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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.

Blog

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!)

Blog

Thoughts on creating events that exhilarate

The secret power of scent at your event

As I write this I am reminded of the Little League baseball days of my youth –- memories provoked by the subtle aroma of a “leather baseball mitt” scented candle wafting through my office. That’s right – a candle that smells like a baseball glove! The smell of that leather baseball glove takes me right back to left field (where I was invariably exiled to – game after game) and the smell of fresh cut grass of the ball field, the cheers (or boos) of parents in the bleachers,. . . . All this nostalgia in the name of research.

So why are we smelling up the office for research?

Well, I was recently asked a question by one of the producers here on staff: “If different scents can be used to set a mood, reduce stress, infuse energy, evoke an emotional association, or stir nostalgia… and research shows you can change the feel of a room without changing anything but the scent – then why do event planners rarely use this stimulus with their audience?”

Hmmm. . . . Good question! “Why don’t you look into this? Nose around a little and see what you come up with”. . . .

Well, what she came up with was a case of 6 or more scented candles to appeal to men. We have the scents of fresh cut grass, leather, tobacco, gasoline, beer and more. In about one hour, this place smelled like the men’s room at a road side truck stop in Iowa!

Back to the drawing board!. . . . She has now studied a wider variety of scented candles that appeal to different demographics and that work for different purposes. Here’s what we found. . . .

THE SCIENCE

Next to sight, smell is the most important sense we have. According to Martin Lindstrom in his book Brand Sense, 75% of our emotions are based on what we smell rather than what we see and hear. Lindstrom says that relaxing aromas such as lavender actually slow down heart rate and make our perception of time slow down (the Flow State), which encourages us to linger in stores longer and increase our odds of spending money. Vanilla makes you feel childish, young, energetic. Wood reflects earthy, solid, classic values – back to basics. Fruit evokes summer and makes people feel more open-minded, happy and sexual. Cigars and leather reflect conservative values and make brands seem trustworthy.

The research is clear in marketing circles, that scents have a powerful effect on the brain and our emotional center, and thus can easily manipulate consumer behavior. So if commerce can sweeten sales with the aroma of bread wafting through a bakery section, and car-makers can sell more cars with their “new factory” car smell, and live concert events can heighten their audience experience with a scented arena, then why aren’t event planners utilizing this science more? Maybe it’s because one person’s pleasure is another person’s misery. One person may enjoy the smell of roses while another might (sadly) associate it with the funeral of a loved one.

THE PROBLEM IN THE MAIN HALL

With scent being the second most powerful sense we possess, the odds of equally pleasing hundred’s of executives in one large space is a daunting task. You have to choose the right scent in the right amount, for the right audience. Considering culture, age and audience demographics, men and women usually don’t respond to the same scent in the same way. (This became more obvious to me when the women in our office were more than eager to blow out the flame on my scent of baseball glove research.) With corporate event scenting being so subjective, there doesn’t seem to be a steadfast rule on what works and what doesn’t. So we have come up with our own conclusions as to what might work for the masses of noses in the executive hall.

THE DO’S AND DONT’S OF EVENT SCENTING

DO your homework before your client consultation, so you know which scents to suggest for their specific event. The Scent Marketing Institute is a good resource to start with.

DO ask: what is the call to action you want to stimulate through scent? Is it to sell more? To buy more on the spot? To learn more in general sessions? To create a trusting environment among strangers at a conference? Exactly what kind of experience you would like to create for your event attendees?

DO consider peppermint and rosemary if you want to increase alertness and brain activity in your audience. And keep in mind that apple and cucumber scents make a room feel larger.

DON’T use scents that are too complex unless striving to stimulate a very specific action among your attendees. A simple citrus scent can be much more effective than a complex one that over stimulates the brain. Examples of complex scents and effects: Prestige scents tend to be floral balanced with subtle spices and wood scents. These scents can stimulate buying of luxury goods. Power scents include cool greens, herbals and citrus. Scents that foster trust include any kind of baked goods smell like cookies, bread and apple pie.

DON’T fall in love with one scent and think it will work for every event attendee.

DO consider scents that are more widely accepted, such as: vanilla, citrus, freshly cut grass, linen and ocean.

DON’T use relaxing lavender, jasmine, or hunger-inducing vanilla during a business meeting. Use these scents during breaks to foster relaxation.

DON’T try and scent the event yourself. Hire an experienced company that knows how much scent to use, without being overbearing. You want the effect to be subtle and low intensity. Too much of a good thing, is not a good thing.

DO understand that people are sensory beings, and the more stimuli you can engage during your event, the more your audience is going to enjoy and remember it.

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