Archive | January, 2014

9 tips on presenting an awards, two are new, but essential

8 Jan

va3tEChCm7W302oGFeIpfLzpzPOwt9ma6_eCYN2YhTMI 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.ijAQqiGUhjibN6KDjIORbzxlFMsmSPb7-8wqhmVh0ek

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 actually don’t want anyone to remember too much of what I do at an awards. I want them to remember the winners, the sponsors and the guests. Thank you very much. Goodnight!l-omwioUN5W4mzLcF3xDmNLrpAFBm37ZhR9h7a5sy9I


Politicians – working with them can be rewarding, honest

8 Jan


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.

My issues with networking events – even sexy ones

8 Jan

IMG_9674I 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.

IMG_9680But 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.


Interviewing a big hitter – Lloyd Dorfman of Travelex

8 Jan


I love interviewing people in a live setting, as I’ve said before. My biggest challenge of 2013 was Lloyd Dorfman who was in town as part of his work withe the Prince’s Trust. He is chairman of Travelex, the people you probably change your money with when you go on holiday.

I had the honour of interviewing him at an event held at Manchester Metropolitan University Business School for the Princes Trust. He’s a class act, a proper gent and he has an incredible grasp of detail. I wanted to get from him some inspirational stories, some anecdotes about his life, why he is such a generous supporter of the arts and of charities like the Princes Trust and what has driven him through his life.

He started his business in the toughest of economic times. In 1976 the odds were stacked against him when he founded the company as Bureau de Change from a single shop in London and now trades more than 80 currencies in more than 50 countries.

As he built the business up, he had to fight to get into locations like Heathrow Airport. He battled the vested interests of banks and dominant players. When the opportunity came along to bid for Thomas Cook’s financial services arm, Travelex was prevented from even entering the ring. He bet the whole business on sealing that £400m plus deal, but it proved transformational and projected the business to a global stage. When he eventually took cash out of the business, selling to Apax, he stayed involved, keeping a 30 per cent stake and retaining his role as chairman. Not executive chairman, not non-executive chairman, just chairman.

I didn’t pick up on this until later but so many of his stories weren’t just about the obstacles that he’d overcome, but how a relationship with a real person turned it – the official at BAA, the Thomas Cook shareholder who ushered him into the auction which led to him buying it. His relationship with his CEO Peter Jackson.

I thought to myself, even a man who operates at the very top of life thrives on such basic raw connections. It starts to emphasise something we can all too often forget: people sell people and people don’t buy from you if they don’t like you.

More than ever this is a connected economy. We are frequently reminded of this, but I firmly believe this firm human contact is more important now than it ever was. The foundation of businesses like LinkedIn warehouse your network and treat your contacts like a commodity, but you always run the risk that you miss out on what is important to any individual. Yes, he’s made a ton of money, he admitted too that he missed large swathes of his children’s upbringing, but those reflections told a great deal about what he truly values.

So, there you go. Spending time with one of the most successful businessmen of his generation teaches you the most important lesson in life. Don’t be horrible.

Above: the Prince’s Trust team with Lloyd Dorfman third from the right.