Friday, 9 November 2012

Letting the side down

This is the first time in a while that I feel that I have been short changed.
And yet it all started so well.

The prospect of hearing ten successful women at the top of their game speak to an audience of professionals was something I was genuinely looking forward to. A break in the everyday routine, a breath of fresh air, some inspiration from the upper echelons waving the banner for working women.

In retrospect, I also realise I did not quite know what I was expecting.
Insight? Possibly.
Tips for success? I hoped so.
Something different from the usual? Definitely.

Instead I found myself in a large auditorium with other business women listening to a roll call of successful females tell me about... well, about nothing much except their life stories.

I could have sourced the bulk of the same on-line, and probably found a YouTube video or several to go with it. One of the presenters did almost just that.

That's possibly a bit harsh. So let me be fair and give you an assessment of the speakers, as per my notes (which were, for once, non-existent and scribbled on the program next to each presenter's photo en route home on the tube) and musings over the past twenty-four hours.

Sophie Turner Laing - Managing Director, Entertainment and News, BSkyB
Pertinent, funny, down-to-earth, proof that you can scale vertiginous heights without a university degree, and in fact that hands-on experience is something that even a good education cannot buy. Extremely likeable lady. Good start to proceedings. I thought it could only get better if this was the standard the IoD were aiming for.

Knowledge: 9/10 
Presentation: 9/10 (no notes, walked the stage, delivery smooth and poignant and peppered with amusing anecdotes)

Liz Edlich - co-founder Radical Skincare
Hmmm. Where to start? Or indeed, where to finish? Stunning woman, amazingly successful, unbridled drive and determination. 
But. Could. Not. Present. To. Save. Her. Life. I swear I wanted to get up and do it for her. Yes, truly.
Resorted to 'death by PowerPoint' and video clips (hence my Google-it-yourself note above).
And another thing. No sense of humour. Not even a smidgen that I could relate to, or the rest of the audience for that matter. 
When I commented to another (American) lady at my table about how the presentation was actually a full-on US-style sales pitch (I know, I have worked enough in my own career with such organisations), she retorted, "Typical Californian. I'm East Coast."
Because, of course, that explained it all apparently.

Knowledge: 8/10
Presentation: 4/10 (looking good is not good enough, love, sorry)

Carole Stone - former BBC producer and now Chairman of YouGovStone
Entertaining to say the least. The fact that she speaks at close to a million miles an hour is not for the faint-hearted. Held the audience in the palm of her hand and gave me the best networking tip I have had in ages (and no, I'm not sharing it). Funny, but relevant? Not so sure. 

Knowledge: 7/10
Presentation: 9/10 (anyone who starts off by pointing out that they have size ten feet, no boobs and a big nose without rancour is worth listening to)

Barbara-Ann King - Head of Female Client at Barclays Wealth and Investment Management

A no show! I can only hope she was out there kicking some ass about remuneration packages for women still being below those of men.


Sarah Doukas - founder Storm model agency

Gah! Another no show. Although there was a very sweet video interview with her conducted by the IoD's Chairman's teenage daughter. 
Throughout which all I wanted to do was put a clip in Sarah's hair so a) I could see her face, and b) she would stop playing with it.
Harsh? Yes. But then again I have paid £250 for this privilege, so suck it up.


Oh. Lunch. 
Cue stampede to the room next door and some networking. Small mercies.
Then back to the ballroom and the speakers.

Ann Jordan - Director of Benetimo, TiE UK and Non-Executive Director of the IoD
Hands up here. Anyone know who Ann is? Yep, me neither. Nice lady, done very well, but then again I really would have enjoyed a more vibrant presentation from someone who has been so successful in their career. 
Too much to ask?

Knowledge: 6/10
Presentation: 3/10 (zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz)

Julia Hobsbawm - Chief Executive, Editorial Intelligence
Curious creature this one. Keen to make an impression (black trouser suit with bright pink suede stack heeled ankle boots for starters) and controversial. Does not endorse the term 'leadership' and was scathing  about the benefits of networking.
Not quite sure how she has managed her own career, given that her background is thigh-deep in PR, but each to their own. Successful, no doubt about it, but put my hackles up and certainly did not endear herself to me or tell me anything I was receptive to. Plus her presentation skills also could do with polishing, pink shoes or no pink shoes.

Knowledge: 5/10
Presentation: 4/10 (condescending)

Freya Murray - Long-distance runner. Team GB
Bless. Like a rabbit caught in the headlights. Her first time ever presenting to an audience, let alone one full of (mostly) hard-nosed business women instead of primary school children.
Death by PowerPoint (again). Lots of shrugging of shoulders. Too many 'uhmmmms' to mention. And girlie giggles of nervousness. Absolutely, and very obviously, no coaching on how to give a talk whatsoever.
But she did it, and on that alone I give her an all-round 7.

And now, briefly, the rest:

Joanna Elliott - Managing Director of Philips Consumer Lifestyle UK
Meteoric rise to senior management. Despite coming from a marketing background, really lacklustre presentation, more death by PowerPoint (can you tell I have an aversion here?), and only came to life at the very end when the fantastic Juliet Morris (who was chairing the conference) asked her some questions and we got past the droll exterior and saw some of the spark that has got Joanna where she is today. Hooray.

Knowledge: 5/10
Presentation: 5/10 (thanks to Juliet)

Kay Allen - Director of Trading for Good
Akin to Carole Stone, not quite as mocking, but at least she knows how to present. Interesting, some good stories, quite a few laughs. And delivery - thankfully - was less speedy. My headache was abating.

Knowledge: 7/10
Presentation: 8/10

Helen Wells - Director of Opportunity Now
I knew the quirky dress sense (from the series: why blend when you can clash?) and the bright orange hair would make for 'interesting' at the very least, and it did. Although a bit hit and miss - probably due to another million-miles-an-hour-speedy-delivery which left my poor head pounding once more - it had its moments and another great takeaway about how to beat the nay-sayer gremlin of self-doubt that occasionally sits on your shoulder (and no, I'm not sharing, again).

And that's your lot. Didn't realise I had so much to say about it when I started this piece.
My point however is this: whenever I attend an event of this nature, I look for two things to take away.
First, can they tell me something I don't already know? Not in this case.
Secondly, can they change something about the way I do business? Neither.

But at least I did get a couple of amusing tips. And I will share them. Free of charge.
You will just have to email me in person to ask.


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