Tie The President In Knots

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It wasn't the Volunteers Conference Weekend - in fact it was the UK Communities Together event - but it still involved a number of Trustees and we witnessed the President in a straight jacket. But IET Presidents are fabulous people and multiskilled - so he got unaided....

For a number of years we've brought a bunch of members together once a year in Savoy Place for the Volunteer Conference Weekend. So this year we brought a number of members together in Savoy Place - but it wasn't the VCW. In fact it was one of 5 such conferences held this year around the world - but this one was for the UK alone.

In case you're wondering, the reason for this is a good one. We decided that if we're genuinely an international organisation, we should hold the VCW in other countries. But for logistical reasons the planned major event in India couldn't be run so the budget was split up in 5 world regions and we each did our own thing - UKCT was ours.

'Not the VCW' was a good working title and the organisers were determined to make things different - and a lot of fun. So on the Friday evening around 70 delegates gathered for a dinner at Savoy Place with the President and immediate past President present. But before the first food, we were entertained by a member of the Magic Circle who also happens to be an FIET and a Professor of systems engineering - Jon Holt - who did some tricks with numbers. He then called up Andy Hopper who was duly tied into a straight jacket - insert your own jokes here about parallels with IET bureaucracy or the Trustees being rendered powerless. But after little more than 2 minutes, Andy was out and grinning from ear to ear. You can't keep a good professor down clearly.

It turned out that he'd had lessons by Skype in how to get out and is clearly a quick learner. Es-Skype-ology I think it's called.

The more serious part of the evening was the Q+A session over the dinner with Andy and Mike Short - but done an informal (and un-filmed) way so the members really got it from the hip. And, since they were asking the questions, nothing was off limits. Doing more in schools, protecting the word 'engineer', My Communities and Savoy Place refurbishment all got a good working over. And we finished the evening with an Alan 'Fluff' Freeman style top 10 of misconceptions about the IET. Oh and we gave out some fun awards including for the event with the best beard - won by NI LN for the Richard Stallman lecture!

This serious but in a fun way continued into the Saturday which was the event proper. You'll notice that I haven't given any details about what happened from the end of the dinner until the wee small hours. Suffice to say that a lot of engineering and IET was talked - and drunk....

After an icebreaker from Professor Jon again - he morphed into the conference chairman and we had a series of 4 sessions. Each was 15 minutes of speaking and 15 minutes of audience Q+A. In fact this hour total of presenting was pretty much the only time the members were 'talked at'. The members were the stars and we wanted their views - and boy did we get them. I should add that the event was held in the Riverside - so no main lecture theatre or Council Chamber. This kept everything very together and also made for a good flow through the Community Lounge ie manned displays on IET stuff.

Future President Barry Brooks performed the miracle of doing the IET strategy in 15 minutes. I belted them with working horizontally and blowing up silos ie LNs and TPNs working together. We also had sessions on sectors and partners - both academic and corporate - all with lots of audience interaction.

Breakout sessions and plenaries reported back on a number of important issues to communities - again with plenty of slack to allow members to raise whatever they wished. And 5 training sessions were run to help communities with such things as how to work with schools, run prestige lectures, marketing and communications and My Communities.

We finished up (30 minutes early) with some 'this worked well for us' stories from communities and a final Fluff Freeman countdown of what the delegates had told us at this event.

This event was run be a bunch of (mad) members and a few very hard working staff. Without Rhys Phillips (mad member) and Stephen Scowcroft it just wouldn't have happened.

So what does it all amount to? Well, 70 active members, most who'd not been a similar event, came and had fun. They weren't just LNs (as was the perception of previous events) and indeed 10 TPNs were represented. They had access to really useful information and importantly to each other. There were 4 Trustees about and 2 Presidents. And most importantly, they were asked their views and listened to.

We'll see what the feedback is like, but I will get very upset the next time I hear someone say we don't value our active volunteers and that we don't listen to them.

And I still have that damned Pick of the Pops music stuck in my head!
Posted by Alan Watts on Oct 14, 2012 5:19 PM Europe/London

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