Tuesday, March 6, 2018

5 Ways to Herd Your Sheep: Getting your audience where you want them, on time.

Are your event start times accurate, or merely aspirational?

We hear, often, that clients have consistent issues getting their events to start on time (or to start on time after a break, lunch, etc.). Many clients accept and account for this, building time into the agenda assuming that the event will start two or three or five or ten or fifteen minutes late. Many don't, and a late start throws off the whole schedule for the day.

Many have the best intentions, but simply don't want to start their Big Event Opening with half a room full of audience. Many have huge audiences and unwieldy logistics that make moving that volume of people in and out of a space difficult to do in a limited amount of time.

Once late start times begin, it's tough to get an audience back on track. So: How do you herd these sheep? Or, more delicately: How do you get your audience where you want them on time?

1. Start on time NO MATTER WHAT

Audiences can be trained!
And like any trainable entity, they can either be trained in a positive way or a negative way. If meandering in 5 minutes late is the accepted standard and they know they're not going to miss anything, they is little incentive to change that. They've been trained to do it, and the time frame will only continue to be more lax.

Starting on time--no matter what--may leave you with a partial audience the first time or two. However, audiences learn quickly. If the expectation is to start on time--and that expectation is clearly communicated--then a majority will be in their seats on time.

Note: Prepare to start on time yourself. This includes allowing enough time for proper rehearsal, run through, and technical troubleshooting. Stuff happens, but too often meetings are derailed because a speaker can't be found or a video wasn't checked or a presentation wasn't updated.

2. Incentivize on-time behavior

When we put audiences onto teams (great for teambuilding, ongoing game shows within the event, team competitions, etc.) we will frequently give them points if their team is back on time. But ONLY if ALL team members are back on time. What happens is this:
A. Team leaders or members make sure that everyone else is back on time.
B. Peer pressure is strong: it only takes one person missing the points for their team one time and EVERYONE will be on time after that. (Opposing teams will also make sure that no one is slipping in.)

One of our methods of keeping team points is to hand out fake money. It makes a big impact to hold teams accountable for being on time by handing them a small stack of cash.

Note: You can also penalize lateness (i.e. if you're not in your seat when the event starts, you have to donate $5 to the company charity the first day, $10 the second day, $20 the third day, etc.). This also works, but we generally prefer carrot to stick--and peer pressure is something that's harder to write off than $5.

3. Utilize on-screen timers, all the time

Have timers for every walk-in, every break, etc....for the whole time. Sometimes lateness isn't intentional--people lose track of time, they forgot what you said when you dismissed them (was that a 25 minute break or a 15 minute break?), and they don't necessarily have their watched calibrated to yours if you don't say "be back at 12:21".

A lot of the time you'll get a count-down timer at an arbitrary place during a break. However, if you have an accurate count-down timer whenever doors are open, people can better plan their break time. They know how much time they have. They know, if they peek back in the room, that they have to hustle back to their seats, and this consistency also trains them to watch the on-screen timers and anticipate the start of the event.

4. Rely on rituals and cues

Doing the same thing, over and over, consistently will create rituals at your event that let your audience know what is expected of them--this includes coming in and sitting down on time.

There is a term in the industry for an opening video--it's called the "sit down, shut up" (or SDSU) video. When that video starts, the lights go down, and everyone KNOWS that the event is beginning. It also gives them a few moments to settle, but without continuing on conversations.

This doesn't have to be JUST for the opening--you can play the same video (or variations) after every break, returning from meals, and at the beginning of every day.

Music is also an extremely effective way to get your audience in their seats. Making conscious choices about music during breaks makes the absence of music very notable when it's time for the event to start. The lights dim/brighten, the music stops, the first presenter or emcee is announced, or the SDSU video plays. These are all cues that get your audiences back to their positions and ready to begin.

5. Create a culture of on-time

Set the expectation at the beginning of the event that everyone will be in their seats on-time. Too often this is something that is assumed, and audiences will feel that it's flexible (especially if it has been in the past). The event is a mutual investment--the company is investing time and money, and the audience is also investing their time; to be respectful of everyone and to get the most out of the investment, there needs to be an on-time culture.

If you're concerned about this seeming patronizing, have the audience set their OWN rules for a successful event (and we promise, this will come up).

Give them 5 minutes at their tables or seats to brainstorm, as a group, a list of guidelines that everyone should abide by.

Common things that come up when we do this:

  • Turn off cell phones
  • Be back from breaks on time
  • Be open to new ideas
  • Utilize networking time
  • Etc.


A peer-generated set of event guidelines that everyone makes a commitment to follow can be more powerful than rules handed down from on-high, but it makes a difference to (bare minimum) frame the expectations clearly.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Manipulating Multiple Choice Questions for Better Information Retention

When making game show questions for a game show in a large event, many of our clients don't think much about the effect of the question in context. Questions--even multiple choice questions--can be utilized to manipulate the audiences' perception about a product or piece of information in interesting ways.

A few examples:

Let's say you have a new product introduction, and you want to design a question around the price of that new product. Which of the following questions makes it seem like that product is VALUE-priced?

1. The price of our new XtremeWidget2000 is:
A. $2
B. $11
C. $15
D. $27

OR

2. The price of our new XtremeWidget2000 is: 
A. $27
B. $32
C. $48
D. $122

Though these examples are exaggerated, the former makes it sound like the product is at a premium price and the latter makes it sound value-priced.

Other factors also affect the perception of the answers; having a huge gap between values can signal "we're priced way above/below what you'd expect". It can make a question much easier.

The price of our new XtremeWidget2000 is: 
A. $2
B. $27
C. $76
D. $122

The same perception manipulation can apply to chronology. By considering the distractor answers, one can make it seem like something is very fresh and new, or has happened a long(er) time ago.

Should you put the values in order with questions like these? 

It depends.

A question where answer options are totally randomized adds a level of difficulty--but it doesn't actually add information difficulty--the difficulty lies within the brain first having to order the options, then choosing.

The price of our new XtremeWidget2000 is: 
A. $122
B. $32
C. $27
D. $48

It also removes some of the psychological impact of price perception. Taking it out of context also removes some of the stickiness of the information. So if you really want people to remember that your XtremeWidget2000 is $27--and that's a value price compared to ApatheticWidget1000--putting the answer options in order will help your audience retain that crucial piece of information.

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.