Industrial Strength Broadway: The Secret Music of Corporate Events Still Exists Today.

Last night, part of the Live Spark crew went to see "Industrial Strength Broadway": a musical honoring the musicals written for corporate events in the 1950s-80s by Steve Young--the star of "Bathtubs Over Broadway" (same topic). 

We're not talking about jingles here--nothing that the population at large has seen. We're talking about "here are the benefits of our line of disposable paper medical supplies vs other supplies or competitors."

The conceit--along with highlighting the absurdity and the kitsch of musical numbers set to tractor benefits (paper cups, diesel engines, silicones, bathroom fixtures, etc.) and sales successes--was that this was both a peek into a secret world that was never meant to be seen by the general populous, and that it was a relic of a different era. 

Yes to the first point--who even knew that parody songs (or original compositions) written to be performed at sales meetings even existed? (Well, apart from those of us in the industry. To wit: see point two...)

No to the second point--because "industrial" musical numbers never quite went away. 

As we were watching the show I turned to my colleague during a particularly detail-heavy number about the uses of silicones (not silicone--never SILICONE) and whispered, "This feels...slightly traumatic." 
"Because this is still my life!"

My assertion was a joke, of course, but the days of listening to product managers, sales VPs, marketing luminaries, etc., espouse the details of their product and having to synthesize a song encapsulating all those features and benefits in a very specific (not always fitting the meter of your song) way are not yet past us. 

We've done several "Time Life Music Collection" parodies for companies highlighting their equipment in various ways (features, benefits, purpose, etc.), we just wrote a parody highlighting a three step sales process that a company wanted everyone to learn (and how better to get the order of the steps correct than to set them to a musical reminder?). 

There may not be Ziegfeld-Follies-level dance numbers to accompany the music anymore, but the music still exists. In addition to highlighting product features and benefits, we'll write songs to close an event--encapsulating the attendee experience for the entire meeting in just a few verse highlights. We'll introduce incentive trip destinations or next year's show through song. We'll even open a show and give the high points of what to expect for the next x days with an opening number (an Oscar number on an Oscar Meyer budget). 

All these songs endure because music engages us emotionally. It's a fun way to get information, it helps content stick, and it provides a point of storytelling and interaction that just cannot be matched by spoken presentation. 

There's a reason why people unrelated to any industrial/corporate world packed a theater to see the inner-workings of the corporate industrial musical--these private, funny, weird, secret songs still have the ability to engage and move us. 


Your Presentation is the Ugly Baby

There's an old Seinfeld episode where Jerry and Elaine struggle with their friends' baby being ugly. Their friends, you see, think their baby is adorable. Of course they do. It's their BABY. They viewed it with bias and love and affection (and I'm sure it had many redeeming qualities), but it was objectively unattractive.

The author William Faulkner once said: "In writing, you must kill your darlings." Which was not in reference to characters or themes, but rather in sometimes having to cut a particular turn of phrase or paragraph that you are particularly in love with.

What do these two anecdotes have in common? Perspective. When one is too close to something--when it's their life, their livelihood, their expertise--it is hard to view it objectively. It's tough to see that your presentation baby is ugly and you might need to kill that darling section.

The audience, an overwhelming majority of the time, will come at your presentation with a different view--being on the outside of it--than you have on the inside.

Here are things to consider when crafting your presentation to kill your own darlings, make sure your baby isn't ugly, and keep the audience in mind:

The audience doesn't share your perspective:
Where you may see the beautiful poetry of the R&D story of your product, your audience may see unnecessary background that won't help them sell.

When you are convinced that everyone absolutely must know the last 20 years of sales data for your niche silo, your audience may struggle with seeing the relevance (but succeed at seeing the inside of their eyelids).

Consider your audience first and then think about how you fit into their needs.

Filter what's "nice to know" versus what they "need to know": 
You have limited real estate in your audiences' brains. Use it wisely. Your audience will not be able to take in your 10-point-plan-for-success. They will maaaaaybe remember 3-5 points. But are those 3 points going to be the most important?

How do you make sure the most critical things are remembered? Hone your message down to the truly important--the need-to-know--and include ways the audience can find additional information and detail as their curiosity dictates. (You may even want to play a game to get them familiar with resources they may need to find the nice-to-know stuff.)

Unlimited slides, limited words:
Everyone is familiar with "Death by Powerpoint" as an expression--so we've had clients try to limit their presenter's slides...only to find that their presenters will add more information to each individual slide (we once had a company whose standard practice became a "quad"--4 slides on one--because they limited the slide number but not the content).

We never put a limit on the number of slides, but each slide should be clean, clear, and minimalistic.

The audience must be able to see your information.
To that end; Slides shouldn't be fancy. They should be uncluttered, message-supporting (as opposed to message-conveying), and should NOT be speaker notes. Numbers should be easily seen and uninterpreted data charts should be minimized.

It doesn't matter how important your number charts are (and they are!), if the audience can't see them and easily interpret them--they're a distraction.

95% of your content will be forgotten 24 hours later

4 Brain-Based Event Facts (that you maybe didn't want to know):


4 Ways to Hamilton Your Event.

I know more about Alexander Hamilton now that I ever learned in school.

I've caught friends casually humming the details of Hamilton's life--hard, historical facts in catchy song form. It's all because of the smash-hit musical Hamilton. The music of Hamilton is sticky, and so the facts of Alexander Hamilton are sticky.

I still know the states and their capitals, the nations of the world, and the order of the presidents of the U.S. because Animaniacs (a 1990s cartoon) set them to music and put them in the show. They were catchy and they stuck.

A while back, a client was launching a new version of their software and we set the launch details to a parody of "8 Days a Week". Everyone at the company STILL remembers and sings that song.

Music is a powerful tool for incorporating information into an event.
Music is:
  • Emotional
  • Evocative
  • Catchy
  • Memorable
Putting your messaging within a musical format makes it all of the above--plus adds an element of variety and novelty. So how do you use musical messaging within your event?

1. Musical Wrap-up
Music to review the content of the entire event is a memorable and pleasurable take-away. Attendees can see how the things they've just experienced are cleverly summarized into song form. This also allows you to end the event with a bang instead of just fizzling out.

Quite frequently we will end an event with a version of "Favorite Things" (recapping the highlights of the event) or "Wonderful World". It makes an emotional impact and is a great way to review content.

2. Musical Opening
A lot of companies will do a big musical number to open an event: drumming, a local band, gospel choir, etc. This is a great thought--but you also want the music to have meaning. Set the tone of the event with lively music, but also begin to incorporate messaging. It's a fantastic way to preview your content and generate interest for the event ahead.

We recently opened a client event (called "The Forum") with a musical parody of "Be Our Guest" (with "be our guest" replaced by "to the Forum"). It set the tone for a lively event and gave out information on the agenda that would follow.

3. Musical Intros-outtros
A musical opening is great, but doesn't always have the impact it should if the presentations don't also live up to that standard. A good way to incorporate content-driven music is to have a summary/intro in between each presenter.

At an event we had a local rapper listen to executive presentations and then create a spontaneous rap that encapsulated the main points of their presentation. It was great reinforcement, but it also helped sustain a consistent level of energy throughout the event.

Note: Like quite a bit of music, rapping is best attempted by professionals or semi-professionals. Have executives rap at your own peril.

4. Attendee-Generated Music
Music is largely universal and attendees will benefit by being allowed to participate in the marriage of content and music. There are several ways to do this. Teambuilding activities can include coming up with a team cheer or song, or attendees can be tasked with summarizing a specific, assigned presentation in song parody form.

We will frequently have attendees develop their own summary of a presentation in this format. Not only does it allow them to flex their creative muscles (and we can use it as part of an overall teambuilding competition), but it also enables them to self-select which pieces of information were important to them and worth remembering--further reinforcing the content for themselves and their fellow attendees.

Everything I need to know about an audience I learned from my 4 month old baby.

This is Nadia:
I've spent a lot of time with her since she was born in January. As I went about my days on maternity leave, it occurred to me how many similarities she shares with the average event audience*.

Not that adults aren't in possession of more complex systems--they are--but there are some basic brain concepts that don't change as we age. We just tend to forget about them because we feel like adults should be able to willfully manage their states--while we forgive babies for getting fussy when they're overly tired or hungry or need to see something new.

However, the baby who wiggles in their chair when not entertained will become the adult who takes their brain out for a walk during an event or presentation. You can't see them disengage--but that doesn't mean it isn't happening.

Here are 5 things that Nadia has in common with an event audience:

1. Attention span
The attention span of a baby is fairly short. Guess what? So is an adult's attention span. Unless you change the way information is presented every 5-7 minutes--people tune out. Nadia may love-love-love her stuffed musical caterpillar (and your audience may love-love-love the new product roll out) but she doesn't want to play with it for minutes on end.

Your audience can't sustain attention for 45 hour...without additional stimulation.

2. Novelty rules
If there is something new in the room, the baby's attention snaps-to and holds. It's pretty amazing (and sometimes frustrating when trying to get her to focus on a necessary task). Adults are the same way. Something new, novel, interesting, different, etc. will captivate our attention.

This is why adding a little WEIRDNESS into your presentation is really memorable. This is why disruptions that don't support your message can be REALLY distracting.

3. Change the pattern
Along the same lines--when Nadia is very upset about something she needs a pattern interrupt before she can be calmed down. Whistling while she's crying, for instance, will cause her to stop and re-focus. Your audience probably won't be crying (on the outside, anyway), but sometimes they can be righteously angry about something (layoffs, perceived ineffectiveness, a change in policy, etc.).

They can carry that anger with them; totally ignoring the Very Important Message you're trying to get across. Interrupt the pattern before launching into the new plan. You need to stop the fussing before they can be effective listeners again.

4. Energy is continually exhausted without intervention
No matter how many hours of sleep she got the night before, by the end of the day Nadia is a ball of fuss. She just cannot process any more information. I've seen audiences like this too. The event planner jams the schedule so full that you get a tired, cranky audience.

Naps can help a baby, but what does an audience need? Time to process information. To recharge. Maybe make that networking dinner end VERY early after a full day of general sessions and workshops. Give breaks in between presenters and let the audience write down their key takeaways.

5. Basic needs cannot be neglected
Maslow's hierarchy of needs is pretty straightforward with a baby. They first want food and sleep and shelter and safety. Your audience also wants these things. This seems like a really obvious point, but basic needs aren't always met at an event in favor of saving a few dollars (let's make this a stretch break and not a snack break) or even due to unforeseen circumstances.  Feed your audience. Let them get full nights of sleep. Give them breaks. Make sure they can see the screens and stage. Make sure they're comfortable.

Use of pacifiers is optional.

*Adorableness of your audience may vary.

Infographic: Sales Meetings for the Sales Brain


4 Brain-Based Event Facts


Engage: 8 Ways to Recapture Your Audience

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