Posts tagged event organizer
It's a wrap! August 2019

For three hot summer days at Alexanderplatz, I wore a Swing Kitchen uniform and had a camera around my neck. My job was to approach people, talk to them about Swing Kitchen, and invite passersby to try a vegan nugget. Most of them said they couldn’t believe it was vegan! I have to admit: I did create quite an unfair advantage for myself. Instead of standing inside our stall, I stood outside to draw people closer. And it worked! By the end of the three days, we’d talked to thousands of people and given away 1,000 vouchers.

You might wonder why vegan products taste like meat. Or why I even care to write about this in more detail.

With so many of the replacement products on the market, you probably wouldn’t believe they’re even fake. Which might make you wonder why vegans would eat fake meat that tastes like, well, meat. It’s quite simple, really: It’s because changing diets is really REALLY hard! Food is what gives us comfort. Food serves as an agent for many of our rituals and cultural traditions. You might have always made yourself a cheese sandwich for breakfast. Suddenly, once you decide to go vegan, you’ll need to change that – and so many other things. It’s a lot to think that you took for granted all your life suddenly. So the job of replacement products, like those vegan nuggets I shared, is to make the journey more comfortable. Maybe you’re able to change your cheese sandwich habit immediately. OR maybe you switch to vegan cheese until you find a new ritual and a new recipe. And maybe, once you think of yourself as a more “established” vegan, you won’t need these products anymore. But that’s a discussion for another day.

So let’s go back to why I stood at Alexanderplatz for three days wearing a service staff uniform and engaging in what I call community strategy and outreach...

When I suggested to my client, Swing Kitchen, that they join the Vegan Sommerfest earlier this year, everyone was excited about the idea. Swing Kitchen has only recently launched in Berlin, and they’ve found it’s much harder than expected to bring guests in.

Being at a festival and among other entrepreneurs allowed us to connect with the local audience and show our faces. It allowed us to talk about our values. We were able to speak about why Swing Kitchen does what it does. We could discuss why we chose to have fake meat products on the menu that tasted exactly like chicken or beef.

The event was a great success, and I was grateful we did it. However, setting up a stand at a festival isn’t as easy as just popping up. You have to be prepared for such events, and Swing Kitchen is not.

For starters, nuggets and tiramisu were the only two products we could put on the menu, as they were the only two items we could cook on site. We had to rent all the necessary equipment and set up a “field” kitchen for three days.

What might sound easy in one country isn’t always easy in another. In Germany, you must have a tent with a roof. You’ve got to have a washable floor...that’s also detached from the ground in case it rains. All surfaces must be washable. Nothing is allowed to be directly on the ground either. There must be flowing water… the list goes on!

Given there were no tents for rent available in all of Germany, I had to buy a tent. And that was just one thing I had to figure out! Luckily, I was able to make it seem like Swing Kitchen always did these kinds of events. And for me too, this was something I’ve done the very first time. I must say my interior architecture studies really came in handy!

Right after the festival, I got to host an event with the Vegan Entrepreneur Network. We invited Annik from Einhorn Berlin’s marketing team and Irene, the founder of Swing Kitchen, to speak about “Vegan Entrepreneurship as Activism.”

We learned, from a recent customer questionnaire, that 80% of Swing Kitchen’s customers are carnivores. I’d say it’s an activist act to be able to convince non-vegans to opt-in for vegan foods! For every vegan burger Swing Kitchen sells, a real burger becomes unnecessary.

By now, you might have noticed that, when I work with a food business, it’s most likely a vegan company. That’s because I believe eating animal products is no longer contemporary. While I acknowledge how hard it is to change your diet, I think it’s necessary for the wellbeing of our planet.

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you probably know that I’m interested in cultural and social change and – given that I also like to learn something while working on a project – working with vegan companies has been truly life-changing. I wasn’t a vegan until I left Veganz after the project last year and informed myself properly about everything we talked about in our conversations. It’s a strange feeling to look around now and feel astonished that so many people still eat food that, based on research, makes them, our animals, and the planet sick. To me, personally, this is not necessarily about animal welfare. It's more about common sense and integrity.

When I first started working with Swing Kitchen, I was only supposed to run a few events at the space. Then, I was asked to help with the brand bible, the language manual, copywriting, the new website, and a social media strategy for 2020.

I worked on the brand bible with Moriz Piffl, who is one of the most incredible marketers I’ve ever met. What I love about working with him is how much we both care and how we’re never scared to tell the other what we think. At times, we were like two Tauruses battling about what we wanted to say and how. It was a good battle and a necessary one. What was most rewarding about this project was the feedback we’ve received! The founders of Swing Kitchen loved how we framed what their brand stands for.

Two animal rights activists founded Swing Kitchen. The reason Swing Kitchen is a fast-food chain and not a hippie, vegan, superfoods joint – and I’m glad I can say that on my website! – is because of the astonishing popularity of McDonald's. The founders know that the more vegan burgers they sell, the fewer meat burgers will be produced (and needed) on this planet. They don’t want vegan customers. Those people are already doing what Swing Kitchen wants them to do. They want meat-eaters who opt-in for vegan food.

I love that!

However, it seems that veganism is becoming more mainstream every day (at least in Berlin). People are getting curious about the taste of plant-based food, and so, for the first time, Swing Kitchen is going to be bold and outspoken about being vegan. Given “2019 is the year of the vegan,” it seems fine – and highly appropriate – to suddenly be much louder about it. That’s exciting.

When Moriz asked me to also help out with the social media strategy, I must admit I wasn’t too excited about it. As someone who grew up on the internet, I feel like social media is becoming more and more outdated every day. It’s become so much more about commerce and so much less about adding value to people’s lives or about connection. People are getting tired, and I don’t want to add to the noise on the internet. I’d much rather build great products and have others talk about it then tell brands how to talk about themselves. It’s not exciting, and mostly, it doesn’t work.

At least it no longer works for the “target” group I associate with and the social media platform where people in this target group hang out – Instagram. But then, there are other groups who are excited about the internet and find things entertaining and worthy of their time.

You might have guessed correctly: I’m talking about TikTok.

To me, TikTok is like the modern version of the German and Dutch TV format Mini-Playbackshow in which kids dressed up and pretended they were famous singers. However, this time, the fun isn’t done after 60 minutes. It can quite frankly be as long as you want it to. TikTok is where employees record videos when they’re bored on break. It’s where girls and boys dress up and have the sort of fun I used to have when I was dancing in the living room in the 90s.. just, obviously, without the camera.

On one hand, I have very little interest in keeping kids fixated on their screens. Then again, if I have to tell kids to do something, I’d much rather ask them to eat vegan burgers than regular burgers. And, as you know, you have to use the weapons that exist and are accepted already.

TikTok is fun. I can only recommend you download it and browse around a little. As I was playing around with the app myself and trying to figure out how TikTok could be useful for brands, I uploaded a video and was astonished to find out it had more than 800 views within just an hour. If your target audience is in their teens, you might want to stop wasting your time on Facebook and Instagram and instead move to TikTok. Is this meaningful? Not really. Can it be made useful? That’s the real question!

Because September is usually the month when everyone goes back to school I thought about how I could give my approach to communication a different perspective. I thought about what courses I could take and how I could get better at what I do. I’ve signed up for improv classes at the Comedy Café Berlin. AndI’ve also started taking Dutch courses. I’ve been spending crazy amounts of time on Duolingo! While my screen time has increased to astronomical heights, so has my Dutch vocabulary. It’s very satisfying. At least for now.

Furthermore, I’ve applied to two mentoring programs for a business idea I have, and I’m happy to say I got accepted to both. I’ll be working with a mentor in Berlin through the Act-On Plastic Program initiated by ProjectTogether, and I’ll also get to spend three days with the coaches of MOE in the Dream Factory program. I know it might sound strange to do such a program as a participant given I’m usually on the mentoring side. However, it feels really good to have someone hold my hand for a change.

Before I wrap up what I’ve been up to this past August, I’d love to mention the books I’ve read and found very valuable. “Food Bigger Than the Plate” is the exhibition catalog of a V&A exhibition with the same name. It’s a great read to learn more about the current discourse on what we eat and how it needs to change. “You and I Eat the Same” is a conference catalog from MAD in Copenhagen and an examination of the similarities in food cultures across the planet. Last but not least, Chmara:Rosinke gave me their latest book “Essays on Kitchens,” which is inspiring as well.

As you can see, August was a little bit all over. September is probably going to be similar in terms of my workload. The good news is I’ll be available in October. Have you got a project you’d like to discuss? At the moment, I’m available for branding, copywriting, and business development strategy.

LifeStartFest: A case study about organizing a careers event for students
LifeStartFest
CleoAnderson
11.JPG
LifeStartFest
LifeStartFest
LifeStartFest
LifeStartFest
LifeStartFest
LifeStartFest
LifeStartFest
LifeStartFest
LifeStartFest
LifeStartFest
LifeStartFest

What would you say are the ingredients of an exceptional event? What has to happen for you to go home and feel like attending an event was worth your time?

To me, it’s always been about the connections I’ve made and the people I’ve met. The conference or networking event could’ve been just average, yet my experience could be elevated if I met someone worth meeting again. In my opinion, it’s something that can’t be fixed with great catering or good speakers. I firmly believe that how we feel at an event is what creates a lasting impression.

Now, let me turn the question around and ask from an events organizer’s perspective: how do you make sure that creating moments of connection isn’t serendipitous and only experienced by a lucky few? How do you help your audience make meaningful connections?

On my latest assignment, I thought about this a lot. I thought about how to make it my mission to help as many people in the audience meet someone and have a conversation that goes beyond small talk. I thought about how I can make sure attendees of the event, which I got to program, feel encouraged to talk with someone they just met again, all while making sure as many attendees as possible have a fun time they’ll remember fondly.

When I was first asked to organize a careers festival on behalf of the organization I work with, Student LifeStart, in Bangor, Wales, I was wondering if that was something I could pull off easily. My first question was: how will I ever get speakers when the budget doesn’t allow to fly some key people in? I knew I’d have to have some speakers, but I also knew I’d have to think of alternative ways to fill an afternoon in a way for students to feel inspired and encouraged to think about their careers differently.

Technically, one could say the event was “branded content.” Sponsored by Virgin Money and Virgin StartUp, the business objective was to create a space to build a positive relationship with the Virgin brand. Given Virgin brands are exceptional to work with, we had a lot of freedom and were able to approach a career event more like what I’d like a career event to be. Those who know my story, and how I went from studying interior architecture to working in digital strategy and writing three books on going freelance on the side, will realize that I’m hardly someone who would tell students to decide early on what to study and how that determines the rest of their lives. If anything, I always tell people to follow their curiosities, be open about their passions, and connect with others who care deeply about the same things. (Probably what Richard Branson would also tell people he meets. :) ) In my belief, there are many ways to making a career, and the more diverse things one knows and is interested in, the more exciting their career can become. Knowing this event was about creating a branded content experience, the feeling the students would leave with was key to how we thought about this experience.

When thinking about careers and the vicious circle students face of having to have work experience in order for them to get work experience, I knew I had to invite speakers who demonstrate different aspects of how to get into the doors of a company and land a job. Simultaneously, and as someone who’s now worked for several years, often it’s the people we meet and who we studied with and have developed a meaningful relationship with that will help us get ahead in life. The students might not yet realize that who will really help them get ahead are the people who sit with them in class or at an event, such as the LifeStartFest. Thus, my personal objective was to help as many attendees as possible make new connections. In the ideal scenario, I wanted all attendees to find a new friend and someone they can collaborate with on future projects, or at best, submit to a LifeStart Challenge as a team.

We had five hours to fill, and I decided to spend more than three of them helping students connect with others in the audience. When you think about it, there’s a lot of content online and at everyone’s fingertips. In my opinion, events nowadays play a different role. The role of an event organizer is no longer so much about curation as it is about facilitating connections.

To give you some background on the framework for this student career event, which we organized under the umbrella of the Student LifeStart Project;

LifeStart is a website and a growing community for students to take real business challenges, evolve their professional skills, and receive mentorship directly from associates who work in top UK companies. The platform’s concept is grouped around multiple pillars, and there are business challenges for students to solve, which can unlock great prizes. It’s insightful content to help understand the world of work, and most of all, it’s the community LifeStart has been created for (and with).

The LifeStartFest seemed like an opportunity to take all that makes LifeStart and bring it into the room. This is what we did and how the event was different from others...

The event started at 2pm. We were ready at the door to sign everyone in. My first goal was to break those apart who arrived as a group. I wanted to create a more inclusive environment and equalize everyone by making sure that they all start out alone in order for those who arrived by themselves not to feel left out. For that, we used 12-piece jigsaws that were all designed in different colors. That was crucial, as we wanted for the students to find their new group quickly. Each of the jigsaws featured a question for the students to answer. Questions such as, “If you could go on a holiday to any decade, where’d you go?” or “If you got paid in happiness, what job would make you rich?”. (Slightly provocative I know) With every new person arriving into the group, they’d have one more piece of the puzzle and would be closer to completing it. The challenge of this exercise to actually work out is that you need people to arrive simultaneously and also not give away too many different puzzles at once while making sure friends don’t have pieces to the same jigsaw. My tip after this event is to start with three to four puzzles and then introduce new colors, and not give away pieces from all puzzles one has prepared for the event. You want for people who arrive to have a welcoming experience and also make sure they can start the conversation you’ve designed quickly.

Once we had everyone in the room, the moderator, Cleo Anderson, set the tone of the event. We didn’t start with the program immediately. Instead, we focused on helping people feel comfortable by once again focusing on the audience instead of the speakers.

When we were planning the event, we were looking for an ice breaker that would work in such a large group. We felt like introducing yourself to the person next to you is something many event organizers ask for, yet you also end up saying the same thing over and over again. I can only speak for myself, but at 32, I’m quite bored by my own answers whenever I’m asked to do this. We decided to introduce the toilet paper game, which works as follows:

Right after Cleo welcomed everyone and explained the objectives for the day, she said we now needed to have a serious conversation. Another helper and I walked along the sides of the rows and handed out one toilet paper roll to the people sitting at the end of each side and per row. While handing out the toilet paper rolls, Cleo said everyone should take how much they usually take when they go to the bathroom. This is, of course, super awkward and everyone breaks out in laughter. The exercise is quite innocent because once everyone has their piece of toilet paper, the audience is asked to say something random about themselves for each tile they took off. Having set the tone of this exercise and making everyone laugh was key, and with this exercise, we knew we had them.

I happened to also be the photographer at this event (talk about wearing multiple hats) and can say there was a significant difference in everyone’s facial expression. I’ve hardly ever taken as many pictures of genuinely happy people as I have during this event. (You can look at them here.)

After the toilet paper game, Cleo asked the audience for the most interesting answers, which helped carry the tone that was set, and we expected for the audience to actively participate in the event. We wanted everyone to know they’ll be heard.

Then, the obvious part of the program began and Cleo introduced the first speaker. We had prepared four talks.

One on the dos and don'ts when applying for jobs online.

One about not having a set path, yet still making a great career.

One given by the former LifeStart winner, who happened to get a job after his work experience week, which was one of the rewards of the LifeStart competition.

And one on using social media and turning side projects into a portfolio to get the job one wants. (I gave that one as you can guess.)

I must admit, I only finalized the program and informed everyone the night before. I was so aware of the flow of the talks and how I wanted people to feel guided through the program that I didn’t leave much up to serendipity. Before the event, and given our speakers were doing this for the first time, we spoke with everyone at least once and helped them shape their story. In my head, the flow of the event went something like this:

Inform (Dos and don’ts...), make them feel safe and understood (No set path...), give them a challenge to solve as a group (to make them feel connected and invested), give them a break (and ice cream), announce the winners after the break (to ensure the students came back), have the last winner and Bangor alumni explain his journey from participating in three LifeStart Challenges and what he’s done to win (to take away the students’ fear), then announce the new round of LifeStart Challenges (the 10 minutes dedicated to the actual branded content), close off with an actionable talk on how to use social media and get the job one would love (which fulfilled the promise of the event), then finish off with pizzas to give everyone a chance to wind down and exchange contact details.

We planned about 20 minutes for all talks. Cleo introduced every speaker before their talk and explained what they did for a living, how we met them, and why we thought they had an interesting story to share with the audience. We made sure to contextualize before we handed over to the speakers. After each session, we opened up to Q&A. Cleo was instructed to have questions prepared for each speaker should no one from the audience ask anything. It was important to us to make sure all speakers feel valued and like people were listening to their stories. Thus, and in case no one would ask anything immediately, we didn’t just want to send the speaker off the stage without giving them a final opportunity to shine.

Given the platform’s main purpose has always been about challenges and proactive thinking, I wanted to recreate that experience in the room and have attendees work in groups by having them solve a mini challenge. This was also a great opportunity to give away prizes and demonstrate that solving a challenge isn’t too hard and that collaboration is key.

We had 50 minutes scheduled for this challenge: students had 20 minutes to brainstorm how they’d improve co-living communication between students who just moved in together, which we believed was a question everyone in the room had to deal with. While students were brainstorming in groups of four or five, we assigned them to a judge by giving them a balloon, asking them to go to the judge who had the same color balloon and present their ideas to them. We made sure each judge had four to five groups to give feedback to. For this exercise, we used the space outside the lecture hall and also in front of the building. We were lucky it was sunny and warm(ish). We asked every judge to select one winner from their groups, which meant we’d give four winning groups Virgin Experience Days Vouchers.

Given each judge finished with their groups at different times, we instructed the judges to let everyone off into their break, but tell the students when they needed to be back in the hall for the winner announcements. Breaks are usually when many students leave, so we wanted to make sure they were invested in the event and had a reason to come back.

The event went on until 7pm. After the last speech, Cleo came back on stage and contextualized and summarized the entire experience. She highlighted what she’s learned to help the audience reflect on what they’ve learned. It was important to us to appreciate the experience and appreciate everyone who joined us for the day. We then invited the attendees to join us for pizza, which gave the students an opportunity to approach the speakers individually and ask them the questions they weren’t able to ask during the Q&A. We also used this time to say thank you to our speakers. Of course, everyone also got a Virgin Experience Day Voucher :)

All in all, creating this event was a rewarding experience and something I’d like to do more often in the future. I’m grateful Virgin Money and Hanzo trusted me fully and allowed me to focus so much on connecting the audience, which also meant they waved off the toilet paper game, which I know raised many eyebrows when we first presented what we were planning to do. For that, I’m thankful.

Should you be organizing an event and want to work with a community strategist, please email hello@mkanokova.com.