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.
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Delta's New Safety Videos: Losing the Course

Our events are all over the globe, so we spend a lot of time on airplanes.
We're also based out of Minneapolis/St. Paul, so we fly Delta quite a bit.

We have something to report.

Delta Airlines recently changed their safety videos.
And we hate it.

It's not just a knee-jerk reaction to change. There are brain-based reasons why changing the tone of the videos made them significantly less effective.

This is how Delta's safety videos used to look:



(There were several in the series, this is just one example.)
They get all the essential messaging across, but there is also humor and lightness. Even a seasoned flier will pay attention through some of the drier safety messaging (that they may have heard and ignored a hundred times before) because they're looking for that little nugget of entertainment.

What visual treat will I get next? What tiny thing will surprise and delight me? 

This is the NEW Delta safety video that was playing the last few flights we've taken:


It's really...pretty? It's done well. It highlights the global nature of their business.

And it's tremendously dull.

I'm guessing the former are the reasons they went that direction. It's a classy video, sure. But no one was watching it. We tuned in for the first few seconds, saw that there wasn't going to be any humor payoff, and went back to our various diversions. It was easy to tune out.

We also noticed that there was a message from a *new* CEO in the beginning of the video. We speculated that they did as so many companies do; they changed the video strategy because a new head person wanted to go a new direction; to make their own mark in the creative branding of the company.

We don't know that for a fact, of course, but we've seen it enough times in events to recognize the strong possibility that this is the case.

Here's are four things we can learn from Delta's decision, as it applies to events:

1. Don't change JUST for the sake of change
In this case, Delta had built up a reputation for these fun videos, so we were anticipating the same thing (maybe slight variances, but the direction and overall tone was the same). We were disappointed by a straightforward video and tuned out after figuring out that it wasn't going to be entertaining.

There is ample reason to change something when it feels stale or is no longer working, and change is quite frequently good. But changing something for the sake of change when the previous tactic or message was--and remains--effective isn't a wise move.

For instance, if you do a high energy meet-and-greet at every event and it feels fresh and people love it, there's no reason to stop doing it *only* because "we did that last year".

2. Don't prioritize flash over substance.
The new videos are very pretty. They have little flourishes and animations that are rather impressive and probably cost quite a bit to do.

But they're not the compelling hook that is going to get people to watch the video.

A lot of times we see events with VERY splashy opening videos, beautiful staging, specialty lighting and flourishes...and then the content is presented in a way that is overwhelming, stale, dry or boring. Flash will not overcome finding an engaging way to present content.

3. Humor is incredibly effective.
The previous Delta videos weren't always laugh-out-loud funny, but they had a touch of humor that hooked the viewer. The lighthearted structure made it clear that there was an effort to engage with the audience; to show them little visual punchlines while delivering a critical message.

Humor is effective because it activates your emotional connection to the content. When you engage your emotion, your content retention increases.

And along those lines:

4. Serious content doesn't have to be boring. 
The safety messaging Delta is delivering could save lives. There are things that *must* be communicated--no matter how dry or boring. It's serious stuff, and in an emergency the content of that video needs to be on the forefront of everyone's mind.

A lot of people would, thus, shy away from bringing any levity into the messaging at all--fearing that people wouldn't take the messaging seriously if the delivery wasn't maximally serious.

However, the severity of the messaging means that it's even more critical for people to actually see it; to pay attention and absorb the content points. A bone-dry delivery is not an effective way to achieve that. Humor--done right--doesn't detract from the gravity of the messaging (whether it's an airline safety video or a corporate presentation). It does, however, go a long way toward audience engagement.
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So you want to waste money at your event...

Event budgets are frequently tight. We're not revealing any new information there. We hear it all the time. "We need to do more with less...yada, yada, yada." It's a wise strategy, generally.

We hear it most in terms of adding interaction. "We already spent X on getting people here, we really don't have the budget for Y interaction."

And what we want to say is:

"Then instead of having an event, you should just put your event budget in a big pile on the floor and light it on fire." 

At least people would remember that.

We don't say that.
1. Because we don't condone burning money.
2. Because it's not helpful.

However, if a company is spending money to bring people TO an event and then is giving little thought to how to make their audience engage, interact, and retain the event information--they might as well not have the event.

Part of any event budget should be value. Live events have demonstrated value over and over again. It's still important for people to get together face-to-face; to network, get training, new information, goals, and a clear vision for the year.  But you have to do more than just bring people together, give presentations, and hope that the message got through. You have to engage your audience.

But let's say you're already committed to wasting money and you want to make sure you get as little value out of your event as possible (maybe there was a dare involved?). Here are some ways to ensure your event will be a waste:

1. Think that bigger a/v is better a/v.

An event needs to have base-level good a/v. It's not necessarily wise to cut corners here; when a projector goes out in the middle of a show with no backup, or you have the fourth-string crew, you're really going to see a negative--and distracting--impact on your event.

However, that doesn't mean that bigger a/v is better a/v either. Having all the lighting effects and stage decor and enhanced sound mixing in the world isn't going to save a dull presentation. Sure, a fog machine on stage is cool, but if you're spending budget on the bells and whistles instead of actual engagement, your event is going to suffer. Money wasted? Check.

2. Don't add elements of interaction.

You can have the slickest presentation in the world, but even the best presentation...backed by another great presentation...backed by another great presentation...won't stick. The brain simply cannot process the barrage of information. The audience needs to review, reflect, re-apply, and engage with the content. The need is not flexible; it's the limitation of the human brain, not a whim or a desire to be entertained.

We've had clients spend several hundred thousand dollars on an event and then veto an interactive game show that is a fraction of the cost--but would save their event from being a one-way content dump.

Interaction at an event--during the event...DURING the presentations--is not an option. It's a necessity. If the content isn't going to stick, there's no point to presenting it. Not adding in discussion, competition, game elements, etc., means wasting your money having an event at all.

3. Pack the agenda really tightly to get everything in.

There are natural constraints at play in determining the length of an event. 3 days of hotel room, banquet, meal, and airfare costs might be within budget while 4 days are out of the question. One might be tempted to have a shorter event with the same amount of content--but this is a mistake.

Which is not to say that the event should be extended; rather an effort should be made to pare down the content so that 4 days worth isn't squeezed into a 3 day package. In the last point, we mentioned how interaction shouldn't and couldn't be sacrificed. The same is true for the downtime the interaction provides. Having, for example, 10 presentations back-to-back-to-back instead of, say, 7 with time for reflection doesn't mean that more content is being covered. It just means that more content is being presented.

Packing the agenda tightly to get everything in results in LESS engagement and retention than if the audience members were given time to breathe. Instead of getting 4 days of content in 3 days, the audience retains maybe a day of content in as much time.


4. Cut the team building.

Some team building is superfluous. We're never going to recommend a half-day on the golf course as a way to build team morale. (We don't have anything against golf, but it's not effective team building on its own, and it is a huge expense for little value.) However, one of the most compelling reasons to have an event is to invest in the strength of your team through networking and team building.

This may be a bit of a cheat in this post; team building and interaction often overlap. One of the best ways to add value to an event and boost content retention is to incorporate interactive team building throughout the entire session. Weaving team building in between presentations and workshops not only strengthens content retention, but increases the number of meaningful interactions between team members.

Or you can eschew this value entirely and skip the team building--having your audience stare at a screen for 8 hours a day and not have positive contact with each other that will last far beyond the event. Your choice!

5. Create the event in a vacuum.

Why bother to figure out what the audience really wants or likes when planning an event? Because if you don't, you have a static event that loses value quickly.

Thoughtful event surveys (that are crafted to provide "meatier" feedback than "we didn't like the buffet choices on Thursday") post-event are a good starting point to creating a dynamic event. Pre-event surveys asking which content is most relevant for attendees are also a great tool. But don't just take survey results and file them away--change the event based on the survey (within reason--if ONE person doesn't like an element and everyone else does, take that feedback with the statistical significance it possesses).

Creating a dynamic event also happens AT the event. Allow attendees to give real-time feedback on the trajectory of presentations (on a small or large scale) and if it becomes apparent that something needs to be addressed or covered in greater depth--do it. Refusing to change course when needed may mean less work in the short-term at the event, but can have long-term consequences. Just ask the Titanic.

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How to focus your presentation with a game show.

Game shows are a phenomenal way to engage your audience. They add an element of competition and fun to a training session or large-scale event. However, game shows do more than benefit the audience--they also provide a huge benefit to the trainers; focused content.

Recently we designed a game show to run throughout a 45 minute training session with audiences of about 50 people. Three different companies were presenting content, and sessions were repeated multiple times a day, over many days. We had an opening game show round, a closing game show round, and rounds in between the presenters' content.

We analyzed the content and developed game show questions around the most important content points.

What we noticed, as the sessions continued on the first day, was that the presenters were starting to highlight those Very Important content points even more. They would refer to their content in the context of the game; "Now pay attention to this because you might need to know it later...wink-wink..."

In subsequent sessions, they pared down their presentations to have a laser-focus on the key points. The overall sessions were improved beyond the engagement of the game show.

Game shows help you focus your presentation because:

1. They show you what is nice to know vs. what you need to know. 

Obscure trivia is fun for are-you-smarter-than television shows. We're all impressed by that person who can answer with the most inane detail. However, training isn't trivia night. Questions that are difficult because they contain the most irrelevant detail (that no one remembers because it's irrelevant) not only slow down the game play, but they also are directing your trainees to the wrong content.

Maybe it's important to know a model number of a product, but it's more important to be able to instantly recall its features and benefits--you can look up the model number later.

Having to come up with a set of game show questions allows you to sort the nice-to-know from the need-to-know.

 

 2. They help you pare down your content to a limited number of points.

A training session or presentation has a limited time frame, and it's extremely common for presenters to try to pack in as much information as humanly possible. Often times, this comes at the expense of interaction ("Well, we wanted it, but we just didn't have time for it."). Having dedicated time for the game show review not only ensures that there is interaction time built in, but it also helps presenters narrow the scope of their presentation.

In the 45 minute session described, there were three discrete presentations. Each presenter only had time to reinforce 2-3 key points, so they were able to have extremely focused, relevant content and supplemental game show questions that reinforced and reiterated that content.

 

3. They highlight what is exciting about your content. 

Along the lines of finding the "need to know" and narrowing the scope of the presentation, the game show allows you to highlight what's exciting about your content. As you play through the game you discover that, apart from the reaction to the interaction and competition, the audience also reacts to content or announcements in a weighted way. You find out what's important to them, what they're paying attention to, and what is thrilling for them.
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Fortune 500 Company Seeks Parrot. Must Be Funny

Live Spark got a nice mention by Greg Schwem both on Huffington Post and in The Chicago Tribune.

Original articles are here (Huffington Post) and here (Chicago Tribune). More information on Greg here

We have to add--the actors behind the voices of our AniMates (who interact in real-time) most certainly need dressing rooms and their share of the "bird seed".

The article:

Whenever I have my children's full attention, meaning they are only performing two simultaneous tasks on their cell phones, I attempt to offer fatherly advice on subjects ranging from drugs to fashion choices to not spending money like a Kardashian. So far they seem to be listening, although I know the day is coming when one bursts through the front door and excitedly screams, "Dad, don't you think this tattoo will be perfect for my job interview?"

Recently my eldest and I were discussing her chosen college major, physical therapy, a vocation that I wholeheartedly support for it meets the criteria I laid out during one of my advisory sessions: Do not choose a career that can be replaced by a computer. Physical therapist has only a 2.1 percent chance of becoming automated in the next decade or two, if one is to believe "The Future of Employment: How Susceptible are Jobs to Computerization," a 2013 study authored at the University of Oxford. Budding fashion models take note: The study predicts a 98 percent likelihood that robots, not humans, will be sashaying down Parisian runways in 2033.

Now, I fear, I may be searching for a new line of work, having just lost an employment opportunity to a parrot. And a computerized one at that.


I always assumed my longtime profession - stand-up comedian - would forever be immune to virtualization. "Comedian" doesn't even appear in the Oxford survey. And besides, I tell my children, "Nobody is going to sit in an audience and laugh at a machine." Of course, that was before presidential candidate and automaton Ted Cruz garnered some yuks at the last GOP debate, but I digress. "Sure, robots can build cars, cook gourmet meals and fill orders for cholesterol medication at the local pharmacy. But tell jokes? Nonsense," I said smugly.

Not so fast, as I discovered upon contacting a client who had hired me several years ago to perform live, human generated comedy at an annual meeting for a large, independent optometry network. At the event's conclusion, accolades of "great job," "funny stuff," "stay in touch and "we DEFINITELY want you back" poured in. 

Last week I contacted the client, eager for him to make good on his promise. The original contract was on my computer screen; all it needed was a new date and maybe a slightly higher performance fee. Even comedians are not immune from the ravages of inflation.

"Actually, Greg, we've been using a parrot the last few years," the client replied.
"What kind of parrot?" I asked, as if losing a gig to a scarlet macaw as opposed to a green-cheeked conure would provide me with some comfort.
"It's an animated character," the client said. "I'll email you a link to the company that created it."
"But, but ..." I stammered. 

I remembered another piece of advice I consistently give my children: Always stand up for your beliefs and your skills. This would prove difficult, knowing my competition didn't require a plane ticket, a king-sized bed at the local Marriott, meal per diem and a taxi ride to and from the airport. Out of curiosity, I clicked the link. The parrot was the brainchild of Live Spark, a Minnesota-based event production company and creator of "AniMates," computer generated characters that can humorously interact with audiences in real time. Live Spark President Dan Yaman was happy to talk with me, once I assured him I wasn't calling to name him - and his parrot - defendants in a wrongful termination lawsuit.

"We have a talking horse, talking eagle, talking building; basically whatever you can slap a face on, we can animate it," Yaman said. Heavy hitter companies including Intel, MetLife, Target, Pfizer and Xerox have used Yaman's creations at live events.

"(AniMates) can talk about things on the audience's mind. They can even challenge the CEO," Yaman said. But, he reminded me, AniMates are controlled entirely by creative human beings who sit backstage, generating the funny lines and controlling the character's movements.

"Let's talk next week," Yaman said to me. "Maybe we can work together."

And with that, Yaman reaffirmed yet another piece of grandfatherly-sounding advice I've bestowed on my kids: When one door closes, another opens.

Even if the object behind that door is a brightly-colored bird that doesn't need a dressing room.

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Top 5 Mistakes That Bring Your Game Show to a Grinding Halt



Using a game show at an event can be an incredibly memorable and educational experience--and can energize the whole general session. But you want your game show to flow smoothly. Questions and game play should proceed at a steady pace without too much interruption (save for breaks in matches, content explanations or elaborations, etc.).


What you *don't* want to do is have your game show crawl along like the slow snail in the gene pool; making the experience unpleasant or awkward, and taking the natural energy of competition out of your game show event.

Here are the top 5 mistakes that slow down your game play (and how to solve them):


1. The questions are too difficult. Questions should be challenging, but not mystifying. Questions that are too advanced, or even hard to read or understand can result in the crickets-chirping phenomenon. This not only slows down game play, but it can become quite frustrating when trainees aren't able to get a taste of success.

If you're playing a review game, ask a slightly-simpler question in the competitive part of the game show, and then ask more challenging follow-up questions in your info screens (either for extra points or for knowledge alone).

Make sure that your questions are up to date (i.e. that you've covered the material in your presentation that you intend to review in your game).

If you have a long or complex question, break the question into pieces. Add an intro screen before the question and take time to explain the scenario--making the question itself fairly brief.


2. Timers are set incorrectly. If no one knows a question (no one is ringing in) and yet it takes the ring-in timer a long time to expire, there can be a lot of waiting around.

Keep your timers between 10-15 seconds each, or set them to manual mode. We find that manually controlling the timers can give the trainer more flexibility to spend time on a question when everyone is involved, or speed through a question that is less relevant to the training session.


3. Contestants don't understand the rules. Confusion is the cousin of chaos. Contestants need to know what they're supposed to do within a game show or they will: a.) Do nothing, b.) Dispute everything. ("Hey, but they didn't answer in the form of a question, isn't that against the rules?") Both of these scenarios suck time away from game play and disrupt the flow of  information.

Be sure to clearly explain the rules before the game starts--even if you think contestants will know how to play. A game doesn't have to be complex to be engaging; try simplifying the rules so that the focus is on playing the game--not HOW to play the game.


4. There's a logistical/tactical mismatch. Game shows can be played successfully in a large group. They can also be played successfully over a longer period of time. However, you have to have the right set up for your game and use it thoughtfully in a large group or a long session.

One of the most painful game show experiences we've seen was when a client wanted to use a large number of teams and then have the teams take turns answering questions (taking out some of the competitive aspect). While team 1 was answering, team 8 had no incentive to pay attention and vice versa. The game dragged for participants.

While playing in a large group, consider having fewer teams and utilizing small groups of participants to represent those teams--then switching out the contestants during game play. Make sure that the non-playing audience is assigned to one of the playing teams so they have a stake in the game.

When wanting a longer game show, be sure to add variety; switch up the game format, double the points, change participants or break the game show into smaller sections throughout the session.


5. Equipment failure. We once had a projector go out in the middle of a game show. Once we procured a new projection device, the momentum of the game show had been lost, and it was a bit of a slog to get through the rest.

Sometimes there's not much you can do about spontaneous equipment failure, but you can make sure that you practice with the equipment you're going to use. Test your av equipment, slammers (are the batteries turned the right way?) and projection systems. Run through your game to make sure everything is set and in the right order. If there's too much of a delay, sometimes it's better to save the game for another day or the end of the session.
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You Won't BELIEVE What Live Spark Has Been Up To!

And we're going to show you... in a SONG.

Watch this quick video update and get some ideas for your next event that will BLOW YOUR MIND!