5 Ways to Herd Your Sheep: Getting your audience where you want them, on time.
We hear, often, that clients have consistent issues getting their events to start on time (or to start on time after a break, lunch, etc.). Many clients accept and account for this, building time into the agenda assuming that the event will start two or three or five or ten or fifteen minutes late. Many don't, and a late start throws off the whole schedule for the day.
Many have the best intentions, but simply don't want to start their Big Event Opening with half a room full of audience. Many have huge audiences and unwieldy logistics that make moving that volume of people in and out of a space difficult to do in a limited amount of time.
Once late start times begin, it's tough to get an audience back on track. So: How do you herd these sheep? Or, more delicately: How do you get your audience where you want them on time?
1. Start on time NO MATTER WHATAudiences can be trained!
And like any trainable entity, they can either be trained in a positive way or a negative way. If meandering in 5 minutes late is the accepted standard and they know they're not going to miss anything, they is little incentive to change that. They've been trained to do it, and the time frame will only continue to be more lax.
Starting on time--no matter what--may leave you with a partial audience the first time or two. However, audiences learn quickly. If the expectation is to start on time--and that expectation is clearly communicated--then a majority will be in their seats on time.
Note: Prepare to start on time yourself. This includes allowing enough time for proper rehearsal, run through, and technical troubleshooting. Stuff happens, but too often meetings are derailed because a speaker can't be found or a video wasn't checked or a presentation wasn't updated.
2. Incentivize on-time behaviorWhen we put audiences onto teams (great for teambuilding, ongoing game shows within the event, team competitions, etc.) we will frequently give them points if their team is back on time. But ONLY if ALL team members are back on time. What happens is this:
A. Team leaders or members make sure that everyone else is back on time.
B. Peer pressure is strong: it only takes one person missing the points for their team one time and EVERYONE will be on time after that. (Opposing teams will also make sure that no one is slipping in.)
One of our methods of keeping team points is to hand out fake money. It makes a big impact to hold teams accountable for being on time by handing them a small stack of cash.
Note: You can also penalize lateness (i.e. if you're not in your seat when the event starts, you have to donate $5 to the company charity the first day, $10 the second day, $20 the third day, etc.). This also works, but we generally prefer carrot to stick--and peer pressure is something that's harder to write off than $5.
3. Utilize on-screen timers, all the timeHave timers for every walk-in, every break, etc....for the whole time. Sometimes lateness isn't intentional--people lose track of time, they forgot what you said when you dismissed them (was that a 25 minute break or a 15 minute break?), and they don't necessarily have their watched calibrated to yours if you don't say "be back at 12:21".
A lot of the time you'll get a count-down timer at an arbitrary place during a break. However, if you have an accurate count-down timer whenever doors are open, people can better plan their break time. They know how much time they have. They know, if they peek back in the room, that they have to hustle back to their seats, and this consistency also trains them to watch the on-screen timers and anticipate the start of the event.
4. Rely on rituals and cuesDoing the same thing, over and over, consistently will create rituals at your event that let your audience know what is expected of them--this includes coming in and sitting down on time.
There is a term in the industry for an opening video--it's called the "sit down, shut up" (or SDSU) video. When that video starts, the lights go down, and everyone KNOWS that the event is beginning. It also gives them a few moments to settle, but without continuing on conversations.
This doesn't have to be JUST for the opening--you can play the same video (or variations) after every break, returning from meals, and at the beginning of every day.
Music is also an extremely effective way to get your audience in their seats. Making conscious choices about music during breaks makes the absence of music very notable when it's time for the event to start. The lights dim/brighten, the music stops, the first presenter or emcee is announced, or the SDSU video plays. These are all cues that get your audiences back to their positions and ready to begin.
5. Create a culture of on-timeSet the expectation at the beginning of the event that everyone will be in their seats on-time. Too often this is something that is assumed, and audiences will feel that it's flexible (especially if it has been in the past). The event is a mutual investment--the company is investing time and money, and the audience is also investing their time; to be respectful of everyone and to get the most out of the investment, there needs to be an on-time culture.
If you're concerned about this seeming patronizing, have the audience set their OWN rules for a successful event (and we promise, this will come up).
Give them 5 minutes at their tables or seats to brainstorm, as a group, a list of guidelines that everyone should abide by.
Common things that come up when we do this:
- Turn off cell phones
- Be back from breaks on time
- Be open to new ideas
- Utilize networking time
A peer-generated set of event guidelines that everyone makes a commitment to follow can be more powerful than rules handed down from on-high, but it makes a difference to (bare minimum) frame the expectations clearly.
Manipulating Multiple Choice Questions for Better Information Retention
A few examples:
Let's say you have a new product introduction, and you want to design a question around the price of that new product. Which of the following questions makes it seem like that product is VALUE-priced?
1. The price of our new XtremeWidget2000 is:
2. The price of our new XtremeWidget2000 is:
Though these examples are exaggerated, the former makes it sound like the product is at a premium price and the latter makes it sound value-priced.
Other factors also affect the perception of the answers; having a huge gap between values can signal "we're priced way above/below what you'd expect". It can make a question much easier.
The price of our new XtremeWidget2000 is:
The same perception manipulation can apply to chronology. By considering the distractor answers, one can make it seem like something is very fresh and new, or has happened a long(er) time ago.
Should you put the values in order with questions like these?
A question where answer options are totally randomized adds a level of difficulty--but it doesn't actually add information difficulty--the difficulty lies within the brain first having to order the options, then choosing.
The price of our new XtremeWidget2000 is:
It also removes some of the psychological impact of price perception. Taking it out of context also removes some of the stickiness of the information. So if you really want people to remember that your XtremeWidget2000 is $27--and that's a value price compared to ApatheticWidget1000--putting the answer options in order will help your audience retain that crucial piece of information.
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.
"And the Oscar Goes to...": What we can learn from the 2017 Oscars big screw-up.
That moment when, at the 2017 Oscars, they figured out that they had announced the WRONG WINNER for Best Picture. To the average person at home it was a surprise or an amusement or a small shock--but to us it was our worst nightmare come to life in front of our eyes. My own sense of empathy was off the charts and I imagine the a/v crew, producers, handlers, etc., backstage scrambling; furious chatter over the com system trying to figure out how it could have happened.
Sometimes when things go wrong at your event--they really go wrong. Most of the time it isn't quite as public as a huge televised award show watched by ~33 million people.
But here are some things that we can learn from the Oscars screw-up that we can apply to our own events, should things ever go wrong.
Correct the issue in the moment.It's embarrassing. No one involved quite knows what's going on. But correct an issue as soon as you realize it--even if it means interrupting your presenter on stage. (Obviously, this only applies to errors with a certain level of magnitude--little minor fact-checks don't need to happen in real-time.)
Mea Culpa.You're not going to be able to hide when something goes seriously wrong. Own up to it. Apologize and continue. Most of the audience wants to see you succeed and will be feeling the pain of your mistake right along with you. Don't worry about *how* the mistake came to be right then and there--you can take time to mull it over and decide whether the explanation is important.
Go with the flow.The host, Jimmy Kimmel, was really great at saying, "Hey, this is an awards show. It's live. Things happen," and going with the flow. Obviously everyone was flustered, but they reduced the awkwardness by keeping the ending short and saying they'd figure it out later. Sure, it didn't have the impact that it was supposed to have, but it kept it from delving into the minutia of mistakes.
Try to make it up to the impacted parties.The Oscar mistake truly did steal the spotlight from the Best Picture award winner. Even though time was running short, they were given their due with their speeches, and are being given ample recognition the day after the event. If this happens at your event, a special call-out to the wronged party may be in order--even if it's not at the event itself.
Double check everything.In this type of event, secrecy is key. But at YOUR event? Give up a little secrecy to make sure that everyone has double checked EVERYTHING. Some mistakes are still going to happen because it's a live event--mistakes happen. Spontaneity that leads to a sparkling, vivid event can also cut the other way and leave the door open for mistakes. Even big mistakes. Mistakes will happen, but dealing with them with grace and aplomb can mean the difference between a disaster and a minor embarrassment.
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.
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.
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.
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.
How to focus your presentation with a game show.
Recently we designed a game show to run throughout a 45 minute training session with audiences of about 50 people. Three different companies were presenting content, and sessions were repeated multiple times a day, over many days. We had an opening game show round, a closing game show round, and rounds in between the presenters' content.
We analyzed the content and developed game show questions around the most important content points.
What we noticed, as the sessions continued on the first day, was that the presenters were starting to highlight those Very Important content points even more. They would refer to their content in the context of the game; "Now pay attention to this because you might need to know it later...wink-wink..."
In subsequent sessions, they pared down their presentations to have a laser-focus on the key points. The overall sessions were improved beyond the engagement of the game show.
Game shows help you focus your presentation because:
1. They show you what is nice to know vs. what you need to know.Obscure trivia is fun for are-you-smarter-than television shows. We're all impressed by that person who can answer with the most inane detail. However, training isn't trivia night. Questions that are difficult because they contain the most irrelevant detail (that no one remembers because it's irrelevant) not only slow down the game play, but they also are directing your trainees to the wrong content.
Maybe it's important to know a model number of a product, but it's more important to be able to instantly recall its features and benefits--you can look up the model number later.
Having to come up with a set of game show questions allows you to sort the nice-to-know from the need-to-know.
2. They help you pare down your content to a limited number of points.A training session or presentation has a limited time frame, and it's extremely common for presenters to try to pack in as much information as humanly possible. Often times, this comes at the expense of interaction ("Well, we wanted it, but we just didn't have time for it."). Having dedicated time for the game show review not only ensures that there is interaction time built in, but it also helps presenters narrow the scope of their presentation.
In the 45 minute session described, there were three discrete presentations. Each presenter only had time to reinforce 2-3 key points, so they were able to have extremely focused, relevant content and supplemental game show questions that reinforced and reiterated that content.
3. They highlight what is exciting about your content.Along the lines of finding the "need to know" and narrowing the scope of the presentation, the game show allows you to highlight what's exciting about your content. As you play through the game you discover that, apart from the reaction to the interaction and competition, the audience also reacts to content or announcements in a weighted way. You find out what's important to them, what they're paying attention to, and what is thrilling for them.
Is Your Emcee Square?
We had an internal presenter who was vivacious and talented, but she wasn't prepared for how demanding the role of emcee can be on one's energy reserves. By the second day of a three day event, her enthusiasm was clearly waning (and the audience followed suit). By the third day she was over it AND she had lost her voice. Though she tried her best, the event ended with a whisper instead of a bang.
An emcee needs to be more than just an announcer (and you definitely need more than an announcer in between presentations). An emcee is a point of continuity for the audience, but is also a "refresh" button for their brain. The emcee has an opportunity to cement learning and content retention in these moments.
Sometimes having an emcee that will stay on script is very important, but an emcee also shouldn't ignore real, changing, dynamic events in favour of sticking directly to what's on the prompter. Having something occur and not commenting on it can feel like a mismatch for the audience.
The emcee should be the connective tissue in the event, and they should also be able to see how the pieces connect, themselves. If what one presenter said is going to relate to what they're going to cover in a workshop or the next day, the emcee should be able to have that in their head and make the connection for the audience. This means that the emcee should be intimately involved with the planning of the event content; they should not be hearing everything for the first time with the audience.
A universally-disliked manager isn't going to make a good emcee. Likewise, sometimes a peer isn't going to have the credibility they need to convey content. There is no prescriptive answer for who should be the emcee: sometimes an external emcee is the answer, sometimes the sales VP, sometimes that really charismatic person from marketing, etc.
This is more to the point of: you need an emcee. A live emcee. Onstage. Reacting. Just having the "Voice of God" announcing the next presentation--one after another--gives the event nothing. It may not drain the energy for the event, but it allows the succession of presentations to be draining.
They would also know what the content is supposed to be throughout the broader meeting so they can make course-corrections or additions on the fly (i.e. "I know that X from marketing will be explaining more about the strategy behind this new product launch tomorrow afternoon.").
Is able to maintain their energy
Is willing to rehearse
Along with willingness to rehearse the emcee should also have dedicated time to rehearse. The emcee needs to be very familiar with the technical bits and bobs that are going to crop up when they're onstage so it doesn't look like they're rehearsing AT the live event.
Are you making enough time to prepare for your event?
Companies don't like to throw money away. Getting everyone together can be an extremely good investment...one that you don't want to squander with half-baked messaging.
Do audience research beforehand to gage the tone and mood--particularly if there are issues that need to be addressed, and even if you think you already know what these issues are.
Make presenters accountable to each other to finish and/or make progress on their presentation drafts. You can even schedule update calls with clear review objectives.
Don't let the first opportunity for feedback occur on-site. We recently had a client who was putting together an event and each presentation required input from multiple departments. The marketing team had re-branded, the sales team didn't have consistent messaging with the marketing team, and no one was very clear on what they should actually be saying. This made on-site review a mess in the past. Getting everyone physically together in a room beforehand provided a much more supportive environment for feedback and message cohesion.
We recently dealt with a client where we offered $100 to every person who had their presentation done when they were due. It's not that $100 is such a huge incentive for executives, but it gave a concrete goal to shoot for and engaged them with a competitive/motivating element.
Clear key presenters' calendars on-site, even if it means coming in a day or more early. Even if it means rehearsing on paper/face to face instead of on stage. If coming on-site early is cost-prohibitive, hold rehearsals via conference call.
Food for Thought: Iron Chef Event-Style
How to select a keynote speaker who doesn't suck.
We once listened to a keynote speaker make a lot of great points and analogies for how the audience could be successful at sales. It was truly inspiring!
...the audience was made up of public service workers who had zero interest or involvement in sales. In fact, not only was the heavy emphasis on sales irrelevant, but it also left a bad impression with the audience--whose values were not aligned with those of the keynote speaker.
There may be times when you're willing to accept an out-of-the-box keynote speaker (if the wow-factor is just too high, maybe), but ideally, your speaker should be willing to spend ample time making sure their message fits your audience. There are always going to be recycled components in a keynote speech (gasp! You wouldn't expect them to start from scratch every time, after all), but there should be some customizable pieces as well. A good keynote speaker will have a variety of anecdotes and examples that they can change out for your audience; and it won't just sound like "insert company name here".
Someone can be really famous, achieve a lot, be an impressive figure...and a crappy keynote speaker. Sometimes they don't know how to craft their story or present.
Don't place too high a focus on name recognition. One of the greatest speakers we'd seen was an unknown college professor. Another was a salesman who had spent a significant amount of time in jail. The story and ability to connect with the audience and their goals is most important.
You can't always tell a good speaker from a mediocre speaker from their samples and clips. Video is a great start, but it generally does a poor job of capturing the energy of performance (kind of how fireworks are amazing in person and substantially less impressive in recorded form).
A presentation is only a moment in time. That may be all you want, and that's fine. However, you get more value out of speakers who have a broader range of capabilities. For instance, we've found that keynote speakers who can emcee an event can keep the energy high for a while day (or multiple days) and have the opportunity to build on their own principles/messages.
Again, for some purposes a speaker who talks at your audience for their allotted time is fine. Some have the storytelling skills to sustain this and some don't. However, you'll get a far more compelling keynote with a speaker who utilizes audience interaction. This is also the mark of a more agile speaker, as audience feedback can be unpredictable, and agility is more compelling than a tightly scripted recitation.
How do you define a successful event?
Did you convey what the audience need to hear in a way that made them receptive to the content? Was the content engaging and immediately relevant to the audience? If you had asked them what they wanted to know during the event (and you should), were those points addressed?
Did you have dynamic, continual input from your audience, or were they static, chair-bound recipients of hours of monologues? Did they get a chance to engage, to get hands-on, to stand up, move around, synthesize information, talk and compete?
Events should have specific, achievable, actionable outcomes. Were these outlined at the beginning of the event and was there follow-through throughout? More importantly, does the audience believe that the event outcomes were achieved? Do they know what they're supposed to believe, know and do as a result of the event?
The definition of better state can vary: is your audience leaving with more energy, or are they skeptical and worn out? Are they motivated? Did the event end on a high instead of starting with a bang and fizzling out at the end?
Are promises made at the event going to be delivered? Is there a way for new connections made to continue to be strengthened? Is there a post-event action plan in place?
Was the content delivered in a way that the audience is going to remember it? Were keynote speakers impactful, or merely entertaining? Did the event generate true moments of connection? Did it bring the team closer together?
Events are a break from the daily routine. Even when they're covering very serious topics, there should be elements of fun. The fun should come from inside the general session and breakouts--not just at the bar or during social hours. Did it have lively sessions, competition, games, interaction, role-plays, etc.?
What's the point of your event app?
Adoption rates can vary, but many of our clients have experienced surprisingly low compliance. Rates tend to be higher with a captured internal audience and lower with an external audience (i.e. an industry event with attendees from many different corporations).
But why the heck are we using event apps, anyway? What's the point? Surely if they're being developed simply because they're the next thing and "everyone has one nowadays" it doesn't mean their being utilized to their full potential.
So what is the full potential? What's the point of your event app, anyway?
Event apps used well:
Push notifications for logistical changes: Letting attendees know--in real time--when you have to make adjustments out go to plan b can be incredibly valuable. Push notifications can also be great for important reminders or to highlight a key session or presentation.
Agenda at a glance: The event app allows for a nod to the green event. A lot of things that previously consumed copious paper resources can now be done on the app: agendas, evaluations, speaker bios, and more.
Event apps used poorly:
No valuable content: An event app can't be just another thing to download on a personal device; only to be discarded after not being used at the event at all. It should be robust: an essential guidebook to the event itself.
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 to keep your presenters on-time in 3 simple steps.
Aside from making throat-cutting "END NOW" motions from the back of the ballroom, how do you make sure your presenter stays within their allotted time?
Here are three ways:
1. Ask them how much time they need, don't tell them how much time they have.
This is during the initial planning phase--obviously you have to set some time limits, presenters who want 50 minutes may not be able to have it within the constraints of the event.
However, telling a presenter they have 45 minutes is going to cause them to fill the 45 minutes (plus some)...even if they only have 20 minutes of content. Ask your presenter how much time they NEED to do their presentation. They may only have 10 minutes--and may only need 10 minutes--and giving you their needed time helps keep them accountable for their own presentation.
2. Help focus their presentation.
A lot of presentations are done independently without a broader insight into the meeting as a whole. Helping presenters to focus their presentation--whether they're professional or internal--both keeps them to the message AND keeps them on time. For instance, if your motivational speaker is used to giving presentations to sales audiences--and your audience is full of computer programmers--not only might some of their messages/anecdotes be off target, but they may contribute to them going long.
Internal speakers may allow you to have a bit more control in working with the content. Remind them of the limits of the working memory--the average adult attention span is 5-7 minutes unless the content is presented in a new or novel way. The more important their information, the more important it is to keep the presentation short and focused. Otherwise all the addendums and additions will be lost on the audience...and will actually detract from the message as a whole.
3. Get them off the stage.
Almost every event producer has experience with speaker-timer-blindness. It's that not-so-rare phenomenon where speakers SEE the speaker timer flashing that their time is up, but they blatantly ignore it. "Just 5 more minutes" for every speaker leads to missing needed breaks, cutting into important networking time, and even throwing off schedules for group activities.
So how do you give your presenters the hook without looking like the bad guy? Warn them in advance--and let the audience know--that if presenters go over they'll be interrupted. Getting permission to do this at the beginning of the event--for all presenters--makes it a friendly (and sometimes humorous) tactic. It also lets the audience know that you and the presenters respect their time.
For instance, we were at a show where each presenter had 7-15 minutes to speak. Presentations were slotted into the agenda with precision timing--there wasn't room for presenters to even go 30 seconds over their time because it would all add up. At the beginning of the event, we had our co-emcee (an AniMated parrot character) state that if anyone went over time he would be the birdie on their shoulder--popping up to escort them gently off the stage. ONE presenter went over-time (and was escorted promptly off stage, to the delight of the audience and presenter), but there were no other time transgressions (unheard of at this particular event).
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.
Presenters: Meet the Gunning Fog Index
When they give presentations, their audiences may be equally brilliant, MBA-laden, rocket-scientist-level persons. BUT that doesn't exempt the presenters from being subject to the Gunning Fog index.
The Gunning Fog index is a measure of how well the written word will be understood by its intended audience. It measures (in English) by grade level. (I.e. If the Gunning Fog Index was "10", then the piece requires that someone has a 10th grade reading level to easily comprehend the piece.) This is measured by a combination of word length and familiarity. For universal understandability, most written pieces should have a Gunning Fox Index of 8, though many things can be understood up to level 12.
HOWEVER, comprehension is trickier with spoken word. We can read much faster than we can comprehend spoken language. When one is presenting at an event, the goal is to convey information and captivate the audience. The audience, therefore, shouldn't be expending subconscious (or conscious) brain power trying to figure out what you're trying to say. Comprehension is the first key to retention: the more they have to figure out WHAT you're saying, the less they'll remember.
A spoken presentation should be BELOW level 8.
So what's a presenter to do?
1. Not everyone understands your vernacular. Especially in niche-departments (i.e. engineering, marketing), colleagues can develop their own vernacular that is easily understood between close partnerships, but will be opaque to a broader audience. Use simple language, not cliches or corporate colloquialisms.
2. Run your speech through the Gunning Fog Index. You don't have to be precise or modify EVERY troubled word, but running your speech through the Gunning Fog Index (here's a quick tool) will give you a general idea of how tough your speech would be to understand.
3. Run your speech by your home partner or a colleague outside your department. If they get the gist of what you're saying, chances are your audience will too.
4. Simplification doesn't mean "dumbed-down". Seeking clear speech doesn't mean patronizing your audience. Giving examples, switching up your media, adding engagement, and simplifying your language will all keep your audience engaged without making them feel like your speech is a reiteration. There are certain things that are simple and captivating. Check out examples of How It's Made: These are complex processes that one would not necessarily find familiar--distilled to engaging components. Specialized terms are also explained.
Part 4: Here today, gone tomorrow...still at your event.
For a while, flash mob videos littered social media. Just this year a client came to us: "I have a fresh new idea...we're going to do a FLASH MOB at our sales event."
Eyebrows were raised. Eyes may have been rolled (just a little bit). At this point, it was already a stale trend, but the event world was just catching on.
Why do events lag behind pop culture? Why are we still (now) seeing Survivor-themed events, Harry Potter parties, flash mobs, corporate rap songs, and the guy who performs "the evolution of dance"?
The answer is multi-faceted:
It takes a while for some of these elements to become "safe". After an idea or concept has been in the public eye for a while it becomes less risky or edgy. This is why we see 50 Shades of Grey jokes tossed about at corporate events; it's longevity has dulled the taboo. That might be a very specific example, but things like corporate raps, dance groups, etc., were once considered risky or counter-culture and have now made their way into the relatively sterile environment of the corporate event without the teeth that gave them their cultural bite.
Social and peer proof is strong persuasion. Event professionals, naturally, have varying levels of risk tolerance--just like any other professional group. However, when one is putting on a large event with a large budget, one tends to go with tried-and-true solutions. Social proof--seeing an element be successful at a smaller event or even a similar event--is a powerful contributor to trend elements. Therefore, when one group utilizes a flash mob and they are asked for recommendations, the flash mob trend is passed to another group and so on. This can cause a ripple effect for several years--making a "trendy" element show up in the weeks and months and years past its freshness expiration date.
A lot of event planning is done years in advance. That being said, a lot of companies have a 1-2-3 year event plan, and popular speakers must be booked well in advance. That trendy Olympian from Sochi still has a good story, but their keynote doesn't seem fresh, new or topical anymore.
So what's an event planner to do?
- Choose new ideas that are less trend-based and will stand up to years' worth of planning. For instance, basic concepts like team competition, multimedia presentations, etc., will always be on-trend because they're not tied to a specific moment in pop culture. A team competition may take on a "Hunger Games" (or similar) theme, but it can be easily modified to accommodate trends that are on the downswing.
- Accept that some trendy ideas are a flash in the pan (but are still effective) and others will fizzle. Trend-based elements are always a risk. Fortunately, not everything will always go perfectly, and so long as the audience is still engaged and entertained, an event can withstand a few less-than-stellar elements.
- Don't base the whole event on a trend. Make a trend element a small or ancillary part of the larger event.
- Try to gauge the demographic of the audience. A "hipster" theme night may seem stale to a young audience, funny to a slightly-older audience, and may be completely lost on the older demographic. Remember: Just because you "get" the trend doesn't necessarily mean your audience will understand the concept.
7 ways to find your presentation story.
Stories engage the brain and make a message more relatable. As you tell your story the audience naturally pictures the events in their mind, creating rich detail and making memories.
It isn't always clear to a presenter, however, what story they should tell or how to find a story that's compelling. A story supplementing a presentation should be:
- On-topic: It should somehow support the message at-hand, if only tangentially.
- Engaging and relatable: It should have universal appeal to your audience. Even if it involves something they may not have experienced, the theme of the story should be something everyone can relate to.
- Evocative and emotional: The story should captivate the audience and resonate on an emotional level.
- Short and concise: Just the facts ma'am. Leave the long tangents and embellishments to Uncle Joe at Thanksgiving. Don't take too long to get to the point.
- No inside jokes (unless ALL the audience is in on the joke): There shouldn't be anything missing from the story that needs to be there. If a stranger wouldn't "get it", assume your audience wouldn't either.
- True...or not: A story doesn't have to be *completely* true, it just has to have the ring of truth. Obviously you shouldn't make up facts/figures, but adding a little embellishment is no presentation sin.
There is always a compelling story *somewhere*. Here are a few ways to discover stories for your own presentation.
1. Your life:
So you haven't climbed Mount Everest. That doesn't mean that you don't have compelling anecdotes from your life.
Visit your childhood experiences. Were you ever on a team? Do you have siblings? Did you go on family vacations? What about your own kids (if you have them) or friend's kids? Have you traveled? What about college? Did you have a wedding? Think of the significant emotional events in your life, and there are bound to be one or two nuggets that can be tied into your message.
2. The process of creating the presentation:
Creating a presentation can be a story in and of itself, as long as it doesn't get too navel-gazey. Did you expect to have to do this presentation? Was it difficult to put together? Did you discover any surprising things along the way?
Assembling your PowerPoint slides on the airplane on the way to the conference isn't much of a story, but it can be a jumping-off point to more insightful commentary. "As I was sitting there on the plane, wondering what the heck I was going to talk about and trying to ignore the thin trail of drool on my shoulder coming from the stranger in the middle seat, I realized..."
3. From pictures:
If you're stuck for inspiration try looking at pictures--from your life, from past events, or from the great wide world. A story doesn't *have* to be true--some of the best stories are fables. Speculating as to what's going on in a compelling picture, or creating a metaphor based on an image and tying it back to your message is a good shortcut to a story.
Perhaps a picture of the company's founders will inspire an origin story that dovetails nicely with the current goals of the coming year. Vintage photos, kids, animals, evocative imagery--all of these things can be good jumping-off points.
4. An origin story:
A story is basically who-what-when-where-why-how. We had a client revealing their new marketing plan to their retail sales managers. Instead of just giving the plan, they told the story of how it came to be; how they were inspired by visiting the factory and that informed the direction of the plan. Not only was it engaging, but it gave a richer picture of the marketing materials at-hand.
How did a new product come to be? What trials and tribulations were overcome? How did you develop the new sales plan? What informed the decision? What happened last year that is making what you're saying this year relevant?
5. Plum the sports world:
Sporting events and personalities have natural arcs of triumph and trial, success and downfall, drama and delivery. Sports anecdotes are very popular in presentations, but there's a reason for that; they're naturally evocative.
Not all people can relate to sports (or a particular sport), but most can relate to a struggle against overwhelming adversity, not giving up during harsh conditions, or beating the competition against all odds.
6. Famous figures:
Like sports figures, famous writers, personalities, actors, musicians etc. often have strange and compelling stories because they are often thrust into strange and worldly situations that create anecdotes. Picking familiar figures and tying in their story/anecdote to your point can create a moment of humor and engagement.
One speaker we heard tied the company's message of teamwork and making risky decisions to the origin of The Beatles, for instance.
|Why doesn't that third Beatle look familiar?|
When all else fails, the internet is a practical repository of stories. Anecdotes, metaphors and experiences abound and are shared freely. It's not difficult to find an interesting story online after searching some keywords that relate to your message.
Here's where you do have to measure the truth, however. Not everything on the internet is factual (gasp!) and while it's fine to use fables, don't present a false story as the truth--always fact-check! Snopes.com is a good place to start if an internet story seems just a bit too convenient and fantastic to be true and you want to sniff out its authenticity.
Do you have a case of Zombie Audience?
To begin or to end: Where should you put your Keynote Speaker?
Ideally, a event should build off excitement and end up on a higher note than it ended. There's nothing worse than being exhausted and unmotivated at the end of a three day conference.
When considering a keynote speaker, it's important to take the structure and flow of the entire event into account.
When clients are deciding on their agenda and we're not consulting in that capacity, they have different reasons for putting the keynote speaker in different places throughout the event:
Beginning: We wanted to kick off the event on a high note and put energy into that first morning. You know, set the tone!
Middle: We thought the energy would be lagging, so we wanted to put the keynote in the middle of the event to get everyone pumped up.
End: We want to leave everyone on a high note and have them leave the event feeling pumped.
None of these places is inherently wrong--depending on what else you have planned for the event AND the messaging from the speaker--but here are some things to consider:
- A keynote is a professional speaker--how will the speaker after him/her compare?
- Will the rest of the event live up to the promise of the keynote?
- Does this give the audience adequate time to absorb a really important message?
- Will the audience forget the message by the end of the event?
- Are you going to DO something with the keynote messaging throughout the rest of the event?
- Will the audience be worn out by the time the keynote speaker comes around and/or skipping out on the event to handle neglected business?
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.
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.
Three reasons to consider the Hermann Brain Dominance Instrument (HBDI) when planning your next event.
Those in the "A" quadrant tend to be the Analyzers of the group. The Analyzers are highly logical and quantitative. These would be your CFOs, perhaps even some accountants, etc. For them, the most persuasive argument for adopting a new process is to lay out the numbers. What will it mean to the bottom line?
Those in the "B" quadrant are your Organizers. The Organizers respond to order and detail. These are likely your meeting planners. Theyʼre highly efficient and good at making sure that everything falls into place. As long as things are checked off the list in a timely manner, theyʼre with you.
Those in the "C" quadrant are your Personalizers. The Personalizers in an organization are often the human resources personnel. These are also the teachers, the social workers, etc. They are very concerned about how people are going to feel about information and are persuaded by a collectivist good.
And finally, those in the "D" quadrant? Those are your Strategizers. The Strategizers are your sales people. It doesnʼt matter much if information is perfectly laid out. It doesnʼt always have to be super logical or in detailed steps.
What matters is that the information/process/etc. makes sense and is relevant to them.
With this in mind, what are three things you should consider with regard to the HBDI and your next event?
- The makeup of our profession correlates with, at least somewhat, the makeup of our brain and how we are persuaded. If your audience is full of sales reps, they're going to fall into a different quadrant--generally speaking--than, say, human resource directors. Paying attention to who is in your audience can give you clues on HOW to present your key messaging. Data isn't always bad. Playing to the emotion of the story isn't always right (though engagement IS absolutely critical).
- Not every audience is the same, so your solutions shouldn't be the same. You're having a sales meeting. To convince your sales force that you're going to have a great year, you throw data at them. The collective eyes glaze over and the messaging is lost. You're having a meeting of CFOs. To convince the CFOs that you're going to have a great year, you throw data at them. They are enthusiastic.
- When you think about the whole brain, you think about the whole audience. It's unlikely that your audience will be *only* in one quadrant. Crafting a multi-faceted presentation with persuasion coming from multiple angles (i.e. data, story, interaction, WIIFM) will reach the whole audience and the whole brain.
Important Message + Humor = Engaging Message Delivery
But this messaging is VERY important and could save a passenger's life in the event of an emergency. So what's an airline to do? Add in humor.
Delta put out two new safety videos:
The thing that's so strikingly good about these videos? They take their message seriously but they don't take themselves seriously. They know that people are tuning them out, but their message is critical, so they add moments of novelty and absurdity. These little "bonus" additions give the viewer something to focus on. It refreshes their attention and makes them look forward to the next moment of novelty or delight.
We hear a lot of companies say that their message is SO important that to have fun with it would diminish its seriousness. Well, what's more important than safety information in the event of a life-threatening situation? The fun doesn't diminish the message. The point is this: No matter how serious your subject, if your audience is tuning it out, it isn't going to be heard and remembered. Therefore it pays to have a little fun with it.
We here at Live Spark have flown hundreds and thousands of times. We've HEARD these pre-flight messages before. And yet we all watched these videos all the way through...twice.
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.
Is Your Audience Prepared for your Event?
Your first response might be something like, "Of course, all flights and travel are booked, all days are marked off and important meetings rescheduled or scheduled..."
But we don't mean this in the technical sense; packing, flights, hotels, teambuilding activity choices, signed up for the event app, etc. While this may be the only way that MOST meeting planners think about their audience being prepared, we're thinking about something much more impactful: Are they prepared for your messaging?
Our CEO's daughter is currently taking developmental psychology course in college. The other day, she came to him with a quote from her professor: "'The difference between adults and children is that children will learn for the sake of and love of learning. Adults have to have a reason to learn.' See dad? It's just like you always say!"
Small validations aside, you have to give your *audience* a reason to learn. You have to prepare them for your event. That's the biggest thing that we see missing from major events: Preparation. Not only is preparation the first stage of learning (followed by presentation, practice and performance), but it's crucial in captivating the attention of your audience. Preparation should answer the question, "What's in it for me? What do *I* get out of sitting through this event?"
Here are four ways to prepare your audience and to make sure they get the MOST out of your content:
1. Pre-event communication:
Your audience knows that this is going to be your "best annual event ever" because that's what you say when you send out the invitations, right? Go beyond that. This isn't going to be the best event ever because it's in a great resort or because the weather looks perfect for golfing--err, teambuilding--day.
It's going to be great because the CEO is going to reveal the top 10 reasons why the latest product will be great for their personal sales. The marketing team is going to unveil the new ad campaign that will help drive business in the coming year. The CFO is going to show us a roadmap that will make it clear where we've been and where we're headed. Plus we're going to have an amazing keynote speaker that will do x, y, and z. Etc, etc, and so on and so forth.
You want your audience to know how tremendously valuable this event is going to be for them. How those three days they're spending away from the field not making sales are going to be WORTH it and pay them back in heaps and piles over the coming year.
2. Pre-event feedback:
Do your attendees act like passive players in your event because they feel like passive players in its design? Surely THEY weren't all consulted about the agenda, the presentations, etc.--so why should they listen to some stuffed suit? Give them a reason.
Put out a pre-event survey asking them what they want to get out of the meeting. What questions will they want answered? What workshops or breakouts are most important to them? What issues do they have on their mind coming into the event?
Turn them into active participants by asking them to develop their own event learning outcomes. Sure, you have outcomes, but what are theirs? By the end of the event, what do they want to know, believe and do? What will they be responsible for learning that will make this event "worth it" to them when they get back to their office the next Monday?
3. Pre-frame the content:
Every presentation should have a pre-frame, and every opening session, too. Attendees need to know what they're going to get out of a meeting, a speaker, a presentation, and why it's important to them. Issues also need to be addressed, lest they stew in the minds of the audience leaving precious little space for the actual messaging.
For instance, if you've had 4 different CRMs in 5 years and you're introducing ANOTHER one...and talking about the importance of getting completely on board with this CRM... why would your audience believe that they should be actively embracing your message? It's just going to change in another year or two anyway...
Address those objections and points of skepticism. You have to exorcise those thought and points before the audience can move on to accepting your message. (You also, in the extreme case cited above, have to provide hard evidence that they should adopt this program or that it's not going away in 2 years...it's not enough to say it when it's been said dozens of times before with little veracity.)
4. Use preparation activities:
So your audience knows it all. They've had YEARS of experience. You want to tell them about the new protocol, but THEY know how to do it. They're experts. How do you shake up that dismissive mentality and get them to focus on learning? Prove them wrong in an engaging way.
One thing that we'll do is include an audience response game as a pre-test (of sorts) before a presentation. The audience gets to compete on teams and engage with the material, but it's also a rather stark wake-up call highlighting what they do and do not know. Not only is the presenter aware of their knowledge gaps--but they are as well. And if, by chance, they should become aware that there is going to be another round of the game AFTER the presentation...they're going to be listening VERY closely for the answers they need to score well.
This is just one example of a preparation activity. You can also have someone perform a task or do a roleplay, try to install a new product, or give a team pitch. The point is to illuminate the need for the presentation/learning in an interactive and engaging (and fun) way.
From Skeptic to Believer: One AniMate's Tale
This is not always the case, of course, but sometimes an AniMated character is like fireworks: a video or picture just doesn't do the concept justice. You have to be there.
We recently had a client whose advisers had seen an AniMate in practice. The client was skeptical, but the advisers--seeing the widespread success of the AniMate at the event they were at--insisted that she use an AniMate for there event.
The client was, to say the least, skeptical. She wasn't sure how it was going to work. The event included their best clients...what if it was embarrassing? She went so far as to inform us that she would be waiting in the ladies room during the opening monolog just in case everything bombed so badly that there was no hope for recovery.
We assured her that in 20 years of event experience, we have NEVER had an AniMated character fail to be a hit with the audience. Ever.
Why an AniMate works:
- The AniMate is the voice of the audience; they get to express their questions, support, skepticism and inside humor.
- The audience relates to the AniMate. He/She IS the audience.
- It provides an unprecedented level of interaction at an event.
- It keeps the audience engaged throughout the ENTIRE event (no matter how dry the other material can be) with both humor and content material.
- It puts the audience in a positive emotional state and suspends their disbelief.
- It's a new experience for the audience; it's not just meeting-as-usual.
- They can introduce and interact with speakers; creating strong "what's in it for me" relevance for the audience.
- They can reinforce the corporate brand.
- They react to the presenters, the audience and the event LIVE--making the meeting an organic, interactive, changing thing.
- AniMates can influence and persuade the audience in a subtle, covert way.
Now in the case of our skeptical client (as in every other case) their audience LOVED the AniMate. Not only did it receive anecdotal rave reviews, but in post-event surveys on a scale from 1-10 the AniMate was rated 10.2. Attendees had actually filled in extra boxes and raised their ratings to express their enthusiasm for the character and its impact on the event.
But that wasn't all. After the event, we received this letter from our skeptical client:
Well, I must take my licks – I have to admit that I was definitely short-sighted on what Live Spark would bring to our conference. You guys were awesome, and were a vital part of the success of [Redacted Event Name]. After a few tense moments on Monday morning, when none of us were sure what the reaction would be, it took off – successful beyond what I think any of us imagined. As I have de-briefed with various members, we’ve all agreed that it was, by far, our best conference on record. There was something about the energy and engagement of both [redacted] members and clients alike. And as I think about what [Redacted] said about starting the day in a positive frame of mind, I truly think this was the beauty of what Live Spark/[Character] brought – we started each day laughing, and then left the room charged up and ready to go. The energy and positive feeling was truly different, and had a direct impact on the success of the conference.
I’m glad we took the time to really focus on the voice and persona of the animate – you really nailed it, and it was clear that you listened to us. But it was also evident that you maintained your level of creativity and originality. Thank you for all you did, and you can now list me as an official Live Spark convert!
Thanks again, and looking forward to 2013.
We would say that the success of the AniMate speaks for itself, but the amazing, overwhelmingly positive feedback from our clients, the audience, and past clients is what *really* speaks.
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.
The Problem with Award Ceremonies
|Bootlegger Bob, award show host.|
- People who haven’t been nominated don’t have a strong incentive/interest in the proceedings
- Nominated individuals often tune out after their award category
- The ceremonies tend to go long due to the nature of the recognition—straining the attention span of even the most invested individuals
- They often lack engagement outside of the award presentations
- Balancing a serious/regal/elegant award presentation and entertainment value can be tricky (and often times scripted entertainment dialog can come off flat in the best of situations. See also: The Academy Awards)
Your Audience Has Baggage
It's all pretty straight forward; but is the message that is being delivered even acknowledging the state of the audience? People don't just come into a sales meeting all tabula rasa; waiting for you to dump 8 hours of information into their heads (not that information should be dumped anyway, but that's another blog post). They come with the whole year on their shoulders.
We're not saying that you have to start off a meeting with a little therapy session, but measures must be taken to move your audience from baggage-carrying and not-really-listening to an unburdened audience ready to see the possibilities of the next year. If you don't do this, every persuasive point you try to make (i.e. "We can hit 3% growth, here's what I want you to do," will be met with skepticism).
1. Acknowledge what they're going through. If it's been a tough year, don't kick off the meeting like everything is great. Ignoring a major communal issue that the audience has isn't going to make them forget it--it's going to make them reiterate that issue in their heads after every point you make.
It's not enough to say, "It's been a tough year," either. Open by relating to the audience. "I know it's been a tough year; you've had problems retaining sales leaders, our clients only seem to want bargains, we're late on x product." That way you can get over the past and move forward into the coming year. Maybe the situation isn't going to improve--but acknowledging that you're all going through it is going to help people deal with it as a team.
2. Anticipate objections. You want the audience to adopt a new sales strategy, but in the past you've gone through "new sales strategies" like a couch potato working on a bag of chips? (This year: Relationship Selling! Next year: No, Now Whiteboarding!) What makes you think that the audience will have faith that the new way will stick around? Why would they make the effort to adopt something that will be gone in a few months? Pre-frame their objections by acknowledging the situation of the past and giving concrete reasons (what's in it for them) for the future strategy.
3. Acknowledge your shortcomings. If you didn't deliver on something--don't be afraid to admit it to your audience. "We know that we didn't give you marketing support like we promised, but we'll have to do more with less." It's not justification to tell the story of an initiative gone wrong. It's a way of bringing it to a rational, understandable level. Be sure to follow up, of course, with why it's not going to be this way in the future (or alternate options if it IS going to be this way in the future).
4. It's not all negative. If your team busted their behinds all year and did a great job, don't start off by telling them how much more they're expected to grow in the coming year. It's okay to celebrate. This doesn't mean that you'll be resting on your laurels in the future, but many people are driven by significance and positive reinforcement. Be sure to give your team the props they deserve for a job well done.
Congratulations, you've just had the best event they'll never remember...
We made a short video highlighting our event philosophy.
These are absolute event truths that a lot of companies don't take into account when planning their event.
For instance: The attention span of an attendee during a presentation is 5-7 minutes. Do you know anyone that keeps their presentation that short? What about all those 90 minute CEO presentations about the direction of the company?
That's important information, right? Right. It is, in most cases, absolutely CRITICAL information. Yet the attention span of the audience wavers at the 5 minute mark. So how do you keep your audience engaged during a long presentation? (And no, the answer is not making everyone fit their content into 5 minute chunks...you can still have very effective 90 minute presentations--think of expert keynote speakers and how they keep the audience engaged the entire time...)
There are multiple ways to engage the audience that accommodates the limitations of the working memory. We employ several techniques: from varying content, to multimedia, to storytelling to more unique solutions like AniMated characters and audience interaction.
And yet, most meetings are planned so that if the right people present at the right time, and everyone who "needs" to present gets to present (structured around breaks, lunches and golf time, of course) the event is considered a success.
But when the attention span of the audience isn't taken into account for EVERY presentation, you lose the value of your event. Something to think about, no?
Case Study: Amazing Team Building for Onyx
The first executive was brought onstage and the audience was asked a question about that executive. (I.e. On his day off, you're most likely to find [John Doe]: A. On a golf course, B. Surfing in the ocean, C. Drag racing, or D. Playing competitive backgammon). The audience (in their team designations) voted on which answer they felt was correct (using audience-response keypads). The answer was revealed, and the executive in question used that as a jumping-off point to elaborate and go into a 3-minute pitch on his vision. After he was done, the team tallies were revealed and the next executive was brought up to repeat game play.
"Great way to know more about where we're heading!"
- The final clip was the best representation of the team’s interaction. It could be:
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.
A "Third Day" Audience
The game show itself went over very well--utilizing both a set of contestants and audience-response keypads so everyone could play along.
At the beginning of the third day, however, we noticed a marked change in the audience. The energy was low. They seemed tired. We asked another producer if the "networking" the night before was the culprit, and they responded--nonplussed--"No, it's just a typical third day audience."
Why does a third day audience get a pass on being as engaged as a first day audience? This was a bit of a shock to us--our "typical" events have the audience leaving MORE energized on the third day than on the first. Instead of a high climax on the first day followed by a slow, downhill denouement to the flight home, our events start out with moderate energy and build and build and build.
Energy in an event indicates that the audience is still primed for learning. Energy doesn't always equate with rah-rah pom-poms (though it certainly can, if the circumstances are right) but it signals active participation on the part of the audience members. You want an audience engaged all the days of your event--quite simply--so that all the days of messaging will be absorbed and taken back into the field.
Making sure that an audience stays energized for an entire event is no small feat. Most events are designed to work against this goal; big opening followed by a keynote followed by presenter after presenter...a day of workshops...some strategy presentations on the final day...etc. Here are just a few broad-brush ways we keep an event from having a "Typical Third Day Audience":
- Have points of engagement throughout the event; games, discussions, audience interaction.
- Put the audience on teams and elicit their commitment to active (not passive) participation.
- (Along previous lines...) Have the audience develop their own goals and ground rules for the event.
- Incorporate competition through games and activities.
- Have an emcee whose purpose goes beyond introducing the next speaker; they can prime content, tie messages together, lead reflections and give the audience "brain breaks" in between speakers.
- Require all presentations to be engaging, brain-based, interactive, pointed and RELEVANT.
- Control the environment of the room--this may mean having fewer breakouts and more general session.
- Avoid information overload. You can start to do this by making sure each critical point/outcome is previewed, presented, reviewed (several times), and practiced. This will naturally limit the amount of information you can include, and will also increase chances of "what's important" being remembered.
- Change the way information is being presented frequently.
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.
Why we Love Steve Jobs
Our office gathered around a laptop (yes, a Mac) to watch Mr. Jobs announce new iTunes, Apple TV, and iPod Touch (among other) upgrades. As we listened to him speak, it became abundantly clear that he's a walking best practice for presentations.
Not that this is revolutionary, much has been made at websites like Presentation Zen, etc. about the clean, clear way that Mr. Jobs presents.
Has clean slides with lots of "white" space.
His slides are so simple, in fact, that the average presenter would be tempted to add just a bit more. A few talking points, perhaps? Alas, the simplicity is crucial. The slides are easy to understand, impactful and resonate INSTANTLY with the audience.
He is a great technical speaker.
There's a lot of training that goes into a speaker being seen as "down to earth". It's a hallmark of practice that Mr. Jobs presents with such ease, and so that everyone--from your average at-home blogger, to a shareholder, to a technician, to the consumer--can understand the message. Not only is his message colloquially phrased, but he has genuine passion evident in his speaking. Rehearsed/fabricated (we think not) or not, it makes the presentation that much more compelling.
Has a great process for learning.
Mr. Jobs presents the features/benefits of his product, then he demonstrates how it works, then he recaps the features and benefits. Not only does this change the way the information is presented--making it more engaging--but it also reinforces the learning. He'll take out a product and demonstrate the physical process of a procedure on stage. This connects all the dots--from features to function.
Whether you're an Apple user or not, there's no denying that Steve Jobs does one heck of a job presenting his products. It's a style we could all afford to emulate in internal OR external presentations.
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.
Cartoons in the Senate
Now, we're not touching the political aspects of the cartoon, proposed bill or Al Franken. What we *would* like to comment on, however, is how effective the showing of the cartoon is in making a point and as a presentation tool.
True to the form of editorial cartoons, this illustrates the crux of the issue in a highly visual manner. Senator Franken was able to leverage this to make a point that the public can easily relate to. Instead of trivializing the issue by being a cartoon--it highlighted his presentation in a way that was clear and engaging.
We've seen similar cartoons make their way into keynote speeches. Besides illustrating and highlighting particular points, they also make the audience stop, laugh and pay attention. The absurdity, the humor, the visual format all combine to make them an incredibly effective tool in a presentation.
So Senator Franken used a cartoon...and now everyone's talking about his presentation. Agree or disagree with his points; one has to admit that it's rare that a run-of-the-mill, every-day Senate presentation makes much of a ripple in mainstream news media. We doubt that such a stir would have been made if he used a PowerPoint slide rife with bullet points.
Too good not to share.
This is what an audience is *supposed* to look like at an event! Totally engaged and cheering (using a custom audience-response game show).
Say it with a Song
Maybe it seems silly to use a parody song at a corporate event or in a serious video--but using parody songs to communicate or review key messaging isn't just a one-note wonder (ehhem...). They're a smart, brain-based way to engage the audience with the content; at an event, in a video, online, or in person.
Think back to when we were kids; the most important building blocks in education were taught...through song. The "ABC's" and "1-2-Buckle my Shoe" were instrumental in getting toddlers reading and counting. Programs like School House Rock taught older children about everything from conjunctions to the process behind being a "bill on capital hill". Simply put, music and songs can help us learn--and that doesn't stop in childhood (nor does it need to stop outside the door of a corporate event).
Parody and learning songs are captivating. They:
- Engage both the creative and pragmatic areas of the brain.
- Promote a positive learning experience.
- Manipulate an audience's emotional state (try frowning while listening to a Sousa march).
- Are a novelty that captures attention.
- Can stick in your head (talk about message reinforcement!).
- Are just plain fun--to listen to AND to write.
For instance, be sure to turn up your volume and take a look (and listen!) at this video that we wrote and produced for Transamerica's SecurePath--designed to educate visitors to their website about applying for Social Security:
We used opera in this example because it was appropriate for the subject matter and the audience, but we've also done parodies of popular songs, classics, oldies, etc.
Now that's NOT just information about Social Security as usual.
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.
Pecha Kucha in Practice
Pecha Kucha (pronounced pa-cha-chka). Is a presentation format developed by Japanese architects who wanted to show off their work, but who were sick of the same old death-by-PowerPoint presentations.
Basically, a presenter is allowed 20 slides--20 seconds per slide--for a presentation total of 6m:40sec.
At first brush, this sounded like a wonderful idea. It limits the time and presentation space that presenters have in such a way that they have to be highly selective and highly visual in order to be effective. Or they *should* have to be selective, anyway.
Then we saw our first batch of Pecha Kucha presentations at a recent event.
While the concept is still a great one, in practice it fell far short of an effective presentation style.
Why was this?
Well, the presenters treated it like just another presentation--only shorter. This meant that there was the same visual clutter on the PowerPoint slides, the same slide-as-speech mentality, and--worst of all--the limited time did not seem to have an effect on the content focus. Instead of being short, concise and witty--as we envisioned a Pecha Kucha to be--they were meandering and--at some points--a bit schizophrenic in their direction. That, and there was still the ever-present sin of trying to cram as much information as possible into the presentation (only with limited time, you can imagine how well this worked out--talk about overload!).
It goes to show you that just because a presentation is short, does not mean it's engaging. And just because it's reduced in length does not make it concise. The presentations should have been laser-focused, but instead the presenters didn't really know what to do with the format, so they reverted back to presentation-as-usual (only crammed into 6 minutes and 40 seconds).
We're not saying it's their fault--most people are raised in business culture to think of presentations in one way; the way they've always been done and the way they always will be done--damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!
So perhaps we just need to refine the Pecha Kucha in order to make it a more effective presentation tool...
...or perhaps we still need to look at presentations differently. Not as vehicles for information delivery, but as vehicles of communication. More on that later.
PowerPoint Pecha Kucha
"Then they'll do their Pecha Kucha presentations," said one of the creative directors.
The what now?
Pecha Kucha (pronounced pa-cha-chka). It's a presentation format developed by Japanese architects who wanted to show off their work, but who were sick of the same old death-by-PowerPoint presentations.
Basically, a presenter is allowed 20 slides--20 seconds per slide--for a presentation total of 6m:40sec.
We kind of love the idea.
Obviously, it's not going to work for all content and all presentations, but the concept is great.
- Because there are only 20 seconds alotted per slide, slides have to be very graphically heavy.
- Simplicity is key--there are no eye-chart graphs, because you can't absorb that in 20 seconds.
- The rapid-fire format is a break from the norm, and has the potential to be incredibly engaging.
- There's something *different* and catchy every 20 seconds, continually reinaging the brain.
- It forces presenters to pare down their information into the most critical bits.
AllPlay Web: Curing the Common Webinar
Live Spark has redesigned a lot of events over the years. When the economy started turning down, however, events followed; a result of travel budgets decreasing on a great scale.
Not to worry, however. Live Spark doesn't really specialize in *events* exclusively (though we make a huge impact in that space). No, what we've always been concerned about is presentation; finding ways to communicate information in a more efficient, interactive, effective way, ensuring that MORE of the crucial points are retained by the intended audience.
So when live, face-to-face events started being supplemented or replaced by webinars--or web conferencing--we found a niche where we could also make a difference. After all--what is a webinar but a presentation?
What we found was that a lot of webinar hosts were making the same mistakes in a webinar as they were in their face-to-face presentations. There was PowerPoint--and how!--very little interaction, and no call to action, review or accountability.
But a webinar--more than anything--cannot be a presentation as usual. Attendees aren't in an event space--eyes dutifully turned towards the stage and away from their Blackberries because they hold a sense of obligation to look like they're paying attention. They're in front of their own computers with the great, powerful and endlessly diverting internet in front of them. With email! And games! And... well, one gets the idea. There is no way to ensure that they're paying attention.
The need to engage webinar attendees is greater than ever. They need interaction. They need accountability. They need measurability. They need feedback. They need camraderie. They need...competition and fun and engagement and...and... and....
They need AllPlay Web.
Developed by Live Spark's sister company--LearningWare--AllPlay Web allows you to engage every webinar attendee with an online game show experience.
· Each webinar attendee participates using their own onscreen keypad.
· Individual player results are tracked for accountability and analysis.
· Works with every Webinar provider: Webex, Gotomeeting, Elluminate, etc.
It's a great resource that we've begun to utilize in re-designing our client's webinars to be brain-based, interactive and anything BUT a presentation as usual.
If you’re conducting webinars, you must check this out.
Watch a video here:
Or go to www.learningware.com and sign up for a webinar to see it in action.