Company meetings, trade shows, conferences, staff
retreats all are vital events for motivating employees and
exciting customers. As a planner, you go to great expense to use
the best venues and gather all the right people.
And then what? How do you pull off an event everyone will
remember and talk about for months? What’s more, how do you top
last year’s event? Answering these questions well usually results
in a stronger meeting.
UPPING THE ANTE
There’s a huge difference between hosting an event and
producing a great experience. The latter is more about creating a
memorable moment that truly engages your people and leaves them
inspired, motivated, well informed and ready to go.
At Second City, we believe there are certain vital ingredients
for making a corporate event a runaway success.
Have a point of view. Your meeting should do
more than dump information on your audience. What’s at stake?
What’s the prevailing mood? What are you trying to get people to
do? The best meetings have a point of view that challenges
attendees to think or act differently. Sure, share information that
is relevant, but make sure it provokes new thinking or action.
Deliver real content effectively. We see
this paradox often during the hundreds of events we participate in
each year: For all the logistical preparation surrounding a large
meeting, equal attention rarely is paid to the content to be
delivered. Expensive videos can get any event off to a rousing
start as can live comedy messaging (the kind we do). But all the
excitement can be lost if the presenters don’t prepare their
message with equal energy, focus and integration.
Make sure your presenters are prepared, individually
and collectively. Yes, it takes time and energy to review
their materials and styles, but your audience will feel the
difference. Unprepared, uninspired or disconnected meeting content
actually can do great harm to an organization by fueling fears that
leadership isn’t in touch with employee issues or isn’t working
effectively to meet the group’s challenges.
Be interactive. Here’s your chance to break
down the invisible wall that often goes up between presenters and
the audience. People are not accustomed to being as passive as
they’re forced to be at most meetings, so encourage their
participation. Find ways to convey information in a way that
actively involves the audience.
Play to the highest common denominator.
There’s a great mantra we use around Second City: Play to the top
of your intelligence. This might sound obvious, but leaders who
bore groups with platitudes or old news tend to lose credibility
and engagement. The audience is savvier than you think. Make sure
your presenters have content that addresses attendees in frank and
Pay attention to running order. At Second
City, “running order” refers to the sequence of material sketches,
songs and improvisation that flows during a show. We’ve found that
even the best content will fail if the running order is bad.
In meeting contexts, an effective running order usually opens
big, varies in tempo, and gives people downtime to absorb the
content and discuss it amongst themselves. That 14-hour day with a
working lunch might look efficient on paper, but you’ll lose most
of your audience and jeopardize your meeting objectives if you
grind attendees through such a schedule too often.
We improvise for a living at Second City. But funny enough
making it all come together effectively is something that even we
don’t leave to chance.
Tom Yorton is the president of Second City Communications, the
corporate entertainment division of Chicago’s Second City
improvisation theater group (www.secondcitycommunications.com).