Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Producers vs. Presenters: Taming the Presentation Deadline Beast

There is an eternal struggle between the event production team and the presenters (internal and, less frequently, external) to get presentation content in the hands of the production team well before an event.

This needs to happen for several reasons.

  • All parties need to know the content of the presentations so that presenters do not overlap, contradict, or conflict with each other
  • Presentations need to be coherent and valuable for the audience
  • Timing needs to be taken into account for realistic agendas
  • Slides need to be checked for clarity/mistakes
  • Media needs to be tested and procured in advance
  • It helps ensure that the event goes smoothly

This doesn't happen for several reasons.

  • Presenters are busy
  • The event isn't a priority because they have more important/critical/time-sensitive things to do in their day-to-day jobs
  • Presenters have turned in presentations last-minute before and everything has worked out
  • Content changes may occur on time-sensitive presentations (i.e. first quarter results are announced, acquisitions happen, etc.)
  • Presenters are waiting for other co-presenters/key players to contribute
  • There is an established culture of "putting together the presentation on the plane", etc. 


In our minds, this will be an ongoing struggle, because the reasons for this needing to happen and the reasons why it doesn't happen are both pretty legitimate and need to be balanced in a diplomatic manner.

However, based on our experiences working with clients and other production teams there are certain things you should NOT do.

DO NOT:


Create artificial deadlines: Don't be the event producer who cries wolf. A presenter knows that it's unnecessary to have a finished presentation two months before an event occurs. We once worked with a presentation team that wanted locked-in teleprompter copy (with no changes on-site) MORE THAN ONE MONTH before the event. It was unrealistic and it made it easy for every single presenter to completely disregard the legitimacy of other (more crucial) deadlines.

Ignore deadlines and hope for the best: Presenters should have a good outline of when things are expected of them. Some production companies set the final deadline as "When the presentation is being presented on stage" with no other milestone/check-in points. Deadlines *do* need to be managed, and timetables help set everyone's expectations.

Mismanage the presenters: Think of this like Goldilocks and the Three Event Producers: One micromanages too much, the other isn't attentive enough...and one is just right. Don't be the presentation task-master without a healthy dose of flexibility and diplomacy. We worked with an event producer who was incredibly harsh about presenters getting their stuff in by exact deadlines. Not only did the presenters resent the event producer, but they started to actively ignore their requests because they weren't presented in a reasonable way...and the presenters were the *client*.

Cut off changes completely: You can say that changes at the last minute are not ideal, but to cut off changes completely at an event because presenters didn't meet the deadline is not going to benefit the event overall. Be prepared for changes to happen because events are a dynamic animal, subject to interjections from the world, from the audience, from the company, from the event itself. A presenter wanting to add in a slide in the morning because they heard a concern over and over again at the networking reception the night before is something that can and should happen.

DO: 


Here are some things that have worked for us:

Use peer pressure: We worked with a client who used a peer-review session deadline; a week before the event, every presenter would get together in a room and present their content for the event to each other. They would then get presentation feedback. This forced presenters to get the content done--they didn't want to be the only one who hadn't done their part, or let down their other peers. Even having an updated list of who has/hasn't turned in their presentation can apply a bit of peer pressure to help move deadlines along.

Utilize rehearsals: The previous example not only utilized peer pressure, but it also included another component: rehearsals. Often times we like to do a "dry run" of an event a week before--even if it's over the phone. Scheduling ample rehearsal time on-site (and clearing a presenter's schedule of on-site obligations so they can attend) will also minimize VERY last minute changes.

Provide Incentives: In a particular company, presenters got $50 if they turned in their presentations on time. It's not that $50 was so much money, but it provided a tangible incentive to be on-time--and everyone in the procrastination-prone company turned everything in on time. One can also take the stick approach--meet deadlines or get time taken away--but the carrot is more diplomatic.

Shape the event and give talking points: Having a very concise theme (we're not talking "A year to win" or similar event themes, but rather a content throughline) and talking points that you'd like each presenter to hit can help them get a head start on their presentation. It gives them something to react to instead of having to generate a presentation from scratch (which can frequently hold up initial deadlines).

An example of this might be (roughly):
Theme: Everything about this event is geared toward helping the sales force get their "swagger" back after a tough few years.

Direction for presenter: How will the marketing strategy for this year help the audience feel like they have swagger? What specific things are you doing to support them?

Frame the value: Face to face events are a huge opportunity for a presenter to get in front of their audience. They are also a huge opportunity for a company to give the attendees a unified message. The importance and impact are so great that a last-minute presentation is most likely not going to cut it. Events are an investment. Framing the value of the event to presenters may seem like common sense or something that they already know (or should know), but often times no one frames it like this. Letting presenters know that this is their time to shine and step up, and communicating what it means to them and the company can help them to be more thoughtful about their presentation and attendant timelines.

--

Good event production teams are flexible and pros at making last-minute changes look effortless and flawless. That doesn't mean they *are* effortless.

Good production teams may be able to get presenters to turn in their content well before an event, but they are also equipped to handle situations in which this does not happen. This may mean extra on-site staffing, people dedicated to working exclusively with particular presenters, etc. If a production team has worked with a company before and it's been an issue at previous events, building in extra staff in the contract and citing past experience is in the client's best interest and in the interest of the sanity of the production team as well.



Tuesday, February 28, 2017

"And the Oscar Goes to...": What we can learn from the 2017 Oscars big screw-up.

It was a moment in which--I guarantee you--every event producer, or person working with live events, gasped and muttered some version of "oh NO."

That moment when, at the 2017 Oscars, they figured out that they had announced the WRONG WINNER for Best Picture. To the average person at home it was a surprise or an amusement or a small shock--but to us it was our worst nightmare come to life in front of our eyes. My own sense of empathy was off the charts and I imagine the a/v crew, producers, handlers, etc., backstage scrambling; furious chatter over the com system trying to figure out how it could have happened.

Sometimes when things go wrong at your event--they really go wrong. Most of the time it isn't quite as public as a huge televised award show watched by ~33 million people.

But here are some things that we can learn from the Oscars screw-up that we can apply to our own events, should things ever go wrong.

Correct the issue in the moment.

It's embarrassing. No one involved quite knows what's going on. But correct an issue as soon as you realize it--even if it means interrupting your presenter on stage. (Obviously, this only applies to errors with a certain level of magnitude--little minor fact-checks don't need to happen in real-time.)

Mea Culpa.

You're not going to be able to hide when something goes seriously wrong. Own up to it. Apologize and continue. Most of the audience wants to see you succeed and will be feeling the pain of your mistake right along with you. Don't worry about *how* the mistake came to be right then and there--you can take time to mull it over and decide whether the explanation is important.

Go with the flow.

The host, Jimmy Kimmel, was really great at saying, "Hey, this is an awards show. It's live. Things happen," and going with the flow. Obviously everyone was flustered, but they reduced the awkwardness by keeping the ending short and saying they'd figure it out later. Sure, it didn't have the impact that it was supposed to have, but it kept it from delving into the minutia of mistakes.

Try to make it up to the impacted parties.

The Oscar mistake truly did steal the spotlight from the Best Picture award winner. Even though time was running short, they were given their due with their speeches, and are being given ample recognition the day after the event. If this happens at your event, a special call-out to the wronged party may be in order--even if it's not at the event itself.

Double check everything.

In this type of event, secrecy is key. But at YOUR event? Give up a little secrecy to make sure that everyone has double checked EVERYTHING. Some mistakes are still going to happen because it's a live event--mistakes happen. Spontaneity that leads to a sparkling, vivid event can also cut the other way and leave the door open for mistakes. Even big mistakes. Mistakes will happen, but dealing with them with grace and aplomb can mean the difference between a disaster and a minor embarrassment.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

The Advantages of DIY-Emceeing



Last entry we talked about the advantages a professional external emcee has over an internal emcee. (How to Emcee Your Event Like a Pro)

But external emcees aren't automatically superior to internal emcees. About 70% of our events feature internal emcees (of varying degrees of skill) and there are definite benefits to utilizing an internal company employee/leader as your event emcee.

1. They know your people.

Knowing who is in the audience is a big shortcut to building audience rapport. Internal emcees are familiar with your audience--clients or internal employees--and they can use that knowledge to modify their energy, their comments, and their activities.

If there needs to be a volunteer to perform a demonstration, they know who they can call on to get participation. Maybe more valuable--they know who NOT to call out or ask up to the stage.

2. They get the in-jokes.

Hand in hand with knowing the people, they also know the common references in the company. They know when a particular acronym or term has a sordid history. They know that Jane Doe moved from x department to y department to z department. They can easily pull references that make the audience crack up and relate.

Likewise, they can serve as a barometer for what is actually going to make the audience laugh or not. Not that an internal emcee knows everything about audience humor, but they have a good pulse on the company culture and can give a suggestion of where lines should be drawn.

3. They can explain/recap concepts.

Perhaps the most value in having an internal emcee comes when it's time to glue all the presentations together.

An emcee with internal knowledge of what the speakers are trying to say can transition to a speaker by providing important context. They can recap a presentation by clarifying a few key points or by solidifying what it means to the audience. They have an understanding of how a discrete speech might fit into the big picture and they can make these connections for the audience.

This gives consistency and is incredibly powerful in making sure that the content presented has a better chance of being remembered.

4. They can provide tangible follow-up.

An internal emcee can make promises that an external emcee couldn't hope to keep. They can take questions and concerns and turn them into post-event follow-up. They already have rapport and context to leverage with the audience, so it's a natural step to, post event, have a follow-up action.

It could be as simple as, "You know when CEO talked about XYZ? Well, here's where the rubber meets the road". It could also be more complex--like a serious of follow-up videos, checking in on action items, holding people accountable, or even following up on panel questions.

5. They are an on-site resource. 

While their time may be limited on-site most of the time, if you can get a dedicated internal emcee it can enhance an event tremendously by giving you more flexibility to react to the event in real-time.

Something happen at an evening event? The emcee can clue you in, give you context, and let you play off (or address it) as needed in the general session. If you decide that there needs to be an extra energizer event--like a game show round--in between presentations, an internal emcee can help you vet questions or give you an idea of whether you're on the right path.


Overall? Either an internal or an external emcee can work--depending on the individual talents and strengths of the individual. Either one should be a charismatic people-person who has the ability to spend dedicated time rehearsing, and who is willing to go with the flow of a dynamic event.