Seven Deadly Event Management Sins

I spend a lot of my time delivering conference keynotes and events. In a couple of weeks I’m off to Estonia to speak at a conference and later in the month speaking on innovation at Pfizer. This gives me a unique perspective on event design and management from the front of the stage rather than the back. I must say that I’m impressed with the meticulous detail that many event companies use to deliver exceptional events. However, I thought it might be instructive (and fun) to pick out some “deadly sins” from my 20 years of doing this kind of thing as a kind of “reverse set of instructions” on what not to do to get the best from your speakers and presenters.

Don’t Tax your Speakers – I was astonished to get a call from HM Revenue and Customs a while back, asking me to speak on “Punk Rock and Disruptive Innovation”.  All was well until I enquired:

“What are the commercial terms?” 

The event sponsor said:

“I’m not sure what you mean”

I replied:

“How much are you paying me?”

He explained:

“Ah well, our Finance Director has said that it is not our policy to pay external people for events”

I pondered momentarily but then felt compelled to reply:

“Ah, well it’s not my policy to attend then”

Money goes in but none comes out ...

Money goes in but none comes out …

It’s not the real thing – Many years ago I was approached at short notice by an event manager who had to fill a slot at a conference for a well-known caffeine based carbonated soft drink company’s conference, was taking place in five days. She called and said “We want Rock’n’Roll Management next Tuesday between 11.30 and 12.30.  We’ve got a budget of xx thousand pounds. Can you do that?” I asked her to give me some basic details as to what the conference was for, how they would judge my input a success and what was expected as an outcome, but no answers came, apart from a more stern repeat of the request. I politely declined after trying to ask to speak to the sponsor, but she said he was too busy. Whilst it would have been lovely to present to a large group of people from the said company, without a solid brief, it would be bad work for all concerned, however attractive the fee. Of course I understand urgency but it still was important to find out the need rather than just filling the time slot.

Smoke on the Water – One of the strangest events I spoke at was in Sweden. I was asked to speak on parallel lessons between business leadership and music and, on this occasion, the event organiser had decided it might be fun to take the ‘rock’ part of my presentation to its ultimate end point. Just as I was to start the session and completely unannounced (in order to surprise me), they had arranged for a smoke machine to pump out tons of fog into the hotel venue whilst the Deep Purple classic “Smoke on the Water” was played at full volume over the PA system. The ‘fogging people’ took their job very seriously and, for the next 10 minutes the 150 executives were invisible, as their heads bobbed around in a sea of smoke. Needless to say I had to shoulder the blame for this as it would be a natural assumption that I had requested the pyrotechnics as part of my contract. Internally, I was not amused. Nor were they. The best I could do at the time was to point out that leadership was all about handling ambiguity and the unknown and that this was sometimes like wading through fog …

My view of the audience ...

My view of the audience …

Avoid Premature Evaluation – We all love voting technology and apps at conferences, but I’ve spotted a worrying trend amongst busy people. They tend to vote on sessions almost as soon as they have started. This is what HR professionals and sex therapists call “Premature Evaluation”. The impact of some speakers / events cannot be assessed until long after people have had time to reflect and apply the lessons. The use of technology tends to reduce evaluation to fairly trivial “Like / Dislike” choices. Event people would do well to study the work of Kirkpatrick in this area to design meaningful evaluation strategies.

Write to me with your top three to make the Full Seven Deadly Sins of Event Management and I will publish them in an update.

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Peter Cook leads Human Dynamics, offering better Organisation Development, Training and Coaching. He offers keynotes that blend World Class Leadership Thinking with the wisdom of the street via The Academy of Rock – where Business Meets Music. Author of seven books on Business Leadership, acclaimed by Tom Peters, Professors Charles Handy, Adrian Furnham and Harvey Goldsmith CBE.

Sitting on the Docklands of the Bay

Last week, I hosted a very special event for a diverse select group of guests with my friend and colleague Matthew Green aboard his ship the MV Dana, moored at West India Quay, in the heart of London’s Docklands.  Our evening turned into a brainstorm of ideas for the boat potentially – a unique location / venue (just minutes away from the heart of London’s financial hub) – the obvious options being Executive Education, Meetings, Corporate Events, Media Interviews, Broadcasting etc. to individuals, groups and companies. Commenting on the event my friend Dr Andrew Sentance, former Monetary Policy Member at The Bank of England quipped:

“The evening was proof positive of the well known formula A x B = C

where A = Ageing rockers; B = Bottles of wine; and C = Creative ideas!”

Apologies to our attendees from HSBC and Credit Suisse who certainly don’t fall into the aging rockers bracket!!  Of course I like to believe that the creative ideas came out of our expert joint facilitation of the event and not just the wine!! :-)

Peter Credit Suisse

In the Navy – on the MV Dana, opposite Credit Suisse

The more provocative and inventive “C” answers were to use Dana as:

  1. The city’s equivalent of College Green, the media’s favoured location for interviews with the iconic backdrop of Canary wharf… given that there is no default location in Docklands for this currently
  2. To start a Pirate Radio / TV Station on the boat to broadcast to the financial community in the Canary Wharf area – calling it DLR – “Docklands Life Radio” or…???
  3. Exclusive Leadership events and Creativity and Innovation summits using our joint skills combined with the location
  4. To offer the venue as a unique environment for special meetings that require an offsite location with all the convenience of being connected to the corporate centre whilst being utterly private, secure and discrete (ideal for M&A negotiations, C level assessments / discussions)
  5. To develop an exclusive business networking club on the ship
  6. Use for photoshoots and other red letter days using the massive deck which could be used as a screen, a projection hub, perhaps even a giant whiteboard!
  7. An informal hub for writers, poets, toastmasters and painters to practice their arts & hone their skills, individually, or as group mentored sessions

Just imagine, sitting on the dock of the bay, just yards away from the office, but millions of miles away in terms of thought space …  One of the attendees wrote a delightful poem about the evening – check The Poet L’Oreal out at Launch Party.

Or, for something more lively:

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About the Author:  Peter Cook leads The Academy of Rock – Keynote events with a difference and Human Dynamics – Business and Organisation Development, Training and Coaching. Contact via peter@humdyn.co.uk or +44 (0) 7725 927585.

Excellence in Thought Leadership, Coaching, Mentoring and Events in an exclusive location

Excellence in Thought Leadership, Coaching, Mentoring and Events in an exclusive location

 

Monsters of Rock’n’Roll Business

Announcing our ‘Monsters of Rock Business‘ event.  A unique blend of a leadership keynote, business to business networking, a live music performance and an opportunity to meet Bernie Tormé and John Howitt, star performers.  The event was filmed by Bloomberg TV, BBC One News and BBC Radio 4’s flagship ‘You and Yours‘ programme.

The event is part of an offering that we can deliver to businesses in a variety of formats from 90 minutes to a 24 executive experience wrapped around specific business issues, identified in advance or as part of a corporate leadership development programme with one of our partners e.g. Imperial College London.

I interviewed Bernie Tormé the other week alongside the rest of the band and two clients, Steve and Andy, who came to Bernie’s studio for a private masterclass, to get the inside track on music, creativity and business.  Oh, yes, and joy of joy, we even had a jam session with the great man himself :-)

Bernie : In the course of my career, I have worked with a fair mix of class A rock stars.  The music business is a great teacher of life skills such as negotiating, marketing, teamwork, high performance and so on, both how to do them well and occasionally the dark side of the force.  We’ll be discussing these and other topics at the event.   At the same time, I’ll be playing some music, which is always a lot of fun.  I’m leaving the satanic art of business to you lot! :-)

On Improvisation and Innovation

Peter : Given that Rock’n’Roll has its own conventions and that there are only 12 intervals in an octave and so on, tell me about your approach to the guitar when you are trying to come up with something new?

Bernie:  For me, it is not an intellectual process.  I try to go blank and start afresh.  If then I spot something that I like, then I will refine it until I have something that hangs together for the piece I’m writing.

John : The Americans call this “If you think, you stink”.  It has to be fluid.  Some jazz players spend so much time intellectualising how to move from one chord to another that they never produce anything of great value.

Bernie: I have applied the same general approach to lyrics.  I’d play the songline over and over and just write phrases until they start to fit.  I’d thought that this was fairly unique but I’ve since found that its not.  It’s not exactly Bob Dylan ! :-) but then I think even he did that from time to time.

Peter: Sam, you teach music for a living.  How do you escape the tramlines of rock history when composing or teaching others to improvise?

Sam : For me, the quote of Albert Einstein is instructive.  He said something like:  The people who seem like the best geniuses hide their influences the best.  So, at my tender age, my music is a sandwiching of my influences, although you would need to know what those were if you were to dissect a piece into its constituent influences.  If you did not know this information, you may well find something novel in it.  Perhaps novelty arises out of the combination of influences into something new and sublime.

Editor’s note:  Sam will not be able to be at the event as he has a hobby of extreme sports and is jumping out of a plane while we play guitars.  He will be replaced by Vicky Nolan of the rock band “Genital Sparrow”.  Here’s a bit of Sam’s work so you can see what you will miss on this occasion:

On tools for creativity

Peter : Are you aware of any techniques or approaches that assist you in the creative process?

John : I find that listening with new ears is a  very important skill.  For example, I have been listening again to Glenn Miller of late, noticing things that I’d never noticed before.  I think that’s an underrated skill in business.

Steve and Andy : We work in a highly regulated industry (Railways) with a long history.  Nonetheless, we need to constantly look for new ideas in the search for improvement and innovation.   The idea of looking again at old practices in a new way is highly transferable to our environment.  One of our difficulties is the ability to get people to empty their collective minds, due to the long legacy of our industry.  So, getting our people to ‘escape’ from the ‘burden’.  People tend to look towards their seniors or previous solutions which is not always the best way to solve problems.

Hear my train a comin’ – Heavy industry meets heavy rock!

Bernie : I can relate to that. Some bands I’ve been in have had a strong hierarchy – basically “it’s my way or the highway”.  Big companies are far more complex, although it’s not as different as you would think.  The core of a band is surrounded by a plethora of people involved and they don’t always act in the bands best interests, so even a band is a what Peter would call a complex adaptive system.

John : Can you (Steve and Andy) comment on the impact of the work we did for the kick off of a major IT project?  Especially in regard to the value of music in that event.

Steve and Andy : Basically, in one day, we achieved as much as we would have done in 3-4 weeks of meetings in terms of developing a cohesive team that can work, learn and play together.

On whole brained musicianship

Peter : Where do you look in your personal search for inspiration re playing an instrument?

Bernie :  Using pure intuition to create and a more intellectual process to judge your work.  It sometimes helps to have a producer to fulfill this job as these two jobs require different sides of the brain – the right hand side for the more intuitive, playful style and the left hand side for judgement and evaluation.  I also love getting my hands on another instrument to shift gears in my thinking and playing.  I had a Sitar for a few years for example.  It only had 4 or so songs in it for me, but I would not have had those songs without it.

Peter: What examples would you point to re an innovative approach to rock music?

Bernie : For me, Jimi Hendrix epitomizes innovation in rock music still.  His willingness to explore sounds that were way beyond those being used by his contemporaries at the time still stands up to scrutiny.  He had a playground approach to using equipment and effects that was totally alien at the time.  If you listen carefully to Hendrix’s playing, you can hear hints of Steve Cropper, in the way in which he put in little fills and subtleties.  He also fused styles in ways that others would not dream of.

“Genital Sparrow” warm up for some hard rock with Bernie Torme

On the music machine

Peter : Can you tell me about the good, the bad and the ugly of working in a rock band that is printable?

Bernie :  NO, NO, NO Peter !  :-)  Suffice to say that some of the stories in ‘This is Spinal Tap’ are funny because they are not so far removed from real life.  I may offer some ‘Rock’n’Roll life lessons’ at the Monsters of Rock Business event coming up in June, but only if you are very nice to me indeed!  :-)

Peter : OK, so what can business people learn from music?

Bernie : One of the difficulties is that once you hit a success recipe, management are interested in you repeating that for years unless you are the exception.  For example it’s well known that Ozzy Osbourne is a great Beatles fan, but he has a great reputation for doing heavy metal and he knows that his fans expect that from him and he’s bloody good at it anyway!

John : On the other hand, some bands split up because they don’t evolve.  In your talks Peter, you discuss Madonna, Prince and Bowie as examples of that.  Is it too far a stretch to suggest that some businesses fail if they don’t evolve?

Peter : Absolutely, for some businesses, stagnation is not an option, but it’s a fine balance – Editor’s note – check out the posts on AC / DC and Learning Companies in this respect.

Bernie : I spotted an opportunity when I was in Ian Gillan’s band.  We had a top 10 album although the songs were written by someone else.  I found a niche in helping the band repeat and improve on that performance for the next two albums.

John : So, innovation is a brilliant thing, but it does not necessarily put food on the table.  A balance between existing and new ventures is needed in any enterprise.

Peter : What can business people learn from the music business?

Bernie : The music business is something of a basket case compared with the sorts of businesses you tend to work in Peter.  I understand that you have had a fairly lucky life, working in Research and Development for ‘decent’ companies and in academia, where work is play.  That’s pretty much a Rock’n’Roll lifestyle.  But my understanding of most businesses is that they are not about that.  In that respect management in the music business is no different to what happens in the ‘grind em down’ type of businesses that cause so many people to find work a chore.

Peter : I guess I do have the luxury of working for businesses that by and large have decent leaders and managers :-)  My early years were spent at Wellcome Foundation, who gained 4 Nobel Prizes for its work in Tropical medicine etc.  We worked hard all day because we could and we played hard all night as well.  By modern standards, the company was poorly managed, but excellently led and I draw important parallels between this and the world of rock bands.  Perhaps that time has gone, or maybe we are at the tipping point where capitalism must rightly be balanced by a proper sense of purpose if we are to solve important world problems.  I have found that you get the best out of people by treating them as humane beings rather than human resources.  The world’s greatest leaders in business understand that.  The rest, well, perhaps they match some of the worst excesses of the music business.

So come along to Monsters of Rock Business and get yourself a supercharge of Rock’n’Roll Wisdom.  Here’s three summary points:

1.If you want to innovate, learn to ‘clear the screen’ of industry limitations for enough time to see the future.

2. Accept that creativity is necessary for innovation but insufficient – perspiration is always more important than inspiration.  Learn to sweat as well as glow.

3. Know when to intellectualise and when to behave like an animal in business.

Let’s get the real deal out – here’s Bernie Torme in action, causing some Trouble with Deep Purple’s Ian Gillan – it really does not get much better than this – see you at RIFFS AND MYTHS OF LEADERSHIP for some lessons from the School of Hard Rock.

Knowing me, Knowing you aha – In praise of Slough

Whilst my life as a keynote speaker, mixing music with business concepts, is considered to be more exciting than the usual speaker fare by some of my colleagues, I often forget to mention that I spend about 50% of my time doing quite ordinary business consultancy without rock music.  Such was the occasion a few weeks ago, when Slough Community Leisure called upon my services to help them rethink their 5-year strategy in the wake of changes in their market, customer and stakeholder base.

If you run a leisure centre, never mind all the HR boll …cks about “People are our greatest asset”.  It really IS all about your people – there’s nothing else to separate you from the rest.  Customer service separates the sheep from the goats in terms of whether you get customers, keep them, or get them to become fans of your product / service and become active referrers.  This requires an emotionally literate workforce.  We only have to look at the comic emotional bankruptcy of Alan Partridge to see the polar opposite of the way Slough Community Leisure operates:

So, what do I like about Slough Community Leisure.   Well, the clue is in the title of this post, otherwise known as Emotional Intelligence.  Thick books have been written about EI by Daniel Goleman and many others, but it comes down to the issue of internal and external mastery, or as Abba put it ‘Knowing me, Knowing you’:

Emotional Intelligence unplugged

In Slough Community Leisure’s case, they think carefully about the customer experience – this includes offering services specifically targeted to particular groups e.g. late night go karting.  It is also modelled down to the last detail in everything they do both face to face and online.  It’s the same critical competence that first direct use to rise above other players in the banking industry.

To finish, let’s see another take on Abba’s genius – The Abba section starts at around 5 minutes 37 although the rest of the video is yet another masterclass in emotional (un) intelligence:

Please share your thoughts on innovation customer excellence here.  A recent interview on the topic with Tom Peters can be found at Innovation Excellence.

In the lap of the Greek Gods: Sex, Networking and Rock’n’Roll

Strange things happen at work and in life if you keep your eyes, ears and various other orifices open …  So it was that a series of networking coincidences happened on my recent trip to Greece to give keynotes on leadership, marketing and HR in Athens recently for Boussias Communications.   As the title of my post suggests, we should start with the simply fabulous song ‘In the lap of the Gods’ by Queen:

My journey to Athens began by sitting next to the British Ambassador for Greece on the plane to Athens (but I never got any Ferrero Rocher chocolates!) Once he got over his first impression that I might be a busker and not an author/speaker/business consultant, we got on rather well.  Seems that we had both studied Ancient Greek and Latin, although our careers took rather different paths from then on.   I asked him if there were any good restaurants around the Intercontinental hotel and he replied wistfully “Not really, it’s a pretty unpromising area really, full of strip clubs and brothels” – He was right – I attach a picture of the view from my swimming pool on the 8th floor – I imagine that the “Kinky Opera” must be an art gallery ! :-) Reminds me a little of my blog post on the 3B’s of Reward – The Bar, The Bathroom and The Brothel.

View from the top - Sex, Diplomacy and Rock'n'Roll

The conference coincided with a general strike in Greece and as a result I was asked if I could devise a keynote at one day’s notice for the marketing conference.  As a result ‘We will brand you’ was born.  As a consequence I also got to meet the wonderful Richard Laermer – outrageous New York PR expert, all round provocateur and author of Punk Marketing – An excellent companion read to Punk Rock People Management.  What is the statistical likelihood of this chance encounter happening?  Turns out that I was able to connect Richard with my other great PR expert friend in NYC – Ellie Becker.  This networking coincidence was a product of social media and face to face contact, which demonstrates that we need both to turn networking into business.

The conference also enabled me to meet Professor Adrian Furnham, who I have admired for a number of years.  Adrian was struck by my infusion of HR academia and rock music so much that he said he would write a piece about Punk Rock People Management in the Sunday Times.  I am indeed honoured.

The Marketing Director and HR Director events were extremely enjoyable, not least because they involved performances with two talented and beautiful women – one a mystery woman from L’Oreal and Pamela Caravas who is MD of Coaching Evolution.  Pamela is pictured below with the amazing Dr Yiannis Kalogerakis and Yannis Kouris.

 

Because she's worth it

Lady sings the blues ...

The lessons from this happy series of accidents are:

  1. You make your own luck by keeping your eyes, ears etc. open
  2. Both social media and traditional networking skills are required to turn networking opportunities into business
  3. Blend a deliberate approach to networking with an intuitive outlook

‘Punk Rock People Management – A no-nonsense guide to hiring, inspiring and firing staff’ is available via the Punk Rock People Management webpage.  If you like this blog, you will also LOVE my other book ‘Sex, Leadership and Rock’n’Roll’.  Contact us to book your next conference keynote based on our heady mixture of business and music.  We have a free event on Punk Rock HR coming up for Senior HR people at the CIPD on November 24 – contact me for details if you wish to attend.

Finally, I still dream of going to the Ambassador’s Ball and getting my fair share of the Ferrero Rocher chocolates.  Oh well, one can dream…  Next, it’s off to meet Evan Davis from the BBC’s Today Programme and Dragons Den – I wonder what networking accidents will occur en route? ! :-)  It all comes down to Sex, Networking and Rock’n’Roll in the warped words of Ian Dury:

 

Happy talk – Motivation unplugged

"Cos' I'm worth it" - A marketing executive from L'Oreal rocks out at the Marketing Directors Forum in Athens

I was reading the blog of Video Arts the other day on the issue of happiness at work.  It reminded me of the words of honorary punk rockers Rogers, Hammerstein and Captain Sensible, “Happy talk”.  Yes, it’s nice to be happy at work, but that’s only half the story.  We looked at the blues and motivation previously.  The Smiths’ classic “Heaven knows I’m miserable now” is the mantra for people stuck in jobs that don’t fit their skills, attitudes, inner or outer desires.  Let’s check out the dark side of the motivational equation:

What then are the reasons to be cheerful at work?  Certainly NOT because the 360 degree appraisal system has been put online in full colour,  because the team has won a set of fake plastic palm trees inscribed with the company mission statement, or when the HR department places a ‘People are our greatest asset’ plaque in every toilet cubicle.

It may be slightly quaint or even old fashioned to say this, but whatever happened to good old job design, as described by Hackman and Oldham?  They pointed out that people work well when they have well designed jobs.  These include some good old fashioned but not out of date factors:

  • Skill variety – using an appropriate variety of skills.
  • Task identity – being able to see the whole task.
  • Task significance – the extent to which people identify with the task and its importance to something wider.
  • Autonomy – giving some discretion over the way in which work is done.
  • Feedback – gaining an idea of how well people convert effort into performance.

In practical terms, many of the tried and tested methods of improving job design at work still have value.  For example:   vary work where possible to encourage skill variety;  assign work as a whole unit to enhance task significance;  delegate tasks to their lowest possible level to create autonomy and responsibility;   connect people to the impact of their work through feedback.  Some of the world’s best workplaces such as Prêt à Manger use these principles intuitively as they are common sense, although they are not commonly applied.  Others have made significant improvements by just following them as a conscious protocol, such as I have observed in work at The Royal College of Physicians.

My latest book Punk Rock People Management offers us three chords on motivation:

  • Design work according to Hackman and Oldham’s principles.
  • Eliminate pointless tasks from the daily grind that add no customer / stakeholder value.
  • Remember that reasons to be cheerful include: being listened to; doing things that count; understanding why they matter; being part of something; not having to do pointless tasks;  getting meaningful feedback on what you do and so on.

‘Punk Rock People Management – A no-nonsense guide to hiring, inspiring and firing staff’ is available for purchase of as a FREE download via the Punk Rock People Management webpage.  If you like this extract from the book, you will also LOVE my other book ‘Sex, Leadership and Rock’n’Roll’, acclaimed by Tom Peters, the daddy of them all.  Contact us to book your next conference keynote based on our heady mixture of business leadership and music.  Just back from Greece, and shortly appearing in Romania, South Africa and Slough – hardly a Rock’n’Roll schedule I admit! :-)  Read a review by clicking on the picture:

Good companions

I leave not with Happy Talk by Captain Sensible, but with his rather more thoughtful anti-war / eco warrior song “Glad it’s all over” – The Captain ‘extinguished me’ with a fire hydrant at the Marquee during a Doctors of Madness gig, for which I am eternally grateful.

Pretty Vacant – 10 Punk Rock Business Management Tips

I kissed an HR girl and I liked it ...

We live in lean times.  Lean times call for lean thinking.  Punk Rock is all about brevity, simplicity and authenticity.   So, here for your viewing pleasure are 10 Punk Rock People Management tips (well, there may be more or less than 10!), from some self proclaimed HR Punk Rock gals and HR Rock Chicks, presented in a slideshare show:

PUNK ROCK BUSINESS WISDOM  – If you don’t use slideshare you can also find the slideshow at  I kissed an HR girl and I liked it

If you have not yet got your copy of Punk Rock People Management, now is a good time to do this.  The book recently overtook Dave Ulrich, Gary Hamel and the usual HR Gurus, having hit No 1 on Amazon Kindle in management and HR books.   There are a number of options:  Beautiful full colour print version,    Kindle version – UK,      Kindle Version – Worldwide.  The print version of the book makes an excellent and unique Christmas present.  Check this review out by the Open University Businsss School.  The contents page can be found here:

Lean People Management for Lean times

We’re off to deliver an HR keynote at the 7th international HR conference in Athens next week following on from Dave Ulrich and Lynda Gratton of London Business School.  To warm up for this, let’s finish with some classic punk – Pretty Vacant, a song which clearly predicted the current HR obsession with employee disengagement in its title! :-)

Pictures courtesy of Lindsay Wakelin PhotographySue Cook and book design by PDS Hamiltons