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All Things in Moderation


​Sarah Spivey, the managing director of Modulift, finds common ground with the 26th President of the United States and prepares to moderate a panel discussion. 

Theodore Roosevelt said: "Every man [or woman] owes a part of his time and money to the business or industry in which he [or she] is engaged." 

I agree. There are moments when one must take off their company badge and devote time and expertise to a higher cause. Take the lifting equipment business for instance. Modulift is one of many component manufacturers. Our niche is below-the-hook equipment, but we are part of a wider, multifaceted industry sector. We respect that. 

Granted, giving back to an industry isn't entirely selfless. In enhancing the way an industry works, one is naturally improving the environment in which a particular company operates. Don't confuse that with cynicism, I'm merely trying to demonstrate the importance of taking Roosevelt's advice. If it serves as an incentive to those who haven't considered the benefits to get involved in industry work, so be it. 

Trade associations serve as a good example. Most have many staffers but remain reliant upon board members and working groups comprised of representatives of their member companies, who work in the industry that an association seeks to improve or elevate. In my field, LEEA (Lifting Equipment Engineers Association) carries the mantra, 'Lifting Standards Worldwide'. I am a board member and play an active role in shaping the future of the industry in which I am engaged, as Roosevelt would have put it. 

Call of duty 

The power of content is a newer theory but one that resonates with me equally. Regular readers of this blog will know the extent to which Modulift believes in quality content in the variety of formats in which it can be packaged these days. An opportunity presented itself to tie these two threads together recently when I was approached by LEEA about chairing a panel discussion that will conclude the co-located conference at its annual LiftEx trade show. 

I applauded the initiative last year when LEEA decided to stage high-level content alongside its trade event in Liverpool. This year the show takes place in Aberdeen on 23-24 November and the conference will be held on the opening day. Between accepting the invitation (ironically at another trade event in Liverpool) and the conference are the best part of five months, but it's time not to be wasted. In the spirit of giving back to the industry, I'll share some of the ground work required to ensure the panel discussion is a success. 

The end goal is to give the audience 45 minutes of quality discussion. Delegates, who would have paid to attend, will have absorbed hours of content throughout the day and will expect vibrant exchanges about relevant topics. Attendees will have the opportunity throughout and during the closing Q&A session to shape debate but, as chairperson, I can't put the onus on them to drive the content. Three quarters of an hour is too long to keep asking for more questions or more ideas from the floor. 

Talking heads 

The success of the initiative hinges on assembling a world-class panel. I can't say too much about the individuals involved at this stage but they will not be too few or too many in number and each will bring something different to the table. Imagine if five like-minded manufacturers sat at one end of the room and nodded in agreement as one read a statement that represents them all. How long do you think the delegates would stay and participate as the time edges towards beer o'clock? We'd have an empty room—and glass. 

Research is already underway into a series of topics that LEEA, panelists and myself feel will be important to industry, considering the likely demographic of the day. We are also liaising with other lifting equipment suppliers, users and stakeholders. Then it's a case of making sure the panelists are aware of those subjects and prepare their own informative angles accordingly. There's room for spontaneity in response to questions but it doesn't detract from the spectacle if panel members are well rehearsed.

I will be in ongoing dialogue with panelists as the conference approaches to ensure they understand the rules of engagement. It will be important to strike a balance between making forthright, opinionated, informed statements and being confrontational or argumentative. It is a panel 'discussion', after all. It's about exchanging thoughts and ideas, not establishing that any one person's viewpoint is to be taken as fact. They'll also be advised not to make comments too long or full of jargon. A good panel isn't half a dozen different speakers that happen to be on the stage at the same time. Discussion should ebb and flow. 

Audience perspective 

It's important for panel moderators to put themselves in the position of the audience. Say, if a panelist tables an idea, who might they most like to hear a response from? Perhaps there will be a need to interject and explain that I will give panelist A then B a chance to respond to what panelist C has just suggested might be a great idea. They might disagree. Panelists will be encouraged to respond to each other throughout but priority must be given to clear, quality debate that adds value for the delegation. 

Audience participation is a difficult element to factor into a moderator's plans, as you never know who exactly is going to attend and the personalities among the demographic. There are theories that a Middle Eastern audience will be more passive than a UK one, for example, but my research so far suggests that sociology can't really be applied. As I said, a delegation isn't responsible for the direction of the panel discussion—they pay the organisers, not the other way around—but the best panel debates are such because the audience asks questions and shares their experiences.

I don't want to go into housekeeping matters. However, it's important to consider visibility of panelists, sound quality (are there enough microphones on the floor for audience questions to be heard?), availability of water and a room free from disruption (important for the whole day not just the panel discussion). As chairperson, I will need to make sure I have backup questions (silence is only just less damaging in a conference room as it is on the radio) and generally plan for every eventuality. 

Wish me luck! 

Celebrating heavy lift 

The conference is only one of a number of components that make LiftEx 2016 so eagerly awaited. It is the first LiftEx—this is to be the 12th edition of the show—that truly celebrates the heavy lift sector of the marketplace, located in the Energy Capital of Europe, a city synonymous with the oil and gas industry. We are detecting an upturn in fortunes for the offshore sector in the region and the timing of the show could be perfect. I can't say too much about it yet but it might also be the stage for a major below-the-hook equipment product launch. Watch this space. 

There are many other shows in the diary. Later this month we'll be at the Specialized Carriers & Rigging Association (SC&RA) Crane & Rigging Workshop in National Harbor, Maryland, before a series of events in the Middle East concludes with the first Cranes and Transport Middle East (CATME) conference, organised by International Cranes and Specialized Transport magazine and KHL Group, which will take place on 8 December in Dubai. Anthony Culshaw, our senior design engineer, will deliver an educational presentation to attendees. 

In other news, following successful completion of the Chartered Director Programme at the Institute of Directors (IOD), I start the diploma level course next month (October); we're increasing our in-house test rig to 1,500t, a capacity previously only possible by staging live lifts; and we continue to expand our distributor network across the world with a number of notable additions in recent weeks.

It's going to be a busy conclusion to the year. 

Thank you for reading! 

Sarah Spivey 

Managing Director Modulift 

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