Creating an experience which inspires trust.

Creating an experience which inspires trust.

Our Award Winning (!!) Visual Creator, Alana is getting married this year, and on a recent dress shopping trip was reminded of the importance of building a connection with people in order to build a good relationship.

This week I bought a wedding dress. I am actually getting married, this isn’t one of the random purchases for a Purple Monster event of any kind. And don’t worry, I will not turn the lovely weekly newsletter into a wedding blog…I am not that kind of bride. But what I was interested in was the experience.

 At Purple Monster we are convinced that good experiences come from making good connections. So how was the once in a lifetime wedding dress buying experience for me?

The answer:  very different in two very similar boutiques, (apparently, you have to call them boutiques; turns out wedding etiquette can be complicated). My budget, venue and timescales were all set but my super objective was to find THE dress. I also had some sub objectives like; try on ridiculous dresses, have a go at things out of my comfort zone, feel fancy, feel good, feel relaxed, feel comfortable and have fun!

Boutique one delivered on all of these fronts.

Welcoming – I was immediately offered a seat and given a coffee. Good start. I like coffee.

Friendly– The assistant, Sheeny and I chatted about ourselves, our families and friends and most importantly, what our favourite cheese was. After half an hour I was already showing her pictures of my dog.

Honest– when a dress made me look like a rectangle, she agreed with me that it made me look like a rectangle and offered alternatives.

Respectful – giving my mum and I some time to chat through each dress I tried on and being aware when I needed a bit of space and then chipping in with conversation, opinions and advice.

Attentive – I felt like I had her full attention. Each dress was analysed thoroughly and either in the maybe pile or the no pile. I felt like the only bride in the world!  
Unfortunately, Boutique two didn’t match up. There was no upfront chat, no getting to know me. I was talked over and did not feel listened to. They weren’t disrespectful but I left feeling a little, well, disappointed. – she didn’t even know I had a dog.

Using visual storytelling to build a connection

Alana, along with our team of creative practioners, are able to use a vast toolkit of visual skills and techniques to build a connection with an audience and convey a message with authenticity and a human focus.

Now, I am not for one moment suggesting that buying a wedding dress is the same as being in business but the principles of making good connections is pretty universal right?

We all like to feel like we belong. A warm welcome, be it to a conference, event, meeting or just to your desk in the morning can go a long way to improving someone’s day. (we’ll always make you a coffee when we see you)


Humans need humans- we are tribal creatures, full of complex emotions. Taking the time to get to know your fellow people builds familiarity, trust and respect. Any major or minor workplace challenge is a lot easier to approach with a friend to confide in.


Sometimes it is hard to be honest, especially when it comes to big gnarly issues. But in the workplace, people are a lot better equipped to make decisions and take the best course of action if they know all the facts. Fudging issues just breeds distrust and destroys confidence. (Just don’t tell them that their outfit makes them look like a rectangle…)


Give people the time and attention relevant to the situation. Be present and listen to what your colleagues have to say. Respect one another. It is one of the oldest sayings in the book.


If you are head down and hard at work, remember once in a while to look up and see what the rest of your team are doing and if you can, support where necessary.

There are many other aspects to creating a good relationship and connection with people but these just stood out for me. Boutique 1 made the whole experience that bit more amazing. The connection built between the assistant and me made the whole experience enjoyable, put me at ease and it gave me confidence that I made the right decision at the end of it all. Sub objectives: achieved. Super objective: Achieved. I’ve got the dress!

Whoever said wedding planning was stressful?


If you want to help inspire trust in your organisation by creating positive experiences then get in touch with Alana on 

Making online learning engaging: Lessons from the best online MBA in the world

Making online learning engaging: Lessons from the best online MBA in the world

Warwick Business School (WBS) was ranked as the best online MBA programme in the world in 2018. This week Danielle looks back at the experience of completing her distance learning MBA at WBS and considers how the best practice developed there can be applied to corporate learning programmes.

It was clear to me after spending 3 years on their award-winning MBA, why Warwick Business School has recently achieved their No 1 business school ranking.

Any education institution can achieve the ‘content’ requirements but this focused on the holistic learning experience. The school created an engaging ‘learning ecosystem’ delivered predominantly, but not exclusively online. Below are my key insights for anyone looking to improve an on-line learning offer.

 1. Retain face to face elements.

Although this MBA was online, with global participants, face to face components were still compulsory. The elements that had to be completed on campus simply did not translate to online. They relied on personal interaction, observation, nuances and subtleties which are impossible to replicate in the virtual world.

Impact for corporate training: Don’t assume everything can be delivered online. If the content relies on skill development, requires practise or is abstract, then face to face is most likely your best answer.


2. Have engaging presenters/teachers

University lecturers are not selected for their screen presence or ability to entertain an audience, however the modules I actively engaged with, were the ones where the lecturers were engaging personalities. They didn’t just talk through the slides; they shared stories and anecdotes, and provoked interesting discussions. They didn’t shy away from interaction online and created an experience which felt more akin to listening to a radio show or a podcast than a lecture.

Impact for corporate training: Presenting anywhere is a skill, but the skill of presenting effectively online is massively underestimated. It’s incredibly easy to switch off during online learning so make sure the person fronting up the material is engaging.


3. Make the content relevant

One module I thoroughly enjoyed was ‘Economics of the Business Environment’. This would not normally be a subject I would be excited about, but I happened to be studying this module at the time of the EU referendum in the UK. Suddenly, the theoretical concepts were being brought to life and reported on daily in the news media.Very helpful!

Impact for corporate training: Don’t keep material in the theoretical. Make it timely and realistic. Encourage interaction with news articles, link content to current affairs and contemporary examples.


4. Create a peer-to-peer network

During my first year I spent a lot of time working with my ‘group’ online. We were all keen, but occasionally overwhelmed by the volume and complexity of the material.
After the first year, our group gradually stopped our weekly calls. My results in the second year reflected the fact that I had lost this critical element of my learning.That group brought the material to life. It helped me talk through ideas and linkages. It solved problems I couldn’t figure out on my own and it highlighted gaps in my knowledge that I had to revisit. That network was the difference between me mechanically working through the material versus truly understanding and applying my learning.

Impact for corporate training: Creating a learning network is critical and often completely omitted. Combine learning material and networking to both strengthen the learning process and build working relationships that go well beyond the duration of the training course? 

Interested in building a learning network in your organisation?

5. Don’t stick to the obvious.

One thing I loved about the MBA programme was the range of subjects I could choose. Leadership and the Art of Judgement was one of my favourites; using Shakespeare to examine modern leadership and the concept of ‘Practical Wisdom’. I was also obsessed by the module ‘Economics of Wellbeing’ – the business case behind being happy. Subjects like that gave me a rounded view of the business world and reignited my love of learning for the sake of it, not just because I had to pass a course.

Impact for corporate training: Reward your people with subjects and content that will ignite their passion and draw them into the learning process.

I am pleased and proud of my MBA status, but more than anything, I have a desire to keep learning and to apply that learning in our business. Wouldn’t it be great if learning within corporate settings achieved a similar result?

    Want to improve your online learning engagement ? Drop us a line on or call us on +44 (0) 1926 311347.

    Why use visuals rather than text in communications

    Why use visuals rather than text in communications

    People are reading a lot less. 

    It is slightly contradictory that the topic of this article is how visuals are often better than text at communicating information, and yet here we are, wading through some text together… And I say we, because we have entered into a strange contract – me as the writer with something to say, you as the recipient, trying to make sense of what the message is. It’s hard to replace text when you want to communicate details, but if you want to grab the attention of your audience, give them a feel for what the information is, rapidly convey a concept or idea, or just communicate in a different way, there’s nothing like a visual image. 


    Research shows that people are reading a lot less, for many reasons.  

    Information overload is all around us – at work and at home. When was the last time you read every single line of Apple’s privacy T’s and C’s? Or read the instruction manual on a new gadget fully before you used it? Even this article, two paragraphs in, will have been too much for some people and they will have stopped reading and moved on. (If you are one of them, it’s probably too late to say goodbye, but we hope you come back soon…) We are all busy people, and the countless apps and programmes and systems and processes that are meant to make things easier can just add their own noise. We have stuff to be doing and if we need to know something, we will spend as short a time as possible finding it out. So, if you need to communicate something, it needs to stand out from the rest of the clutter of daily life.  


    Studies have shown that we only retain around 20% of things we read. 

    That means that for every five paragraphs you write, only one will be remembered… that is, if the recipient has time to read it in the first place… So, as we reach paragraph number three, the irony meter goes off the scale… but for those of you who do like to read, thanks for making it this far! 

     37% of the population are visual learners and visuals can be processed at 60,000 times faster than text. Here’s an example. If you look at a picture of a ham and mushroom pizza, you get what it is immediately. If you got a list of words describing the pizza, it would take you a bit longer to work out what was being talked about. And yet, often the default attitude in business is to tell you about the thin slices of Parma ham and the type of mushrooms used…  

    Visuals are also great at getting both parts of the human brain to work together


    They encourage collaboration between the logical and more cognitive left side of the brain, with the more creative and intuitive right-hand side. But enough describing pizzas. Look at the picture. 

    Just don’t think about how much time you would have saved if you’d looked at it first…

    If you want to tap into our visual storytelling skills then the best person to contact is our resident visual creator Alana. Contact her on or by calling the office on +44(0)1926 311347 and asking to speak to the Award Winning Visual Creator. 

    Do you need some tips on how to make a dry topic interesting?

    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.    

    Disruptive Thinking- Scarman, 17th April 2018

    Disruptive Thinking- Scarman, 17th April 2018

    “Don’t know what I want, but I know how to get it…”

    Clayton M Christiansen coined the term “disruptive innovation” in the mid-1990s, defining it as:

    “a process by which a product or service starts with simple applications at the bottom of a market – often servicing an need that is not currently being met by the current incumbents of that field – and, from this foothold, relentlessly moves up-market, changing the environment, and, sometimes, displacing the established competition.”

    It’s come to mean more. It’s become a zeitgeist word, bandied about as a new, exciting successor to creativity and innovation, and people seem to think they want it.

    Or do they?

    Whether people want to disrupt at industry, company, or team level. The first step is to question the currently accepted position… take the music industry as an example…

    Where it was… What happened when the established belief was questioned…
    Music is a physical product, sold in albums and singles on vinyl and cassette. Music is rented when you need it through Spotify, Amazon and iTunes. People create their own albums as they want to.
    Sharing music is terrible. “Home taping is killing music!” Sharing music is to be encouraged as it builds interest, momentum and profile for artists. By turning music into a subscription service, Spotify has made the record collection of the whole world available to everyone.
    Artists have to have a recording contract to get their music distributed. Artists control their own output, using the power of their fanbase to produce what they want to make, and what the fans want to consume. Companies like Apple do exclusive deals with artists to make their product available to consumers.
    Recording live concerts damages the artists’ product and reputation. Live concerts are an experience that can be added to. Recordings of the gig you have just been to are available – at a price above the price of a live album – on the night of the gig, so the experience lives on for the people who were there.
    And when digital is everything… People want vinyl. They want the physical experience of music. They want everything that digital no longer gives them!

    “Something’s going on, a change is taking place…”

    Things have to fall into place. The environment, timing and technology does have to support it, but disruption often comes from understanding the commercial outcomes and then reverse engineering from that outcome. Consider customer experience. Would people like their bills generated immediately? Enter Tonik Energy…

    Disruption can be on a very simple scale but can have huge impact by really focusing on specifics that can meet customer needs better than the current offers. Patanjalimanaged to beat well established household good brands such as P&G and Unilever by focusing on an unserved customer group (natural products) and not adopting market established paradigms (such as having a large advertising spend).

    The key is keeping close to the customer problem you are trying to solve.

    New technology can open up obvious new markets, but can also create whole new markets. Everyone – or just about everyone – has access to the video capabilities of a smartphone. Why not offer them training, so they can make professional quality videos, without engaging a professional company, or purchasing expensive kit? Customer trends can drive whole industries and the best disruptors are those that can exploit those trends, especially if they can offer it in bitesize content.

    A new idea is delicate. It can be killed by a sneer or a yawn; it can be stabbed to death by a quip and worried to death by a frown on the right man’s brow. -Ovid

    The fear of failure, however, can stop people taking action. Ideas can die very quickly if not supported, so how do you respond to the ideas people come to you with? Do they get killed with a sneer or a yawn, or do you take a default “yes” approach?

    Not seeing the world how it has been but being open to new trends as they develop is a key skill for people who want to work with, rather than against disruptive influences. Look at the rejuvenation of what was once considered an “elderly” market. People who would once have moved into a grey netherworld are becoming more aspirational and better connected – and new trends and new markets are opening up for older people who want to travel the world.

    The instant gratification, and always-on solution that is driven by our increasingly app-based culture is providing impetus to rapid disruption, both on the demand side, and, through widespread social media, instant connectivity and high levels of visibility across industries. Disruption in one industry can be inspired by a completely different industry.

    This calls for a laser sharp focus on what you are trying to achieve, and most importantly, what your customer is demanding from you… for example Chiltern Railways overcoming a traditional obstacle of lack of station facilities and simply building their own station.


    “When problems come along, you must whip it…”

    To adopt a disrupter’s mindset you have to see the barriers or obstacles that currently exist – or the threats to your current model that are manifested in the “desire paths” that your customers are taking to meet needs that you are not currently serving – as opportunities to be exploited, even if they appear to defy conventional wisdom for your industry. Sometimes it helps to consider what your overall product or service offering feels like for customers. Do you have an attention to detail over and above your competitors? Is something being missed that people would value?


    F.E.A.R… Freeing Excellence Affects Reality

    If you want to encourage disruptive innovation at a team level, it has to be obvious that support and permission is granted from the top down, even though the reality of taking on challenges and looking for new approaches will inevitably result in failure. The established culture – in life, society and business – can often mean that experimentation and failure is not celebrated and indeed, is often punished.

    How can leaders or teams help to celebrate failure? “Failure cake” that is handed out at Tonik is one way of making light of people making genuine mistakes in their attempt to make improvements. Sometimes, you just have to stand up and celebrate with the “failure bow”. Don’t be ashamed of failure. The person who never made a mistake, never made anything.

    It requires some personal reflection too. How comfortable are you as the leader or your leadership team with failure and risk? And what structures will you, as a leader, need to establish so that creativity and innovation can flourish without creating chaos and efforts being focused in the wrong area?


    Tips for encouraging creative thinking and therefore more disruptive ideas are:

    • Hire well – don’t just hire on technical skills but hire for cultural fit and individual desire to keep developing and their ability to challenge in a constructive way.
    • Ensure that principles for decision making are clear from the top and provide guidelines for how people should act. This will give people a compass when they need to make decisions.
    • Look external for inspiration – don’t just look at your own industry.
    • Consider what you are measuring and how that is driving decisions and activity – if you change what you measure you are likely to change what people focus on.
    • Find a way to celebrate failure, so the word “failure” is not seen as a bad thing, but as a necessary step to refine thinking, remove doubt, and tighten the focus on what needs to be done.
    • Could Improv skills help you and your team be more confident with uncertainly and building skills in building on ideas? Would they benefit from learning to embrace ambiguity and change, operate from a “yes, and” position, provide mutual support and hold multiple thoughts while moving towards a common goal?
    • Where are the clichés in your business, and what would happen if you reversed them? What established practices are you simply sticking to but are restricting your ability to innovate and disrupt? What benefits could result from Re-inventing Organisations?


    We do business differently, experimenting with the idea that there are other ways to do business, connect with people and get results. Different ways to learn and share outside of the normal taught approach, common in workshops, business schools and L&D environments across the globe. If you want to become involved, please sign up here to learn more.

    To download this article as a pdf, please fill out the form below.

    “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.