Producers vs. Presenters: Taming the Presentation Deadline Beast
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.
Everything I need to know about an audience I learned from my 4 month old baby.
Not that adults aren't in possession of more complex systems--they are--but there are some basic brain concepts that don't change as we age. We just tend to forget about them because we feel like adults should be able to willfully manage their states--while we forgive babies for getting fussy when they're overly tired or hungry or need to see something new.
However, the baby who wiggles in their chair when not entertained will become the adult who takes their brain out for a walk during an event or presentation. You can't see them disengage--but that doesn't mean it isn't happening.
Here are 5 things that Nadia has in common with an event audience:
Your audience can't sustain attention for 45 minutes...an hour...without additional stimulation.
This is why adding a little WEIRDNESS into your presentation is really memorable. This is why disruptions that don't support your message can be REALLY distracting.
They can carry that anger with them; totally ignoring the Very Important Message you're trying to get across. Interrupt the pattern before launching into the new plan. You need to stop the fussing before they can be effective listeners again.
Naps can help a baby, but what does an audience need? Time to process information. To recharge. Maybe make that networking dinner end VERY early after a full day of general sessions and workshops. Give breaks in between presenters and let the audience write down their key takeaways.
Use of pacifiers is optional.
*Adorableness of your audience may vary.
How creativity rules when an event goes wrong.
Lucky for, well, everyone--no one knows EXACTLY how the event is supposed to go save for you. Chances are that an overwhelming majority of the time the audience won't know that something didn't go as planned.
But sometimes BIG things happen. You can't know what will go wrong, but the best thing you can do is remain creatively agile. Have a backup plan in mind. We're not talking about moving the lunch inside when you're blessed with an epic tropical storm during your soiree, here. We're talking about content not going over, technical issues that stop the show, and things that just flat-out didn't play.
1. Have a contingency plan.
When you have many years of experience in events, you have a couple of activities or strategies in your back pocket that you can seamlessly insert into an event. It's good to have these planned out ahead of time. They can either be backup presenters (uh oh, if the CEO gets the flu, who is going to deliver her message the day-of?), backup activities (the team competition is incredibly skewed, how can you insert an activity that might balance the event), or other (we've gone 1 hour over time--what can be swapped out for something else or moved around).
Look at each place in your agenda and think, "What if?" We're not saying to start thinking like things ARE going to go wrong--just have a few tricks up your sleeve just in case. Sometimes plan b ends up going over better than plan a anyway.
2. Get a Character assist.
We realize that this is unique to our offerings in a way, but having an AniMate* to right the course can be an incredibly valuable tool at an event. One of the main issues with executing plan changes at an event is communicating the what, when and WHY. An AniMate can do this in the voice of the audience, make sure everyone is on the same page, and host additional activities or events without having to get an internal presenter up to speed on the fly.
3. Engage low-tech solutions for high-tech problems.
We've all had technology crash and burn (um, sometimes quite literally) at an event. You run the PowerPoints 100 times and the projector bulb goes out. You triple-check the video sound and someone unplugs and re-plugs a cable without running it one more time. The amazing event laptop AND backup system is wiped in the middle of the night by Event Goblins. Whatever. Technology is ubiquitous and can be flawed. The good news is that the low-tech solution can be a welcomed novelty when the high-tech plan fails.
Having a presenter sketch out their points on a flip-chart when the powerpoint goes down can be compelling and even force the presenter to speak more spontaneously and engagingly. Narrating a soundless video on the fly can be an exercise in improvisation with fantastic (and often humorous) results. Phone polling that ceases to function because ballrooms get notoriously poor reception can be replaced by a simple raising of hands...or an even more interactive standing up to respond.
The key with any event issue is agility and creativity. The best producers we've known have kept their head in times of uncertainty and chaos, taken a deep breath, and put forward several alternate solutions. They don't have to be perfect to work, and the audience doesn't know the difference most of the time anyway.
*An AniMate is a live, 3-D animated character who interacts with the emcee and presenters to communicate messaging, be the voice of the audience, add humor, and/or host the event.
How to: Kill your event with a Q&A session.
They also wanted to add a q&a (question and answer) session at the end of the day.
We advised against this. Strongly. But in the end, they were persistent and there was a half-hour q&a session at the end of the day. We watched the (up-until-then) fantastic, engaging, uplifting meeting spiral down into a pit of suck*.
Now we're not opposed to q&a sessions. There are many reasons to do them--and many of those reasons are great:
- They promote transparency
- They allow executives or upper-level management to hear from "the people"
- You can craft your content around more-relevant topics as you hear common questions
- It's important for people to feel heard
- They drag on too long
- They're unmoderated and awkward
- They take the event or content in a direction that is undesired
- Worse, they take the event or content in a direction that is irrelevant or overly-specific
- They turn into gripe sessions
- They are uninteresting for anyone who is not asking a particular question
Don't: Put your q&a session in a huge block of time at the end of the day.
People who have already been through a large amount of content are brain-tired and less receptive to answers, less likely to pay attention, and less likely to leave the event on a positive note.
Having a q&a session at the end of the day also eliminates your ability to respond to concerns or content shifts brought up in the q&a
- Instead: Sprinkle your q&a in short chunks throughout the day.
Don't: Leave questions up to random chance.
People ask what interests them. Often times, questions are irrelevant to a large majority of the audience, or deal with an extremely specific situation. Questions can also become a forum for "bitch sessions" where people air more grievances than on Festivus.
Non-anonymous questions can also lead to "safe" questions only or a lack of participation.
- Instead: Have question boxes in the meeting room where people can submit questions at any time. Ask these in your q&a time instead. This is a method to filter questions for the q&a session--but it isn't censoring the questions. All questions may be answered, just not immediately at the event.
Don't: Have an unmoderated q&a session.
Both executives AND question-askers can lead a session WAY off track or make it drag on too long. You don't want attendees to be sitting with a sense of "when is this going to be OVER with, already" anticipation.
- Instead: Have a panel and limit answers to a particular time. This keeps the q&a session moving along and provides a bit of lively levity.
We're not against q&a sessions--it's just that they so often become the Achilles heel of the event...and they don't HAVE to with a little restructuring and thought.
How tightly should you pack your event agenda?
For a lot of our clients the thinking is: Well, we have everyone here and it was expensive to bring everyone here...so we're going to use every minute of our time!
One can see the (sort-of) logic in that. But utilizing every minute can actually be a WASTE of time (and money).
Not only does it leave the attendees exhausted and frustrated, but it also interrupts business and attendees can't possibly be expected to actually remember all the content in so intense a time-frame. It's just too much (and often times this is concurrent with bad learning design).
One of the biggest complaints we hear is that attendees don't have enough time on their own--or time to decompress (they go from general session to breakouts to team building to some orchestrated team dinner and networking session, etc.). When presentations run over-time, organizers shorten and sacrifice breaks and lunches and discussions. It's kind of crazy--and most certainly wrong--that a jam-packed event (that is supposed to be inspirational or kick off a great year ahead) can leave attendees more stressed out than motivated.
Why people pack agendas:
- Having everyone at the same place at the same time is a great opportunity to communicate a consistent message.
- They want to get the most "bang for the buck"; as long as people are there, they want to communicate as many messages as possible.
- They feel that downtime is wasted time.
- They feel that, left to their own devices, their audience might be bored or even organize their own non-sanctioned networking (i.e. drinking), and that it will distract from the event as a whole.
Why people shouldn't pack the agenda:
- Having the audience leave exhausted is no way to inspire them in the coming year.
- People simply cannot absorb the volume of information in a compressed period of time--especially without consistent reinforcement of the few most important messages.
- People need to take "brain breaks" to process and assimilate information. They need time to synthesize and make personal meaning from the messages they're hearing.
- People need to hear the same information and deal with it in many different ways--whether it's being creative with a message, having a little playtime or downtime to present their own interpretation, or simply going off to work on their own on a project.
- The audience still needs to conduct business--personal and professional.
- Some people simply cannot handle the constant pressure to be "on" at an event with their colleagues, and need some time to recover before the next day or session.
What you should do instead:
- Breaks are sacred: Don't shorten or sacrifice breaks for over-long presentations.
- Focus on a core set of messages/outcomes that you want to get out of an event, and have each presenter speak to those in some way.
- Include time for discussion and reflection: Attendees should get to talk about, deal with, and absorb the information they hear before being forced to move on to the next thing.
- Include creativity: the brain needs to play to interpret information. Having attendees participate with the messaging in a creative, fun way (like a team competition, game show, role play, etc.) gives the brain an "information dump" break and allows them to retain more information.
Tips for Writing Multiple Choice Questions
- Asking for specific or precise recall (i.e. specific budget numbers) with similar distractors
- Going deeper into the content by asking follow-up questions (start out with an easier question and increase the level of difficulty)
- Having very good distractors (more on this later, but essentially: having good alternate answer options aside from the correct answer can provide more challenge)
For instance, asking “Who is the current president of the United States?” is a better question than “Who is the president?” This is not usually as much of an issue in multiple choice questions, where the answer options will often guide a contestant to a correct context—but if answer options are also somewhat ambiguous it can cause confusion.
- Include information before the question is asked, either through a presentation, information screen, or verbal description
- Break the question into smaller pieces and have multiple questions around the same topic/area of interest
- All answers should have roughly the same length and level of detail. i.e. When most people design answer options, the longest is usually the correct one because it’s stuffed with information that needed to be in the explanation before the question. Don’t do that.
- All numerical answer options should be relatively close.
- Answer options should skew (plausibly) toward your content. I.e. if you want to make a price seem like a good deal, the distractor options should be greater than the answer.
Fixing Your Panel of Peril
That's not to say that you *shouldn't* have panels. Panels *can* be a good solution--they just need to be thought-out and treated very conscientiously.
Here are some ways that you can "fix" a panel, or ensure that your panel isn't just another way to make your audience "check out":
1. Have a Great Moderator.
A panel without a moderator is like a ship without a rudder; the panelists can wander aimlessly or go off in the wrong direction, have unequal time or unequal focus on a subject.
A panel with a bad moderator adds nothing to the topic.
However, a lively, interactive moderator with a working knowledge of the subject matter can steer a panel away from tediousness or focusing too long on a subject. They can sense when the audience is getting restless and switch to a different panelist, change the tone of the discussion, or even wrap up. A great moderator can also inject humor and interaction in a skilled way.
2. Establish strict rules and structured content/outcomes.
We are amazed how frequently people design panels with no outcomes. Like any presentation, a panel should have a focused result in mind; at the end of the panel, what will the audience think, know, and do differently as a result of what they've heard?
Likewise, a panel should have structure and--dare we say it--some rules. The participants should know what to expect and what is expected of them. Too many times companies bring on guest panelists and therefore feel that they have no say over what the panelists choose to do. However, it is imperative to control the panel for the sake of content clarity and audience interest.
Rules sound imposing, but consider something like--say--the presidential debates. A debate isn't exactly the same thing, but imagine how different (long/one-sided/unfocused) they would be if the candidates didn't have firm time limits on their segments.
3. Solicit audience questions ahead of time.
Audience interaction and personalization is a wonderful thing. However, audience questions during a panel so often go astray; audience members ask questions that are only relevant to them, feel shy about asking "real" questions, or just ask questions for the sake of getting face-time.
We wouldn't suggest cutting out audience interaction, but soliciting audience questions ahead of time allows for a number of things:
- You get to sort through the questions to select the most broadly relevant topics.
- You can pre-prepare the panelists so they have relevant/good/thorough answers.
- You can make sure that you get the quality and caliber of questions that you need to make an interesting segment.
- You can steer away from or toward controversy as desired--and you don't get caught up in the mire of a sore subject.
4. Take a cue from late night talk shows--pre-interview panelists to get stories.
Late night talk show guests almost always seem witty, charming, funny and engaging on the show. This isn't because they all *are* witty, charming, funny and engaging (though some may very well be) it's because they have a skilled interviewer (similar to a skilled moderator) and they have been pre-interviewed to get stories.
Stories are one of the most powerful engagement tools a presenter can use. Our brains are naturally attracted to a story; we want to know what happens, brain wave activity increases, we enter active listening mode. A late night talk show guest will have a list of stories prepared that the interviewer can draw from to make the guest seem innately interesting. A panelist should do the same thing; have a reference list of relevant stories and examples prepared around the content at hand.
5. Find points of disagreement/controversy/interest and bring it out.
In pre-panel interviews, find the elements of the topic that will make panelists disagree or--to put it a more diplomatic way--offer differing perspectives. That's not to say that there should be a panel of negativity or fighting--but panels where the only thing a panelist has to contribute to another's opinion is agreement and elaboration get stale fairly quickly. Panelists should be able to talk about a topic from different, diverse angles and bring their unique spin, perspective and opinion to the table in a way that intrigues the audience and inspires them to hear more. Even if there are only one or two points of disagreement or controversy, sprinkle them into the panel to add interest.
How to Acknowledge Sponsors...in a Song.
We come across this issue frequently--especially in forums, associations, or events with a showcase/tradeshow component: How does one give sponsors appropriate face time in the main event?
We've seen logos on the wall, in PowerPoints...we've had emcees and presenters thank them, we've had sponsor signs in break tables, etc. All of these things are good, but in addition to those we like to thank sponsors...in a song.
Not only is a parody song funny and engaging, but it ensures that every attendee is paying complete attention when the sponsor is getting their name-check. Sponsors are often very important and they deserve a little fanfare.
The video in this blog is Neighthan the Horse, thanking the sponsors to the tune of "My Favorite Things" at an event. Not only do they get a name check, but they also have a line about what they do--elevating the sponsor shout-out above a slide with logos and a round of applause.
The Anti-PowerPoint Movement
It's a bit unfair; PowerPoint is a tool and is not directly responsible for its misuse. However, when the misuse is so rampant and there seems to--generally--be little interest or ability to create different, fresh and truly effective PPT presentations, it's natural that people would grasp on to available alternatives.
But...are we throwing the baby out with the bathwater?
We saw this article on Yahoo! News and we have thoughts. Our commentary is in bold-italic.
10 Things to Do Instead of PowerPoint
The bad news: there are thousands of presentations every day, everywhere around the world. Most of them use PowerPoint, badly, as speaker notes, with more words or numbers on each slide than anyone can read.
The results are predictably boring – no, excruciating -- for their hapless audiences. That’s human misery on a massive scale.
The good news: in an effort to make the world a better place, here are 10 things to do instead of PowerPoint. Ways to make your points without the sleep-apnea-inducing effects of boring slides. Ways to pep up your presentations without much additional effort. Your audiences will thank me.
1. Use props. For most workers, in a cubicle world, it’s sensory deprivation from 9 – 5. The whirr of computers and the A/C. The hum of colleagues chattering away. The beige walls of the cube farm. The fluorescent lighting. It’s amazing anyone stays awake. Offer the audience, then, something physical. Instead of describing that new product on a slide, show them a prototype. Pass it around. Let the audience get physical.
Workers can also be out in the field every day and absolutely unaccustomed to sitting still in a presentation for x hours. There are people who learn by seeing and hearing, but there are also those who learn exclusively by doing. Many people would prefer to DO instead of SEE: Think of someone who doesn't read directions before trying to put together a piece of furniture...even if they don't get the best results.
2. Use music. We have an emotional response to music which is much more powerful than we do to most words. Especially words like “3rd Q results” and “product optimization.” So add a soundtrack to your presentation. It will bring it to life. Do obey copyright and licensing laws, please.
Music can, in our experience, be a tricky thing within a presentation--simply because evoking that emotional response should be done with care. Choose the wrong piece of music and it's discordant. Ahhem. Also make sure that the music is unobtrusive--or you'll get a jam session instead of a content session.
Music should also be used throughout an event--not just in a presentation.
3. Use video. Video –good video -- has all the life in it that static slides lack. A good clip can enchant, move, and thrill and audience in 60 seconds. You can create the right emotional atmosphere to begin or end a speech – or to pick it up in the middle.
Or use a bad video. Not a boring video, but a low-quality, as-seen-on-YouTube video that entertains and delights. Use video to tell your story. Use video to evoke an emotional response. Use video to demonstrate a product. The key is to entertain with the video (humor is very effective) and to keep the video short.
4. Use a flip chart. Create any visuals you need right there in front of the audience. No need for technology. Just a magic marker and your arm. The act of creation draws the audience in where a slide doesn’t.
Your results may vary. We've had mixed experiences with flip chart presentations. While some supplement is very effective; your short-hand is not always the short-hand of the audience, flip charts can be hard to read, and presenters vary greatly in artistic/calligraphic ability.
5. Ask the audience. Of course, the best way to draw the audience in is to draw them in. Ask them to tell you their stories – as they relate to the topic at hand. Ask the whole audience or just selected volunteers.
Pre-screen these first. WARN someone that they'll be asked to tell an anecdote if you can--or you better know your audience very well. Never put anyone on the spot unprepared, and make sure that the selected audience member has a concise, cohesive, relevant-to-everybody story to share. We've seen audience anecdotes that were more dull than a bad presenter.
Beware the crickets chirping. It may take away from the spontaneity of the interaction, but be sure that you have someone who IS ready to share.
6. Ask the audience – 2. Break the audience up into small groups and get them to respond to a challenge that you set, a question that you ask, or a problem that you pose. Then have them to report back to the whole group.
This is a great idea. Discussion groups allow people to make information personally relevant and sharing with peers reinforces content. Set acoustic conversation music in the background and allow tables to discuss for several minutes. Designate a team leader who will be charged with collecting responses and reporting back.
7. Ask the audience – 3. Play a game with the audience – relevant to the topic. Award prizes. Audiences love to compete. Just don’t make the questions too difficult or the prizes too expensive – or too cheap. Only Oprah gets to give away cars.
We couldn't have said it better ourselves. Games are a fantastic way to engage the audience. Have a game that runs throughout the session, opens the session, or reviews content at the end. Put the audience onto teams and keep them in teams.
8. Ask the audience – 4. Get the audience to design something – new products, plans, or ideas. Give them plenty of paper, sticky notes, ipads, or whatever you have on hand that they can play with.
Adults want to play, too. Giving the audience a chance to exercise their creativity allows their brain a natural "break" to absorb and synthesize previously covered information. Content-related creativity can be extremely fun and actually inspiring.
9. Ask the audience – 5. Have the audience create video responses to what you’re talking about. Hand out a dozen flip cams and get them in groups. Give them a limited amount of time – 10 minutes, perhaps. Then show some of the video to the whole group on the big IMEG screen.
This is a wonderful idea in theory. In practice we've learned that most people aren't even amateur videographers. While the act of creation is fun, it's tough to get everyone involved, tougher to shoot something that is engaging to watch, and toughest still to organize it in a brief amount of time. That's not to say it can't be done--and we have seen some incredible audience-created video pieces--but use with caution.
10. Combine any 3 of these to create huge audience buzz. Stop thinking of a presentation as a static activity where you show slides to a catatonic group of fellow humans. You passive, them active. Instead, treat them as co-conspirators in something exciting, educational, and fun.People learn best when they can make the information relevant to them. This includes synthesizing it in a variety of ways; quiet reflection, group discussion, personal practice, hands-on activities and even creative, fun exercises. The enemy here is not PowerPoint, it's a lack of consideration for an audience that wants to actually INTERACT instead of be talked to for hours in a way that is disrespectful to the workings of the brain.
3 Things Companies Say That Guarantee a Stagnant Event
We hear this a lot from clients--especially lately. A lot of companies are returning to events and they want something different and fresh. It's more difficult to justify a large, in-person event--so it can't be the same-ol'-same-ol'.
And yet, companies still fall into the trap of producing stagnant, stale, unengaging events. The following three phrases are red flags that signal business as usual (and not in a good way):
"We've always done it this way."
We recently asked a client why they scheduled a certain speaker at a certain time in their agenda. There response was: because they had always done it that way. Never mind that it wasn't the most strategic place to put that speaker.
Be wary of the trap of doing things as we've always done them for the sake of comfort or because it's kinda-sorta worked in the past. Unless events are re-imagined, they become traps for mediocrity.
The biggest culprit here tends to be the structure of the agenda. Before consulting on a 3 day event, we can almost lay money down on the proposed agenda: Cocktail hour the first night. First day: Corporate speakers the first morning. Breakouts in the afternoon. Second day: Motivational speaker in the morning. Breakouts or general session info. Team building in the afternoon. Third day: Panel discussion in the morning. Regional breakouts. . . The problem with routines like this is that attendees go into autopilot and their experience is automatically passive instead of active. It then takes work to get them into an interactive, engaged state.
There's nothing wrong with repeating an element or structure from year to year--but it should have a distinct purpose outside of "how it's always done". Thought should be put into constructing every element of the event to make it the most effective experience for the attendees.
"Our president needs 90 minutes to speak... The VP of marketing must present after him..."
There is a certain amount of political sensitivity that creeps into an event. X position speaker should go before Y position speaker. Z speaker needs at least 45 minutes, lest they feel slighted. While we understand the need to be sensitive to corporate culture and politics, arranging event elements based on politics instead of necessary content is doing a disservice to the audience.
From the perspective of the audience--and being in thousands of corporate events--there's nothing that lowers the expectations of an event more than seeing a whole day lineup of corporate speakers...one after another... Sometimes it's best to space these corporate presentations out over the days and in between other content--not only to add variety, but to give the audience a better chance to absorb the messaging.
Sometimes the number of corporate speakers can be reduced. Often times A, B and C department all get to present because D department is speaking and we can't leave out the others. However, sometimes A, B and C departments don't have anything new or relevant to present at that time. It's not respectful of an audience to have a speaker present just for the sake of having an equal presence onstage. If it's exposure that is needed, there are more creative ways to go about this throughout an event.
And finally: If you give a speaker 10 minutes of time, they will talk for 10 minutes (and sometimes go a bit over or under, as non-professional speakers are wont to do). If you give that same speaker with the same content 60 minutes, they will talk for 60 minutes. People will, generally, fill the time that they are given with *something*--whether that information is relevant or not. Ask people about their content first--and then determine their speaking time--instead of the other way around.
"We don't have much time, so we want to get the most out of it..."
This isn't a bad thing in and of itself. The issue here is that "getting the most" out of an event typically means putting as much information as possible into an event. Oftentimes, the opposite of what is intended is what ends up happening. Cramming a lot of information into a little amount of time is a recipe for learning disaster. By having too much content--instead of a key points being remembered, there is a far greater chance that nothing will be remembered. The brain becomes saturated and cannot process new information without first digesting the old information and working with it in some practical way. To use an old metaphor--it's like "drinking from a fire hose".
This is certainly NOT getting the most out of an event.
Does this mean that events cannot be meaningful experiences with effective learning moments? Not at all. The key is to be selective and strategic. Build in time for brain-breaks, interaction and activities. Be very selective; separating what's nice to know from what attendees NEED to know--and only bringing the latter to the event.
What do you do with all that extra content you wanted to cover? The event isn't just the three days everyone is together. Have additional resources before and after the event, continue following up with participants, and give them the ability to discover and work with additional information long after they fly home to keep the momentum of the successful event going.
What's On Your Attendees' Agenda?
--Our client, about his attendees.
We frequently don't publish a detailed agenda in any of the event materials given to the attendees. If we do, it ends up being no more detailed than a start time and rough break/lunch times (and perhaps a rough end time).
Not having an agenda does several things:
It allows attendees to fully engage. Though it drives "Type-A" personalities a little nuts, not having an agenda allows attendees to give up control (of their time, not their responsibility/accountability), relax, and go with the event. They want to see what's next.
It takes away pre-conceived notions. If an attendee knows that finance is going to present at 11, they have all morning to think about how unengaging that presentation is going to be. (Whether or not it actually IS.) They focus on the content of the moment and it gives the presenters an opportunity to frame the conversation how THEY want.
It prevents ducking out. "Well, it's only marketing, surely I can duck out and take care of XYZ..." If you don't know what's next, you don't know if what you're going to miss might be vitally important. At a previous event, attendees wanted agendas so they could schedule time with their families (some had come along for a post-event vacation) during the general session. Good for the family? Sure. Good for the content? No.
It inhibits clock-watching. Presenters finish early or, more often, run over time. Not having an agenda gets rid of the toe-tapping, "He's 3 minutes-and-counting over his allotted time," "When will she be DONE already," sentiments out in the audience--decreasing impatience and increasing attention. Likewise, if a presenter goes "short", the audience isn't left wondering why they didn't take up their full 40 minutes.
It allows for on-the-fly changes. During the middle of an event, we sometimes need to switch a presenter or change the direction of the content based on what is happening in real time. Without published agendas, we're able to do this seamlessly--and the audience is none-the-wiser. Do they know that Presenter X failed to prepare and so we had to substitute Presenter Y? Nope. Do they know that because XYZ happened earlier, we chose to invite the keynote speaker from yesterday back? Nope. Do they know that we're throwing in extra activities because the energy seems low? Nope. They're going with the flow, and we're able to better do our jobs.
Not publishing an agenda may not work for all events--and often a minimal level of detail (when people go to breakouts, when the day begins, etc.) is needed in written form. But when one has the option, don't have a minute-by-minute breakdown of the event available to the public audience.
Driving Clients Crazy: Set in Stone vs. Flexible Events
This certainly isn't on purpose, but some people need everything to be set in stone weeks before an event. We simply don't operate that way.
That doesn't mean that every single element isn't meticulously thought out--it is. What it *does* mean is that an event is a living, breathing creature. Without flexibility it won't necessarily suffocate in its own box, but it can be a fraction of its potential.
Here are the advantages of a flexible event:
- Not having everything set allows you to adjust your presentations/flow to the mood of the audience.
- Sometimes spontaneous activities need to be inserted to increase the energy level of the room.
- Things happen at an event. You want to be able to comment on them, script them in, etc.
- Flexible content allows you to adjust to the knowledge base of the audience. If things are too difficult to understand or too easy the audience is going to check out.
- Sometimes the best ideas come out at the last minute. You don't want to reject something that could be exactly what the event needs just because it wasn't planned weeks in advance.
- Mistakes happen. You need to be able to correct them seamlessly.
Designing a Brain-Based Event: The Power of Competition
Knowledge Bucks: A great way to keep individuals engaged and participating in a less structured session is "Monopoly money" or Knowledge Bucks. This funny-money can be given out when individuals respond to a question, arrive on time, etc. Team members can put them in a designated box, and they are added to the team's total score. These can be tallied during breaks.
Energizers: Have the teams organize a post-lunch cheer, with the most creative, on-point and well-executed cheer receiving the most points. Have a paper-toss where members write questions on paper, crumple them up and toss them around until a designated time period passes and one person from each team must answer the question in their hand--for a certain number of points a piece. Activities like this both contribute to the energy of the room and the team competition.
Leader Board: Have a leader board that shows the tally of team scores for all activities--game shows, knowledge bucks, team cheers, etc. Update it at breaks so teams can see where they stand and to stoke a little competition. This doesn't have to be anything fancy--a grid on a white board or a PowerPoint slide will do nicely.
Designing a Brain-Based Event: Adding Emotion
In the Brain-Based Events Exchange Café--recently presented at e4--we talked about ways to engage an audience at an event and make sure that your message is communicated in a way that people will remember.
Emotion has been proven to increase the rate of recall in events. When there’s an emotional context, the brain secretes adrenaline and this helps to fuse memories. This creates a powerful event where more key information is retained by attendees.
Within our café session, we asked participants to brainstorm ways that they can add emotion into an event. Here are some of the great answers we received:
Share stories: Stories activate the brain and engage us emotionally. A story can be an anecdote or can even be the “story” of a product.
Create a personal connection: Good speakers get audiences to relate to them using rapport, anecdotes, humor, etc. Creating a personal connection could also mean making it possible for people to bring and share their own experiences within an event. Setting their own powerful, highly-personal goals and outcomes.
Incorporate humor: Ellie and Eddie the Eagles are good examples of incorporating humor into an event. You don’t have to have a giant talking eagle co-hosting to engage the audience in a humorous way, though. Jokes, anecdotes, videos, etc. are also ways to add humor.
Create competition: In the Brain-Based Events session, we played an audience-response game show to re-engage participants, but also to create the emotional experience of competition.
Inspiring videos: Hollywood spends millions of dollars producing products that will emotionally connect with an audience. In the right context, an inspirational video can be extremely powerful. (The locker room scene of “Miracle on Ice” comes to mind.)
Use music: Our brains are wired to engage with music. The music you use as the audience walks in, leaves, and reflects/discusses during the event can have a huge emotional impact. On example of musical mis-use? I attended an event where the opening song, as the audience walked in, was “Rainy Days and Mondays (always get me down)”. Talk about setting an inappropriate context for the event!
Scents: We saw scents being used at the e4 event to draw people into areas. Scents can have a powerful emotional connection—the smell of popcorn in the lobby, fresh-baked bread, the sharpness of peppermint etc. Keep in mind, though, that scents are somewhat risky to employ at an event because there can be so many sensitivities, and strong scents can be a trigger for headaches.
Nostalgia: Company heritage pieces are a good example of using nostalgia for emotional impact. Old photos, sound clips, etc. can also be employed.
Novelty: Changing up the program and adding elements that are completely new and surprising can provide an emotional experience.
Photos: There’s a reason that people display “happy snaps” on the morning of the second/third day of an event. It reconnects people with their experience at the event.
Environment of the room: Lighting, seating, staging, etc. can all subtly influence emotion in the room. Dark rooms with close seating create a different feel than an open room with theatrical, flashy lighting.
Interaction: Interacting with the audience at an event can foster an emotional experience… but more on creating interaction later!
Emotional connection with an audience doesn’t have to be complex, and it doesn’t have to be one single emotion. Making an event FUN adds emotion. Having a team competition adds emotion… And that all leads into higher content retention and a more effective event for you and your clients.
Dan Yaman is the Founder and CEO of Live Spark, the event design firm that produced Eddie and Ellie the eagles. Live Spark also consults on presentations and events, designs custom game and audience-response experiences and more. You can check out our blog for more tips and event insights—or check back here for more postings to come.
Designing a Brain-Based Event: Adding Interaction
In the Brain-Based Events Exchange Café--recently hosted at E4-- we talked about ways to engage an audience at an event and make sure that your message is communicated in a way that people will remember. Adding interaction to an event and within presentations is absolutely critical to success.
Studies cite different attention span limits (Dr. Medina stated 10 minutes), but on average, the adult attention span in a live event is from 5-7 minutes.
That means that in most typical presentations, there is going to be a lot of attention atrophy, and the messaging will be lost. So how does one mitigate against this effect in a typical, 60-minute presentation? By adding interactive elements at regular intervals.
During our exchange café, we brainstormed ways to add interaction within a presentation, and here’s what we came up with as a group:
Add a game: In our own presentation, we played a game show. In addition to being a way to review, preview and present the information in a unique way, it also added an element of energy and competition that broke up the content.
Do a skit: At an event we produced, instead of just giving the finer points of coaching, the presenter brought an assistant on stage and modeled the coaching interaction.
Have discussion: Give the audience opportunities during a presentation and an event to reflect and discuss your content with a neighbor or at their tables. Not only does it reinforce content and add interaction, but it also creates personal relevance.
Demonstrate: If it’s a new product presentation, don’t just rattle off bullet point features—have a prototype to show, or things that the audience can “play” with and interact with. If it’s a new process, actually go through the chronology.
Show a video clip: Media is a great way to break up a presentation, add emotion and captivate the audiences’ attention.
Ask questions: When a speaker interacts WITH the audience, it makes they audience accountable for their participation in the presentation. Gathering their opinions, thoughts, misconceptions, etc. makes a presentation more personally relevant.
Switch speakers: While the best-intended panels of mice and men may often go awry, the concept behind a panel or interview or tag-team speakers is a good one. Switching speakers resets the attention clock.
Use different sounds: When this was brought up in our session, it referred mostly to the modality of a person’s voice—varying tone and timbre to be a dynamic, continually engaging speaker. However, using music, sound effects, etc., could be a way to add novelty and re-engage the audience.
Add activities: An audience wants to play. Participating in hands-on activities not only increases interactivity and extends the attention span, but it also gives the opportunity to practice with key concepts and content.
Tell a joke: Humor is a wonderful way to re-engage the audience, because it evokes a strong emotional response (also causing the brain to secrete chemicals that aid in binding memory). Getting the audience to laugh is a great way to keep their attention. (This is another reason why we use live animated characters, like Ellie and Eddie the Eagles.)
Tell stories: Speaking of emotional engagement… A good story can captivate attention far beyond the typical attention span, because that’s how we’re wired to receive information, process and learn.
Dan Yaman is the Founder and CEO of Live Spark, the event design firm that produced Eddie and Ellie the eagles. Live Spark also consults on presentations and events, designs custom game and audience-response experiences and more. You can check out our blog for more tips and event insights—or check back here for more postings to come.
It shows Minnesota Senator Al Franken doodling while the hearings are taking place. This has been remarked on positively and negatively, and while we won't touch the partisan politics, we do believe that this photo illustrates (pun intended) a point.
I, myself, am a meeting-doodler. This has frustrated some bosses I've had, because they take the doodles as a sign of disrespect or inattention. The truth is, however, that I need to sketch, doodle, write, etc. (do something!) with my hands while I'm listening to a presentation. It helps me focus...and I'm not alone in that. (Sen. Franken, for one, appears to be in this camp as well.)
This is why, when we design meetings, in addition to any structured workbooks, sheets, etc., we always suggest blank notebooks. It appeals to the kinesthetic learner--those who need to move to learn.
Some people will write notes (and even if they never look at them again, the act of writing them down helps cement the knowledge), some people will doodle (forming strong visual associations in their mind along with keeping their hands busy and brain focused) and others won't use them/don't need them. Whatever the audience's personal involvement with their notebook, everyone needs the option of having a space to physically write, doodle, draw, note-take. It doesn't mean that their attention has waned, in fact, quite the opposite.
Three Elements that Make an Event Memorable
The brain-based way to engage your audience.
[Also published on the Experient E4 Blog]
The Art of Theater: Nothing engages the human mind like emotion. It’s the connection to our fellow man, our jobs, our world. It’s the primary influence in many decisions. An event should be an emotional experience—and a little theater goes a long way in producing an emotional outcome that supports content retention.
Theatrical elements can include game play (game shows, team activities, etc.), powerful video clips, stories etc. Theater isn’t about being ridiculous or novel for the sake of novelty, it’s about engaging your audience on an emotional level.
The Science of Learning: 95% of what is delivered in a typical meeting environment is forgotten 24 hours later. That’s a scary statistic for any meeting professional. This is primarily because, in general, events are not designed with the science of learning in mind.
Brain-based learning techniques can include giving breaks in between presentations for reflection, paring down information—sorting the nice to know from the need to know, preframing, informing and reviewing for all key content points, and utilizing activities to practice and apply knowledge.
The Psychology of Persuasion: An event is all about buy-in. An audience needs to buy-in to the content, to their participation in the event, to interaction, key content points, etc. A truly persuasive event is framed properly; eliciting commitment from the audience to play full out during the event, getting attendees to write down their own personal goals for the event and—after content pieces or presentations—recording how the new information will be relevant to them.
Going into the specifics of a presentation, presenters tend to lead with what persuades them. Everyone will buy-in to AN argument—but that doesn’t mean they’ll buy-in to YOUR argument. Play to all persuasion styles: data evidence, social proof, personal guarantees of success and relevance to achieving their goals.
The 4 Stages of Learning in a Brain-Based Event
There has been an increased focus on events that are produced in a brain-friendly way and result in knowledge transfer in the meeting and event industry. An event should produce measurable results and fit specific learning outcomes.
However, in order for permanent, real learning to occur, the brain has to go through four stages. They are: Preparation, Presentation, Integration and Performance. Unfortunately, most of these stages are either ignored or mismanaged in the course of a typical event.
Stage one: Preparation: This is where the learner's mind gets into an optimal state to receive information. This state is characterized by:
- Arousal of interest/curiosity
- Strong desire for the learning or the benefits from learning
- Outwardly focused/aware state
- Clear about the goals of learning
Without preparing the student for the learning, the student has no compelling reason to learn and retain the material.
What happens in a “typical” event: Very little information-focused preparation for the event occurs, aside from a few invites, surveys, etc. Once at the event, the attendees enter the ballroom. The environment is familiar to the brain and it draws clear conclusions: “This is going to be more of the same”. Time to get out the smartphone. . . Previous associations of meetings being painful or a waste of time cause immediate disengagement.
Without proper preparation, not only does the brain revert to potentially negative meeting stereotypes, but it fails to connect the event with personal relevance. If something is not relevant, then it won’t be remembered.
Stage two: Presentation: The learner encounters the learning. Optimally the information is presented in a multi-sensory delivery using a variety of brain-friendly techniques:
- Appealing to all intake modalities (VAK)
- Shift of focus every 6-8 minutes
- Big picture to detail
- Utilizing novelty, humor, storytelling, etc. to engage the learner
If the material isn't presented in a way that is interesting and engaging to the learner, it won't sink in and the mind will wander. If it doesn't match their "intake style" (VAK), they wont fully receive the message.
What happens in a “typical” event: Presentation is the main focus of most events—after all, it’s all about presenting the material—whether it’s a keynote speech, learning module or executive summary. This is where most meeting professionals spend their time- but presentation without the other 3 stages of learning is a waste of time—presentation does NOT equal retention.
In the typical corporate event most presentations DON'T appeal to all learning styles; presenters tend to present in their own preferred style. This may mean that a person who is highly visual presents picture slides, but offers little interpretation. Speakers who use their PowerPoint slides to be personally comfortable with their own material tend to overload the audience—subjecting them to “death by PowerPoint”.
There's no shift in focus so the attention span of an attendee is maxed out within the first 8 minutes of a presentation and "brain overload" occurs.
Stage three: Integration: At this point the learner becomes inward-focused as he makes meaning of the new learning. This is a time of feedback, testing, making sense; combining the new learning with previously stored memories to create new neural connections.
If Integration doesn't occur, it's unlikely that the learning will get embedded into long-term memory.
What happens in a “typical” event: The “what does this mean” connection doesn’t occur, nor is there time for reflection and application. One speaker is typically lined up right after another and another (sometimes under the guise of trying to fit as much “learning” in as possible) without brain breaks, and the information becomes compressed and forgotten.
Stage four: Ongoing performance: Memory encoding and strengthening occurs here as the learner tries out and performs the new learning. While some might correctly argue that a portion of performance must occur outside of the event and on the job, the event can also be a vehicle for ongoing performance.
What happens in a “typical” event: There is no review of information after it’s presented, and no hands-on application, even if it’s viable. Typically, there is no strategy introduced within the event to connect it to life and learning AFTER the event, so the expectation of ongoing learning and preparation for retention is not met.
The Environment of the Event
That's right. When an audience walks into a room that is staged (albeit with thematic differences) exactly like an event-as-usual, you send the message that it'll be an event as usual. Their brains prepare for the same old death by PowerPoint, the same old line of speakers, the same old cocktail hour in the evening and golf tournament on the second day. If you're making the effort to produce a transformational event--like on the audience has never seen before--better start with the environment of the room.
Now I'm not saying that the room needs to be fancy, overproduced or expensive, it just needs to communicate what you're going to expect out of the audience/participants.
Rounds instead of classroom/theater seating: Send the message that it isn't just a sit-down-and-listen meeting. There will be collaboration, interaction...and intimate experience in an audience of possibly hundreds. Encourage people to get to know their round-mates right away, and even consider putting kinesthetic devices (a.k.a. toys, notebooks, play-doh) on the rounds.
Make use of peripheral visuals: Use the sides of the room to reinforce your message. Put up key points, slogans and sayings, a collective "sharing" board for insights, a road map of the event, etc. Not only will these make an impact upon entry and allow attendees to immediately begin to engage with the event, but throughout the day/s they'll reinforce messaging both consciously and subconsciously.
Pay attention to the music: Most events are preceded by some sort of walk-in music. Usually, it's some sort of popular blend that the A/V crew might have on hand, and it's not something that is typically planned out to a great degree. Leading the event with purposeful, high-energy, positive music that gets people clapping/dancing/chatting as they walk in can set the tone for an interactive event. (Just don't rely on energetic music to carry attendees past the opening if the rest of the event isn't engaging.)
Control the entrance: Don't just have attendees trickle in willy-nilly, chatting or checking their Blackberries as they mull about and wait for everything to get started. Keep the doors closed until people are mostly there. Have leaders in the room already, greeting the attendees and directing them to tables. Have PowerPoint branding/messaging up directing attendees to stay on their feet and clap along to the music.
Of course, these are just *some* suggestions. But whatever you do, if you don't want to communicate that this is an event as usual, don't start your attendees off in the "usual" environment.
The Award Ceremony Conundrum
Perhaps I'm being a bit harsh. However, clients, production companies and audience members alike have expressed such derision within my hearing at some point or another.
Then why do we still do award ceremonies?
Because they can be really, really meaningful to people and very motivational. When we're not the subject of the ceremony, it's easy to forget the impact of recognition. I first realized this when one of my family members won an award at their company and were invited to the award ceremony. It was a *huge* thing for them, and their excitement and enthusiasm was palpable.
In short--award ceremonies are important, but problematic. They're a big deal to those nominated or winning awards, and a potential bore to those in the audience, (perhaps that's punishment for not winning...) or award winners after their portion is done.
So how do we deal with this? There are a few ways we can start to improve award ceremonies:
Break the awards up into chunks during the day. I know the traditional award ceremony night appeals to many--and can take the place of another structured evening of entertainment--but we've found great success in breaking up the awards into categories and presenting them in between other topics/speakers in a general session. Not only does this give small bursts of recognition and makes the whole day about recognition, but it also gives the audience a break from straight content, or presenter after presenter after presenter.
Break the awards up with other content during the award event. Having dinner during an award ceremony is fine, but there are other business matters that can be addressed here as well. We were at an association awards dinner where there were awards, then a keynote, then awards, then dinner, then swearing in of new board leadership, then the final awards.
Increase the pace of the awards. This is really a band-aid fix, but there are ways to speed up award ceremonies. Include the bios/qualifications of all nominees in a program can eliminate lengthy readings. Holding applause until the end is a way of cutting down on transition time. Having a big group picture at the end of the night instead of having individuals come on stage, get their award, snap a picture and leave can also be a time saver.
Add entertainment! There are a few different ways to add entertainment to an award ceremony. I'm not talking a juggling act or dinner act or any other kind of hired entertainment. (Though that can be a diverting part of an award ceremony, it can make the rest of the presentation look even more deadly-dull in contrast unless there are other entertaining elements incorporated.)
Engaging hosts--We'll often pair two dynamic presenters together, get them out from behind the podium and let them have a dialogue. Humor is key, but no cheesy Oscar-style jokes allowed. Professional emcees are also a great option.
Engaging presentation--We've often pared down award PowerPoint, added in stories, metaphors, etc., so that it's not just a presentation as usual, it has captivating elements. You can change the format of the actual award presentation, too. I.e. We once had nominees "compete" in a game show format.
Video clips, multimedia, sketches, etc.--Don't just give award attendees a PowerPoint deck framed by an immaculate stage. Pick out relevant video clips (or create your own), present in a song, add in audience participation activities, etc.
Homer Simpson Builds a Computer: An Event Design Parable
Ever-ambitious, he gathers up the necessary supplies and assembles his masterpiece. He knows that a computer needs a keyboard, so he gets a typewriter. He finds a television set for a monitor. He attaches a CD player for a CD-rom drive. This continues on. All the elements come together and finally, Homer has a machine with all the functional parts of a computer.
But it doesn't work.
Just because all the elements are there, doesn't mean that it can perform the desired function, or produce the correct result.
We see the same thing happen with a lot of presentations in an event. (Or an event as a whole.) Not that we'd dare say that any meeting planner is akin to Homer Simpson, but they fall into the same trap.
They have the PowerPoints. They have the presenters. They have the content. They have the audience. They have the staging and breaks and food and evening activites. ALL elements have been collected, put together, and voila! Event!
The problem is, these individual elements don't make an event. Just as a computer is more than the sum of its parts, an event has to have every element designed with the outcome in mind. Just having content doesn't mean that the audience will absorb it. Having PowerPoint doesn't mean that there's a good presentation.
This is where event design comes in. When the event is designed with the brain in mind, instead of the individual elements that make up an event, the audience walks away knowing, doing and believing in the key objectives. Next time an event is being produced, don't just think about each element going into place--think about the whole direction of the event.
The Key to your Keynote Speaker
The keynote speaker can be a critical piece of your event--they're there to motivate your audience, to tell a story and to inspire action. They should fit into your event plan seamlessly and strategically--becoming a part of your overall message instead of just a novelty.
The things that make a great keynote speaker can vary, but the things that make a bad keynote speaker are pretty much the same across the board.
Here are some things you should watch out for when looking at a keynote speaker:
1. Lack of Customization. This is the number one failing of keynote speakers. We've all heard speeches that sound practically like recordings with a space left blank to "insert company name here". Your keynote speaker should take the time to get to know YOUR message, your company's unique challenges and attributes--and be willing to tailor their speech accordingly. In the case of keynote speakers, one size does not fit all.
2. An Amazing Story...But Not Much Else. There are keynote speakers who have done genuinely amazing, awe-inspiring things...but that doesn't mean that it translates into a keynote speech. Be wary of stories that don't have a deeper message and take-away. The goal for your attendees will not be to climb Mount Everest (usually), but, rather, to overcome THEIR obstacles.
3. An Amazing Speech...But Not and Amazing Speaker. Believe it or not, there are great keynote stories and messages that get lost, quite literally, on the floor of your event. We once saw a keynote speaker who had a great message, but only his lapel got to hear it--he was just cutting his teeth on the keynote circuit, and didn't quite have the whole, you know, *speaking* thing down yet. It's critical that the keynote speaker be able to connect with your audience.
4. It's All About Them. We've seen many good speeches that have been polluted by the litter of the speaker's own ego. When every point at the end of the story or anecdote is, "You'll find this in my book," it gets tiresome for the audience. Additionally, great keynote speakers are all about the people in the room--not necessarily their own achievements. Their story should be a frame for their speech--not the entirety of the message.
5. Basic Presentation Mistakes. Most keynote speakers rank pretty highly on the professional-looking presentation spectrum compared to most internal presenters. However, they can still occasionally fall prey to mistakes like having too much on their PowerPoint (using them as speaking notes instead of visual aids, or making them hard to read). A lot of the time, companies won't proof or spend much energy on the keynote speaker's presentation--they just plug it into the master slide deck and go. That's when basic mistakes happen; a clip fails to play, the formatting becomes messed up, etc. Having rehearsal helps mitigate this, but we find that the keynote speaker doesn't always come in for rehearsal beforehand--either because they're too busy, or the company doesn't have the budget for the extra time.
Psst... Don't Set the Tone for Another "Boring" Meeting!
I saw the above image on icanhascheezburger.com (a popular site dedicated to the internet phenomenon of "Lol Cats"--cats with often-misspelled captions that make you laugh out loud).
This poor captioned-kitty isn't alone in its feelings. In fact, around the internet--whether in advertising, cartoons, or lol cats, the joke is on meetings: corporate meetings are "boring". Period. Everyone "knows" it. It's ubiquitous and universal.
So when a company hosts a large meeting or event, they're already fighting against that preconceived notion which, by the way, has *plenty* of evidence to back up the perception.
You know what? Most corporate meetings ARE boring. Presenters are strung together one after another with little thought to the overall messaging. Presentations are given out of obligation--and without consideration for engaging the audience. (The goal shouldn't be just to present the information--which it often seems to be--but to actually present it so that audiences GET it.)
Changing your meeting from boring to effective is one task (and it's not so monumental as one might think), but how does one change that, "This meeting is going to be booooring" attitude BEFORE the event? It starts before attendees walk in the room, get on a plane or leave their homes.
- Pre-event materials that are fun and focused. Don't miss the opportunity to "market" your meeting--even if it's an internal audience. Send them pre-event reminders, building up excitement and making it clear that this will NOT be a typical meeting-as-usual.
- Pre-event videos. Record a clip of the keynote speaker, president, CEO, etc., previewing the event. In our case, if a company has used an AniMate in the past, we'll have the AniMate record the message conveying his/her excitement for the upcoming event.
- Pre-event buzz. Bring your event online. Create a website, if possible, detailing the event and providing a space for attendees to talk about it. You can also use social media outlets--like Facebook or Twitter--to get discussions going about what people want to take away, personally, from the upcoming meeting.
- Surveys and pre-work. Send out pre-meeting surveys, asking attendees what they'd like to see at the event. Even if presentations aren't flexible, these issues or questions can make the presentation more relevant for attendees. If necessary, there can be a special time dedicated to addressing key content, or a presentation can be swapped out for a more relevant one. You can even assign attendees pre-work that prepares them for the event at hand.
- Publish the Agenda. Distribute the agenda along with key take-aways. This prepares attendees for the learning that's about to occur in the event and also gets them thinking about how it will be relevant for them.
Now putting that change into effect once they get into the room (and immediately when they get in the room) is another list altogether.
Millennials and Team Competition
Team interaction transcends generational boundaries, but we're finding that it's particularly good for the Millennial generation. (And if you want to start a hot debate in your workplace, start talking Millennial--those born after 1982--entering the workforce.)
But wait! We've spoken before about how Millennials are not the only generational group that needs to be engaged. Generations shouldn't matter--everyone needs to interact!
This is still true, but recent research has discovered something particularly unique to Millennials:
The love to collaborate.
Positive or negative, collaboration is the lifeblood of the Millennial generation. They grew up working in teams and getting constant feedback from teachers, parents and peers.
So at your next event, instead of sitting everyone down theater-style, put them in rounds and get them to start collaborating. Not only is it good interaction for everyone, but the Millennials in particular will thank you for it.
The Seven Truths...Truth #7
Truth #7: Audiences only care about themselves.
This one’s no big secret; people want to know what’s in it for them. If a topic isn’t relevant, the brain doesn’t retain it.
It sounds harsh, but people need to filter information by relevance in order to get the most crucial pieces. It was true in the wild, and it's true in the great, wild event ballroom.
An audience needs to see a clear connection between a speaker’s message and their own personal objectives; whether that’s helping them improve their sales with a new product, making their job easier with a new company structure, etc.
So how do you make it relevant?
1. Have the audience set their own personal objectives for the event at hand. Before the event, or even a specific presentation, have an audience write a list of things that they want to get out of the event/presentation. This will help focus their attention to the truly relevant pieces of information; those that will inform, inspire, and help them to perform their jobs.
These objectives can be revisited at the end of a presentation or event. The bonus is, if you have a question and answer session at the end, if the pieces of information were not covered, the audience has a focus for their questions.
2. Include the “What’s in it for you” message with every presentation. What does what you’re saying mean to them? Filter the information; dividing the nice to know from the need to know--and only keeping what's truly relevant. Frame it through their eyes--a marketing team might have different goals and objectives than a sales team, so be mindful of what your audience wants/needs to hear, and mold the messaging accordingly.
At the end of a presentation, have clear takeaways and action items for the audience.
3. Preframe a presentation. Point out specific things that the audience will be interested in hearing. This primes the brain to absorb those pieces of information. If, for instance, you are going to give them training on a new product, tell them that by the end of the presentation, they will learn the three key features and benefits of the new product that will help them sell it into more companies.
The Seven Truths...Truth #6
We're just finishing up the list of Live Spark's The Seven Truths About Events (that you may not want to know). This time, focusing on Truth #6.
Truth #6: Adults are kids in big bodies.
No matter how responsible our roles in life, our attention span remains all-kid. I would venture to say that the only difference between a room full of kids and a room full of adults in a presentation situation, is that adults have learned to be polite enough to sit still and give the facade of paying attention. There is only so far one can stretch their attention span--and only so much information one can take in.
People want to play and, more importantly, the brain needs to play and stretch to absorb information. It doesn’t want to sit in a room for hours on end with PowerPoint as its only stimulus (it will signal the muscles in the arm to reach for the Blackberry under the table).
Now, this doesn't mean that information is trivialized--merely that it is presented in a way that will fully engage the brain. The more crucial the information, the more critical it is to play.
So how do you treat the kid while educating and informing the adult?
Remember to play:
1. Incorporate right and left-brained activities. This allows attendees to absorb information while doing something creative. Couple intense presentation and learning moments with something that allows attendees to use their hands.
This could be as simple as having a reflection period where the audience sketches out a learning moment from the presentation, or as complex as a structured activity--or even an activity within the presentation.
2. Utilize team competition. Utilizing team competition and activities within an event keeps attendees engaged and makes them responsible for their own learning (as they are accountable to their team.)
Set up teams at the beginning of the event, and have structured and unstructured challenges throughout to keep the competition going.
- Unstructured Challenges: Asking questions in a presentation and rewarding teams for interaction, calling for responses in workshops, on-time rewards and spontaneous spirit and cheering.
- Structured Challenges: Games and interactive activities are the perfect way for an audience to feed the brain’s need for competition, stimulation and play while staying on task and on point in an event. These can be game shows, painting challenges, roleplay tasks, etc.
3. Break away from PowerPoint. Interact with your audience. Tell stories within a presentation. Use PowerPoint sparingly, and make it picture-heavy to illustrate and highlight points instead of beating them to death. Have the audience take an active part in a presentation--rewarding them with small trinkets (or team points) for their participation.
You can also use innovative presentation formats. Try an interview or skit; roleplays or demonstrations; case studies and stories.
The Seven Truths... Truth #5
Truth #5: All events will produce an outcome--but it might not be the outcome that you want.
If you don’t set explicit objectives for your event and then align every aspect towards achieving those objectives, you messages may be disparate and lost – and even downright confusing. Without having every presenter--every meeting element--in line with the predetermined outcomes, radically different conclusions may be drawn from the audience.
An example of mis-aligned event elements would be playing, "Rainy Days and Mondays Always Get Me Down" as walk-out music for a break immediately after the CEO's upbeat call-to-action and company vision. It doesn't exactly project a musical vote of confidence, does it?
But this is a superficial example. What if the marketing team is telling a sales force that it's important to gather existing customer data utilizing their pre-existing relationships, and the VP of sales is telling them to be proactive in seeking out new leads. These messages are not exactly mutually exclusive, but they could be seen that way if not tied together properly.
Here are ways to keep your outcomes in the forefront of your mind and, thus, into the minds of your audience:
1. Set outcomes for the event, and have each presenter align their outcomes to the main goals of the event. If it doesn’t fit—you must not present it.
Often times, presenters will come up with content based on what's important to them--not what's important to the meeting or the audience. This is not a fault or a surprise, for when one spends their entire working life in their department, executing their objectives it can be hard to see where they fit into the big picture or difficult to acknowledge that those objectives might not be front-of-mind relevant to the audience.
We also see a lot of departments justifying their work throughout the year--which would be fine if they were presenting to the board, or relevant upper management. It might not be fine considering the audience at hand.
Having a specific set of outcomes and requiring presenters to adhere to them can eliminate some of this extraneous content, and keep the event sharply focused.
2. Make sure outcomes are SMART: specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely.
There's a trick to setting event outcomes. When we ask some of our clients what the outcome is for their event, often times we'll get the response: "Well, to get everyone together." Which is a great thing, but not something that can be acted on and carried out after the event.
Outcomes should be specific: Do you want the audience to gain knowledge of new product XYZ? To feel a cohesive sense of team that will carry on to their job performance after the event? Don't be afraid to narrow outcomes.
Outcomes should be measurable: Increasing knowledge of a new product will do what? Will it help the audience sell more of widget x? How much more?
Outcomes should be attainable: Setting the outcome for all audience members to have absolute knowledge of all new products immediately after the event might not be attainable.
Outcomes should be realistic: Events are a great vehicle for producing outcomes (or they can be, if done right), but one event is not going to radically change the job performance of the entire company without adequate follow-up. Be careful of setting unrealistic goals for a 2-5 day event.
Outcomes should be timely: If a new product is not being released till next year and cannot be sold till then, the outcome of knowing and selling the intricacies of the new product is not timly, because the audience cannot use that outcome right away after the event. An outcome of generating excitement for a new product so they can start communicating that it's coming to their customers might be a more timely goal.
3. Have a clear idea of what you want your audience to do after an event—and make it a pointed call to action.
A meeting can only do so much. Have an action plan set up after the event to follow through with audience members--reinforcing the outcomes and leading to execution.
The Seven Truths... Truth #4
Truth #4: Studies have shown that people generally only remember the opening and closing parts of any given presentation.
Considering most presentations, this may be the scariest truth of all. If you think about most speakers—the most important information is generally put in the middle (where it is henceforth forgotten). This is why we call it the "Jan Brady Effect"--poor Jan; the Brady Bunch always made time for and remembered and paid attention to Cindy and Marcia (Marcia! Marcia! Marcia!), but as the middle child, she was forgotten.
How does this relate to your event? You want people to remember the meat of the content--usually placed in the middle of a traditional presentation. The frivolous warm-up joke and wind-down anecdote usually fall to the bookends--where people are paying the most attention. Therefore presentations need to be structured differently—rearranging the content so that the most important things fit in where they’re most likely to be remembered.
So, how do you ensure that they remember poor Jan...errr...your most important content? Here are some steps you can take to negate the Jan Brady Effect:
1. Outline the key points for the presentation in the beginning and the end.
Say it once, say it twice, say it three times.
Highlight your key points in the beginning. This both prepares a learner's mind for more in-depth content, and it introduces the topics once. Keep it high-level and simple, but very relevant.
Go in deeper in the middle. The meat of a presentation is a great place for depth and detail. Not all details may be remembered, but the content will be closer to sticking.
Recap at the end. The end of the presentation--after the "in conclusion" should be a highlight of the most important, most actionable, most relevant key points. This is what you want the audience to act on, and what you really want them to take home.
2. Pepper different presentation elements; stories, jokes, anecdotes, videos—throughout the presentation.
Every time you introduce a new stimulus or media, the attention peaks in the audience. Our brains look for novelty, and if it's different, we can't help but listen up.
Putting in multimedia elements--such as videos and visuals--reinforces the content for visual learners in addition to mixing up the presentation format. Video and visuals can be great speaker support as well.
Stories, anecdotes, relevant jokes and metaphors are naturally engaging formats; they reinterpret information in a different way--so it's like a review within a presentation--and they add relevance and personality to the content or data.
3. Save the year-in-review for the middle of the presentation.
This is one of the most frustrating things that we see in corporate presentations.
The stage is set--this event is going to be new and different, they say. The audience is in a new ballroom and they're prepared--nay, they're *expecting*--to be motivated. . .
And then the first executive starts his speech with an inspiring. . . year-in-review. We're not saying that the year-in-review isn't important--indeed, it's crucial to know where you've been so you can see where you're going, and it's certainly important to highlight past successes to motivate the group. However, the past shouldn't be the first thing in a "brand-new" event.
Aside from that, though, is that the audience already *knows* (or should know), basically, what already happened. Therefore, it shouldn't take up prime attention real-estate at the beginning of a presentation. Instead, review current topics/goals, and then put the year-end review in the middle of the presentation in the context of future plans/actions and learnings.
The Seven Truths... Truth #3
Truth #3: The thing that convinces you isn’t necessarily the thing that convinces someone else.
Not everyone buys into the same type of argument. One of the biggest barriers in motivating audience action is that they don’t buy into your message. Some people want facts and figures, others want to see evidence that a plan has worked before, still others want to know that it’s what their peers are doing.
Your audience will be made of people that aren’t ALL convinced in the same way, so it stands to reason that a presentation has to approach persuasion from many different levels.
However, we tend to naturally want to present information in the way that convinces us personally. If numbers and pie charts are what convince me that our company initiatives are the right direction, naturally I'm going to load my presentation with so many pie charts you'd think it was PowerPoint Thanksgiving. Never mind that 3/4 of my audience may want more empirical evidence; case studies that show a successful implementation across other divisions or with other companies, etc.
So how can you turn a one-sided (or single-approach) message into something dynamic that will appeal to many?
Get the buy-in you need:
1. Acknowledge outstanding issues. When an audience is stuck on an objection, or their minds are elsewhere on an issue that isn't discussed, they cannot accept new arguments. For example, if you're talking about new company goals, but you have a huge distribution problem, people are going to be thinking, "These goals are nice and all--but how would I ever meet them with that distribution problem?" It doesn’t need to turn into a griping meeting, but briefly recognize problems and then give solutions or plans for improvement. You may then move forward.
2. Play to all persuasion styles:
- Data evidence--This is for the numbers people. They want to see charts, facts and figures that support your point.
- Social proof--This is for the consensus people. They want to see examples of how things have worked for other people in similar situations, or how things have worked in the past. They want case studies and stories.
- Personal guarantees of success--This is for the certainty people. They want hard evidence that it will work, but also that it will make them successful. They want to see visions of the future where they are successful.
- Relevance to achieving the goals--This is for the whole-picture seeking people. They want to see how a plan fits in with other elements in the company, and how it's relevant to the overall goals.
3. Don’t assume that your audience will be persuaded in the way that you are—do a reality check before a presentation. Run your argument by someone else, or filter your presentation through the lens of the four styles of persuasion. If it doesn't hit all of them in at least some way, then it's not going to be relevant to a portion of your audience.
The Seven Truths... Truth #2
Truth #2: The attention span of the average adult is between 5 - 7 minutes.
(And wandering minds are NOT an acceptable form of exercise.)
Hmm, how many of your event presentations are under 7 minutes? Probably not many. In fact, a lot of the Very Important Keynotes from company leaders probably clock in around 45-90 minutes (depending on how verbose the speaker and how much they're trying to cover).
Unless your information is delivered in a new, compelling way at this 5-7 minute interval, your audience will tune out. Blame it on the brain, it's just the way we're wired.
There are, however, a variety of tactics you can employ to maintain engagement throughout the presentation; stories, changing the focus of the presentation, and keeping the speech fresh and entertaining.
It’s just that somewhere in between getting the PowerPoints down and lining up speakers, someone forgets to employ these tactics. It seems that as long as a presentation has the right information in it, how it's presented becomes irrelevant. The truth is, if it isn't presented correctly, the information becomes irrelevant because it won't stick. Heck, it might not even make it into the brain in the first place.
So how do we solve the problem?
Herd their minds:
- Tell stories in the presentations to make examples relevant. Stories are intrinsically captivating, and short stories to highlight your point will refresh everyone's attention span. People will also stay engaged in a story for *longer* than the normal 5-7 minute attention window if it has a clear narrative and payoff. Using story metaphors are also a great way to increase comprehension of material.
- Change the presentation format every 5-7 minutes—add pictures, video or sound. You can maintain the same content points over a long period of time as long as you're changing how you talk about those points. Put in a video to illustrate a new product, show ad campaign material instead of just talking about it, and interview key experts instead of quoting them. Even a joke or anecdote can help. If multiple people in department worked on a project, have them tag-team on the presentation. Anything to vary it from just one person talking at the audience for an extended period of time.
- Get clean from your PowerPoint addiction—use PowerPoint to enhance what you’re saying—not as speaking notes. There's nothing more un-engaging than slide after slide of the same points as the speaker is talking them through (note--not talking TO them, but reading them). The brain cannot process both sets of identical information inputs and checks out.
The Seven Truths... Truth #1
These are the things that WILL happen in your event unless you take measures to prevent them. And they're not great for the event OR your bottom line.
We'll go into detail about each of these Seven Truths, but briefly, they are:
1. 95% of what is delivered in a typical meeting environment is forgotten 24 hours later.
2. The attention span of the average adult is between 5 - 7 minutes.
3. The thing that convinces you isn’t necessarily the thing that convinces someone else.
4. People generally only remember the opening and closing parts of any given presentation.
5. All events produce an outcome...but it might not be the one you want.
6. Adults are just kids in big bodies.
7. If a topic isn’t relevant, the brain doesn’t retain it.
Frightening--but don't worry, you can negate these factors through techniques like brain-based learning, interaction and strategic planning.
Let's explore the first truth: 95% of what is delivered in a typical meeting environment is forgotten 24 hours later. You might as well shake hands with your colleagues at the end of an event and say, "Congratulations, we've just had the best event that no one will remember."
Maybe that's a little harsh--the average person will retain that 5%--but you have no idea which 5% is going to stick. What if it's the dinner entertainment and not the CEO's goals and directives for the year?
So how do we solve the problem? Utilizing brain-based learning strategies you can make more of your content stick in the minds of your audience—and strategically reinforce key content to make sure that the most important messages go home with them.
Help your audience remember more key content:
1. Give breaks in between presentations for the audience to write notes and absorb the information.
Your brain needs a break. Going from one topic to the next, to the next in a typical event can lead to information overload. Something as simple as writing down notes after the presentation, or being encouraged to share one's key takeaways with a neighbor can dramatically increase retention. Of course, encourage attendees to take notes during presentations as well.
2. Have 3 key points per presentation—no more.
Simple is best when it comes to your key content. Sure, there may be many things to talk about (I've never been in a situation where there was a *lack* of things to talk about), but narrow them down so that you're sure the most important things are going to stick.
3. Reinforce key points at the beginning (pre-framing), middle (informing) and end (reviewing) of a presentation.
Tell the audience what you're going to talk about, elaborate on it, then review what you've just talked about. It may seem redundant on the surface, but that doesn't mean you have to say things the exact same way every time.
Pre-framing will prepare your audience for the information. This is why we look at maps before we go on a trip--to see where we're going. This way, the audience can also "look" for your messaging within the speech--they know which key points to watch out for.
Elaborating using stories, pictures, video, etc. will give your audience the meat of the information. They may not remember every detail from this elaboration, but they'll still remember the key points.
Reviewing will tie the speech up neatly, and remind the audience about the key points. This is also where you can insert action items related to the key points. I.e. "We want to grow revenue 16% this year...and this means you have to..."
Do these things consistently, and you can stretch that 5% retention. Most importantly, you can begin to control WHICH percentage of the meeting is sticking in the minds of your audience--the key message points.
Events in the Time of Downturn
Now, annual events like sales meetings and marketing get-togethers aren't exactly of the same ilk as an incentive trip, but in light of the economy, many companies are facing pressure to cut costs. This means, often, that the budget for events is slashed dramatically.
Days may be cut out of a trip, the attendee list may be shortened, and event planners are faced with having to make do with less.
Fortunately, making do with less doesn't mean doing less for your attendees. Because what your event comes down to isn't the pricey items like the staging design and teambuilding golf outings. You can engage your audience without the big set, and you can have an engaging networking activity without the 18 holes.
Meetings, in times of budgetary crunches, can be more critical than ever. It's an opportunity to rally the troops, focus on the coming directives, get everyone on board and boost morale.
Remember, there is one universal truth in meetings; expensive or low-budget: the audience wants to be engaged. With unlimited budgets, there's the temptation to engage them with high-tech.
So how *do* you still hold those crucial events with LESS budget and have them be MORE effective than ever?
Your audience wants to play...
To get people to interact, you don’t need a golf outing or an expensive cocktail hour—you just need to set up an environment where they can *play* in a meaningful way.
- Organize team activities, game shows and competitions that go throughout the event.
- Have frequent “brain breaks” in the meeting; allowing the audience to absorb information.
- Get the audience to interact with the speakers with a variety of activities; stories, roleplays, etc.
Your audience wants to be persuaded…
Let your audience know what the game plan is moving forward, why it’s going to work, and what’s expected of them to implement the company plan. Address their objections up front so you can move forward in the event.
- Play to all four styles of persuasion (for more on this, stay tuned).
- Have the audience set their own goals and objectives for the event.
- Outline a clear game plan and have every presentation fit in as a puzzle piece to the larger picture.
Remember, message is key. The more effective you are at getting your message across in clear, concise, relevant manner, the more effective your event is going to be for your audience.
Your audience is not going to remember some of the more expensive things; lighting grids, custom opening videos, etc. They SHOULD remember your message.
- Make sure your message is clear and concise.
- Stick to a minimal number of key message points
- Add in stories, examples, interaction—and lay off the PowerPoint in presentations.
Sure, all these things seem basic, but they’re still the most important elements in producing an extremely effective event—and one that need not break the bank.