Global Leadership Conference; How did it go?!

Global Leadership Conference; How did it go?!

In a previous article all about the preparation process for a global leadership conference, we asked the question, ‘what could possibly go wrong?’ It seemed fitting, to share what actually happened. Plus of course, we share what went so well and why.

Speaker rehearsal

We always try and make sure it happens but for a variety of reasons often leaders are reluctant or unable to do a full rehearsal. Not in this case. Every executive featured in the main sessions, put in quality rehearsal time. Fabulously supported by the technical crew from the event production partners. It was especially valuable because the room layout meant this meeting was conducted with a stage in the middle of the room.

Different and brilliant!


Contingency plans

Yes, the unexpected happened. Of course it did. A senior executive was unable to be present for one day and so others stepped in, slides were adjusted, scripts re-written and all of it achieved calmly and in good time.

The key is not focus on why it has gone wrong or worse, who is at fault. The key is to work together to fix whatever it was. An experienced team, as was the case at this event, will have the knowledge as to what can be done in time to fix any issue that comes up and the skills to make that solution happen. 

Keep to Time

The efficient movement of 240 delegates around breakout spaces, lunch, external trips was no picnic, but nothing was dropped and the biggest overrun was 15 mins, which we gradually caught up through the day. Result!

It helps to have someone assigned to oversee timings and even better if this person has the knowledge about the event to decide, in the moment, if a section needs cutting or where time can be made up without damaging the integrity of the whole agenda design. 


In the moment.

It was a long week for the global delegates, but they really did stay incredibly engaged throughout. This is down to a combination of factors one of which is the positive culture this organisation has in the first place. It was also down to a very well considered agenda, fiercely protected reflection time and of course – high energy facilitators!   



There were one or two minor tensions in the week about what could be done when and by who, but the pressure to flex to meet the inevitable changing requirements often falls to the venue team. An event can quickly fall apart if they are not willing to help you out when needed. Building good relationships with this team, keeping them informed as things change and be willing to get stuck in when required all creates an atmosphere of collaboration and willingness to help. 


We said last week that provided the team could work well together, you could pretty much solve anything and that proved to be the case. 

The world-class Core Design team from Purple Monster and the client. 

Our very own Robin Fritz and Haley Rushing from The Purpose Institute.

The story

Teamwork really is the story here and it’s worth mentioning why our relationship with this particular client and the two individuals we work most closely with, is so special, we hope from their side as well as ours. 

First, they are willing to place their trust in us, even when we are pushing the creative boundaries. They understand that the hours spent in detailed design, creates a seamless conference with both a logical and emotional flow.

They are willing to engage in difficult conversations to get everyone on board – this in the face of knowing that the financial management as well as the delegate experience will all come down to them. If the conference is a success, they will be thanked for doing their job. If it’s a failure, the buck stops with them. Despite this obvious pressure, we always know we have their full support.

Everyone played their part in full and probably the most obvious expression of this was the creation of the ‘world bazaar’ exhibition. For logistical reasons, there was a very short window of an hour to transform 15 ‘booths’ from shell form, to fully stocked displays from around the globe, each with its own unique story and regional flavour. We would love to be able to share a time-lapse film of the set-up, but nobody had enough time on their hands to be filming.

It was not just the speed with which the whole thing was assembled that stood out, nor was it the fact that simply everybody (and we mean everybody) pitched in. It was more that it was done with such good grace; with fun, collaboration, sharing tools and know-how and mostly, well, sweat really.

There were so many highlights to the conference. Hayley Rushing from The Purpose Institute being one of the many inspirational speakers, although the only external one on this occasion. We’re not at liberty to share what was spoken about, but what we can share is the part we see as mostly our responsibility – the engagement of the audience and the tone and style of the meeting.

The wonderful setting certainly helped; the bold and creative design of the main stage; the informal and fun tone established by the Chair and CEO; the commitment to the theme of music alongside the quality and thoughtful presentation of content – all of these things helped the engagement. We did our bit too and to finish, here’s some feedback we received over the weekend.

You are amazing at what you do, have formed great relationships with the organization and have built amazing trust and comfort so that people can really be themselves. Bravo!

You guys were simply awesome. Both in the weeks and months leading up to the meeting and in the moment. 

CEO, Global FMCG Organisation

Would you like to create an event like this one?

Preparing for a global conference; What could possibly go wrong?!

Preparing for a global conference; What could possibly go wrong?!

After months of design, preparation and planning a large scale, global leadership conference…What could possibly go wrong?! 


The simple answer and the one that no one really wants to hear is quite a lot! So, we figured as we head into our big event, the least we could do, to provide reassurance, not just to our clients, but to anyone else embarking on such an endeavour, is to create a small check-list of the watch outs.

Speaker rehearsal.

Senior executives have done this kind of thing many times before and as a result, are tempted to look at the slides and then leave the rest to chance. Strongly advise them not to. It is always worth a walk through in the space to take a good look at lights, the mics, the audience seating and their timing. Beware especially the speakers that say things like “I’ll be fine on the day”. The most experienced international performers rehearse in the space, whenever they have the chance, and the smart ones take that time also to build rapport with the technical crew.


Ask all the ‘what if?’ questions. What if there’s a power failure and there are no slides, no music etc? What if you have to cut the presentation by 15 minutes? What if you had to step in for someone else? You don’t need to forecast catastrophe, but it’s healthy to expect the unexpected.

Keep to Time.

There really does have to be someone with authority, who is keeping everything to time. Complex events, including the movement of hundreds of people really do rely on keeping to time. If a speaker runs over by 15 minutes, they may not consider it a big deal, but the knock-on effect for the venue staff, the crew, the delegates, the other speakers can be huge. If someone is going on too long – get them off.

In the moment.

It’s difficult for anyone to focus and concentrate for a whole week, but unless you are asleep or on a break, then the only way to be is fully present. Stay in the moment, whether it’s to listen, to ask questions, to present, to help someone else, to notice something that ‘s needed. Conferences can be hard going but being fully present will help you get most from the experience.


There will be last minute changes and being able to flex and improvise can often be the answer to ensuring a smooth path. If someone is having a minor meltdown because something hasn’t arrived or their slides aren’t right, be the one that reduces the tension by providing an alternative for them. Change the order to give them time to reshape their presentation and help them do it.


There will be problems. If you can work well as a team, then those problems will be solved a whole lot quicker. It may require you to do things outside your normal remit. Do them, with a smile. It helps if everyone knows their role and responsibility, but don’t throw anyone under the bus, be in it together and own up quickly if you’ve made a mistake. That way it can be sorted. Before the start of the event, bring everyone together and make sure they all feel part of that team – whether chief executive or production assistant.

A story to help…

And it wouldn’t be a PM article without a story. For a one-day leadership event, focused on forecasting the future, we chose to have on stage a large Dr Who Tardis prop. Nothing wrong so far.

However, on the morning of the event, when we opened the packaging, we were a little surprised to discover a Disney Princess Castle. There were a couple of interesting conversations, but happily none about whose fault it was.

Instead, we decided to front up the mistake to the client and proceed with the castle, because it really was a fabulous prop. The result, people still remember that conference fondly and in particular, the analogy of myths and legends that we created on the fly.

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Trust me, I’m a venue finder

Trust me, I’m a venue finder

If you didn’t know…Purple Monster has a venue finding business called Engaging Spaces.  Our friend and colleague, George, runs this part of the business. In between juggling duties as a Mum and venue finder, this week she was out and about filming some marketing videos. Her Wednesday went like this…

Alana and I decided to film a few more marketing videos for social media, something we’ve been playing around with for the last couple of years; having great fun and learning as we go.  The feedback on the videos has been great and each venue we’ve filmed in has welcomed the content.

For this session, providing helpful hints on how to work with us, I asked a basic starting question, ‘Where shall we shoot them?’ Now we’re a venue finding agency, so the obvious place was a great venue that we know and love working with.  We’ve built an excellent relationship with Warwick Conferences over the last year or so, sharing similar thoughts on the best learning environments.  We really love their creative, versatile, light spaces.  A quick phone call later and we were booked in.  Simple.

The video content that we were shooting was about choosing the right location for an event or meeting, as well as talking about the service we provide.  Being able to do this in a space that we highly recommend, made this one of those ‘winning’ days! The venue was fabulous and we were pleased with what we produced. #thumbsup

There was a real desire to help each other, sharing information and contacts.  They generously offered us the use of the space anytime. In return we offered to promote their lovely space; for all the right reasons.  There was nothing shallow, false, self-motivated or ‘going through the motions’ about our conversation. It felt like we wanted the best for each other and that it was a real meeting of minds. We just trusted each other and were happy to help each other where we could.

There are lots of companies that partner and collaborate and sometimes with the view of growing their own business of course.  But over the twenty-four year history of Purple Monster we have done a lot of collaborating. It is sometimes disappointing, sometimes rewarding, sometimes just thrilling, but it is always worth doing if you are prepared to share a little bit of yourselves and can encourage others to do the same. But you do have to be prepared to trust and that makes you a bit vulnerable. Wow. That’s a whole other article. Suffice it to say Wednesday’s experience was just a great example of collaboration!

Purple Monster and Engaging Spaces tips for finding the right venue…

  • Choose a venue that closely meets your objectives. Don’t be afraid to go for somewhere a little “different” if it fits with what you want to do.   
  • Think about how the environment will impact on the tone you want to set. Want people to feel relaxed and informal? Consider a space with sofas and comfy chairs. Want people to come up with innovative ideas? Think about sitting around a kitchen table (where the best ideas are formed!)  
  • Make sure the room itself is big enough to allow people to move around with ease. 
  • Location, location, location. Pick somewhere that makes sense for everyone and reduces the stress and time of travelling to and from the event. Even if it costs you a bit more for room hire it will still most likely be cheaper than people travelling further or requiring an overnight stay. 

It goes without saying that we highly recommend using Warwick Conferences.  Perhaps you can ask them, if they recommend using Engaging Spaces.  Or of course, take a look for yourself if you want something a little different:  or get in touch on

Need help finding a creative and inspirational venue?

We are experts in sourcing creative, quirky and inspirational spaces for business meetings and events. 

Three takeaways from successful conferences.

Three takeaways from successful conferences.

It’s conference time again in Monster Towers and more than one is at the planning and design stage.  For our work, bringing content to life, this is the most creative time and the most demanding and conflicted time too.  We love to push the boundaries creatively and this doesn’t always provide comfort for those responsible for the successful delivery of the conference aims and objectives. 

There are many questions asked at this time and I’m going to focus on three that we hear a lot.  They represent the need for ROI and as conference time gets nearer, the questions increase in frequency and volume!  

Key questions any good conference organiser should be asking


In no particular order, these are the perennial favourites and they apply to any and every part of the conference. 

  • What are the three things that people will do differently as a result of the conference?
  • What is the one action that can be taken right away to bring about change?
  • What are the key takeaways? (and no, this does not refer to the goody bags)

Most of our readers will have heard if not actually asked these questions themselves. We have and we’re also constantly trying to answer them too. But just occasionally, the monsters are brave enough to challenge whether asking the delegates these questions directly will achieve anything at all.

No one wants to be the one that doubts their effectiveness. However, there is an unspoken acknowledgement, that even with the sending of the obligatory reminder postcard, it is unlikely that any of these questions is going to help land key messages, change behaviour or cement understanding of the new strategy. So what will?

How can you ensure the message lands without being patronizing? 

Following the release of the fabulous film, ‘Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri’, there was a positive explosion of individuals and groups, renting space or even hijacking billboards, to protest a point. Not just one, mind you, but always three.

Now did this come about because at the end of the film, in all film theatres, somebody asked us to consider the three things we were going to take away or do differently? No. They did it despite the absence of this prompt and that’s because, every single person that saw that film could see the power of a brilliant, yet simple idea.

Inspired, tragically by a real event, but then shared brilliantly by a great storyteller.
Very few people can remember every bit of a film, especially if they only see it once. Quite a lot of any conference is going to fade pretty quickly too and of course it makes sense to ask people to write things down they wish to remember.

It’s the directive bit that doesn’t help; the being told to take action or that you must remember three things specifically.

The core team we’ve been working with this week have had an obvious but helpful way of avoiding the predictable stuff. It’s very refreshing. They keep saying:

“Remember everyone here is an adult. They pay mortgages, bring up families, make leadership decisions every day. They can work out what to remember and what to do, on their own.”

Yes they can.

Three ways to ensure your messages land.

Here’s our three billboards, that we think will help the adults at your conference remember the right stuff.

  1. Create memorable content with simple ideas that stick. Don’t overcomplicate and resist the temptation to tell the audience everything you know
  2. Be authentic and use everyday language. If you think you have a ‘buzzword bingo’ script, get the red pen out and cut it.
  3. Allow people reflection time. Not everyone wants to rush out of the cinema. Sometimes you just have to sit and take in what you’ve seen – play it over in your head.

Just like a great film, if you thoughtfully create something memorable, then the adults will work out what to remember and what to do about it.  Trust them to get it right. There’s no need to send out a survey asking ‘What three things did you take-away?’  Instead, look out for the evidence.  If you’ve delivered a great conference, then the metaphorical billboards will be appearing all over the organization. 

Three at a time, of course.

What are your three conference takeaways?

We are experts in helping messages to land and that includes making sure delegates are clear on the key takeaways at conferences.

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