As Chair of the Employee Engagement 2017, I was asked by the organisers to write a summary of the day. Last time they asked me this, I was caught slightly on the hop and hadn’t really taken proper notes (being focussed on the here and now) so this time I was really prepared! I had sheets for every speaker, I was making notes to keep and notes for links, I took photos, I followed everyone I could follow on Twitter. It’s a very intensive day though, and somewhere around the middle my note taking enthusiasm waned (it’s never very strong in the first place!).
So, when I came to sit down and write my piece, I found I perhaps didn’t have as much recorded as I thought. Of course I have also left it to the last minute (my engagement with the task not being very high, and 750 – 1000 words is a lot!). I also found myself questioning how representative my words would be of a set of speakers who were passionate, practical, engaged, enthusiastic, emotional and inspiring. If you were there, then you saw them and experienced them, if you weren’t then my few words here can’t do more that give you a tiny flavour of a great day.
I’ve decided to do something different, I want to give you a snapshot of all the individual elements of engagement that I observed that came together to produce a really super conference. Because when it comes down to it what we are talking about, as always, is people and the great things they can accomplish.
Let’s start with me! I arrived good and early on the day. Earlier than I needed perhaps, but I take pride in not being late, in being prepared, in being professional. I like to make sure I’m miked up, that I’ve chatted with the tech crew, checked in with as many speakers as I can find, looked at the room, worked out any tech I’ve got to use. I was also bringing along banners and equipment for my team to set up a little stand, so I wanted to set that up so they could just swing into action and do their thing. We can deduce from this that I’m feeling engaged! If you asked me, I’d say, yep – I want the day to go well. I want the speakers to feel at ease. I want the delegates to enjoy the whole experience. I probably wouldn’t tell you I was engaged, but I might say “I love my job and I want to do it well!”
As I walk into the conference hotel, I’m cheerfully greeted – not by conference staff at this point, just by the every day hotel staff. It’s a good sign – it puts a smile on my face. They direct me downstairs, where my coat is taken by an equally efficient and cheerful lady in the cloakroom. When I spy her later, under a flood of coats, she is still smiling.
I find Katie and Steve – despite the fact that everything is about to start, they are calm, efficient and have time to check that I’m happy and can sort myself out. We run through last minute bits and pieces – if I was feeling less engaged I might have gone off for a coffee and a quiet sit down after the rush hour traffic, but instead we all feel more in control for the brief run through.
I go and find the tech guys (as a speaker this is a must! A distinterested or disengaged sound engineer can make or break you!). Luckily I’m a tech geek, with a radio background and a sound engineer partner so I can always find something to chat about. An engaged sound professional is a must when things go wrong, or when you turn up wearing something you can’t attach a mic to. You will want their creativity then!
I’ve met these guys before (conferencing is a small world!). We have a chat and a laugh, sort out our cues so we will look seamless, I tell them I’m a wanderer and they find me another lapel mic and tell me where not to stand so I don’t feedback into the speakers.
We have some polling technology and an app – everyone’s a little nervous about this so it’s worth my time with the operator, again working out our cues and letting her know that I can waffle about it on the fly if things run slow. She’s really keen to make things as easy for me and the speakers as she can – very motivated to make it work!
Now I can go off to find my speakers. It’s a pet hate of mine as a speaker, when a chair doesn’t bother to introduce themselves or tell me how they will be operating (full intro? Questions? What will they do if I over run? How do we start and end?). I manage to find them all for the first session – I think they appreciate the connection and the chat as much as I do. I’ve met several of them before, we have a nice gentle chit chat that keeps us all calm and we all know what we’re going to do!
I pop out of the main auditorium to check my team have arrived and are ok – they are laughing, already talking to delegates, all is good! I spot Steve, personally greeting delegates, that’s a great gesture, deeply engaging.
And we’re off! Thanks to my chat with the sound guys, we start smoothly – everyone knows their cues, and we have some excellent speakers. The polling tech works and all is good. When we break, we’re running a little late but we know we can manage that across the breaks. No tempers are frayed, everything is going to plan and the initial buzz from the delegates is very positive.
Lunchtime provides another lovely engagement vignette – the hotel catering staff operating at full stretch, serving, answering questions, smiling, efficient. Our exhibitors, working hard, smiling too.
We’re running a little late again mid afternoon, but no one is naggy. Tempers are still even, speakers are happy, sound guys are happy, all the tech is still working and the networking drinks are getting closer! The video crew are still going great guns too, even if they are feeling a little fried by now.
We finish in Hall 1 with two lovely speakers, Darryn and Antony. We stand like old stagers at the side of the stage discussing music with the sound techs, waiting to get going. Even at the very end of the day, we are all passionate about our topic, keen to share our experience with as many people as we can.
All of this could have been so different. Stressed and harassed organisers, a disinterested chair, alienated speakers and frustrated technicians. Indifferent hotel staff. Grumpy exhibitors. Uninspired, demotivated delegates. A waste of a day.
But it wasn’t. That’s what engagement in action does.