Up ‘nice’ and early at the weekend, determined not to be late for my SPEED Plus residential. Best avoid those dreaded yellow cards. For a keen traveller, I’m not the world’s best at finding my way to unfamiliar places by car on today’s busy roads, although perversely I pride myself on being able to read a map and therefore won’t entertain the idea of a SatNav. As it happened, Scarman House at Warwick Conferences was an easy (if soggy) drive and I was soon catching up with fellow-beneficiaries from Wolverhampton over coffee – the prelude to mega-amounts of food and drink over the course of the next 30 hours.
This was a chance to mix with delegates from the other four Unis on the project: Coventry, Birmingham City, Keele and Staffordshire, representing between us around 50 fledgling businesses. And mix we did. By a stroke of genius the conference was front-loaded with a brilliant and intensely interactive session on networking, led by Judith Gilmore of Effective Communications. Learning through doing, with a vengeance, and charmingly entertaining too – if a little loud, but sensibly Judith had brought along a whistle for crowd control. Being given permission to act as ‘lurker’ was a new one on me, but there was a serious point in terms of exploring how best to engage with groups. Quite honestly, for lessons in conducting yourself at a human level, amidst an era of digital communication, this opener will have been worthwhile beyond the purely business-networking domain.
To follow that was no easy task, but over the two days we were presented with a range of informative and thought-provoking talks, interspersed with never-ending platefuls of hotel-standard food, in an environment to match. We covered legal aspects, sales and marketing, finance; hopefully it’ll all be second nature by the time the lovely self-assessment tax return is due (red-letter day on the planner: 31st January 2016.)
The parting shot in the so-called ‘graveyard shift’ on Sunday afternoon – after I’d put away what could only be described as Christmas lunch with all the trimmings – was a surf around social media. Although I’ve faced Facebook and linked to Linkedin, any thoughts of Twitter have yet to take flight, so this was going to be challenging territory for me. But Phil Oakley’s demonstration of the power and potential of social media as a business tool, and useful pointers on harnessing and analysing it left me intrigued (as well as much more knowledgeable about Staffordshire oatcakes, into the bargain). So all going well I’ll be investigating the sphere of virtual communities faster than you can say hashtracking.com.
Back in the real world of flesh and blood, measured by firm handshakes, smiles, eye contact, a listening ear and lots of laughter, it was a real pleasure experiencing so much enthusiasm, innovation and high hopes. Good luck to all the young entrepreneurs, and well done for having the confidence to take the plunge when you have your whole lives ahead of you. Oh, and thanks for all the encouragement that came the way of the elder stateswoman in your midst!