From Skeptic to Believer: One AniMate's Tale
This is not always the case, of course, but sometimes an AniMated character is like fireworks: a video or picture just doesn't do the concept justice. You have to be there.
We recently had a client whose advisers had seen an AniMate in practice. The client was skeptical, but the advisers--seeing the widespread success of the AniMate at the event they were at--insisted that she use an AniMate for there event.
The client was, to say the least, skeptical. She wasn't sure how it was going to work. The event included their best clients...what if it was embarrassing? She went so far as to inform us that she would be waiting in the ladies room during the opening monolog just in case everything bombed so badly that there was no hope for recovery.
We assured her that in 20 years of event experience, we have NEVER had an AniMated character fail to be a hit with the audience. Ever.
Why an AniMate works:
- The AniMate is the voice of the audience; they get to express their questions, support, skepticism and inside humor.
- The audience relates to the AniMate. He/She IS the audience.
- It provides an unprecedented level of interaction at an event.
- It keeps the audience engaged throughout the ENTIRE event (no matter how dry the other material can be) with both humor and content material.
- It puts the audience in a positive emotional state and suspends their disbelief.
- It's a new experience for the audience; it's not just meeting-as-usual.
- They can introduce and interact with speakers; creating strong "what's in it for me" relevance for the audience.
- They can reinforce the corporate brand.
- They react to the presenters, the audience and the event LIVE--making the meeting an organic, interactive, changing thing.
- AniMates can influence and persuade the audience in a subtle, covert way.
Now in the case of our skeptical client (as in every other case) their audience LOVED the AniMate. Not only did it receive anecdotal rave reviews, but in post-event surveys on a scale from 1-10 the AniMate was rated 10.2. Attendees had actually filled in extra boxes and raised their ratings to express their enthusiasm for the character and its impact on the event.
But that wasn't all. After the event, we received this letter from our skeptical client:
Well, I must take my licks – I have to admit that I was definitely short-sighted on what Live Spark would bring to our conference. You guys were awesome, and were a vital part of the success of [Redacted Event Name]. After a few tense moments on Monday morning, when none of us were sure what the reaction would be, it took off – successful beyond what I think any of us imagined. As I have de-briefed with various members, we’ve all agreed that it was, by far, our best conference on record. There was something about the energy and engagement of both [redacted] members and clients alike. And as I think about what [Redacted] said about starting the day in a positive frame of mind, I truly think this was the beauty of what Live Spark/[Character] brought – we started each day laughing, and then left the room charged up and ready to go. The energy and positive feeling was truly different, and had a direct impact on the success of the conference.
I’m glad we took the time to really focus on the voice and persona of the animate – you really nailed it, and it was clear that you listened to us. But it was also evident that you maintained your level of creativity and originality. Thank you for all you did, and you can now list me as an official Live Spark convert!
Thanks again, and looking forward to 2013.
We would say that the success of the AniMate speaks for itself, but the amazing, overwhelmingly positive feedback from our clients, the audience, and past clients is what *really* speaks.
Flash Mob: A Team Building Flash-In-The-Pan?
Some examples are team challenges/experiences like:
- Create a "viral" video
- Create a "mashup" of two songs that describe your company
- Participate in a "flash mob"
However, the window of opportunity for these super-trendy team building concepts can be very short lived. There are some components of these ideas that have legs or that might work well as part of a larger context. Creating videos, for instance, is something that can be used in team building in a variety of different ways. It's only the colloquialism "viral" that gives it the trend-spin.
The danger, of course, is that these things quickly become passe or "corporatized" to the point where they lose that freshness that made them appealing in the first place. Let's take the flash mob, for instance. The idea behind a flash mob team building is that everyone learns the same steps and has to coordinate to come up with a final product. They then, at some point, perform this--perhaps during an interlude at an award ceremony, for instance. We've seen this now about a half-dozen times at various events and it has never failed to...well...fall a little flat. Flash mobs in and of themselves are/were originally delightful because they had an element of surprise. Some people--the dancers--were in on the mob, but the rest of the audience was amazed by this moment of socially-awkward-moment-turned-coordinated-effort. In addition to taking away novelty, the amazingly complex movements performed by a group need to be simplified, played down and cleansed for a corporate audience with various skill levels. And, truthfully, 80% of all executives we've seen performing in a flash mob looked tremendously uncomfortable.
Viral videos become viral because they have an almost-indefinable nugget of appeal. Something that surprises people and makes them want to watch and share the video. Part of the charm is in absurdity and spontaneity; a truly "viral" video is incredibly hard to manufacture. It is certainly extra-hard for your average meeting attendee, and most of the "viral videos" we've seen end up veering perilously off-message and into the inexplicably bizarre territory. Of course, there's the option to parody other viral videos, but that takes away from some of the creativity this activity is supposed to foster.
There are the same issues with song mashups, etc. The bottom line is that "trend" gets played out and loses its aim quickly when done for trend's sake. We're not arguing against fresh ideas and changing things up--we like that--but sometimes tried and true IS better than flash-in-the-pan. Or flash in the mob.
Case Study: Intel's Best Buy DSM Event
We divided the audience into teams and gave them each their own audience-response keypad. Using this keypad, they all played along in a game show (called the Intel Ultra Bowl). In addition to the game show, there was also a live, 3D, AniMated game show host tasked with emceeing the event, hosting the show, adding in humor, and interacting with the audience in real-time. The game show both reinforced and taught the content, and the event was structured so that additional information from Intel experts was placed at key moments of peak attention within the game.
“The Best Buy folks are still talking about the event even today [3 days post-show],” and “One word: AWESOME! The feedback has been great!”
According to Best Buy:
“I heard GLOWING comments about the Intel Breakout…Thanks for putting together a great experience for our employees.”
Beyond Bike-Building: Making Team Building Better
Watching trends in team building is interesting to event professionals. Multi-day meetings have traditionally reserved an afternoon "outing" so the audience could have some non-event "reward" time. This could be a golf tournament, a spa afternoon, some deep-sea fishing...whatever. This was well-intentioned; the audiences were faced with hours of intense workshops or general session content, and in a meeting generally devoid of one-to-one content, interaction and networking (that didn't revolve around the bar) was needed.
However, this type of team building was seen as lacking a true business purpose, and as belts tightened it became more and more frowned upon. Meeting planners were faced with a dilemma: give the audience a chance to relieve stress and network--but with a business purpose. Team Building was born.
And then came ropes courses, build-a-bikes, scavenger hunts... you get the idea. It reflects an unfortunate team building trend--that it's something that is plugged into a meeting as an a-la carte element instead of something consistent with the whole. Not that the charity purpose is bad (it is absolutely not, and could definitely be part of a company's ongoing mission) it's just that people are not utilizing the full potential of team building.
A well-designed meeting has team building, sure, but it uses it in a different way:
- Team building is integrated with the theme and content of the event. Is a major component of your event a new product? Sales training? The goals for the next year? You can--and should--use these as jumping-off points in designing team building activities. Use team building to build upon skills. That's not saying it can't be a bit lighter on the learning and heavier on the fun, but integrating team building with content produces a powerful punch.
- Team building is not a 3-hour single event. Team building integrated throughout the event (i.e. putting the audience on teams and having multiple team challenges throughout the meeting days) can be much stronger both in team building and in overall audience engagement. You can still have the three-hour team building block, but it can be supplemented by other team building activities. Your whole event has the potential to build up your team--grab and use that potential.
- Team building has meaning. You don't want your audience to walk away going, "That was fun, but so what?" or worse, "That was pointless, I wonder how much that cost?" Team building is an amazing opportunity to give your audience members a gift; of creative opportunity, of peer learning, etc. It should be relevant to them. The new wave of team building tends to be slightly more inclusive than the divisive "golf outing" wave, but hardly any of the messaging lasts beyond the event. I've never spoken to anyone who reminisces fondly with colleagues: do you remember that bike-building we did?
However, there are a few fairly frequent mistakes that speakers make that tend to negate the good will of their audience. After hearing a few hundred (probably closer to a few thousand) speakers--both internal and external--these are our biggest presentation pet-peeves.
1. Apologizing for their time.
"I know it's been a long day, try to stay awake..." or "I know I'm coming between you and lunch..." Sometimes this comes off well--with a strong speaker--as a lighthearted attempt at humor. More often it comes off as a reminder that I really want to check-out and a red-flag that this speaker doesn't consider him/herself important enough to listen to on their own merits.
Instead: Own your time. What you have to say is important. If it's not, don't be on that stage. The audiences' time is a gift; don't apologize for taking it--make them glad that they gave you their time because you're giving them something valuable in return.
2. Saying "in conclusion" and not really meaning it.
I once heard a speaker--no exaggeration--declare his conclusion a half-dozen times in his presentation. He may have meant to conclude single points among many in a fairly long speech, but there was no way for the audience to know that. He said, "In conclusion..." and everyone prepared for a summary statement and the end. The fact that he then went on another 5 minutes, then concluded again, then went on another 10 minutes, and then concluded again, and so on and so forth, sorely tried the patience and attention spans of the audience. By the time his real conclusion came about a more fidgety bunch of folks I have never seen.
Instead: Only conclude when it's time to end your speech. You have 30-60 seconds to wrap up after you make a conclusion statement. It's a great signal in a presentation to have the audience sit forward and take in your final point, but they don't appreciate being jerked around by multiple conclusions.
3. Using incorrect/outdated/inaccurate information.
We were listening to a speaker who was giving a professional, paid presentation on a very serious topic. To make a point via metaphor, she told a story about a military dog--Brutus--who protected his captured owners by killing their captors with a single silent signal. Something about the story wasn't jiving, so those of us with smartphones (a great majority by now) went on a little fact-finding mission at Snopes.com. The story turned out to be untrue and debunked. Not only did we spend time in her presentation checking this out instead of listening to her message--but she lost some amount of credibility in her actual message.
Instead: Use metaphors that you know to be true, and fact-check any anecdotes, datapoints or tidbits of information. If your aunt forwarded you the email that you got the story from, it's best not to just run with it in your public presentation.
4. Thinking your message is more important than it is.
Being unable to see the relevance of their message in perspective to the audience's perception of its relevance is a huge stumbling block for a lot of presenters. Sure, you've spent 11 months in the trenches of marketing and the minutia of the new PR rollout is really fascinating for you and your team and you're really proud of it... but does your audience feel that way too?
It's like the episode of Seinfeld where Jerry and Elaine go to visit their friends who just had a baby. Their friends, of course, think their child is the most beautiful thing in the world...but...it's an ugly baby. Your content is the baby. You may think it's beautiful but it might not be completely relevant to your audience.
Instead: Think about the perspective of your audience before crafting a presentation. Does it fit into what they immediately NEED to know? Does it fill in a "what's in it for them"? If not at all--or you can't think of a way to make it relevant/fit--then you may not be the right choice for a presentation at that event.
5. Not rehearsing
You'd think that if someone were presenting in front of a group of thousands, they would at least rehearse their presentation, right? Wrong. And it shows. Sometimes this is as simple as not testing the technology--the video clips, the PowerPoint, the transitions, etc. Other times it's as simple as not practicing and being rough, unpolished and nervous. Still other times this manifests itself as speakers going way, way, way over time.
Instead: Even the best speakers in the world practice each presentation. Test your technology. Make sure your timing is right. However, do NOT rehearse by memorizing your speech. Be comfortable enough with your talking points to relax and simply talk TO your information instead of repeating back the information.
6. Having a very obvious "insert company here" message.
This is more for professional external speakers that make the rounds at big corporate events. A lot of speakers have a fairly canned message about how they accomplished X and Y and how it's relevant to you, as an employee of Z company, accomplishing A and B. Sometimes you can literally hear the pause for the "insert company here" line in their speech. Is it really relevant to that company? Does the speaker actually know anything about the situation? Not really. Yet they're trying to be motivational with a generic message.
Instead: Good keynote speakers take the time to get to know the situation in the company and customize their message accordingly. They may have a bank of several messages or key points they can draw from or put together depending on the needs of the audience in front of them.
The Problem with Award Ceremonies
|Bootlegger Bob, award show host.
- People who haven’t been nominated don’t have a strong incentive/interest in the proceedings
- Nominated individuals often tune out after their award category
- The ceremonies tend to go long due to the nature of the recognition—straining the attention span of even the most invested individuals
- They often lack engagement outside of the award presentations
- Balancing a serious/regal/elegant award presentation and entertainment value can be tricky (and often times scripted entertainment dialog can come off flat in the best of situations. See also: The Academy Awards)
Your Audience Has Baggage
It's all pretty straight forward; but is the message that is being delivered even acknowledging the state of the audience? People don't just come into a sales meeting all tabula rasa; waiting for you to dump 8 hours of information into their heads (not that information should be dumped anyway, but that's another blog post). They come with the whole year on their shoulders.
We're not saying that you have to start off a meeting with a little therapy session, but measures must be taken to move your audience from baggage-carrying and not-really-listening to an unburdened audience ready to see the possibilities of the next year. If you don't do this, every persuasive point you try to make (i.e. "We can hit 3% growth, here's what I want you to do," will be met with skepticism).
1. Acknowledge what they're going through. If it's been a tough year, don't kick off the meeting like everything is great. Ignoring a major communal issue that the audience has isn't going to make them forget it--it's going to make them reiterate that issue in their heads after every point you make.
It's not enough to say, "It's been a tough year," either. Open by relating to the audience. "I know it's been a tough year; you've had problems retaining sales leaders, our clients only seem to want bargains, we're late on x product." That way you can get over the past and move forward into the coming year. Maybe the situation isn't going to improve--but acknowledging that you're all going through it is going to help people deal with it as a team.
2. Anticipate objections. You want the audience to adopt a new sales strategy, but in the past you've gone through "new sales strategies" like a couch potato working on a bag of chips? (This year: Relationship Selling! Next year: No, Now Whiteboarding!) What makes you think that the audience will have faith that the new way will stick around? Why would they make the effort to adopt something that will be gone in a few months? Pre-frame their objections by acknowledging the situation of the past and giving concrete reasons (what's in it for them) for the future strategy.
3. Acknowledge your shortcomings. If you didn't deliver on something--don't be afraid to admit it to your audience. "We know that we didn't give you marketing support like we promised, but we'll have to do more with less." It's not justification to tell the story of an initiative gone wrong. It's a way of bringing it to a rational, understandable level. Be sure to follow up, of course, with why it's not going to be this way in the future (or alternate options if it IS going to be this way in the future).
4. It's not all negative. If your team busted their behinds all year and did a great job, don't start off by telling them how much more they're expected to grow in the coming year. It's okay to celebrate. This doesn't mean that you'll be resting on your laurels in the future, but many people are driven by significance and positive reinforcement. Be sure to give your team the props they deserve for a job well done.
Congratulations, you've just had the best event they'll never remember...
We made a short video highlighting our event philosophy.
These are absolute event truths that a lot of companies don't take into account when planning their event.
For instance: The attention span of an attendee during a presentation is 5-7 minutes. Do you know anyone that keeps their presentation that short? What about all those 90 minute CEO presentations about the direction of the company?
That's important information, right? Right. It is, in most cases, absolutely CRITICAL information. Yet the attention span of the audience wavers at the 5 minute mark. So how do you keep your audience engaged during a long presentation? (And no, the answer is not making everyone fit their content into 5 minute chunks...you can still have very effective 90 minute presentations--think of expert keynote speakers and how they keep the audience engaged the entire time...)
There are multiple ways to engage the audience that accommodates the limitations of the working memory. We employ several techniques: from varying content, to multimedia, to storytelling to more unique solutions like AniMated characters and audience interaction.
And yet, most meetings are planned so that if the right people present at the right time, and everyone who "needs" to present gets to present (structured around breaks, lunches and golf time, of course) the event is considered a success.
But when the attention span of the audience isn't taken into account for EVERY presentation, you lose the value of your event. Something to think about, no?
Creating Powerful PowerPoints: A hands-on workshop
The client challenged us: Is there any way to use PowerPoint WELL?
The answer is yes. PowerPoint has gotten a bad rap from many years of ill-use and abuse. It's a stalwart tool, but it's taken a beating in the popular event culture. PowerPoint is evil. PowerPoint is how you kill learning. Death comes by PowerPoint!
Not exactly. PowerPoint is a GREAT tool. IF you know how to use it.
In our workshop, the goals were this:
• To give best practices.
• To correct worst practices.
• To give participants hands-on experience in editing their own slides.
Here is a broad-brush overview of the brain:
The brain responds to:
5-7 minute segments
The brain does not respond to:
Excessive words on a slide
Typical PowerPoint presentations
So how did we go about showing the participants of the workshop how to create powerful PowerPoints? By giving them a hands-on experience with a deck. We printed out large PPT slides on paper--real slides that we had been given by a client.
The first step: Look at one slide and discern the main message points.
Second step: Remove excess words/data/clutter.
Third step: Think of a way to portray the same data on clearer, cleaner slides.
What happened was that most people came up with 3-4 clean, visually impactful slides in place of one cluttered slide. There was much tittering and taboo-whispering; for these participants had long been taught that they could only have X slides per deck--no matter how much information they had.
A 90-minute workshop wasn't enough to completely and permanently change bad PowerPoint habits, but it was a good start toward the fundamentals of Brain-Based PPT design.
Case Study: Custom Game Production "A Fistful of Dollars"
Custom Audience-Response Game: A Fistful of Dollars – Three different game plays
Graphics, Programming, Scripting and Game-play: Designed by Live Spark
Situation: Toyota wanted a way to engage and entertain their top sales reps while at the same time testing their company knowledge and giving them the opportunity to earn some big rewards with that knowledge. This was a great teambuilding event in the morning; it gave the audience a chance to compete on teams and individually and allowed them important, low-stress face-time with top executives.
Toyota had already used a game show the previous two years—both times utilizing either our sister company--LearningWare's--software (Gameshow Pro) or custom software programmed for their event by Live Spark. They wanted something to fit their Clint Eastwood “Western” theme and that would add variety from previous years’ play.
Solution: A custom Fistful of Dollars game show with three completely unique varieties of game play. The audience still played along using audience-response keypads, but there were a few variations:
Target Practice: In this game play variation, we asked extremely difficult multiple choice questions. The audience members, consequently, had three opportunities to get a question right.
The question was be asked the first time, and the audience saw what percentage of their team responded correctly. They did not know whether they—individually—answered correctly. They then got a chance to answer again—and they could either change their answer or stick with it. Again, the percentage of correct answers was be shown. They got one final chance to answer the question, and only their third response counted as correct or incorrect.
Do You Feel Lucky Punk?: (Wager Round) In this game variation, we utilized a team leader—someone with guts, daring, and willingness to take the glory or the fall.
Everyone on the team was shown a question. Before the audience votes, the team leader decided whether he/she thinks that 75% of the team will know the answer or not. If he/she is confident, then they’ll bet high. If not, they’ll bet low.
No guts, no glory. The team leader wrote down or verbally submitted their wager. The question then played out as a typical audience-response question.
Six-Shooter: (Speed Round/Final Round) Teams were asked a group of 6 questions—rapid-fire-style. They were NOT shown the team results of their answers until after the questions are done, at which point the team scores rose (and failed to rise as much as they should) dramatically, determining the final winner.
Results: The game show was entertaining, challenging, tough, competitive and held a level of novelty—being different than the year before. The audience was engaged with each other and management for the entire morning.