Flightglobal Symposium – Safety Panel Experience

Receiving a telephone call with an invite to join not one but two discussion panels at one of the World’s most prestigious safety symposiums was both a shock and an incredible honour.AWR28653_1616_img_5945_jpg

Jonathan Guest, the Senior Conference Producer for Flightglobal provided an overview of the topics to be covered which included ‘Improving your Safety Management System’ and ‘A Review and Update on Aviation Safety for Engineering and Maintenance’.

Naturally, without thinking, the answer was of course “yes”. What a fantastic opportunity! Regardless of the assurance provided by Jonathan that no prior preparation would be required I instantly decided this would not be the approach I would take! Having attended this conference two years prior I can remember the adrenalin and could actually hear my own heart beat as I slowly raised my arm to ask the panel a very simple question.

Now I would be part of the very panel the several hundred symposium attendees from around the world would be hoping for, no, expecting an intelligent discussion followed by a Q&A session. What have I done?
Thankfully Flightglobal nominated two very competent moderators to prepare the speakers, introduce the subject matter and announce the panel participants.

After a short self-introduction to hopefully appease those inevitable inquisitive types (I include myself in this group) that can’t help but want to know why YOU are on this panel of ‘so called’ experts, we began the discussion. Let’s dwell on that introduction for a moment.

Finding a balanced sound bite that appeases ‘credibility curiosity’ without recalling your entire education and experience since middle school takes some careful planning. I AWR28653_1616_img_5944_jpgrecall an outstanding statement from the start of one particular speaker’s presentation at this year’s symposium where he broke one of the golden rules of presenting – he apologised. However, he quickly followed with his explanation which was:

Sorry for such a detailed and lengthy presentation, I didn’t have time to make it shorter”.

A valuable lesson for us all I’m sure. So, after taking a nearly deep enough breath I began my short sound bite. I almost made it to the end without hearing a slight warble of nervousness so stopped for a moment, took another breath and within seconds had managed to clear the first hurdle at this auspicious event. As the next panellist began to speak I could feel the nerves ebbing as my years of public speaking training and experience as an RAF Officer came to my aid.

Nobody laughed I’m delighted to say.

This would normally be disastrous for me as I have rarely presented or even talked without attempting to bring humour to the masses. With zero jokes cracked as per the strictest of instructions from my staunchest and wisest supporter (my wife Laura who was in the audience), the discussion took shape and the audience began to participate.

A lively and interesting debate took place and the audience, I am happy to say, was not shy at either sharing their own experiences or asking challenging questions.

I didn’t escape unscathed however, as I decided to be slightly more honest than perhaps I should have been. Recalling my experience of a particular auditor’s style of questioning and determined approach to deliver non-compliance notifications, and that this style was perhaps not conducive to a good working relationship, attracted the attention of the next speaker who (just my luck), was the very person responsible for designing and implementing said regulator!

I believe Thumper from the film Bambi said it best…

If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothing at all”!

Having a wife who was the Personal Assistant to the Minister for Defence Equipment and Support, and latterly the MOD spokesman for the House of Lords definitely has its advantages. With effortless skill during the subsequent coffee break Laura renewed her previously brief acquaintance with said person, who’s presentation was so utterly flawless in structure, logic and delivery that I will forever be in awe, and spotting my wife chatting to him I saw my opportunity to ‘patch-up’ any misunderstandings.

It was a delight to understand the logic behind the MAA’s approach which of course made perfect sense. AWR28653_1616_img_5993_jpgI’m sure the saying is carrot and stick but in the case of the MAA the stick was always to be used first as it’s harder to bare your teeth once you have cuddled up! Within moments all was well and a new network connection was made.

Sharing this information with you has not been easy but, in this brave new world of Continuous Improvement, safety reporting and learning from experience, how can I, as a Safety Consultant, preach the virtues of third age reporting (I made a mistake!) without bearing all?

The trick is to marry well and bring her with you everywhere!

This experience was priceless and I would recommend it to anyone. For me, I hope to now find a subject of worth that I might be able to share with such a distinguished and expert audience – not as a panellist but as an actual ‘lone’ speaker during a presentation. Gulp! (please don’t laugh, my wife would not approve!).