A day in the life of a Monster – Alana Patchett

A day in the life of a Monster – Alana Patchett

A day in the life of a Monster.

At Purple Monster we are known for our flexible, creative and fun culture, so what is it like to work in a place where laughter is guaranteed, dogs are made very welcome and new, wild ideas are commonplace?

This week we take a look at Alana’s working day.

 

 

“I started working for Purple Monster 9 whole years ago (I can hardly believe it myself) and began my journey as Office Manager!

Very quickly the team spotted my love of drawing (and having creativity at the heart of the company) we thought ‘why don’t we use this skill to enhance the PM offer?’ and so here I sit, 9 years later, as the in-house art team 😊 Doing a job I love, for a company I’m proud to work for.

 
 
 

My role is varied. It can range from working face to face with clients and their teams, to shutting myself away in the studio, drawing away for hours on end until an odd monster pops their head round the door offering to make a coffee (which, given the fact I am often hurtling towards a print deadline, is most welcome!)

So, a day in my life looks a little something like this…

6am. – Alarm goes off – I am what can loosely be described as awake, and before I can talk myself out of it, I am off out in my gym gear for a morning run. Halfway round my running route, I wonder why I am not in bed still…

Run completed, and it is time to take my beloved dog, Murphy, for a walk with my husband, who is most definitely not very awake.

 

I battle the inevitable traffic on the way into Leamington to the office, pondering the day ahead as I am yet to look at my emails.

 

8.30am. – At my desk, black coffee and a bowl of some sort of vaguely healthy breakfast to keep me going. A few other Monsters arrive in dribs and drabs, bringing with them banter of some sort. Usually, Alan wants to talk sport and George and I want to talk about shoes…majority wins, so we discuss the latest leopard print heels we have seen and can definitely not afford…

9am. – I’m pretty up to date with my email, I don’t get that many emails as most of our work is conducted on calls unless I am in the midst of a big project so I get a lot of updates and content sent through, or they are from Amazon…
I am currently at the start of a project, helping an engineering firm work on their vision for the next few years and their journey to get there.

These are my favourite types of projects, as I have no idea where we will go with the visual – everything is up for debate! I also get to indulge the more engineering side of my brain, learning way too much than I really need to know about the products our client manufactures.
It all starts with the large stack of index cards I have on my desk. A product of some workshops Robin ran a few weeks ago, the first job is to sort through them, deciphering handwriting, grouping and theming…

Robin delivering the workshop before all the output comes to me for ‘arting up!’

10am. – Halfway through the stack and George arrives, and like the knight in shining armour she is, makes coffee, rolls up her sleeves and dives in to help.

It helps to have out loud discussions as to what the visual could possibly look like at this stage, and to start thinking about the next step; the initial sketch layout…

10.45am. – Impromptu break in proceedings to discuss a video that Alan has seen on Facebook. Leads on to an inevitable bit of chatter, some giggles and our favourite ‘what’s for lunch?’ discussion, only interrupted by a calendar reminder going off on one of our laptops for a conference call.

This is immediately followed by confusion over whether we the call is at 11 our time or our clients time… A common side effect of having global clients – None of us are particularly great at working out time zones!

11am. – The call was for 11am our time. So I quickly shift my thinking and energies, leaving George to heroically finish off sorting the index cards, and jump on the conference call with Al.

Furious note taking on the iPad (my absolute favourite piece of kit) and an hour passes in a flash. A great call though – a conference for one of our favourite clients in 3 months time. A fun theme and desire to have something that acts as a communication tool at the conference and beyond. I add ‘create mock up materials’ to my mental to do list.

12 noon– I call Danielle, who today is working from her home office in Herefordshire. I update her on the call, we chat next steps and proposal documents and then, of course, how is her dog, Max, and does she have plans for the weekend.

12.30pm.– George finishes the index card sorting and we chat about the findings while we make lunch. I make plans to head home at about 1.30 to crack on with getting the sketched layout started, and to rescue the Dog, who has been on his own today.
After a balanced lunch (for me) and a not so balanced one of chocolate biscuits for others (mentioning no names)

1.45pm. – A bit later than planned, but I am in the car on my way to my office at home. Working from home of an afternoon is very helpful when it comes to projects such as this.

Not only does it help me to focus my thinking, it gives me the space and time to make good headway with the first iteration of the visual. It is hard to explain the process, but it does involve a lot of translating the common themes and comments from the index cards into an image that fits with the overall piece. One method of mine if I feel I am sticking on anything is to take a 5 minute stroll around my garden (weather permitting) or talk it out loud to my dog (it’s ok, he is totally deaf).

3pm. – to coffee or not to coffee…is it a bit too late for one? I compromise and make half a cup and carry on with the sketch. It is coming together nicely, but I am not as far forward as I had hoped…No problem, I am very lucky I can choose to work from home, especially when there is a project on that I need to get to a deadline. I tap out a quick message to the team in their various locations to let them know and flag it up that I will be out of action for other work. 10 minutes of chit chat, featuring the usual witty exchanges before I bring my attention back to the task at hand.

5.30pm. – I can hear the dog tip tapping his way around the kitchen- my own private alarm clock that tells me it is the end of the day and he is ready for his dinner. A good job really, I was getting into the sketch and had no clue what the time was! I finish the image I am working on and make sure everything is saved. I can already picture how the visual may turn out and looking forward to getting sign off from the client so I can begin my favourite part of the job, creating the final art work!

8.42pm. – just having a chat with my husband and BAM!, an idea suddenly pings into my brain that unlocks that bit that I was struggling with. I make a mental note (or actual note on my ipad) and know that I’ll be on it again with renewed vigour tomorrow morning.

If you want to tap into Alana’s creative and artistic expertise or simply fancy a chat with her about her dog or shoes, then drop her a line at Alana@purplemonster.co.uk

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The Conference Blueprint – Summary

The Conference Blueprint – Summary

Conference Blueprint; Summary of advice for planning a conference.

So here we are at the end of our five-part foray into the mysterious world of conference design and planning. If you’ve downloaded our blueprint then, ‘thank you’ and if not, well now’s your chance, it’s still available here.

In our final article on conference planning, we are going to take you back through the key steps and throw in a few bits of advice and help that we’ve gleaned ourselves and received from others along the way.

When Purple Monster first began 25 years ago, conference design and delivery was in its infancy. Of course people had held conferences for years and people got together to do ‘away days’ and ‘refresher courses’ and there were presumably ‘big’ meetings but in those far off pre-digital days it was much more about a transfer of information rather than a two way communication exercise.
Here is how you would likely do it

  • Set a date
  • Set the agenda
  • Book a venue
  • Book a speaker
  • Send out invites

Over the last five weeks we have been trying to encourage you to think differently about the way you go about planning and imagining a conference. The conference blueprint offers an alternative approach and we think, gives you a greater chance of building a conference that is worthwhile going to and has lasting value.

 

  1. Determine the super objective
  2. Assign accountabilities. Who is responsible for what?
  3. Consider what you want the audience to think, feel and do
  4. Planning the high level agenda and flow
  5. Determine who you are inviting then search for the right venue.

1. Determine the Super Objective

Be really clear on what it is you are trying to achieve and don’t let anything switch you from that.

We have been lucky enough to work with the brilliant and charming Ben Hunt-Davies a few times over the last few years and he understands the concept of super objective better than anyone else we have ever come across. His oft quoted (and regularly misquoted) work is called ‘Will it make the boat go faster?’ and it highlights in the plainest possible sense what you should do to ensure you are sticking to your guns in terms of objectives.

If you need to understand more about Super Objectives either read Chekov (recommended only for theatre purists) or Ben’s captivating story of his experience before and at the Sydney Olympics of 2000.

 

2. Assign Accountabilities

It’s vitally important that everyone is clear on what role they play in delivering the outcome that you all want. This means noses potentially being put out of joint, former favourites not doing their schtick this year and Gianni from the CFO’s office not doing his normal 73 slide presentation on EBITDA. Sorry Gianni, it’s not part of the plan.

Create a design team and have regular and proper conversations with your sponsors to ensure they are clear on the route down which you are progressing. Have regular conversations and involve all your partners early so that they can all feel part of the success and not in competition.

 

3. Agree the outcomes; Think, Feel, Do

This seems so natural to us as we have always been thinking about how your audience will react but it seems that this isn’t a default position for all conference planners and designers.

What do you want your audience to THINK, FEEL and DO as a result of your conference. Be plain. Be overt and if necessary tell them again that the reason we are all here is to…..(insert your super objective here)

4. Planning the High Level Agenda

 

As in all good storytelling, reintroduction is the key here. Reintroduce the overall super objective every time that you bring anything to the table. Does this move the agenda forward? Does this play into the objectives fully? Is it a discreet session that has to be in and if it is, how do you connect it to the theme?

Don’t forget…Powerpoint is brilliant and has been unfairly blamed for poor communication since it became the new executive toy when it was introduced to the Microsoft package in 1994.

It’s not the tool that’s to blame, it’s the users. In the right hands, it is a fantastic visual aid, helping great ideas to jump off the screen and into the hearts and minds of the audience. In the wrong ones, it is a bullet-pointed form of conference torture, allowing its users to inflict wave after wave of meaningless words, until the audience are beaten into submission, or asleep. Tell Gianni ….no!

 

5. Who is coming and where are you going?

 

Be prepared to have tough conversations with people who may be more senior than you. People want their direct reports there but are they at the same grade or level as everyone else? Who is going to add value to the discussion or make things happen following the event and so should they be there rather than simply just choosing the top slice?

You will know the machinations of selecting the ‘right’ people and whatever that is in your organisation you have to stand by the decision that was made by the people assigned early on in your design process. When it comes to venues, choose somewhere that works for the audience.

Make it accessible, relevant and different from what everyone might expect. Be creative. Don’t just go for the convenient.

It takes a great amount of time, patience, understanding, relationship building, emotional intelligence and a little bit of luck to truly build a great conference experience for all your delegates but if that all seems a little bit overwhelming then please feel free to give us a call. We will be happy to help you design an engaging and effective conference experience that your delegates won’t forget.

And if you’d love to hold a conference, but there is no way that your people can travel or spare the time for two or three days away, then have you considered a virtual conference? We know a thing or two about those as well and would be happy to share some ideas with you, wherever you are in the world. Call us on ‘Skype, Zoom, Google Hangout, Messenger or perhaps, Microsoft Teams, which seems to be being rolled out as part of the Office package. Mmmm, sounds familiar 😊

 

Download the full Conference Planning Blueprint here…

If you want to tap into our conference planning expertise, then please do feel free to contact us here.

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The Conference Blueprint – Part 5 Where to go and who to invite

The Conference Blueprint – Part 5 Where to go and who to invite

Conference Blueprint Part 5; Where to go and who to invite.

You may have spotted a theme with our Conference Blueprint series so far and that is that the objectives and the outcomes come before the design and therefore informs all the other key decisions.

Who should attend and where to hold the conference is no different.

However the majority of projects that we are involved in, the venue and attendee list is agreed before anything else is even thought about.

Our extensive experience of running conferences tells us that this is the wrong place to start and uninformed decisions made early on are much harder to fix further down the line.

Venue Considerations.

Let’s be clear, the venue can indeed make or break a conference. At one conference many years ago, we had brilliant presenters, incredibly well-prepared content and a beautiful venue. Then the air conditioning malfunctioned and at least a quarter of the audience eventually fell asleep in the balmy late summer conditions. So, the venue is important. If everyone arrives late because they couldn’t find it, if the coffee is cold or the room baking hot then you will certainly know about it and it really will detract from even the best conference agenda.

However, there are many, many amazing venues out there and some will support your objectives and some will hinder them. This section of the process is to ensure it does the former.

In this section of the blueprint you are not naming venues. The likelihood is if you do this you will default to the usual ones, the one the CEO liked or you’ve been to before which is the safe option because you know they will do a good job. No, you are listing the key criteria. What factors does this venue need to have in order to support your overall messaging?

Examples of strong venue criteria we have seen:

  • Event on women in leadership – a venue with a glass ceiling.
  • Event on promoting a team culture – a sports stadium
  • Event on effective storytelling – a theatre

There are hundreds of venues in the UK alone which could meet any one of these criteria but using the blueprint process will encourage you to think creatively about how your objectives and messaging will land. The alternative could lead to an event about innovation and creative thinking being held in a dark, 1980’s hotel function room. The impact you have worked so hard to achieve will have fizzled out before anyone has sat down on the first morning.

There may well be practical criteria, rough location, proximity to airports, capacity etc but once you have them documented and agreed, then it’s really important to stick to them. It’s so easy to create a list of strong and ambitious venue criteria and then completely abandon it in favour of a venue which involves longer journeys and extra overnight stays for all delegates, but it has a great day delegate rate or it’s on a preferred supplier list. If it was deemed important enough to be a criterion in the first place, then don’t abandon it at the first sign of a bargain or for convenience.

As ever, consider how the choice of venue will complement and enhance your message, not detract from it.

Attendee criteria.

 

The blueprint will also encourage you to select attendees with the same rigour that you decided your venue. In large organisations, attendance is often based on levels of seniority and in a lot of cases that does indeed make sense, but again, don’t just default to that option.

Refer back to your objectives and ensure that the criteria help to build a list of people who will help deliver the outcomes you have set out to achieve.

If the objectives involve people in the design of a new strategy, then maybe a cross section of employees across all levels would be more appropriate.

If it’s about promoting a more gender inclusive culture, then don’t be exclusive by only inviting women.

If it’s about rolling out a new strategy or vision, then ensure that all geographies and functions are covered, even if that means inviting less senior people to ensure smaller areas are represented.

We understand that the selection of attendees can sometimes be a political football so that is another reason for carefully thinking it through and obtaining sign off prior to issuing invites.

That way any difficult messaging can be managed sensitively, rather than people assuming they will be involved and only finding out by accident they are not. And if you’re the accountable person, anticipate some challenging conversations with your LT when they insist that she must come and he shouldn’t be there.

Stick to your criteria and good luck!

And that’s it. You have your conference planned! Well, almost. Next week we will summarise the key points you need to use the conference planning blueprint as well as give you some tips and advice into how to ensure the delivery matches the expectations set out in this planning process.

Download the full Conference Planning Blueprint here…

If you want to tap into our conference planning expertise, then please do feel free to contact us here.

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The Conference Blueprint – Part 3; Event Outcomes

The Conference Blueprint – Part 3; Event Outcomes

Conference Blueprint Part 3; What do you want your delegates to THINK, FEEL and DO…

 

 

Ok, so we’ve locked down the objectives and allocated key roles and responsibilities.

 

We are in good shape. All we have to do now is to remember that we have an audience at this conference, and everything will be fine…

What are your desired outcomes?

We’ve all attended conferences, meetings and workshops where the venue was fantastic, the catering wonderful and the conference hall stunning and yet still come away thinking and feeling a bit, well, meh!

That is to say, underwhelmed, or even bored!

The temptation to use a conference as an opportunity to tell people everything whilst they are a captive audience is often too high. This is where the next section of the Conference Planning Blueprint can help.

By identifying in advance, what you want the audience to THINK, FEEL and DO then this can provide an easy reference point during the design and delivery process.

 

If a part of the conference is not helping to achieve one of these mindset shifts, then why are you doing it?

By agreeing what you want people to THINK, FEEL and DO, before, during and after the conference, you create agreed criteria on which to make key design decisions as well as a reference point for measuring the event’s success.

1. Helping people to THINK differently

Consider here how you can offer new interesting information or content. Be provocative in the material presented and give people time to consider, challenge and reflect on external perspectives or latest business insight.

When you are considering conveying important information or knowledge then don’t assume it needs to be a procession of presentations, and there are plenty of ways to keep the audience interested. Breakouts, pairs’ discussion, polling, Q&A and the most basic of interactions, asking for thoughts and opinions as you go.

 

2. Changing how people FEEL

If you’re bored during a conference, it’s normally because the designers haven’t really considered the effect of their content on the participants. It is important to consider what audiences want and need. In the theatre, actors and directors know to keep the audience interested and how to tap into their emotions.

If the performance isn’t engaging the audience, then it is ultimately self-indulgent and alienating. Audiences want to be engaged, entertained and kept ‘in’ it from beginning to end.

Consider a theatre production or film you still remember. It is likely to be because it grabbed you emotionally in some way.

To ensure that your audience are staying with you, you must involve them. It’s why in the tradition of the British Pantomime, the audience is asked all the time to help (oh no they’re not, oh yes they are…..let’s leave that there shall we).

Now, we are not asking you to ensure you have a magic lamp at your conference, or ask your leaders to dress up as Cinderella (although…..) but we are suggesting that if you want your messages to land and your conference to have lasting impact then consider how you want them to feel and how you can effectively introduce emotions into the agenda.

Creating shared experiences is one way of doing this in a conference setting. The same as in a pantomime, where the audience are brought together by their dislike of the villain, a conference can create opportunities for people to bond and build relationships.

3. What do you want people to DO?

Even if you have expertly conveyed new and provocative thinking and captured the emotions of the audience effectively, this may all still result in post-conference inaction if delegates are not adequately equipped.

What tools could be useful to take back to the day job? What skills might need to be developed in order to carry out the desired actions? What obstacles can you remove in order to make taking action easier?

The Conference Blueprint is purposely designed to ensure that you can’t capture hundreds of actions in this section! Be selective about the call to actions you agree on and challenge yourself and your stakeholders to ensure that these actions will be the ones that result in the shift you are wanting to achieve.

Why is documenting outcomes so important?

It’s essential to consider your audience because they are the ones who will be having to implement any changes that result from the conference.

Undoubtedly one of the conference’s objectives will be around a new initiative or mindset shift or behavioural change and only by considering your audience and their emotional and intellectual state, will you be able to ensure that they understand, appreciate and ultimately act on those objectives.

By using the Conference Blueprint to agree and document these outcomes then you are able to use them as the criteria on which to base agenda or timing decisions as well as measure the success of the conference post event.

It seems obvious to consider your audience doesn’t it, and yet we can so easily get caught up in the content, the theme, the speakers, and end up neglecting the most important component – the attendees. Don’t forget your audience. They are the ones who are going back after the conference and delivering all the things you want them to as a result of attending. They are your best bet for ensuring it was a success and they will be telling you in the feedback whether it was or not from their perspective.

And then, after it’s all finished and the planning and delivery is a faint memory, you can proudly shout out to yourself and anyone else listening, in true pantomime fashion, ‘IT’S BEHIND YOU!’.

Download the full Conference Planning Blueprint here…

If you want to tap into our conference planning expertise, then please do feel free to contact us here.

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The Conference Blueprint – Part 2; Roles and Partners

The Conference Blueprint – Part 2; Roles and Partners

Who owns the tracker owns the conference.

We look at how to build a solid conference with real meaning. Giving away our FREE conference blueprint.

In Part 1 of this Conference Blueprint series, we described how important it was to know why you are holding a conference and choosing and sticking to a super-objective.

In Part 2, we look at how to best ensure that what you plan will actually happen. As the old saying goes, there is ‘many a slip twixt cup and lip’. Or as we prefer to say, somewhat tongue-in-cheek as a conference approaches, what can possibly go wrong?

We all know that the answer is quite a lot but keeping it in mind is as good an insurance policy as any. Mmmm, insurance. Now there’s another thing – perhaps for another day.

The Core Design Team

The one thing most likely to create a successful outcome at your conference, is a tight design and execution team. Small, (4 or 5 maximum) with the decision-making authority and the recognition that they are ultimately accountable to the key sponsor or conference owner.

This team, although it will consult and communicate with a wide range of stakeholders and internal and external partners, is best served if the accountability rests firmly with them and that everyone recognizes their authority. We have all heard the somewhat derogatory ‘designed by committee’ when things don’t go well, but rather than overly complicated multiple layers of authority, making decision-making unwieldy, instead make sure the steering co is few in number and with a clear vested interest in the success of the event. It’s a great opportunity for inexperienced leaders to step up.

External Partners in Conferences

It isn’t advisable to produce large events without skilled partners and we have been invited to design and deliver conferences many times in the past where the opening conversation has started something like this. “We produced the whole thing internally last time …never again!”

This isn’t true for everyone and there is no doubting the richness of the conference experience when an in-house team creates and executes a fabulous conference, but by and large, trusted partners really can and do help.

Trusted is the key word here and whilst recognising that significant budgets are at play, don’t be tempted to micro-manage your partners, but instead place your trust in them and keep communication frequent and at a good level of detail. It pays to check and double check of course, but let that responsibility lie with the partner.

There are one or two watch outs here. Once you are comfortable with your choice of partners, be very clear when providing the brief.

Avoid cross-over. If an external partner and an internal function both think they are responsible for the afternoon session on day 2, well it’s going to take some time to sort out who is doing/creating/providing what. Mind you, better that than nobody being responsible at all.

Beware scope creep. It is very tempting for external companies to suggest themselves for additional services, when perhaps it isn’t their core offering. The phrase to listen out for is “We can do that as well if you like…” If it wasn’t part of the original discussions, there’s probably a good reason.

Although it was painful at the time, we are forever grateful for the advice from a CEO we have worked with for many years. He advised us, after a particularly huge event had over-stretched our capability, to make a list of what we don’t do, as well as what we do. It’s been very helpful on a number of occasions, especially when clients ask late in the process if we can ‘create a few slides’. We’ve learnt to say a kind but firm no to that one.

Lastly, on the partner front, don’t be tempted to bargain by playing partners off against each other. Although it may seem a reasonable negotiation tactic, it doesn’t help to build relationships over the long term. The very last thing you want is one or more partners feeling disenfranchised when you drop or replace their services in favour of another.

If it’s possible, when the negotiating and contractual matters are out of the way, bring all the partners together and brief them on the super-objective as well as the execution. In our experience, every team works best together if they know not just what they are doing but why. If food and beverage know what the producers are trying to achieve and why the facilitation or presentation team require changes in the usual routine, it helps if they have already built a working relationship.

Keeping the event organisation under control

And so on to The Master Tracker! Every team knows the one person who possesses zen-like understanding of spreadsheets (hint – in this instance it is not the author of this article) and every team needs that person.

Each partner organization will have their own specific ways of being able to report on what is ready, what is in-progress and what hasn’t yet started. They are also unlikely to be of much use to each other. When we work with our preferred production partner, MCL, for example, we feel comfortable that they have their complex technical documents covering every piece of staging/lighting/sound equipment etc., but if they show it to us, quite frankly it gives us a headache.

What we really need to know is that the frontline for the band is booked and fits their spec and that they can rehearse from 6pm. What each player wants to know is that everything they need is in its place.

A Purple Monster detailed running order shows the flow of the delegate experience and is a perfect facilitator’s guide to who is doing what when, but it isn’t useful for those in charge of logistics or for food and beverage. So, someone has to be able to track the big picture.

For each moving part of the conference, one individual should have the role of reporting its status and recording it on the master spreadsheet or tracker.

The logistics company are keeping it up to date with hotel rooms, transport, visas etc; internal supply chain are reporting on product displays; Purple Monster are liaising with executive assistants for rehearsal scheduling and an external agency has booked the dancing dog.

Okay, we must admit, we’ve never booked a dancing dog, but we live in hope.

The key factor is that someone, a special someone, must be that single point of accountability and know just how each and every moving part fits in and where it’s up to. It is, I’m afraid, one of the many thankless tasks of a conference. That said, any self-respecting conference would remember to thank them at the end.
Finally – there are two things we know to be absolutely true. Pretty much every conference we have ever played a part in follows these two strict rules.

1. Despite everything pointing to the contrary and no matter how many times the deadline is stressed to the presenters, the final power point slides will not be ready until … about 10 minutes before the start of the conference.

2. Nothing ever goes totally to plan, so you will need a contingency budget and a mindset that is always open to change. Always expect the unexpected.

Over the years we have had many things disrupt the perfectly planned conference. CEO running accidents, travel chaos, power-cuts, wet weather, hot weather, hot and wet weather and the delivery of a pop-up princess castle in error. There are many things that can disrupt your conference, but a tight team with committed and trusted partners can overcome …anything.

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