The High Cost of an Ineffective Event

While talking to a client the other day, he revealed some interesting calculations for the cost of their next event.

Factoring in the number of people, productivity and sales lost from being away from the office, and actual event cost (venue, keynote speakers, food, lodging, activities), the company was spending...

...wait for it....

...upwards of $100,000 PER HOUR on their event.

That's a heck of a lot of money. Especially when companies are being particularly frugal nowadays.

We're not saying don't host your event. Certainly not--events have value that far exceeds their cost.

What we are saying is that if you're going to spend $100,000 PER HOUR on a three day event, shouldn't it be the best darned event ever?

Why would you have your presenters go up and PowerPoint your audience to death--as per usual? Why would you have your audience just sit in their chairs for hour upon hour?

You wouldn't. So it's time to rethink how much an event is *really* costing. If it's the same old event as usual, then the price is far greater than the budget allows--even if it's not in dollars.
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Meetings Mean Business--And Strong Companies

In my daily perusal of the interwebs, I stumbled upon this quote.

From the Meetings Mean Business website:
One in eight Americans works in the travel industry. Meetings Mean Business is a grassroots campaign whose goal is to protect the millions of American jobs that depend on business meetings and events. Right now, events across the country are being canceled because of dangerous political rhetoric and media sensationalism that attempts to embarrass corporate America away from travel at the expense of working Americans. If our government is serious about recovering our economy and creating new jobs, we need a robust travel industry that supports the jobs of millions of hardworking Americans in hotels, restaurants and conference centers all around the country and empowers businesses who rely on travel for meetings, events and performance incentive programs to recover and grow.
Bill Marriott has similar things to say about the economy and business meetings in his blog. A few select quotes:

In the past few weeks alone, we have had millions of dollars worth of meetings canceled, because companies fear how they will be perceived.

I also feel strongly that scaring companies, including those that have not received emergency government assistance, into eliminating travel from their normal course of business will hinder our economic recovery at a time when we need to do everything we can to stimulate our economy and create jobs.


It's a frustration of anyone dealing with corporate events. A lot of companies are cutting back on getting everyone together, and it's hard to blame them--what, with all the media pressure to do so.

Meetings Mean Business and Mr. Marriott are going at this turn of events from a jobs standpoint, but while I agree with and respect that viewpoint, the cancellation of corporate meetings is not just hurting jobs in the travel industry--it's hurting the corporations themselves.

These are uncertain times, to be sure. Employees of even large, seemingly bullet-proof, companies are worried about their longevity. While most are putting their noses to the grindstone and working even harder, it's hard to function at an effective rate when one is operating from a position of fear.

Now, more than ever, employees need guidance and direction. They need to know that the company has a strong vision, goals and--ultimately--a plan for better or worse. They need to hear a strong leader--the CEO, perhaps, or their management team--come forward and give them reassurance; even if that reassurance is in the form of, "Times are tough and here's what to expect."

Now, some would say that there are meeting alternatives, but this simply is not so. Webinars, memos, video conferencing--all are great and have their place, but are paltry substitutions for getting everyone together.

Having a meeting in a time of economic downturn and uncertainty:
  • Reassures the workforce--taking them out of a place of fear so they can be more effective at their jobs.
  • Increases morale and a sense of team--it's powerful to reconnect with peers and develop optimized working relationships.
  • Gets everyone on the same page; communicating a clear state of the company, goals and visions for moving forward.
  • Gets everyone moving in the same direction--calls employees to action.
  • Shows that the company is not reactionary and displays a strong, united front.
This doesn't mean that companies still have to put on the same glitz-n-glamor events that they did in the past. By all means, cut back on the event; save money on the location (Dallas instead of Palm Springs?), on the golf outings (there are incredibly effective, cheap team-building alternatives), on the printed materials (make meeting information available online), on the meals (chicken instead of shrimp and lobster?)...

...there are a million little ways to cut the budget in an event and still host it. In fact, some of the most effective events we've been to have been scaled-down, minimalist affairs. The important thing, right now, is a unifying message--and that means unifying a company's workforce.

And that, ultimately, means bringing them together. So don't cancel your meeting as a first reaction. Evaluate whether it's necessary (yes, probably even more so now), and take a critical look at where the money in the event is going.

Because when a company cancels its corporate meetings, it not only hurts jobs in the travel industry, but it also hurts the company.
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Deja-Conomy and Audience Advocacy

Business persons practicing through the 1980's are feeling a striking sense of deja vu with the current economic situation.

The impact on businesses--particularly in regards to how they view their events and meetings--is also similar.

We reflect back to when Live Spark was in its infancy, and Dan Yaman, our founder, regales us with tales of companies in difficult times; merging, scaling down, participating in acquisitions, etc.

In fact, Live Spark's predecessor company was started on Black Monday--and the term ignorance is bliss had never been more true. It may not have seemed like the best time to start a business, but it ended up being the perfect time for the company to introduce itself to the world.

At the time, Live Spark was known as Interactive Personalities--specializing in AniMate technology--real-time animated characters--instead of the entire spectrum of event design.

What happened during that time, was that companies going through significant change due to the economy or simply restructuring started contacting Dan and company.

"We need an audience advocate," was the request. Companies were still bringing their employees together for meetings--in fact, meetings were even more critical than ever for getting everyone on board and reassuring them with the new company visions. But what companies realized was that their audience needed a voice.

An audience in a state of uncertainty, or sitting in a meeting unconvinced, is an audience that is not receptive to new messaging. Likewise, when a company has issues that are unresolved, not addressing these before moving forward into mission-critical content is like putting a drop of water in a bucket of soup; the water is still there, but it's diluted by the simmering broil of the pot at large.

An audience advocate--in the form of an AniMate--was a transformational presence in these events.

Instead of CEOs and Executives talking AT the audience, they were able to talk TO them in an intimate way--even in a crowd of thousands.

The audience advocate:

  • Kept the audience entertained and focused by interjecting humor.
  • Brought up questions that were on the minds of the audience when an new concept was introduced.
  • Voiced issues and objections so they could be addressed and the meeting could move forward.
  • Provided an opportunity for top-level personnel to show that they understood what was going on, and were "with" the audience.
  • Increased unity and feelings of company loyalty in a time where boosting morale and motivating employees was absolutely critical.

As we experience a deja-conomy of sorts in 2008 and heading into 2009, we're seeing more and more need for the audience advocate. As businesses find themselves in undesirable positions (or, sometimes, great positions, but with a high degree of change), the need for the audience to have a voice in the process grows. Though these AniMates have always been part of our toolbox, they fill a very specific niche in tough times that truly makes an impact.
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Events in the Time of Downturn

Recently in the news: AIG canceling their big incentive trip due to pressure to show a buttoned-down, cost-conscious face.

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.
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