5 Ways to Herd Your Sheep: Getting your audience where you want them, on time.

Are your event start times accurate, or merely aspirational?

We hear, often, that clients have consistent issues getting their events to start on time (or to start on time after a break, lunch, etc.). Many clients accept and account for this, building time into the agenda assuming that the event will start two or three or five or ten or fifteen minutes late. Many don't, and a late start throws off the whole schedule for the day.

Many have the best intentions, but simply don't want to start their Big Event Opening with half a room full of audience. Many have huge audiences and unwieldy logistics that make moving that volume of people in and out of a space difficult to do in a limited amount of time.

Once late start times begin, it's tough to get an audience back on track. So: How do you herd these sheep? Or, more delicately: How do you get your audience where you want them on time?

1. Start on time NO MATTER WHAT

Audiences can be trained!
And like any trainable entity, they can either be trained in a positive way or a negative way. If meandering in 5 minutes late is the accepted standard and they know they're not going to miss anything, they is little incentive to change that. They've been trained to do it, and the time frame will only continue to be more lax.

Starting on time--no matter what--may leave you with a partial audience the first time or two. However, audiences learn quickly. If the expectation is to start on time--and that expectation is clearly communicated--then a majority will be in their seats on time.

Note: Prepare to start on time yourself. This includes allowing enough time for proper rehearsal, run through, and technical troubleshooting. Stuff happens, but too often meetings are derailed because a speaker can't be found or a video wasn't checked or a presentation wasn't updated.

2. Incentivize on-time behavior

When we put audiences onto teams (great for teambuilding, ongoing game shows within the event, team competitions, etc.) we will frequently give them points if their team is back on time. But ONLY if ALL team members are back on time. What happens is this:
A. Team leaders or members make sure that everyone else is back on time.
B. Peer pressure is strong: it only takes one person missing the points for their team one time and EVERYONE will be on time after that. (Opposing teams will also make sure that no one is slipping in.)

One of our methods of keeping team points is to hand out fake money. It makes a big impact to hold teams accountable for being on time by handing them a small stack of cash.

Note: You can also penalize lateness (i.e. if you're not in your seat when the event starts, you have to donate $5 to the company charity the first day, $10 the second day, $20 the third day, etc.). This also works, but we generally prefer carrot to stick--and peer pressure is something that's harder to write off than $5.

3. Utilize on-screen timers, all the time

Have timers for every walk-in, every break, etc....for the whole time. Sometimes lateness isn't intentional--people lose track of time, they forgot what you said when you dismissed them (was that a 25 minute break or a 15 minute break?), and they don't necessarily have their watched calibrated to yours if you don't say "be back at 12:21".

A lot of the time you'll get a count-down timer at an arbitrary place during a break. However, if you have an accurate count-down timer whenever doors are open, people can better plan their break time. They know how much time they have. They know, if they peek back in the room, that they have to hustle back to their seats, and this consistency also trains them to watch the on-screen timers and anticipate the start of the event.

4. Rely on rituals and cues

Doing the same thing, over and over, consistently will create rituals at your event that let your audience know what is expected of them--this includes coming in and sitting down on time.

There is a term in the industry for an opening video--it's called the "sit down, shut up" (or SDSU) video. When that video starts, the lights go down, and everyone KNOWS that the event is beginning. It also gives them a few moments to settle, but without continuing on conversations.

This doesn't have to be JUST for the opening--you can play the same video (or variations) after every break, returning from meals, and at the beginning of every day.

Music is also an extremely effective way to get your audience in their seats. Making conscious choices about music during breaks makes the absence of music very notable when it's time for the event to start. The lights dim/brighten, the music stops, the first presenter or emcee is announced, or the SDSU video plays. These are all cues that get your audiences back to their positions and ready to begin.

5. Create a culture of on-time

Set the expectation at the beginning of the event that everyone will be in their seats on-time. Too often this is something that is assumed, and audiences will feel that it's flexible (especially if it has been in the past). The event is a mutual investment--the company is investing time and money, and the audience is also investing their time; to be respectful of everyone and to get the most out of the investment, there needs to be an on-time culture.

If you're concerned about this seeming patronizing, have the audience set their OWN rules for a successful event (and we promise, this will come up).

Give them 5 minutes at their tables or seats to brainstorm, as a group, a list of guidelines that everyone should abide by.

Common things that come up when we do this:

  • Turn off cell phones
  • Be back from breaks on time
  • Be open to new ideas
  • Utilize networking time
  • Etc.

A peer-generated set of event guidelines that everyone makes a commitment to follow can be more powerful than rules handed down from on-high, but it makes a difference to (bare minimum) frame the expectations clearly.

Manipulating Multiple Choice Questions for Better Information Retention

When making game show questions for a game show in a large event, many of our clients don't think much about the effect of the question in context. Questions--even multiple choice questions--can be utilized to manipulate the audiences' perception about a product or piece of information in interesting ways.

A few examples:

Let's say you have a new product introduction, and you want to design a question around the price of that new product. Which of the following questions makes it seem like that product is VALUE-priced?

1. The price of our new XtremeWidget2000 is:
A. $2
B. $11
C. $15
D. $27


2. The price of our new XtremeWidget2000 is: 
A. $27
B. $32
C. $48
D. $122

Though these examples are exaggerated, the former makes it sound like the product is at a premium price and the latter makes it sound value-priced.

Other factors also affect the perception of the answers; having a huge gap between values can signal "we're priced way above/below what you'd expect". It can make a question much easier.

The price of our new XtremeWidget2000 is: 
A. $2
B. $27
C. $76
D. $122

The same perception manipulation can apply to chronology. By considering the distractor answers, one can make it seem like something is very fresh and new, or has happened a long(er) time ago.

Should you put the values in order with questions like these? 

It depends.

A question where answer options are totally randomized adds a level of difficulty--but it doesn't actually add information difficulty--the difficulty lies within the brain first having to order the options, then choosing.

The price of our new XtremeWidget2000 is: 
A. $122
B. $32
C. $27
D. $48

It also removes some of the psychological impact of price perception. Taking it out of context also removes some of the stickiness of the information. So if you really want people to remember that your XtremeWidget2000 is $27--and that's a value price compared to ApatheticWidget1000--putting the answer options in order will help your audience retain that crucial piece of information.

Producers vs. Presenters: Taming the Presentation Deadline Beast

There is an eternal struggle between the event production team and the presenters (internal and, less frequently, external) to get presentation content in the hands of the production team well before an event.

This needs to happen for several reasons.

  • All parties need to know the content of the presentations so that presenters do not overlap, contradict, or conflict with each other
  • Presentations need to be coherent and valuable for the audience
  • Timing needs to be taken into account for realistic agendas
  • Slides need to be checked for clarity/mistakes
  • Media needs to be tested and procured in advance
  • It helps ensure that the event goes smoothly

This doesn't happen for several reasons.

  • Presenters are busy
  • The event isn't a priority because they have more important/critical/time-sensitive things to do in their day-to-day jobs
  • Presenters have turned in presentations last-minute before and everything has worked out
  • Content changes may occur on time-sensitive presentations (i.e. first quarter results are announced, acquisitions happen, etc.)
  • Presenters are waiting for other co-presenters/key players to contribute
  • There is an established culture of "putting together the presentation on the plane", etc. 

In our minds, this will be an ongoing struggle, because the reasons for this needing to happen and the reasons why it doesn't happen are both pretty legitimate and need to be balanced in a diplomatic manner.

However, based on our experiences working with clients and other production teams there are certain things you should NOT do.


Create artificial deadlines: Don't be the event producer who cries wolf. A presenter knows that it's unnecessary to have a finished presentation two months before an event occurs. We once worked with a presentation team that wanted locked-in teleprompter copy (with no changes on-site) MORE THAN ONE MONTH before the event. It was unrealistic and it made it easy for every single presenter to completely disregard the legitimacy of other (more crucial) deadlines.

Ignore deadlines and hope for the best: Presenters should have a good outline of when things are expected of them. Some production companies set the final deadline as "When the presentation is being presented on stage" with no other milestone/check-in points. Deadlines *do* need to be managed, and timetables help set everyone's expectations.

Mismanage the presenters: Think of this like Goldilocks and the Three Event Producers: One micromanages too much, the other isn't attentive enough...and one is just right. Don't be the presentation task-master without a healthy dose of flexibility and diplomacy. We worked with an event producer who was incredibly harsh about presenters getting their stuff in by exact deadlines. Not only did the presenters resent the event producer, but they started to actively ignore their requests because they weren't presented in a reasonable way...and the presenters were the *client*.

Cut off changes completely: You can say that changes at the last minute are not ideal, but to cut off changes completely at an event because presenters didn't meet the deadline is not going to benefit the event overall. Be prepared for changes to happen because events are a dynamic animal, subject to interjections from the world, from the audience, from the company, from the event itself. A presenter wanting to add in a slide in the morning because they heard a concern over and over again at the networking reception the night before is something that can and should happen.


Here are some things that have worked for us:

Use peer pressure: We worked with a client who used a peer-review session deadline; a week before the event, every presenter would get together in a room and present their content for the event to each other. They would then get presentation feedback. This forced presenters to get the content done--they didn't want to be the only one who hadn't done their part, or let down their other peers. Even having an updated list of who has/hasn't turned in their presentation can apply a bit of peer pressure to help move deadlines along.

Utilize rehearsals: The previous example not only utilized peer pressure, but it also included another component: rehearsals. Often times we like to do a "dry run" of an event a week before--even if it's over the phone. Scheduling ample rehearsal time on-site (and clearing a presenter's schedule of on-site obligations so they can attend) will also minimize VERY last minute changes.

Provide Incentives: In a particular company, presenters got $50 if they turned in their presentations on time. It's not that $50 was so much money, but it provided a tangible incentive to be on-time--and everyone in the procrastination-prone company turned everything in on time. One can also take the stick approach--meet deadlines or get time taken away--but the carrot is more diplomatic.

Shape the event and give talking points: Having a very concise theme (we're not talking "A year to win" or similar event themes, but rather a content throughline) and talking points that you'd like each presenter to hit can help them get a head start on their presentation. It gives them something to react to instead of having to generate a presentation from scratch (which can frequently hold up initial deadlines).

An example of this might be (roughly):
Theme: Everything about this event is geared toward helping the sales force get their "swagger" back after a tough few years.

Direction for presenter: How will the marketing strategy for this year help the audience feel like they have swagger? What specific things are you doing to support them?

Frame the value: Face to face events are a huge opportunity for a presenter to get in front of their audience. They are also a huge opportunity for a company to give the attendees a unified message. The importance and impact are so great that a last-minute presentation is most likely not going to cut it. Events are an investment. Framing the value of the event to presenters may seem like common sense or something that they already know (or should know), but often times no one frames it like this. Letting presenters know that this is their time to shine and step up, and communicating what it means to them and the company can help them to be more thoughtful about their presentation and attendant timelines.


Good event production teams are flexible and pros at making last-minute changes look effortless and flawless. That doesn't mean they *are* effortless.

Good production teams may be able to get presenters to turn in their content well before an event, but they are also equipped to handle situations in which this does not happen. This may mean extra on-site staffing, people dedicated to working exclusively with particular presenters, etc. If a production team has worked with a company before and it's been an issue at previous events, building in extra staff in the contract and citing past experience is in the client's best interest and in the interest of the sanity of the production team as well.


"And the Oscar Goes to...": What we can learn from the 2017 Oscars big screw-up.

It was a moment in which--I guarantee you--every event producer, or person working with live events, gasped and muttered some version of "oh NO."

That moment when, at the 2017 Oscars, they figured out that they had announced the WRONG WINNER for Best Picture. To the average person at home it was a surprise or an amusement or a small shock--but to us it was our worst nightmare come to life in front of our eyes. My own sense of empathy was off the charts and I imagine the a/v crew, producers, handlers, etc., backstage scrambling; furious chatter over the com system trying to figure out how it could have happened.

Sometimes when things go wrong at your event--they really go wrong. Most of the time it isn't quite as public as a huge televised award show watched by ~33 million people.

But here are some things that we can learn from the Oscars screw-up that we can apply to our own events, should things ever go wrong.

Correct the issue in the moment.

It's embarrassing. No one involved quite knows what's going on. But correct an issue as soon as you realize it--even if it means interrupting your presenter on stage. (Obviously, this only applies to errors with a certain level of magnitude--little minor fact-checks don't need to happen in real-time.)

Mea Culpa.

You're not going to be able to hide when something goes seriously wrong. Own up to it. Apologize and continue. Most of the audience wants to see you succeed and will be feeling the pain of your mistake right along with you. Don't worry about *how* the mistake came to be right then and there--you can take time to mull it over and decide whether the explanation is important.

Go with the flow.

The host, Jimmy Kimmel, was really great at saying, "Hey, this is an awards show. It's live. Things happen," and going with the flow. Obviously everyone was flustered, but they reduced the awkwardness by keeping the ending short and saying they'd figure it out later. Sure, it didn't have the impact that it was supposed to have, but it kept it from delving into the minutia of mistakes.

Try to make it up to the impacted parties.

The Oscar mistake truly did steal the spotlight from the Best Picture award winner. Even though time was running short, they were given their due with their speeches, and are being given ample recognition the day after the event. If this happens at your event, a special call-out to the wronged party may be in order--even if it's not at the event itself.

Double check everything.

In this type of event, secrecy is key. But at YOUR event? Give up a little secrecy to make sure that everyone has double checked EVERYTHING. Some mistakes are still going to happen because it's a live event--mistakes happen. Spontaneity that leads to a sparkling, vivid event can also cut the other way and leave the door open for mistakes. Even big mistakes. Mistakes will happen, but dealing with them with grace and aplomb can mean the difference between a disaster and a minor embarrassment.

The Advantages of DIY-Emceeing

Last entry we talked about the advantages a professional external emcee has over an internal emcee. (How to Emcee Your Event Like a Pro)

But external emcees aren't automatically superior to internal emcees. About 70% of our events feature internal emcees (of varying degrees of skill) and there are definite benefits to utilizing an internal company employee/leader as your event emcee.

1. They know your people.

Knowing who is in the audience is a big shortcut to building audience rapport. Internal emcees are familiar with your audience--clients or internal employees--and they can use that knowledge to modify their energy, their comments, and their activities.

If there needs to be a volunteer to perform a demonstration, they know who they can call on to get participation. Maybe more valuable--they know who NOT to call out or ask up to the stage.

2. They get the in-jokes.

Hand in hand with knowing the people, they also know the common references in the company. They know when a particular acronym or term has a sordid history. They know that Jane Doe moved from x department to y department to z department. They can easily pull references that make the audience crack up and relate.

Likewise, they can serve as a barometer for what is actually going to make the audience laugh or not. Not that an internal emcee knows everything about audience humor, but they have a good pulse on the company culture and can give a suggestion of where lines should be drawn.

3. They can explain/recap concepts.

Perhaps the most value in having an internal emcee comes when it's time to glue all the presentations together.

An emcee with internal knowledge of what the speakers are trying to say can transition to a speaker by providing important context. They can recap a presentation by clarifying a few key points or by solidifying what it means to the audience. They have an understanding of how a discrete speech might fit into the big picture and they can make these connections for the audience.

This gives consistency and is incredibly powerful in making sure that the content presented has a better chance of being remembered.

4. They can provide tangible follow-up.

An internal emcee can make promises that an external emcee couldn't hope to keep. They can take questions and concerns and turn them into post-event follow-up. They already have rapport and context to leverage with the audience, so it's a natural step to, post event, have a follow-up action.

It could be as simple as, "You know when CEO talked about XYZ? Well, here's where the rubber meets the road". It could also be more complex--like a serious of follow-up videos, checking in on action items, holding people accountable, or even following up on panel questions.

5. They are an on-site resource. 

While their time may be limited on-site most of the time, if you can get a dedicated internal emcee it can enhance an event tremendously by giving you more flexibility to react to the event in real-time.

Something happen at an evening event? The emcee can clue you in, give you context, and let you play off (or address it) as needed in the general session. If you decide that there needs to be an extra energizer event--like a game show round--in between presentations, an internal emcee can help you vet questions or give you an idea of whether you're on the right path.

Overall? Either an internal or an external emcee can work--depending on the individual talents and strengths of the individual. Either one should be a charismatic people-person who has the ability to spend dedicated time rehearsing, and who is willing to go with the flow of a dynamic event.

How to Emcee Your Event Like a Pro

At our events sometimes there is an internal emcee (a member/employee of the company holding the event), and sometimes the emcee is external (someone hired for the sole purpose of emceeing the event).

We don't have a cut-and-dried preference either way. The ratio ends up being about 70% internal, 30% external. There are benefits to either approach. Recently, however, an internal emcee--who was already quite good--asked us what external/professional emcees did that they didn't, and what they could do to be better.

There are several advantages to having an external emcee--which we'll talk about here. The next entry will deal with the advantages of having an internal emcee. These advantages certainly aren't true of ALL external emcees--and we've seen internal emcees have several of these attributes as well.

But generally, here are the advantages of having an external emcee.

1. Sole focus is on the event at hand. 

Something that we hear, over and over again, about the value of live events is the irreplaceable amount of networking time. It's one thing to communicate with global colleagues on a daily basis; it's quite another to have them face to face with you--attention undivided.

Internal emcees, naturally, cannot give up this valuable time. You wouldn't want your VP of sales NOT to network with their direct reports.

There is also a matter of divided responsibilities. Internal emcees often have additional event tasks; managing an element of the event, leading a breakout session, and handling day-to-day business issues that crop up.

External emcees don't have any of that distraction while they're on the event. This gives them the advantage of dedicated time and focus. Which leads to...

2. Rehearsal time.

Rehearsing is critical for ANYONE. Even if it's just a cue-to-cue walk through or a mic check, you don't want to go up on stage without rehearsing. This becomes more and more crucial as events become more interactive and complex; incorporating multimedia, multiple presenters, panels, social media, and gamification elements.

Because external emcees are there to do one thing--emcee the event--they are available for rehearsals whenever there are rehearsals to be had. They don't get dragged into additional meetings or workshops.

3. No late nights.

In general, internal emcees will keep pace with the company culture. They build rapport with their people through networking and engaging in the same activities as they do. Sometimes--for better or worse--these activities include late-night drinking/partying/events AT an event.

The peer pressure involved--especially if it's a once-a-year event with a close team or an opportunity to wine-and-dine clients/customers--can be immense. We're not saying that these elements of an event are bad--we're just saying that internal emcees should probably limit alcohol consumption and call it an early-ish night.

We have had hung-over internal emcees on the stage. They dealt with it and powered through, but they didn't have the same energy and focus as a well-rested, ready-to-go emcee.

(This isn't to say that external emcees are always angels in this regard, mind, but there is less networking pressure to do so.)

4. Unflagging energy. 

This ties in with the point about being over-committed to multiple tasks at an event, networking, staying out late and drinking, but it ALSO refers to being professionally trained to maintain one's energy over multiple days.

Most external emcees are specifically trained/prepared to emcee for multiple days without losing their energy or ability to do their job. Even when they may have to do the same thing over and over again or rehearse multiple times.

This is trick of training and practice and mental energy, but it can also be as simple as being physically up to the task. We have had internal emcees lose their voices by the second day of an event simply because they're not used to speaking at-length and at-volume that the emcee performance requires.

5. Stretch the comfort zone.

Sometimes emcees need to get a bit silly. Not ridiculous, mind, but it takes a certain shedding of a straight-laced persona to--say--host a game show with enthusiasm. When internal emcees are too concerned about maintaining a certain type of image or professional relationship with their audience, it can inhibit their ability to be the most effective emcee they can be.

Often times it also impacts the delivery of script. There will be something that needs to be said, but an internal emcee will veto it as not consistent with their personality/sense of humor/whatever--which is valid, but can reduce the overall impact of the event. Internal politics can also play a part in this.

We had an emcee who hosted a game show, but was very concerned about how they came off. As a result, they were self-conscious and rushed through questions. They game show was still great, but it could have been much better with an infusion of an energetic host.

External emcees are mostly free of these concerns. If their job is to host a game show--they'll host a game show with aplomb. If their job is to stay straight-laced--they will. (If they're good, that is.)

An internal emcee can be very powerful and a tremendous asset--we're not against them at all. However, special considerations--especially around the emcee's time on-site--should be taken for them to be the most effective emcee they can be.

4 Ways to Hamilton Your Event.

I know more about Alexander Hamilton now that I ever learned in school.

I've caught friends casually humming the details of Hamilton's life--hard, historical facts in catchy song form. It's all because of the smash-hit musical Hamilton. The music of Hamilton is sticky, and so the facts of Alexander Hamilton are sticky.

I still know the states and their capitals, the nations of the world, and the order of the presidents of the U.S. because Animaniacs (a 1990s cartoon) set them to music and put them in the show. They were catchy and they stuck.

A while back, a client was launching a new version of their software and we set the launch details to a parody of "8 Days a Week". Everyone at the company STILL remembers and sings that song.

Music is a powerful tool for incorporating information into an event.
Music is:
  • Emotional
  • Evocative
  • Catchy
  • Memorable
Putting your messaging within a musical format makes it all of the above--plus adds an element of variety and novelty. So how do you use musical messaging within your event?

1. Musical Wrap-up
Music to review the content of the entire event is a memorable and pleasurable take-away. Attendees can see how the things they've just experienced are cleverly summarized into song form. This also allows you to end the event with a bang instead of just fizzling out.

Quite frequently we will end an event with a version of "Favorite Things" (recapping the highlights of the event) or "Wonderful World". It makes an emotional impact and is a great way to review content.

2. Musical Opening
A lot of companies will do a big musical number to open an event: drumming, a local band, gospel choir, etc. This is a great thought--but you also want the music to have meaning. Set the tone of the event with lively music, but also begin to incorporate messaging. It's a fantastic way to preview your content and generate interest for the event ahead.

We recently opened a client event (called "The Forum") with a musical parody of "Be Our Guest" (with "be our guest" replaced by "to the Forum"). It set the tone for a lively event and gave out information on the agenda that would follow.

3. Musical Intros-outtros
A musical opening is great, but doesn't always have the impact it should if the presentations don't also live up to that standard. A good way to incorporate content-driven music is to have a summary/intro in between each presenter.

At an event we had a local rapper listen to executive presentations and then create a spontaneous rap that encapsulated the main points of their presentation. It was great reinforcement, but it also helped sustain a consistent level of energy throughout the event.

Note: Like quite a bit of music, rapping is best attempted by professionals or semi-professionals. Have executives rap at your own peril.

4. Attendee-Generated Music
Music is largely universal and attendees will benefit by being allowed to participate in the marriage of content and music. There are several ways to do this. Teambuilding activities can include coming up with a team cheer or song, or attendees can be tasked with summarizing a specific, assigned presentation in song parody form.

We will frequently have attendees develop their own summary of a presentation in this format. Not only does it allow them to flex their creative muscles (and we can use it as part of an overall teambuilding competition), but it also enables them to self-select which pieces of information were important to them and worth remembering--further reinforcing the content for themselves and their fellow attendees.

Delta's New Safety Videos: Losing the Course

Our events are all over the globe, so we spend a lot of time on airplanes.
We're also based out of Minneapolis/St. Paul, so we fly Delta quite a bit.

We have something to report.

Delta Airlines recently changed their safety videos.
And we hate it.

It's not just a knee-jerk reaction to change. There are brain-based reasons why changing the tone of the videos made them significantly less effective.

This is how Delta's safety videos used to look:

(There were several in the series, this is just one example.)
They get all the essential messaging across, but there is also humor and lightness. Even a seasoned flier will pay attention through some of the drier safety messaging (that they may have heard and ignored a hundred times before) because they're looking for that little nugget of entertainment.

What visual treat will I get next? What tiny thing will surprise and delight me? 

This is the NEW Delta safety video that was playing the last few flights we've taken:

It's really...pretty? It's done well. It highlights the global nature of their business.

And it's tremendously dull.

I'm guessing the former are the reasons they went that direction. It's a classy video, sure. But no one was watching it. We tuned in for the first few seconds, saw that there wasn't going to be any humor payoff, and went back to our various diversions. It was easy to tune out.

We also noticed that there was a message from a *new* CEO in the beginning of the video. We speculated that they did as so many companies do; they changed the video strategy because a new head person wanted to go a new direction; to make their own mark in the creative branding of the company.

We don't know that for a fact, of course, but we've seen it enough times in events to recognize the strong possibility that this is the case.

Here's are four things we can learn from Delta's decision, as it applies to events:

1. Don't change JUST for the sake of change
In this case, Delta had built up a reputation for these fun videos, so we were anticipating the same thing (maybe slight variances, but the direction and overall tone was the same). We were disappointed by a straightforward video and tuned out after figuring out that it wasn't going to be entertaining.

There is ample reason to change something when it feels stale or is no longer working, and change is quite frequently good. But changing something for the sake of change when the previous tactic or message was--and remains--effective isn't a wise move.

For instance, if you do a high energy meet-and-greet at every event and it feels fresh and people love it, there's no reason to stop doing it *only* because "we did that last year".

2. Don't prioritize flash over substance.
The new videos are very pretty. They have little flourishes and animations that are rather impressive and probably cost quite a bit to do.

But they're not the compelling hook that is going to get people to watch the video.

A lot of times we see events with VERY splashy opening videos, beautiful staging, specialty lighting and flourishes...and then the content is presented in a way that is overwhelming, stale, dry or boring. Flash will not overcome finding an engaging way to present content.

3. Humor is incredibly effective.
The previous Delta videos weren't always laugh-out-loud funny, but they had a touch of humor that hooked the viewer. The lighthearted structure made it clear that there was an effort to engage with the audience; to show them little visual punchlines while delivering a critical message.

Humor is effective because it activates your emotional connection to the content. When you engage your emotion, your content retention increases.

And along those lines:

4. Serious content doesn't have to be boring. 
The safety messaging Delta is delivering could save lives. There are things that *must* be communicated--no matter how dry or boring. It's serious stuff, and in an emergency the content of that video needs to be on the forefront of everyone's mind.

A lot of people would, thus, shy away from bringing any levity into the messaging at all--fearing that people wouldn't take the messaging seriously if the delivery wasn't maximally serious.

However, the severity of the messaging means that it's even more critical for people to actually see it; to pay attention and absorb the content points. A bone-dry delivery is not an effective way to achieve that. Humor--done right--doesn't detract from the gravity of the messaging (whether it's an airline safety video or a corporate presentation). It does, however, go a long way toward audience engagement.

So you want to waste money at your event...

Event budgets are frequently tight. We're not revealing any new information there. We hear it all the time. "We need to do more with less...yada, yada, yada." It's a wise strategy, generally.

We hear it most in terms of adding interaction. "We already spent X on getting people here, we really don't have the budget for Y interaction."

And what we want to say is:

"Then instead of having an event, you should just put your event budget in a big pile on the floor and light it on fire." 

At least people would remember that.

We don't say that.
1. Because we don't condone burning money.
2. Because it's not helpful.

However, if a company is spending money to bring people TO an event and then is giving little thought to how to make their audience engage, interact, and retain the event information--they might as well not have the event.

Part of any event budget should be value. Live events have demonstrated value over and over again. It's still important for people to get together face-to-face; to network, get training, new information, goals, and a clear vision for the year.  But you have to do more than just bring people together, give presentations, and hope that the message got through. You have to engage your audience.

But let's say you're already committed to wasting money and you want to make sure you get as little value out of your event as possible (maybe there was a dare involved?). Here are some ways to ensure your event will be a waste:

1. Think that bigger a/v is better a/v.

An event needs to have base-level good a/v. It's not necessarily wise to cut corners here; when a projector goes out in the middle of a show with no backup, or you have the fourth-string crew, you're really going to see a negative--and distracting--impact on your event.

However, that doesn't mean that bigger a/v is better a/v either. Having all the lighting effects and stage decor and enhanced sound mixing in the world isn't going to save a dull presentation. Sure, a fog machine on stage is cool, but if you're spending budget on the bells and whistles instead of actual engagement, your event is going to suffer. Money wasted? Check.

2. Don't add elements of interaction.

You can have the slickest presentation in the world, but even the best presentation...backed by another great presentation...backed by another great presentation...won't stick. The brain simply cannot process the barrage of information. The audience needs to review, reflect, re-apply, and engage with the content. The need is not flexible; it's the limitation of the human brain, not a whim or a desire to be entertained.

We've had clients spend several hundred thousand dollars on an event and then veto an interactive game show that is a fraction of the cost--but would save their event from being a one-way content dump.

Interaction at an event--during the event...DURING the presentations--is not an option. It's a necessity. If the content isn't going to stick, there's no point to presenting it. Not adding in discussion, competition, game elements, etc., means wasting your money having an event at all.

3. Pack the agenda really tightly to get everything in.

There are natural constraints at play in determining the length of an event. 3 days of hotel room, banquet, meal, and airfare costs might be within budget while 4 days are out of the question. One might be tempted to have a shorter event with the same amount of content--but this is a mistake.

Which is not to say that the event should be extended; rather an effort should be made to pare down the content so that 4 days worth isn't squeezed into a 3 day package. In the last point, we mentioned how interaction shouldn't and couldn't be sacrificed. The same is true for the downtime the interaction provides. Having, for example, 10 presentations back-to-back-to-back instead of, say, 7 with time for reflection doesn't mean that more content is being covered. It just means that more content is being presented.

Packing the agenda tightly to get everything in results in LESS engagement and retention than if the audience members were given time to breathe. Instead of getting 4 days of content in 3 days, the audience retains maybe a day of content in as much time.

4. Cut the team building.

Some team building is superfluous. We're never going to recommend a half-day on the golf course as a way to build team morale. (We don't have anything against golf, but it's not effective team building on its own, and it is a huge expense for little value.) However, one of the most compelling reasons to have an event is to invest in the strength of your team through networking and team building.

This may be a bit of a cheat in this post; team building and interaction often overlap. One of the best ways to add value to an event and boost content retention is to incorporate interactive team building throughout the entire session. Weaving team building in between presentations and workshops not only strengthens content retention, but increases the number of meaningful interactions between team members.

Or you can eschew this value entirely and skip the team building--having your audience stare at a screen for 8 hours a day and not have positive contact with each other that will last far beyond the event. Your choice!

5. Create the event in a vacuum.

Why bother to figure out what the audience really wants or likes when planning an event? Because if you don't, you have a static event that loses value quickly.

Thoughtful event surveys (that are crafted to provide "meatier" feedback than "we didn't like the buffet choices on Thursday") post-event are a good starting point to creating a dynamic event. Pre-event surveys asking which content is most relevant for attendees are also a great tool. But don't just take survey results and file them away--change the event based on the survey (within reason--if ONE person doesn't like an element and everyone else does, take that feedback with the statistical significance it possesses).

Creating a dynamic event also happens AT the event. Allow attendees to give real-time feedback on the trajectory of presentations (on a small or large scale) and if it becomes apparent that something needs to be addressed or covered in greater depth--do it. Refusing to change course when needed may mean less work in the short-term at the event, but can have long-term consequences. Just ask the Titanic.


How to focus your presentation with a game show.

Game shows are a phenomenal way to engage your audience. They add an element of competition and fun to a training session or large-scale event. However, game shows do more than benefit the audience--they also provide a huge benefit to the trainers; focused content.

Recently we designed a game show to run throughout a 45 minute training session with audiences of about 50 people. Three different companies were presenting content, and sessions were repeated multiple times a day, over many days. We had an opening game show round, a closing game show round, and rounds in between the presenters' content.

We analyzed the content and developed game show questions around the most important content points.

What we noticed, as the sessions continued on the first day, was that the presenters were starting to highlight those Very Important content points even more. They would refer to their content in the context of the game; "Now pay attention to this because you might need to know it later...wink-wink..."

In subsequent sessions, they pared down their presentations to have a laser-focus on the key points. The overall sessions were improved beyond the engagement of the game show.

Game shows help you focus your presentation because:

1. They show you what is nice to know vs. what you need to know. 

Obscure trivia is fun for are-you-smarter-than television shows. We're all impressed by that person who can answer with the most inane detail. However, training isn't trivia night. Questions that are difficult because they contain the most irrelevant detail (that no one remembers because it's irrelevant) not only slow down the game play, but they also are directing your trainees to the wrong content.

Maybe it's important to know a model number of a product, but it's more important to be able to instantly recall its features and benefits--you can look up the model number later.

Having to come up with a set of game show questions allows you to sort the nice-to-know from the need-to-know.


 2. They help you pare down your content to a limited number of points.

A training session or presentation has a limited time frame, and it's extremely common for presenters to try to pack in as much information as humanly possible. Often times, this comes at the expense of interaction ("Well, we wanted it, but we just didn't have time for it."). Having dedicated time for the game show review not only ensures that there is interaction time built in, but it also helps presenters narrow the scope of their presentation.

In the 45 minute session described, there were three discrete presentations. Each presenter only had time to reinforce 2-3 key points, so they were able to have extremely focused, relevant content and supplemental game show questions that reinforced and reiterated that content.


3. They highlight what is exciting about your content. 

Along the lines of finding the "need to know" and narrowing the scope of the presentation, the game show allows you to highlight what's exciting about your content. As you play through the game you discover that, apart from the reaction to the interaction and competition, the audience also reacts to content or announcements in a weighted way. You find out what's important to them, what they're paying attention to, and what is thrilling for them.
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