Musings: Scale-up Event Season

Over the couple of months, I have attended, spoken at and hosted more than my fair share of scale-up focused roundtables, conferences and networking events across Bristol, Bath and London. The more I attend, the more I realise that my expectations of events are pretty high, I guess that’s what comes of a career spent designing and running projects and activities that are intended to meet specific objectives both for the organisers and for the participants.

I am a big advocate of the power of reflection, a seed which was planted when I first trained to be a secondary science teacher back in 2003. Since then, I learnt about the forgetting curve which discusses the speed of memory loss, and heard that we lose 90% of what we learn (whether at a conference or training) in just one week – unless we reflect and apply it. And more recently, I have enjoyed this great article which shows that those telephone salespeople who worked for 15 mins less than their peers but spent that time reflecting and sharing their reflections with others, had a 25% uplift in their sales.

So here I am, sharing my reflections and observations on the things that I think are crucial for a good event formula:

  • Facilitation is everything – whether roundtable or conference, the power of having someone curating the event who truly understands the subject matter, and prioritises inclusive, energetic conversation is tremendous. Two of my favorite recent examples are Oli Barrett and Phil Smith.
  • Speaker led events deliver inspiration and information – this is a well-tried and trusted formula and one which certainly generates great connections for the speakers. Sadly though, there is (in my opinion) too infrequently sufficient time for reflective conversation amongst the crowd. And far too few opportunities to network after you’ve found out what interests you about the other people around the table.
    • Can we save some time at the end of a roundtable for informal connections?
  • Clear objectives create opportunity – I have always designed events and activities to deliver specific objectives – some for the organisers and some for the attendees in mind. It strikes me that this isn’t always the case, or that the objective is simply to impart knowledge or gather opinions, which is fine too, just a bit less ambitious than I’m used to.
  • Networking needs help – food, wine, coloured dots, name badges, posters, playing cards… the possibilities are endless. When you’re as energetic as I am, it’s not too difficult to accost those people who interest you, even if it is whilst they make a dash for the exit. But that’s not always true so it’s nice to see a variety of tactics for bringing people together.
  • The event agenda is only the organiser’s priority but everyone else comes their own agenda too. This has been particularly evident in roundtable discussions. It strikes me that often roundtables are not designed to create a common consensus, but they offer an opportunity to explore different people’s views on a specific topic, and a chance for them to share their current soapbox topic.
  • What’s in it for them? The best events I’ve seen lately have put the needs of the audience first, not just in terms of the number of comfort breaks, but also in being clear that the value proposition is in the event content. It’s not so often that event organisers recognise and make time for attendees to realise the value of their peers.
  • I have experience which has led to a theory and I’ve written a book is not always the path to a great presentation. The best book pitches I have seen, don’t mention the book, or the theory, they tell the story and take the audience on a journey to discover the theory for themselves.

If you’re joining me at events in the coming weeks and months, feel free to share your feedback (preferably in a quiet corner or afterwards). I will be trying some innovative and creative ideas, which may or may not work – but all will have an objective in mind!

“Experiment relentlessly yet holistically.”

Daniel Isenberg, Harvard Business Review


This blog series tells the story of the Scale-up Enabler, Briony Phillips. Briony joined the Engine Shed team on a 1 year contract in June 2017 funded by Business West, Engine Shed, The University of Bristol and the West of England Growth Hub. This group have a shared ambition – first, to identify scale-up businesses in the West of England region and to better understand their challenges and second, to design, facilitate and support initiatives that will make it easier for businesses to scale-up more effectively – in the long term.

Links and information are correct as of September 2017.

Briony – Scale-up Enabler