Events have long been a lucrative stream of sponsorship income, offering great opportunities for brand visibility and engagement. Now that virtual events are here for the foreseeable future, and with hybrid events set to become increasingly more common, it's important to explore the possibilities for virtual event sponsorships.
The key message to start with is that sponsorships don't live and die in the scope of in person events. On the contrary, the online world has the potential to offer even more reasons for a sponsor to want to work with you on a virtual event.
Know your value
Firstly, it is essential that you recognise the value of your virtual event to potential partners. You're not just planning a virtual event - you're planning an experience.
A virtual experience can be as enriching and exciting as your in person event, and that's exactly what you need to sell to your sponsors. This isn't just a Zoom meeting with 10 people waxing lyrical. No, this is a full-scale virtual event with incredible speakers, talented entertainers with valuable resources, Q&A sessions, exhibitions and more. There's clearly a lot of worth in what you're offering, so make sure they see it.
Harness the power of the online landscape. There's a reason why so many companies in recent years have moved their efforts online, it’s because that's where the audience is, and the opportunities to create curated and personalised content are much bigger, and so costs are significantly lower. As such sponsoring a virtual event means better leads, and digital advertising space allows for a myriad of options including videos, banners and logos.
With the right speakers and the best team behind them, speaking sessions can be as entertaining and as valuable as real life ones, so these are a great channel for sponsor engagement. It feels a lot more intimate and attendees can react and participate in real time and offer great personalisation opportunities for your speakers. Not only can this drive a lot of revenue for you as the virtual event organiser, but it can also provide valuable insights and warm leads.
How to package sponsorship?
There are various ways of creating sponsorship packages. Let’s deal with tiered sponsorship packages first.
This model involves sponsors paying different prices for different features. So, for example, say your introductory or Level 1 package is £2,000. The sponsors’ package may include branding on the event website, and promotion on social media channels and email blasts pre-event. During the actual event they could be featured on the tickers and several rotating banners throughout the course of the day. Additionally, sponsors who choose this tier could get a small number of breakout rooms.
Your Level 2 package could come in at £3,000. Sponsors who opt for this level will have access to everything in Level 1 plus speaking opportunities during the event. This can take many forms including Q&A sessions, a 30 minute slot to promote their brand on the virtual stage, or sharing case studies followed by discussion with the attendees.
The top tier, Level 3 package could cost £5,000. This tier of package would include all of the previous benefits of Level 1 and 2, plus business and networking opportunities. This can take many forms including, but not limited to, live demos, one to one networking interactions and sponsored live sessions. Be clear about what each package offers a sponsor, and why the benefits presented are worth the price tag you have decided on.
The goal, as with in person events, is to offer several packages that will attract different sponsors who have different budgets and goals to meet.
The second sponsorship model we will look at is a sort of ‘pick and mix’ offering,
essentially consisting of offering a series of different opportunities. Each priced individually, this option allows a sponsor to pick and choose what better fits their needs and business objectives. This could include all of the elements we discussed before, but with different pricing options or ‘bundles’. Think about how we buy data, messages etc from a mobile phone provider.
It could look something like this:
These are only a handful of examples, you can offer your sponsors via packages. They will depend on the capabilities of your virtual events platform. If you are running your event through an App based platform for example, you can promote your main sponsor via push notifications that remind attendees about sponsored sessions or other offers.
It's a great way to do keep attendee engagement going, whilst keeping your sponsor front of mind.
Leverage the power of digital ad space
There are several ways to monetise a virtual event and digital advertising is one of them. It has become one of the most popular marketing tools in the modern world -something you can definitely use to your advantage. So consider including pop up ads and banners as a way of promoting your sponsors on your event event platform and live stream. This can be harnessed from the outset of your participant journey.
Since a registration platform is a vital component of your event, consider adding a spot banner or ad promoting your sponsors on the webpage.
Make sponsors a part of your promotion strategy. If your marketing strategy was already paramount within past events, then it becomes increasingly more so with virtual ones.
Your attendees will need constant, but not overbearing reminders of what will take place. There's also room for sponsorship promotions here, whether it's on your social media channels or email blasts, make sure you include sponsor mentions at some point. This is not that different from what you do with an in person event, you just need to be a bit more assertive in your messaging.
Sponsored speaking and branding opportunities
From a sponsor perspective, it doesn't get much better than a chance to speak directly to attendees. The possibility of being virtually face to face with the audience and introduce the company products or services can be quite appealing. So why not offer your sponsors a branded speaking opportunity. It doesn't have to be too long and generally speaking, it's one of the best ways to drive revenue on your side. You might also want to go ahead and offer your sponsors the possibility to have a Q&A with the audience. This way, not only do the sponsors get to be face to face with everyone, but they also get to interact with them on a deeper, more personal level.
Q&A's are an extremely important element to virtual events and enable attendees to feel heard and connected.
Sponsored speaking opportunities are a great offering. However, unprepared speakers are a sure way to drive the audience away, so ensure that the content is checked in advance for quality control. A sponsor will appreciate your advice on how best to engage your audience. An easy alternative is to promote your sponsors before the presentation takes place - you can include sponsor and speaker videos and intros in delegate communications, or even better go ahead and add their logos to the presentation slides. This won't be as disruptive as an advert thrown into the middle of a speaker session, but still alerts the attendees' minds to the existence of the sponsor. You can also include branded breakout rooms and sponsor booths. This of course will depend on the capabilities of your platform, and is why you should work with a virtual event specialist.
Digital Goodie Bags and Delegate Offers
Sponsored goodie bags have always been a thing in events but just because the event industry is shifted to virtual doesn't mean they won't be any more. In fact the digital alternative provides attendees with more value than any normal run of the mill tote bag. Think vouchers for online courses, supplier gift cards, free 30 day trials for digital products and services, and so on.
Chances are attendees will appreciate this a lot more than they would a branded mug or a pen!
Catering Experiences at Home
There are things that simply can't be replicated in the digital world and catering is one of them. But if your sponsors were open to it, offering home deliveries to the attendees would be an incredible and very well welcome surprise. This could take the form of takeout food or a nice bottle of wine for a virtual happy hour. The food packaging and the labels on the bottles could also be branded to include the sponsors logo.
Virtual Stores and Gamification
E-commerce is already one of the biggest players in the retail industry, so why not make it part of your virtual event? Adding a virtual store could be something very unique, and additionally, it would offer your sponsors the opportunity to showcase and sell their products.
Recognising that a whole day of speaker sessions can be quite tiring, the smart organisers are including elements of gamification into their events. This is a chance to keep both your attendees engaged, and offer yet another sponsorship opportunity. Sponsored icebreaker activities and games can be a fun, interactive way of connecting sponsors with the audience, as well as providing some lighter moments throughout your virtual experience.
You can take this one step further by creating a 'freemium model' for attendees to enable some of them to attend your event at a slightly lower price point. This would involve them agreeing to connect one to one with the sponsors, watch a longer sponsored video or even provide some sort of relevant data to the sponsor.
Whatever is valuable to your sponsor could be included here and it is a win-win
The event is more financially accessible to everyone, and the sponsor gains additional attendee touch points. This is a model that is subtly replicated throughout many of our daily online engagements, just think of Apps where you opt for the free package in return for watching adverts, like Duolingo.
In conclusion, here is a little infographic to show some of the areas you should be considering for sponsorship of your virtual event.
Next time we will be looking at hybrid events - what are they and how can we adapt to this next phase?
Let's talk speakers. After all they are the bedrock of your event. You can have the flashiest tech out there for your event platform, but if your speakers aren't up to scratch then your audience will turn off. Hopefully some of the little tips in this blog will help you if you are organising an event and working with speakers, or a speaker yourself in this new virtual world.
Who are you working with?
So, firstly, make sure you check the credentials of the speakers you're thinking about engaging with. Even though the advent of virtual events is still very fresh, some people might have previous experience of speaking in similar settings. Maybe they've done YouTube and live streams before. Perhaps they have spoken at hybrid events, or maybe they're just very tech savvy and know how to deal with the intricacies of virtual speaking. You shouldn't disregard those who don't have any of these credentials, but it's definitely a plus if they do.
But let's start in true event planner fashion by assuming that they need to be fully coached in this virtual world of presenting....
Remember the story
We have spoken about the importance of storytelling in a previous post, but it is something worth repeating. Sustaining an emotional connection in a virtual setting is hard but it's not impossible. However, it does require that speakers display more energy, authenticity and passion for the topic they're discussing than ever before.
The presentation can't just be a busy succession of disconnected points. It needs a beginning, middle, and end, a satisfying conclusion, and an overall journey that captivates the hearts and minds of those watching, if you harness the power of storytelling with the energy authenticity and passion, you are well on the way to keeping a captivated audience.
Death by Powerpoint?
Look at your speakers' materials beforehand. A second pair of eyes is always appreciated, especially if you're dealing with something that is different and unusual. Not all speakers will be familiar with the best strategies for a virtual presentation. So give yourself enough time to make alterations if need be.
Remember that how we're addressing people has completely shifted - virtual means a shorter attention span, high chances of webinar fatigue, and a greater need for something that will keep the audience absorbed.
Take a good look at your speakers' slides. Are they too heavy on the text? Are they bland and boring from a design perspective?
The key here is to use your slides as a means to provide a visual representation to switch the focus from the talking head of the speaker. Catchy titles, bold graphics, bullet points, engaging visuals, animated graphics. These are the things you should be looking for. No one wants to sit through a two hour lecture that consists of nothing but black and white slides with walls of text. I am a huge fan of Canva for producing easy, good looking design for a range of things including presentations.
Also consider if you really need slides - do they add anything? Don't simply use slides to repeat what you are saying.
Every production needs a script
No matter how good you are at public speaking, I would still recommend that you arm yourself with a script. There's nothing wrong with coming up with extra things on the spot, especially if it relates to questions from the audience or something that will enrich your presentation. You should be thinking of your presentation like a production, not a Zoom meeting (more on that in a second).
Just like you would have some notes and possibly cue cards for an in-person presentation, having some sort of road map of what you're going to see, which slides, images, videos, you're going to show, and some headings and timing cues is a big step to ensure everything goes smoothly. Plus, you're only human. And you can't remember everything. You have the luxury in the virtual world of being able to position that script in front of you too, so that it can be easily referred to at eye level, without anyone actually knowing!
Set the scene
As mentioned above, you should think of your presentation as a production, imagine yourself or your speaker presenting the news! So it's all about professionalism, and there are a few easy things to consider here...
Lights: Try to light yourself from the front for best effect. A ring light is good, or use a mix of natural and artificial light for the an even front lit effect. Avoid back lighting!
Sound: For the best sound quality, even using a simple lapel microphone can increase the quality of your sound beyond the basic built in computer mic. These can be picked up for less than £20. Make sure you are used to using it though, and avoid large jewellery or other 'noisy' clothing when wearing it. You will know what I mean if you have seen a tv guest sitting playing with their necklace and wondering what that rustling or jangling noise is!
Camera: Make sure you have considered your backdrop carefully. Again, we have all seen this done badly over the past few months - backgrounds filled with clutter, boxes, papers and generally things that are just going to turn your audience off. Now is not the time to display your impressive book collection, as it will only distract rather than engage or impress your viewers! The same goes for your own personal appearance. You may have spent the last few months in loungewear, but there is nothing like dressing up to instantly feel the part.
If you live with other people, make sure you let them know exactly what time you'll be online and for how long. Preferably they won't make use of the Internet in order to help your connection remain steady the whole way through.
Whatever has the potential distract you or your attendees during the event, get rid of it, and that includes your phone, open windows and a myriad of other things. We might find those examples of children and pets video-bombing meetings hilarious, but not so much when it involves your presentation. Don't be remembered for the wrong reasons!
Action!: And you are on! Make eye contact with your camera, not the middle of your screen in order to try and engage with your audience so that they feel more connected. You are doing your best here to establish a human connection. Try to know a bit about the audience you are addressing - what kind of approach would they respond to best? Casual or strictly professional?
Be very clear about what you want to communicate and make sure you're providing these people with the kind of content and experience they can relate to.
If appropriate, ask them to say hello in the chat function and encourage questions, trying to keep that engagement and checking in going during the session.
And relax.....there is nothing quite like the high you have when you finish a speaking session like this. Relating back to the performance analogy, it is very similar to an actor coming off stage. I am sure you will have done a great job. Remember to thank your audience and follow up with any information and contacts you have referenced, it's a great way to set up your next speaking gig.
One of the most frequently asked questions I hear as we pivot to virtual events is how much to charge for them. Should you charge the same as you would for the ‘real’ event?
Or should it be free, especially for the first one as you tentatively navigate your way through this new world? What are the other income streams available to you from a virtual event?
As with any event, it is important to start with a realistic estimate of your costs. Yes, there will be cost savings such as catering and venue hire, but don’t assume that your expenditure will be massively impacted. You will have to factor in the cost of your event platform, speaker and entertainment costs, as well as technical production if you want to really give your event the edge.
By knowing exactly what your expenses are you'll be better equipped to calculate the return on investment of your virtual event.
It's also important that you keep the goals of your event in mind. What do you expect to accomplish with this experience? Are you looking to educate your audience? Increase brand awareness? Or do you have a specific call to action/donation moment?
Only by knowing what the ultimate objective is can you successfully know which metrics you'll be using to measure the success of your event.
Research beyond the obvious
As with all events, you will no doubt be familiar with researching what your competitors are doing. But think about this - instead of looking at what other events are costing, take a look at online course platforms. A great way to get a benchmark is to see how these online courses are priced. If you discover for example that the average price for a three hour course say on compelling copywriting is £150. If your virtual event will offer six of hours of expert content on a subject, along with extra perks and state of the art speakers and trainers, you can charge double or more, so £300 and above. It’s a useful illustration of how much an audience was interested in a particular field, and how much they are willing to pay to be provided with in depth knowledge on the subject.
Providers like Udemy are a great place to start.
Knowledge has value
It can be very tempting to charge nothing, or very little for your events to ensure people will actually attend. After all, you won't be able to offer the same experience you would in a normal event, so why would people bother showing up?
Wrong. Remember that you have worth, and you're providing your attendees with a valuable experience that will enrich their lives in some way, offering yourself for free or selling yourself short will do you no favours. You should ideally charge the same for your virtual event that you would charge for the in person experience. After all you're bringing your attendees something that has value, and that they will benefit from.
Your attendees aren't going to an event for the excellent catering, they're going because of your expertise, because they believe their time and money are worth it. So don't convince yourself that charging less or not charging at all will help you achieve your goals. Remember the knowledge you are sharing is valuable!
Subscription models - a continuous stream of income
Subscription models are also very useful if you think you will be running a series, or even more than one or two virtual events. It can help both when it comes to pricing and attendee engagement. These models are becoming increasingly popular with consumers everywhere. You may slowly introduce your audience to these by starting with some great free content that demonstrates the quality of what you are delivering.
I am a great fan Adriene Mishler, the YouTube phenomenon that is ‘Yoga with Adriene’. Her story (below) is a very interesting one. She started back in 2012, so was way ahead of the curve, with an idea to give access to yoga to everyone, free of charge.
From this, of course came the income from advertising as she progressed, but more interestingly, she was building a community. This community took her and her content to their hearts and in fact actively started to message her to offer payment. It was from here that she developed her ‘Find what feels good’ subscription model, offering more in depth and exclusive content, and access to classes with Adriene and guest instructors.
She continues to hold strong to her promise to deliver free yoga content to all, but has developed a further following of fee paying clients out of this huge community.
Think creatively about what your charity or organisation could offer as a series of talks, building up a library of video content. Perhaps it is talks with eminent health, conservation or political figures? Call on some of your ambassadors to help with this – doing a pre-recorded talk with them is an easier ask than an in-person attendance at an event.
This content can then be offered to your supporters or customers as a monthly subscription model. The great thing about this is that it can represent a continuous source of revenue for your charity or organisation. Not only will you be bringing in a continuous revenue from some quality, educational material, but you will also be promoting future live virtual events.
Engaging sponsors and advertisers
Don't forget the additional income streams available from your online event.
Digital platforms also include the possibility of advertising spaces - you can leverage this to your advantage by selling banner and pop up ad space to potential sponsors of your virtual event. As frequent consumers of online content, we are subliminally being sold to all of the time, just think about Facebook ads, purchasing suggestions on Amazon and so on.
Sponsorships in the world of virtual events are an amazing source of revenue in themselves.
You need to start thinking of this as a viable income stream as you would for an
in-person event and create a compelling sponsor pack just as you would for that.
Use your event platform to promote sponsors through your speakers slides; logos and branding embedded into videos; social media channels; sponsored Q&A sessions and breakout/networking rooms to name but a few. Many platforms also offer gamification opportunities incentivising delegates to connect with sponsors during the event.
What is more, the content is evergreen and has longevity beyond the event - so it is a great resource for your sponsor to share to a much wider audience.
I will cover some of the creative ways to engage sponsors and advertisers in a future blog, so keep an eye out for that!
In the meantime, if you would like to get in touch for a no-obligation chat about how to host your virtual event, get in touch.
Like event specialists everywhere, I have been researching ways to deliver creative and events in a virtual way. Many of us are feeling fearful that things will never go back to normal, fearful that what made us love this industry is gone forever, and fearful that we will no longer be able to bring people together like we used to.
In this little series of blogs I will look at the different facets that make an event work in our 'new normal'. This week I am going to look at what is at the heart of events - the gathering of people, making new connections.
How can we do this in a meaningful way online?
What really brings these people together is the storyteller, and the way it is presented.
"We are, as a species, addicted to story. Even when the body goes to sleep, the mind stays up all night, telling itself stories.”
Jonathan Gottschall, Author of The Storytelling Animal
Give something of meaning to your audience by inspiring engaging and educating them with a story. There hasn't been a better time to tell amazing stories and right now we're surrounded by forms of media and technology that enable us to engage in different and closer ways. I have been impressed by the way that various organisations have tackled this.
From the mammoth giant that is Apple, though to how charities are telling their stories.
Apple delivered its first all-virtual presentation to kick off the 2020 WorldWide Developers Conference in June. CEO, Tim Cook, walked onto the stage of an empty Steve Jobs Theatre on the company’s campus in California, and sat on a stool to address the serious issues of race, social justice, and the Covid-19 pandemic. The empty theatre gave a real sense of how everyone is facing the same challenges. After speaking for about five minutes, Cook passed the presentation to Apple’s senior vice president of software, Craig Federighi. He delivered his presentation from an entirely different studio on the Apple campus. It was the first sign that this virtual meeting would be constantly changing to keep people’s attention.
By the end of the presentation which lasted nearly two hours, the audience saw 20 different speakers involved in Apple’s product development. Just have a glimpse at the video below. No one spoke for more than ten minutes, and many of them spoke for just two minutes to keep the action moving. The changes and backdrops were constant.
Their 'story' may have been product led, but the method of delivery was engaging and creative.
The Latino Community Foundation quickly pivoted their 'Coming of Age Gala' online. This must have been one of the first repurposed virtual events that I took part in. Taking place at the end of May, they had time against them to create something really meaningful for their audience, just weeks after Covid 19 restrictions were imposed.
It is testament to how engaging it was in that I had to set my alarm to get up at 2am to view it in 'real time', and it kept me captivated into the small hours.
CEO Jacqueline Martinez Garcel and VP Masha V Chernyak both delivered their welcomes from outdoor settings, breathing a real sense of life into their stories.
The whole event continued against a series of nature inspired or colourful backgrounds, keeping the audience stimulated in a time when they were in lockdown.
Not everyone has Apple's budget, but the Latino Community Foundation demonstrated that doing something as simple as 'taking the audience outside' could bring a different, more engaging feel to their stories. Everything from videos to images paintings and photography falls under the category of visual media. All these things can be used to create dynamic visually engaging sessions and thoughtful content, it's time to start investing in these tools, just like you would invest in a venue.
Or you may want to go one step further and utilise some of the venue hire or production costs you would have had to budget for to utilise local broadcast studios, and the use of green screens and multiple cameras from whatever your setting may be. Because this is how you can support the narrative and the storytelling of the talking heads that's so important in virtual events.
But you don't have to rely on tools like this to craft a compelling story through a virtual event. You might find yourself held to contracts previously made with venues, but instead of losing the deposits, why not repurpose a space you already have in some ingenious ways. You can organise a concert live in the venue and stream it, offering virtual audiences the possibility to be part of a peaceful and hypnotic experience for the comfort of their own homes.
Another great way to give a story some visual life is to employ the services of a scribe. These artists have been bringing events to life over the past few years, creating walls of content at conferences and other large gatherings, and there is even more reason to be using them now. A digital live scribe could be in a separate 'room' at your event, creating artwork during panel discussions to provide a visual representation of the topics covered in the session. They are great to provide to attendees post-event and share on social media.
Look out for some more tips on bringing your virtual event to life in next weeks blog!
As Director of my own business, the past month has been extremely challenging to say the least. I spent the first two weeks in a bit of a frenzy of activity, watching and taking part in every Zoom call and webinar I could in order to try and make sense of it all, and what it would mean for my business.
I have spent years building up my company, and a client base that I am extremely proud of. And now I found myself extremely worried about not only the immediate impact, but what business would be like when we come out the other side of this. As I am considered to be very creative, and a bit of an innovator, I put myself under immense pressure to come up with the 'next best thing' in the world of events, and frankly I ended up feeling quite overwhelmed and drained by it all.
I have now had time to take a breath and reflect on some of the things that I have learned, and what has worked for me. Working, and spending the majority of my time at home on my own, I have found some real strategies which I thought I would share for anyone else out there who finds themselves struggling to see a way out of all of this.
I will start by sharing a quote from one of my closest friends "You can't be a hero every day!"
Limit the noise to good effect
As I discovered when setting up my nnoodl business, we can be overwhelmed by social media at the best of times. Add to that the constant news updates and it is easy to see how your whole day can be overtaken by Covid-19. Then there are the constant 'funnies' on Facebook etc which are shared over and over. Sometimes light relief - sometimes too much.
Time to limit the noise and focus on the information I needed.
I found that at this time LinkedIn was more valuable than ever with people sharing some really useful content. This is where I found a post from the London Growth Hub, an initiative delivered by the LEAP (the local enterprise partnership for London). They have always been there to support small businesses in London, but this is the first I had heard of them and snapped up the chance to have a business consultation call with one of their advisers. Not only did this give me some pointers on the support available to me, but also served as a reminder that this was a good opportunity to take advantage of the down time to reassess my business and make it even stronger. I was also introduced to a network of other similar business owners.
Reflect, recalibrate and remember you are resilient
One of the most valuable things I have done in my first month in lockdown has been to really take the time to reflect on my business. This is time we never normally have, of course none of us would have wished for this to be imposed on us in this way, but there is no avoiding it, so let's embrace it.
For me this has served as a double whammy opportunity. My good friend Cath Kane had in the past 18 months moved to Washington DC. She has extensive experience working in the public and not-for-profit sector to help them meet the challenges of change through creating environments that foster resilience. She has been developing her own 'Unshakeable Ambition' coaching programme, aimed at women who are passionate about making a difference and connecting on a deeper level with their ambitions. Cath offered me a series of coaching sessions and I snapped up the opportunity!
These coaching sessions have been a real game changer. The pre session exercises in themselves have really made me think deeply about my business and my ambitions. Cath has also set up a private Facebook group for her clients called 'Insightful Strong Women' and this has served as a great platform to connect with like-minded individuals across the globe to share ideas and our tips on how to stay resilient.
Learn but don't overload
This is a great time to delve into an area which you might have neglected as business takes over. Maybe it's marketing, developing your social media skills, or getting to grips with your accounts. It's all good, but be careful not to overdo it.
Again, our social media feeds are filled with over achievers, learning a language, a musical instrument etc. In my first two weeks I committed to finally doing Spanish every day, guitar practice, online yoga, cartoon workshops, choir. I also signed up to about 12 webinars and this was all on top of the actual work I had to do, and my pre-scheduled triathlon training (whenever those race events may happen?) It was just too much!
Another lesson learned, and I have now settled into things and found a rhythm.
I have grouped things into areas at the start of each week and allocated an amount of time I will commit to it. I have found some great content through the guys at Fundraising Everywhere who hosted a truly impressive virtual full day conference at the start of April. I have also been collaborating with colleagues and allocating time to researching an events toolkit that I will be able to share with my clients. I am trying to be as diligent about how I split my day. BUT, always making sure that I make time for some 'fun things'. If that is a cartoon drawing tutorial, or language lesson, it will be because I WANT to do it. Then we have to look on the positive side of the skills we have accidentally learned along the way, for me it is home hairdressing and even dentistry (yes, I recently fixed a chipped tooth...let's see how long it lasts!).
Managing your time - embracing the flexibility
As someone who is very much task and goal driven, I love a list or a spreadsheet. It's a great way of breaking up things into headings and I have a 'master plan' that I am using during this time split into headings 'Finance', 'Business Development', 'Personal Growth' and so on. I then can see what I actually need to do, or where I can dump some ideas for actioning later. There is nothing like turning a task green for me! What I have found is coming through though, is that where things that aren't vital sit untouched, I start to reassess if they are really necessary or am I forcing myself to do them because I feel I should? This is something that has become more apparent in my business coaching too. For my business I use an app called Toggl to track how I am spending my time with each client. I find it really focuses my mind too and makes me very productive. Without the same stress, I have been splitting my days into sections and making sure that I only allocate a certain amount of time on certain business tasks, and then make sure I take a break to do something else...whether it's exercise, having a chat with a friend or just listening to a podcast or watching a tv programme. Most of all, I am trying to embrace the fact that now I can be flexible about how I work. If I am feeling more creative and work focussed at 9pm at night, but fancy playing the guitar at 10am in the morning, then so be it!
Recognising where you are on the 'change curve'
Listening to a webinar by the previously mentioned London Growth Hub was really helpful in reassuring me that we are all going through a similar rollercoaster of feelings just now. One of their coaches discussed the 'Change Curve' and explained how we all react to dramatic changes in our situation. Although we all go through this process at different paces, he highlighted the various stages on it from Shock, Denial, Anger, Bargaining and so on. It really resonated with me as I recognised many of these feelings. Being ever the optimist, I was heartened to see the positive upward curve.
I particularly identified with the 'Acceptance' and 'Problem Solving' areas. In times like this, we start to turn a corner and think "I am ok, does anyone else need help?". I had recently signed up to help my local Covid 19 mutual aid group. I was keen to help in any way I could, having more time on my hands, and recognising there were no doubt people in my neighbourhood whom I didn't know, but may well be struggling. I have to say my days are now even brighter as a chance partnering up with a vulnerable neighbour to support getting her medicines and shopping has now resulted in me giving her guide dog a much needed run around in the park every day. These groups are set up across the whole of the UK and are still looking for volunteers as the lockdown continues. You can find yours here.
Break the monotony
It can start to seem like groundhog day. I laugh when I sign off emails on a Friday with 'Have a lovely weekend' as a force of habit, when in reality it can seem like each day is the same as the last.
It's really important to mark changes in days and weeks.
Whether that is as simple as moving from the room where you have been doing your work emails, or changing your clothes from day to night, it all makes a difference to your mindset. I found at the start of this that I started to dread Zoom calls a bit as I spent so much time on them during the day that the thought of staring at my laptop at night too was a bit much. There was an interesting short article on why this is in Time Out this week. But the upside to this is the amount of people I have managed to connect with who I hadn't 'seen' for a very long time. My mum and dad have only recently adopted Facetime, which makes me very happy given that I had to cancel a trip to see them in Scotland the very week we went into lockdown (I was extra pleased to see that my dad has retained his humour by appearing wearing full protective gear!)
I have been on virtual quiz nights with friends across the world, drinks with friends all over the UK, and we try to continue our virtual choir online, even though it sounds so chaotic that it is hilarious. Just seeing those little 'Brady Bunch' faces makes me smile now. In fact I have just done one of my triathlon bike sessions on my turbo trainer and persuaded a friend in Aberdeen to join me. Apparently I have a side hustle waiting for me as a virtual cycling coach after this in her eyes!
I also find it is important to make a bit of a 'ceremony' of a Saturday night as I get properly dressed up and have 'aperitifs' with my best friend and her family in Aberdeen every week. On the first week of lockdown I went to one of my favourite superstores, Wing Yip to shop for a Chinese banquet. In my mind crispy duck pancakes are one of the ultimate feel good foods!
But most of all....
Remember this is not forever. I can't help thinking that when we come out of this we will somehow all look back on it with a certain amount of nostalgia. The friends and contacts we reacquainted with.....the neighbours we finally met....the time we took for ourselves to slow down and think.....perhaps even the skills we learned along the way.
I can't help but think that in amongst all of the songs that are being inspired by Covid 19, that it is time for Baz Luhrmann to release a follow up to one of my favourites 'Wear Sunscreen'. And with that I leave you with that song, and a very poignant couple of lines...
Understand that friends come and go
But a precious few, who should hold on
Work hard to bridge the gaps in geography and lifestyle
For as the older you get, the more you need the people you knew when you were young
Stay safe everyone!
Many of you will be familiar with my sister company, nnoodl where I create surprise experiential events for groups and individuals. Here we especially focus on the hidden gems of places and activities that London has to offer. We are as deflated as the rest of you that we are being advised against social contact, and moving towards isolation. Human interaction, and trying new experiences together is at the heart of what brings us joy. But, these are indeed unprecedented times, and so in the spirit of staying safe, but also sane, I have gathered together some of my favourite activities that you can do safely, all from the comfort of your own isolation. It also represents a mix of suppliers (some are free), but including some small businesses, who we love to support during these trying times.
Ok, so this is a simple one, it is something many of us probably already do in the privacy of our own home, in the shower, or whilst cooking dinner. But, have you ever experienced the joy of singing with someone else?
I first went to Matt Thompson at ‘Sing the Easy Way’ about 4 years ago. Initially this started as a bit of a dare, as I shy away from public speaking or any public performances. Matt has an amazing way of putting you at ease though, and after my first lesson I felt such a natural high that there was no going back! Matt has always offered online singing lessons, offering the same fun, one-to-one environment as face to face, but without the contact we are trying to currently avoid. Check him out here
Like me, you could become a singing convert and will be joining his beginners choir!
Quelle bonne idée!
Duolingo is something I have been using for a little while now in my attempt to learn Spanish. It is a free platform (with premium upgrade available) that includes a language-learning website and mobile app with 36 languages ranging from Hindi to Scottish Gaelic. They offer a skill tree of lessons that use listening exercises, flashcards, and multiple-choice questions to drill you on new words, phrases, and sentences. Most questions have a comment thread where users can discuss a particular question in detail. The service also has community features that let you connect with other people who are learning the same language you are. Soon you will not only be able to chat online to your current friends, but could be connected to some new international ones too. Get prepared for those 'post covid holidays'!
Gucci Osteria is an Italian restaurant by the famous fashion house which most of us could only aspire to visit in the best of times. However, Massimo Bottura, the Michelin -starred chef heading up the kitchen is giving us a welcome glimpse into this establishment, and just the jolt of optimism we need as millions enter into quarantine to mitigate the spread of the virus. Bottura wants to help with a free cooking series he’s launched via his own Instagram page here
Kitchen Quarantine’s lessons are always taught in English, despite the chef’s Italian provenance, and come to you live via Bottura’s own home where he’s holed up with his family. So far he has taught us how to make a veggie-packed Thai curry, salad, and a tortellini in a thick parmesan sauce to name but a few. He is keen to advocate cooking in a way to limit food waste by using every scrap and byproduct you can.
Bottura wants to be clear that he isn’t just teaching kitchen skills. “It’s just a way to share with people from all over the world… we just want to be part of the world. There’s a beautiful sentence in Italiano from a poet, Franco Arminio [translated roughly to]: yes, we are here, home, but we are talking with the whole world, so we are sharing with the whole world.”
Now this is one that I know is on a lot of people’s hit lists. Learning to sew, either for fun, or in these challenging economic times, to make your own clothes, or upcycle, is a great skill to have. I did my own sewing challenge back in 2015 when I went to the Thrifty Stitcher to learn how to make a dress. (If you really have time on your hands, have a look at my blog here about this great experience).
Owner, Claire-Louise Hardie was the first Sewing Producer for The Great British Sewing Bee, a Professional Costumier with a passion for teaching beginners to sew. She is running a range of online sewing courses, perfect for great tuition in your own home. Check out her online courses here. Also, in the spirit of helping everyone in these challenging times, she is offering some free online sewing tutorials for beginners here.
Thank you for the music...
Having owned a guitar since I was about 12, I am as guilty as the next person of not giving it constant attention and keeping my practice going. Well, what better time to perfect those musical skills than now? Charlotte Barrow is a guitarist whom I have had the pleasure to play alongside at various flamenco gigs. She is a guitar, ukulele, mandolin and recorder tutor with over 12 years' experience of teaching a wide variety of levels and ages, including exam tutoring. She aims to ensure her lessons are fun, friendly and learner-centrered!
Charlotte is happy to offer online lessons and can be contacted via any of the below:
Mobile 07952 231 494
If you are anything like me, the thought of how to keep up a healthy exercise regime will be causing you a bit of anxiety! Jokey social media posts aside of people running a marathon on their balcony, or fashioning a bike turbo trainer with a rolling pin, here are a couple of online resources that I have been using for a while and can highly recommend:
Yoga with Adriene is a fantastic You Tube channel hosted by international yoga teacher Adriene Mishler with an online community of over 6 million viewers. She provides a wealth of online yoga and mindfulness practices that cater for every level of participant. Such a fantastic way to look after your mental and physical wellbeing!
For additional strength and cardio training, I have also been a huge fan of my TRX for about a year. Standing for Total Body Resistance Exercise , these clever suspension straps use body weight exercises to develop strength, balance, flexibility and core stability simultaneously. Initially developed by former U.S. Navy SEAL Andy Hetrick whilst deployed, and trying to find a way of exercising in remote, or confined spaces. Seems like the ideal solution to isolation training to me! I follow TRX UK on Instagram, who post live exercises every day at 4pm. Check them out here
More tips will follow over the coming weeks and months. Stay safe everyone!
As an events professional I am always keen to investigate new venues and restaurants as possible destinations for events and special gatherings. So, every month I am going to share with you my top pick. This month I had the pleasure of discovering a real hidden gem of a restaurant!
I took the research for this one particularly personally as I wanted to treat my partner to a special birthday meal. I wasn't totally restricted on location, but was keen to find somewhere towards the west end of London to tie in with our earlier plans. I am a real fan of tapas/sharing style food, or a tasting menu as I find it gives you a really good opportunity to taste a variety of the key dishes from a restaurant. Looking for 'special tasting menus' I stumbled upon Flat Three in Holland Park. This is a restaurant which sells itself as 'imaginative, seasonal British food inspired by the flavours and culinary traditions of Korea and Japan'.
The brainchild of Juliana Kim Moustakas, the restaurant name comes from the address she and her chef friend first started creating their vision, and hosting some supper clubs from. They take great pride in the time taken to create the ferments which punctuate their special brand of flavour.
We found Flat Three on a small corner in Holland Park and followed the quirky 'Eat here' neon sign down to the basement not sure what to expect. Embracing the eastern feel though, was a calm, clean interior, punctuated by an open kitchen, and we were shown to one of the booths.
Having already given the menu a bit of a once over in advance, I suggested we went for the 5 course tasting option. Unusually for a menu like this, our waitress helpfully advised us that we didn't both need to eat the same dishes, in fact this menu offers at least two choices for each 'course'. So as we pondered our food options, we looked through the extensive Sake and wine list. I have to admit there were some pretty pricey wines on there, but likewise, they offered a very reasonable Romanian 2018 Calusari, Pinot Noir. With a forthcoming trip to Romania planned in spring, we were keen to see what the local red might be like and so opted for this, starting of course with some Sake from their extensive range! This warm carafe of Shusen Three Dots Junmai Ginjo, Kamoizumi hailing from Hiroshima, really set the right tone. We were also delighted to have this brought to us by none other than owner, Juliana, who explained a little about the Sake.
Just as I was considering whether we should order some of the Mochi flatbread with ponzu to accompany our dishes, we were supplied with a complimentary serving, which I have to say is something I could eat all day. In fact we ordered a further helping during our dinner....it is so addictive!
The food that followed was a true delight.
We both opted for the kabu (Japanese turnip) with the most surprisingly tasty broth of dashi. Who knew turnip could taste so good - nothing like Scots' mashed neeps!
My partner, Ian opted for the kabocha (pumpkin) with kombu mole next, whilst I indulged my love of beetroot with a dish infused with omija, and preserved blackcurrants. Again we were both blown away by the flavours given to these otherwise quite humble vegetables.
P.S. as my photos below really don't do justice to the vibrancy of these dishes, I have included some of John Scott Blackwell's images from the Flat Three website at the top and bottom of this blog post.
Next we both opted for the glazed aubergine, followed by pork belly with spring greens for Ian, and wild sea bass with mussels for me. We are both very much meat eaters, but were totally sold on how vegetable dominant our menu was - the care and attention given to the flavours and ferments applied to them by the chefs at Flat Three is very evident.
Our final visit in this wonderful culinary excursion was upon us - the sweet part. I find sometimes we can shy away from dishes when the names of the various ingredients aren't familiar to us, or seem unusual pairings. This had been the case throughout our tasting menu, but I was so glad that we had embraced these amazing new flavours, including in our final foray where I went for the black koji custard and Jerusalem artichoke whilst Ian opted for the almond cake, fermented milk and honey. Both were absolutely delicious, but the literal icing on the cake must have been the lovely 'Happy Birthday' touch which was acknowledged on Ian's almond cake.
This restaurant has something for every occasion - they run special events and also have a great 'Chef's table' for a special group event. To quote this wonderful restaurant's octagonal shape, I would definitely recommend you 'Eat here'!
Photographs below by John Scott Blackwell, courtesy of the Flat Three website:
As the Director of my own company, I rely on word of mouth to ensure I am always bringing in new business. Reputation is everything, and something I work hard at. However, I am aware as anyone else just how busy our lives are - we are overwhelmed by work and fast moving social media feeds and it is easy to slip off the radar. So I know just how important it is to keep in touch with your contacts and stay 'front of mind'. I have my own little ways of doing this , such as sending 'Happy New Year' cards to my contacts (a little different from sending the usual Christmas card), but I was really interested to hear some tips from the former editorial director of Twitter, Karen Wickre on how to nurture these contacts throughout the year:
Take 10 minutes a day to craft casual hellos — it goes a long way.
According to Karen Wickre, tending your network doesn’t take more than 10 minutes a day. The key to making meaningful connections, she argues, isn’t going to a marathon of cocktail hours. It’s staying in “loose touch” — what she defines as “the care and feeding of your networks over time.”
As the former editorial director of Twitter, Wickre is both incredibly well-connected and a self-described introvert. She even wrote a book for her fellow quiet, limelight-avoidant observers. In Taking the Work Out of Networking: An Introvert’s Guide to Making Connections That Count, Wickre shares a 10-minute trick for maintaining loose touch, and five FYIs you can send keep your relationships thriving.
Here she is in her own words:
No one likes to feel used repeatedly, especially when it’s one-sided. The best connections you can make are those where you have mutuality: sometimes one of you needs something, and sometimes neither of you does, and you continue to give your time and attention either way.
This is my guiding principle for no-pressure networking: Nurture it before you need it.
Start by spending 10 minutes a day building your loose-touch habit. That’s a small amount of effort for what is potentially a lot of payoff, in good feelings if not in immediate outcomes. Whether you’re the giver or the receiver in need, you’ll get a sense of satisfaction either way. Here’s how I fit it into my day:
The nice thing about a “Just FYI” message is that there’s no real obligation involved on either side, and you are top of mind for a moment with the recipient (which helps solidify your ongoing relationship).
Apart from the link or attachment, your message is essentially along these lines: this confirms what we talked about; I wonder what your reaction is; reading this reminds me of you. Here are five types of ‘Just FYI’ notes to add to your rotation:
Subject: Do you know about this conference? (The subject line should tease the information you’re sending instead of being a generic “hi”.)
Hi Jimmie, I hope you’re faring well in these fun times. Just ran across this [link] and thought of you.
Even this short note accomplishes quite a lot:
I am just reflecting on the culmination of a fascinating project I have been working on for WWF.
I initially started working as Project Manager with them back in January 2018 and wanted to share some of the highlights of this amazing fundraising campaign with you.
WWF had previously worked with curators 'Artwise' on two projects called 'Pandamonium' which featured collaborations with contemporary artists to create innovative artworks out of old panda collection boxes which raised significant awareness for the charity through exposure in Selfridges in Oxford Street. This was followed by 'Pandamonium 2' in 2012 where artists were tasked with creating wearable sculpture or performance art.
'Tomorrow's Tigers' was an altogether more ambitious project. Not only was there an expectation of generating a similar level of exposure for WWF, but a fundraising target of raising £1million for tiger conservation work was set. In 2010, the last Chinese Year of the Tiger, WWF made a promise:
WWF, tiger range nations, the World Bank and other partners committed to double the number of wild tigers by 2022, the next Chinese ‘Year of the Tiger’. Since the start of the 20th century we’ve lost over 95% of wild tigers. Today there are only 3,900 individuals left. Due to the concerted efforts of governments, WWF, partner organisations, and communities since the International Tiger Summit in 2010, for the first time in conservation history, wild tiger numbers are increasing.
Artwise had embraced the the concept of increasing the numbers of this majestic animal and took their inspiration for an art led campaign from an exhibition that took place at the Hayward Gallery in 1988 called 'The Tiger Rugs of Tibet'. Curated by Mimi Lipton, this showcased a collection of very rare antique rugs. Like the wild tiger, the original Tibetan Tiger Rugs are very rare. Thought to be owned by the
Tibetan elite and considered a prize possession, when the 1988 exhibition was staged, there were only around 200 samples known about. Traditionally the Tiger Rugs were made as gifts for Lamas in their monasteries and were used with Tantric Meditation. The tiger skin motif was thought to protect the person during meditation. Artwise planned to approach 10 contemporary artists to take their inspiration from these rugs to create their own interpretations which would then be realised by specialist rug makers Christopher Farr. These rugs were to be handmade by craftspeople in India to produce a limited edition of 10 of each design. Starting prices were anticipated to be around £10,000.
Building the Team and the Brand
The first phase was to pull together the project team to support Artwise from WWF. This included PR and Comms, Brand, Digital, and of course key people from the fundraising team, in this case led by Philanthropy/Major Donors and including members of the Corporate fundraising team. The contemporary art world is very specialised, and to crack the PR around this was going to be key.
The exhibition date at Sotheby’s was January 2019 and so working back from this we decided to have a launch event in September 2018 to try and engage with key people in the art world as well as potential philanthropists and influencers. WWF supporter Lily Cole came on board to lend her voice to the project and agreed to attend the launch at Sotheby’s.
The project had initially been referred to internally with a working name of ‘Tiger Rugs’ but we were very aware that this would not work with an external audience as it conjured up images of tiger skin rugs, obviously NOT something WWF wanted! So the title ‘Tomorrow’s Tigers’ was decided as a fitting name as saving this species is intrinsic to securing the future of our planet. It needed to have its own identity which would not only sit within the WWF brand, but speak to a contemporary art audience. Working with designers is something which I have always enjoyed doing, echoing back to my art and design background. WWF’s agency, Clean Canvas were great to work with and ever patient as we considered their various options. It’s never easy when there are so many stakeholders involved, but we were really happy with the clean logo they came up with which had a subtle reference to tiger claw marks.
Whilst this background work was going on, the really exciting stuff was happening. Artwise confirmed that they had secured support from the ten artists. We were highly excited that the first artist to come on board was Anish Kapoor! They had in fact already received the artwork designs from Anish Kapoor, Rose Wylie and Gary Hume. It was fascinating to see how they had all come up with very different interpretations, and we were excited to see how Christopher Farr executed them into the rug production.
The final confirmed artists were:
Francesco Clemente, Bernard Frize, Gary Hume, Reena Saini Kallat, Anish Kapoor, Maya Lin, Harland Miller, Raqib Shaw, Kiki Smith and Rose Wylie.
The original rugs had of course been woven in Tibet, but this was something that was no longer viable, and so Christopher Farr was working with a group of highly skilled craftspeople in North India who would be handweaving these designs. WWF had to of course have sight of all of their documentation on the processes and materials used to know that they were responsible and sustainable in their production methods.
This was a very unique project for many of these artists, as they were very closely involved in the whole process. Christopher Farr would send a small sample of the rug to each artist for sign off before the final one was begun.
The first samples began to arrive from India in late August just in time for our launch breakfast event at Sotheby's on 11th September. Here guests were given unique access to view some of the initial designs, and to touch and feel samples of the samples of the rugs by Gary Hume, Raqib Shaw and Kiki Smith. Heather Sohl, Tiger Trade Leader at WWF explained how tiger numbers had been in rapid decline, and talked through the ambition of the Tx2 project to double the number of tigers in the wild.
Christopher Farr then talked through the incredibly skilled processes used by their craftspeople and how each rug was realised in a different way. The Raqib Shaw rug, pictured in the middle below, would apparently involve around 1 million hand tied knots when completed.
The First Rugs
It was fascinating to work with Artwise and be party to the work that was going on between them, the artists and the production by Christopher Farr in India. It is unusual for artists who are giving their work to a charity project to be so heavily involved in this way. For many of them, though, this was a new medium for them to create their work in and so their was a lot of dialogue and sampling back and forth. In October the first rugs arrived with Artwise and I was excited to be able to see them up close! The Kiki Smith, Rose Wylie and Gary Hume rugs were a great example of how differently they had all been executed. The Smith was incredibly tightly knotted with very fine detail, whereas the Wylie was a lot looser. Gary Hume's rug was a real treat - hand woven in hand dyed wool and silk, it had a different look from each angle it was viewed from.
The Collateral and Promotion
By November we starting to pull together the assets we had to continue to push out stories to the press. This included some great imagery of some of the artists with their rugs including Gary Hume and Raqib Shaw (and his wonderful pet dog!)
At the same time we were collating imagery and editorial content for the catalogue which Sotheby's were kindly producing for us. This was running alongside briefing our web designer as we received imagery back from the photographer of the finished rugs. We were incredibly up against it in terms of deadlines as we approached Christmas, and four of the rugs were still being finished in India. Working on a project which is being fulfilled in another continent comes with it's own challenges. Unusually cold weather meant that the craftspeople were unable to work for certain periods of time, and along with this, we had to factor in the delivery of the rugs into London. As the exhibition preview date of 28th January approached, Christopher Farr photographed the final rugs as soon as they were completed in India before they were shipped so that we could make the catalogue deadline, and ensure we had content for the website.
Finally, in mid January, the website was ready to launch, see the screengrab below, or even better, have a look at the real thing here . It was so exciting to see this come together as we pushed it out to supporters and waited for the first glimmers of interest. At the same time, WWF launched a 'Tiger Edit' of affordable products in their main online shop which included some specially commissioned pieces by illustrator Ollie Terry, including this lovely tote bag below. Thankfully we just made the catalogue deadline with the arrival of the Anish Kapoor rug from India - which was well worth the wait!
Finally as the weekend of 26th January approached we were all set for the exhibition to come together. Artwise delivered the rugs to Sotheby's as we received confirmation that the first rug had actually been sold online - we were so excited!
But more exciting was the big preview day when I first walked into Sotheby's to see these wonderful pieces proudly hanging alongside their original antique counterparts in the St George Street Gallery.
Wow, they looked amazing!
A press call had taken place first thing and we were delighted with the coverage this project was receiving, see some of the highlights below including BBC online, FT How to Spend It, The Times, The Telegraph and even as far afield as the New York Times.
Now was the moment of truth....We had over 200 acceptances for the Preview of the exhibition which included art collectors, gallery owners, WWF supporters and philanthropists. We had initially anticipated the rugs being priced at around £10,000, but in fact the average ones were priced at around £15,000, with some of the more detailed ones including the Raqib Shaw, Anish Kapoor and Harland Miller coming in at £25,000.
The Preview had a real buzz about it and two rugs were sold on the night to add to the now two pieces which had been bought online. This was a very new world to WWF, but we were advised by the experts Artwise, that there had been lots of interest and that naturally people would need to think about a purchase of this size. During the exhibition week we delivered two engagement events - one to some Patrons of the RA, featuring talks from Artwise and Christopher Farr, and another aimed at WWF supporters where tiger expert Heather Sohl spoke passionately about the plight of the tiger.
Our aim during this week was to sell around eight rugs - we thought this would be a decent kick start to the campaign which we hoped would then tour and take us into the Year of the Tiger in 2022 and culmination of the £1million project.
Can you imagine our delight to be able to announce that at the culmination of this week we had raised over £600,000 in rug sales! This bodes really well for the future of the project and plans are already in place to tour the exhibition internationally, so watch this space.
The success of projects like this is what really makes me enjoy the work I do. I love to work on campaigns where we exceed expectations. A nice bonus to this was to be able to work with such a great group of people, and it was a lovely surprise when the team at WWF presented me with my own wee tiger rug and thank you card to show their appreciation, awww. So it is onwards and upwards for Tomorrow's Tigers project and I hope to be able to update you on the next steps as it goes global!
One of the benefits of running a business like nnoodl is that I can use it as an excuse to try out new things myself. Something I have surprisingly never done, but always fancied was horse riding, and so what better way to try it out than to take a group of nnoodlers on my adventure with me! This is obviously where the participant form that everyone fills in when they join comes into it's own. There are restrictions around weight and also health conditions like back problems which could make this activity unsuitable for some people. However, no-one that had signed up to this month's activity had any issues in this area, and I was also relieved to see that nobody had expressed a fear of horses (or equinophobia as it is apparently known!) So, joining instructions were sent to people to wear a long sleeved top and leggings, pretty sure that this wasn't enough to give the activity away in advance.
Where to meet to go to Lee Valley Riding Centre though was a slight challenge. Clapton station seemed like the best option, and I thought might be random enough to put people off the scent! Along the short 15minute walk to the centre, people began their usual guessing as to what the activity might be....kayaking on the River Lea?.......ice skating at the Lee Valley Ice Rink? This is the point where I always worry that people might enjoy these activities more than what I have actually booked! There seemed to be genuine relief as we walked past the ice rink though (probably from myself too having previously broken my arm ice skating), and genuine excitement as we approached the Lee Valley Riding Centre. Phew.
We could only book 10 people on this activity and I was really pleased to learn that only one person in the group had ever tried horse riding before, and that was apparently as a child, and so they were also keen to give it another crack. The closest I had come to getting on a horse was when I was on holiday with a boyfriend about 24 years ago. We had in fact booked and paid for an hour's lesson, but when we got to the stables the guy in question bottled it saying that he "didn't like the look of the horse" he had been allocated. I should have carried on and done it myself (and dumped him sooner than I did, but that's another story!)
The centre lends out hats and boots, and so one we were all kitted out we moved into the space next to the arena and watched as the group before finished up. There was an unusual vibe here as I have never witnessed a group of people being so quiet. I couldn't tell if it was trepidation, or respect for the horses that made everyone act like this. Our instructor soon put us at ease though. Embarrassingly I can't remember her name, as I then became overwhelmed with names of horses. The horses were led in and we were directed to the horse which seemed most appropriate to our size. Our instructor explained that she would refer to us by our horses' names, at which point I immediately felt sorry for the woman who had been allocated a horse called Chunky. In came Buttons, Darcey, Splash, Bill and many more until I was allocated Madison. He was a lovely chestnut horse and I was told he had a very good temperament and was quite nice and steady/not too bouncy. You will notice that there aren't many photos from this event, as I was very aware of anything that might make what we were doing unsafe, and maybe freak the horses out. But that said, I did squirrel my phone away down the front of my leggings, which almost proved to be a mistake on the dismount later...
The group were directed one by one onto a stepped block to mount their horses. As I stepped up I was aware of how high off the ground I seemed as I mounted Madison. Jasmine was the young girl who was looking after us. She told me she had been riding for 7 years, and I asked whether she had her own horse. No, this was quite a luxury she told me as they are very expensive, starting at £3,000 and going up to about a million pounds (I'm not quite sure if that was an exaggeration!) As we lined up next to each other, Madison became a bit edgy, with Jasmine telling him gently not to be grumpy. She explained that horses are like people and have their own horsey friends - it seemed that Madison was next to one of his 'not such good friends'. Ok, stay calm buddy, let's move away....
A slightly comedic moment followed where Darcey, the first horse to move off, seemed to be breaking wind in time with the walking movement, much to the embarrassment of the rider, Emily, who was giggling and saying "It's not me!". We started by just walking around the arena, getting used to the feel, where to hold the reins, and how it was important to stay calm and regulated with your breathing as the horse can sense any tension. Our first skill was to practice changing rein, and so we were directed towards one of the letters on the wall, where we would then turn the horse left by pulling on the reins with the left hand and squeezing the horse with your right leg. The only challenge here was that the horses seemed to want to follow their friends and so Madison was starting to veer off and cut the corner to follow his pack instinct. No, no, stay straight I was trying to say. We did a couple of rounds of this in both directions before it was time to move onto something more challenging, a rising trot. First we were asked to just stand up and sit down on the horse in a smooth action on the spot. Well this seemed ok, but of course the challenge was going to be trying to keep this timed with the horses trotting action, and not crashing down on his back. Our instructor pointed out that this could be very uncomfortable for any male riders. The first couple of riders did really well, so the pressure was on. Madison moved off quite slowly, so I was managing ok and found my rhythm, but then he picked up the pace and I had a bit of a bouncy moment until I settled into it again. I could tell our male riders were being particularly determined to avoid the bouncing motion, and the little horse called Buttons was particularly spritely, giving Tony, his rider, a bit of a challenge to stay in time.
Using our change of rein skills, we then moved onto a mini slalom style course of buckets which we had to weave our horse around. We had to do this manoeuvre one at a time, and so with the eyes of everyone else on you, the pressure was on again to perform. Despite me trying to remember, left hand, right leg and so on, as we weaved around the obstacles, Madison did me proud. I was loving this horse.
To perfect our trotting skills, we were then tasked with moving away from using the short saddle strap to balance, but instead trying to stay upright and move up and down in time either by holding loosely onto the long reins, or with no hands at all. Well you know me by now, I love a challenge, and so went for the 'no hands' option, determined to succeed with everyone else watching on!
All too soon the session came to an end. Our final challenge was to get our horses to all line up next to one another in the middle of the arena. Well I say final challenge, that was actually getting off the horse! I hadn't realised that we would be just dismounting onto the ground rather than back onto the block. This is almost where I came unstuck, or more accurately 'stuck' as I swung my leg over and my phone down my leggings got caught on the saddle, oops. So a slightly ungainly manoeuvre and I was on the ground. Quickly I retrieved my phone and passed it to Jasmine whispering "Could you take a photo of me with Madison please?". He seemed quite non plussed by it all. There is something odd looking at this photo after the event, and one or two people commented that we has a small horse. Trust me, when I was on his back, it seemed like a loooooong way down to the ground!
As everyone gathered to put their boots and hats back outside the arena, it was like a rush of adrenaline - suddenly the centre was filled with chatter as everyone excitedly spoke about their horse riding adventure and how much they had enjoyed it. Hooray, another nnoodl success!
Denise Yeats is an events professional with over 18 years of creating inspiring events ranging from arts events at Tate to Tower Running races. She set herself a personal challenge over two years called 'The Secret Life' which involved doing a new pursuit every week which is chosen at random by an allocated colour and number. This has led onto the creation of 'nnoodl - discovering your secret london life' where people are led on surprise activities...