London Network lecture coup

7 March 2013
IET London Network Christmas Lecture

Stephen Emmott, Microsoft’s head of Computational Science, giving the London Network's Christmas Lecture.

The London Local Network pulled off a coup with its 2012’s Christmas lecture by bagging Stephen Emmott, Microsoft’s head of Computational Science, as guest speaker.

Stephen was recently awarded Best Theatre Event of 2012 by the Guardian for the stage show the evening’s talk was based on, so the IET was honoured that he was willing to put on his presentation for free!

Ground-breaking research

Entitled ‘The Future of Life: From Biology to the Biosphere’, Stephen’s lecture discussed the ground-breaking work being carried out in Microsoft’s research laboratory, covering topics such as climate change, eco-degradation and programming the DNA of cells.

“We consider this event to be the highlight of our annual programme and always aim to make it a bit special, so we were delighted when Stephen agreed to be our speaker, and that IET president Professor Andy Hopper could chair the evening,” says Paula Barratt, the network’s communications officer.

The event was jointly organised and funded by the London Network and the London Young Professionals, and the idea originated from David Rakowski, chair of the IET London Network, after he saw Stephen present at the Cambridge BioDesign forum.

The bigger picture

“I found his presentation really interesting, and thought it was exactly the kind of thing the IET should have an interest in as it is an emerging area of engineering,” he explains. “So I asked if he’d be interested in giving a talk for the IET and through a friend who works for Stephen was able to arrange for him to come and give the lecture.”

Not only was Stephen happy to come on board, he also wanted to make sure his talk was tailored to his audience and so asked David about the kind of audience he’d expect and what level of detail he should go into.

“I suggested that although we’d have a lot of technical people there, their detailed knowledge of bio technology might, understandably, not be that great! With that in mind Stephen did a great job of setting out the bigger picture, but still finding some areas of detail to delve into that were pitched well to the knowledge base the audience,” David notes.

The biggest challenge

The biggest challenge the network faced was filling the Savoy Place lecture theatre, as the date chosen, 12.12.12, appeared to be a popular date for Christmas parties amongst other things.

“Although this lecture had everything going for it, we knew that we were also competing with Christmas parties, norovirus and all sorts of other winter distractions that might make it tricky to fill the 460 seats of the Savoy Place lecture theatre. Luckily I was able to work with both the IET's and Microsoft's marketing teams as well as the rest of the committee to maximise how far we could spread the word,” says Paula.

In the end it was this team work between IET volunteers and staff that allowed an event held at the busiest time of the year to be an almost sell-out affair. Once it was in the IET’s online calendar Paula and IET community marketing coordinator Aaron Thiele spread the word using a variety of methods including social media and emails.

Marketing methods

“We did regular tweets from the IET Communities Twitter account and changed the content to keep people engaged. We also had this re-tweeted from the main IET Twitter account, which is reserved for corporate messages/high-profile events,” says Aaron.

“I think it’s always good to change the content where possible as different messages will attract different people. If you email someone and they don’t register then, contacting them again with the same message isn’t likely to make a difference.

Cross-promotion

“Emails are probably the most effective method of marketing for us,” he continues. “I sent a number of dedicated emails to members and non-members in and around the London area. I also cross-promoted the event in relevant Technical Professional Network (TPN) emails and had it listed in the IET’s subject news emails.”

Paula complemented Aaron’s work by also sending out emails to the network’s mailing list of non-members, built up of previous event attendees. She also wrote a press release with input from both Microsoft and the IET’s marketing teams, which was circulated to both local and national media, and prepared a flier, which was circulated to the network’s committee members, who in turn shared them with their own contacts.

As the idea was to reach as broad an audience as possible, Aaron thought it would be good to market the event to those in the area too. With that in mind he contacted events listing website All in London, which was more than happy to cover the event.

Winning formula

“I would say that using all of these channels and working as a team with the volunteers definitely helped to get bums on seats; but ultimately the secret for success was the topic and the speaker. If there is no demand for something then no amount of marketing will work,” Aaron notes. “This event was a dream for me to market due to both the topic and the high-profile speaker. It was a winning formula from the start.”

The evening itself pulled in around 400 attendees, and the feedback was overall very positive. Not only did many of the audience members highlight that it was thought provoking, humorous and entertaining, Professor Hopper agreed!

“He was really impressed and personally thanked us for picking a topic like this and getting Stephen to come and talk. He found it very thought provoking,” says David.

Looking forward

“Now we need to think about how we can maximise the success of this event and build on it,” he continues. “I think the IET needs to do more of this kind of thing, picking topics in emerging areas. They’re fun and entertaining, but they also really get people thinking about new areas and ways of approaching things, which is what we’re here for,” he concludes.

You can watch Stephen’s presentation on IET.TV

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