I HAVE to say, I forgot how exhausting working is.
Well, I’ve got out of the habit a bit over the last 18 months.
After delivering a “live” event for accountancy firm Murray Harcourt at the end of September, last week it was more of a “virtual” event with some “hybrid” elements.
Which means that the speakers and panellists are all gathered together at a venue while the audience joins to watch online.
And when you’ve not got a live audience, the best place for the event has to be a 12,500 seat arena.
Yes, we held a “virtual” town hall meeting for transport group Stagecoach at Leeds Arena.
Not in the actual arena itself, but in its Black & White Lounge, where it hosts VIP hospitality during performances.
With the backdrop a wall of album covers of artists who have performed at the arena, we filmed speakers, panel discussions and sporting guest speakers and broadcast the event to the Stagecoach audience via Zoom.
Stagecoach managing director Carla Stockton-Jones is a talented but down-to-earth individual who leads a team who reflect her approach – hard working, lacking ego and high achieving.
Every business has been affected by Covid-19 in some way over the last year-and-a-half and none of us can ignore that its shadow still hangs over us.
My colleague Liz Theakston, who had done a lot of work ahead of the event, including setting up the venue, didn’t attend the event because her three children and husband all tested positive for coronavirus a few days before.
Fortunately their symptoms were relatively mild and, as expected, Liz succumbed, receiving her positive test result on the day of our event.
However she still joined virtually during the event to help out.
I had drafted in my sister Kate, an experienced event manager, to work at the venue on the day.
When I told my Mum, she gave me this helpful advice: “Now you two don’t have any arguments, OK?”
She used to say the same thing when she put us in the back seat for a long car journey when we were kids.
I was also fortunate to have expert technical and filming support from Paul Ross and Jonny Ross – no relation.
I’ve worked with both several times before and Paul is a talented cameraman and filmmaker and also has a sideline as a voiceover artist.
In fact, I’ve thought about asking him to dub his rich Yorkshire baritone over my Midlands accent.
But I suppose I’d also need to sort out a body double as well.
I worked with Jonny Ross on the Zoom interview with Steve Parkin and Tony Mannix of Clipper Group for an event for Richard Cramer of Front Row Law and then got him to help me with a breakfast event on Zoom for the Enact fund of private equity group Endless.
It makes a big difference to know that the technical side of things are in good hands when you are stepping in front of either a live, but particularly an online audience.
I can always come up with an ad-lib to cope with an unexpected occurrence during a live event but that is harder when you can’t see all of your audience.
The event went very smoothly with engaging presentations from Stagecoach’s senior leadership team followed by a panel discussion which provided the challenge of five live panellists and several joining online including Stagecoach chief executive Martin Griffiths.
But Paul, Jonny and I ensured it flowed well and the level of engagement from the online audience was really high with lots of questions being submitted via the chat function on Zoom.
In the afternoon there was a fascinating discussion on sustainability and then I had arranged for two former Leeds Rhinos players, Jamie Jones-Buchanan and Danika Priim to speak and then join me for a question and answer session.
I first met both of them when they agreed to take part in the Lord’s Taverners Balloon Debate and they bring intelligence and humour.
It doesn’t matter if you don’t like rugby league or even sport, their life experiences provide more than that.
Jamie Jones-Buchanan played for his entire rugby league career with his hometown club and is now an assistant coach for the Leeds Rhinos in the Super League.
He has won seven Super League Grand Finals, three World Club Challenges, three League Leaders’ Shields and one Challenge Cup Final with the club and played for England and Great Britain at international level.
Since he retired from playing he has presented on TV, acted in a play as well as a host of charity and community projects.
The fundraising he has done for friend and former team-mate Rob Burrow, who was diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease, has been truly wonderful
Danika Priim is a special needs teacher and a classically trained ballet dancer and also an England rugby league international who plays for the Leeds Rhinos in the Women’s Super League.
Before joining Leeds she won the inaugural Women’s Super League and Challenge Cup with Bradford Bulls.
After suffering a potentially career-ending knee injury in 2018 she missed Leeds Rhinos’ reaching both the Grand Final and the Challenge Cup Final.
However she battled her way back into the team and won the Super League Grand Final and Challenge Cup in 2019.
While both have achieved great success in their careers, their most interesting stories are about overcoming challenges while part of a team rather than an individual.
For Danika, that had happened just a few days before when her Rhinos team had been beaten 28-0 by Super League rivals St Helens in the Grand Final at Headingley.
It was a bitter pill to swallow, but Danika found positives in it.
At 37 she said she was considering retirement and if the Grand Final was to be her last game, then she wouldn’t have wanted it to be at any other place with any other team mates.
The following day she officially announced her retirement from playing, but her performance at the Stagecoach event underlined that she has plenty of opportunities off the pitch in coaching, media and public speaking alongside her full-time teaching career.
Feedback from speakers and the audience was really positive and it was great to be working with good people to produce a positive outcome.
I think I could get used to this working lark.
FAREWELL then Colin Powell.
The former four star general was the 65th Secretary of State of the United States and the first African-American in the role.
For those of us who saw him speak at the Yorkshire International Business Convention, he was also the best President that America never had.
Colin – pronounced the American way, Co-lin – died this week aged 84.
He served as Secretary of State to President George W Bush from 2001 to 2005, a period that included the September 11th attacks in 2003 and later the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq.
I swapped messages with Mike Firth, founder of the Yorkshire International Business Convention, after Colin Powell’s death was announced.
Colin Powell and YIBC, he looked like he’d play himself in a film
“I was so sorry to read of the death of Colin Powell. He was our Headliner at YIBC 2005.
“He was an exceptional man who would have been the first back President of the USA – but his wife refused to let him run – afraid that some redneck would try to kill him.”
For those of us who saw Colin Powell speak on that sunny June day in Harrogate, we saw a man with so much experience, knowledge and wisdom.
Born in New York to Jamaican immigrant parents, Powell went to local schools and then the city’s university before joining the military where he served and was wounded in Vietnam.
He spent 35 years in the military and served under Republican Presidents Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, George H W Bush and George W Bush.
When he appeared at YIBC, delegates had become used to Mike Firth providing a conveyor belt of former world leaders including Bill Clinton, George H W Bush and Mikhail Gorbachev.
None of us who saw Powell speak were disappointed.
He had a presence and a quiet charisma that was both authoritative and calming.
I remember thinking that Morgan Freeman would probably play him in a film, but actually, Colin Powell would have probably been better playing Colin Powell in a film.
At the time he spoke we were all of the view that America was being led by a right wing warmonger with low intelligence in George W Bush.
But after the Donald Trump experience, I think we changed our minds.
After Colin Powell’s speech at YIBC, I remember Mike Firth bringing him out onto the lawn outside the convention hall where many delegates had gathered to chat over Pimms and champagne.
Mike offered his guest a drink and he asked for a pint of Yorkshire bitter, immediately endearing himself even further to his hosts.
Mike introduced him to a number of attendees including Leeds lawyer Rodney Dalton and accountant Colin Glass and I’m sure there was a bit of a laugh about their shared first name which both pronounced differently.
“Two of the great Colins of this world!” remembers Mike, who added: “Although the boy Glass probably has more contacts!”
Have a great weekend.