From Agile to Zoom – The Purple Monster Business Glossary

From Agile to Zoom – The Purple Monster Business Glossary

Way back in 2019 we had great fun crafting our own definitions to common business words and phrases.

As we made our way through the extraordinary 2020, a whole new vocabulary developed and we began to think back to those old phrases that we’d enjoyed poking gentle fun at the year before.

We decided it was only fitting that we revisit and add a few more up to date entries to the Purple Monster business glossary. So we have pulled them all together into a handy compendium of light-hearted fun.

Remember to let us know which one is your favourite.  If there is a key business word or phrase you think we have missed, then drop Alan a line on He will see if he can come up with a suitably funny definition!

Download the full A-Z glossary here: From Agile to Zoom

Can you imagine?

Can you imagine?

There’s a wonderful song in the film Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, starring Gene Wilder. It’s called Pure Imagination and has the following lyrics:

Come with me and you’ll be
In a world of pure imagination
Take a look and you’ll see
Into your imagination

We spend quite a bit of time in our imagination and contrary to popular belief, not all of it daydreaming! Whenever we are faced with a business challenge, we look to answer it creatively and the global pandemic has certainly presented us and our clients with a sizeable challenge. I wrote this challenge on the whiteboard a few weeks ago, so I could be clear exactly what it was we were dealing with.

“In-person conferences and meetings can no longer be held and we are all experiencing ‘zoom fatigue’, seeing only the head and shoulders view of ourselves and others, and in some cases, only a faceless silhouette.  The picture never changes or moves, except to get smaller on gallery view, or change to a power point slide.”

The zoom fatigue is hardly surprising, since it is not only work that requires our online presence.

I don’t know about you, but in my household during lockdown, zoom sessions have included company calls, client meetings, leadership coaching, a business support group, TEDx circle, friends and family, therapist, singing teacher and the vet!

In fairness, animals have featured in video calls everywhere and often been the highlight and our friends and family chat I imagine is fairly typical, where we’ve heard from dogs, cats, chickens and on a very special day in Thailand, a rare tortoise.  It didn’t say that much, but it didn’t have to, it was still the star.

Whilst doing our best to bring stimulating content and high energy to Zoom and Teams meetings, it was clear we needed to do more. At first we invested in some better kit for our home offices and with our new microphones, ring lights and webcams, we were able to at least show up clearly and be heard – although we’re still not entirely sure about the white circles in the pupils! As we would do, we spent a bit of time clowning around on calls and passing chocolate bars to each other across the screens and then began to read imaginary news and weather to each other, using two cameras. A short step from this playfulness, saw us using portable green screens to play with different backgrounds and environments, but despite the fun, we were still, at least metaphorically, chained to the desk.

We have also used our creativity to break up lengthy video conferences and set exercises and activities designed to stimulate the body and the mind. Sure, you can set a quiz, but by the time you’ve done your third quiz of the week, or answered the fifth polling question on a Teams call, it really is time to get up and do something else. We’ve asked people to draw, to DJ, to use their bookshelf as a source of mindfulness, send pictures of their desk, film a guided tour of their house and share their favourite chair yoga positions. We’ve been doing our bit to help alleviate my bad back, my dodgy knee and rapidly failing eyesight and hopeful helping others do the same.  But still, the same lingering feeling of being hamstrung was there.

Fast forward (another fun theatrical technique used in conferences by us, or rewind) to Monday this week and as the country slowly emerged from lockdown, we took an opportunity with local partners to create a canvas for our imagination.

It’s one small step for monsters, actually to the dance studio above our office, but a giant leap for expression and conference freedom. In an earlier life, at least three of us have spent many a happy hour in studios making tv programmes. A lot of this work was for children’s and schools’ tv, neither of which ever had the budget to produce anything too grand, but there was never a shortage of imagination. If you needed to appear on a grand concert hall stage, well there was always green screen and a photo to use. Failing that, just ask the audience to close their eyes and imagine one – we’ve done quite a bit of that on our conference calls as well.

So taking the opportunity to be in a working space together, albeit socially distanced, we have been experimenting with virtual and hybrid conferencing.  We can’t bring an audience to a conference, but we can bring the conference to an audience. Freeing our facilitating selves from the oblong box was a genuinely liberating experience. Moving about in front of the conference screen and set gave us energy and reminded us why we do what we do and just how much fun it is. With the wonderful artistry and graphic design skills of Alana and Craig, we can place ourselves in any environment we wish and with the technical know-how and execution of our partners at Noisegate Media, we can live stream at the same time.

This is a step beyond our kids’ tv days, where everything was done in the edit suite. With modern technology, Matt and his team (well actually Ben, his technical wizarding son) can ‘key’ the pictures in real time and interact with platforms like Teams and Zoom. It is great fun, as you can see from some of the pictures, but it is something that we are going to continue to work at, work on and work with, because this way of delivering conferences and events is going to be with us long into the future.

Indeed, it has sufficient economic and environmental advantages, that although it will never replace live events, it will play a significant part in the future planning for large and small businesses alike.

It’s not just the green screen environment, because as our ‘chat booth’ shows, we can also use a simple set or plain background and still create the feeling of an event that delegates are attending.  Our focus for any conference or event is on participation and creating dialogue and this is no different.  By combining the best of both the broadcast and communication platform worlds, you can utilize live chat, breakout rooms and hold video conversations with attendees, pre-planned or spontaneous.

Testing and rehearsals over, we are looking forward to our first ‘live’ outing with some of our lovely clients at Mondelēz International.  Judging from today’s Teams call, they are equally excited, with just a touch of nervousness for good measure.  Looking back on our live tv experiences, this is exactly the right mix.  With all the right planning, everything should go smoothly, but the ‘live’ element adds a certain frisson.

During rehearsals on a well-known Saturday morning entertainment show, I was given ‘the sound of applause’ as the cue to stop an item by the director.  “Got it” I said.  “When we hear applause, we stop”.  On the day, three minutes in to our seven-minute routine, there was a huge unexpected round of applause.  It had come from the live family audience who weren’t present at the rehearsal.  They were so amazed by our club-juggling, they burst into spontaneous applause.

So I stopped, smiled, and said ‘Thank you’ to camera 3.  There was then a very long and painful pause, the sound of muffled screams from the control gallery, and about 1 minute later, Phillip Schofield, the main presenter, burst through a part of the set, smiled and carried on with the next item.

The good news is that we don’t have a set, but what we do have is a totally blank canvas and a collection of artists ready to fill it for you.  You can theme it how you like, brand it how you want and go anywhere your imagination can take you.  That’s our invitation and one I hope you’ll take up with us.  It you’d like to create a unique experience for your upcoming conference, functional meeting or project kick off, then do get in touch or you can find more information on our hybrid conferences here.  Whilst we have this space to play in, the only limit to where you can take your audience, is your imagination.

Poet’s corner

Poet’s corner

We said it last week, and we’ll say it again: what an extraordinary year it’s been so far. Having had a fun project with our business glossary last year, we thought we’d start something new for 2020. Alan, inspired by watching Sir Ian McKellen live in a theatre presentation (remember when you used to be able to go to the live Theatre?) decided that he would write a different poem every week and put it up on LinkedIn.

At that stage of course we had no idea that some 8 weeks in we would be looking at three months of lockdown poems and content that we had never expected. So what’s been the experience of firstly writing, filming and publishing the poems and secondly, what has been the reception?

Anyone who knows Alan will know that coming up with ideas is not a problem. He is a man full of ideas and has 10 different ones everyday which of course is a huge benefit to a creative organisation. But the downside is that it’s difficult to filter those ideas and pin him down to simply one idea per week. But once the idea has been selected the writing doesn’t really take anytime at all.

Alan is one of these people who is very much like the songwriters who say that they dashed off ‘Love Me Do’ in 5 minutes or wrote ‘Candle in the Wind’ in half an hour or threw together ‘Poker Face’ on the back of a cigarette pack in a taxi from the venue to the hotel. Once he’s got the idea, unsurprisingly, he’s a monster when it comes to writing it. The biggest challenge is encouraging him to go with the ideas he’s selected because even though he comes up with 10 ideas a day and even though he’s a talented writer and performer, he still suffers from the same anxieties and lack of confidence that all artists suffer from. That of ‘should I put this out there?’ ‘Is this good enough?’ ‘Is it too political?’ ‘What should we say about this?’  All these questions are what artists ask themselves all the time and every Thursday the conversation goes like this.

ALAN: Have a look at this week’s poem will you Rob, I think it’s rubbish!

ROBIN: Al, it’s great, I love it. Print it. It’s super.

ALAN: I don’t know. Are you sure? It’s not very funny. What about this line?

ROBIN: I promise you, it’s great. Get it out there!

I did say he writes them quickly, but he can take an age noodling the words around! So that’s the selecting of the subject matter sorted and the writing; the next thing is getting the subtitles put on and then publishing successfully onto LinkedIn. Initially this process was a bit of a chore but now of course, six months down the line, Alan’s a dab hand at it.  More accurately, Alana, George and Alan’s children, Georgina and Harry are, making sure these things get out there every week.

Selecting the subject matter was relatively strightforward to begin with, using business-relevant topics and experiences of the week at work. Then lockdown happened and the world was gripped by the fear and sadness of COVID-19, so naturally the content and the titles changed. Initially at PM, like so many, we were totally compliant, we were dutiful and loyal as we were trusting the decisions being made. As the picture began to become more complicated and the infection rates, and then tragically the death rate, became so high, we began to question and worry that perhaps our leaders were not operating in the way that, let’s say, others throughout the world were doing. Our company isn’t a political organisation, but we are people with convictions and believe strongly in a sense of fair play, justice and of equity for all, so from time to time we have levelled criticism at our leaders, but tried to be aware of our own responsibility too.

We then encountered the tragedy and the horror of the death of George Floyd in the United States and the subsequent re emergence of the Black Lives Matter movement. Again this was a subject that we could have shied away from but we believed and still believe that this is a subject that’s too important to ignore. We respectfully point everyone once again to some films and documentaries that are enabling us to continue the education process and that we hope others will find helpful too.

  • 13th  (Netflix)
  • When They See Us (Netflix)
  • I Am Not Your Negro (Amazon Prime)
  • Just Mercy (Amazon Prime)

The incredible discovery that the famous emancipator Frederick Douglass had once given a talk around anti-slavery in our little town of Leamington Spa back in the 19th century came as a huge surprise and it was a privilege to be able to shine a light on that happening. Of course, we don’t know what subjects we may be tackling every week in the second half of the year but vouchsafe we will try always to be current, relevant, with either a tear in our eye or a smile on our face.

In terms of reception, it’s a mixed bag. Some weeks we get hundreds of hits on LinkedIn and others, thousands, and it’s impossible to say which subject will be more or less popular. So far the most popular poem has been back in February called ‘Label’s’ which pleasingly to us was around unconscious bias. That one received thousands of views and we’re hoping that at some point in the next six months we might beat our own record but that, dear reader, is up to you.

Please let us know if you’re enjoying these poems and if you haven’t seen them then at the bottom of this article is a link for you to be able to look at them. Please look out for them every Friday and Alan will be continuing to do his corporate poet’s work every week until December. And please, if you have any of your own or have seen other poets that inspire, do let us know because we are keen to add different voices to the poetry corner section of our website where you’ll find all of Alan’s poems.

Poems only live when they are being read, so thank you to all of you who have taken the time and trouble to do just that.

You can find all of Alan’s poetry here.


A look back at our plans for 2020

A look back at our plans for 2020


So we’re six months into the year and what an extraordinary year it’s been. None of us could have imagined that here in the second week in July we would be looking back on a year where we have spent four months at home; some of us furloughed, some of us working from home, some of us desperately trying to create some sort of normality around the situation that we’ve been in.

Over the last few weeks we’ve been looking at our purpose and our new values and as you’d expect from us the word creativity looms large. So in looking for inspiration for this week’s blog we thought we’d go back to what we said at the start of the year and what our hopes and dreams were for 2020. Of course, all that changed very quickly but let’s have a look at what we suggested in January were going to be the stand-out things that would happen this year.

We said that we would be looking at:

  • the environment
  • diversity equity and inclusion
  • physical and mental health
  • lifelong learning

These were the four things that we were going to be concerning ourselves with at all of the conferences that we were going to be facilitating this year, of which we had many planned.

The environment

One of our top tips back in January was that we should take active steps to promote responsible transport options. Wow! Robin, for example, filled up his car on the 13th of March and then didn’t fill up again until the 27th of June.

That was a huge change and we’ve all seen the pictures of the world with empty roads, fish in Venetian canals, clean air in Los Angeles and nature thriving. Perhaps when we get back to some semblance of normality we should still remember that keeping our transport costs down and keeping our impact on the environment down is still a good idea.

We also looked at the thought of providing alternative options to single use plastic water bottles and disposable coffee cups and I think we’ve all seen on zoom calls and teams calls over the last few months everyone with their reusable cups so again we hope that that’s had a good effect on the planet.

Diversity equity and inclusion

At the start of 2020 we also spoke about diversity equity and inclusion which over the last few weeks has taken centre stage. As well as a huge focus on the Black Lives Matter movement we have also observed Pride month with a focus on trans rights and the rights of  all LGBTQ+ people. In January we asked whether or not we were considering diversity and in many of Alan’s poems written week in, week out he has shone a light on this topic. We will be returning to some of those thoughts next week.

Physical and mental health

Next we came to physical and mental health and during live conferences we often try and do something that is physically energising and this has been potentially one of the biggest challenges since lockdown. That of keeping one’s health both physically and mentally.

Robin has started every morning with a Pilates session in his front room and Alana’s continued with her yoga and running (not at the same time), Alan has recently managed to get out on his bike when he can. Hilary is a very keen walker which during lockdown was difficult to do but has since relished the outdoors. George has been running around with her two children keeping the fittest of all of us.

It’s hard enough to keep tabs on ones’ own mental strength during times of ‘normality’ but during these difficult times the world has been so changeable and the environment has kept changing daily. Some of us have been dealing with distance from family, some dealing with grief, some dealing with the complexities around being ‘locked in’ with people that one isn’t normally very close with. We are sure that everyone has been dealing with their own challenges and we wish you all the best in retaining and maintaining a strong healthy mental state.

Lifelong learning

Lifelong learning was our last focus area in January and goodness, hasn’t this been a learning experience? Like so many companies that we’ve worked with in the last six months, we didn’t think that we would be able to do remote working but we have and it’s changed our working model forever. Learning has remained incredibly important during this time; learning about resilience, learning about team working, learning about how to make decisions, learning how to stay connected, learning how to collaborate and learning about inequity and injustice.

So here we are halfway through the year and it’s impossible to say that the next six months won’t be just as challenging, just as difficult or indeed just as much as a gift depending on your viewpoint. Whatever happens we’ll still be here and if you need anything in terms of engaging your people in this still virtual world, please don’t hesitate to drop us a line.


Bringing lightness and laughter to all our work

So this is the last of our exploration into our values. And we have deliberately, in the words of Vanessa Williams, ‘saved the best for last’: Altogether now, ‘Sometimes the snow comes down in June’……oh ok suit yourself.

And that last sentence pretty much sums up our philosophy around lightness and laughter. Work doesn’t have to be dull. We are fortunate to have been blessed with the ability to make people smile. Not all people you understand…there are some people who find it hard to smile. That’s a shame. Work is a serious business and we have been around organisations who have been through some appallingly difficult times and had to deal with life and death tragedies, and at that point, levity and lightness are not appropriate. But that is not every day! Most days pass by in a haze of meetings and phone calls and occasionally we can all get our heads down and maybe, if we’re lucky, crank out something of value that makes us glad that we did.

Robin lists on his bio the number of jobs that he has done in his life. It is many. That is mainly because he was an actor for 20 years which meant that he had to keep his children in shoes and couldn’t wait around for that call from Mr Spielberg (I’m still anticipating it could come – RF) and as you found out last week we’ve put ourselves at the front line when trying to understand what certain jobs really are like in reality. So flipping burgers, climbing refinery towers, changing gas governors, doing a bin round and working in a motorway service station are all things we’ve done to gain a little more understanding of what work is like. And we can tell you honestly, the people that do those jobs are not dull. They are not humourless. They are great fun. The jobs may not be all wine and roses but the people who do them day in, day out are funny. You know them, you work with them. Whenever possible, tap in to that energy and enjoy all the laughter you can – it’s the best medicine.

We don’t take things too seriously

Wit is in short supply at the moment. The days of twitter and social media means that everyone is a journalist and everyone has the power to put their opinion out there, whether it is reasonable or not. The last few weeks have seen some extraordinary responses to global movements that defy belief, yet out there those opinions are, and we think that the world could do with a bit of wit now and again. Some of the funniest and most enjoyable things to come out of this troubling lockdown period have been the creative ways in which people have amused us on Instagram, Facebook, especially tik tok and occasionally on twitter.

If you haven’t seen @andrewcotter and his experiences with Olive and Mabel then you’re in for a treat. Thank you for your humour Andrew, it’s been wonderful.

So with all that in mind and with the understanding that the world is hurting and pining for a ‘new normal’ then we believe that not taking things too seriously is good practice. We know that grief is real for many families, and we know that hardship is a reality for many many people throughout the world and we appreciate that it is hard to find laughter and lightness all the time. But when we sat down as a group at the start of February to discuss which things we wanted to have as our values then laughter was at the top of the list.  Not just because we like to laugh, but mostly because we love to see others laughing and smiling. We don’t mean trivial; we just mean bringing lightness and humour to most situations as Dudley Moore famously said in Arthur; ‘Isn’t fun the best thing to have?’.  We still stand by that now, despite the sadness that has accompanied 2020.

We learn better when we’re engaged

Which is good news for Robin’s daughter Lily who gets married to Harry next summer. Congratulations to them both.

But actually it’s not that sort of engaged that we’re talking about. For a long time we had ‘engaging people’ as our strap line and though we changed that a few years ago we still believe that engagement is essential. We all know from our own experience what it feels like to be engaged at work or disengaged and so we still try, every day, to create work that engages audiences and ensures for the small time that they interact with the monsters, that our sessions are engaging, active and above all enjoyable. It really doesn’t have to be dull.

Even in these difficult times where most of us sit on zoom calls day in, day out, we’re still trying to make those days as engaging and fun as possible. So look out in the near future for our latest offering, where we’re going to be using our skills learned as TV presenters and bringing that into the world of conferencing and virtual engagement. More to come on that later in the year.

We like to take the weight off peoples’ shoulders, not add to it

This is an echo back to ‘we like our clients to become our friends’. As we said we don’t want to let our friends down, so rather than being a small organisation which is viewed as difficult and troublesome, we like to be a benefit to the people with whom we work.

We know that work can be hard; work can be challenging; work can be serious; but if at all those times you have people that you’re working with who are lightening that load and lessening that burden then we will have done our job.

We try at all times to raise a smile and ensure that people don’t take themselves too seriously.  Alan did a TEDx talk on this very topic, which, by the way, he took very seriously.  You can see it here.

So if you remember playing the Ambassadors Ball late into the night with senior execs, or Nose against the Wall exercise with the CIO of a global energy business or re-enacting the final scene of Gladiator at a night club in Miami or being there when we closed the Growth conference with our version of ‘Let it Grow’ from Frozen or running round the Ukrainian countryside for fun, we say thank you. Thank you for any moment over the last 25 years when you found yourself laughing with us, smiling at our attempts at humour, joining in with the fun, singing along and most importantly for not taking yourself too seriously.

For all of our company values, click here.


Delivering excellent service from the off

We started life 25 years ago as a drama-based training company and used the skills we learned as performers and practitioners and transferred them into the world of business. For the first ten years that mostly meant face to face customer service training. We designed workshops focused on delivering great customer service: not perhaps with the sophistication of today’s tools – voice of the customer, moments that matter, customer journeys and net promoter scores but with interactive and experiential sessions on:

  • making connections
  • personal status
  • attitude and behaviour

We did these workshops for many companies across the UK and learnt from the people on the front line what it really meant to provide great customer service. Part of the service we offered to clients was to undertake the front-line roles ourselves and experience the customer first-hand. We served coffee in canteens, food in restaurants, drinks in pubs, cleared tables, cleaned hospitals, negotiated exotic household pets with boiler engineers, and on at least one occasion collected the refuse on a round that included family and friends. There was never a dull moment, but there were plenty of unexpected customer behaviours to deal with.

We are prepared to roll up our sleeves

One of our favourite organisations to work with early on was the company Lakeland who took great pride in their brilliance at providing excellent service from the off. The wonderful and much missed Customer Director, Michelle Kershaw took charge one evening of a call that came into their customer service desk.

A heartbroken mum was on the line saying that the bride and groom figurines for the wedding cake hadn’t turned up and it was her daughter’s wedding the next day. This was in the days before 24-hour turnarounds on delivery. Michelle, realising how devastated the mum would be, jumped in her car in Keswick, Cumbria and drove to just south of Birmingham to deliver the tiny plaster of Paris figures. One astonished and delighted mum greeted her as she arrived with the delivery. It was just what they did because they were all prepared to roll up their sleeves.

The CEO and other executives would all take their turn on the customer service phones to ensure that they all knew what was required.  We’d like to think we do the same. When a job needs doing, everyone in the organisation will muck in and make sure it happens. Everyone just loves doing a good job. Even when that means getting up at the crack of dawn to participate in a Tai Chi workshop.

We pride ourselves in delivering a great experience

It’s because of that history in retail and hospitality that we know what it feels like to give and receive great service and that’s why we deliberately called it a great experience here. Because of course, that’s what it is. We’re still experiential at heart and whether it is Alana promising to have posters turned round overnight like she did last year in a global cyber security project or whether it’s hiring the best string quartet we can find to ensure our end of year opera went well for our client at the Valencia Opera House, we know that it is the experience that will leave people either wanting to come back or knowing that we’re not the company for them.

We might also point out that when we said a ‘great’ experience we really meant ‘fun’ but we don’t want to pre-empt next week’s article. ‘Connecting with customers’ was one of our first workshops and we still believe to this day that it is so important. We are currently working with a client who, because of covid-19, we have never actually met in person, yet the relationship that we have built up over the last few months has connected us as if we have known each other for years. It’s not simply down to us of course, he is a very connected person himself and it helps that he has a fabulous sense of humour too.

We go to great lengths to honour our promises

We love to treat our clients like friends and we hate to let any of our friends down. We know that choosing to work with the Monsters includes a degree of creative risk and we are also aware that great responsibility comes with putting your reputation on the line. That’s why we don’t want to let you down. Partly that of course and partly because we just want to be loved.

We’ve had a few Michelle Kershaw stories of our own and over the 25 years that’s included re-designing the content and delivery of a global conference overnight (more than once), stepping in for an unexpectedly absent guest speaker and our favourite, serving lunch at a kindergarten in China. We’ve never driven from Keswick to Worcester to deliver wedding cake decorations though.

Basically, we just want to give you a good experience of working with us. If you’re interested in what that feels like, do please give us a call and we’d be happy to roll up our sleeves and crack on with it.

You can read more about our values here.