One Attendee Giveaway to Rule Them All

If only we could fine this one!
If only we could fine The One!

Rumor has it we attended the first installment of Lord of the Rings at the stroke of midnight.
Rumor also has it that we may have been in costume – though there are no photos to prove or disprove this.

In the years since that movie – which was epic btw – we have often thought of the ring, specifically the inscription:

One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them,
One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them

With meeting giveaways, it’s more like:

One Item that ties to the strategy, One Item to source and produce on time and on budget,
One Item to make everyone feel like part of the team and we can distribute in a dark ballroom

In other words, we need swag with serious swagger.

The Joe Show is a great resources for fresh ideas – beyond the usual hats, wristbands, and notebooks.  Produced by the Advertising Specialties Institute, it features managing editor Joe Haley’s 3-minute take on the latest promotional items.

Buzz through the videos to jumpstart your thinking. In the time you save, you can binge watch the LOTR movies…you know, if you’re into that sort of thing.

Put More Pizzazz in Your Meetings

Now this is what I call oatmeal!
Now that’s a fun breakfast!

Most meetings are like plain oatmeal.

Good for you? Yes.
Scrumdiddlyumptious? Not so much.

A little brown sugar, some maple syrup and heck, if you feel like it, some rainbow sprinkles can transform that ho-hum breakfast into an AM delight.

When you’re so focused on content, it’s easy to forget the fun factor – that memorable opening number, breakout element or culinary surprise that generates buzz and excitement. The successful meeting educates as well as entertains, lets people laugh as they learn.

So where can you find these ideas?

Check out Michael Cerbelli’s annual Hot List. Every year, the “Oracle of Spectacle” – as we like to call him – compiles a list of new(ish) talent, tools and trends.

A few fun ones this year:

Projection Mapping As Performance
Both Freelusion and Focus 3D DJ & Drummer turn up the impact of projection mapping by synchronizing live performance with projected images.

Flip Book Photo Booth
Upgrade the photo booth experience with Open Air’s flip book takeaway.  Made on the fly, it’s a fun keepsake for attendees.

The Hot List is packed with ideas for decor, opening acts, interactive tech and more.  Not every idea may fall within your budget, but you’ll be inspired by what you see…and maybe even come up with some fresh ideas of your own.

Better Interview Tips from This American Life
“Wow…this is actually fascinating!”

“That interview went really well,” you exclaim, as your camera crew wraps up.  Then you get back to the edit suite and realize that it’s going to a looooong night of cutting and pasting ho-hum segments to make a story.  If only there were an Authenticity Setting in your software to change those canned, corporate-safe answers into compelling soundbites.

Thank goodness for Alex Bloomberg.

Former producer for This American Life and Planet Money, Bloomberg shared his secrets to conducting great interviews in his 40-minute master class, available here. (warning: sound file will begin playing).

The entire thing is worth a listen, but the first 20 minutes are gold for anyone responsible for creating videos/podcasts that employees actually care about.

A few gems:

  • Avoid Yes/No questions.
  • Know when to be quiet so your interviewee keeps talking.
  • Ask questions that elicit an honest emotional reaction or prompt the interviewee to tell a story.
  • To prompt a story response, use statements like:
    • “Tell me about the time when…”
    • “Tell me when you realized…”
    • “Describe the conversation…”
    • “What are the steps that got you from Point A to Point B?”
  • To prompt an emotional response, use statements like:
      • “How did X make you feel?”
      • “If the old you, could see the new you, what would they say?”
      • “You seem very confident about X right now.  Was that always the case?”
      • “Describe the debate you had in your head about X.”

    “What do you make of that?”

Bloomberg knows the connection between a good interview and a great story.  Be sure to check out his interview with Tim Ferriss.

One Speaker Tip That Will Transform Your Meeting
For the love of God, make it stop!

How many of us have sat through a 9-hour presentation?

OK…a slight exaggeration, but when a meeting is just one speaker after another with no time built in for Q&A or peer interaction, that “captive” audience can feel, well, just plain trapped.

In a recent interview with Success Magazine, author Adrian Segar (Conferences That Work: Creating Events That People Love), shared his thoughts on what makes a successful meeting, including this tip that can transform your checked-out attendees into a fully-engaged group:

Use speakers strategically.

This means internal and external presenters.  Replace those one-sided, 45-mintue death by PowerPoint (or Keynote – pretty pictures can’t save a boring talk), with shorter speaker segments – say 20 minutes – followed by peer- or facilitator-led roundtable discussions. This provides your audience with just enough information to get their internal juices going without overwhelming them. And, it’s a great springboard for quality interaction between your attendees.

Segar provides other helpful insights, like creating a community and finding ways to provide value.  Read the entire article here.

Lessons Learned From a Big Fat Gay Wedding

When we read the invitation – “kids welcome!” – Lori and I heaved a collective sigh.  Of course we love our kids dearly, but the prospect of sitting through a wedding ceremony and reception with 3 rambunctious kids – ages 8, 4 and 2 – just didn’t feel very celebratory.

It felt like penance.

Standing outside, we went over the rules of proper conduct, squared our shoulders, and entered the venue with some trepidation. But the grooms surprised us – by incorporating our needs into their wedding plans.

They included childcare.

O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!’

While the kids watched Frozen, petted live animals, and had endless kiddie cocktails, we laughed, danced, and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. Not once did we check our watch, nor did we check out of the experience.

Because our primary needs were met.

The best events do just that – whether it’s having enough charging stations in a general session room, enough time to connect with colleagues, or enough breaks between speakers to respond to email.

Meet your attendees’ needs, and they will reward you with their undivided attention.

Isn’t that the ultimate goal?

Getting the Most From External Presenters

As valuable as the external perspective is, unless this voice is prepared to connect with your audience, their presentation can be a huge waste of time – and money. Let’s face it. External speakers aren’t cheap, and you want to make sure you are getting the most audience bang for your corporate buck.

How can you prep speakers to deliver the goods?

Follow the following guidelines for pre-production, onsite, and post-show success.

Before you reach out the speakers, create a one-page cheat sheet about your organization or division. This isn’t a term paper, just an overview of your audience demographics and content expectations. While it’s true many speakers have prepared remarks that they use no matter where they go, the good ones tailor each appearance to the audience.

Your one-sheet should have the following:

  • Name of the organization
  • Audience Size
  • Audience Demographics
  • Audience Interest/Pain Points
  • Reason for Invitation
  • Presentation Date and Time
  • Presentation Length
  • Opportunities for Interaction (e.g. Book signing, Q&A, etc)
  • Additional Information (anything else that you think would be helpful for your speaker to know)

Next, schedule a 30-minute phone call with your speaker. The purpose of this call is to go over the presenter’s content and identify how it will connect with your audience. Remember that this is a dialogue, so be mindful not to dominate the conversation, especially if it involves rehashing what has already been provided to them in the overview document. Expect to answer as many questions as you ask.

Finally, have the producer follow-up – either directly with the speaker or through their representative – with appearance specifics, such as equipment needs, rehearsal schedule, and confirmation of any rider details. The producer will also set a deadline for the speaker to send their content prior to arrival onsite.

Identify a single point of contact for your speaker once they arrive onsite. Exchange contact information (email and cell phone), then walk the presenter through their portion of the event. Some may also ask for an agenda, so have it ready because it helps them understand the context in which their remarks will be taken.

During rehearsal, encourage the presenter to actually walk the stage, meet the crew, and review any media. Let the presenter know where water will be onstage – dry mouth happens to the best of them, as well as stage entrances and exits. This is also the time to clarify the speaker’s introduction (hint: the shorter the better), any sound or light cues, mic preferences, call time and green room location.

Always follow-up with a thank you and ask if there were any opportunities to improve their interactions with your group. Word-of-mouth travels fast for clients as well as presenters, and you want to make sure you’ve done everything possible to make sure your organization’s reputation stay intact.

If you have recorded the presentation, providing a video is a nice touch. Speakers are grateful for the content. And finally, hold a debrief with your team about the presenter and your preparation process. Your notes will come in handy for other departments or organizations that may want to hire the same speaker.

With a little internal prep, your external presenter will be one of the most memorable parts of your event.

Read more about the value external speakers bring in this article.

Engagement in the Age of Distraction

Standing at the white board, dry erase pen raised, I invited the participants of a recent brainstorm I led to list the challenges that the upcoming annual meeting posed for the communications team.

“The problem today,” said Jackson, one of the meeting planners, “is people are too busy looking at screens to pay attention to what’s on stage.” He said this without a trace of irony as he scrolled through his phone, never once looking up.

We live in an age of distraction – where what’s happening now takes a backseat to what’s happening now, albeit somewhere else. While this is a great environment for people who must be in the know for all things known, it presents quite the challenge for those of us tasked with corralling this audience’s fleeting attention span.

Rather than raging against the machine, make tech your new BFF, starting with the moment this tech shows up in the room.

Most meetings start with a “please silence your cell phones” message. These voice-overs and/or graphics can be played straight or spun for humor. While most of your attendees will double-check that their smart devices have been set to silent, it will not keep them from furtively checking for any urgent messages…or just updating their social media status.

Why not change things up? Start your meeting with an invitation for everyone to check their phones one more time – send that last email, compose that last tweet.

Next, state exactly when the next break is coming up, complete with the number of minutes away. This not only alleviates the anxiety that many of us feel when we’re not checking our phone, but also puts the time away in perspective. It’s only 35 minutes, or 50 minutes. If it’s more than that, you may want to review your agenda to see if you are including enough breaks to accommodate what has become a natural tendency.

Since longer presentations have a natural lull around the 20-minute mark. If your presenter’s content simply must extend beyond this time, introduce an online poll for your attendees here. Not only does it bridge the gap between the stage and the audience and keep both engaged, it also lets people use the devices that have become such a natural extension.

If your budget can accommodate it, consider using a meeting app that an audience can use not only during breaks but during the presentations themselves. These apps can provide a richer meeting experience for individuals who like to dive deeper into content that interests them. The app can store not only the presentations, but explanatory videos, background graphics, team profiles, a glossary, and links for additional content (possibly housed on your intranet).

Invite your audience to become your onsite candids photo crew by having them send their best shots to an email address or web storage folder, then post these photos during breaks. Of course, this is something that you will have planned before you arrive onsite and surprise your production team with this request. (Not that they couldn’t handle it! But it’s good to know this need ahead of time so any potential tech issues can be flagged early.)

And finally, remember that just because your audience’s devices are always on doesn’t mean they always want to hear from you. Be selective in the post-show content you push to attendees. Use this open connection to share content that doesn’t just look back on the event, but has relevance to their work moving forward. For example, if a project was unveiled onsite, ask attendees if they would like updates before they leave the meeting, then send video or graphic updates.

Technology is here to stay – no question about it. And the more you can incorporate this technology into your meetings, the more your attendees’ attention will stay with you too.

Opening Minds Thru Music

If music is the soundtrack of our lives, then walk-in music is your meeting’s needle drop. A purely subjective medium, music can connect or alienate your audience faster than you can hit that perfect beat (boy). In fact, according to research out of Northwestern University music enters our nervous system via our brain stem – aka the “reptilian brain” – the most primitive part of our noggin. It’s why music elicits such a visceral response and why songs can have such a profound impact on your mood.

Whether “Take My Breathe Away” whisks you back to high school prom, or “We Are Never Getting Back Together” recalls your most recent breakup, you are powerless to control your emotional response.

That’s why creating meeting playlists can be so tricky. So before you hook up your iTunes playlist to your sound system and hope for the best (“How did the f bomb get in here? I thought I picked the radio edit!”) – here are a few pointers for creating a soundtrack the audience will appreciate – and remember.

Top 40

Pros: Instantly recognizable and usually toe-tappable, this music immediately puts your audience at ease. Use compilations such as Now That’s What I Call Music to save yourself from having to scan the recent played listings from your favorite radio station. And expand to top 100, international charts and alternative genres to find newer artists.

Cons: Have you listened to Top 40 lyrics recently? They make you want to wash your ears out with soap! Avoid any suggestive or potentially controversial lyrics, even if the song has a “good beat.” You don’t want to walk-in music to be the big takeaway from your meeting.

 Themed Music

Pros: When you have a meeting theme, using music to bring it to life creates a more integrated experience, especially when it is carried thru the entire event, from walk-in, to speaker play-ons, and walk-out. For example, if you have a historical vibe – “Look how far our organization has come!” – choose songs from key years in the company’s timeline. Whatever the theme, still take the time to check lyrics.

Cons: Finding songs aligned with your theme and content requires more effort that using “what all the kids are listening to these days.” But the payoff can be big, especially when a song becomes an internal rallying cry. Remember that shortcut to the reptile brain? The themed soundtrack is the fastest way to stream your message directly to your audience’s subconscious.


Pros: Want to learn more about how your audience thinks and feels? Invite them to send their favorite songs to create a custom soundtrack. While you’ll need to remind them to choose songs with clean lyrics, leave the rest to serendipity. You may be surprised how many “Eye of the Tiger” submissions you receive.

Cons: Managing curated content takes additional time, but the payoff for the audience is huge. People bond over favorite songs, and this spirit of camaraderie will infuse the rest of your event.

Whether you stick with mainstream sound, or break out into crowd-sourced audio, the soundtrack you create for your next meeting establishes the vibe of the room. Instead of leaving it to chance, consider how want your audience to feel during, and even after, your event.

Let your music set the mood, while your content does the rest.

Preparing Presenters for Perfection

Everyone has the potential to be a great presenter – the kind who knows how to connect their content with the audience with an enthusiasm that is powerless to resist. They are usually bombarded with questions afterwards, and the topic of many stretch-break conversations.

Then there’s the flip side…the not-so-great presenter who reads verbatim from the slide, often turning their back to the audience, which may be a small blessing since they can’t see the audience checking their phones to figure out when this train wreck will end.

One of the best ways to tap into the great potential within every speaker is through rehearsal. Too often, rehearsal time is seen as nice-to-have, rather than a requirement. But scheduling rehearsal time is one of the easiest and most effective ways to guarantee that everyone – from the presenters to the audience to the crew – has an awesome show.

Rehearsals come in three models – Full, Click and Walk. Think of them as Deluxe, Standard and Streamlined. Use your speaker’s availability and experience – as well as your own comfort level – to determine which model works best.

No matter what you select, there are things you can do for each that will improve their effectiveness.

1. Full Rehearsal
In a perfect world, every presenter would have a full rehearsal. They are a fantastic way to build confidence, not just for them, but also for your crew. From their play-on music to their exit, this is the presenter’s chance to think through their entire presentation. They can see every element, understand how they integrate, and then make any adjustments.

Full rehearsal allows you to talk through any production needs, such as teleprompter scrolling speed, automatic slide advance, audio special effects, embedded media, props, and audience participation. The more time your production crew has to practice these elements, the smoother they will run during the show.

2. Click-Throughs
When you have limited time and experienced speakers, a click-though, when a presenter simply stands on stage and punches through their slides, may be sufficient. Make sure to click through the entire presentation to make sure the slide order and content are correct.

And take a few minutes to introduce the speaker to the production crew, particularly the producer, who can answer any questions about the agenda and room setup questions, the audio technician, who is responsible for mics, and, when available, the floor manager, who is responsible for cuing your presenter to the stage.

3. Walk-Throughs
Sometimes, you really only have five minutes. Provide your presenter with as much information as possible before their arrival onsite so you make the most of this limited time.

When they arrive, brief them on the room layout, presentation time, call time (what time they need to be in the room), and mic process. Take a moment to confirm their presentation length and elements, including any audience interaction. And finally, show them where confidence monitors, clickers, and water will be.

Putting a show together is hard work! Make it count by carving out some rehearsal time. Your audience, presenter, and yes, even your own sanity, will thank you.

We Still Can’t Hear What You’re Saying

A bad phone connection can ruin the best conversation. You catch a few words here and there, offer some non-committal affirmations, but you’re basically missing 80% of what the other party is saying.

That’s what your audience feels like when there’s a sound issue. While your exec may be breaking down the tactics to crushing the competition in 2014, your audience is shaking their heads muttering, “I have no idea what he’s saying,” or “she sounds weird. I had no idea her voice was so thin.”

So how can you make sure the audience hears what the speaker is saying?

  • Hire a pro for your sound board.

It may not sound like rocket science, but mixing sound is a definite skill.  These audio professionals can make or break a meeting. So spend the time to communicate the agenda, stage flow, and speaker presentation styles to them before your event, preferably before or during your rehearsal.  It’s not something you want to leave to chance. And nothing ruins the vibe of a good meeting faster than a screech, pop or – gasp – silence.

  •  Get the right equipment.

Every room is different, which means that the audio package that worked for your last meeting may not be right in a new setting.  Depending on the size of the audience, the number of speakers and the type of presentation, you may need a larger – or smaller – configuration.  The worst way to approach this decision is with your budget glasses on.  Be aware of costs, but also keep in mind that cheap equipment will give you a cheap-sounding meeting.  And after all of the hard work that has gone into putting the meeting together, is that really the result that you want? Instead, work with your producer to choose the best equipment you can afford that still meets your needs.

Worrying about quality audio for your next meeting shouldn’t keep you up at night. But it is something that you – and your production team – should have on your radar. By putting some forethought into your onsite needs and event agenda, you can rest a little easier knowing you have the right equipment and people to make sure those speeches your presenters have been meticulously crafting will actually be heard.