Have you ever had to present at a conference? It can be quite daunting and it’s rarely fun but it can be if you put your mind to it. I was a great believer in making work as pleasurable an experience as possible especially if you were having to spend time away from home. Paul S and I were off to present at a fairly prestigious international conference about our sponsorship activity in BT. We used to share the speaking commitments, this time I was presenting and Paul S was riding shot gun, backed up by C from our PR company. But I was determined to make this conference memorable.
It was always interesting to attend these events to network and see how our activity measured up against other big blue chips. We were always keen to get profile for BT’s sponsorship activity, especially around awards time. I was presenting on the second day of the event and had a late slot following some major presentations from Mercedes on their Maybach brand launch and Volvo’s £multi-million yachting associations. I’m a decent platform talker but I’d have to be on good form to make our comparatively small-scale associations look impressive in this company, especially as everyone in the audience would be thinking about getting home and I’d be jaded after two days of waiting for my turn.
First day we’d met some people from a research company we knew pretty well and they they were quite pally with one of the guys from MTV who was a top bloke. At the end of the first day we agreed to catch up later for dinner. One of the guys called later to say she’d booked a table for the 6 of us at 8.30pm at some Thai restaurant. I had a couple of hours to kill and rather than spend time in the bar I went and re-wrote the presentation P and C had painstakingly put together for me. I just needed it in my own words with my own cues and prompts for going ad lib and off script etc. I was pretty happy with it although it was all in manuscript with lots of arrows and margin bubbles. I’d need to rehearse it a couple of times later on so that I could follow the changes. But first dinner.
The Thai restaurant was packed and fairly lively and everyone was in a good frame of mind – if I recall, the other guys had done their presentations and were in a relaxed mood. The food was good and the wine flowed. I seemed to be hogging the story-telling of classic sponsorship moments and was recounting the tale of one of the girls who used to work for me who had met a TV presenter as part of my then company’s sponsorship of Middlesbrough FC. They’d had a bit of a fling but it had all fizzled out (an apt phrase as it turns out), allegedly, over an incident involving a suede skirt, a stain and some love juice. I thought she said she’d had enough of immature speculation about the relationship but I could have misheard her.
Anyway the story seemed to go down well as we chatted over dinner and somebody said it would make for a more amusing conference if I told that story rather than the planned one. Well I couldn’t do that obviously but spotting the possibility for some private fun I told my fellow dinner guests that I would weave the words suede, stain and spunk into my presentation. Paul S picked up on this and challenged me also to include the first name of the rather nice but stuffy Belgian Chairman who was called Bernard – and with the accent on the second syllable, so it was the French not English pronunciation of the name. We had a few laughs that night as the tone of the suggestions deteriorated but I’m fairly sure they were convinced I’d not do it.
Next day I was up early to go over the speech in my room and to think about where I could inject the challenge words without anyone outside of the dinner group realising. I had it sorted in my mind. The presentations went on all day and they were good. The Maybach presentation was a classic case of how to launch a premium brand but the presenter had a slight Teutonic accent, which made him sound stereotypically German and a little dour. He went down ok though. The Volvo guy gave a nice presentation but it was heavily reliant on fast action video footage with crashing waves, booming music and rapid editing and we’d had quite a lot of that type of thing over the two days on motorsport, football and World Cup sponsorship activity. So I came on as the last presenter before the Conference wrap ups etc. Firstly I had to apologise for wearing a pair of blue reading glasses I’d had to buy in an airport shop as my regular glasses had been broken (a regular occurrence). I then praised my immediate fellow presenters for their astonishing cases and apologised again for not having a multi-media high-tech presentation nor any Vangelis soundtracks to accompany the BT case study – just a handwritten presentation with a few simple supporting slides. Actually Paul and C’s attachments were brilliantly crafted but the audience didn’t yet know that, and I caught the sigh of relief from the audience and knew I had their attention. All I then had to do was deliver the speech as if it was all unscripted and from the heart – which it largely was.
The references were easy to drop in here and there – even ‘spunk’ in the sense of BT having lots of guts to embark on an arts sponsorship association. It probably added to the sense of the presentation. Of course I got these squeals of laughter from a few in the audience as each one of the words landed. There were a few surprised looks as if the audience couldn’t understand why anyone would find this old bald guy’s charming little chat amusing. If anything it made the audience even more responsive to what I was saying. I was coming to the end and realised I’d omitted the Bernard reference. I could have left it, I’d already had the fun but couldn’t resist making one final reference to a famous Bernard who’d helped with our thinking or something except I couldn’t think of anyone. Dr Christian Barnard the heart surgeon should have sprung to mind but he didn’t. I was thinking of an example and a context to introduce him, as I was wrapping up the speech and at the last I just blurted out something like ‘so finally I’m proud to have led BT into an association with the visual arts, it could have been a performance arts association but the image of Bernard (accent on the 2nd syllable) Manning persuaded me not to do it, and I’m always pleased that I didn’t. Thank you.’
I am genuinely proud to say that there was really generous applause from the audience which was very nice and I scanned the room until I saw Paul S. He was just in pieces but nobody noticed. What a crap last line but nobody twigged it except Paul and 3-4 other guys who also were also giving me big respect signs. That had to be one of the best presents of my career and one of the most enjoyable. I’ve been asked back several times by the organisers on the back of it but leave ’em wanting more I say, anyway they’ve heard all my best mother-in-law jokes. Mind you I wouldn’t say she’s fat but……