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Building Better Networks

Building Better Networks

I’m looking for someone to help me to help others to build better networks. Could that be you, or someone you know? Please keep reading…

My love in life is making useful connections. That love means that I’m lucky to be a shareholder in a whole range of companies and find myself hosting some of the world’s most interesting events. Beyond that, I’ve managed to meet and maintain relationships with the most amazing group of people across pretty much every sector and industry.

Time and again, I’ve been asked for my practical tips on how to build a better network, so finally, earlier this year, I distilled everything I’ve learned into a 12-part audio course. I also asked some of my role models (from a variety of hugely successful organisations) for their top tips, and the result, Build a Better Network is here.

The good news is that the course has been incredibly well received by those who have done it. I’ve partnered with a whole range of organisations, (including London Business School and The Times), and I’ve offered scholarships to a whole range of people and organisations (including individuals on the Government’s Kickstart programme).

The challenge, and the opportunity is that I have barely scratched the surface. I am seeking someone to help me to fulfil the potential of Build a Better Network, both in terms of sales (the course sells for £199) and scholarships (especially to those who have lost their jobs or haven’t yet joined the workforce).

The right individual will be naturally enthusiastic about the course itself (I’ll offer a free trial to anyone interested in applying). They will be completely at ease with online advertising (especially LinkedIn and Google). They will be creative enough to spot and forge affiliate opportunities.

The Build a Better Network manager will be able to fit this alongside their current activities. I am extremely open to being creative and entrepreneurial in terms of how this role is financially rewarded.

Here are just four of the testimonials that the course has received;

“I really cannot recommend the Build a Better Network course highly enough. It’s networking for this new world order. Worth every penny.” Sahar Hashemi OBE, entrepreneur, co-founder of Coffee Republic and Skinny Candy.

“Oli is a networker par excellence and in his course, he has distilled decades of experience in networking into a short, easy-to-follow and an actionable course. It is a must both for seasoned networkers looking to brush up their techniques or people starting to build their networks.” Neeta Patel CBE, CEO, the Centre for Entrepreneurs

“Oli Barrett is a very rare super connector. He brings people together from all walks of life and makes magic happen. His course is invaluable for anyone who wants to bring more joy, abundance and connection into their life.” Michael Acton Smith OBE, co-CEO & co-founder, Calm

“Oli’s course is a wonderful combination of insights, useful tips, and interesting anecdotes. It is a great resource. I only wish I had had something like it when I was starting out in life!” David Grayson CBE, Emeritus Professor at Cranfield School of Management, Chair of the Institute of Business Ethics

If you think you can get Build a Better Network into the hands of millions of people around the world, I’d love to hear from you. If you think this could suit you (and especially if you think we have passions and people in common), I look forward to receiving your note.

How to MC, compère, or chair events

How to MC, compère, or chair events

I’m often asked for my top tips for hosting events and I’ve tended to share them privately over email and in conversation. Until now.

Presenting and chairing is something I love doing, and I want to see far more people from all backgrounds stepping up, and sharing the microphone.

In the past few years, I’ve been lucky to host for an incredible range of organisations including the Great British Entrepreneur Awards, The Times, the London Business Awards, Silicon Valley Comes to the UK, London Tech Week, the ScaleUp Institute, Young Enterprise, Business in the Community, Elite Business Live, Ambition Nation, Tech London Advocates, and dozens more. I’ve also worked alongside some world-class agencies including Forgather and Seven Hills.

Hosting allows you to meet some amazing individuals, to help other people and to attract opportunities. It also helps you to give a voice to people who might otherwise have been unheard.

This article is a collection of some of my top tips. They are all gained from personal experience and are not intended to be definitive.

The Big Question;

When preparing to host an event, ask the team;

“Apart from saying “that was excellent – what do we want the guests to feel, say and do when the event is over?”

Your Role as Host;

1) Get to the WHY of the gathering, from the perspective of the organiser and the audience member. Why does this gathering matter and what is it really about? Ask;

Why does this gathering matter and what is it really about?

2) Make guests and audience members feel comfortable, which in turn will lead to better contributions.

3) Where needed, shift the mood of the room.

The last one of these especially will involve your own energy and persona. You don’t need to become someone different on stage, however you could think about which of your traits and characteristics you might like to amplify or exaggerate. There is no “single” persona for a great host, and you should make the role your own.

Thinking more about your role as host;

4) Explore your opportunity to shape the agenda, design and casting of the event. For several years, for example, I have had a rule of refusing to chair all-male panels (manels) and I’m happy to suggest women contributors if helpful.

As a host, you may not have “hard power” however you will almost always have the ability and the potential to influence.

Tips on Preparation;

1) Work out which sort of brief will suit you best. Is it a full script or a list of bullet points? Work with an organiser to help them to help you.

2) Within any brief, make sure you have a clear one-page running order.

3) Don’t be afraid to ask for a guest list (without email addresses) so you know who is in the room.

4) Make sure you know who, on the day, will be calling the shots. Who is your main point of contact for timings, cues and updates? This will often be different to the person who led on the planning or design of the event.

On Preparing to Interview Guests;

1) Deep dive into each guest using Twitter, LinkedIn and especially YouTube. Use more recent Google searches to find fresher stories and insights.

Deep and thorough background reading helps you to build great conversations and, crucially, rapport on the day.

2) Seek clarity early on about your role (if any) on question creation. Will questions be given to you, will you have to create them or can you co-create them with the organiser?

3) Who will brief the guests? I prefer all logistics to be briefed by the organiser and rely on pre-event briefings, where helpful, to reassure and build chemistry among a small group.

4) Don’t have your best conversation on the pre-call.

5) Consider the arc of the conversation and know that, despite possible tangents, you can return to a place on that arc.

6) Request support in sitting guests in the order they appear in your script. This will set your mind at ease, especially when meeting people for the first time.

7) Write the guests’ names multiple times throughout your script to continually remind you of who is where.

8) Consider using shareable documents before the event to avoid multiple plans flying around.

9) I use cards on the day because it makes it easier to write “off the cuff” notes.

10) Consider in advance which questions you might ask to each guest, to specific guests, and ones which you might offer up for anyone to answer. Mark your cards up accordingly.

Top tips for MCing events;

1) Find out who will be introducing you (if anyone) and how. Don’t be afraid to send a couple of lines on how you’d like to be introduced.

2) Recognise or call out certain people and organisations in the audience.

3) Show that you are genuinely looking forward to what’s to come.

4) Don’t over-introduce your guests (“this next guest is one of the funniest speakers I have ever seen”).

5) Ending a great introduction with the name of the speaker can keep things upbeat and crisp; (“please welcome, Chief Executive of Young Enterprise, Sharon Davies”).

Top Tips for Virtual Events;

1) See the platform before the event.

2) Be prepared to step in or “pick up” any panel at any point due to a technical glitch or a guest disappearing.

3) Don’t be afraid to channel the audience and say what you see on technical glitches (“I’m not sure we can hear you John”).

4) Encourage guest contribution across platforms, not just on the event platform.

5) Use a decent mic (I use the Yeti Blue) and ring light.

6) Have your camera at eye level, not looking up at you.

7) Channel the organiser when thanking guests backstage before and afterwards as you may be one of the few people they interact with on the day.

8) Agree whether, if timings slip, you’ll get back on the clock (next session starts at the original time) or whether the overall timings can slip.

Top Tips for In-Person Events

1) Treat everyone (and especially the crew) as a VVIP.

2) See the space as soon as possible and see the stage from the back of the room to give you an impression of what it will take to “hit the back” and connect with the whole room.

3) Meet “Mr Grumpy”, the grumpiest looking person in the room, who always turns out to be lovely. This will set your mind at rest about any negative energy in the space.

4) Consider a new pair of shoes or new shirt to help you feel great on the day. If wearing new shoes, consider wearing two pairs of socks!

Top Tips on Hosting Technique

1) Create the structures which you can then riff around.

2) Don’t be afraid to mix it up – on pace, on who gets which questions, on which order you ask.

3) Do everything in your power to make your guests feel comfortable.

4) Listen, listen listen. The best insights on the day are just as likely to be triggered by a spontaneous follow up of question on the day, rather than by something you’ve prepared in advance.

5) The first answer you get will often not be particularly good or clear. Don’t move on. Ask them for more. Ask them to bring what they’ve said to life with an example. Take a moment to help the guest build on what they have said.

6) Blend questions to all with questions to individuals and questions which guests can offer to answer. Don’t feel the need to ask every guest every question.

7) Think carefully about getting questions from a diverse range of guests and bear in mind that if a woman asks the first question, for example, it is far more likely that more women will contribute to the conversation.

8) Channel the audience and don’t be afraid to gently push back on a guest’s opinion or perspective, giving an alternative view. Likewise, don’t be afraid to ask for clarification, especially on acronyms or “jargon”.

9) When asking the audience for questions, don’t be afraid to wait 30 seconds or more for them to emerge. Silence doesn’t mean there are no questions.

10) Don’t be afraid to bring questions in early in a session, knowing that you can go back to the flow whenever you want.

Hopefully that’s a useful bundle of tips and techniques.

In terms of broader reflections;

1) Practice, whenever you can.

2) Offer to host.

3) Share your hosting ambitions with trusted friends and colleagues to plant a seed and help them to help you.

4) “Mark a few cards”, by telling people that you would like to work with them.

5) Get feedback and ask three times. Only when you’ve asked three times can you move past the “you were great”, past “there were several good things” and onto what you really need to know to improve.

6) Consider getting a speaking coach (Alex Merry, Edie Lush, Katie Ledger, David McQueen are all excellent) or working with an agency like Missing Link.

On Breaking In;

1) Look for events with MCs which may need chairs for certain sections.

2) Many events may benefit from an external MC, to bring additional professionalism or perspective. Look for these.

2) Look for events with numerous chairs which may lack an overall MC to create and provide the “Golden Thread” through an event.

3) Create your own gathering (large or small) and cast yourself in a hosting role.

4) Consider giving your time, especially to support a cause you care about.

Hosting an event is a privilege. It can be hugely rewarding and enormous fun. I’d like to see a far wider array of hosts from a far wider range of backgrounds.

I would not have picked up any of these tips if it hadn’t been for the people (many of whom I now call friends) and organisations who have trusted me to host for them. To them I am hugely grateful.

If you have found this article useful them please consider sharing it either by email, on Twitter (@OliBarrett) or on LinkedIn.

THN… (The Honours Network)

THN… (The Honours Network)

Here’s an idea which I’ve been pondering over the past ten years. I return to it from time to time, more convinced than ever that it remains a huge opportunity to unlock social impact.

Before I begin, I had better put on record my belief that it would be an entirely positive idea to change the name of The Most Excellent Order of the British Empire to The Order of British Excellence.

Now I’ve got that (provocative) idea out of the way, here’s the main point…

It seems strange to me that there isn’t (yet) an Honours Network in the UK.

Put simply, I see an opportunity to connect the recipients of Honours, across the UK (at all levels, including CBE, OBE, MBE), for the ongoing benefit of the country.

Why?
Firstly, I think that by making these connections, the UK could become a better place. Imagine those new conversations, opportunities and ideas. People from across industries and backgrounds, all of whom have been recognised for making a difference. 

Where?
My hunch is that you’d do this locally, by town or by region. I live in South Oxfordshire, so that would be my local network. Through it, I would be able to meet and connect with a wide range of socially motivated people.

What is the point?
For some, it would be a chance to meet new people, however the aim is higher than that. This would be a chance to solve problems together, to share ideas, to rally behind causes. 

How?
This is a big one. My guess is that nationally, you’d need a co-ordinator, however this network would thrive if it was devolved. A regional co-ordinator (a volunteer) would help to convene events, perhaps maintain a noticeboard of local opportunities. 

In practice, you could be invited to join after your Honour had been announced. The messaging would be completely un self-congratulatory or smug. The chance to join a wider group across the UK. To continue to serve. As a member, you would be invited to local or national gatherings, and invited to share things happening, which could be shared with the wider network. I believe that a good proportion of recipients would accept such an invitation. 

I shared the idea with a number of trusted colleagues (all of whom have received honours). Here are few reactions;

“This is a brilliant idea. The diversity of this could be amazing.”

“It’s crazy that we get given these things and meet other amazing people then… that’s it. No more follow up.”

“Not sure why it doesn’t exist already and was one of the disappointments when we got ours that there was no more to it.”

Conclusion;
We have a system which, like it or not, goes about highlighting people who make a difference in their communities. Not to connect these people with each other seems like a waste. So I’m proposing THN (“then”), The Honours Network. You may think of it as a club or a group. Joining would be optional. Of course there would be personal benefits (hopefully enjoyment) in joining, however the overall idea is that Britain will become an even better place if we can connect people from all walks of life, who have already proved, in some way, that they want to make a difference. 

Questions;

1) What do you think? 

2) Who might be up for helping to get this going?

3) Who would make a brilliant partner organisation?

4) Do you know anyone in a position of influence who might look favourably upon this and champion its development.

Let me know!

The Edge of Events

The Edge of Events

Pondering the future of events, physical and virtual, I think it’s worth considering what makes each of those two truly great.

If we think deeply about that, we’ll find their “edge”, and by doubling down on THAT, we’ll deliver outstanding experiences.

Yes, some things can be achieved by either physical OR virtual. But for certain goals, one may have a stronger “edge”.

Here are some questions I think are worth asking;

1) How do we create the conditions for two people to bond?

2) How do we make a group feel more united?


3) How do we create the conditions for happy coincidences to flourish?

4) How to we best include the diverse voices we need to hear?

5) How do we best make everyone feel comfortable to bring their whole self to the gathering?

6) How do we best increase the love a person has for our organisation?

7) How do we positively shift how a person feels about themselves?

8) How do we maximise the desire of a guest to want to work with us?

9) How do we tap expertise from every industry, globally?

10) How do we have deeply insightful, inspiring and informative conversations?

11) How do we ensure that value can be amplified beyond the event?

12) How do we maximise enjoyment?

13) How do we maximise personal value?

14) How to we maximise business value?

15) How does this gathering fundamentally help us to progress in our mission as an organisation?

16) How does this gathering, in however small or large a way, make the world a better place?

What have I missed? Where is the edge?

In Search of Lost Places

In Search of Lost Places

It’s just after half past eight on a chilly autumn morning and I’m standing on the train platform. Alongside me are four students and one village elder – I’m the only commuter, bound for London.

To Paddington, and as I meet my colleague from finnCap outside our office destination, I feel a sense of elation and conspiracy. We’re back in town, and it feels good.

We scan the list of tenants, seeing a mysterious company called Splunk and several floors taken by Sony Pictures. Deposited at the wrong floor, we joke about being cast as awkward extras.

I’m here to film an interview and within two minutes of meeting my guest, I feel like I’ve connected with them in a way that 6 months of Zoom couldn’t quite manage. We’re talking about their office, where they live, and the fact that we share an affection for the same local curry house. The coincidences are building a rapport in powerful ways which video calls just don’t unlock. Crucially, the interview which follows is massively more connected and insightful than I could have achieved from home.

Heading for our next location, my colleague and I have time for an impromptu lunch. Over lunch, a new event idea is born, complete with format and potential guests. A positive result for them, and a new opportunity for me.

A dear friend, Rowan Pelling, passes our table and my spirits again are lifted. After paying the bill I pop to see her and enjoy a serendipitous hello with the publisher of a new magazine (Perspective).

Our next location is in Covent Garden. It’s an old stomping ground and one which brings the memories flooding back. Standing outside the Paul bakery, I’m inspired to call entrepreneur and theatre producer, Tristan Baker, perhaps because we shared an office here, perhaps because the smell of madeleines has reminded me that he is in France. Our impromptu call sparks laughter, ideas and wonderful feeling of reconnection.

Walking back towards Paddington, I stop for coffee outside the BBC, where I’m one of just two customers in the coffee shop. Since I was a student, I’ve used locations to trigger ideas and today is no exception. As workers beetle in and out of the revolving doors, I sit, and think.

The mask on the train is a price to pay for a creative and uplifting day. Not “in the office”, because for me those days passed several years ago. But “back in town”. Walking, meeting, thinking, working.

I find myself looking forward to tomorrow, when I know I’ll be “working from home”. I go to bed happy in the knowledge that today was massively enhanced by seeing people, and meeting people – by serendipity and by spontaneity.

The philosopher Martin Buber once said that all journeys have secret destinations of which the traveller is unaware. After many months of working from home, it is wonderful to rediscover all that I have missed.