These days the seamless coordination of an event with its entertainment is as carefully orchestrated as a successful Match.com date. Akin to assembling a puzzle from an assortment of such fundamental pieces as location and budget — as opposed to sharing one’s favorite rainy-day pursuit — practice indeed makes this meeting planning challenge perfect. So, follow us through a collection of tips given by pros who have a triumphant track record in the arena of amusement.
“If you can, it is always important to your event to include some sort of entertainment,” states Jessica Rienecker, CMM, CTA, CTP, HMCC, meeting sales director, Pacific Northwest region, Visit Anaheim.
“Matching the entertainment to the setting and the crowd is key,” continues Rienecker “because the audience’s reaction to the entertainment will make or break your event.” Catering to the group’s needs is a principle to which she adheres. As a meeting planner, consider what you want the group to achieve during the event. Define the event. Is it a celebration, a training session, a networking opportunity? Then ask: “How can I weave the entertainment into that goal?”
“Do you want guests to engage with each other?” queries the meetings specialist. She shares that if you are having a networking event, loud music not only will interrupt conversations but cause guests to move away from the entertainment itself. Her advice: “Choose a volume, style and pace of entertainment that matches your event’s goals and the vibe you are looking to achieve.” If you want guests to interact with the entertainment, consider options beyond musicians — such as a comedian, mentalist or even an acrobat walking through the crowd. And if there is a dance floor, keep it near the music so there is a connection between the performance and the audience.
With respect to budget, Rienecker’s advice is simple: “More budget doesn’t always equal better.” She suggests a unique two-piece band or a solo singer during dinner as opposed to a five-piece band playing music that may not resonate with the crowd. An additional cost-saving measure is to seek entertainers who will be performing in the area during the same week — saving on travel expenditures.
The audience’s reaction to the entertainment is key, says Rienecker. She cites an event with a small budget that selected a celebrity impersonator with a tie to the theme. However, the impersonator bore no likeness to the celebrity and left attendees wondering who the stranger was wandering around in costume — doing more harm than good.
With a larger budget, attention to detail can make the difference. Rienecker illustrates this advice with her mention of a minor but significant embellishment a planner can add if the entertainment is an ‘80s band — pass out fingerless gloves and inflatable guitars to encourage crowd participation.
A word of caution regarding F&B is to not let its setup detract from the entertainment. Example: A great buffet or a bar that keeps everyone turned away from the stage not only will distract your performer but also may divert the audience’s attention from the show.
Generate pre-event meeting interest by revealing the entertainment in advance, suggests Rienecker. “Every year, Blizzard Entertainment produces BlizzCon at the Anaheim Convention Center. One way they create buzz is to announce a musical act in the weeks leading up to the program to build excitement.” Past performers include blink-182, Metallica, and this year, Muse will be taking the stage.
“Entertainment, like venues, should be unique, memorable and ‘insta-worthy,’ concludes Rienecker. “The most standout entertainment moments are ones that beckon to be shared on social media.” Looking ahead, the meetings specialist expects to see virtual reality and augmented reality entertainment coming online more and more.
“The perfect entertainment choice adds excitement to the event and creates emotionally charged moments for attendees,” concurs Kris Young, director of speakers and entertainment with Bishop-McCann — a noted expert in suggesting and sourcing speakers and entertainment.
Young’s advice is basic: “Know your audience, not just the demographics, but also how they respond and what they like.” Get answers to an assortment of questions. Do they like to observe? Do they love a party and like to dance? Are they from all over the country or regionally based? Is this an international audience? Is the audience mostly men (or women)? Are guests invited or is the event only for employees or conference attendees?
Speaking from 25 years of insider experience, Young’s budget guidance is multifold. Make sure you have all associated costs estimated up front. Get your production company involved before you place a firm offer. Ask that your technical director and producer speak to the talent’s production manager once it is booked, ensuring there are no onsite surprises and to guarantee the best show possible. Also, make certain it is possible to produce the show in the event space you have, referencing the hypothetical possibility of the Peking Acrobats flying midair and almost hitting the ceiling due to the room’s lower ceiling height. “Give the act what they need to perform at their best,” summates the entertainment expert.
“Who is the ultimate decision-maker, who are we trying to please? This is a tough question, but one that needs to be asked,” says Young. Get an answer to this query: When all is said and done, is it the audience you want to blow away or does it matter more that you please the person who is writing the check (or giving consent to pay for the act)?
What goes into submitting a good offer for event entertainment? “It’s very important to thoroughly qualify the buyer and event before submitting a firm offer to the talent. This actually protects all parties and involves educating decision-makers with respect to the offer’s legal ramifications,” shares the Bishop-McCann pro. It’s vital to note that once the artist accepts, the buyer may not cancel without penalty (typically 50 percent of the artist’s fee, but can be as high as 100 percent).
Young gives insight into constructing an offer. She suggests working with someone who has experience negotiating and managing the entire process regarding the venue (from the offer and contract to the advancement of a rider and onsite management). “Their experience will save you money and minimize your risks and headaches,” she states. Additional considerations include whether the venue has a curfew, expected show billing (an important detail with multiple performers) and if a meet-and-greet is expected (if so, does it include photos, autographs and for how many people?). Though the situation is rare, it’s important to prepare for an artist’s cancellation by including an extended artist “out” clause. This details the number of pre-event days that the entertainer can opt out, giving you time to find a replacement (in most cases, it’s possible to stretch the out clause to 60 or even 90 days). She suggests always having a second and third choice as your emergency backup (checking from time to time to see if they’re still available). Final advice: “It’s important to put everything into the firm offer, as you are less likely to get a ‘yes’ once the offer is accepted. At that point, your request will be considered an optional add-on.”
Regardless of dotting all of the contract’s “i’s” and crossing its “t’s,” a good match is critical. “A poor entertainment choice is one that doesn’t surprise or delight the audience. If your entertainment isn’t exciting, is it entertainment? Nope. It’s a waste of money,” Young states emphatically.
Speaking of money, there’s the “b” word — budgets. “Nobody likes them. Everybody has them,” says Young. She insists that meeting planners don’t have to spend a lot of money to have great entertainment and a knockout event as many of the best acts are not the biggest names. Her suggestions: Preview on-their-way-up artists and consider established entertainers who continue to perform regularly, such as the rock band Foreigner and American blues musician Keb’ Mo’.
On the flip side of this coin, and when dealing with a generous budget, the buyer expects what Young terms the “Triple Wow!” Definition: Attendees say “Wow!” when they hear who is performing. Attendees say “Wow!” during the performance. And after the event they say “Wow, you’ll never believe who I got to see!”
Among Young’s “Triple Wow!” entertainment choices are such notables as Katy Perry, Lionel Richie, Kelly Clarkson — and the Neon Trees: “Imagine being surrounded by dark, eerie prison cells on the island of Alcatraz,” she says. “The band enters the stage dressed in prison stripes! The Trees rocked the ‘house’ that night! Talk about talent being present for an audience (audience composition: store managers, salespeople and service personnel in their 20s and 30s). It doesn’t get any better than that.”
In addressing today’s trends, Young remembers when the only available entertainment was Huey Lewis & The News and very few others because most artists didn’t want to perform for corporate or association events. “Things couldn’t be more different today. We’ve also got ‘The Voice,’ ‘American Idol,’ ‘America’s Got Talent,’ ‘Dancing with the Stars’ and more from which to draw.” Referring to country music and country crossover music, she says, “It’s everywhere. It’s the new rock and roll. And there are so many excellent young artists. It’s a very exciting time in entertainment!”
A favorite event entertainment experience of April Ferguson, CMP, CMM, senior event logistics manager with BCD Meetings & Events, a full-service, global meetings and events agency, involves a Broadway actress and an executive-level occasion. “With a goal to promote diversity and inclusion in the corporate sector, the closing keynote speaker was Ali Stroker, a 20-something up-and-coming star, who happens to be in a wheelchair,” says the event manager. After sharing her inspiring journey, Stroker ended by singing a song from “Wicked.” Bottom line: “Her personal life story fit right in with the event’s overall theme and purpose.”
In contrast, the planner details a small annual event held several years ago for another organization at North Carolina’s historic Omni Grove Park Inn. Though the venue was a rustic, mountain-themed lodge, the company committee insisted that it be paired with a futuristic and space-age theme, including an indoor laser light show during the closing dinner — all against her advice. The result: Midway into the light show, board members insisted it end early, reconfirming Ferguson’s instincts.
Additional tips from pros are to use caution when going the comedy route. Translation: no off-color jokes and when “roasting” company executives, make certain it is appropriate for the industry and audience.
“Well beyond traditional” best describes today’s entertainment. Industrial Rhythm — a corporate entertainment company specializing in high-energy performances for meetings, trade shows and conferences — has such clients as Coca-Cola, Nike and AT&T. Described as similar to off-Broadway shows such as “Stomp” and “Bring in Da Funk,” the six-member cast (can be as many as 12) use common items such as brooms, briefcases, pill boxes, etc., for musical instruments. The lively results can and have doubled for high-energy conference kickoffs, CEO/speaker introductions, teambuilding exercises and audience participation segments.
Scattered throughout the U.S. in an assortment of such cities as Las Vegas and Orlando, Blue Man Group — a three-man imaginative performance troupe — appeals to planners for their creative ability to encourage, revitalize, stimulate and amuse groups. Performed without using spoken language, the blue-toned trio’s show has been described “perfect for diverse and eclectic groups of all ages, languages and cultures.”
Tom Deluca, coined “the corporate hypnotist,” is said to be an effective balance of entertainment and meaningful content — a performer who creates group camaraderie through his signature combo of humor, interaction and imagination.
More alternative options can be to incorporate a spa break, sports outing (from a participatory golf tournament and attending a major league baseball game to a day at the thoroughbred races or a NASCAR motor speedway event), cruise excursion or culinary arts show (a live cooking or mixology demo by a noted chef or mixologist).
Ferguson has paired many groups with assorted cooking competitions. “The more competitive groups prefer a cook-off of judged items, whereas other groups seek a hosted cooking class where they are coached through the preparation of a full meal by a professional chef.”
And for family-focused events, Ferguson has brought in local vendors to set up bounce houses, batting cages and other fun activities for attendees and their guests of all ages.
In conclusion, Ferguson says: “I think entertainment is important. If people have been sitting for days in meetings, they need time to relax and have fun. Incorporating entertainment into your event is a way to do that and still keep them engaged.” C&IT