately switch from one language to the second and third so that it is as comfortable as possible for the participants. It also creates additional positive dynamics.

How can increased competition in this market affect you?

I only rejoice when new event hosts appear, who can decently host an event in English. Because speaking English and hosting an event in English are completely different things. In our country, everyone speaks Ukrainian or Russian. However, not everyone can host events in these languages. The same thing happens with foreign languages: you need to understand their humor, be able to play on words.

Sergei Velichansky: “Just knowing English – is no longer a cool thing”

Where/how did you learn English?

Oh, this is a long story, but I will try to be brief. It was back in the 90s. I worked as a translator for 7 years and at the same time studied at the Kyiv branch of the American College. At that time, I visited 18 states, thanks to which I got the opportunity to study, observe and hone my skills.

Tell me, when and in what conditions did you have your first event in English?

My first performances were in the USA. At that time, I actively supported and developed social projects in Ukraine, and partners from the United States helped me. I had to do a lot of speeches and presentations. In such a way, in the 1990s and 2000s, my speeches came down to social projects and fundraising. If we talk about the first commercial event, it took place in 2006 – it was a 2-day training for the international team of Raiffeisen Bank, which was preparing for the restructuring and acquisition of the Ukrainian bank “Aval”.

How often do you get invitations to host an event in English?

Statistics for recent years show that such proposals are received in a proportion of 50/50. And a similar trend is growing, more and more requests are in English.

On what basis were castings for large projects where you participated (Champions League Final 2018, EURO 2012, Eurovision and so on)? Has it ever happened that the client did not want to conclude a contract with you?

At every stage and project, I always had a preliminary casting or tender. I remember that in 2012 I won the tender to host 5 football matches in Kyiv including a grand finale. And in 2017, I was lucky to be the host of 14 nights in the Eurovision 2017 Euro Club. Why did it happen? Most likely, because I do “Improv Comedy” in English, and because there is no script in the Euro club. Now is the year 2018. According to the results of the casting, I was allowed to host the women’s Champions League Final.

By the way, it is not always known how many people participate in the tender, sometimes 2-3, sometimes more. I take the refusals calmly – if some other person gets the contract, it means that the other event host is more suitable for the client based on some criteria. For example, he is taller, younger, lighter, more smiling, and so on. All the colleagues who I know are worthy event hosts.

Does the language of event hosting affect the size of your fee?

It used to affect before, I must confess. Now the situation is somewhat different because you will no longer astonish anyone with your knowledge and fluency in English. Many event hosts appeared on the market, claiming that they can host an event in English. Although I did not test their competence. And the customers have various requirements. For example, if we are talking about a conference and some other official events, there are serious grammar requirements, so the high fee is justified. In other cases, the client himself does not quite realize whether he just needs an interpreter or a professional event host. Or even a host who will simply read the opening speech, and that will be enough. All this is clarified during the negotiations.

Do you feel competition with other English-speaking event hosts? And how does it manifest?

Different market segments have their specific competition and requirements. I am friends with many colleagues and respect their work. Some of them I see more often, with others I communicate via social networks. And it happens that we meet at the same tender, we hug each other and move forward! Everyone does what he can, and the decision is made by the customer. This is the market.

What is important to you when preparing for an event in English? How are you getting ready? What can hinder you?

Before each event, I necessarily read the duties of speakers, top managers, and VIP guests. If necessary, I request additional information. Of course, I study professional slang and the terminology of the industry in which the company operates.

This is no different from preparing for a live interview in English when I worked on First Ukrainian and UKRINFORM TV channels. The main task is to prepare terminology and create an event scenario – the rest is up to your improvisation if something goes wrong.

What is the best way to do it if the audience is mixed – both Ukrainians and foreigners – to take two event hosts or one can quite handle it?

It also happens that the customer invites two event hosts to duplicate each other – this turns one of them into a regular interpreter. But he is not an interpreter. And he does not know the language like an interpreter. And if the customer invites a professional interpreter, I always suggest that the talking time in the timing should be multiplied by two.

I easily work on my own, going back and forth between both languages. I even have my life hacks, how to do it dynamically, without unnecessary lapses in rhythm.

What can provoke Ukrainian event hosts and showmen to actively learn the language?

This is already happening. We are witnessing the arrival of a large number of immigrants from eastern Ukraine in the capital, among whom there are young actors and MC. And the capital always attracts talented youth, so you cannot stand still. If you do not evolve in styles, languages, show programs, peculiarity – you can soon be left without orders and leave the profession.

Let’s look at the situation. Some take part in TV programs, others record vlogs, actively learn English and can already run the official part (albeit often “from notes”). The world is constantly moving. Soon, knowledge of English will become a classic norm.

I just returned from a trip, attended the international improvisation festival in Warsaw. Knowledge of English for improvisers there – is not a question of “necessary or not necessary” – the guys just go on stage and freely improvise. I think soon we will have this too, in the nearest future, by the way.

How can increased competition in this market affect you?

I always have several parallel projects, all related to my main brainchild – Improv Club. This is a really powerful tool for solving the tasks of a corporate client. And if we talk about solo improvisation – it’s a bomb!

Therefore, knowing English is no longer as cool as it used to be. There is what you know and able to do at stake. Can you improvise? Do you know how to “sort out” a non-standard situation, a hitch or an incident?

What is your experience of cooperation with agencies or clients at English-speaking events? What helps you, and what hinders?

There have been situations when the customer invites you to host an event and thinks that you will be an interpreter in parallel. “You speak English, don’t you? Listen, can go there and translate, I need this so much.” Sometimes the customer understands that this is the subject of a separate conversation with appropriate compensation. And the question here is not about money, it’s about when you are an event host, you plan everything almost minute by minute. But things like “go there and translate this…” break a predetermined plan – it can put at risk everything you intended to do.

It helps a lot when the event agency independently develops a scenario and at the same time listens to your recommendations on possible “pitfalls”.

A separate item is the presence of a director on the set. The situation here is 50 to 50: ideally, he should help, but sometimes he just gets in the way. If there is no director or project manager at the location, you have to take into account all the nuances and timing on your own. For example, what should you do if an artist is specified on the program’s list, but he doesn’t enter the stage? Guests always blame the host for such incidents.

Among the high-quality events, no one has yet “surpassed” UEFA (EURO 2012 and the UEFA Women’s Champions League Final 2018) – in terms of attitude, scenario, director’s work on the set or in your headphones – these events are in my top list.

Is there a “dream event” that you would really like to host?

After the EURO Final 2012, no sporting event has been even close to it. I have goals in a different direction – I am moving towards the goal of being a speaker at conferences on my own. My topics: creativity, proactivity, communication, and synergy in teams. Believe me, these are great topics even at the most boring conferences. And since I apply humorous improvisation, the effect is simply stunning.

Currently, I have several ambitious desires and plans – these are:

  • My project “GAME OF RULES” is the largest at the sites of Ukraine and abroad;
  • My solo humorous Mono-performance in Ukrainian and English. I already started to speak – I like the feedback 🙂
  • And the main thing – the development of an amateur improvisation club “IMPROV CLUB“ all over Ukraine and abroad.

For my part, as well as from the side of the agency, in whose portfolio about 40% of events were held with a mixed audience, I may add that knowledge of English is no longer an extraordinary advantage – this is a “must-have” for a professional who wants to evolve. Kyiv is ready for international projects in terms of organizational skills, the industriousness of specialists and professionalism.