Fortune 500 Company Seeks Parrot. Must Be Funny

Live Spark got a nice mention by Greg Schwem both on Huffington Post and in The Chicago Tribune.

Original articles are here (Huffington Post) and here (Chicago Tribune). More information on Greg here

We have to add--the actors behind the voices of our AniMates (who interact in real-time) most certainly need dressing rooms and their share of the "bird seed".

The article:

Whenever I have my children's full attention, meaning they are only performing two simultaneous tasks on their cell phones, I attempt to offer fatherly advice on subjects ranging from drugs to fashion choices to not spending money like a Kardashian. So far they seem to be listening, although I know the day is coming when one bursts through the front door and excitedly screams, "Dad, don't you think this tattoo will be perfect for my job interview?"

Recently my eldest and I were discussing her chosen college major, physical therapy, a vocation that I wholeheartedly support for it meets the criteria I laid out during one of my advisory sessions: Do not choose a career that can be replaced by a computer. Physical therapist has only a 2.1 percent chance of becoming automated in the next decade or two, if one is to believe "The Future of Employment: How Susceptible are Jobs to Computerization," a 2013 study authored at the University of Oxford. Budding fashion models take note: The study predicts a 98 percent likelihood that robots, not humans, will be sashaying down Parisian runways in 2033.

Now, I fear, I may be searching for a new line of work, having just lost an employment opportunity to a parrot. And a computerized one at that.


I always assumed my longtime profession - stand-up comedian - would forever be immune to virtualization. "Comedian" doesn't even appear in the Oxford survey. And besides, I tell my children, "Nobody is going to sit in an audience and laugh at a machine." Of course, that was before presidential candidate and automaton Ted Cruz garnered some yuks at the last GOP debate, but I digress. "Sure, robots can build cars, cook gourmet meals and fill orders for cholesterol medication at the local pharmacy. But tell jokes? Nonsense," I said smugly.

Not so fast, as I discovered upon contacting a client who had hired me several years ago to perform live, human generated comedy at an annual meeting for a large, independent optometry network. At the event's conclusion, accolades of "great job," "funny stuff," "stay in touch and "we DEFINITELY want you back" poured in. 

Last week I contacted the client, eager for him to make good on his promise. The original contract was on my computer screen; all it needed was a new date and maybe a slightly higher performance fee. Even comedians are not immune from the ravages of inflation.

"Actually, Greg, we've been using a parrot the last few years," the client replied.
"What kind of parrot?" I asked, as if losing a gig to a scarlet macaw as opposed to a green-cheeked conure would provide me with some comfort.
"It's an animated character," the client said. "I'll email you a link to the company that created it."
"But, but ..." I stammered. 

I remembered another piece of advice I consistently give my children: Always stand up for your beliefs and your skills. This would prove difficult, knowing my competition didn't require a plane ticket, a king-sized bed at the local Marriott, meal per diem and a taxi ride to and from the airport. Out of curiosity, I clicked the link. The parrot was the brainchild of Live Spark, a Minnesota-based event production company and creator of "AniMates," computer generated characters that can humorously interact with audiences in real time. Live Spark President Dan Yaman was happy to talk with me, once I assured him I wasn't calling to name him - and his parrot - defendants in a wrongful termination lawsuit.

"We have a talking horse, talking eagle, talking building; basically whatever you can slap a face on, we can animate it," Yaman said. Heavy hitter companies including Intel, MetLife, Target, Pfizer and Xerox have used Yaman's creations at live events.

"(AniMates) can talk about things on the audience's mind. They can even challenge the CEO," Yaman said. But, he reminded me, AniMates are controlled entirely by creative human beings who sit backstage, generating the funny lines and controlling the character's movements.

"Let's talk next week," Yaman said to me. "Maybe we can work together."

And with that, Yaman reaffirmed yet another piece of grandfatherly-sounding advice I've bestowed on my kids: When one door closes, another opens.

Even if the object behind that door is a brightly-colored bird that doesn't need a dressing room.

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



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


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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

And we're going to show you... in a SONG.

Watch this quick video update and get some ideas for your next event that will BLOW YOUR MIND!