4 Ways to Hamilton Your Event.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We will frequently have attendees develop their own summary of a presentation in this format. Not only does it allow them to flex their creative muscles (and we can use it as part of an overall teambuilding competition), but it also enables them to self-select which pieces of information were important to them and worth remembering--further reinforcing the content for themselves and their fellow attendees.
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Everything I need to know about an audience I learned from my 4 month old baby.

This is Nadia:
I've spent a lot of time with her since she was born in January. As I went about my days on maternity leave, it occurred to me how many similarities she shares with the average event audience*.

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:

1. Attention span
The attention span of a baby is fairly short. Guess what? So is an adult's attention span. Unless you change the way information is presented every 5-7 minutes--people tune out. Nadia may love-love-love her stuffed musical caterpillar (and your audience may love-love-love the new product roll out) but she doesn't want to play with it for minutes on end.

Your audience can't sustain attention for 45 minutes...an hour...without additional stimulation.

2. Novelty rules
If there is something new in the room, the baby's attention snaps-to and holds. It's pretty amazing (and sometimes frustrating when trying to get her to focus on a necessary task). Adults are the same way. Something new, novel, interesting, different, etc. will captivate our attention.

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.

3. Change the pattern
Along the same lines--when Nadia is very upset about something she needs a pattern interrupt before she can be calmed down. Whistling while she's crying, for instance, will cause her to stop and re-focus. Your audience probably won't be crying (on the outside, anyway), but sometimes they can be righteously angry about something (layoffs, perceived ineffectiveness, a change in policy, etc.).

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.

4. Energy is continually exhausted without intervention
No matter how many hours of sleep she got the night before, by the end of the day Nadia is a ball of fuss. She just cannot process any more information. I've seen audiences like this too. The event planner jams the schedule so full that you get a tired, cranky audience.

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.

5. Basic needs cannot be neglected
Maslow's hierarchy of needs is pretty straightforward with a baby. They first want food and sleep and shelter and safety. Your audience also wants these things. This seems like a really obvious point, but basic needs aren't always met at an event in favor of saving a few dollars (let's make this a stretch break and not a snack break) or even due to unforeseen circumstances.  Feed your audience. Let them get full nights of sleep. Give them breaks. Make sure they can see the screens and stage. Make sure they're comfortable.

Use of pacifiers is optional.


*Adorableness of your audience may vary.
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