This was a new event, the brainchild of entrepreneur Paul Kilroe, which was designed to give delegates a good day out and nourish them with a diet of inspiration and amusement. Quite a few people I spoke to beforehand thought the choice of speakers and panellists and was “predictable” and “the usual suspects”. That’s a harsh view, to my mind, especially as Paul was seeking to put the best possible show on and to attract people who don’t normally get out and go to networking events. To serve them properly, you get the best.
It was indeed an honour to share a stage at an event with two people I have described as the best at what they do. My good friend Michael Finnigan is the best motivational speaker and coach I’ve seen. His delivery, his passion and his storytelling ability creates a performance that takes you on an amazing roller coaster. On this day he was the best I’ve ever seen him, he’s got something of the Michael McIntyre to his act now, but is just as nailed on with his core message.
So, to my role. Paul asked if I’d “do the Dimbleby role” during the Question Time session. The panel were first rate business people, each with a story to tell and, vitally, an opinion to give. In their own way they are also mavericks and individuals. Phil Jones, Jennie Johnson, Marc Duchenes, Gary Chaplin and the one guy I knew less well, Tim Bacon of Living Ventures.
It was important to get the best out of everyone and we prepared by having dinner together on Tuesday night. I discovered a few things about each of them I didn’t know before, and was therefore keen to draw these core themes out. Tim in particular has built up two successful restaurant businesses by watching customer behaviour really closely. He also fosters incredible loyalty from his high performers. Gary Chaplin has his own story – he was slaughtered in the press for an email he sent to a spammer looking for a job – which cost him his job, but gave him the opportunity to rebuild his reputation.
He and Jennie had differences of opinion on diversity and on shortlists for board level jobs, I was keen to emphasise this and encourage debate. Phil Jones is always brilliant on leadership and consumer technology trends. Marc has a wild and enquiring mind I was keen to provoke.
The questions I therefore chose to direct to the panel were done so with this in mind. I didn’t want a free for all – I need to control the pace and not leave anything to chance. Awkward silences can kill an atmosphere. I also insisted on controlling the microphones and walking amongst the 240 plus crowd. It stops nutters going on too long and it provides intimacy with a large audience. I also am prepared to cut off the panellists if they’re being repetitive and overly consensual.
Gary Chaplin has written a blog on the day here. Lots of great comments underneath too.
It was also great to hand back to Vince Miller, the compere for the day, an old-school pro and a really lovely man. All in all, I was really pleased with my hour, proud to take part in a terrific event, and the feedback has been superb. And here’s a thing: I know a lot of people and go to a lot of events, but this was a new crowd, there were fresh faces and therefore different reactions.