November 01, 1999
Meetings & Conventions: Planner's Portfolio November 1999 Current Issue
November 1999 Back to BasicsPLANNER'S PORTFOLIO:

Back to Basics

By David Haneke


How to create crowd- pleasing productions without breaking the bank

Not every meeting has a six-figure budget. But even though you don't have enough money to produce Star Wars, your audience probably has seen Star Wars and would like to be entertained by an event at least as impressive. Today's business audiences have come to expect awesome videos, dazzling speaker- support graphics, live performances by stars, sets that move and lighting that would rival that at the Academy Awards.

Here are few ideas that can help punch up a meeting without breaking the budget.

Spend as much time as you can developing an appropriate theme for the meeting. Some rules of thumb:

  • Use ideas that issue a call to action.
  • Create a simple theme logo that you can use as a screen graphic as well as on any printed collateral material. The key is to permeate the meeting with the theme.
  • Be original. Whenever possible, avoid trite and overused meeting themes like "Mission: Possible."
    You don't have to build an expensive set to impress the audience. Recently, our company produced a conference for auto-parts store managers that was basically a pipe-and-drape set featuring classic cars mounted on platforms. We rented the cars for $400 a day from a local collectors' club. The impact was huge.

    Try to match the set to the theme. If your meeting theme is extreme sports, put in a half-pipe and get a local skateboard club to do some stunts on it. When going with simple pipe-and-drape sets and a screen or two, dress the set with a forest of rented plants.

    Although planners can skimp in some areas, equipment is not one of them. Make sure the sound system is adequate for the audience. Lighting can be simple, but be sure you are able to light the stage and speakers dramatically.

    As early as possible, educate the technical director about the impact you are trying to make. He knows more about what can be done than you might think. You are paying for his expertise. Use it.

    If the room isn't large enough to create a backstage area, consider putting the equipment in plain view and using its conspicuousness to your advantage. A wonderful aspect of the Broadway production of The Lion King is that the audience is in on how all the staging effects are accomplished.

    Try to inject a variety of production elements into your meeting by mixing the media. Use video and speaker support where appropriate. Also consider live performers: dancers, singers, magicians, stunt people, whatever will make your point. But they can't be superfluous; the acts must make sense in the context of the meeting's content.

    Then consider the theatricality of the staging. Have some speakers come up from the audience, others from backstage, still others from outside the room. If you have a number of speakers, maybe you should think about having a second podium so the audience isn't always focused on one area of the stage. The variety can help keep the audience alert.

    Plan the show's flow carefully. Avoid putting a bunch of speakers back-to-back by interspersing other media or a few surprises.

    Even if the meeting's budget does not allow for a $50,000 custom-made video, you still can get messages across onscreen by using preproduced videos. Your company's logo and/or shots of employees and products are inserted into an existing, generic video to create a custom look at just a fraction of the cost.

    David Haneke, based in Phoenix, is director of Meeting Express (, which produces video modules.

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