Chairman of the day Danny Mekić (1987) combines all his talents in his role as a chairman. “I feel right at home when something exciting happens during an event. I love the unpredictable.”
How did you become chairman?
“I try to create an ecosystem around myself where I can constantly be working with my subject area: technology and its role in society. I’ve taken an interest in that since I was little. Back in school I was the nerd or ‘whizzkid’ of the playground, and when I was fifteen I’d started my first business.” In 2009, Mekić was declared ‘most successful young entrepreneur’. Lectures started showing up on his résumé early on too. “The first time I was asked to be a chairman of the day was in 2008, at a members’ gathering of Rabobank Amsterdam. They asked me for it because they wanted the event to have a new, less stuffy style. I was surprised at first. A freethinking, entrepreneurial techno guru as your chairman of the day? But they were right: I loved thinking about what we could do to liven up a meeting like that. It was organised at the Muziekgebouw aan ‘t IJ concert hall. My first question was what would be the musical aspect of the meeting. They had no idea, so I suggested introducing and concluding every speaker’s talk by playing at the piano.”
What did you do to learn the trade?
“I learned what not to do at university. There are rows upon rows of students in those lecture halls every day, interaction is all but forbidden and students avoid raising a hand. It’s absolutely uninspiring. I’ve invented my own style by staying close to myself. In being a chairman, I combine all my other roles and functions. As a consultant, I get to see the inside of the board rooms of quoted companies and see what products they’re going to market. I know what’s going to happen in the future. And as a consultant I’m also always questioning why organisations do things in a certain historically formed standard way. I do the same thing at events. For example, why is the room often organised in a theatre arrangement? There’s no need for that. At university I’m preparing students for the future, and so I know what’s on young adults’ minds. With my experience as a public speaker, I know how audiences behave, and how speakers like to be treated.
It wouldn’t suit me to do this job on a daily basis. I’m not that one-size-fits-all kind of chairman that you can put to use any time at any event. I need to have affinity with the target audience and the subject matter. I also select meetings for having an exciting twist to them, with organisers who want to do something else.”
What is your speciality?
“The feedback I get says I’m extremely well-prepared. I’ll know a lot about the speakers; I’ll have read their interviews and looked into their work in order to gauge their message. I’ll contact them ahead of time, and say: ‘You are going to give the best lecture ever. What do you need for that?’ This is also a way for me to gain more insights, another part of that ecosystem. My good fortune is having a whole team behind me who can help me. For example, one colleague will make biographies of the lecturers. A chairman should be amazingly well-prepared and still stay in the background. The biggest compliment you can get is when people say afterwards: ‘I would have liked to hear you give a lecture too.’
I also want the audience to go home more invigorated than they came. That takes more than a good lineup. It’s so very important to be part of the organisation. If everything is already decided, I’m not interested. Events are allowed to be fun. Get a DJ to play during the event, not just for the drinks afterwards. Put three Chesterfield chairs on stage that the guest speakers get to sit down in. Any way to make interaction with the audience come first. I want to find the limits. Most events are so stuffy and unimaginative.”
Do you have a message for the audience?
“I’ll let that depend on the event. One of my greatest experiences as a chairman of the day was at an event for young adults in the Schiphol area. I directed that day more or less in the style of the talk show De Wereld Draait Door. There were all sorts of successful young people at the table that day, like Edith Bosch, Roel Meijvis and Serder Gözübüyük, all with wonderful stories to tell. What’s the best thing you can give the audience in that situation? I wanted the people in the audience to think about their own passion, not just make them listen to some ego parade. So I didn’t ask my guests: ‘How did you become such a great referee?’, but instead asked: ‘How does one become a great referee?’
I also tell event organisers that an event is not the end of it; it’s the start of something. People don’t change in just one day. There needs to be a more long-term story arc to it. It starts long before the event starts and hopefully goes on until long after it. I once wrote an eBook that was sent to participants piece by piece during the weeks after the event.”
What has been your worst experience as a chairman?
“What other people call a bad experience, I think of as exciting. At one event, three directors were having a discussion on the stage. There was no time for any interaction with the audience. Then suddenly someone in the audience stood up and started shouting. I decided to give him the attention. Organisations think angry customers are terrible, but I think they’re great. I feel right at home when that happens. You can’t control an event. I like that unpredictability.
Of course, technical problems are still a bit of an issue. I like to compare being a chairman to being a chef. A chef has to use all the ingredients to create something good. If the stove doesn’t work, he’ll have to find a creative solution. That was difficult at first, but now a failing microphone doesn’t faze me any more.”
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