Live coverage of an event is increasingly seen as a core part of its purpose. I worked on Daisy Group’s Wired 2014 conference and the live feed provided by Andy Frost and Geoff Hoyle was an incredible part of the service.
I was asked by my client the ICAEW to chair a hustings with five candidates, the Green candidate had to leave early, which left Labour, LibDems and a Conservative who used to be a LibDem. It was liveliest when we got to talking about immigration and a possible referendum on the membership of the EU.
I’m a political anorak, I like to think I know my stuff and would like to do more political debates. But if I learnt anything from this debate it is that you need to have something to get animated about. UKIP are setting the agenda in this election. No wonder they don’t even have to turn up.
Here’s my showreel – hopefully it shows a good range of the events and video work I’ve been doing and want to do more of. It includes interviews with Lloyd Dorfman of Travelex, Fred Done of BetFred, Dame Eliza Manningham Buller former head of MI5 and author Cass Pennant.
Clients featured on this video include: Deloitte, ICAEW, Downtown in Business, GrowthAccelerator, Ear to the Ground, Rapport Events, Journey9, Daisy Group, Grant Thornton and Insider Business TV.
The old art of civilised debate has been lost to many of us. We don’t join political parties, we don’t engage in campaigns, yet there seems a surge in interest in attending live events where the content is provocative and intellectually stimulating. Couple that with a real smartening up of Manchester’s burgeoning knowledge economy and we have the beginnings of an idea. Discuss.
Along with two guys I’d got to know over the years, but didn’t realise they knew each other, our idea was born. Me, Martin Carr of True North and Mike Emmerich of New Economy have between us been to a few London events, the Hay Festival and the brainy end of Manchester’s various festivals. But more than that we have a vision, a dream, a big hairy audacious goal; to bring people together from different walks of life, into a safe and fun forum for debate and discourse. Are we mad? Discuss.
A lot of business events I go to – and have curated – tend to find a mushy consensus around which everyone agrees, then much of the conversation hovers around that. Having a firm view, putting a flag in the ground and saying: ‘this is what I believe’ – is unusual. But is it tenable? We thought so. Our approach is to set up a debate around a strident question – and invite two people on each side to make a case for 8 minutes. We then take questions and allow the audience to vote. And to Discuss.
The best debaters are those that enter the spirit – they play to the theatrics of the debate – commending the motion to the house, pre-empting objections, respectfully disagreeing. At least three of the 20 we’ve had so far have agreed to speak before they’ve even decided which side to take. It’s important to build that slightly playful element in. Discuss.
So, from an events professional’s point of view, apart from the massive challenge of building a business, selling sponsorships and tickets and coming up with the idea, it’s also a huge personal challenge to moderate debate between clever people who communicate so well. I love it, it’s one of the most exciting things I’ve been involved in. Discuss.
I blogged previously about presenting at big loud, noisy awards events. I’ve had a chance to reflect on a few of these since I did the Spinningfields Business Group Comedy Night and the Downtown Mancoolian Awards.
It seems a good opportunity today to refresh the seven golden rules and add a couple more.
1. It’s not about you – the stars of the show are the people coming up to get an award. Be confident, have authority, but don’t hog the stage and project your personality all over the event. And don’t tell jokes.
2. On no account be sleazy or flirty with women on stage, swear or remove articles of clothing. This is the most toe-curling thing you can do. As these are business awards making comments and drawing attention to how someone looks is a massive show of disrespect for their abilities as a business person.
3. Let everyone know how the winners were chosen – so many awards lack credibility. Rightly or wrongly they are seen as a sop to sponsors. Making efforts to explain exactly how the awards were won is essential.
4. Make the winners and shortlisted feel special. This is an important occasion for them, it matters. Make sure you congratulate them, discourage triumphalism, encourage humility. Make eye contact and shake hands with them. And get their names and company names right. Check everything.
5. Keep a pace to the event. There’s a thin line between rattling through categories too fast and making everyone else there engaged. The important time to get this right is at the script stage. Edit and tune the script, check everything. If there’s time, encourage a winner to say a few words of thanks, but not if they seem intoxicated. The very best way is to do a short question and answer with a handheld microphone. You can always politely remove it if they’re rambling.
6. Never tell the audience to shush. I’ve made this mistake once and it just makes things worse. If people are talking then there are many more devices to get round this. You don’t have to demand they are quiet. It’s their night too – help them enjoy it.
7. Enjoy it. Be warm, be natural, but above all have fun. I’ve seen highly paid professional comedians and public figures treat the whole thing as a chore. This is so disrespectful to everyone there. Instead, show how much fun you are having by sharing in the joy of others. Remember it’s a celebration.
8. Don’t rely on Autocue. I used to use Autocue all the time. I have heard some horror stories recently about an experienced TV presenter getting hopelessly out of kilter with the old version of his script for an awards event. Then there’s this of the director Michael Bay at CES, losing the plot – tip: if you are using it, have good old fashioned card as a backup.
9. Thank everyone appropriately. Find a way to show how much you and the organisers value the sponsorship for the event. This rarely comes cheap, so do it authentically and gratefully. There will also be judges who have devoted time to the enterprise. Thank them too. The best sponsorships are based on a deeper engagement – just look at how Melbourne Server Hosting made the Mancoolian Awards work for them (pictures, above).
I do quite a lot of events with serving politicians. Most of them are accomplished communicators, so they tend to be able to get across what they want to say. The professional challenge is curating a suitable context and the right audience.
When Andy Burnham MP, Labour’s shadow health minister, came to Manchester we thought it would be useful to get him along to the Science Park and meet businesses with specific issues in the health and medical sector. We did that, but also drew in a wider range of people with more specific issues to raise.
He outlined what the NHS would look like under a Labour government, with a central plank of new policy to be the integration of health and social care. But he also responded to questions about plans for the high-speed rail link HS2, on which there was a robust discussion.
It’s also important to be firm, but not too deferential. They operate in a rough and tumble world and often get loads of sycophantic nodding when they meet the public in an official capacity. While I can’t hold with ripping into them for the sake of it, I do think they respond very well indeed to a firm and well-informed discussion.
Thanks to our PR company SKV we also secured some good media coverage in the Manchester Evening News, which is always helpful when you bring a politician to town.
I have had, shall we say, “issues” with the popular Downtown brand Sexy Networking. But last year I started to feel a little more comfortable with it, especially after a fantastic event at Revoluçion de Cuba.
Judging the success of an event is quite simple. Did enough people come along? And did they have a good time?
Beyond that, the nuances and measurements can be quite complex. Anyone in any business will tell you that the capacity to surprise and be different is what gives any kind of business an edge. And so it is with Downtown events.
I’ll admit that I have found the name and brand behind ‘sexy networking’ tricky. Without even explaining to my wife and kids that I’m going to an event where you’d be forgiven for thinking it’s full of people randomly getting off with each other. Obviously that isn’t what it is all about. Far from it.
So I say without fear or favour that the last sexy networking event was superb. I had the opportunity to meet a good proportion of the 200 or so who had pre-registered. There was an array of new faces and really interesting businesses who I had not had the chance to meet before. The buzz in the room was incredible. My colleagues Frank McKenna and Lucy Cort were introducing people to one another, asking who they were interested in meeting and brokering a handshake.
When we met with a delegation of Australian MPs from the parliament of Victoria last summer, the ‘sexy networking’ brand caught their attention and was duly noted in their report. It’s also the brand that many other people in business can’t get past.
But if Downtown was only about this then we’d have a problem. In the last few months we’ve met with ministers, Lords, chief executives of local authorities and heads of major public sector organisations who seek to engage with the private sector. We have built up a major campaign with a member company on the subject of poor behavior by the banks. Our conferences and events have had a high level of debate and engagement. We’re only able to do this because we listen to all levels of business. We are getting an understanding of what all kinds of businesses want, need and how they think about the world.
So many events are a bit of this and a bit of that. But precisely because we have so much else besides, rather proves the point that there isn’t a one-size fits all approach for business events. But this is why I believe so much in constant innovation. Always thinking carefully about what works, not what has always been the way of doing things. At a ‘sexy networking’ event last year I was confronted by a middle-aged bank manager who arrived, looked around, asked me where all the millionaires were and left. He shouldn’t have been there. Part of what we do as an organisation is to put people together, who we know will be able to do business together. We’re getting a good idea about what works, what doesn’t, who to invite to what, what people want, and how people want to interact.
But sexy is also the antithesis of all those other things you’d associate with business events – stuffy, boring, staid and predictable.
My actual main problem is with the word ‘networking’. I think it has been overused to the point of it now becoming meaningless. I hardly ever use it to describe what we do, because it just conjurs up such negative imagery. It has such a coldness about it. The problem is, I just can’t immediately think of a better one.