That’s Entertainment!January 1, 2015

Using Performers to Inspire Performance By
January 1, 2015

That’s Entertainment!

Using Performers to Inspire Performance
Magician and event producer David Thomas’ Shows in a Box customizes entertaining stage shows for corporate groups. Credit: David Thomas/Shows in a Box

Magician and event producer David Thomas’ Shows in a Box customizes entertaining stage shows for corporate groups.

It’s no secret that people love to be entertained, but when that entertainment can be used to further a company’s goals, everyone wins, including the planner.

When the officials at LPL Financial wanted the trade show at its Focus 2014 conference at the San Diego Convention Center to be a little more innovative and to drive more traffic, LPL’s vice president of conference services, Cheryl Trinidad, rose to the challenge. The San Diego native came up with an innovative block party concept that recreated six iconic San Diego neighborhoods that were staged throughout the trade show floor.

“I love the block party concept with different bands and different foods and kind of a community feel,” she explains, “and I thought, ‘why don’t we recreate that on the convention floor?’ We have nine or 10 full-time planners on our event planning team, and we rebranded ourselves as ‘Client Experience,’ so it’s all about engagement. Certain people on our team are in charge of certain aspects. I was in charge of overall concept and strategy.” The six San Diego neighborhoods she chose to portray were Coronado, Balboa Park, Old Town, La Jolla, Little Italy and Ocean Beach.

“We have a person on our team who knows entertainment,” Trinidad continues. “She’ll either work with a DMC directly, or she’ll have connections in the entertainment industry. We’re trying to showcase local talent. It’s all about San Diego, the food, the culture, the entertainment. We wanted to show the San Diego hospitality and showcase our six neighborhoods and hope (the attendees) would come back.”

Trinidad shared a few examples of how the neighborhoods worked. “Corona­do has a big military influence, so we wanted to showcase our veterans and our tie to our country, so in Coronado, for example, it was all Americana. We had red, white and blue, we had flags, and we had Americana kind of food like corn on the cob and cotton candy. For our entertainment we chose a local country rock band called the Jonathan Lee Band to showcase that genre of San Diego. Little Italy speaks for itself. We had pizza and cannoli. We had Frank Sinatra/Rat Pack kind of entertainment, and then in Balboa Park, we actually hired some urban street dancers that came in and a deejay, so that showed the cultural influence. We also had some painters come in and paint the iconic Balboa Park building from scratch on a blank canvas. It was really cool.

“For Ocean Beach, we had a singer-songwriter,” she continues. “It was a little more granola and natural, a farmer’s market type (of atmosphere). We have all ages, over 6,000 people attend, so we wanted to make sure that from the kids to those 60 and over, there was something at their pace available.

“It was fun,” she continues. “We had the Padres stilt-walker. I think his name was Stretch. We wanted to give tribute to the Padres. We had face painters and balloon artists, roaming entertainment because I wanted it to be kind of lively. There was entertainment in every single neighborhood, as well as the food. You could only get pizza in Little Italy; you could only get chips and guacamole in Old Town, for example, so it really drove traffic.”

She also noted that it was a group effort. “In order to make this neighborhood concept work, I needed everyone to be uniform. Even the booths looked like storefronts with awnings. It was a really big paradigm shift. I didn’t make every exhibitor or sponsor do it, but I created this package with GES, our exhibitor services company, and said, ‘We want it to look like a neighborhood.’ I think probably 60 percent of the exhibitors bought into it and they loved it.”

The block party concept also helped with logistics on the trade show floor. “It was easier to navigate,” Trinidad says. “If someone was looking for a specific sponsor, we could say ‘Go to La Jolla,’ and it was a smaller space to navigate. There were maybe 20 booths in the neighborhood.”

The block party was a hit with attendees and exhibitors alike. “It was a three-hour event,” Trinidad notes. “Our sponsors came up to me and said ‘We’ve never had so much traffic during this reception before, and I got 100 more leads than I probably would have had if it wasn’t for this (event).’ ”

“Our sponsors came up to me and said ‘We’ve never had so much traffic during this reception before, and I got 100 more leads than I probably would have had if it wasn’t for this (event).’ ” — Cheryl Trinidad

Trinidad explains that LPL is big on client feedback, so they’ll wait for the hardcore data to come in before they decide if they will repeat the block party concept at next year’s conference in Boston. But she says that the anecdotal feedback was very strong. “I think it was a good experiment and I think it was successful,” she states. As a result, she’s already thinking about other ways she could use the block party concept, including the possibility of showcasing regions of the U.S. or the world instead of a single city.

Active Engagement

Scottsdale Insurance Company, head­quartered in Scottsdale, Arizona, includes a variety of entertainment options into its events in order to create memorable experiences for attendees and to deepen its relationships with its customers. The company’s recent “Family Reunion ’14 Underwriting Con­­­ference” was no exception.

The program was held at the Scott­sdale Resort & Conference Center in two waves of 450–500 people each. Events Consultant Cindi Brown described a creative way that the company incorporated a local comedy improv troupe called the Jester’Z into the program.

“It was a blast,” she says. “Their troupe is fantastic. We love using local talent.” She explains how the program worked. “For the first day of every conference, we pull everybody into a huge assembly hall and we have an opening session. That’s when our president and all of our leaders get up and speak. During this particular opening session, we had prearranged for the members of the Jester’Z to be scattered randomly among the audience. Nobody would know who they were. At one point, our V.P. of marketing is up covering some housekeeping items. All of a sudden a phone rang. Everybody looks around (in disbelief). Of course, it was one of the Jester’Z. Then another one of the Jester’Z across the room says ‘Turn it off!’ Then another cellphone goes off.” She explains that this situation repeated until all four members of the troupe suddenly stood up and started singing a parody of the Bonnie Tyler song, “Total Eclipse of the Heart,” only this one used the lyrics “Turn it Off” instead of “Turn Around.” “It was all about social media and how people are glued to their phones, and it was so funny! They all stood up singing the song, and they went to the front and went onto the stage. It was fantastic. The room just broke apart!”

After dinner, the group had a choice of going to see the Jester’Z perform again, playing casino games, dancing to a dance band or listening to a singing cowboy in a lounge area outdoors. Or, they could opt to make a music video. “Dance Heads was one of the most popular things,” Brown explains. “It’s hysterical. There are typically three little dancers in the video that are singing and dancing. The participants will sit down, and they have a green blanket wrapped around them with a green screen behind them, and you can choose the song you want to do. You sit there and lip-sync to the song with two of your buddies, and you’re bobbing your head. The woman brought in two recording areas, having both of them running simultaneously. She had these big screens on the back, so as people are being recorded it’s being shown up on the big screen, and it’s the funniest thing. Each of them gets a DVD. You can watch it on TV.” She adds that sometimes, even more people would crash the performance, resulting in a few extra “disembodied heads” floating around in the video, which made it even funnier.

She commented that people also love the casino games because they can earn tickets to enter into a raffle for prizes. “If we didn’t have it, we would hear about it!”

Matching the Message

David Thomas, chief executive producer for the Oklahoma City-based company Shows in a Box, is an Emmy Award-winning event producer who has been in the business for more than 20 years. His company offers full-service entertainment planning. “With the economy uptick, the corporate environment seems to be energized and doing incentive and general session work,” he explains. “There are two types of entertainment. One is entertainment just for entertainment’s sake, and that’s usually after a dinner or during a cocktail hour. Then the thing that we as a company do is mainly general session work. Usually, at (the company’s) big opening kick-off, entertainment is utilized to help reinforce their message, whatever that may be. It’s a way to draw attention to the stage through the use of entertainment, video content and audio. If you do entertainment in the general session, and it’s strategically created to reinforce what (the company is) trying to do, then it really works.”

Thomas says that one way to accomplish this goal is by creating an illusion where the master of ceremonies or VIP is “magically” produced on stage. “This is where the VIP would bring (the message) in by saying, ‘What you just saw was an illusionist doing what seems to be the impossible, but every day, folks, we ask you to do the impossible. We ask you to not only balance your family life but balance all of the things that have happened with the company. It’s a situation where you’re doing the impossible because you’re stepping up and creating real magic in our world.’ Magic in the corporate world translates into stronger sales or stronger profits, hitting their goals or numbers,” he adds.

One of his clients, a Fortune 500 company, recently had a theme of “transformation.” They were transforming the way they did business. “Trans­formation” was their buzz word. In that situation, we opened with a magic illusion and one thing was transformed into another.” He says he’s also used Cirque-style performers to communicate the same message. “It’s just using their key buzzwords. They usually have one main point that they’re trying to really build their whole conference about.”

Projecting the Vision

Dorene Collier, owner and president of Event Show Productions (ESP) based in Tampa, shared her perspective on today’s corporate market. “Audiences are getting more savvy and more technologically advanced, and the typical song and dance and feel good type of entertainment, although still good, needs to be married with technology to keep the interest of the people in the audience. The baby boomers and CEOs are now transitioning into retirement and Generation X is moving into their positions and the Zs and whoever else are being the audience members. So if you notice how entertainment has been through the years and the way our culture is, people’s attention spans are so short that you really have to capture them right away. That’s why I feel that you really have to try to find that line where you still get the message across and get the heart of the message to somebody. But you also have to do it in a medium that they will respond to and quickly, because you’ll lose their attention very fast.”

To fill this need, Collier and ESP’s technical director A.J. LeBlanc spent two years researching and creating an innovative entertainment product called Tell-a-Vision, which they debuted on the TV show “America’s Got Talent” last year as a way of test-marketing the concept. Tell-a-Vision is described as “a moving story book using wireless technology incorporating video screens joined with live performers, thus to ‘tell a vision.’ ” Samples of the concept can be seen at and on YouTube.

“A lot of corporate planners really are intrigued with this,” she continues. “We just did a show in Orlando and the president, the CEO of the company, came on and said, ‘This is the most innovative opener we’ve ever had.’ ”

Tell-a-Vision productions utilize anywhere from six to 18 wireless video screens that the dancers hold. The monitors change throughout the performance to project the company’s message. According to Collier, ESP has several stock versions that can be modified by adding the corporate logo to the beginning and end. These can be produced in about a week’s time, and a completely customized performance requires about one month of production time.

That’s Entertainment

Sometimes, entertainment is designed to simply entertain the group, possibly at an awards dinner or other event. Thomas says there are many options available for this type of entertainment. “There’s name entertainment, bands or artists that have name recognition. Once you get into name entertainment, the budget kind of skyrockets, of course. You go to the ‘A’ acts and the sky’s the limit. Personally, we do a lot of our shows called ‘Tribute to the Stars,’ which is done by tribute artists. We’re able to provide top-notch quality entertainment that is much more moderately priced than bringing in a star.” “Tribute to the Stars” features performers who pay tribute to Prince, Madonna, Elvis and other stars and are backed by a team of dancers.

Shows in a Box also produces other types of shows. They offer an “Industrial Movement” show for groups that like the performance styles of Stomp, Tap Dogs or the Blue Man Group. The company also offers Cirque-style entertainment, Chinese acrobats, and a variety of options for a show called “The World of Magic,” which is performed by Thomas himself who is a master magician.

Entertainment Works

Whether they’re used to communicate a corporate message or deployed as a means to encourage camaraderie and teambuilding, the right entertainment choices can have a powerful impact on an event. Plus, they can have an added benefit. As Brown of Scottsdale Insurance says, “People love our meetings!”  I&FMM

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