Last week I was invited to chair a business event in London that was focused on celebrating the 20th birthday of technology company IBA Group. The company is one of the biggest IT firms in Eastern Europe and they have just opened an office in London, so it was almost a double celebration — an office warming and birthday party.
When IBA asked me to host their event I asked them how they intended to make the evening flow. A birthday party is always nice, but the harsh reality for a company like them is that London is full of parties and events almost every night of the week. I suggested that they need to think about doing a bit more than just offering some free drinks and expecting hordes of people to arrive full of interest in what they are up to in London.
Fortunately, they actually listened. They asked if I had any suggestions for the event that would make it interesting and worth attending for the business community, as well as fun. This makes a change. So many companies today are happy organizing a “panel debate” where a series of experts are lined up on stage and asked questions by a host in front of an audience waiting for the free booze.
I suggested that we get a group of experts together and make them compete. As the entire event was going to be a celebration of their 20 years in business, we should get some experts together and give them five minutes each to predict the next 20 years in the technology business.
Of course, nobody can realistically predict the business environment two decades out, but it would be interesting to ask people to do this within the constraint of having to give a sensible talk within five minutes.
To make it more interesting I suggested that the audience would be able to vote for the speaker they found to have the most interesting or credible ideas — and the winner, based on the audience’s vote, should get a prize worth having.
In the end, the event went really well. They managed to get four experts from different areas of industry: Martyn Hart, the chairman of the National Outsourcing Association, John Garratt, editor of IT Europa, Colin Beveridge, industry analyst at Better Practice, and Derek Parlour, head of commercial at National Rail Enquiries. This meant that they had the predictions of an industry analyst, journalist, trade body leader and a major buyer of IT services — a good mix.
We all know that industry events can be a bit boring, especially when you look at the agenda and see that there is still an hour to go and the speaker is only on PowerPoint slide 6 of 75, so I would congratulate IBA for bucking the trend a little and just trying something different. It made life a lot better for me as the MC because I could see the audience actually enjoying the talks, and with them all being so short, it meant we could zap from one speaker to another before anyone started to find the interior decorations more interesting.
And that would be my second piece of advice to any company organising a corporate event, do it somewhere interesting. This event was held inside the Wellington Arch in London. I have travelled past the Wellington Arch many times and I never even knew that you could go inside, yet there is a museum in there focused on the work of John Betjemen who led the post-war movement to get classic old buildings listed and protected.
It makes a difference, and having access to special buildings can be a draw in itself. It may be convenient to just host a conference inside a hotel, but nobody is coming because of the hotel. It shows a lack of imagination to host a corporate event in a hotel in a city like London when there is a classic or interesting building on every corner.
So, make the talks shorter and more interesting and find a great venue. It should be just common sense, but I’ve been to so many corporate events that ignore this advice – it was a pleasure to actually attend a technology themed event where there really was some useful information in addition to the good wine!
Photo by Studio Tempura licensed under Creative Commons