by Padraic Gilligan, Vice President, Ovation Global DMC
Snow was general all over Ireland. It was falling softly upon the Bog of Allen and, further westwards, softly falling into the dark mutinous Shannon waves. It was falling too upon every part of the lonely churchyard where Michael Furey lay buried. It lay thickly drifted on the crooked crosses and headstones, on the spears of the little gate, on the barren thorns. His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead”
James Joyce, “The Dead” from Dubliners
Whenever and wherever I see snow, these are the words that are conjured magically in my mind. And these are the words that came to me as I quietly exited the magnificent Stadhuis or City Hall in Antwerp to behold an empty city square fill up with snow much like Robert Frost when he stopped by the woods on that snowy evening long ago. There was a special stillness in the Great Market Square as the snow tumbled softly onto its fabled cobblestones, the sepia-toned Cathedral of Our Lady diverting your gaze upwards towards the infinite darkness of the night sky. And the day began in darkness too, in a freezing cold Dublin, victim of the same arctic cold front that seized the Benelux countries in its vice-like grip. Just when spring seemed possible, we’re plunged back into the depths of winter and need to protect ourselves against a harsh and bitter chill. A metaphor for the business realities of our time? Well, maybe.
Back in Belgium
The Ovation crew were conveyed in style from Brussels to Antwerp courtesy of @HugoSmartyPants, our man in Flanders and, like me, a former president of Site, the latest edition of whose EMEA Forum we were attending. Following successful events in Florence (2011) and Berlin (2012), Site was back in Belgium for the first time since the Site European University took place in Bruges way back in 1999 when God was a boy – and, curiously, when @Padraicino and @HugoSmartyPants worked together for the first time. Chaired by Barbara Jamison of London & Partners with a stellar host committee under the baton of Sophie Coumont of Hotel de la Source, #SiteEMEAForum13 offered a veritable winning combination: an exciting emerging city destination, a great EU focused education programme and over 110 global professionals who know how business results flow inexorably from well-planned motivational programmes.
Back in the Saddle
I was thrilled to see that Martin Lewis of CAT Publications had been forgiven, absolved of all past sins and thrust back into the limelight at Site again to do what he does so effortlessly and so well: provide insightful business context and brilliant ironic commentary around the educational programme for the event. Herman Konings, theoretical psychologist and futurologist, was first up and gradually settled into a compelling presentation on how grotesque, unbelievable, bizarre and unprecedented (GUBU) things become normal, sometimes within a short time period. Think mobile phones. When they first came out in the 1990s few people imagined they would ever catch on so pervasively. Today mobile phone penetration has reached a staggering 93% in Western Europe. Konings used technology to share his presentation in real time with tablet and smart phone users and incorporated on-line polls to ensure audience interactivity.
How to avoid getting Shit-faced in Shanghai
I really liked Ella Reynders’ workshop on “Do’s and Don’t’s in dealing with China”. Ella is clearly an academic as opposed to a business trainer and thus was somewhat uncomfortable with the limited time available to explain what for her is a profoundly complex topic. She did a great job at providing the outlying philosophical context around the way that Asians in general and Chinese in particular approach life and business. Her deep immersion in Chinese culture and her attendant respect and affection for it were evident throughout a well structure presentation. I might have avoided the severe hangovers and wasted days which followed the memorable dinners hosted in Shanghai by the inimitable Connie Cheng, Vice Chairman at the Shanghai Municipal Tourism Administration if I’d participated at one of Ella’s workshops 5 years ago!
SoMe and Site
Allison Summers (@allisonsummers) led a very practical workshop on Social Media and on the need to develop a personal strategy around profiling and presence. Taking the SoMe 101 approach she generously shared her own #SoMe journey and explained step by step how she amassed a very impressive Twitter following along with well-developed profiles on Facebook and Linkedin. She also undertook to create a index of twitter handles of Site members to facilitate mutual following.
Our journey by vintage tram to the City Hall was somewhat marred by total lack of visibility due to swirling snow. Nevertheless spirits were high as we trundled down the tracks (trams are oh so European!) to Great Market Square and the Old Town for privileged, privitised access to City Hall. There we feasted and frolicked in true renaissance style while a folkloristic ensemble played appropriate background music.
Maybe more tomorrow – depends!
Padraic Gilligan is Vice President of Ovation Global DMC and a former global president of Site. He is one of 3 past presidents attending Site EMEA Forum 2013 (big respect to Carolyn and Hugo!)