Thoughts on creating events that exhilarate

The four keys to producing your best virtual event

Are you drastically pivoting your business models and practices in response to current events? Are you scrambling to make the shift to virtual or hybrid events? We’ll outline how you can make the transition with ease and panache. Hint, hint* – it’s not as hard as you think!

Just as in live events, you need to produce content that runs seamlessly. Yet there’s a heightened need to be precise with virtual events because screen audiences have a far greater expectation for “broadcasts” of every kind.

Like a television news broadcast, you’ll want no down-time, no stuttering and no stammering – either verbally or technically. Rehearsals and technical proficiency need to be flawless to give your audience a thoroughly satisfying experience from beginning to end. In comparison, there’s a bit of forgiveness offered by live audiences to minor glitches by presenters or technical snafus.

Here are some tips for polishing your virtual events:

  • Script and/or rehearse all presenters thoroughly. Anything less than highly energetic, very compelling and engaging content will result in a loss of attention from your remote audience as they will naturally have many more distractions than if they were together in a physical conference space. Dips in energy, lackluster content and mundane moments will direct their attention away from you and your virtual event.
  • Be clear about your purpose for the event and its objectives. Is it educational? Motivational? Internal (such as an Employee Meeting)? Open to a worldwide audience of paid registrants? As with a traditional in-person meeting, content is king!

Yet in a virtual event, your content cannot be supported by the energy of a live audience with laughing, cheering, etc. You – and your content – need to make up for the lack of in-room energy by giving extra oomph to all aspects of your presentation. This is particularly true of Sales Meetings when motivation and inspiration are greatly fueled by the theatricality of powerful presenters wrapped up in the context of a full production with exciting lighting, superb sound and energizing visuals on large screens.

As a virtual presenter, you’re competing with that! Your virtual audience will hope that you keep them on the edge of their seats (at their desks!) by bringing high energy, great visuals and exciting content to them as they watch the broadcast.

  • Involve your audience to help them stay completely engaged during all presentations. Add plenty of audience polling (voting) opportunities to your presentation in order to check in with them and gauge their interest and experience levels with your topic. Play games or quizzes that earn attendees gifts or rewards. Tell your virtual audience that there will be opportunities for them to participate as a virtual panel discussant in certain sessions. So be ready! Offer prizes for spotting the “Word of the Day” in a Presenter’s slide deck. In other words, give the audience extra motivation to stay glued to their screens.
  • Recreate the in-person experience as much as possible. Great virtual events include ways for the audience to interact with one another during the event. Through tools built into virtual event platforms, attendees can chat with one another, live, as a speaker is presenting.

    Use polling features frequently to encourage audience participation and acknowledgement. Set up virtual meeting rooms for use after the talk where people who share common goals can collaborate based on the information they just learned. You can also still include those live musical (or other!) performances. Lastly, social media is also a great way to get people involved. For example, Twitter is an ideal way for people to communicate during a virtual event – just create and heartily promote your event hashtag.

Of course, we’re here to help you make your next virtual event stress-free and 100% polished! Contact us with any questions and ask how we can help.


Thoughts on creating events that exhilarate

Jukebox hero; setting the right mood at events is critical, so here’s how to create the perfect playlist

Among the many elements that go into creating a successful event, music may seem less important to some yet it’s actually tantamount to creating the perfect event. People consistently respond powerfully to music (often without even realizing it) and here’s where being the maestro makes all the difference.

Scientific psychologists like David Huron have posited that “music contributes to social cohesion and increases the effectiveness of group action.” Think about how work and war songs, lullabies, and national anthems have brought families and nations together and you’ll realize how music is the “social cement” in myriad experiences. What people hear influences how they feel.

With this in mind—and because our own experience has shown this to be true, time after time—here are some of the most important considerations about music at events to take into account.

Setting the emotional toneFirst and foremost is creating the music that attendees will hear while entering and exiting the ballroom or theatre. Music triggers the emotions for your audience from the get-go and conveys a strong message about what to expect from the day ahead.

Like lighting, color, signage, and stage design, the musical “score” will help your audience get into the mood; the frame of mind you want them to have. Typically, you want an upbeat, excited, optimistic and cheerful one, of course, but whatever attitude and mind-set you want your audience to be in, we put a lot of thought into ensuring you make it happen with the right music.

Yet, if we polled attendees post-event about what they heard, they likely won’t remember everything that was on the playlist. What they’ll remember is the overall mood and the ideas and new thinking it supported. They will remember how the music made them feel. The response to music is subconscious yet it’s a powerful influence, nonetheless.

Best mixtape ever
A customized soundtrack is extremely important in triggering the desired response. Stock music can sound like it was slapped together unthinkingly. Even worse, it can feel manipulative and commercial, inducing attendees to tune out.

When we’re curating music, we take your audience’s demographics and the tone of your business into consideration. We aim to disrupt expectations, just as we do in every other aspect of event production, so that your audience passionately engages in a compelling, unique experience they’ll remember.

Let’s say, for example, that we’re curating primarily pop music or rock music for an event. We might play a contemporary hit followed by something 30 years old, such as The B-52s’ “Roam”. Even young people will respond to the mix because they think, I’ve heard this before. I’m not sure where, but I like it.

Some attendees will hear a song they haven’t heard in a while and fall in love with it all over again, evoking the sensation of being in sync with the time and place. Some will have no idea why they are inspired—they just know they are.

And like everything else that goes into event production, it’s important to curate a bespoke music score that doesn’t sound like a radio station or an arbitrary Spotify playlist, riding in an elevator or zoning out at the mall. When your audience leaves humming a tune or moving to the music, they take the context of the event with them. For them, you’ve made it “Easy” (like The Commodores’ hit of 1977! Or “Easy as ABC”, as The Jackson 5 claimed in 1970. . . . We could go on and on!

For more ideas on how to curate the right soundtrack and music for your audience, talk to us.


Thoughts on creating events that exhilarate

Set the stage to be unforgettable by doing the unexpected

What is it about the juxtaposition of two seemingly incongruous styles that helps keep an audience’s attention? The answer is part art, part science.

In 1996, scientists concluded that “seeking novelty is a well-identified human character trait, possibly associated with the dopamine D4 receptor gene.” This is echoed by authors Tania Luna and LeeAnn Renninger, who claim in their book, Surprise: Embrace the Unpredictable and Engineer the Unexpected, that “we feel most comfortable when things are certain, but we feel most alive when they’re not.”

That’s why you’ll see us surprising you with unexpected elements that keep your audience on their toes, too. And here’s one way we do it.

Contemporary meets heirloom
When designing a stage setting, we’re always looking to achieve a balance between the familiar and the new, the contemporary vs. the traditional.

For example, if we’re creating a forward-thinking look for a tech or pharma company, we bring in elements that amplify scientific thinking and precision with a futuristic feel. The colors may be light blue, white, or gray, all typical for this type of event and industry. That achieves the familiar.

To balance that, we may add components that remind the audience of an earlier time, features that evoke the nostalgic, emotional side. It could be an antique or an artifact that is surprising in the setting, something subtle, like a filigree frame around a giant screen. Not only does this create a soothing effect, it reflects a blend of the future meeting the past.

And, more importantly, it delivers the unexpected. That’s critical, because when we’re setting the stage for an event or conference, our goal is to stimulate ideas, captivate attendees and suggest that anything can happen.

Taken together, this balanced design keeps the audience more engaged, less likely to think they’ve seen it all before. That’s great when you’re delivering new messages and want them to retain your takeaways.

Ditch the formula
We don’t have a playbook or bark out commands to a short order cook, like “gimme a number 2, hold the slaw.” We consider each event you do as a stand-alone affair and take into account dozens of ideas in creating the look and feel.

Sometimes we turn our thinking completely upside down to ensure you’re never taking your audience for granted. We help you defy expectations to bring an excited energy level into the room and, at the same time, balance it with a sense of delight and possibility. This is what keeps you fresh—and it’s one of many reasons why clients seek us out time after time.

Authenticity is everything
If you’ve ever gone house shopping, no doubt you’ve walked into a home where everything is perfectly staged, designed to create a dreamscape version of life. It’s lovely yet it may make you feel uncomfortable because there’s no real human element. No photos, no family heirlooms. It’s pretty but it doesn’t feel real.

Reality can be stunning when it’s thoughtfully crafted with elements that “feel real” in a big event. Here’s an example: if you wanted a room to have a particular period look, say something from the fifties, we’d advise you to include furnishings from the thirties and forties, too, because it reflects real life. People bring parts of their past with them as they move through future chapters in their lives.

A stage needs to reflect that sensibility, too. It needs to evoke comfort, familiarity and authenticity so the audience feels connected. Arranged side by side with modern, digital, and futuristic elements is what helps keep the audience tuned in.
For more ideas on how to deliver the unexpected to your audience, talk to us.


Thoughts on creating events that exhilarate

Now for something completely different! Designing events post-Covid

Not surprisingly, with the spread of Covid-19 and social distancing becoming the norm, the events industry has come to a halt. Yet there is light at the end of the tunnel.

As countries see success in flattening the curve and explore opening up again, we’ve had our thinking caps on about what’s next for industry events. We believe strongly that there will be two major themes at play when we get back to interacting in person at events such as product launches, leadership summits, sales meetings and employee meetings. One is a return to the basics of human interaction. The other? The need for novelty. Here’s our thinking.

The power of gathering
The world has been isolating for months now and new paradigms have organically cropped up everywhere, from Zoom happy hours to spontaneous serenades from balconies all over the world. It all goes to show how social we are as humans. We’ve yearned for recognition of ourselves and to be in each other’s company like never before.

Yet will technologies such as Zoom and Facebook replace the yearning for in-person interaction?

We say no. In fact, we are certain that, as the world begins to come out of social isolation, audiences will crave a richer way to connect with each other as human beings. This notion has already gotten us thinking of new ways to delight attendees when it comes time for events to bring people together again.

Even though technology allows us to connect remotely, what we learned when webcast technology first came about, for example, is that, though expedient, it just wasn’t the same as being in the room with like-minded people.

One of the main reasons is that webcast events don’t offer opportunities to truly network. Even though attendees may complain about having to travel, surveys emphatically indicate that eventgoers prefer an in-person experience because of the energy exchange that occurs. At a live event, your audience adds value to the messaging they just heard by interacting with each other spontaneously and then again immediately after. It’s a shared experience that has yet to be duplicated in cyberspace.

So the need for being in each other’s presence will come back stronger. We simply will not outgrow our desire to be among other people. What’s more, we’ll want new ways to wake up our senses when we get together.

The human brain is a “novelty detector”
When we were building this business a couple of decades ago, we immersed ourselves in learning the most innovative approaches to theater production, performance art, and live concerts. What we learned early on is that the most satisfying, thrilling, and memorable experiences were ones where a sudden left turn was taken. And research backs us up.

Scientist Daniela Fenker and her colleagues have used MRI scans to measure the activity of brain regions based on blood flow. They found that novelty enhances memory. The hippocampus—the part of the brain that regulates motivation, emotion, learning and memory—actually triggers dopamine (that “feel good” chemical in our brain) when it compares new sensory info with stored knowledge.

In other words, surprising your audience with the unexpected sends powerful impulses to them through the brain’s “novelty detector.” It’s what makes an experience unforgettable and stimulates inventive thinking, two reasons (out of many) why clients count on us to bring new experiences in all the right places.

A bigger opportunity
We’re very excited to roll up our sleeves and, instead of panicking about the current pandemic situation, use this time to bring people together to connect in a deeper, more impactful way. We have a chance to shake things up, to build events differently and to use unexpected approaches to trigger the coveted dopamine for attendees.

Want to learn more about how we can help you harness the hippocampus to fulfill needs for novelty while enabling all-important networking at your next events? Talk to us.


Thoughts on creating events that exhilarate

The power of the unexpected at B2B events, part 1

Each day of your meeting can offer surprise, much like episodic television. From The Sopranos to Breaking Bad to Modern Family, these and other successful shows continue to surprise us, no matter how well we’ve come to know the characters.

Whether it’s through action or the plot line, your meeting storyline can and should engage through the element of surprise. You can think of your executives as recurring characters, hired keynotes as guest stars, and each day of the meeting as episodes, where your messages and theme both unfold and drive toward a specific direction.

Did you ever get hooked on a show because you knew exactly what was going to happen next time? Not bloody likely. It’s the same reason people watch sports. There’s a lesson for us here, too. You know the teams and players but not what’s going to happen on any given shot or play, at any point in time, or in any game.

Similarly, once you lose your audience to predictable patterns and expectations, whether related to content or execution, it becomes even harder to get them engaged. As a meeting or event planner, that’s the last place you want to find yourself: playing catch up with your audience’s attention.

Game shows are all about surprise, too. Like your agenda and format, they’re scripted and very tightly controlled but they’re subject to chance. Reality television not only makes use of surprise, it became an established format because viewers are constantly curious: What will so and so do next? What is going to happen now? While they’re all controlled in editing, some are wholly unscripted, some follow a consistent structure.

The same holds true for a Quentin Tarrantino movie or a Broadway show whose set design, characters, and plot twists keep us on the edge of our seats. And that’s exactly how we design our programs: so the audience’s mindset is “What’s going to happen next?!” All of these examples relate to how we hold and transform audiences.

The only thing your attendees should expect is an exciting, memorable, and worthwhile time away from their homes and offices. After the program? We surprise them with useful content, information, and/or a reminder gift, whatever is appropriate, and puts our takeaway where it belongs: staring them right in the eyes.

Predictability is great—for analyst meetings, symposia, and routine training—not business meetings, users conferences, product launches, award shows, gala fund raisers, and other special events.

Enhance your audience’s event experience and the memory of it by minimizing predictability and maximizing the element of surprise.


Thoughts on creating events that exhilarate

The power of the unexpected at B2B events, part 2

When you go to a concert or play, watch a film or TV show, go to a party, or get into a good book, which do you prefer: predictability or surprise?

I thought so.

Why would you do any of those if you knew exactly what was going to happen? Should it be any different with your business meeting? Certainly not. That’s why we help our clients infuse the element of surprise before, during, and after their programs.

Think about it. If you had to distill the single most critical ingredient in producing meetings and events down to one word, what would it be? For us, it’s engagement. Nothing is more important and everything flows from it—learning, celebration, recognition—and the element of surprise is one of the most powerful tools you can use to make create it.

Engaging your audience by way of surprise can be quite simple. For example, we look for the unexpected speaker, not the one who’s necessarily on the circuit or the usual ‘go to’ expert. When you hear hard core business messages from someone outside the business world, speakers from the arts, for example, it comes as a surprise and the impact of our clients’ messages is enhanced.

Want to promote such a speaker in advance? It can be a surprise when you announce it and it builds anticipation. Want to keep it a secret until they’re introduced just before they go on? An even greater surprise.

Surprise in the form of planned interruptions can make for great meeting theatre from the stage during an executive’s presentation, particularly if the topic is on change but it can work for any business theme.

In an instant, we’ve shocked, amused, and engaged our audiences—not only by the experience we create for them, but by the way their executive is perceived: cool, calm, collected, and as having a sense of humor, all valuable traits that catapult his or her stock.

We’ve also produced and choreographed everything from flash mobs that spring unexpectedly from the audience, to videos that interrupt presenters on stage. There is no limit to how you can surprise an audience.

(In Part 2, we’ll see how surprise can transform and hold an audience!)


Thoughts on creating events that exhilarate

Why event planning is like a little black dress

Every woman knows she can’t go wrong in choosing to wear the classic black cocktail dress and a string of pearls on most evening occasions. So, why does she still deliberate when it comes to choosing the classics over the latest Vera Wang design?

Probably for the same reasons the event industry finds many occasions to question the choice of employing the latest event trend or the more common methods of engaging an audience. The constant emergence of new event technology trends and choices can cause one’s head to spin. Event production professionals stay on top of these new technologies, not just because they can benefit the audience, yet also because they’re fascinating and often quite exciting.

It’s time consuming yet worth it. Every so often, such an advance or trend provides us with a powerful way to communicate with and have impact on our audiences, whatever their make-up. Combining the latest event technologies; in lighting, projection, staging, sound, audience response, etc. with classic tools and approaches, enable us to present business event audiences with meetings and events that live on in the attendee’s mind for a long time: experiences that stick in their memory and that inform and change behavior.

Event planners need to be absolutely certain they know their audience demographic and messaging, yet are also aware of new advances to ensure their event will transform and live on. Incorporating new technologies comes at a cost. You need to understand value and budget wisely allowing for options and contingencies; being knowledgeable and creative isn’t enough.

In the final analysis, your audience and event objectives drive the technological advances to be implemented. Don’t include the latest trend or newest technology just because it’s different. Over-the-top productions may overwhelm your audience and overshadow the information being presented. Sometimes the simple and classic approach is the right one. But if a new method is called for, be sure you know about it and budget accordingly.

Events have the power to transform audiences, particularly when you blend classic, tried and true technologies and stagecraft with the latest production trends that add that extra special connection. It’s less about choosing one or the other, and more about the creative and intelligent use of both. In other words, a simple black cocktail dress – accessorized with something new and exciting – is the perfect choice!


Thoughts on creating events that exhilarate

Why storytelling and B2B events go straight to the heart, part 2

Story in meetings, used right and done well, does more than engage business audiences. It moves them.

Our clients come to expect questions from us. Not just the usual and important ones but those which reveal deeper meaning and intention to us. This is where we begin to form the story. Scenic elements, music, theme, video and other support are not random, incidental, or purely aesthetic. They’re created specifically to enhance and further the thread of the story that drives engagement.

Much has been written about corporate storytelling. Ty Montague’s recent article in the HBR explains how it’s a step toward good companies becoming great, and that ‘storydoing’ is the next logical extension, as companies live out their mission statements and use it to drive employee behavior across the enterprise.

Hollywood producer Peter Guber (Rain Man, The Color Purple, Batman) is as much an expert on storytelling as anyone. In his book he details how to motivate an audience, build stories around what’s in it for them, and change passive listeners into active participants. Sound familiar? It better. These are the very same things you can and should be doing in your programs.

Whether it’s a movie, a business meeting, or you at a cocktail party, the one with the most compelling story wins.

We make sure our events do just that, create stories that win.


Thoughts on creating events that exhilarate

Why storytelling and B2B events go straight to the heart, part 1

My recent blogs have focused on how we use music throughout our clients’ events to energize, motivate, and connect with audiences of all types, whether the program is public or private, live or webcast.

There’s another connective tissue I make certain to design in advance and incorporate throughout every event. It’s one of the most essential ingredients in making any meeting successful and its importance cannot be overstated.


Story is, of course, at the foundation of every book, film, TV show, play and so on. Corporate meetings and events are no different. There must be a through-line, an overarching message that helps create a compelling narrative and lasting impact for your event.

The structure of your event, designed with story in mind, allows you to create the emotional link from your company’s speakers and content to your audience, whether that audience is comprised of employees, the public, or some other targeted group.

We value outcomes above all else in our productions. Not just in execution but in content: Every speaker, breakout, graphic, on screen and scenic element–every subset of the larger intention must connect to this through line. Whether you think of each piece of the program as an actor, a sub plot, or simply an element that connects and builds on your message, they must all weave seamlessly together to support your intentions and outcomes.

Think about it. Every good story has a beginning, middle, end. It has structure. It takes you from nowhere to somewhere—and not by accident. You need to think of each segment as its own story and the big picture, all elements taken together, as the larger narrative. We do.

The storyline could be simple, such as the bright, healthy future your company has when presenting at an analyst meeting. The graphics, video, and speakers must all tie back to that theme. It could be a new product or incentive plan that needs to be embraced by your sales people. Sometimes, we even have the headliner entertainment we hire and produce customize their performance to include patter that supports our story.

Sometimes, the storyline is complex, involving multiple themes, educational components, and even multiple venues and types of events, such as meetings, trade shows, large breakouts, networking rooms, and so on. It’s equally important to tie all these things together, conceptually and in physical execution to further the storyline.

In a way, your content checklist can be as short as one question: Does each element relate to the overall message and intention of the event, and does it support the story you want to tell? You don’t need to mimic Shakespeare or be so literal that you force perfect but you do need to stir up emotion in your audience and story is a great way to do it.


Thoughts on creating events that exhilarate

Build a soundscape that engages all types of audiences

If you’ve been planning and producing events for any length of time, you have probably run into issues regarding music licensing. Hopefully, you or your producers were prepared; there are plenty of horror stories about people and companies that were not.

This is one of many areas I play close attention to, whether the exposure is limited as with small, private local meetings, or great as with webcasts that reach hundreds and thousands of people publicly across the globe.

If you were in this business in the late 80’s or early 90’s, you may be familiar with the industry shake-up regarding music and the performing rights organizations (PRO’s) BMI and ASCAP. They waged a large scale, sweeping assault on companies and associations who were, until then, using music as they pleased without paying royalties to these PRO’s, who in turn compensate the artists, producers, songwriters and so on.

Using music for audience walk-in, parties, or video scores without paying for it was technically illegal but had gone largely unenforced. To many event planners it was free music that shouldn’t have been free, but the chances of anyone finding out were minimal; moreover, many people didn’t even realize it was wrong.

Before the internet took over, satellite broadcasts were commonplace, and simply an extension of the private meeting. So, the use of music could still go under the radar. Such was not the case with television and film, which were viewed in great public numbers and paid for prior to their use, of course.

Enter the webcast.

PRO’s and other entities such as publishing and record companies, who own the rights to songs, have much greater awareness of and access to the public use of their material on webcasts.

The problem? There are a number of horror stories about production companies and clients who have lost thousands of dollars as a result of not using and paying for licensed music, particularly with wide scale use such as webcasts. Many production companies don’t understand how to properly secure rights for webcasts or how to avoid such issues entirely.

The solution? Corporations and associations, like hotels, bars, and other public use venues, have royalty/use agreements in place for general use. But I always insist on using high quality licensed music for webcasts and securing video sync rights separately. We have a myriad of sources for such safe and high quality music. It’s another reason to leave the worry to us.


Got a million ideas? Or none at all? No matter, because the real genius is in our collaboration. So let’s create something astonishing together. Leave a message here or call us now at (866) 984-8766.

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