Balancing "New" with "Tried and True"

We find that clients generally fall into two equally frustrating camps of thought:

1. We want to do something new NO MATTER WHAT.
2. We ONLY want to do what we've done before because it works.

Any event consultant has faced this challenge. You're stuck between the proverbial rock and the tremendously dull place. Your goal is to give your client the best possible solution for their event. The best design. The thing that engages their attendees and really has an impact beyond the event. That thing might be something that they've done before and has been wildly successful, or it might be something that's completely new.

With the first client--the client in scenario one--they they desire ONLY what is new. It doesn't matter if something was well-received the year before, is incredibly effective, and is a fresh, repeatable, or universal idea. If it's been done before--if it's been seen before (and sometimes just by them)--it's out.

With the second client--the client in scenario two--they ONLY want to do what's been done before. It doesn't matter if their event is stale, if their technique or idea isn't serving them well, or if it just flat-out isn't working--if it's been done before with some level of success (nothing in the event blew up), they'll do it again and stubbornly refuse suggestions to do otherwise.

Obviously a lot of clients are in between the categories "Must have New" and "Stuck in a Rut"--and a lot of people have elements of each. But for those that fall into one camp or another, well, they can be frustrating to deal with. Not only that, but they can be making a lot more work for themselves, or falling short of the event's potential simply because of their event philosophy.

We're not saying either way is bad or wrong, of course, but in most cases a little bit of compromise toward the middle (either a fresher approach, or keeping traditional staples that strengthen the heritage of an event) produces a more captivating, powerful event.

So how do we shift our clients...and how do we shift ourselves if we fall into one of those camps?

This topic is also not one with a simple one-part-blog-entry solution.
So we're starting a series dealing with different aspects of this topic. Look for the tag: 8 Trend and Tradition Event-Changers.

1. Is your "trend"...worthy?: Considering new event trends with a critical eye before adoption.
2. Persuasion for Rut-dwellers: Convincing the higher-ups to try something new utilizing the 4 levels of persuasion.
3. Babysteps for big impact: Implementing new ideas in stages for gradual change, and changing stale ideas for fresher traditions.
4. Here today, gone tomorrow: Slow adoption and why the event industry is months and years behind popular culture
5. Newness perspective check: Judging your experience against the audience.
6. Event Classics: A list of event concepts and ideas that stand the test of time.
7. Trend vs. Tradition: The value in ritual.
8. Crowd Sourcing: How the staple of Millennial interaction can energize your event every time. 
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Creating a Character: Porter the Penguin

Porter the Penguin: Close to final.
Getting a peek behind the scenes can sometimes be a let-down. Think Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz. You find out that the Great and Powerful Oz is just a man once the curtain has been pulled back.

But sometimes, it only serves to further satiate one's appetite. I find myself thinking of watching hours of "behind the scenes" footage on DVDs for my favorite movies (in fact, this is maybe one of the only reasons to buy DVDs anymore...as an aside).

We're going to meet somewhere in the middle here, as we take you behind the scenes in the process of creating a character--but without spoiling any of the fun (in case you happen to be an audience member).

The process of creating a character pretty much goes like this:

A mid-course correction to illustrate eye shape.
1. Pick a character
2. Sketch the character
3. Animate-test the character
4. Put the character into their 3D environment
5. Refine the character
6. Refine the character
7. Refine the character... (And then refine, refine and refine.)
8. Get the final product.

Our latest character is Porter the Penguin. He's the coolest bird on either side of the equator, and he's showing up to help emcee the e4 event in Phoenix. We can make anything into an AniMate--a company logo, a person, a mascot, a spokesanimal, an abstract design, a talking product...anything.

We ended up settling on the Penguin because the event was titled "The Cool Wave" and, well, penguins are some of the coolest--and coldest--birds around.

We then did quite a bit of research (which entailed watching quite a few penguin videos) on different types of penguins and decided on general species that we wanted to emulate. Our first penguin animation was, well, a lot different than our final result. Observe: 
  
The emperor penguin's new clothes?
 
Original Porter was quite realistic--and modeled the most closely after a real penguin species--but he was, shall we say, a bit...evil looking? This was the kind of sharp-beaked creature that would play a villain opposite Batman in a movie. Not quite what we were going for when we wanted a friendly emcee personality.

We settled on doing a more cartoon-based look. The feathers and body and such would still retain realism, but we would then exaggerate some features; the eyes and the beak, chiefly. What we got was still recognizably Penguin--but was also a lot friendlier looking.




We liked this little guy quite a bit...but the shape of the eyes was off. We decided to change to a more horseshoe shaped form...and also started to experiment with eye color.




We also loved this Porter, but thought he looked a little, well, perpetually sad. Also a bit juvenile. We course-corrected by changing the size of the eyes...





Well, changing the eye size didn't achieve the effect that we wanted. Sometimes you don't know how a character is going to animate until you do it. It's funny, but as we're developing our characters, we get a good sense of the situation and context of the event, and then start to form their personality. At this stage in the game, we knew that this wasn't our Porter. It just didn't look like him. 
We switched his eyes back to brown, angled the outer corners down (instead of the inner corners, like in the larger blue-eyed sample), and increased the size of the eyes.

This is very close to the final result.


Feet-in-progress in the animation program.

It's always an iterative process. Along the way we got plenty of client feedback. The character develops physically right along with the script, so it always feels like the "right" words are coming out of the character, and, conversely, that the character has the right look for the script. It's a highly customized process and it's always a joy to have a new AniMated character to interact live during events. Porter's name may change if future clients want to use this penguin for their events, but we'll never forget how he was born. Happy Birthday, Porter the Penguin!
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7 ways to find your presentation story.

Presenters should change the format of their presentation every 5-7 minutes to maintain audience engagement. One of the most compelling ways to change it up is to tell a good 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.
But...what if you don't have any stories? You've lived a sedate life. You've never climbed to the top of Mount Everest and had that funny thing with the sherpa happen to you...

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?
7. Internet story:
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.
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4 Brain-Based Event Facts

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Engage: 8 Ways to Recapture Your Audience

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How do you convey fireworks?

If the only experience we had with fireworks were pictures and descriptions (or even video clips) then no one would care about fireworks. No one would be motivated to go watch them live because they just wouldn't seem all that great.

No matter how descriptive you are--how much you try to convey the excitement of the colors bursting in the night sky, the boom and explosion, the oohs-and-aaahs, the moment of waiting; that delicious anticipation between individual fireworks--it's something that can never be captured accurately without being there.

That's sort of how a high-energy live event is, too. You can talk about how amazing and motivating and emotional the experience was, you can show pictures of the staging and the team building and the networking, but you can't quite capture the essence of the event. Even if you do, people will default to their previous experiences and work your description into that picture in their mind.

It's one of the reasons why face-to-face events are here to stay; there's really nothing that compares to physically getting people together in the same space. It's powerful and not easily replaced (even though virtual-and-hybrid events tried to make a go of it for a while and are still seen occasionally).

It's also a reason why it can be hard to get a revolutionary event-industry idea to spread. Sometimes you just have to SEE it.

We hear this frustration with fellow event producers all the time; how do I let a client know what the fireworks are going to be like if they've never seen a firework before? How can I convey how amazing and transformative and delightful the experience is going to be?

We're still trying to figure this out ourselves. Here are a few things we've seen work to the benefit of both potential clients and the future event:

1. Invite prospects to events. This gives a client some familiarity with the concept, idea or event process that you're proposing. This is also good for clients who are literal/logistical thinkers and need to see something to nail down what it looks like in their own process.

This can also be difficult to do both because it takes time and effort to travel to a location for a prospective client, and because a current client may be dealing with proprietary information at the event that they can't let out of their inner circle. There's also nothing quite like participation--so observing an event can provide a completely different experience.

2. Testimonials. How do you know which movie to see on the weekend if you haven't seen any of the previews? Probably by looking at the reviews. Or a combination of looking at things you like and matching them with the experiences/reviews of others. You'll go if the reviews are good, you'll go if it's a genre you like and your friends gave it praise. This is why testimonials from clients who have been there and experienced that can be so powerful. They still may not be able to describe the fireworks, but they can generate enough interest and trust so that the prospective client is willing to try seeing them.

3. Building trust. Some people, above all, crave certainty. Introducing seemingly-radical elements into an event is only possible once you've already established a level of trust. With one client, we kept pushing their comfort zone and pushing their comfort zone--but after the experience of the event they said, "We'll never NOT trust you again." Having a history of providing great solutions can go a long way in getting a client to follow your vision or in getting your client to see what a shared vision might look like.

4. Videos/samples/pictures. If you have a concept that is at all visual, try to have as many (good) visuals as possible. This does, however, fall into the firework trap; a video/picture of fireworks just doesn't convey the energy of fireworks. Be careful that poor media doesn't backfire and zap any building excitement you had with underwhelming visuals.
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The elephants showed up to your event too.

Companies have elephants. The metaphorical kind, of course, not usually the zoo-kind.

Rarely is everything exactly perfect in company-land going into an event and sometimes there are major, major issues.

It may seem like getting on a plane and traveling to a 3-day conference/meeting/event would be enough to at least shrink those elephants a bit; but the elephants travel with the audience.

The bottom line? If there's a Big Company Issue, it's going to be hanging out in the event room--in the brain space of each and every attendee--until it's addressed. You can't ignore the elephant, and attendees can't move on with the mindset of tackling the future until the past is brought to light.

We're not saying that every concern or complaint or issue has to be addressed head on--especially if they're minor--but large issues (pending mergers, layoffs, product quality issues, delivery issues, management shakeups, etc.) have to be addressed.

Attendees can't move forward until you've addressed the past.  

Getting everyone pumped up about the coming year and ready to tackle the goals set for the next few quarters is a huge task. It's even harder when morale is low from the previous year. Maybe results were sub-par or maybe the attendees feel they didn't--and still don't--have the tools to be successful. No matter how great the goal looks and how wonderful it will be for all of them to achieve it, if they have the same doubts from the year before plaguing them in the future...you get the same results.

Attendees won't accept promises in the face of unacknowledged shortcomings. 

We know of NO company that always delivers everything on time or as promised. It's the business of companies to be agile and deal with things as they come. Sometimes this means that a new product isn't ready in time or a new training program that was rolled out has to be scrapped. Acknowledge these shortcomings, provide a brief reason (not excuse) for the shortcomings, and the audience will be more likely to accept that the next deadline is going to be met (if it actually IS--companies also have to be realistic in their goals) or that the next training program really IS going to stick around.

Attendees will disregard beneficial information until their worries have been directly dealt with. 

You may be giving the attendees the key to the castle, but if they are stuck back at the moat--what good is a key? You have an amazing new product that will increase their sales, but your attendees are worried that a new manager is going to clean house? Their primary concern isn't going to be the features and benefits of that product until the other issue has been addressed.

Attendees will turn an elephant into a mountain if it isn't managed.  

Occasionally when we bring up getting elephant-type issues out in the open, a client will interject: "But we don't want this to turn into a gripe session!" We don't either. An issue in the general session, however, is much easier to manage than an issue that runs wild (and possibly inaccurately) around the rumor mill/gripe-enabler social hours and networking sessions.

Attendees respect a company that knows where they're coming from--even if they don't agree with the issue. 

Showing the attendees that you actually know what's going on with them; that you know what their life is like and that it's hard having to deal with a particular issue can go a long way. You may still have to enact the measure, but at least the attendees can get closer to understanding why--and that they were taken into account when the decision was made.

Events are a great opportunity to address Elephant-type issues in a controlled way; you have everyone together, you can carefully pre-frame and support new messaging over a number of days, and you can leave with a team more united and on-board than when they left for the event. Don't miss the opportunity by letting the big things hang out in the corner of the room.
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Do you have a case of Zombie Audience?

They stumble out of the general session, bleary and dazed. They have all the hallmarks of classic Zombie Audience; their bodies are there, but their brains? That’s not so certain. They just had 2-3 hours of Very Important Information wash completely over them. But wait? What’s this?

Coffee. Ahead. At the break station.

Hallelujah. Thank goodness for small miracles.


There are three barriers that can turn the audience from an energized, excited and engaged audience into a Zombie Audience.  Overcome these barriers and the audience leaves the event WITH that Very Important Information in their brains. 

The number one barrier? They stop listening. Not on purpose, mind you, but the average person disengages in 6-8 minutes. That is, UNLESS the information is presented in a new, creative, engaging way. 6-8 minutes! That’s less time than it takes to get your morning latte at the coffee drive-through.

The second barrier? They don’t remember the information presented (even if they are listening). Fact: 95% of what is delivered is forgotten 24 hours later without intervention. The really scary part? You don’t know WHICH 5% is sticking. Now that’s a statistic straight out of a horror flick.

The third barrier? They don’t buy in to your message. The thing that convinces you, isn’t necessarily the thing that convinces someone else. Some people want facts and figures, others want to see evidence that a plan has worked before, still others want to know that it’s what their peers are doing.

The point is, the way people learn is the opposite way in which information is usually presented. Break down these barriers and you’ll have a real, live audience who getsyour message—not a bunch of b-movie extras.
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To begin or to end: Where should you put your Keynote Speaker?

How you structure an event has, naturally, a huge impact on the audience experience.

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?
So where do you put your keynote speaker? Unless the entire event is structured in a way to keep the audience totally, thoroughly engaged with no lag--we'll usually recommend putting the keynote speech at the end or toward the end of an event. 
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Voting with a Smartphone: What could go wrong?

We found an email in our inbox with the intriguing subject line: Smartphone voting for your next event? What could possibly 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).

  1. 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. 
  2. 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. 
  3. 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. 

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