Thursday, 23 February 2012

The Art of Hosting: conversations with young people

Take 5 London Mayoral candidates, a few hundred young leaders, 2 television presenters, a musician, a live Twitter feed, fish and chips, and what do you get? For me, lots of food for thought about how to host an event, and how to communicate with young people. Last night Channel 4 Television and UpRise co-hosted a well attended conversation about young people, equality and diversity in London. What made the evening special?

Make people feel welcome
When I arrived Channel 4 staff were organised and welcoming. Delicious fish and chips,drinks and nibbles restored my spirits after a long working day.

Give people a chance to get to know each other
I really enjoyed talking to a social entrepreneur and an IT Graduate who were quietly engaging. In the nicest possible way they gave me insights into what it is like to be young and looking for work. I also met a community film maker with three mobile phones who used to live near me in Peckham. These conversations made me feel less like an outsider.

Appeal to different senses
The evening started with a solo performance by British vocalist, cellist and composer Ayanna whose resonant singing and playing reminded me of Nina Simone.

Structure your event
The 5 mayoral candidates were invited to speak for 2-3 minutes about what mattered to them. I felt a little bit sorry for the speakers who had to communicate what really mattered to their absent leaders. Ten young ambassadors were invited to put questions to the candidates from the front of the stage. Although, the audience did not get many answers to their thoughtful questions, presenter Konnie Huq assured them that they would receive written answers.  

Make technology available
There was a highly visible (edited) Twitter feed running all through the evening which at times was very entertaining.

 Be comfortable with passion
Things kicked off towards the end but my lasting memory is how respectful the audience were to the mayoral candidates and how attentively they listened.

Getting your message across
I don’t think the goal of the evening was to create a winner. However, the audience reaction and the Twitter Feed suggested that Siobhan Benita was the most popular candidate. Based on what I saw and heard, Siobhan gained the approval of the audience because she spoke from the heart. Genuineness and authenticity are powerful.

Communicating with young people
I am an older white male. When I am working with younger people I always think very carefully about what I might have to say, and how I can best say it. Why, I ask myself, would young people want to listen to me unless what I say is relevant, credible and different? Unfortunately, by not turning up at all, Boris and Ken lost an opportunity to engage with some really committed young leaders.