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.
The Advantages of DIY-Emceeing
Last entry we talked about the advantages a professional external emcee has over an internal emcee. (How to Emcee Your Event Like a Pro)
But external emcees aren't automatically superior to internal emcees. About 70% of our events feature internal emcees (of varying degrees of skill) and there are definite benefits to utilizing an internal company employee/leader as your event emcee.
1. They know your people.Knowing who is in the audience is a big shortcut to building audience rapport. Internal emcees are familiar with your audience--clients or internal employees--and they can use that knowledge to modify their energy, their comments, and their activities.
If there needs to be a volunteer to perform a demonstration, they know who they can call on to get participation. Maybe more valuable--they know who NOT to call out or ask up to the stage.
2. They get the in-jokes.Hand in hand with knowing the people, they also know the common references in the company. They know when a particular acronym or term has a sordid history. They know that Jane Doe moved from x department to y department to z department. They can easily pull references that make the audience crack up and relate.
Likewise, they can serve as a barometer for what is actually going to make the audience laugh or not. Not that an internal emcee knows everything about audience humor, but they have a good pulse on the company culture and can give a suggestion of where lines should be drawn.
3. They can explain/recap concepts.Perhaps the most value in having an internal emcee comes when it's time to glue all the presentations together.
An emcee with internal knowledge of what the speakers are trying to say can transition to a speaker by providing important context. They can recap a presentation by clarifying a few key points or by solidifying what it means to the audience. They have an understanding of how a discrete speech might fit into the big picture and they can make these connections for the audience.
This gives consistency and is incredibly powerful in making sure that the content presented has a better chance of being remembered.
4. They can provide tangible follow-up.An internal emcee can make promises that an external emcee couldn't hope to keep. They can take questions and concerns and turn them into post-event follow-up. They already have rapport and context to leverage with the audience, so it's a natural step to, post event, have a follow-up action.
It could be as simple as, "You know when CEO talked about XYZ? Well, here's where the rubber meets the road". It could also be more complex--like a serious of follow-up videos, checking in on action items, holding people accountable, or even following up on panel questions.
5. They are an on-site resource.While their time may be limited on-site most of the time, if you can get a dedicated internal emcee it can enhance an event tremendously by giving you more flexibility to react to the event in real-time.
Something happen at an evening event? The emcee can clue you in, give you context, and let you play off (or address it) as needed in the general session. If you decide that there needs to be an extra energizer event--like a game show round--in between presentations, an internal emcee can help you vet questions or give you an idea of whether you're on the right path.
Overall? Either an internal or an external emcee can work--depending on the individual talents and strengths of the individual. Either one should be a charismatic people-person who has the ability to spend dedicated time rehearsing, and who is willing to go with the flow of a dynamic event.
How to Emcee Your Event Like a Pro
We don't have a cut-and-dried preference either way. The ratio ends up being about 70% internal, 30% external. There are benefits to either approach. Recently, however, an internal emcee--who was already quite good--asked us what external/professional emcees did that they didn't, and what they could do to be better.
There are several advantages to having an external emcee--which we'll talk about here. The next entry will deal with the advantages of having an internal emcee. These advantages certainly aren't true of ALL external emcees--and we've seen internal emcees have several of these attributes as well.
But generally, here are the advantages of having an external emcee.
1. Sole focus is on the event at hand.Something that we hear, over and over again, about the value of live events is the irreplaceable amount of networking time. It's one thing to communicate with global colleagues on a daily basis; it's quite another to have them face to face with you--attention undivided.
Internal emcees, naturally, cannot give up this valuable time. You wouldn't want your VP of sales NOT to network with their direct reports.
There is also a matter of divided responsibilities. Internal emcees often have additional event tasks; managing an element of the event, leading a breakout session, and handling day-to-day business issues that crop up.
External emcees don't have any of that distraction while they're on the event. This gives them the advantage of dedicated time and focus. Which leads to...
2. Rehearsal time.Rehearsing is critical for ANYONE. Even if it's just a cue-to-cue walk through or a mic check, you don't want to go up on stage without rehearsing. This becomes more and more crucial as events become more interactive and complex; incorporating multimedia, multiple presenters, panels, social media, and gamification elements.
Because external emcees are there to do one thing--emcee the event--they are available for rehearsals whenever there are rehearsals to be had. They don't get dragged into additional meetings or workshops.
3. No late nights.In general, internal emcees will keep pace with the company culture. They build rapport with their people through networking and engaging in the same activities as they do. Sometimes--for better or worse--these activities include late-night drinking/partying/events AT an event.
The peer pressure involved--especially if it's a once-a-year event with a close team or an opportunity to wine-and-dine clients/customers--can be immense. We're not saying that these elements of an event are bad--we're just saying that internal emcees should probably limit alcohol consumption and call it an early-ish night.
We have had hung-over internal emcees on the stage. They dealt with it and powered through, but they didn't have the same energy and focus as a well-rested, ready-to-go emcee.
(This isn't to say that external emcees are always angels in this regard, mind, but there is less networking pressure to do so.)
4. Unflagging energy.This ties in with the point about being over-committed to multiple tasks at an event, networking, staying out late and drinking, but it ALSO refers to being professionally trained to maintain one's energy over multiple days.
Most external emcees are specifically trained/prepared to emcee for multiple days without losing their energy or ability to do their job. Even when they may have to do the same thing over and over again or rehearse multiple times.
This is trick of training and practice and mental energy, but it can also be as simple as being physically up to the task. We have had internal emcees lose their voices by the second day of an event simply because they're not used to speaking at-length and at-volume that the emcee performance requires.
5. Stretch the comfort zone.Sometimes emcees need to get a bit silly. Not ridiculous, mind, but it takes a certain shedding of a straight-laced persona to--say--host a game show with enthusiasm. When internal emcees are too concerned about maintaining a certain type of image or professional relationship with their audience, it can inhibit their ability to be the most effective emcee they can be.
Often times it also impacts the delivery of script. There will be something that needs to be said, but an internal emcee will veto it as not consistent with their personality/sense of humor/whatever--which is valid, but can reduce the overall impact of the event. Internal politics can also play a part in this.
We had an emcee who hosted a game show, but was very concerned about how they came off. As a result, they were self-conscious and rushed through questions. They game show was still great, but it could have been much better with an infusion of an energetic host.
External emcees are mostly free of these concerns. If their job is to host a game show--they'll host a game show with aplomb. If their job is to stay straight-laced--they will. (If they're good, that is.)
An internal emcee can be very powerful and a tremendous asset--we're not against them at all. However, special considerations--especially around the emcee's time on-site--should be taken for them to be the most effective emcee they can be.
Delta's New Safety Videos: Losing the Course
We're also based out of Minneapolis/St. Paul, so we fly Delta quite a bit.
We have something to report.
Delta Airlines recently changed their safety videos.
And we hate it.
It's not just a knee-jerk reaction to change. There are brain-based reasons why changing the tone of the videos made them significantly less effective.
This is how Delta's safety videos used to look:
(There were several in the series, this is just one example.)
They get all the essential messaging across, but there is also humor and lightness. Even a seasoned flier will pay attention through some of the drier safety messaging (that they may have heard and ignored a hundred times before) because they're looking for that little nugget of entertainment.
What visual treat will I get next? What tiny thing will surprise and delight me?
This is the NEW Delta safety video that was playing the last few flights we've taken:
It's really...pretty? It's done well. It highlights the global nature of their business.
And it's tremendously dull.
I'm guessing the former are the reasons they went that direction. It's a classy video, sure. But no one was watching it. We tuned in for the first few seconds, saw that there wasn't going to be any humor payoff, and went back to our various diversions. It was easy to tune out.
We also noticed that there was a message from a *new* CEO in the beginning of the video. We speculated that they did as so many companies do; they changed the video strategy because a new head person wanted to go a new direction; to make their own mark in the creative branding of the company.
We don't know that for a fact, of course, but we've seen it enough times in events to recognize the strong possibility that this is the case.
Here's are four things we can learn from Delta's decision, as it applies to events:
1. Don't change JUST for the sake of change.
In this case, Delta had built up a reputation for these fun videos, so we were anticipating the same thing (maybe slight variances, but the direction and overall tone was the same). We were disappointed by a straightforward video and tuned out after figuring out that it wasn't going to be entertaining.
There is ample reason to change something when it feels stale or is no longer working, and change is quite frequently good. But changing something for the sake of change when the previous tactic or message was--and remains--effective isn't a wise move.
For instance, if you do a high energy meet-and-greet at every event and it feels fresh and people love it, there's no reason to stop doing it *only* because "we did that last year".
2. Don't prioritize flash over substance.
The new videos are very pretty. They have little flourishes and animations that are rather impressive and probably cost quite a bit to do.
But they're not the compelling hook that is going to get people to watch the video.
A lot of times we see events with VERY splashy opening videos, beautiful staging, specialty lighting and flourishes...and then the content is presented in a way that is overwhelming, stale, dry or boring. Flash will not overcome finding an engaging way to present content.
3. Humor is incredibly effective.
The previous Delta videos weren't always laugh-out-loud funny, but they had a touch of humor that hooked the viewer. The lighthearted structure made it clear that there was an effort to engage with the audience; to show them little visual punchlines while delivering a critical message.
Humor is effective because it activates your emotional connection to the content. When you engage your emotion, your content retention increases.
And along those lines:
4. Serious content doesn't have to be boring.
The safety messaging Delta is delivering could save lives. There are things that *must* be communicated--no matter how dry or boring. It's serious stuff, and in an emergency the content of that video needs to be on the forefront of everyone's mind.
A lot of people would, thus, shy away from bringing any levity into the messaging at all--fearing that people wouldn't take the messaging seriously if the delivery wasn't maximally serious.
However, the severity of the messaging means that it's even more critical for people to actually see it; to pay attention and absorb the content points. A bone-dry delivery is not an effective way to achieve that. Humor--done right--doesn't detract from the gravity of the messaging (whether it's an airline safety video or a corporate presentation). It does, however, go a long way toward audience engagement.
So you want to waste money at your event...
We hear it most in terms of adding interaction. "We already spent X on getting people here, we really don't have the budget for Y interaction."
And what we want to say is:
"Then instead of having an event, you should just put your event budget in a big pile on the floor and light it on fire."
At least people would remember that.
We don't say that.
1. Because we don't condone burning money.
2. Because it's not helpful.
However, if a company is spending money to bring people TO an event and then is giving little thought to how to make their audience engage, interact, and retain the event information--they might as well not have the event.
Part of any event budget should be value. Live events have demonstrated value over and over again. It's still important for people to get together face-to-face; to network, get training, new information, goals, and a clear vision for the year. But you have to do more than just bring people together, give presentations, and hope that the message got through. You have to engage your audience.
But let's say you're already committed to wasting money and you want to make sure you get as little value out of your event as possible (maybe there was a dare involved?). Here are some ways to ensure your event will be a waste:
1. Think that bigger a/v is better a/v.An event needs to have base-level good a/v. It's not necessarily wise to cut corners here; when a projector goes out in the middle of a show with no backup, or you have the fourth-string crew, you're really going to see a negative--and distracting--impact on your event.
However, that doesn't mean that bigger a/v is better a/v either. Having all the lighting effects and stage decor and enhanced sound mixing in the world isn't going to save a dull presentation. Sure, a fog machine on stage is cool, but if you're spending budget on the bells and whistles instead of actual engagement, your event is going to suffer. Money wasted? Check.
2. Don't add elements of interaction.You can have the slickest presentation in the world, but even the best presentation...backed by another great presentation...backed by another great presentation...won't stick. The brain simply cannot process the barrage of information. The audience needs to review, reflect, re-apply, and engage with the content. The need is not flexible; it's the limitation of the human brain, not a whim or a desire to be entertained.
We've had clients spend several hundred thousand dollars on an event and then veto an interactive game show that is a fraction of the cost--but would save their event from being a one-way content dump.
Interaction at an event--during the event...DURING the presentations--is not an option. It's a necessity. If the content isn't going to stick, there's no point to presenting it. Not adding in discussion, competition, game elements, etc., means wasting your money having an event at all.
3. Pack the agenda really tightly to get everything in.There are natural constraints at play in determining the length of an event. 3 days of hotel room, banquet, meal, and airfare costs might be within budget while 4 days are out of the question. One might be tempted to have a shorter event with the same amount of content--but this is a mistake.
Which is not to say that the event should be extended; rather an effort should be made to pare down the content so that 4 days worth isn't squeezed into a 3 day package. In the last point, we mentioned how interaction shouldn't and couldn't be sacrificed. The same is true for the downtime the interaction provides. Having, for example, 10 presentations back-to-back-to-back instead of, say, 7 with time for reflection doesn't mean that more content is being covered. It just means that more content is being presented.
Packing the agenda tightly to get everything in results in LESS engagement and retention than if the audience members were given time to breathe. Instead of getting 4 days of content in 3 days, the audience retains maybe a day of content in as much time.
4. Cut the team building.Some team building is superfluous. We're never going to recommend a half-day on the golf course as a way to build team morale. (We don't have anything against golf, but it's not effective team building on its own, and it is a huge expense for little value.) However, one of the most compelling reasons to have an event is to invest in the strength of your team through networking and team building.
This may be a bit of a cheat in this post; team building and interaction often overlap. One of the best ways to add value to an event and boost content retention is to incorporate interactive team building throughout the entire session. Weaving team building in between presentations and workshops not only strengthens content retention, but increases the number of meaningful interactions between team members.
Or you can eschew this value entirely and skip the team building--having your audience stare at a screen for 8 hours a day and not have positive contact with each other that will last far beyond the event. Your choice!
5. Create the event in a vacuum.Why bother to figure out what the audience really wants or likes when planning an event? Because if you don't, you have a static event that loses value quickly.
Thoughtful event surveys (that are crafted to provide "meatier" feedback than "we didn't like the buffet choices on Thursday") post-event are a good starting point to creating a dynamic event. Pre-event surveys asking which content is most relevant for attendees are also a great tool. But don't just take survey results and file them away--change the event based on the survey (within reason--if ONE person doesn't like an element and everyone else does, take that feedback with the statistical significance it possesses).
Creating a dynamic event also happens AT the event. Allow attendees to give real-time feedback on the trajectory of presentations (on a small or large scale) and if it becomes apparent that something needs to be addressed or covered in greater depth--do it. Refusing to change course when needed may mean less work in the short-term at the event, but can have long-term consequences. Just ask the Titanic.
Do you have a case of Zombie Audience?
Voting with a Smartphone: What could go wrong?
Since we've been using various audience response pads for large audience-wide games--and have gotten some pushback from people saying, "Why can't everyone just use their phones--why do we have to have separate pads?" this email was intriguing to us.
We expected to find a new solution; a foolproof way to incorporate smartphone voting--maybe ensuring that concerns like connection strength in a hotel ballroom were addressed and mitigated. But alas, what we found are succinct and compelling reasons NOT to rely on smartphone voting that we've been trying to put into words all along.
Basically it comes down to 3 main points that are tough to regulate--unless everyone has a company-distributed phone (and sometimes not even then).
- Phone variations: Everyone has a different make, model, operating system and carrier--all with different operating speeds and load times that can adversely affect the voting or ring-in process.
- Complexity: Phones aren't meant to be voting or ring-in devices. Invariably you're routing a vote through your phone's own security, an app, the internet, etc.
- User responsibility: There's no way to ensure that people come to the meeting with their phones charged, relevant apps downloaded, etc.
We would also add: For years, the opening messages of meetings have included the phrase: "Please turn off your cell phones...." Obviously if you were using smartphones as a voting device you would not include this message word-for-word, but the original purpose for this message is lost. You don't want your audience to be surfing the web instead of listening to crucial content. You don't want them checking their email when they're supposed to be participating in a teambuilding activity. You certainly don't want the harmonious chimes and dings of alerts, updates, messages, texts and phone calls sounding off in the middle of your meeting either.
When you want the audience to focus on your event and you're trying hard to engage them (with, say, an audience-response game) you don't want to put the number one distraction device (smartphone with internet, email, games, etc.) in their hands and tell them to have it turned on and logged in.
The Five Perils of a Panel
Indeed, panel discussions at places like ComicCon and similar are exceedingly popular and very interesting to their super-fans. The key there being super-fans.
How about when you have a sales audience and you have a panel of customers?
A panel of executives presenting to the rank and file?
This is an entirely different story. These panels often come off as flat, unengaging and boring. When you look at the best aspects of a great presentation, these elements seem to be missing in panels entirely. So why are these panels so painful and deadly-dull for the audience? Where do panels go wrong?
1. They're usually not needed and have unclear outcomes.
Typically people come up with the idea to do a panel because they think it will be more interesting than a series of presentations. That may be the case, but doing a panel for the sake of doing a panel doesn't produce the results one desires. Panels are not exempt from needing explicit, clear and focused outcomes. Without an outcome, the panel can wander, lose focus or suffer from a lack of focus to begin with.
2. The dynamics of a panel often fall flat.
What is intended to be a differentiated format often offers no differentiation of its own within itself. There is no emotional charge behind a panel. They suffer from a lack of narrative drive, and there is no cohesive story to captivate and intrigue the audience. Often times the presenters lack chemistry or relation to each other, so even the format of the panel cannot be used correctly.
3. Panel presenters have a broad spectrum of ability.
Some panel members may be very engaging and others may not. This would seem to be fine, but often those that aren't engaging or may not even have much to say about a topic at hand feel obligated to jump in on a topic to fulfill their panel time or justify their presence on the panel. Instead of hearing from an expert in a cohesive way, the audience may hear from several non-experts in a disjointed way. With uneven presentation skills, the audience comes away with the experience provided by the lowest common denominator.
4. Panels give a lack of control over presentations.
Panels--especially those featuring gracious customers or outside volunteers--offer very little control over the messaging and storyline. It's easy, within a panel discussion, to veer off-topic or into taboo territory. Presenters may grandstand or focus on what they find interesting about a topic versus what the audience needs to know or what the audience finds interesting.
5. Audience questions fizzle out in a panel.
This is not a problem unique to panels, but it can be amplified by the panel format. In order to incorporate audience interaction, panels often will solicit questions from the audience. The audience will then typically ask what is most important to them personally...and it may have absolutely zero relevance to anyone else in the room. Generally audiences are not great at moderating their question level to the broader interest of the group at large. In a panel, then, you may have a question come up with little relevance, but that ends up taking up a large chunk of the panel time.
Panels aren't all bad--don't get us wrong--it's just that they are so often misused and abused. So how does one go about fixing panel perils? Our next blog installment will cover what you can do to make a panel more effective.
Flash Mob: A Team Building Flash-In-The-Pan?
Some examples are team challenges/experiences like:
- Create a "viral" video
- Create a "mashup" of two songs that describe your company
- Participate in a "flash mob"
However, the window of opportunity for these super-trendy team building concepts can be very short lived. There are some components of these ideas that have legs or that might work well as part of a larger context. Creating videos, for instance, is something that can be used in team building in a variety of different ways. It's only the colloquialism "viral" that gives it the trend-spin.
The danger, of course, is that these things quickly become passe or "corporatized" to the point where they lose that freshness that made them appealing in the first place. Let's take the flash mob, for instance. The idea behind a flash mob team building is that everyone learns the same steps and has to coordinate to come up with a final product. They then, at some point, perform this--perhaps during an interlude at an award ceremony, for instance. We've seen this now about a half-dozen times at various events and it has never failed to...well...fall a little flat. Flash mobs in and of themselves are/were originally delightful because they had an element of surprise. Some people--the dancers--were in on the mob, but the rest of the audience was amazed by this moment of socially-awkward-moment-turned-coordinated-effort. In addition to taking away novelty, the amazingly complex movements performed by a group need to be simplified, played down and cleansed for a corporate audience with various skill levels. And, truthfully, 80% of all executives we've seen performing in a flash mob looked tremendously uncomfortable.
Viral videos become viral because they have an almost-indefinable nugget of appeal. Something that surprises people and makes them want to watch and share the video. Part of the charm is in absurdity and spontaneity; a truly "viral" video is incredibly hard to manufacture. It is certainly extra-hard for your average meeting attendee, and most of the "viral videos" we've seen end up veering perilously off-message and into the inexplicably bizarre territory. Of course, there's the option to parody other viral videos, but that takes away from some of the creativity this activity is supposed to foster.
There are the same issues with song mashups, etc. The bottom line is that "trend" gets played out and loses its aim quickly when done for trend's sake. We're not arguing against fresh ideas and changing things up--we like that--but sometimes tried and true IS better than flash-in-the-pan. Or flash in the mob.
Beyond Bike-Building: Making Team Building Better
Watching trends in team building is interesting to event professionals. Multi-day meetings have traditionally reserved an afternoon "outing" so the audience could have some non-event "reward" time. This could be a golf tournament, a spa afternoon, some deep-sea fishing...whatever. This was well-intentioned; the audiences were faced with hours of intense workshops or general session content, and in a meeting generally devoid of one-to-one content, interaction and networking (that didn't revolve around the bar) was needed.
However, this type of team building was seen as lacking a true business purpose, and as belts tightened it became more and more frowned upon. Meeting planners were faced with a dilemma: give the audience a chance to relieve stress and network--but with a business purpose. Team Building was born.
And then came ropes courses, build-a-bikes, scavenger hunts... you get the idea. It reflects an unfortunate team building trend--that it's something that is plugged into a meeting as an a-la carte element instead of something consistent with the whole. Not that the charity purpose is bad (it is absolutely not, and could definitely be part of a company's ongoing mission) it's just that people are not utilizing the full potential of team building.
A well-designed meeting has team building, sure, but it uses it in a different way:
- Team building is integrated with the theme and content of the event. Is a major component of your event a new product? Sales training? The goals for the next year? You can--and should--use these as jumping-off points in designing team building activities. Use team building to build upon skills. That's not saying it can't be a bit lighter on the learning and heavier on the fun, but integrating team building with content produces a powerful punch.
- Team building is not a 3-hour single event. Team building integrated throughout the event (i.e. putting the audience on teams and having multiple team challenges throughout the meeting days) can be much stronger both in team building and in overall audience engagement. You can still have the three-hour team building block, but it can be supplemented by other team building activities. Your whole event has the potential to build up your team--grab and use that potential.
- Team building has meaning. You don't want your audience to walk away going, "That was fun, but so what?" or worse, "That was pointless, I wonder how much that cost?" Team building is an amazing opportunity to give your audience members a gift; of creative opportunity, of peer learning, etc. It should be relevant to them. The new wave of team building tends to be slightly more inclusive than the divisive "golf outing" wave, but hardly any of the messaging lasts beyond the event. I've never spoken to anyone who reminisces fondly with colleagues: do you remember that bike-building we did?
However, there are a few fairly frequent mistakes that speakers make that tend to negate the good will of their audience. After hearing a few hundred (probably closer to a few thousand) speakers--both internal and external--these are our biggest presentation pet-peeves.
1. Apologizing for their time.
"I know it's been a long day, try to stay awake..." or "I know I'm coming between you and lunch..." Sometimes this comes off well--with a strong speaker--as a lighthearted attempt at humor. More often it comes off as a reminder that I really want to check-out and a red-flag that this speaker doesn't consider him/herself important enough to listen to on their own merits.
Instead: Own your time. What you have to say is important. If it's not, don't be on that stage. The audiences' time is a gift; don't apologize for taking it--make them glad that they gave you their time because you're giving them something valuable in return.
2. Saying "in conclusion" and not really meaning it.
I once heard a speaker--no exaggeration--declare his conclusion a half-dozen times in his presentation. He may have meant to conclude single points among many in a fairly long speech, but there was no way for the audience to know that. He said, "In conclusion..." and everyone prepared for a summary statement and the end. The fact that he then went on another 5 minutes, then concluded again, then went on another 10 minutes, and then concluded again, and so on and so forth, sorely tried the patience and attention spans of the audience. By the time his real conclusion came about a more fidgety bunch of folks I have never seen.
Instead: Only conclude when it's time to end your speech. You have 30-60 seconds to wrap up after you make a conclusion statement. It's a great signal in a presentation to have the audience sit forward and take in your final point, but they don't appreciate being jerked around by multiple conclusions.
3. Using incorrect/outdated/inaccurate information.
We were listening to a speaker who was giving a professional, paid presentation on a very serious topic. To make a point via metaphor, she told a story about a military dog--Brutus--who protected his captured owners by killing their captors with a single silent signal. Something about the story wasn't jiving, so those of us with smartphones (a great majority by now) went on a little fact-finding mission at Snopes.com. The story turned out to be untrue and debunked. Not only did we spend time in her presentation checking this out instead of listening to her message--but she lost some amount of credibility in her actual message.
Instead: Use metaphors that you know to be true, and fact-check any anecdotes, datapoints or tidbits of information. If your aunt forwarded you the email that you got the story from, it's best not to just run with it in your public presentation.
4. Thinking your message is more important than it is.
Being unable to see the relevance of their message in perspective to the audience's perception of its relevance is a huge stumbling block for a lot of presenters. Sure, you've spent 11 months in the trenches of marketing and the minutia of the new PR rollout is really fascinating for you and your team and you're really proud of it... but does your audience feel that way too?
It's like the episode of Seinfeld where Jerry and Elaine go to visit their friends who just had a baby. Their friends, of course, think their child is the most beautiful thing in the world...but...it's an ugly baby. Your content is the baby. You may think it's beautiful but it might not be completely relevant to your audience.
Instead: Think about the perspective of your audience before crafting a presentation. Does it fit into what they immediately NEED to know? Does it fill in a "what's in it for them"? If not at all--or you can't think of a way to make it relevant/fit--then you may not be the right choice for a presentation at that event.
5. Not rehearsing
You'd think that if someone were presenting in front of a group of thousands, they would at least rehearse their presentation, right? Wrong. And it shows. Sometimes this is as simple as not testing the technology--the video clips, the PowerPoint, the transitions, etc. Other times it's as simple as not practicing and being rough, unpolished and nervous. Still other times this manifests itself as speakers going way, way, way over time.
Instead: Even the best speakers in the world practice each presentation. Test your technology. Make sure your timing is right. However, do NOT rehearse by memorizing your speech. Be comfortable enough with your talking points to relax and simply talk TO your information instead of repeating back the information.
6. Having a very obvious "insert company here" message.
This is more for professional external speakers that make the rounds at big corporate events. A lot of speakers have a fairly canned message about how they accomplished X and Y and how it's relevant to you, as an employee of Z company, accomplishing A and B. Sometimes you can literally hear the pause for the "insert company here" line in their speech. Is it really relevant to that company? Does the speaker actually know anything about the situation? Not really. Yet they're trying to be motivational with a generic message.
Instead: Good keynote speakers take the time to get to know the situation in the company and customize their message accordingly. They may have a bank of several messages or key points they can draw from or put together depending on the needs of the audience in front of them.
Teambuilding: You're Doing it Wrong
"We just want to let them go to the bar and network. They're so stressed out from sitting in the meeting all day that they need to relax."
It was like a needle-scratching-record in our conference room. Jaws dropped. Heads started to shake back and forth slowly in disbelief.
There are three things that are astounding about that statement:
1. The meeting was so stressful and packed with information that the attendees needed to medicate with alcohol. (To forget the event?!?)
2. Drinking is not networking, nor is it teambuilding.
3. This sentiment is more common than people might realize.
First off; your event should never be so jam-packed with information that your presenters must drink to forget their experience. Your content is presumably important--it should be metered out in digestible chunks so that it can be absorbed and remembered--NOT so it causes stress (and if it's not important enough to be remembered--why are you covering it?).
That aside, there are key elements that one should remember about teambuilding that will help produce the event's outcome:
Teambuilding should occur throughout the event. Three hours of teambuilding isn't as effective as teambuilding that is woven throughout the event. Give attendees a chance to bond (and a brain-break) with interactive activities sprinkled in between presentations. Dividing the audience into teams and having competition (with competitive elements like game shows, presentations, etc.) within the event is a great way of doing this.
Teambuilding should be carefully structured. An afternoon of golf doesn't bring your audience closer together. It brings a foursome who like golf closer together. It brings pre-existing cliques within the organization closer together. That's important, sure, but the strength of teambuilding is networking with peers that one might not normally come in contact with (but who can enrich one's working life through the contact).
Structure teambuilding to mix up regions, cliques, job roles, etc. Make sure that everyone has a role in a teambuilding activity so that no one is left out.
Teambuilding should be neutral. Not everyone loves a spa trip. Not everyone loves a ropes course. Some people (gasp!) hate golf. Pick a teambuilding event that is on "neutral" ground--that focuses on the team instead of the specific activity.
Teambuilding should support the content. There's no reason that you have to discard your content to do a teambuilding event. You can get just as much mileage out of getting your audience to present content in a fun way--to play with the content--in a team setting. It both suits the event objectives and is a bonding experience.
For instance, we'll occasionally have an American-Idol-Style evening event where teams have to come up with the best product presentation (using craft materials, creativity, and fun).
It's time to rethink teambuilding. Three hours of golf and spa is recreation, not bonding. If you want to bring your group closer together, get closer to what teambuilding SHOULD be. Raise the bar--don't congregate around it.
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.
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.