Top 5 Mistakes That Bring Your Game Show to a Grinding Halt



Using a game show at an event can be an incredibly memorable and educational experience--and can energize the whole general session. But you want your game show to flow smoothly. Questions and game play should proceed at a steady pace without too much interruption (save for breaks in matches, content explanations or elaborations, etc.).


What you *don't* want to do is have your game show crawl along like the slow snail in the gene pool; making the experience unpleasant or awkward, and taking the natural energy of competition out of your game show event.

Here are the top 5 mistakes that slow down your game play (and how to solve them):


1. The questions are too difficult. Questions should be challenging, but not mystifying. Questions that are too advanced, or even hard to read or understand can result in the crickets-chirping phenomenon. This not only slows down game play, but it can become quite frustrating when trainees aren't able to get a taste of success.

If you're playing a review game, ask a slightly-simpler question in the competitive part of the game show, and then ask more challenging follow-up questions in your info screens (either for extra points or for knowledge alone).

Make sure that your questions are up to date (i.e. that you've covered the material in your presentation that you intend to review in your game).

If you have a long or complex question, break the question into pieces. Add an intro screen before the question and take time to explain the scenario--making the question itself fairly brief.


2. Timers are set incorrectly. If no one knows a question (no one is ringing in) and yet it takes the ring-in timer a long time to expire, there can be a lot of waiting around.

Keep your timers between 10-15 seconds each, or set them to manual mode. We find that manually controlling the timers can give the trainer more flexibility to spend time on a question when everyone is involved, or speed through a question that is less relevant to the training session.


3. Contestants don't understand the rules. Confusion is the cousin of chaos. Contestants need to know what they're supposed to do within a game show or they will: a.) Do nothing, b.) Dispute everything. ("Hey, but they didn't answer in the form of a question, isn't that against the rules?") Both of these scenarios suck time away from game play and disrupt the flow of  information.

Be sure to clearly explain the rules before the game starts--even if you think contestants will know how to play. A game doesn't have to be complex to be engaging; try simplifying the rules so that the focus is on playing the game--not HOW to play the game.


4. There's a logistical/tactical mismatch. Game shows can be played successfully in a large group. They can also be played successfully over a longer period of time. However, you have to have the right set up for your game and use it thoughtfully in a large group or a long session.

One of the most painful game show experiences we've seen was when a client wanted to use a large number of teams and then have the teams take turns answering questions (taking out some of the competitive aspect). While team 1 was answering, team 8 had no incentive to pay attention and vice versa. The game dragged for participants.

While playing in a large group, consider having fewer teams and utilizing small groups of participants to represent those teams--then switching out the contestants during game play. Make sure that the non-playing audience is assigned to one of the playing teams so they have a stake in the game.

When wanting a longer game show, be sure to add variety; switch up the game format, double the points, change participants or break the game show into smaller sections throughout the session.


5. Equipment failure. We once had a projector go out in the middle of a game show. Once we procured a new projection device, the momentum of the game show had been lost, and it was a bit of a slog to get through the rest.

Sometimes there's not much you can do about spontaneous equipment failure, but you can make sure that you practice with the equipment you're going to use. Test your av equipment, slammers (are the batteries turned the right way?) and projection systems. Run through your game to make sure everything is set and in the right order. If there's too much of a delay, sometimes it's better to save the game for another day or the end of the session.
Comments

How to transition a breakout session game into a larger general session.


Many clients use game shows in their event workshops; in small-to-medium sized groups in a somewhat-intimate atmosphere. The energy it brings to the smaller group is undeniable; it increases engagement, participation and content retention.

But can the small workshop solution translate into something like, say, a larger general session at an event? Sure a game show is fun in training a small group of sales reps, but what about in a room of 500...1000...1500? Will it even work? How does one even begin transitioning from a breakout session game into a larger general session game?

The answers are: Yes, game shows translate into large general sessions. Yes, they invigorate a large group in the same way they add energy and interaction in a small group. Yes, it has worked time and time again.

And here are a few strategies and considerations for transitioning a smaller game into a game within a larger context:

Team selection: Whereas everyone in a workshop or breakout may get to directly participate on a team, that's not always possible in a larger group. There are three options for team engagement in a big-group game show:
  1. Use audience-response keypads: If enough are available, giving everyone in the audience an audience response keypad is the most straightforward way of engaging everyone. Audience members can individually play along, but you group individuals on teams--creating a compelling, competitive dynamic. No "stage teams" are needed in this scenario.
  2. Use a mix of keypads and on-stage players: You may also want to have representative team members playing on stage to "ham it up" or to take the audience response into consideration for their answers.
  3. Use representative players on stage: Even if you have no keypads, you can engage and entertain everyone by selecting members of the audience to come play on a smaller team onstage. The rest of the audience members are still "part of" the team--they're responsible for cheering the team on and may reap some rewards if their team wins--but they don't have to directly interact with the game on stage. 
Host selection: While a small breakout game can be a scalable event--from a quiet Tic-Tac-Toe game to a rousing Family Feud-style--with a large event, bigger and broader is better. You'll want to make sure that your host is able to play to the crowd as well as team members, educate when needed, and to keep things moving. This doesn't need to be a professional emcee, but it should be someone who enjoys the spotlight and is very comfortable on stage--where anything can happen.

Simplify the rules: In a workshop you may have a chance to answer clarifying questions about the game rules as you go along. In a larger group this may not be possible, or it may be harder to control chaos from unclear rules as you go along. Make sure your game show rules are simple, clear and that everyone knows them. Playing a sample game question to get audience members familiar with the format, keypads and game logistics is a great idea.

Have the professionals run the game: It's easy to click-through a game show and host at the same time in a breakout session. In a larger event setting, you'll want the A/V crew to control the game. Even if you do have access to the game controls, hosting and running through the game on stage in a large setting takes a lot more energy and focus than you'll want to spend. Get a colleague or technician to supervise the game play with the tech crew if you can.

Format selection: You may want to switch out a traditionally formatted game for alternate game play when bringing it on the big stage. For instance, we often make Tic-Tac-Toe into a Hollywood-Squares-Type game, utilizing different experts and presenters throughout the game.

When in doubt? Call in the experts. We'd be happy to help you transition your breakout game into a larger event general session.
Comments

The Play is the Thing

Photo Property of Humans of New York
This photo was recently featured on Humans of New York with the anecdote:
“Back in the 30’s, I used to go to summer camp in Maine. Those were the happiest days of my life. There was a great freedom. I rode horseback, walked in the woods, went swimming, made new friends.”
“What was your happiest moment at camp?”
“One time I won a tennis match and got 50 points for my team. The whole camp was divided into two teams: Green and Tan. And we competed all summer long to see which team could get the most points. And 50 points was a really big deal! To give some perspective-- you’d only get ten points for riding on the gunnel of a canoe.”
Taken in 2015--years and years later this woman remembers the points she earned for her team.

When we try to encourage companies to break their audience into teams at an event and have them compete throughout the three days--we aren't making the recommendation for the sake of frivolity.

Adding in team competition:
  • Makes an event more memorable
  • Increases buy-in and participation
  • Encourages organic networking
  • Is an extended team-building activity
There's no mention of which team won, or prizes. It's about the points she earned contributing to her team. That's a powerful testimony to friendly team competition that can--and should--be leveraged at corporate events as well.

For more Humans of New York, visit the facebook page or website.
Comments

What's the point of your event app?

Event apps are ubiquitous now--or they are certainly trending that way. Pre-event or in the first general session an attendee can be expected to be reminded to download the event app.

Adoption rates can vary, but many of our clients have experienced surprisingly low compliance. Rates tend to be higher with a captured internal audience and lower with an external audience (i.e. an industry event with attendees from many different corporations).

But why the heck are we using event apps, anyway? What's the point? Surely if they're being developed simply because they're the next thing and "everyone has one nowadays" it doesn't mean their being utilized to their full potential.

So what is the full potential? What's the point of your event app, anyway?

Event apps used well:
Push notifications for logistical changes: Letting attendees know--in real time--when you have to make adjustments out go to plan b can be incredibly valuable. Push notifications can also be great for important reminders or to highlight a key session or presentation.

Agenda at a glance: The event app allows for a nod to the green event. A lot of things that previously consumed copious paper resources can now be done on the app: agendas, evaluations, speaker bios, and more.

Social buzz: This is tricky. When designed correctly the event app can bring the audience together outside the general session, allowing them to share insights, play event-based challenges, post pictures, and even interact with key speakers. However, this can be difficult to generate organically.

Event apps used poorly:
No valuable content: An event app can't be just another thing to download on a personal device; only to be discarded after not being used at the event at all. It should be robust: an essential guidebook to the event itself.

Demanding too much personal data: Interaction with an event app can be severely curtailed if attendees fear it treads on their privacy, or even demands a level of personal interaction that they don't want to mix with their professional life.

Social buzz: The flip side of the social buzz coin is that it's not a "build it and they will come" feature. There has to be proper incentive to participate. There should also be plenty of participants so people don't feel like they're having a one-sided conversation. Conversely, the event organizers shouldn't be the only ones participating on the event app; it becomes inauthentic and promotional instead of fostering deeper relationships between attendees.
Comments

Speaker's Corner: Asking questions to engage your audience.



We were recently asked, for the purpose of discussion: Should you ask your audience questions?

First off, there are a bunch of different types of questions in the context of the event: 


  • Letting them ask questions--where an audience can participate in a q&a session
  • Rhetorical questions--asking an audience questions that aren't intended to be answered
  • Questions to shape the presentation--where the answers to the questions you ask will you actually change your presentation
  • Knowledge questions--gauging what your audience knows about a topic
  • Competition questions--reviewing what you've told your audience to ensure comprehension
  • Questions to get demographics--finding out where your audience is at on a particular subject/topic.

Rhetorical Questions:
All questions have their place, of course, and they're a fantastic way to engage the audience. We naturally answer a question that's been asked within our heads--whether we do it consciously or not. That's why good speakers (I'm talking super-top-tier) will often pepper their speech with cues that get audience buy-in/engagement. Sometimes that's as simple as saying "right?" at the end of a point--at which time the audience will generally nod or make a physiological sign of agreement/engagement. It's not intended to be answered, and it's only effective if you know how to use the strategy. Too many rhetorical questions become a handicap to a good speech instead of an aid.

Q&A: Letting the audience ask questions: is a structured-unstructured process. I often find it more successful to let the audience write down questions and then have a specific, separate time to address them. This isn't to prevent the "flow" from being interrupted, but is, rather, another strategy for engagement. Lots of audience questions are very specific to a particular situation (that no one else in the audience might have) or are irrelevant to the topic. Or people ask questions seeking prominence and recognition with the speaker or their peer group. They can be really dull if not managed. (Not all of them--there are times when a good audience question session ends up really making the presentation great, but from what I've seen this is a rarity.)

Demographic and Shaping Questions: Asking the audience questions that are meant to be answered can certainly be a way of engaging them. Either you review knowledge by asking them rapid-fire questions about what you just covered, or you use the questions to gain datapoints/craft your presentation. The latter, of course, is only useful if you're willing to change things on the fly. There's nothing worse than being asked one's opinion only to have it thoroughly ignored--what's the point in that?

So if you're asking your audience how many of them have children to prove a point--and no one does have children--you should be prepared to shift your point instead of plowing forward. If the presentation needs to be tailored in reaction to a demographic question, be prepared to do so.

Knowledge and Competition Questions: Asking the audience questions as a review--either in competition context or just to self-test their knowledge--can be one of the most engaging tools in a speaker's toolbox. HOWEVER, this needs context within a presentation. One must prepare the audience to answer questions if they're not going to be in a structured game or competition. Prime the audience and give them permission to speak up--and let them know how to do so. If you have a multiple choice question on a powerpoint, are they supposed to shout out an answer? Vote? Raise their hands? Is it rhetorical or not? Clarifying this for your audience is key.

Competition questions can boost content retention--and presentation attention--exponentially. When the audience knows that they're going to be competing with their peers, they hyper-focus on the information at hand to gain the advantage and contribute to their team.

Comments

Part 5: A newness perspective check

One of my friends recently attended a big corporate event at his company. Naturally, I was curious about his experience as a regular plain-guy attendee, so I peppered him with questions. I asked him about activities and team building and PowerPoints--not-so-stealthily conducing my own focus-group-of-one.

He patiently answered my questions, but when he came to the team building activity, his eyes lit up. "Oh, there was this REALLY cool thing. We all got drums...and we were led by this guy and he had us drumming and eventually we were all creating music together...and it was just SO COOL and I've never done anything like that."

I rolled my eyes and started to fill in the details for him; describing the drums and the outfits the leaders typically wore and the schtick in their routine. After all, how many drum-based team building activities have I seen at events? A dozen? More? The light dimmed in his eyes as he realized that this was something rather commonplace. I felt like I had just let the air out of his tires.

The point is--event planners have seen a lot. Audience members, as a rule, have not seen as many things as we have. It's helpful to remember this when dismissing elements as "been there, done that". After all, I've never seen an audience so bored and unaffected as when I attended an event-for-event-planners.

Events are your world, not theirs. Your audiences--unless they are meeting planners themselves--do not live, breathe and eat events like you do. They don't think about the details--they go with the experience...and the experience is novel in and of itself. Most people don't go to events on a weekly, monthly, or even bi-yearly basis. Only attending, say, one event a year gives a lot of leeway for experiencing new event concepts and ideas.

What's old to you is new to them. That being said, the average audience member hasn't experienced the full event environment often. Something that feels old because you've seen it two dozen times before may be brand-new to them, or even still feel really fresh if they only experience it at the event once a year.

They pay no attention to the man behind the curtain: they get lost in the experience.  The average audience member has no idea what is going on behind the curtain; what elements had to come together to produce the experience. Because the event is outside their typical routine in so many ways, they tend to take it as a whole. This means they're both very adaptable (more willing to try new things because they're outside of their comfort zone anyway) and somewhat forgiving.

Event elements can feel like tradition. While it may seem old hat to you, participants can look forward to a stable, consistent element at an event. For instance; playing a traditional game show every year might feel stale to you, but it might be a competitive element that the audience looks forward to year after year.

It's often helpful to take off the event professional glasses and see the event through the perspective of the audience. Sure, you've seen a million motivational speakers do a million speeches, but that doesn't mean that it won't excite your audience. You've had it with round-style seating, but that doesn't mean your audience experiences that every day. Taking your audience's experience (or lack thereof) into account can be a refreshing take on your event elements.
Comments

Part 1: Is your "trend" worthy?

Before incorporating something "hot" and "trendy" into your event, it's worthwhile to weigh the benefits of the trend against its potential harm.

Harm? Well, we're not talking about any deep, lasting effects on your attendees, but sometimes doing something trendy for the sake of trend can have a negative effect on your event overall--especially if it's not thought out.

Some examples of trends that we've seen that have obvious benefits, but that also have drawbacks that are worth measuring against the actual impact they might have at an event. Often times, the difference that they make is minimal compared to the amount of hassle or time one has to spend encouraging attendees to get on board with the application/trend.

Here are a few trends at recent events that have had some great benefits, but also some obvious drawbacks.  This list isn't comprehensive, of course--and any time you choose to incorporate technology (especially bring-your-own-device) it comes with its own set of issues: privacy concerns, a social vs. professional tension, and basic logistics--like phones running out of charge or being unable to transmit in a no-reception ballroom:

Hashtags: distraction or discussion?
Creating an event hashtag and using it to start discussion, recap presentations, and engage attendees in the ever-so-trendy social media world seems to be riding a wave of popularity. In some events, however, we've already seen this trend come and go; a brand-new thing one year that doesn't quite pan out. The fizzle puts it on the do-not-repeat list for the next event, because the hassle is often not worth the payoff.

Pros: 
  • We've seen some truly unique interactions come out of the Twitter hashtag--participants can engage personally with a keynote speaker and get questions answered that wouldn't normally come up at the event. 
  • Attendees can engage with each other in a less formal, peer-to-peer way.
  • Twitter feeds at the event can give a real-time pulse of what's going on, and can help solve attendee problems/answer questions at-moment.
  • The hashtag feed gives you an opportunity to make the event encompass the entirety of the time together--not just the general session or breakouts.

Cons: 
  • Adoption has generally been low; people either don't have a Twitter account to engage, or don't want to use their own personal account for a business event (and don't want to create a new account for the sole purpose of the event, either. 
  • The few people who *do* end up participating in the Twitter feed tend to be heavy users (there isn't a lot of moderate participation), and have their own cliquish event discussion apart from non-using peers. This also leads to nose-in-the-phone syndrome during event time.
  • Generating enough use for the hashtag/feed is continual work; presenters, materials and staff are continually "marketing" the hashtag--or it doesn't get used.

Apps: True value or phone clutter?
Many companies have invested in making their own smart-device "apps" for an event. This seems to be particularly common in events where the audience is external (like association meetings), though we've also seen internal event application.

Pros: 
  • Logistics--like agendas, housekeeping, where-to-meet, when to check out, etc. can be updated in real-time and paperlessly.
  • Allows for internal, somewhat-more-secure networking between attendees and things like quick attendee profile access, access to speaker bios, etc. 
  • Enables branded access to the event in a way that extends beyond breakouts and general sessions.

Cons: 
  • Requires a dedicated app manager and, also, dedicated staff to assist in download and instruction for attendees.
  • Many apps we've seen have had various complexity and functionality issues; i.e. loading and navigating the app was slow enough to make it virtually useless.
  • Compliance and adoption tends to be low: company devices often restrict the download of external apps, many attendees don't want an additional program on their personal phones, some will neglect or forget to download the app before the event, etc.

Vine/Instagram: Privacy versus people.
Remember when a lot of events had Facebook Pages, trying to incorporate social media almost in a for-its-own-sake social media push? That trend fizzled quickly with concerns over personal and professional privacy. However, some companies are encouraging the use of other up-and-coming social media darlings in a more piecemeal, personal way with Vine and Instagram.

Pros: 
  • Human element: Little Vine videos and Instagram pictures really capture the *people* that are at your event in a way that your event photographer might not be able to do. These can be great mementos and reminders of the event post-show.
  • Capture cool moments: Inevitably there are many little "viral" moments at an event that become running jokes or themes. Capturing and displaying them gets your audience involved and actively participating in the event.
  • People are already utilizing/familiar with these technologies. There is a potential for wider exposure of your event through your attendees' existing networks.

Cons: 
  • On the other hand, there is potential for wider exposure of your event through your attendees' existing networks.  The public nature of these mediums makes it an uncontrolled element, and attendees may not want to mix professional and personal personas.
  • Incrimination. If your VP has a few too many cocktails at a networking reception and lets a bit of proprietary information slip...now you have it on record. Sure, an after-hours karaoke meet-up for attendees is a fun idea--especially if they've had a full, productive day in working sessions--but out of the context of the event...in a public space...in the hands of the media...will it look like a boondoggle?
Sensational moments: Budget-blowing distraction or Millennial attraction?
Recently we were at a presentation geared toward making events attractive to the Millennial generation. The presenters suggested creating sharable moments--big, sensational elements in an event that attendees couldn't resist telling their friends about. This isn't something that's new for this generation--companies have been doing big event openers for ages--but what goes around comes around, and the sensational moment is trending yet again.

Pros: 
  • Sharable: Attendees want to talk about a great big-name comedian, a personal fireworks show, a giant character from their favorite show, a cool meal presentation, etc. Having a sharable moment can generate buzz for your event.
  • Thoughtfully crafted, a sensational moment can fit with the brand or theme of your event.
  • A big opening sets the tone and expectation at an event.

Cons: 
  • Hard to live up to. If your first moment of an event is a huge gospel choir leading everyone into the room, having your extra-dry VP give a finance update is going to seem especially painful. You don't want there to be too much up-and-down at your event; the energy level should increase not crash and burn.
  • Often times, these sensational moments don't further the message. So the impact is superficial, and not sustainable. 
  • To make a true impact, budget is often needed--and often lots of it. We had a client that wanted to make a huge deal of raising a ship's flag on stage: multiple people, lights, sound, everything. In reality, however, the flag was about 6' total and took about 4 seconds to raise--so it looked ridiculous. Is the budget worth the moment of impact is a question that needs to be considered very carefully--especially if the moment isn't going to have an impact throughout (or after) your event.
I'm sure we're missing a few trends (flash mobs still haven't died out entirely), so if you have any other suggestions feel free to share them.

Trends aren't bad--they're trends for a reason--but before you incorporate that hot new trend that every event is doing, consider:
  • Does it add value?
  • Is it "worth it" to your attendees?
  • Is the extra effort giving you a big enough payoff?
Because if it doesn't do ANY of those things, then incorporating a trend doesn't make your event fresh--it just adds a cumbersome element. 

Click to see all parts of this 8-part series.
Comments

Balancing "New" with "Tried and True"

We find that clients generally fall into two equally frustrating camps of thought:

1. We want to do something new NO MATTER WHAT.
2. We ONLY want to do what we've done before because it works.

Any event consultant has faced this challenge. You're stuck between the proverbial rock and the tremendously dull place. Your goal is to give your client the best possible solution for their event. The best design. The thing that engages their attendees and really has an impact beyond the event. That thing might be something that they've done before and has been wildly successful, or it might be something that's completely new.

With the first client--the client in scenario one--they they desire ONLY what is new. It doesn't matter if something was well-received the year before, is incredibly effective, and is a fresh, repeatable, or universal idea. If it's been done before--if it's been seen before (and sometimes just by them)--it's out.

With the second client--the client in scenario two--they ONLY want to do what's been done before. It doesn't matter if their event is stale, if their technique or idea isn't serving them well, or if it just flat-out isn't working--if it's been done before with some level of success (nothing in the event blew up), they'll do it again and stubbornly refuse suggestions to do otherwise.

Obviously a lot of clients are in between the categories "Must have New" and "Stuck in a Rut"--and a lot of people have elements of each. But for those that fall into one camp or another, well, they can be frustrating to deal with. Not only that, but they can be making a lot more work for themselves, or falling short of the event's potential simply because of their event philosophy.

We're not saying either way is bad or wrong, of course, but in most cases a little bit of compromise toward the middle (either a fresher approach, or keeping traditional staples that strengthen the heritage of an event) produces a more captivating, powerful event.

So how do we shift our clients...and how do we shift ourselves if we fall into one of those camps?

This topic is also not one with a simple one-part-blog-entry solution.
So we're starting a series dealing with different aspects of this topic. Look for the tag: 8 Trend and Tradition Event-Changers.

1. Is your "trend"...worthy?: Considering new event trends with a critical eye before adoption.
2. Persuasion for Rut-dwellers: Convincing the higher-ups to try something new utilizing the 4 levels of persuasion.
3. Babysteps for big impact: Implementing new ideas in stages for gradual change, and changing stale ideas for fresher traditions.
4. Here today, gone tomorrow: Slow adoption and why the event industry is months and years behind popular culture
5. Newness perspective check: Judging your experience against the audience.
6. Event Classics: A list of event concepts and ideas that stand the test of time.
7. Trend vs. Tradition: The value in ritual.
8. Crowd Sourcing: How the staple of Millennial interaction can energize your event every time. 
Comments

The Five Perils of a Panel

Panels during event general sessions seem like a good idea at first: you're utilizing different presenters, so there's a change in focus/attention every 5-6 minutes, you're engaging in a discussion format that seems like it would be more engaging, you have the opportunity to get different perspectives, and you may even have some audience interaction in the form of questions.

Indeed, panel discussions at places like ComicCon and similar are exceedingly popular and very interesting to their super-fans. The key there being super-fans.

How about when you have a sales audience and you have a panel of customers?
A panel of executives presenting to the rank and file?

This is an entirely different story. These panels often come off as flat, unengaging and boring. When you look at the best aspects of a great presentation, these elements seem to be missing in panels entirely. So why are these panels so painful and deadly-dull for the audience? Where do panels go wrong?

1. They're usually not needed and have unclear outcomes.
Typically people come up with the idea to do a panel because they think it will be more interesting than a series of presentations. That may be the case, but doing a panel for the sake of doing a panel doesn't produce the results one desires. Panels are not exempt from needing explicit, clear and focused outcomes. Without an outcome, the panel can wander, lose focus or suffer from a lack of focus to begin with.

2. The dynamics of a panel often fall flat.
What is intended to be a differentiated format often offers no differentiation of its own within itself. There is no emotional charge behind a panel. They suffer from a lack of narrative drive, and there is no cohesive story to captivate and intrigue the audience. Often times the presenters lack chemistry or relation to each other, so even the format of the panel cannot be used correctly.

3. Panel presenters have a broad spectrum of ability.
Some panel members may be very engaging and others may not. This would seem to be fine, but often those that aren't engaging or may not even have much to say about a topic at hand feel obligated to jump in on a topic to fulfill their panel time or justify their presence on the panel. Instead of hearing from an expert in a cohesive way, the audience may hear from several non-experts in a disjointed way. With uneven presentation skills, the audience comes away with the experience provided by the lowest common denominator.

4. Panels give a lack of control over presentations. 
Panels--especially those featuring gracious customers or outside volunteers--offer very little control over the messaging and storyline. It's easy, within a panel discussion, to veer off-topic or into taboo territory. Presenters may grandstand or focus on what they find interesting about a topic versus what the audience needs to know or what the audience finds interesting.

5. Audience questions fizzle out in a panel.
This is not a problem unique to panels, but it can be amplified by the panel format. In order to incorporate audience interaction, panels often will solicit questions from the audience. The audience will then typically ask what is most important to them personally...and it may have absolutely zero relevance to anyone else in the room. Generally audiences are not great at moderating their question level to the broader interest of the group at large. In a panel, then, you may have a question come up with little relevance, but that ends up taking up a large chunk of the panel time.


Panels aren't all bad--don't get us wrong--it's just that they are so often misused and abused. So how does one go about fixing panel perils? Our next blog installment will cover what you can do to make a panel more effective.
Comments

How to select an AniMate for an event.

So you want to use an AniMate for your event.

(And why wouldn't you? They engage an audience, further your message, increase content retention, add humor and interactivity and become one of the favorite elements of any event for years to come...)

How do you know which AniMated character is right for you? There are two ways to think about an AniMate--what is their role, and what is their character.

Role: An AniMate's role encompasses what they mean to the audience. Who are they? Are they a mascot? One of the audience? These don't have to be clearly drawn along character lines--a member of the audience doesn't have to be a humanoid character and a mascot doesn't have to be an animal, etc.

Character: A character is the actual form the AniMate is going to take. Are they a human? A bird? A talking line?  Characters can be humanoid, animal, logos coming to life, abstract designs, talking products, etc.

When our clients are selecting an AniMate, the selection process doesn't just happen one way (first we decide on a character, then figure out his role or vice versa), this can be inspired in many ways--from a beloved company mascot to getting inspiration from a location (our most recent AniMate was a horse after finding out the event was being held at Wild Horse Pass). The most important thing about the AniMate, however, is not what form it takes, but its role. The role determines what tone the characters' messaging will take and how they relate to the audience.

Company/Program Mascot: Some companies have pre-existing mascots that can come to life, others want to create a mascot for an event, program or as an ongoing part of their company. A mascot takes on an inspirational role and supports the event in a more company-centric way. A few examples of mascots we've AniMated: The Pillsbury Dough Boy, Geoffrey the Giraffe, Charge the Rhino, and several other logos/characters that have either come to life or have been developed specifically for the event.

Future Character: A character that knows what is going to happen in the future, and is excited to be at this event to share their wisdom/knowledge, and to urge the audience in a certain direction. They can be there because this is truly the time when everything all comes together, or because it's the moment where they need to make a decision to change things radically in order to succeed.

One of the Audience/Audience Advocate: This is a character who--in some way--represents a member of the audience. They could have either been "sucked in" to the virtual world somehow, or be someone/some thing who was planning on attending for the first time. (I.e. In a convention of meeting planners, we had Eddie the Eagle--who was the head of meeting planners for eagles.) They have the audience's interests in mind and ask the same questions that they would ask. These are usually the most compelling and effective characters; especially if the audience needs to be persuaded or the company is facing challenges ahead.

Skeptical Joiner: A character that appears at an event with ingrained skepticism apart and perhaps above what the audience could typically express. This could be a representation of a new-hire or someone applying to be one of the audience, something who is looking for a team to join, or someone who is not certain they believe in a new product or idea. Eventually, of course, they come around; taking the audience on the journey with them. Two examples of skeptical joiner characters we've done are Petey the Pirate--who was just a pirate sailing on into the event and seeing if this was the right sales force to loot and plunder with (if the company had the right plan and the right resources and were ready to go)--and Lenny the Louse (a louse that showed up at the meeting of a lice-removal product launch with confidence that he would still be okay...but then getting more and more frightened as he learned about the product, and eventually deciding, "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em".)

Product Advocate: This character is more often used in tradeshow environments than in meetings. Their role is to promote a product to the audience in a variety of different ways. They can be a user, an expert (i.e. a professor) or they can even be the product themselves. They communicate the different features and benefits and can answer any questions about the product on the minds of the audience.

Emcee Only: Sometimes you need a little character in your event. Characters don't always have to interact with presenters and further the message. I mean, we think it's most effective when they do, but they are also engaging in their own right. They have the advantage of being a unique and novel host and can bring humor along with serving as a point of continuity throughout an event. Sometimes they aid a human (real-live-non-animated) host in their role, delivering essential housekeeping and other logistical notes in an engaging way.


Character roles are not limited by these categories, of course, just as they're not limited in form. We do, however, spend extensive time with our clients developing a character, role, and figuring out how the AniMate can best serve the event based on the event outcomes.
Comments

A Talking Horse (of course, of course)

Our client was hosting their annual event--the first User's Forum in 4 years after a 30 year tradition--at Wild Horse Pass in Arizona.

There was excitement all around. The location was beautiful and the event was much-anticipated after its absence. We had previously done an AniMate for the same company's internal show with huge success and many, many raves--so they wanted to bring a little of that magic to the conference for their users.

But which character to use? There are many ways to choose which AniMate is right for your event (we'll get into that in the next blog entry), but in this case they looked to the resort for inspiration.

Wild Horse Pass? How about a talking horse? Enter "Neighthan" (pronounced neeeeeeeighthan).

But as fun as it may seem, one cannot just have a talking horse for the sake of a talking horse. This horse was entertaining and fun, but was also there for serious business. The client had specific goals that they wanted the horse--as co-emcee--to accomplish:
  • Help introduce the new internal emcee to the audience and establish his credibility
  • Foster a feeling of community
  • Continue on a tradition of entertainment in the general sessions
  • Make a big splash without losing meaning
  • Communicate key message points about the product
  • Help convey housekeeping, maintain general session flow, and other regular emcee duties
  • Host interactive games that would inspire the audience to come *back* to the end-of-day sessions

The result? Neighthan was universally beloved by the audience; who looked forward to seeing him. Not only that, but his co-emcee (the internal emcee) described himself as being "like a rockstar". Neighthan elevated the other emcee in his role as well as entertaining and engaging the audience on a talking-horse level. Neighthan was positioned as a fellow forum attendee and user (only from a "one-man town" instead of a "one-horse town"), so he had permission to ask questions, recap product information that he was "learning" along with the audience, and become part of the community.

The next year's event won't be in Wild Horse Pass, but that doesn't mean our client won't be putting Neighthan in his virtual trailer and taking him along for the ride. In just two days, he became a part of the team--making our client look wonderful in the eyes of their users.

Now that's a horse of a different color.
Comments

From Skeptic to Believer: One AniMate's Tale

Using an AniMated character at a meeting or an event can be a hard sell. It can be difficult for people to imagine how it's going to play out on screen. Will it be cheesy? Will people think it's a gag or a gimmick? What's the point?

This is not always the case, of course, but sometimes an AniMated character is like fireworks: a video or picture just doesn't do the concept justice. You have to be there.

We recently had a client whose advisers had seen an AniMate in practice. The client was skeptical, but the advisers--seeing the widespread success of the AniMate at the event they were at--insisted that she use an AniMate for there event.

The client was, to say the least, skeptical. She wasn't sure how it was going to work. The event included their best clients...what if it was embarrassing? She went so far as to inform us that she would be waiting in the ladies room during the opening monolog just in case everything bombed so badly that there was no hope for recovery.

We assured her that in 20 years of event experience, we have NEVER had an AniMated character fail to be a hit with the audience. Ever.

Why an AniMate works:
  • The AniMate is the voice of the audience; they get to express their questions, support, skepticism and inside humor.
  • The audience relates to the AniMate.  He/She IS the audience. 
  • It provides an unprecedented level of interaction at an event.
  • It keeps the audience engaged throughout the ENTIRE event (no matter how dry the other material can be) with both humor and content material.
  • It puts the audience in a positive emotional state and suspends their disbelief.
  • It's a new experience for the audience; it's not just meeting-as-usual.
  • They can introduce and interact with speakers; creating strong "what's in it for me" relevance for the audience.
  • They can reinforce the corporate brand.
  • They react to the presenters, the audience and the event LIVE--making the meeting an organic, interactive, changing thing.
  • AniMates can influence and persuade the audience in a subtle, covert way.
But an AniMate is never hokey or cheesy--because it mirrors the level of the audience, and our expert staff of writers have been navigating the AniMate waters for a long time. There's simply no room for cheesy when the humor comes out of the event, the people, and the content. An AniMate isn't a gag-reel or an interruption; it is a seamless, purposeful part of the event. Audiences adore the interaction and entertainment, and the event producers love the audience engagement and attention.

Now in the case of our skeptical client (as in every other case) their audience LOVED the AniMate. Not only did it receive anecdotal rave reviews, but in post-event surveys on a scale from 1-10 the AniMate was rated 10.2. Attendees had actually filled in extra boxes and raised their ratings to express their enthusiasm for the character and its impact on the event.

But that wasn't all. After the event, we received this letter from our skeptical client:

Well, I must take my licks – I have to admit that I was definitely short-sighted on what Live Spark would bring to our conference.  You guys were awesome, and were a vital part of the success of [Redacted Event Name].  After a few tense moments on Monday morning, when none of us were sure what the reaction would be, it took off – successful beyond what I think any of us imagined.  As I have de-briefed with various members, we’ve all agreed that it was, by far, our best conference on record.  There was something about the energy and engagement of both [redacted] members and clients alike.  And as I think about what [Redacted] said about starting the day in a positive frame of mind, I truly think this was the beauty of what Live Spark/[Character] brought – we started each day laughing, and then left the room charged up and ready to go.  The energy and positive feeling was truly different, and had a direct impact on the success of the conference.

I’m glad we took the time to really focus on the voice and persona of the animate – you really nailed it, and it was clear that you listened to us.  But it was also evident that you maintained your level of creativity and originality.  Thank you for all you did, and you can now list me as an official Live Spark convert!

Thanks again, and looking forward to 2013.

[Redacted]


We would say that the success of the AniMate speaks for itself, but the amazing, overwhelmingly positive feedback from our clients, the audience, and past clients is what *really* speaks.
Comments

Flash Mob: A Team Building Flash-In-The-Pan?

Since we've been talking about Team Building (or teambuilding or team-building or teamBONDING) experiences lately, we thought we'd point out another team building trend: super trendy trends.

Some examples are team challenges/experiences like:
  • Create a "viral" video
  • Create a "mashup" of two songs that describe your company
  • Participate in a "flash mob"
It's interesting to see social media-influenced trends trickle down into the corporate world...about a year after the internet has stopped talking about them. It makes sense, in a way, that this is the time line. It does, after all, take time to build up best-practices and processes around these concepts.

However, the window of opportunity for these super-trendy team building concepts can be very short lived. There are some components of these ideas that have legs or that might work well as part of a larger context. Creating videos, for instance, is something that can be used in team building in a variety of different ways. It's only the colloquialism "viral" that gives it the trend-spin.

The danger, of course, is that these things quickly become passe or "corporatized" to the point where they lose that freshness that made them appealing in the first place. Let's take the flash mob, for instance. The idea behind a flash mob team building is that everyone learns the same steps and has to coordinate to come up with a final product. They then, at some point, perform this--perhaps during an interlude at an award ceremony, for instance. We've seen this now about a half-dozen times at various events and it has never failed to...well...fall a little flat. Flash mobs in and of themselves are/were originally delightful because they had an element of surprise. Some people--the dancers--were in on the mob, but the rest of the audience was amazed by this moment of socially-awkward-moment-turned-coordinated-effort. In addition to taking away novelty, the amazingly complex movements performed by a group need to be simplified, played down and cleansed for a corporate audience with various skill levels. And, truthfully, 80% of all executives we've seen performing in a flash mob looked tremendously uncomfortable.

Viral videos become viral because they have an almost-indefinable nugget of appeal. Something that surprises people and makes them want to watch and share the video. Part of the charm is in absurdity and spontaneity; a truly "viral" video is incredibly hard to manufacture. It is certainly extra-hard for your average meeting attendee, and most of the "viral videos" we've seen end up veering perilously off-message and into the inexplicably bizarre territory. Of course, there's the option to parody other viral videos, but that takes away from some of the creativity this activity is supposed to foster.

There are the same issues with song mashups, etc. The bottom line is that "trend" gets played out and loses its aim quickly when done for trend's sake. We're not arguing against fresh ideas and changing things up--we like that--but sometimes tried and true IS better than flash-in-the-pan. Or flash in the mob.
Comments

Beyond Bike-Building: Making Team Building Better

It seems like, these days, everyone is doing a charity bike building team-building (or team-bonding, depending on how much vernacular you want to employ) component in their events. Heck, the recent scandalous G.S.A. event featured a $75,000 bike-building portion (which worked out to be $3k a bike...those must have been some very nice bikes).

Watching trends in team building is interesting to event professionals. Multi-day meetings have traditionally reserved an afternoon "outing" so the audience could have some non-event "reward" time. This could be a golf tournament, a spa afternoon, some deep-sea fishing...whatever. This was well-intentioned; the audiences were faced with hours of intense workshops or general session content, and in a meeting generally devoid of one-to-one content, interaction and networking (that didn't revolve around the bar) was needed.

However, this type of team building was seen as lacking a true business purpose, and as belts tightened it became more and more frowned upon. Meeting planners were faced with a dilemma: give the audience a chance to relieve stress and network--but with a business purpose. Team Building was born.

And then came ropes courses, build-a-bikes, scavenger hunts... you get the idea. It reflects an unfortunate team building trend--that it's something that is plugged into a meeting as an a-la carte element instead of something consistent with the whole. Not that the charity purpose is bad (it is absolutely not, and could definitely be part of a company's ongoing mission) it's just that people are not utilizing the full potential of team building.

A well-designed meeting has team building, sure, but it uses it in a different way:
  • Team building is integrated with the theme and content of the event. Is a major component of your event a new product? Sales training? The goals for the next year? You can--and should--use these as jumping-off points in designing team building activities. Use team building to build upon skills. That's not saying it can't be a bit lighter on the learning and heavier on the fun, but integrating team building with content produces a powerful punch.
  • Team building is not a 3-hour single event. Team building integrated throughout the event (i.e. putting the audience on teams and having multiple team challenges throughout the meeting days) can be much stronger both in team building and in overall audience engagement. You can still have the three-hour team building block, but it can be supplemented by other team building activities. Your whole event has the potential to build up your team--grab and use that potential.
  • Team building has meaning. You don't want your audience to walk away going, "That was fun, but so what?" or worse, "That was pointless, I wonder how much that cost?" Team building is an amazing opportunity to give your audience members a gift; of creative opportunity, of peer learning, etc. It should be relevant to them. The new wave of team building tends to be slightly more inclusive than the divisive "golf outing" wave, but hardly any of the messaging lasts beyond the event. I've never spoken to anyone who reminisces fondly with colleagues: do you remember that bike-building we did?
To be clear, we think that team building can have an impact and be a necessary, positive thing. It's a chance to bring people together, to forge bonds, to strengthen the organization through interpersonal relationships. But it shouldn't be a throw-away.
Comments

Your Audience Has Baggage

Say you're having an annual sales meeting. The audience comes into the ballroom and sits diligently in front of the stage. What's known in the industry as the SUSD opening video plays (that's Shut Up Sit Down for non-insiders). The CEO comes out to speak about the previous year and the goals for next year. And your audience shuts off.

It's all pretty straight forward; but is the message that is being delivered even acknowledging the state of the audience? People don't just come into a sales meeting all tabula rasa; waiting for you to dump 8 hours of information into their heads (not that information should be dumped anyway, but that's another blog post). They come with the whole year on their shoulders.

We're not saying that you have to start off a meeting with a little therapy session, but measures must be taken to move your audience from baggage-carrying and not-really-listening to an unburdened audience ready to see the possibilities of the next year. If you don't do this, every persuasive point you try to make (i.e. "We can hit 3% growth, here's what I want you to do," will be met with skepticism).

1. Acknowledge what they're going through. If it's been a tough year, don't kick off the meeting like everything is great. Ignoring a major communal issue that the audience has isn't going to make them forget it--it's going to make them reiterate that issue in their heads after every point you make.

It's not enough to say, "It's been a tough year," either. Open by relating to the audience. "I know it's been a tough year; you've had problems retaining sales leaders, our clients only seem to want bargains, we're late on x product." That way you can get over the past and move forward into the coming year. Maybe the situation isn't going to improve--but acknowledging that you're all going through it is going to help people deal with it as a team.

2. Anticipate objections. You want the audience to adopt a new sales strategy, but in the past you've gone through "new sales strategies" like a couch potato working on a bag of chips? (This year: Relationship Selling! Next year: No, Now Whiteboarding!) What makes you think that the audience will have faith that the new way will stick around? Why would they make the effort to adopt something that will be gone in a few months? Pre-frame their objections by acknowledging the situation of the past and giving concrete reasons (what's in it for them) for the future strategy.

3. Acknowledge your shortcomings. If you didn't deliver on something--don't be afraid to admit it to your audience. "We know that we didn't give you marketing support like we promised, but we'll have to do more with less." It's not justification to tell the story of an initiative gone wrong. It's a way of bringing it to a rational, understandable level. Be sure to follow up, of course, with why it's not going to be this way in the future (or alternate options if it IS going to be this way in the future).

4. It's not all negative. If your team busted their behinds all year and did a great job, don't start off by telling them how much more they're expected to grow in the coming year. It's okay to celebrate. This doesn't mean that you'll be resting on your laurels in the future, but many people are driven by significance and positive reinforcement. Be sure to give your team the props they deserve for a job well done.
Comments

Audience Response Keypads vs. Smartphone Voting

Many companies make an effort to keep up with the latest technology in their events. This can aid in engagement and make the event seem more technologically relevant to a younger or more tech-savvy audience. Audience response systems are a great way to engage everyone in an audience, involve them in competition, and encourage interaction.

We've been hearing quite a bit about using smartphones as audience response devices lately. Naturally, we're intrigued since we've helped clients produce many whole-audience game shows using audience response systems...and we've also seen smartphone voting systems in use--so we have some thoughts.

We love the idea of an audience response device that the attendee can always have with them, keep with them, and is multi-purpose. That's what we love about the smartphone audience response concept.

However, the smartphone technology still has a few things that need to be worked out:
  • Not everyone has a smartphone yet. Hard to believe, but true! Unless the company is providing the smartphone, it can be hard to reconcile the availability of technology AND make sure that the audience response system is compatible across all platforms.
  • Reception. It can be difficult to get reception in an event room. Sometimes impossible. Though smartphones can often hook on to internal wifi, etc, this may pose security issues of another kind. Therefore, you have a legitimate concern with steady connectivity. If someone's cell signal gives out at a game-winning moment... We'd hate to be the judge on that one!
  • With a smartphone, everything is at hand. Literally. It's easy to get distracted by an incoming text, email, the internet, etc. If you're using this in a large event it encourages people to have their cell phones out (when it can already be difficult to maintain their attention spans).
  • Cheater, cheater. . . having a phone in-hand while voting makes sending a game show answer to a friend just a quick-text away. Not that we'd question the integrity of the audience, but stranger things have been known to happen.
While we think smartphone response systems are a great concept, we think they have a long way to go in terms of practical application at this time. For right now, we'll stick with our good ol', reliable, radio-frequency audience response keypads.
Comments (1)

A "Third Day" Audience

Recently, we were brought in to consult on a very small element of an event. We produced a game show that took place on the first and third day.

The game show itself went over very well--utilizing both a set of contestants and audience-response keypads so everyone could play along.

At the beginning of the third day, however, we noticed a marked change in the audience. The energy was low. They seemed tired. We asked another producer if the "networking" the night before was the culprit, and they responded--nonplussed--"No, it's just a typical third day audience."

Why does a third day audience get a pass on being as engaged as a first day audience? This was a bit of a shock to us--our "typical" events have the audience leaving MORE energized on the third day than on the first. Instead of a high climax on the first day followed by a slow, downhill denouement to the flight home, our events start out with moderate energy and build and build and build.

Why?

Energy in an event indicates that the audience is still primed for learning. Energy doesn't always equate with rah-rah pom-poms (though it certainly can, if the circumstances are right) but it signals active participation on the part of the audience members. You want an audience engaged all the days of your event--quite simply--so that all the days of messaging will be absorbed and taken back into the field.

How?

Making sure that an audience stays energized for an entire event is no small feat. Most events are designed to work against this goal; big opening followed by a keynote followed by presenter after presenter...a day of workshops...some strategy presentations on the final day...etc. Here are just a few broad-brush ways we keep an event from having a "Typical Third Day Audience":
  • Have points of engagement throughout the event; games, discussions, audience interaction.
  • Put the audience on teams and elicit their commitment to active (not passive) participation.
  • (Along previous lines...) Have the audience develop their own goals and ground rules for the event.
  • Incorporate competition through games and activities.
  • Have an emcee whose purpose goes beyond introducing the next speaker; they can prime content, tie messages together, lead reflections and give the audience "brain breaks" in between speakers.
  • Require all presentations to be engaging, brain-based, interactive, pointed and RELEVANT.
  • Control the environment of the room--this may mean having fewer breakouts and more general session.
  • Avoid information overload. You can start to do this by making sure each critical point/outcome is previewed, presented, reviewed (several times), and practiced. This will naturally limit the amount of information you can include, and will also increase chances of "what's important" being remembered.
  • Change the way information is being presented frequently.
We'll cover some of these individual points in greater detail in future blog entries.
Comments (1)
See Older Posts...