A Conference Speaker’s View Of the Hays PA Conference UK 2014
In December 2013, I was contacted by Victoria Darragh. Victoria is Co-Founder of the annual Hays PA Conference in the UK. It has successfully been held 4 times, all of which have been in London. After asking PAs for their views, for the 2014 conference, the decision was taken to stage it in Leeds.
Extracts from Victoria’s initial email to me were as follows; “We have more or less completed our speaker line-up and I have been wracking my brains as to who would be perfect for this slot! We are looking for someone who is upbeat, lively and engaging and you were definitely that at the EUMA Conference. I looked at your website and there are so many topics that cross over into our industry and could help really motivate our PAs. The conference is open to 250 PAs from all across the country. We promote the conference in a big way via our social media outlets.
Victoria let me know the list of speakers, however, I was sworn to secrecy until these were announced later in 2014. The date of the conference was Friday 26th September, which was free in my diary. I accepted the invitation, albeit daunted by the knowledge, experience and credibility of the other speakers, all experts and well-respected in their own right in the PA community. Victoria confirmed my acceptance to be one of the speakers and the usual presentation title, short biography and photo were duly sent.
Springing Into Action
In April, the conference was announced via various social media channels and emailed to those that had registered an interest. The 250 spaces were booked within less than 2 hours, a testament to the quality and reputation of the conference.
Whilst I had spoken at other conferences in front of various PA communities, both in the UK and abroad, I wanted to understand the community in more depth to ensure. I wanted to deliver a presentation that would engage and motivate them, whilst adding value. I also wanted to provide them with practical tools and techniques, that would help them develop and grow as individuals, and enhance the relationships they had with their colleagues and those they supported.
Hays has a dedicated group on LinkedIn for discussions about the conference, as well as Twitter and a specific hashtag, plus direct emails. I made use of this by asking a question of the PA Community. “In ONE word, what is the top attribute required of a PA?” Responses were numerous and varied. I used these to begin to develop my presentation and also to engage with delegates.
The Graveyard Slot
In July, I was provided with the draft conference agenda. I’d been given the slot right after lunch aka The Graveyard Slot, so called because delegates usually have had a great lunch and, at this time of day, often find their eyes starting to close. OK, I thought at the time, the start of my presentation needs to make an impact plus, I also need to ensure delegates are doing things as opposed to just listening to me presenting.
Everything In Good Time
As there were 5 speakers, including myself, plus a panel of experts for a Q&A session, my final presentation had to be delivered in late August, a month before the event. I’d decided to use the feedback from delegates to form the opening 4 minutes of my 1-hour presentation, also including a soundtrack to accompany this. The presentation was delivered and the title track advised.
eNgaging With Delegates & Speakers
I continued to interact with delegates and speakers alike over the summer months, getting to know them and in terms of the other speakers, finding out about their backgrounds and topics, so I could make appropriate links to their presentations, thus providing continuity to the delegates. I noticed that the social media traffic regarding the conference was getting more frequent as expectations and excitement began to rise. A week before the conference, I created An Ode To The PA, based on some of the attributes supplied by PAs.
In September, further information about the conference was supplied and I made my choices for the pre-conference meal and drinks reception, to be held on the evening of the Thursday prior to the conference. I was also advised that I would need to be at the conference venue for 7AM on the Friday morning of the conference, to undertake an AV check and ensure my soundtrack and slides worked successfully.
Pre-Conference Drinks and Meal
This was a fantastic idea. It was an opportunity for the delegates to meet and greet one another and for the speakers to break the ice. Held at the Doubletree Hilton, Leeds, Stephen Turner General Manager, gave a great presentation about his career, which he linked to hotels, castles and also information about Leeds and the surrounding area. Great off the cuff humour was used, relating to the pixelated photos in his presentation.
Tony Watson, one of the Directors of the First Direct Arena, gave a humorous and insightful presentation about the arena, from concept, build, delivery, opening, industry accolades, success and future plans.
The Big Day
I set my alarm to wake me at 5.30, as I needed to be up bright and early in readiness for the AV check at 7.00.
As soon as I saw the grand exterior of the building, I knew it would be special, and I wasn’t disappointed.
Upon entering, the set-up for the day was Cabaret-style seating for the 250 delegates. This was on the ground floor and a mezzanine on the first floor was set for registration, refreshments and for the numerous sponsors to have their stands and products on display. A successful AV check and run through of my presentation with the crew, it then meant I could relax and enjoy meeting the delegates, enabling me to put faces to the tweets, LinkedIn conversations and emails that had happened prior to the conference.
The conference started promptly at 9.00. It was opened by Geoff Sims, MD of Hays Office Support, PA & Secretarial. Geoff then handed over to Victoria to introduce the speakers.
The opening presentation was delivered by Lucy Brazier, CEO of Marcham Publishing who shared how the workplace and working practices were changing due to the increase in Generation Y, those born between 1979 and 1999. Fascinating statistics and information, combined with witty observations and anecdotes, got everyone thinking about how these changes may impact them and how best to work with this knowledge.
There was a coffee break after Lucy’s speech, giving everyone a chance to network and visit the numerous sponsor stands.
Next to take the stage was Tammy Tantschev, EA to the Managing Director of Red Bull, Australia & New Zealand. Tammy rose to the challenge of her jet-lag to inspire and motivate delegates and to raise the status of the PA from purely a support based role, to a valued and respected business partner. Tammy shared her business model to enable this to be achieved.
Closing the morning session was Libby Moore, Former Chief Of Staff/EA to Oprah Winfrey. Libby delivered a laugh-a-minute personal journey of how she became Oprah’s EA. She’d had no plan, no itinerary, no map, just a prayer and her own self-belief that something good and incredible was going to happen to her.
The Graveyard Slot
After a wonderful buffet and some more opportunities to network, it was time for me to present, then Victoria surprised me. I had mentioned to her ,that earlier in the week it had been my birthday. To my surprise, Victoria led a rousing chorus of Happy Birthday, supported with much gusto from the 250+ PAs. A moving experience that I will never forget.
I then took the stage. My opening was by feeding back the one word attributes that the PAs had submitted, accompanied by photos of themselves against their word and with The Script’s song Hall Of Fame booming out from the speakers.
I then shared with the PAs how valuable it is to be unique however, how behavioural differences with others sometimes give us challenges!!
Then, with everyone selecting 4-coloured smiley badges, that had been provided to represent their preferred behavioural style, I shared with the delegates how to recognise differences in people and then importantly, how to adapt their style to meet others’ needs, thus helping to build more effective relationships with them.
My concluding remarks were that it didn’t matter what behavioural style you had as long as you were able to utilise that style and skills in the role that you undertook, you recognised that colleagues may have different styles and needs to you and that on occasions we must therefore adapt our style to build stronger more effective relationships.
The Great PA Debate Panel
This was an opportunity for delegates to hear the views of industry experts on relevant and current topics in the PA world. The panel was made up of:
Susie Barron-Stubley, MD of Castalia Coaching & Training
Lucy Brazier, CEO of Marcham Publishing
Adam Fidler, EA, Salford City College & Pitman Training
Emma Kernan-Staines, EA to Sir Trevor Brooking, The FA
Gill Quirk, EA, Ministry of Defence
The panel shared their views, based on their experience and knowledge, to the benefit of delegates, who listened intently to every word uttered and viewpoint shared.
The final speaker was RoseMarie Terenzio, Former PA to John F. Kennedy Junior. RoseMarie delivered her personal story about how she met and worked with John, as she affectionately called him, until he and his wife’s tragic deaths in an air crash. Delivered in a style that demonstrated the strong bond between RoseMarie and John, her story was extremely emotional, with many tears being shed around the room. RoseMarie’s book “Fairytale Interrupted” was gifted to each delegate. RoseMarie took time out of the lunch hour to personally sign copies for those that wished.
After a fantastic prize draw on behalf of The Brain Tumour Charity, when the air was regularly filled with the Woop Woop of someone winning a fabulous prize, the conference ended with the Hays High Achieving PA of the Year Award.
To much applause, Simone Hart was announced as this year’s Runner-up.
Then the roof was raised as Julia Robertson-Avenell was announced as the Winner. With tears of joy, Julia accepted this award in recognition of all her hard work and efforts over the last 12 months.
A final standing ovation from the PAs ensued as Geoff Sims thanked Victoria and all her colleagues who had made the day such an incredible success. Geoff then threw down the challenge of maybe doubling numbers to 500 for 2015!!
For those who were able to attend, a post-conference meal was arranged at the Royal Armouries. A pre-meal re-enactment of a battle to keep the Normans at bay at Ely around 1066 took place. The narrator dressed as an Anglo-Saxon warrior, resplendent with shield and battle-axe. The meal was again a great way to network and for friendships to be forged. For those who were able, to round off the evening, there were a few nightcap cocktails at a local hostelry.
Was It Worth It As A Delegate?
Speaking to a lot of delegates, hearing the rapturous applause at the end of the conference and the conference Twitter feed being full of post-conference praise, this is a resounding YES. Great planning and co-ordination, amazing venue, relevant and highly-regarded speakers, good balance of presentations and networking opportunities plus a great goody-bag, delicious food and prize draw!!
Was It Worth It As A Speaker?
Personally, based on my experiences of having spoken at many conferences throughout the world, most definitely YES. I couldn’t fault the planning, communication and support given to me by Victoria and her amazing colleagues, prior, during and after the conference. It certainly is the best conference to date that I have had the pleasure to be invited to speak at. It will certainly act as a benchmark against future conferences that I am invited to present at. In addition, I have made many new friends.
So, in conclusion, the 7AM AV check and Graveyard Slot, were a small price to pay for being invited to be part of such an amazing conference.
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