Before I jump into the details of this blog, it’s probably best to start by asking – would I go again? Yes. It’s a shaky yes, but a yes all the same. Let me explain what prevents me from shouting a roaring vote of confidence, yet is enough to push my teetering into a second visit, by breaking the experience down into its fundamentals.
What's the pitch?
A live event featuring case studies, panel discussions, roundtables and interviews which explore best practices across the entirety of the “People experience”.
Who's it for?
It’s free for delegates (including the food and drinks - bargain) who are senior individuals working within employee engagement. Supplier tickets are £1,495. 90 minute masterclasses are charged additionally, at £85. Registration for everything I’ve just mentioned is stated as, ‘subject to approval ’. A thousand people rocked up for this year's 10th anniversary, which I think surprised them (see The venue).
It was super close to Moorgate station. Registration opened at 8:15 for a 9am keynote. I joined the queue at 8:30 – it moved swiftly, and the event team were all over it. You could check in with just your name and were given a printed badge on a lanyard. There was a complimentary cloakroom. So far, so good.
The positives - The Brewery (Chiswell Street, London), is a stunning venue. It’s a warren of exposed-brick rooms, quirky twists and turns, and midsummer-nights-dream-esque lighting. There were bigger, naturally lit rooms and a main stage which could fit the record-breaking turnout. The look and feel veered away from corporate, neutral safety into something much more creative.
The necessity for it to enable a thousand people to quickly and regularly move between rooms, halls and bathrooms, is where a few problems set it. Featuring many stair-accessed levels with the odd narrow corridor, the Brewery struggled when the stampede hit – points of mass entry and exodus. It took me so long to exit the main hall I was late for, and unable to get into, a discussion on happiness. I was not especially happy.
I fell into conversation with a few people who were physically struggling and frustrated. Seating on the whole was very limited, with practically nowhere to sit, even during lunch meaning some of us were stuck with a vertical dining experience. You also couldn’t stand anywhere for long without being in the way.
On the flip side, a small courtyard area just outside the main entrance allowed you to soak up a bit of fresh air and sunshine.
There were lots of bathrooms but your strategy had to evolve during the day – learning to hit ones hidden out of the way, avoiding the long lines of others.
It was, in summary, intense. It was also the first year in this particular venue – so there were always going to be teething pains – it will be interesting to see how they overcome these challenges in 2024.
Agenda & speakers
Opening and closing keynotes were a really mixed bag. Things felt a bit dishevelled at times and there were more thinly veiled sales pitches and fluffy exchanges than I’m used to (in the L&D event circuit). Some of the presentations lacked engagement and were pretty dry. People voted with their feet mid-way. Special shout outs go to Indeed’s findings from their Workplace Health Report and Jill Scott’s invigorating story of perseverance; both hugely valuable and inspiring.
You could register for roundtables – facilitated discussions where you debated with fellow professionals and shared experiences. However, you were registering your interest to attend, not guaranteeing a spot – it was first come first serve and there was a fair amount of disappointment for these highly-popular sessions. I did manage to squeeze into a great one on leadership development, hosted by Sodexo. From the off, it was open, practical and expertly facilitated. I’d love to see more conversations in this style in the future to meet the demand.
I was ushered into a Soul Corporations Masterclass on personal values and wellness (which I believe would have been £85), for free, after being unable to get into something oversubscribed. There were useful takeaways (it typically takes 23 mins and 15 secs to return to peak concentration!). The 90 min run time sadly ate the inclusion champions session I’d planned on checking out and felt a little long.
They were a confident, proactive bunch and there was nowhere to hide! Yes, even outside or when you were eating. Everyone was polite but I did feel a bit hunted.
Food & drink
Top marks here. I even broke 6 months of strict keto to eat a dark chocolate and blood orange dessert (no regrets). There was a huge volume of appetising snacks, treats and lunch bowls throughout the day, which appeared to cater to every diet and preference. Food just appeared at regular intervals and you helped yourself. I didn’t stay for the post-event networking drinks but there was always coffee and a variety of milks and tea.
Next year, I’ll create a personalised agenda on the event app and have a back-up plan. I’ll also peruse the attendee list to see if anyone from my network is going (I didn’t realise until too late).
It’s an early start but if it’s as busy as last year, I’d get there with plenty of time so you can get a drink and orientate yourself. Plus, you might just have the energy for the networking drinks (unlike moi).
Next year's event takes place on the 17 April 2024. You can find out more here.
Head of People