THE QUESTION IS…HOW DO YOU CREATE A GREAT LIVE EVENT?
SLAM DUNK YOUR NEXT LIVE EVENT
Begin and end with the audience
Who are they and what are they looking for? How can you satisfy them and what will surprise and delight them? Define the primary role of your audience. Are they investors? Buyers? Sales people? Users? Donors? Understand their mindset…what they are looking for and the delivery style they would most enjoy.
Based on your understanding of the audience, articulate your objectives
Choose one key goal and let all other goals cascade from that. You will generate a greater impact by having a laser focus on one outcome, then bringing every element and contributor into play for that purpose.
One of the best ways to clarify your objective is to identify what kind of event you are putting on, or, in the case of a convention, participating in. Is this a customer on-site? Is it an educational event? Is it a showcase for a new product? Is it a fundraising event? Is it a rewards event for staff and customers?
For the last six years, we have produced an annual GALA for Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit. It’s held in the grand ballroom of COBO Center and a thousand people attend. The target audience is donors and friends of the seminary. Our objectives are:
- To deliver a fun, inspiring night that encourages everyone in attendance that the Seminary is faithfully advancing its critical work and that ongoing support is a wise decision.
- To obtain our intended response: “I am thrilled with the investment of resources our family has made in the Seminary. God is truly at work here. We will remain committed and tell others.”
Develop a compelling theme
This should be one compelling thought that can be developed throughout the event.
Here are two examples from our work with the automotive supplier, Johnson Controls:
The first was for an auto show that was anticipating a trend toward small car production. This trend was based on the need to reduce gas costs and conserve energy while, at the same time, deliver a product that provided an enhanced interior occupant experience. The theme we developed was:
“Get more mileage inside your vehicle, too.”
This theme then drove all the messaging, not only for the marquis small car demonstrator vehicle interior but also for every product on the show floor. The second example was also for Johnson Controls in a year when the company needed to communicate that it was a global organization that understood how to build a global product that could be adapted to any region around the world. In this case, the theme we developed was “Global Fluency…automotive solutions that translate globally.”
Build a strong connection with your AV partner
Our role at MOVE, as producers who create the live experience, is focused on the creative and the various content that will be shared and the talent who will present it. The AV company handles the technical side of moving in lighting, audio, cameras, stage and set pieces. It is critical that you work together to establish the level of presentation and entertainment value you want to achieve. More “Hollywood” or “Vegas” requires more budget, particularly more move-in and rehearsal time. While this is not always available, a day move-in, a day rehearsal, and a day present is the ideal. Advocate strongly for this time. You will need to book the venue and also book your presenters. With this time schedule, all the bugs can be worked out before the presenters arrive. Then, they are able to rehearse with a crew who knows what is supposed to happen and can respond knowledgeably if revisions to the script or presentation are made by the presenter. The goal is to have everyone feel energized…because they are comfortable with what is going on. It takes a concerted effort to bring everyone into alignment and commit the time, but as you make this a priority, you will achieve a much stronger result. Some of the excellent AV partners in the Detroit/Ann Arbor area include Freeman, Conference Technologies, Premier, Blue Water Technologies and Russell Video Services. And, of course, in a union shop, you will coordinate with the local IATSE (The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, Moving Picture Technicians, Artists and Allied Crafts of the United States) representative.
Market the event before, during and afterward
Having a micro-site for the event is always a plus. With this as a public home base, you can send outbound emails to your constituency and stimulate inbound interest that you can convert into new leads and attendees. If you make use of an SSM system like ClickSend, and you have the cell numbers of your participants, you can stimulate engagement with them throughout the process by sending updates and information they would find of interest, then responding to their questions or comments when they text back.
Don’t forget the media
It is always an important action to be in touch with the media to garner free, earned media exposure because of something newsworthy in your event. One example for us was being part of the producing team when President Obama came to Holland, Michigan, to visit a new lithium-ion battery plant. While we executed the producing functions, our partner, Jessica Westra, who specializes in media relations, handled the contact with the local media and connected with the Obama media relations staff. If you ever host a President, don’t be surprised that there are double and triple levels of security…and that two helicopters will arrive and depart from your site so that no one but his team knows which one he’ll be on!
Always connect the dots
There are lots of moving parts in a live event—scheduling the event; meeting due dates; monitoring budgets and sending out purchase orders to your vendors based on agreed service contracts; hiring or recruiting talent; procuring a food vendor and establishing a menu; choosing and securing gift prizes; developing and refining content, including tracking script changes (Google docs is a dream for allowing stakeholders to make revisions on their section of the script); sequencing the development of graphics, set pieces, floor plan, lighting and sound design; securing rights to images, footage or music for use at the event; production of videos and digital assets; guaranteeing a robust WIFI network; hiring a photographer to document the event; securing the crew for the live event itself. This will, at minimum, include a producer, stage manager/director, tech director, video engineer, graphics operator, audio engineer, lighting director/gaffer, grip, makeup/wardrobe specialist and production assistant. Based on your schedule, you should plan on weekly production meetings to keep key personnel up-to-date and confirm that due dates are being met.
While it is critical to connect the dots for every production, it is especially important to do so if you are doing an association event. Often, participants in an association assume that “someone is taking care of that.” Even though there may be many volunteers, it is critical that someone be the “directeur” who oversees the project management. You can keep in touch with your association members through MailChimp reminders—they should have set the association emails to be accepted and not be sent to their spam folder. If you don’t have a calendar device for the association on your website, use Eventbrite and Facebook events to make the announcement about the event.
MOVE was the organizer for a marketing association in the Ann Arbor area called M3X Michigan Marketing Minds. We developed a calendar of events and speakers for the year and hosted these at our facility. We found local food establishments that would sponsor an evening and provide appetizers, had door prizes for those who placed their business cards in a bowl, reached out to business professionals and university students, and regularly surveyed attendees at each session to generate a benchmark for satisfaction and a pipeline for event topic ideas. Over time, we were able to develop a streamlined system that enabled our university interns to execute most of the mechanics for recruiting an audience. But each quarter, we returned to our marketing minds leadership to connect the dots and motivate them to keep promoting the event.
Be Grateful for the Gifts
Every live event has moments that go exactly as you hoped. Some unexpected moments are a pure gift. And there are some things that just go wrong. Do everything you can to plan your way toward perfection, but in the moment, stay in the moment. Go with what comes your way. Because an “attitude of gratitude” will keep your team motivated, equip you to recover and move beyond the mistakes (which most often the audience doesn’t even notice), and have the resilience to come back the next time and go live again.
You have a special role
People are looking for some excitement and joy in their lives—something that gets them motivated again to move forward with hope. Live events can be a spark plug to do that. And those of us who put on these events have a special role. As poet Arthur William Edgar O’Shaughnessy wrote in 1874 of artists in his poem, Ode: “We are the music makers, and we are the dreamers of dreams.” So then, we as producers of live events can “make the music” and spin the fabric of dreams that excite and motivate an audience. Help your business, non-profit, association, church or community move ahead with a “slam-dunk” event.