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Establishing A Career Focused On Communications For Major Games

Sylvie Bigras | Communications Chief For Commonwealth Games Canada | Senior Communications Specialist For Canadian Olympic Committee

And even someone who is an introvert can be successful at it!

Sylvie Bigras

Communications Chief For Commonwealth Games Canada

Senior Communications Specialist For Canadian Olympic Committee

× The interview with Sylvie Bigras was conducted via a typed conversation. Editing changes were made to make it easier to read while maintaining the voice of the interview.

Tell us about the roles you’ve had at the Canadian Olympic Committee.

I was mostly a Press Chief or Assistant Press Chief so those roles are most relevant. The Canadian Olympic Committee sends a Canadian Team to the Olympic Games, the Olympic Winter Games, the Youth Olympic Games and the Pan American Games. I have worked at all of these except the Youth Olympic Games.

Press Chief (Team Canada – Olympic Games)

Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games, Beijing 2008 Olympic Games, Nagano 1998 Olympic Winter Games, Toronto 2015 Pan Am Games (Toronto), 2007 Pan Am Games (Rio de Janeiro), Duties usually involved the following for Team Canada:

  1. Working with all team members to ensure proper preparation and media training prior to and at the Games;
  2. Establishing a calendar of Team Announcements for each sport;
  3. Creating and managing a “Communications Team” for on-site work at the Games, which included Media Attachés, Main Press Centre team, photographers, translators and more.

Media Services

  • Ensure services to all media covering Team Canada at the Games;
  • Establish a 4 Tier media protocol for access to Canadian Team members at the Games;
  • Establish and run a Team Canada Media Office at the Main Press Centre;
  • Liaise with the Host Broadcaster for Canada at the Games;
  • Provide access to the biographical information of Team Canada athletes through a printed or digital media guide.

Senior Communications Specialist (Canadian Olympic Committee)

I did this role over a number of years with the Canadian Olympic Committee and the responsibilities varied greatly from year to year. They usually involved:

  • Liaising with communications personnel a number of various National Sport Federations to prepare for various Games;
  • Emceeing a number of events;
  • Writing: Speeches, scripts, news releases, advisories, memorandums, etc.
  • Participating in various events (government relations, media conferences, etc.)

CBC/Radio-Canada

I also worked at 5 Olympic Games: Sydney 2000, Salt Lake City 2002, Athens 2004, Torino 2006 and Sotchi 2014 with CBC and Radio-Canada, the broadcast rights holders for Canada at the Olympic Games.

My role then was Guest Coordinator, which involved being the main contact for all interview requests by the CBC/Radio-Canada broadcast family (news, sports, digital, radio, English and French) with Team Canada. I coordinated all interviews at various locations (International Broadcast Centre studios, MPC, Athletes’ Village, sports venues, etc.

How has COVID-19 impacted your job?

It has significantly affected my current business, which is comprised of a number of services. I emcee national conferences and all large gatherings including conferences have been cancelled. I also had three international contracts cancelled, which involved trips to New-Orleans, Ireland and Italy.

I imagine adaptivity is an important skill to have for your position, are there any other skills you can think of that are vital to have as a Senior Communications Specialist?

Being adaptable is a key skill to have at Major Games such as the Olympics or Commonwealth Games, as you never know what will happen from one day to the next. While you work on a pre-established schedule, a number of issues can arise. Due to the constant stream of information being shared through traditional and social media, we usually need to respond quickly to these issues as they arise. Some of the issues I have dealt with involved:

  • Doping
  • Medical – Serious injuries or deaths
  • Safety & security
  • Environmental (pollution, flights to Games, sustainability)
  • Political (boycotts, revolts, demonstrations, activism)
  • Technical issues / Performance (lack of) / Judging
  • Financial (deficits, fraud, corruption, cost of Games)
  • Communications (language issues, social media issues)
  • Legal (challenges, protests, arrests, charges, jail)

Skills that I would recommend as being important in this environment would include:

  1. Patience
  2. Working within a team environment
  3. Ability to deal with stress
  4. Sense of humour
  5. Time management/Ability to work long hours
  6. Conflict resolution

In communications, how important is it for you to be naturally extroverted? On the flip side, do you think someone can be naturally introverted and work in a communications role?

It helps to be naturally extroverted in terms of speaking in front of others (interviews, press conferences, events, etc.) but in my opinion, someone who is an introvert can also be successful at it.

Someone who is an introvert can be successful at it. It takes preparation and practice!

Most people love the Olympics, but is there something you could tell us that they may not know about the Games? (What goes into the planning, execution, etc.)

Many people may not know the level of detail involved in preparing for the Olympic Games. When one edition of the Games ends, we are already preparing for the next one. There is a large “Team behind the Team” working in a number of areas: preparation, health & science, communications, village operations, outfitting, marketing, etc.

Anastasiya Romanska Anastasiya's Final Thoughts

Sylvie Bigras has been able to build a successful career working as an expert in communications for Major Games. She has established herself as one of the best in the business and in turn has been able to attend some legendary events. Her years on the job have taught her adaptability, being ready for anything a major event can throw at you. She’s mastered the art of patience and conflict resolution, which is not surprisingly vital to have in her role. Sylvie has worked for 15 Olympic Games, 4 Commonwealth Games & 5 Pan Am Games and is clearly an example for anyone aspiring to build a career in Major Games communications.

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