Friday, March 05, 2010

Think BIG, Start Small, Move Fast...... a review of The BIG Event 2010 from the main platform

Yesterday I thoroughly enjoyed the experience of Chairing The BIG Event in Hatfield, Hertfordshire. One of the technical team at The Fielder Centre, the conference venue, came up to me at the end to say how much he had enjoyed the day. He was amazed to see a collection of speakers who, as he put it, "could each be the main speaker at any conference" all brought together on one day.

As Conference Chairman I was restricted to the main auditorium, where the speakers were exceptional. The feedback I have heard from all of the workshops and roundtables that ran concurrently has also been excellent.

My job was to be the link for the speakers and, as such, I made a lot of notes on their talks. I could probably write a blog on each one, but I'm sure they all have their own excellent blogs anyway, so I thought I'd just share with you some of the nuggets shared from the main platform during the day.

There was a constant theme of engagement throughout. The first speaker, Christopher Jones-Warner, talked about how to build relationships with other people and focused on our ability (or lack of ability) to listen to others. He made the point that we access abundance not from our network but through them; a very similar philosophy to my approach of selling through your network instead of to them. Chris emphasised that how you listen to others determines how "related you are to that person".

Chris was followed by Mindy Gibbins-Klein. If you've noticed a drop in the frequency of my blogging recently, Mindy is the person to blame as she works with me on delivering my new book later this year!  I've seen Mindy speak a few times and yesterday she excelled, engaging with the audience and commanding her subject in a way I haven't seen before. She has come on leaps and bounds in recent years and now stands at the level she inspires others to reach, as a Thought Leader.

Mindy talked about the importance of standing out from the crowd and how 'attraction marketing' is so important now. Mindy emphasised that "you need to be writing, publishing and speaking so that others write, publish and speak about you".

Grant Leboff picked up on the theme of engagement, talking about discarding Return on Investment for a 'Return on Engagement', setting up an 'Engagement Strategy' for your business. Grant talked about how the traditional marketing model has now inverted. People used to have little choice and plenty of attention to external messages as they looked for information. Today "choice (and information) is now abundant, while attention is scarce". People have to come to you, and once you have attracted them you need to keep their attention forever.

I thought we might then be looking at a shift, if not in tone then in theme, as Bill Morrow took to the stage. Bill's subject was Angel Funding, so many people may have expected lots of number-crunching from the former accountant. Nothing of the sort though, perhaps not a surprise to people who know Bill. Not your stereotypical accountant!

Bill made it very clear that there are plenty of people who, despite the economic climate, have money they want to invest and are looking for opportunities to do so. Angels Den had 126 investors looking at pitches on the site on Christmas Day last year! Investors aren't, however, interested purely in profit and financial potential according to Bill. For many this is money they can afford to lose and they are looking for fun.

Bill's advice was to throw your business plan out of the window. Well, maybe not completely, but certainly don't spend too much time on it, Angel investors don't. Instead, people will invest in people they like and feel they can spend time with and work with.

Dexter Moscow and Alan Stevens followed after lunch, both on the subject of communication and getting your message across. For Dexter, that was in presentations or conversation, for Alan the focus was PR and social media.

Dexter focused on "the ability to positively impact and influence" others. His talk was not about sales skills but influencing skills as he put it. Passion for your business played a big role in Dexter's talk, as did the ability to position yourself as the solution to people's problems. I particularly liked his Grandfather's old saying, "If you can't smile, don't open a shop."

Meanwhile, Alan shared plenty of tips and techniques to engage both with traditional media and online. One of the most striking images in his presentation was the industrial shredder in use when he worked at The Guardian, with tens of thousands of press releases shredded every week without being read. "Nobody wants facts, they want a story", he said, encouraging listeners to answer the question "So what?" when trying to engage.

Alan also showed how he could reach out to 24 million people a week using social media, and how he consistently gets his message out for "just a crumpled fiver a week".

BBC's Dragons' Den Online star Julie Meyer urged entrepreneurs not to settle for being one of the crowd and to shed any sense of entitlement. "It's not about 'me too', you have to find something that makes you different", she said, also stressing that you need to focus on "helping others to reach the next level, once you reach there yourself, send the lift back down".

Having grown, sold, funded and mentored many successful businesses, Julie carried on the spirit of the day by saying that the single biggest thing in their business is that "we are good at relationships". Relationships being the keyword, 'contacts' being too "transactional". Julie also made it clear that marketing is key, it should become a habit, "for everyone in the firm".

Being successful in business according to Julie is all about "thinking big, starting small and moving fast. Start-ups change the World as small becomes big. We need more Charles Dunstones."

The closing keynote speaker was Ecademy co-founder Penny Power.  Relationships are also key to Penny, with friendship the main theme of her talk. "Life, and business, is about being a friend", said Penny, following up by saying "if people know me and like me they will want to do business with me."

Penny talked about her teenage daughter and the power the Facebook Generation will bring to businesses with networks of 2-3,000 friends built up through school, travel, university and work. "Why would any company take away the one asset that they bring with them", she said when talking about corporate blocks on social networks.

"Embed friendship and trust in your business, that is the killer app"

 The dateThe Big Event 2011 has already been set for March 3rd at The Fielder Centre in Hatfield. Put it in your diary now, if it builds on this year it will be a day not to be missed.

Photos in this piece courtesy of the excellent Dianna Bonner. You can see all of the pictures from The Big Event here.

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