Using the element of surprise in leadership conferences.

Using the element of surprise in leadership conferences.

After a much appreciated surprise party, Alan considers how surprises in business are often considered to be a bad thing but if used well, they can be an effective weapon against dullness and predictability.

To celebrate a significant birthday, I was the unsuspecting and somewhat bewildered subject of a surprise party.  A carefully selected group of family and friends were secretly drawn together to spring the ‘surprise!’  

Due to the secret-agent like skills of my wife, I had absolutely no idea it was about to happen. Not a clue.  The whole evening for me, was a most wonderful, heart-warming and life-affirming experience.  However, I recognize that some people would rather walk over hot coals than be the recipient of such a surprise.

So what about in business – are surprises always unwelcome?

The golden rule does seem to be ‘no surprises!’ 

The most obvious example is costs.  We have been both the guilty party and the victim of serious discrepancies between the quoted estimate and the reality.  Costs can and will change during the life-cycle of a project, but whatever else you do, especially where budget is definitive and tight, always communicate with the interested parties regularly and never put off a difficult conversation because you think it might be easier later.  It won’t.  It never is.  It is always harder.

Here’s some more examples of unwelcome surprises in business we can think of:

  • People. Changing personnel, at short notice, away from a known and trusted individual.  Unforeseen circumstances can occur, but if you know there is a potential clash looming, be upfront about it and NEVER make something up – you’ll get found out.
  • Capability.  It really isn’t worth saying “Of course we can do that”, when you really can’t.  When you subsequently fail to deliver, you lose all credibility and destroy trust. 
  • Deadlines.  If you’re going to be three weeks late delivering the project, don’t wait until the day before delivery.
  • Mistakes/ Serious issues.  Share them when they happen.  Avoid hearing the phrase “Why wasn’t I told earlier?”

So, what about welcome surprises, can there be such a thing?  Bearing in mind I like them, here’s what I would advocate.  

1. The regular meeting.  

We all know what to expect from the weekly check-in, the finance call, the team brief, the steering group etc.  The next time you attend one, which has become a little stale and uninspiring, be the one to spring a surprise.  Book a harp-player, have someone under 10 make the presentation, hold the meeting at the ice-rink. 

Now, bear in mind that these are the ideas that popped into my head, but please use ones that pop into yours and always be conscious of the context.  If the meeting is business critical and a decision has to be reached that secures the future of the company, then …it’s not the time to be dressed as Marie-Antoinette. But if it’s a regular meeting that needs pepping up, well, go on then….pep it up.

2. The annual conference. 

Shift the thinking and include a surprise.  Again, this might be as simple as replacing a coffee break with vodka jellies (sorry, it’s what popped into my head), but if you are involved in the planning and it looks like conference 101, do everyone a favour and put something unexpected in there.  It is possible to ring the changes, have fun and delight people without offending anyone. If you don’t believe me, take a look at the many airplane safety announcements on You-Tube.  

The information is still presented, but the audience is engaged, enthused and more than anything, delighted with their surprise. 

Looking to make an impact at your employee or leadership conference?

How to use the element of surprise effectively 

You will always be faced with detractors when you suggest something different, mostly through a fear of possible embarrassment.  But remember this:

  1. Why should predictable and serious have a monopoly on content creation?  Dull is dull and should be avoided.
  2. You will never change anything if you always play it safe and toe the line.  Whilst never being crass or insensitive, just take a risk and plan something surprising.
I’m delighted to say that for an upcoming conference, we are about to discuss the possibility of delivering some surprises. I do hope that we’ll be able to reproduce the fantastic feeling that I experienced for all the delegates.
I’ll let you know.

    Want to signal a shift or make an impact at your next event? Drop us a line on or call us on +44 (0) 1926 311347 and we can bring your ideas to life! 

    Creating a ‘Learning to Learn’ mindset

    Creating a ‘Learning to Learn’ mindset

    Recently, the monsters returned to Kyiv to work with one of our absolute favourite companies – The One Philosophy Group.  We were invited again, both as expert speakers and as facilitators to the The Employer Leadership Summit. It’s a fabulous event and has the latest thinking from HR and L&D from around the globe. The theme was ‘learning to learn’ with a specific focus on developing a learning mindset.
    At this event, we introduced our latest business venture,  The Alternative Business School .  We were delighted not only that the delegates voted it unanimously as a great way to bring learning to life, but also that several of the latest online learning start-ups had similar themes.

    It’s clear that the next generation of employees want to learn and develop at work and developing a learning mindset is key to that.

    How can you use visuals to help people learn?

    ‘Learning to Learn’ and its importance in the future of work

    Since we also know that many future roles haven’t been invented yet, the best preparation is to focus on learning to learn – the theme of the conference.

    Whilst it is commendable to follow a traditional business school route to leadership, it’s becoming clear that this model won’t necessarily be fit for the future.  The School, University, MBA, executive linear journey isn’t where the new entrepreneurs are springing from. Many have neither the patience nor the funding to take this path and instead try their ideas, fail fast, learn and go again.

    It is unlikely that fixed curriculums are likely to contain all the answers needed in such a fast-paced world. So instead, they recruit their friends and like-minded individuals and build the working life they want. Encouragingly, they want their work to have purpose and to be enjoyable.

    This is so heartening for us, considering our purpose of ‘banishing corporate dullness’.  It also means the disruptor and start-ups are not only looking to develop a learning mindset, but have fun doing it.

    Humour was referenced many times during the conference as a key business skill for the future. 

    Reflection time and how it cements learning messages


    What did we learn that’s worth sharing?  It’s something we’ve known for a long time but it was reinforced by the other experts involved in this event.  We often cite the Kolb learning model, which we simplify as Context, Experience, Reflection.  Conference agendas are so often packed full and this was no exception.

    Time was hard to manage and when the clock begins to put pressure on the speakers, it’s always the reflection time that suffers.  Yet ahead of the conference, we had all agreed that reflection time was critical.

    For the insights to stick, you need time to consider what they mean for you, individually. 

    A neuro-scientist at the conference confirmed that you really can’t ‘unlearn’ anything; what you have is hard-wired, but you can keep your brain plastic by learning more, providing you take the time afterwards to reflect and create new neural pathways.

    Tips to make learning messages stick


    It seems to us, there are two critical parts to doing this and worth remembering if you are planning conferences, courses, training or indeed any kind of learning event:

    • Place reflection time in the agenda and not just once at the end of the day, but often, after every hour or so of content being delivered by whatever method.  Protect it fiercely.
    • Make sure there is shared discussion of the topics, so that what has been considered and reflected upon can then be tested with a peer group.  Speaking about your learning and insights to others, is both a helpful filter and a proven method of establishing the new pathway.

    Looking for more tips on how to bring messages to life and signal a shift in your organisation? 


    Want to tap into our creative expertise to bring your learning to life? Drop us a line on or call us on +44 (0) 1926 311347

    Photo credit: Evgeniia Komartsova. Employer Leadership Summit 2018

    Emcee (MC) vs Facilitator vs Guest Speaker vs Event Experience

    Emcee (MC) vs Facilitator vs Guest Speaker vs Event Experience

    How can you decide which skill set will bring the most to your next internal conference or event…and what’s the difference, anyway? Find out everything you need to know about the different hosting approaches here.  

    We have been in the conference and events business for a long time. We’ve been lucky enough to fly all over the world with large, blue chip companies and so we have seen and been a part of every type of event possible. We have also seen all the variations of running such events, and the pros and cons of each of them.  

    In this article we want to share this knowledge and insight with you, so you can make an informed choice about what will best help you achieve your objectives. 

    Broadly, hosting options come in four forms: 

    • Emcee 
    • Facilitator 
    • Guest Speaker (not really a ‘host’ but worth understanding where this fits) 
    • Event Experience Lead 

    Now, we know that you might well be thinking: ‘We’ve done this so many times, we know what format works’. …Well yes, that is most likely true. You may well have a format works in so much that it isn’t bad. But do you really want to be striving for ‘not bad’ 

    Here is our first tip for making your conference or meeting feel different to the norm: 

    Only use professionals that treat the audience as the customer. This might seem obvious, but the way that most events are set up means the commercial transaction is with the CEO, the budget holder or the organising committee. These groups then become the customer, not the end user, which in this context is the audience.  

    Think about the last speaker or Emcee you saw at an event – how much time did they spend having coffee or building a relationship with the delegates either before or after their slot? How much time, in comparison, did they spend impressing the person that holds the budget? Or the CEO?  

    The commercial transaction confuses this point, so it’s worthwhile keeping that in mind when you are deciding who to bring in to help you.  

    Let’s take each hosting option in turn and help unpick the options open to you as an event organiser.      

    Emcee – Master of Ceremonies 

    A newsreader is probably the best analogy to use for an Emcee.  

    This is a default option for many events, especially those centred around multiple guest speakers or individual presentations. An Emcee provides a structure, acting as a ‘host’ to ensure the whole meeting comes together and that there is a common reference point.  

    A good Emcee will have the right balance of professional and humour…but without the cheese. In our experience this balance can be very difficult to find.  

    It may be decided that a leader will Emcee the event. This has obvious budget benefits, but also having a leader obviously in charge of proceedings can demonstrate a clear message of leadership by putting them front and centre.  

    There are downsides though. Housekeeping aspects, such as where the toilets are and timings of coffee breaks etc. need to be communicated by someone, so if there is no external party then it will most likely fall to this person. If that is a leader, their ‘status’ could be seemingly diminished. Unless of course, you have a leader who is skilled in presenting with humility and humour, whilst keeping up their status…and if you have that, using this person for this role is probably a very good option!  

    Key activities you would expect every Emcee to carry out on the day: 

    • Introductions and initial housekeeping 
    • Setting the overall tone, objectives and agenda for the event 
    • Provide context and introductions to each speaker/presentation  
    • Link all the sessions together and extract the main points as the day progresses 
    • Host panel discussions and Q&A 
    • Keep and eye on time and the agenda and keeping the whole event on track. 

    You will know if you have hired a good Emcee if they are: 

    • Able to work without reading straight from a script  
    • Able to act ‘in the moment’. Without this skill it will come across as formulaic and lacking in emotion. 
    • Have a good sense of humour and not be ‘quiz show’ like (quiz show MC’s are more common than any of us would like!)  

    What an Emcee typically does not do: 

    • Provide content introductions or presentations – this would typically be left to the content experts 
    • Run activities such as ice breakers or team activities 
    • Provide challenge or provoke thinking.  



    In a conference context, think of a facilitator as a TV news reporter out in the field: taking care of specific sessions and making their individual ‘slot’ engaging, content-rich and useful.  

    A facilitator is often used in internal content-based sessions or workshops where robust conversations and specific outputs are required. However, this skill set is increasingly being applied to larger conferences and events, as people require more focus on developing outputs and increasing level of skill development as well as listening to speakers/networking etc.  

    A facilitator’s job is to co-ordinate the group, but in a way that harnesses the collective energy and knowledge to achieve a desired outcome. A facilitator will often issue instructions for an exercise, provide prompting thoughts and challenge for the group to consider, and generally help to guide the group to a conclusion or output of some kind…all the while ensuring everyone is able to participate and contribute.  

    Key activities you would expect every facilitator to do:  

    • Look after specific sections of the event, i.e. a team building session, a brainstorming activity or a working session 
    • Understand how their sessions will work in terms of logistics, materials and providing clear instructions 
    • In advance of the event, design formats for specific elements which are engaging and outcome-focused 
    • Run those sessions with confidence and a level of authority (having the presence and impact required to control a large group of people is critical!)  

    You will know if you have hired a good facilitator at a conference or event if: 

    • They are able to instruct large groups of people effectively to complete activities or tasks 
    • They fully understand how different sessions will run and how the session will lead the group to an outcome 
    • They are able to challenge and question the group(s) in order to ensure that the conversation is of high quality and considers a variety of perspectives or inputs 
    • They do all of this in a way which is high energy and ensures momentum 
    • They can provide and run elements such as ice breakers or energisers  
    • They spend time understanding your business and what you are trying to achieve 
    • They design activities, exercises and formats that will help you to achieve your objectives 
    • They consider subtle elements such as the knowledge people have (or haven’t) got when they arrive, energy levels and how to best deal with dissenting voices 
    • They are skilled in getting people to participate and avoid free-riding 

    A facilitator wouldn’t typically: 

    • Be confident in ‘hosting’ large scale events  
    • Introduce speakers or provide an Emcee service (see above) 
    • Be equipped to design evening/networking elements of the event.  


    Guest Speaker 

    A good analogy for a guest speaker is the ‘expert’ that are invited on to news show as a guest.  

    Although not strictly a ‘hosting’ option, guest speakers are a regular feature in many conferences and so it would be amiss to not explore the value that they provide.  

    Inviting an external party to share their experience, their knowledge or their story is a popular way of cementing key messages or providing expertise from outside the organisation. Often large companies can spend a lot of their time looking inward, so a strong guest speaker is an excellent way of understanding expertise from the outside world, providing new and innovative thinking related to the objectives of the event.  

    Motivational speakers are frequently used, but in our experience, they can often be used as a default setting. Venue booked – check! Name Badges send to print – check! Motivational speaker booked – check! Used in the right context with a relevant and a well-presented message and story, they can be very powerful; out of context or poorly executed, they are an expensive way for people to spend time checking emails.  

    Key activities you would expect every guest speaker to do: 

    • Be happy to send you videos of them speaking and references for people that have heard them speak. Think carefully about booking someone who can’t or won’t do both of these things 
    • Have a powerful message which has been well practised, and is told in a compelling way 
    • Know their material and be clear on their technical requirements (microphones, videos etc) 
    • Understand the context in which they are going to be speaking, and be willing and able to adjust their message accordingly 
    • Have excellent impact and presence – it seems obvious, but unfortunately anyone can call themselves a ‘speaker’. It doesn’t necessarily mean they are any good at it 

    A good guest speaker will: 

    • Be available for even a short time, ideally after their slot, to have further conversations with delegates 
    • Be curious and interested in the context of the event and the background of the company – show genuine interest in how their message is going to help the audience 
    • Have good audience connection and warmth. Anyone who comes across in the planning stages as aloof is most likely missing this element 

    A guest speaker wouldn’t typically: 

    • Be around for the whole event 
    • Be involved or present in other sessions  
    • Interact directly with the audience apart from maybe asking for a show of hands.  


    Event Experience 

    An event experience lead is like a strong TV presenter – the glue that holds all the parts together, willing to challenge but can also entertain and keep peoples interest.  

    This is essentially an Emcee, a facilitator and presenter all rolled into one. This role considers the whole experience from the audience perspective and brings all the pieces together into one coherent, engaging ‘programme’  

    This role will work with you to weave together all of the various elements into an overall thread, working through the overall flow, the emotional journey of the delegates and weaving interventions throughout to keep the messages clear and the energy high.  

    This is suitable for events where you want the lines between stage and audience to blur, and not so suitable where a more formal, structured approach is desired.  

    Key activities you would expect Event Experience to do: 

    • Be focused on the audience at all times and how this event is going to help them learn, be inspired or create a momentum towards individuals taking action.  
    • Review your overall agenda and help identify the ‘red thread’ that ties it all together 
    • Input into the individual sessions to ensure the links to your red thread are clear and consistent 
    • Help ensure content is presented in an effective way – coaching and rehearsing with less experience speakers or suggested different formats to mix it up 
    • Liaise with the AV team to ensure logistics don’t get in the way of seamless execution 
    • Create non-content interventions such as energisers, ice breakers or networking sessions to act as the glue through the event 

    A good event experience lead would: 

    • Provide high-energy Emcee as well as serious, thoughtful facilitation  
    • Act ‘in the moment’, ensuring that key messages are not missed  
    • Able to provide witty, funny and spontaneous reaction or playback of the event – creating a shared, memorable experience for employees 
    • Have the detailed business knowledge to challenge and provoke thought, helping to keep conversations away from corporate speak 

    Event Experience Lead wouldn’t typically get involved in: 

    • Arranging AV and room bookings 
    • Deciding the detailed content and messages 
    • Designing content sessions or producing presentations (though they might advise or provide ideas on the format and how to make them more engaging) 


    Each event will have different objectives and requirements, but the likelihood is, if you’re reading this article it is because you want to do something different. If that is the case then come and talk to us about our experiences providing event experience expertise to conferences all over the world.  Get in touch via email on or call the office on +44(0)1926 311347

     If you are looking for idea or tips to create your own memorable meeting, then download a copy of our e-book here which explains our PIE (Physical Intellectual and Emotional) Memorable Meeting framework.    

    “Nobody ever got fired for buying IBM”- how to raise the bar at your next event

    “Nobody ever got fired for buying IBM”- how to raise the bar at your next event

    We specialise in creating Memorable Meetings, and as a result, we’ve been involved in the design and delivery of thousands of events throughout our history. Most of the events we get involved in are for the private or corporate sector…and we’re used to tackling many complexities, challenges and pitfalls these bring in order to create a good event experience. 


    Recently, we’ve also attended a number of industry events for a variety of groups and organisations and have been a little bit surprised that we’ve found the exact same issues there, too. Surely, you’d expect things to be a bit more…polished? 

    Well, even the groups who you’d expect to be pushing a more interactive, exciting conference agenda, setup and format, really aren’t. The experience is largely the same. We see the same old issues cropping up time and time again, wherever we are, whichever event, whichever audience. We call it “Same-Old Syndrome” 

    Symptoms of this include, but are not limited to: 

    • Same old structure: you know the drill…arrive, get your badge, grab a coffee and a biscuit; awkwardly greet other attendees or attempt to network; sit down and listen to endless presentations; guest speaker parades for a while; panel debates; wander round trade stands; leave with a handful of pamphlets 
    • Soulless venues: usually corporate, stale or lifeless buildings and old conference centres; often in rooms with little or no natural light; air conditioning and heating optional 
    • Bored people: the energy in the room plummets; people on their phones; fidgeting and distractions; awkward coughing; people leaving early; no meaningful conversation 
    • Terrible refreshments: grey tea and coffee in stainless steel jugs refilled throughout the day; never quite hot enough; always bitter; only drunk for an energy boost or as a distraction; sad biscuits or pastries 
    • Endless PowerPoint presentations: slide decks galore; full of bullet points; presenters using slides as speaker notes; no interaction; goes on too long 
    • Panel discussions and debates: usually unfair; sometimes very heavily weighted; gender bias; can involve “mansplaining”; easily derailed and easily dominated by the loudest voice; badly facilitated (if at all); mostly not particularly useful 
    • Lack of facilitation: little consideration of audience experience; often self-guided rather than structured; emcee and/or host more like a quiz show than a conference; audience interaction feels forced and/or shallow 
    • Overegged networking: dedicated “networking” time in the agenda; full of forced fun; lack of true conversation; icebreakers usually include at least one of: “tell me something nobody knows about you” or “tell me a fun fact about you” 
    • No dialogue: very passive experience; presented to and talked to without ever getting to interact; Q&A sessions sometimes shoehorned in; networking forced; social media can take precedence over in-the-moment interaction and conversation; lack of reflection time 
    • Trade stands or expos: endless pop-up banners; business card prize jars; egotistical selling; giveaways galore; leaflets, handouts, papers everywhere that just get thrown away 
    • Egotistical guest speakers: who sometimes want their own agenda; can be ruled by ego and levels of sponsorship; can sell instead of imparting insight and learning; are the customers of the conference organisers; don’t often focus on audience needs 
    • No focus on the experience: little consideration of the audience’s needs and wants; no consideration of mindset or emotion; lack of objectives; unclear takeaways or key learning; no wow factor 


    Do you recognise anything on the list? I know I do. Set yourself a task: think of the last conference or event you attended. If we use the above bullet points as a checklist, how many could you tick off as having seen at that conference or event? 

    1-4, maybe that’s not too bad. 5-7, things are starting to look a little…samey. 8 and above? You’re in full-on “Same-Old Syndrome”. 

    We probably all know what this looks and feels like, because the likelihood is that we’ve all attended something that ticks at least a couple of these boxes. But is everyone really that happy with turning up at the same old conferences, hearing the same old things, getting the same old freebies and cold coffee and going home?  

    We know what the bog-standard conference feels like, what the coffee tastes of, how uncomfortable the chairs are, how anything is more interesting than somebody who’s been presenting slides for 45 minutes…yet we still attend them. Time after time. And not only do we still attend these sorts of events…even worse: WE CREATE THEM. 

    This brings us to one question: 


    Well, people are scared. There’s the status quo, already established, whether you like it or not. Whether you can see it, feel it, it’s there. There’s a routine, a set of unwritten rules (who knows how they even came to be in the first place), that dictate “how things are meant to be” when designing or organising an event.  

     Venue- check! Date- check! Delegate package- check! Save the date- check! Invite- check! Speaker- check! 

    There’s a fairly well-known saying for this: “Nobody ever got fired for buying IBM”. (The phrase came into being as IBM was known as a safe, reliable choice for many companies: you weren’t going out on a limb or risking your job if that’s what you chose. No risks taken there.) 

    Well, the saying is true in the conference arena too. People organising events or conferences usually do have something on the line- their reputation, their confidence, their relationships within the organisation- sometimes their job. It’s no easy feat, either, and the pressures can be great. So why would you NOT “choose IBM” if it’s the easiest and safest option presented to you? 

    We know that conferences and events can be boring, dull and downright demoralising. But why would you want to be the person to mess it up, by trying something different? 


    We help organisations to do business differently. As an external party, it’s easier for us to come in with the ideas, themes, red threads and experiential expertise that is more likely to make a meeting memorable. But we know that that’s not for everyone, and that something so “different” sometimes scares people away. 

    We get it. We don’t all have the confidence, buy-in and, quite honestly, “balls, to try something different. We’re not suggesting a complete overhaul of the conference status quo (not to start with, anyway!) We’re also not asking you to “buy anything other than IBM. You don’t have to do anything fancy. You don’t even have to spend a lot of money. But what you can do is start to make a few small changes that will catapult your events miles ahead of anyone else’s.  

    So, what can you do to ditch the same-old, same-old, and raise the bar for your next event or conference? 

     Here’s a couple of tips: 


    Find an engaging space 

    Find a venue for your event that feels a little bit different- conference and events venues don’t have to be dull. Choose a quirky building, innovative space or just somewhere a bit “different” (converted church, factory, racetrack?) Even if you go with something a bit more “typical”, like a conference centre or meeting space, make sure it sets the right tone for the event. Go for somewhere light, bright and airy- there’s nothing worse than an event room with little natural light, or even no windows! Websites like Engaging Spaces focus specifically on fulfilling this need. 


    Get the facilities right 

    Check the heating and/or air con to make sure your guests won’t freeze or boil to death (yes, room temperature really is a common complaint!), and make sure all the facilities you need can be provided. There are few things more embarrassing than an AV setup that glitches or goes wrong, so sort out your requirements with the venue in advance. Events spaces can usually provide extra equipment such as stationery if necessary, so have a chat with the team about what you might need. Most importantly…refreshments. We’re not kidding- this can make or break events. Conferences where the lunch ran out, the coffee was cold and the biscuits lacking usually get feedback focusing on those specific things, rather than the event itself. Stock up on breakfasts, lunches and snacks, and don’t forget tea and coffee! 

    Check out our Memorable Meetings video on Refreshments for a few hints and tips. 


    Limit your PowerPoints 

    We often encounter conferences and events, across many industries, which are an endless tirade of slide decks. It’s tempting to do, and very common, but it’s also incredibly lazy and not very engaging. Nobody wants to listen to somebody speak to a set of slides for 45 minutes…and nobody ever wants to listen to 3 people doing the same. 

    So…cull your PowerPoint. We’ve designed and facilitated some events where the organisers had implemented a complete PowerPoint BAN, where presenters weren’t allowed to even touch the software. We’re not suggesting you go that far but imposing a limit might be a good idea. For your audience’s sake. Don’t subject them to it. 

    Here’s a rule for any presenters: the slide deck is for your audience, not for you. No using it as an aide memoire, no using it as your speaker notes. Limit the words on screen and use as many visuals and emotion-provoking statements or images as possible. You want people to connect with your topic, not switch off. 

    This article sets out more information on avoiding the dreaded “Death by PowerPoint”.  


     Talk like TED 

    If culling PowerPoint isn’t your bag, there is another way of making presentations and content more engaging. Set your speakers a challenge: talk about only 3 key points. If you say more than 3 things, you’ve said nothing, so stick to 3, and people are more likely to remember.  

    Another thing to try is the TED talk format, which has become famous around the world for its focus on clarity and brevity from all of its speakers. Talks are between 5 and 18 minutes long, and must have a clear, focused topic for discussion. This means that messages are shorter and more streamlined, there’s no 45-minute presentations with endless slide decks, and the key takeaways are punchy and hard-hitting. There’s nothing else to be with only 17 minutes to cover your content. Try it if you think your presenters need a time limit. 


     Hire the right host 

    Sure, emcees and conference hosts can be useful, and lots of people use them, but sometimes you just need that little bit more than somebody announcing the next speaker and cracking a few jokes. Consider hiring an event facilitator to help focus on the experience of the day- it will make a big difference to expecting one of your leaders or team to step up. Facilitators can not only host, but they can also help structure the day, guiding sessions and people as necessary. They’re especially great with group working and smaller sessions, where they can help deconstruct topics discussed, guide and encourage conversation, and get to the outcomes you’re looking for. 


    Shake up your panels 

    It seems like the obvious, but please ensure diversity and inclusion is present in your panel discussions. We understand that the people you’d like to include might not always be available, or that some industries might be predisposed to a certain demographic, but it’s always disheartening to watch a panel discussion that’s actually a “Manel”- with nobody else on it but middle-aged white men in dark grey suits. Try where you can to be as relentlessly inclusive as possible. 

    On this topic, facilitated panels are also a very good idea- it’s incredibly common for unmoderated panel discussions to descend into people talking over each other, or just one person who talks on and on and on whilst not giving their fellow panellists a chance to speak. This isn’t nice for the panel or for the audience, so if you have a facilitator, use them to guide conversation and ensure good representation, taking questions from the audience and responding in the moment to everything that takes place. 


    Make it interactive 

    Now, by “interactive”, we’re not just talking about Q&A sessions. They can actually prove to be not very interactive at all- especially when there is nothing but silence following the dreaded: “any questions?” 

    Of course, Q&A sessions are a good start, but there are other interventions to consider that will make the day two-way and interactive. For example: breakout sessions after presentations, where people can either chat about what they have heard, ask the relevant questions; or a fun exercise which puts the content on its feet and gets people to think about it in greater detail. 


    Our favourite model for this is Context, Experience, Reflection. Whatever is to be conveyed is established by setting up the context and why it is important; the context is then brought to life by an exercise that provides a parallel experience; these two factors are then combined in a period of reflection where the group reach their own conclusions and decide on the actions that should be taken.  

     By following this model, your audience won’t be a passive one- they’ll be actively involved, engaged, and will feel a part of what’s going on. 


    Network with purpose 

    We’re not against networking- far from it. We’re just against the typical, stale networking that sees people awkwardly shuffling around a room telling other people how bad their journey was, or what they had for breakfast. There are far better ways of networking that will create greater connection between people. 

     It doesn’t matter if the attendees are strangers, if they know each other a bit, or are people who work with each other every day. We like to start with “hello.” So, start with that, and then move on to something with a bit more purpose.  For a content-based suggestion, give them a subject from the day– no details, just the general topic– and in small groups of 3, 4 or 5, come up with a few areas, or questions that they would like to have answered. Or, for something a bit different, try an exercise that builds connection via finding commonality, and telling stories. Much more fun. 

     And if it’s more traditional networking you’re after, try something akin to speed meetings, where people are greeted with a card and given the challenge of finding a certain number of facts about those around them in the allotted time. 

     …Just don’t get us started on “ice breakers”. 


    Allow people to breathe 

    Take a look at your agenda, and allocate some time that isn’t a session, but isn’t a coffee break. It’s free time, for people to digest, reflect and discuss everything they have seen and heard. In this time, encourage people to do anything they want…apart from check their emails (though to be honest, if they do check their emails, at least they aren’t doing it in a session). 

    Consider it reflection time. Not enough events have it, and it’s like a breath of fresh air, especially if the day is content or presentation-heavy. 


    And, if you’re feeling brave… 

    Consider the overall event experience 

    Take a look at all the elements of your event- ticketing/invites, registration and arrival, venue, refreshments, content or presentations, speakers, panels…and ask yourself one thing: would I be happy attending this conference? If the answer is no, you should probably reconsider a few things. Return to the list, and pick something to focus on. Consider your audience. After all, your answer to the question: “is this the same-old, same-old?” should be…no. 


    Of course, we can’t expect that you’ll go storming into your next design meeting with your own set of conference rules and a revolutionary new way of thinking. 

     So, you know what? Start small. Pick something- one thing– from the list and focus on it next time you have to plan a conference, event, or even meeting. Don’t completely ignore the other elements, by any means, but make that one thing your priority. It will raise the bar just that little bit higher…and next time, pick something else to work on. Try things out, experiment, and raise the bar every time. We promise it will make a difference.  

    Maybe the next step is buying something other than IBM. In which case…give us a call. 


    If you’d like to learn more about planning memorable meetings, our PIE (Physical, Intellectual, Emotional) model sets out the steps you need to consider. For PIE videos, and our Memorable Meetings e-book, please click here. 

    For more information around focusing on the Event Experience, what it entails, and how we can help you, check out our handy guide. 

    Ice Breaker Ideas

    Ice Breaker Ideas

    There are few phrases that say “I need to do something at my event, but I don’t know what” than “can you do an ice breaker?”.

    If that’s what you are looking for, you need to search the web for “ice breaker exercises”. You aren’t going to get any here. Instead you’ll get a question. 


    Why do you need one? 

    When someone says, “can you start with an ice breaker?” it poses a number of questions.  If you don’t do one, what are you afraid might happen? Are you afraid that people are being artificially brought together, and that they won’t open up or engage with the content, or even speak to each other without something to get them over their paralysing awkwardness? Do you think that this kind of coming together is a fraught, painful, scary place? Or – dare I say it? – you’re not convinced that there is anything engaging in the meeting itself? Or could it be that you’re looking at a blank sheet of paper, and you don’t know where to begin. 


    So, here’s a thought. Start with “hello”. 

    It doesn’t matter if the attendees are strangers, if they know each other a bit, or are people who work with each other every day. They are people who are completely capable of talking to each other and contributing to the topics being presented without first being treated like children and treated to an out-of-context parlour game, to “break the ice”. Instead, look at the environment, and the level of permission you are affording them. If you are hosting the event, how do they see you, and their fellow attendees? Are they turning up to something that reminds them of school? If they start filling up from the back – like they did at school – they don’t need an ice breaker, they need something to break that paradigm. If there only a few people coming, try greeting people as they arrive – start with “hello” – and engage with them as humans. Just a few words will suffice, but it will make people feel less passive, and help them to open up to you. 

    If there are a few more people to engage with, that might not be so easy, and you may have to be a bit more creative… 


    Get people to talk to each other 

    That’s what you want to do isn’t it? That, and be interested in what you have brought them together for, so why not combine the two? 

    You could go down some hackneyed route of asking people to share three things about themselves that other people wouldn’t know… and you can revel in the awkwardness as people swing between mundane facts about their lives, embarrassing personal skills and lists of famous people they once saw in a bar. Then you launch into your content… 


    Or pitch them into the topic you want to cover. 

    Give them the subject you are going to talk to them about – no details, just the general topic – and get them to turn to each other in small groups of 3, 4 or 5 and come up with a few areas, or questions that they would like to have answered. That way they are talking to each other and beginning to engage with your subject matter. If you’ve done your homework they shouldn’t be dealing you too many wildcards… and if they do, that’s just good information about what people have at the front of their minds, and it’s better to know rather than not know… 


    Of course, they don’t have to talk… 

    We’re not against an exercise to kick the day off… as long as it has relevance for what is going to follow. If you’ve come across something that will make people think, and perhaps make them laugh, or connect them to the topic, go for it. Just don’t treat the first thing you do with them, the first mark on the blank sheet, as a standalone, throwaway moment that will miraculously unite people – and “break the ice” – as an end in itself. 


    So, back to the first question… 

    “Can you do an ice breaker?” Yes, we can, but a better question to ask yourself might be “is there any ice to break, or do you simply not know how to start your meeting or event?” Either way, just think about this. What do you want to say, and what would be the best way to introduce the topic that will make people sit up and take notice, and feel that they have a personal connection to it?  

    When people come together to address a common cause, there isn’t ever any ice to break. 


    How can I avoid “Death by PowerPoint”?

    How can I avoid “Death by PowerPoint”?

    It’s fair to say that we hate PowerPoint. Well, perhaps that’s a slight exaggeration. Maybe it’s better to say that we hate bad PowerPoint, and whilst we don’t claim to be experts in the software, we’re very aware of the lax attitude people can have when it comes to creating impactful, concise slide decks. 

    Many of you will be familiar with the term “Death by PowerPoint”. You know that feeling of disengaging with what someone is saying, because there’s simply too much going on for you to understand and digest? That’s what we mean. 

    DBP (“Death by PowerPoint”) can happen anywhere, and it’s more common than you might think. Team talks, presentations, board room meetings, training, events, conferences- all can be totally derailed by slide after slide of endless, text-heavy content. 

    In conferences, meetings and events, a good slide deck can be instrumental in helping to make messages land. A properly-branded and highly-visual PowerPoint, with clear, impactful messages, can make a real, professional difference to a conference or event. Slide decks can also help structure and guide the day, useful in not only any sessions being run, but also signposting the day’s agenda, breakouts, timings, groupings and refreshment breaks. With this in mind, if you’re using a PowerPoint, you’re going to want to get it right. 

    So, want to know how to avoid killing your audience with a slide deck? Here’s a few things to remember… 


    A PowerPoint is not your speaker notes 

    First things first, let’s address the golden rule of presenting using PowerPoint: the slide deck is for your audience, not for you. There is nothing more disengaging than watching a presentation by someone who is using the deck as their own personal aide memoire. 

    Your audience don’t have to see everything you’re going to say, or exactly how you’re going to say it. That bit is up to you. Structure the PowerPoint around what you have to say and then let it guide you in the presentation, using whatever is on the slides behind to reinforce your message, not repeat it. Keep words on each slide to a minimum (Seth Godin recommends only 6!), and use any words you use to summarise key points. 

    Make sure the things you’re going to say go on cue cards or index cards, not on the slide deck. Not having to glance at the screen behind you for every second word will give more freedom of expression and more clarity in how you present, as well as making the presentation easier to digest. 


    Make your content clear  

    Ensure you have a clear overall objective for the meeting or session before you even start to construct your accompanying PowerPoint. What are you trying to say? Once you know this, you can tailor the content to the time you have available, and start to edit down the unnecessary items for a streamlined and clear message.  

     Ask yourself: “does it need to be said?” If the answer to that is “no”, then the only way forward is by removing it from the presentation. Don’t keep in unnecessary content or context; stick to what your audience need to hear. The edit process might be tough. Sometimes, you’re going to have to cull topics, ideas and points that you might not want to. But ultimately, it’s the only way forward. 

     From this, if you’re using a PowerPoint, you can start to build a slide deck which says no more than it has to, brings to life your key points and clearly sets out what you want people to know and remember. 

     And if you need a “So what?” moment, a series of key points and takeaways, take a short summary slide at the end. Never give out handouts or slide notes before the presentation, and if you want to leave the audience with something physical, design a clear one-pager that sums your presentation up.


    Bullet points are not your friend 

    Bullet points can sometimes seem like the easiest way to summarise key points whilst reducing the word count of a slide. But remember: your audience can read faster than you can speak. If you’ve got a bullet-pointed list that all appears at the same time, the likelihood is that your audience will have read the lot before you’ve even talked through the first one.

    If you absolutely have to use a bulleted list, make use of PowerPoint animations, so each point arrives on-screen as you want to talk through it. This gives you more freedom to expand on the points you’re making, and avoids people reading ahead before just switching off. Even better, use clean, hi-res graphics to illustrate the points you’re making, and use your bullet points in your speaker notes instead. 


    Make it visual 

    Want to create an engaging PowerPoint? Your best bet is to make it as visual as possible. You know what they say about pictures: “a picture tells a story”; “a picture tells a thousand words”, etc. Well, in this case it’s definitely true. If you’re looking to reduce the “Death by PowerPoint” factor, edit out your words, and replace them with images. 

    Visually appealing PowerPoints are not only far more interesting to look at, they’re also excellent signposting for the person presenting to know what to talk to. And more importantly for your audience, pictures can convey messages and tell a story in a single glance; far quicker than words ever can. Pictures spark emotion, and it’s emotion you need in any presentation to keep your audience on board and your content memorable.  

    And, at the very least, good images provide an engaging background. Even if you don’t mention what’s behind you; even if it’s a standalone image; even if the slide is just a picture…it’s better than a slide of just words. 

    Of course, there are a few guidelines when it comes to the pictures you choose. No unprofessional-looking or low-quality images; no stock images; nothing cheesy; no cartoons. And it goes without saying, but nothing offensive. Absolutely, the shock factor is fine if appropriate and in moderation, because a hard-hitting picture really can tell a story, but nothing gratuitous.  

    Always make the pictures relevant to the subject, use them to illustrate points where you can, and even better, use them as the points you’re make where possible. 


    Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse 

    Bearing our previous points in mind, sometimes you can have the best PowerPoint in the world, but it’s presented by someone who neither knows their content well, nor really understands the best way to present to it. The answer to this? Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse. 

     Smaller meetings might not have the same imperative for polished and professional performance, but if the presentation’s part of a large conference or event, you’ll need to rehearse beforehand. And by rehearsing, we mean a full run-through with the cue cards and the slide deck, to make sure everything is running smoothly. Get everything in order; practise every transition, animation and pause; make sure the content lines up and the message is clear. 

     Even better, invite a few trusted team members along to the rehearsal to hear the presentation. Let them review, help and suggest ways to improve if they think the presentation needs a bit more oomph to avoid “DBP”. Take on board their feedback and then run it through again with the changes you’ve made. 


    And, finally…It’s not 2005 anymore. 

    …So, don’t make your PowerPoint look like a fossil. If you’re the one in charge of creating the deck, please stay away from Word Art, sound effects or cheesy animations. It will cheapen your message almost instantaneously. 


    By bearing the above in mind, you should hopefully avoid the pitfalls associated with bad PowerPoint, keeping your audience engaged and staying far away from the dreaded DBP. 

    For more conference hints and tips, our Memorable Meetings series sets out more watch-out elements to consider when planning a conference, meeting or event (there’s much more to consider than your slide decks!) 

    For visual ways of conveying messaging effectively and translating business messages into artistic creations, take a look at our Visual Creation, Artwork and Illustration page. 

    If you want to create a conference which is impactful, memorable and engaging then have a chat with our creative team. Drop us a line on or call the Monster Office on +44(0) 1926 311347