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Get People to Their Seats & Ready to Laugh


Posted on December 10, 2008

As I noted earlier, the atmosphere of a corporate entertainment event could combine a party, a dinner, a Broadway show, and a sales presentation…a very confusing collection of environments that must be managed successfully to get the best return on investment in corporate entertainment at an event. The secret, which I’ve learned from some of the best meeting planners in the business and as the producer of The Water Coolers, is to provide the audience with cues on how to act and to react. Earlier, I wrote about how a room’s infrastructure can help—or hinder—the audience dynamic in corporate entertainment. Now we’ll look at the actual event.  

Getting Started
At most meetings, people are seeing colleagues they haven’t seen all year. It’s fun, it’s friendly, it’s a great get-together…and it makes it impossible for the show to start on time.  It’s not enough to have an announcement that the show is about to start. You’re just announcing that the show hasn’t started yet so you can still socialize! It takes a variety of cues in different mediums, for people to stop conversations and take their seats. Borrow some from the theatre and use chimes or tones at first, then dim the lights gradually, but not too gradually. These are instinctive, visceral cues that help the audience understand that it’s time to sit. Just in case, though, The Water Coolers have a song called “Gotta Take a Seat Now” to help people get the message.

Have a Pre-Show Show
In sports, there’s a “pre-game show.” In the musical theatre, there’s an overture. In concerts, there’s an opening act. The best planners we’ve worked with have an agenda item before the show or first speaker—perhaps a short video or a short spot by an entertainer—to make sure that everyone is seated and in a receptive mood. It is not a good idea to send the CEO out first thing when the audience is cold and not really paying attention. Even Jerry Seinfeld uses a warm up act. 

And Now, the Big Finish
When the CEO or final speaker finishes his remarks, the audience will assume the evening is over. It’s tempting for the last speaker to say thanks and goodnight even though we haven’t performed the finale. The planners we’ve worked with coach the last speaker to prepare the audience by saying, “The Water Coolers will be back to close things but before they do….” Just to make sure, at the close of remarks, the last speaker can say, “And now, here are The Water Coolers” and the music comes up.

Tomorrow: Final thoughts on custom material, how to best use interstitials, and keeping award shows valuable.

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