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British Airways World Sales Conference  – 'Inspiring People'

British Airways World Sales Conference –'Inspiring People' 

In April 1998, nearly 350 British Airway’s top sales executives, from 83 different countries, came to Chicago for their world sales conference. This sales conference was different. British Airways wanted to collaborate with a non-profit to develop a conference which would bring to life their corporate philosophy of "Inspiring People". Imagine Chicago was selected as their partner. Together they designed an intergenerational cross-cultural conference that paired the executives with 400 children from the Chicago Children’s Choir.


The day involved music, coaching and asking good questions to increase focus, stimulate conversation and connections and inspire participants. The conference was held at the Field Museum of Natural History, a museum known for its educational emphasis on cultural understanding.


Preparing the Way Forward


Prior to the conference, each executive received a package of information which enabled them to prepare for the upcoming event.  Knowing that they would be paired with children for the day, they were asked to reflect on high points of their careers as airline executives as well as inspiring stories in their local communities.


They were also asked to gather, and bring with them to Chicago, objects from their home countries which would teach the children about music-making, everyday life and inspiring community activities. Additionally, they were asked to bring a gift for their particular child. The executives arrived in Chicago well prepared to learn with children at a museum, having already reflected on how you can use objects to tell powerful stories.


Music, Education and Fun


The conference began with all of the children singing to the executives as they processed through the museum and into the theatre. Once in the theatre, the adults and children met with their partner for the day. Seated together, they participated in coaching sessions led by British corporate performance consultants. Then they put their coaching skills to practice throughout the museum, working in teams to understand how an exhibit tells its story.


At lunch, the coaching was up to the children who taught the adults a South African freedom song. Some of the adults were anxious about having to learn a song, believing that they could not sing. This initial anxiety turned into a sense of wonder when they realized that the collective sound was very good. Moreover, for the children it created a sense of accomplishment that they could teach the obviously competent adults something new.


After lunch, the children and adults created their own‘inspiration’ exhibits from objects the adults had brought from their home countries to teach about their cultures and values. The objects reflected important aspects of everyday life, music, and inspiration. To ensure that the afternoon was both enjoyable and educational, IMAGINE CHICAGO and the Field Museum created an activity guide. The guide, with written instructions and illustrations, took the adults and children through key steps necessary to create a museum exhibit. The embedded lessons also had applicability to corporate coaching by reinforcing the importance of active listening,team-building, imaginative thinking, drawing out vital connections, and seeing the whole.


The child-adult teams gathered questions and stories from each other which were combined with the objects to create inspiring activity boxes from which children could learn about cultures around the world. As a lasting legacy of the conference the objects have now been organized into traveling exhibits within the Field Museum’s Harris Loan Center collection. Area schools, parents, and community groups use the exhibit boxes in teaching about different cultures.


Presence of Children Creates an Inspired Learning Environment


The children, who ranged in age from 8 to 17, were accomplished members of the multiracial and multicultural choir, some of whom had toured internationally. The adults were top sales executives throughout the world for British Airways.


The choir members and the executives met on a common ground of mutual respect for each other’s accomplishments. During the day, it became clear that combining the children with the adults created energy and a highly active learning space.


The children were naturally curious and inspired the adults to learn and to ask good questions. The presence of the children also allowed the adults to relax and have some fun.


The adults stimulated the children by asking them good questions that provoked them to think. They all shared stories about their life and home which enriched the day’s experience and created connections that have the potential to be lasting.


Effective Partnerships are Built


The day, described as "magical" by the British Airways director of sales world-wide, met three key criteria which IMAGINE CHICAGO has found to build effective partnerships:


The conference helped develop the individuals involved. The adults and children learned how to ask good questions and they learned about themselves and each other.


The conference developed the organizations involved - British Airways,The Field Museum, the Chicago Children’s Choir and IMAGINE CHICAGO -and helped each accomplish and extend their particular institutional mission.


The conference built citywide and worldwide connections that would not have readily happened.


As far as British Airways and IMAGINE CHICAGO know, this was the first time that executives were linked with children to develop management skills. According to all of the participants, the conference was a great success. The connections established resulted in British Airways sponsoring the Chicago Children's Choir 1999 summer U.K. tour.




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