In this post event co-organiser Lizzy Baddeley shares her experience of hosting Focus on the Positive.
Lizzy’s serious presenter face
Before I ran Focus on the Positive, and lots of other events for UCL, I used to be a tour guide. I would lead groups of school children on tours of the history of parliamentary democracy, wax lyrically to university students about the history of medicine, and even cause the odd fainting incident when sharing gruesome tales of body modification in eighteenth century China. But I left all that behind me when, as the co-organiser of Focus on the Positive, I started getting someone else in to do the event hosting for me. Normally someone with actual experience and charm!
Our brilliant audience
But at our last event, I decided to drag out the old ‘tour voice’ (louder, slower, and clearer – although oddly more accented – than normal) and refresh my public speaking skills for our second event with the University of the Third Age (U3A).
Back in January, we ran a Focus on the Positive for the London Region of the U3A, a brilliant organisation where retired and semi-retired people revel in the joy of learning and discovery. We enjoyed hosting them, and they seemed to enjoy themselves, so we decided to get them back for another event on November 26th.
The U3A are the perfect audience for Focus on the Positive: their members are keen to listen and learn, but also interrogate and challenge, in order to make the best decision possible. As a result, they are great when it comes to picking a truly worthwhile project to fund for Focus on the Positive.
As part of introducing the event, it was my job to advise the U3A audience on what to look out for in the pitches, and what kinds of questions they should be bearing in mind. This includes assessing the value for money of the activity; will it achieve its aims with the cash, and have they thought through the realistic costs of both money and other resources? Is it worthwhile? Do they, personally, believe in the cause and want it to happen? Are there other, better ways to achieve the desired aims?
All these criteria are based on both how real grants are assessed, and the way that we want the audience to make their decision. We want Focus on the Positive to fund activities that the audience really believes can make a difference, and will be successful.
At this event they really had some good activities to pick from.
Firstly, there was Paul Hellier from Mechanical Engineering, hoping to get £2,000 to support his work with schools and the Museum of Water and Steam, where he is working to inspire students with cross-disciplinary science.
Kathy Stawarz was hoping to adapt her research into using smartphone applications to create habits around taking medication, to help people who were stressed at work create habits to make their lives easier.
Hoping to inspire female maths students to continue with their studies and address huge gender disparity further up the academic ladder was Sofia Olhede.
And finally, with a project set on creating an online space for citizen science at UCL, was Sarah Wiseman.
All the pitches were great, and I was very honoured to introduce them all and chair the questions. The U3A really grilled our pitchers, bringing their own opinions and ideas into the mix. This carried on during the networking part, where each pitcher was involved in really in-depth conversations about their ideas while the audience decided who to vote for.
When I eventually pulled everyone back together to announce the winner and runner-up, I recovered some of the old tour guide flair and kept everyone hanging on (styling myself the Tess Daly of the FotP world). It was great fun, and although there could only be two winners, the audience seemed happy, and everyone was very gracious.
It was great to get back in the presenting hot seat, although I did leave Hilary to manage all the other logistics on her own. Maybe I’ll present again in the future, but I think I’ll leave it to the brilliant Dean Veall for our next event at the Grant Museum in February.
Oh, and the winners, as I have kept you hanging on, were Sarah Wiseman for the top prize of £2000, and Paul Hellier the runner-up winning £1000. More updates from them as they go along.
Lizzy is the Events Coordinator for UCL Public and Culural Engagement.
A member of the U3A casting their vote