From musicians to magicians, the type of chosen entertainment for an association meeting or event can leave a memorable impression on attendees. That’s why, with a solid level of due diligence combined with a keen understanding of today’s entertainment trends, planners can develop an entertainment lineup that truly wows.
According to Amy Grace Collins, event planner and owner of Amy Grace Events, the meetings and events industry is focused on experiential-driven events. To keep event attendees fully immersed, planners should be seeking the best entertainment, not only in the standard personal entertainment, such as performers and comedians, but with food-forward events. “People want aspects of their conferences and corporate meetings to be noteworthy,” Collins says. “It can many times drive attendees to sign up and commit based on the fun they are about to have.”
Karma O’Neill, owner and event planner at KO Events, says attendees have many events to choose from as we move out of pandemic isolation and restrictions. She finds it more important than ever to offer guests a unique experience and a reason to attend. “Whether it be a live band, magician/mentalist, interactive DJ or a fun game, events are turning from screen time to a way to get people to attend, meet others and encourage friends and co-workers to attend along with them,” O’Neill says.
Cindy Y. Lo, CEO of RED VELVET, has always educated her clients that, with a strategic plan and with enough advance notice, they can use their choice of entertainment as a way to teach attendees what it is about the organization, product or service that leaves lasting impressions. “Don’t just view entertainment as a filler,” Lo says. What I’m personally seeing attendees ask for are ways for to be entertained. Long gone are the days where you can have a well-spoken master of ceremonies on stage to keep the audience engaged. Sometimes, you have to budget for a bit more to either bring a named talent or someone that they have never had the pleasure of hearing from outside of social media or on TV. Attendees still want the ‘never-can-buy’ moment — what that means is, you’re giving them something they can’t easily buy through a third-party company or find via Google.”
According to Megan Bendtzen, consultant, speaker and fun specialist at TheDoctorofFun.com, now that we are finally able to gather again, conferences are coming back in full force, and people are excited to come together. To capture the energy and make a lasting impact on people, spend some time finding the right fit, someone that can evoke feeling in the entertainment, or it will be just another forgotten meeting. “When you think about the best conference or event you’ve ever attended, you probably don’t remember it for the color of the linens, the food, the giveaways or probably not even much of what was taught,” Bendtzen says. “As Maya Angelou said, ‘People will forget what you said and forget what you did, but they will never forget how you made them feel.’” She adds, “Whether an attendee by choice or by force, most hope for more than just education. Maybe they’re looking for motivation or inspiration, perhaps they need a recharge or they’re looking to connect with others. But at the root of it all, they’re looking to have some fun.”
Secretly, every attendee hopes the event can double as a mini vacation. And why not? As Bendtzen points out, it is proven that when people are having fun, they are more engaged, they have more energy, they are more productive, retention goes up and stress goes down. Everything they’re hoping to get out of it is much easier to achieve. And remember, today’s meeting and event attendees don’t want to sit for hours as speaker after speaker comes forward and presents to them. “They have spent the last two years in front of their screens being talked to, not getting to do the mix and mingle,” O’Neill says. “Attendees want human contact and to be entertained — whether it be with the food, music or other entertainment.”
Indeed, today’s attendees want to be a part of the event. Interactive activities such as cooking classes, team building, opportunities to learn a new dance, or learn about innovative new ways to build business by actively being involved, are the best ways to get attendees motivated to come out of their houses and from in front of their screens. “Decide on your event and what you want attendees to get out of the experience. Is there a theme? An opportunity to draw new people to the event?” O’Neill says. “Think outside the box. When the pandemic hit, we were forced to move everything online or cancel completely. For some, this was business breaking, others thrived. Look for ways to attract people to your event.”
Collins adds that attendees want something different; they want to be wowed. That’s why she recommends planners consider food experiential entertainment. “Fusion food is where it’s at. Interactive food stations, chef tables,” Collins says. “It can double not only as the meal provided, but as a source of entertainment and a total wow factor.”
Another way to getting audience engagement and participation is with a customized game show. “People want interaction and hands-on experiences. The same goes for the entertainment. If they’re going to spend the money on travel and meals and registration fees, give them something they can’t experience from their laptop. Planners can easily implement a game show using a free template found online, creating one of their own or bringing in a professional to host it,” Bendtzen says.
Game shows can even be used to deliver breakout-session topics in a more engaging way. Bendtzen says planners can amplify this concept another notch by using a fun theme to create an ongoing “game” that carries throughout the event, such as solving a mystery, participating in a scavenger hunt, or keeping the game show idea going in a different capacity. This takes attendee engagement to a whole new level that lasts the length of the event, not just during the entertainment portion.
People also like a “pick-their-own-adventure” event. Looking to feel “normal” again? They can attend the pre-pandemic way — i.e. a mosh pit, close networking events, etc. Looking for the “new normal?” Create small vignettes or spaces between assigned seating, sanitization stations and masking options. If possible, try and accommodate both types of people at the same event, those who are drawn to COVID-safe activities with social distancing and those who are not. Create zones of comfort styles, which establishes the feeling of inclusivity while accommodating attendees’ needs.
According to Lori Dolan, event specialist at Events From Lori, you have to match the right type of entertainment to the group and pay attention to timelines. You certainly don’t want a more-intensive scavenger hunt at the end of a long day of seminars. “But, you might want a great singing group to entertain you over dinner. And that’s why it is vital to have many conversations and details in writing for a very successful event,” Dolan says.
Now that we are getting back to really solid in-person events, Dolan has been approached for entertainment that is not tech related. Let’s face it, while it is great you can work remotely, we are all a little burned out with online meetings and not interacting in a traditional office setting. “Event planners often come to me looking for events and entertainment that offer plenty of real face time. Honestly, some of the attendees are actually meeting each other in person for the first time at my events,” Dolan says. “That’s really a lot of fun, and it adds an even better depth to the interactive nature of my entertainment.”
In the end, people want to feel good when it comes to entertainment — whether it’s singing at the top of their lungs or fully getting their hands immersed in preparing food alongside a world-class chef. “Make it an event they must document on social media. They want to showcase their fun to family and friends and do that in a way that’s instantaneous,” Collins says. “Help them spread the word organically that you’ve planned an event not to miss.”
One mistake to avoid making is booking entertainment that doesn’t fit the theme, or that takes away from attendees interacting. O’Neill recently attended a dinner that didn’t allow for meet-and-greet time, and during dinner they had loud music playing so the attendees could not even have conversations at their tables. “Many guests left early, before the program was over. With events being absent for the past two years, we need to have that human interaction brought back in — time to reacquaint ourselves with each other and start rebuilding relationships,” O’Neill says. “Offer music, entertainment and activities, but also offer opportunities to meet the other attendees, make connections.”
And remember that “newest isn’t always best.” As Collins explains, many attendees want something comfortable. Nostalgia can totally play a heavy hand with what guests what to see. “[Acts such as] ’90s boy bands or ’60s rock are always group favorites. Keep it simple. Epic can still be simple. Epic and complex rarely work together in harmony,” Collins says.
Lo also stresses the importance of not under-budgeting the entertainment line item or postponing it to the very last stage of planning. “This is so important to plan concurrently so that you can even dictate your stage design and flow of the conference on integrating strategically placed entertainment,” Lo says. “And don’t forget, entertainment does not mean it has be a live entertainer. It can also come in the form of clever activations. As an example, at one conference, RED VELVET actually taught real-life skills during the conference breakouts, such as how to change a flat tire. Now, keep in mind this tied back to the overall conference theme because the client wanted practical, useful advice throughout the conference, so we decided that, during every break, not only was there general networking, including food and beverage available, but also a station where someone could choose to learn a new life hack, especially if they didn’t know it before.”
Bendtzen also says it’s important to not decide on the entertainment based on price. “The most expensive doesn’t necessarily mean they’re the best and vice versa,” she says. “Hire your entertainment based on who can best fulfill your needs and help you fulfill your desired outcome.”
• Talk directly to the entertainer. You can tell a lot about what to expect based on how the conversation goes. A good entertainer cares about their audience and wants to knock it out of the park just as much as you want them to. They should ask about your needs, what you’re hoping to accomplish, who the audience consists of — not just talk about how great their act is.
• You don’t always have to use an agency. It might be easier, one-stop shopping, but just because someone refers an agency doesn’t always mean they’re the best choice, and chances are you are overpaying by a significant margin. Not all agencies operate in this way, so do your due diligence.
• If you are not the creative type, don’t be afraid to hire an agency or third-party entertainment specialist — also known as an entertainment broker. And openly share your budget, because they can tell you who they have relationships with and who’s reliable and on theme with your event or conference.
“Yes, you’re paying for an additional service, but it’s so worth it if they are reputable specialist because they will advance your entertainment and make sure your entertainers show up and do the job you expect them to do,” Lo says. “Remember, a lot of entertainers may not be doing their entertainment piece full-time, which means if you are not over-communicating the schedule, load-in logistics, etc., you may find yourself putting out a last-minute fire. Don’t risk the success of your event without surrounding yourself with professionals who do the on-site entertainment every week.”
Do your research and visit entertainers’ websites. Really look through the photos and videos, and if they ask you to contact them about references, do it. “And attend as many MICE and entertainment-buying conferences and conventions as you can,” Dolan says.
And while customization and personalization of entertainment might cost a little more, it can make a huge impact. “If they understand what you do, your customers, your competitors, your challenges and are able to somehow incorporate your business in their act, it becomes relatable,” Bendtzen says. “There is a meaningful connection and it feels very special.”
You want to create a buzz about your event, so create an opportunity for your attendees to help you do that by sharing photographic moments on social media and your conference platform. “Whatever you decide for your event, put in the effort to make a great choice,” Bendtzen says “Fun is a serious business. The fallout from a poorly executed meeting is too damaging and costly to take it lightly. On the other hand, the rewards from an engaging, memorable event are enormous, and there are plenty of great entertainers waiting to make your event a hit.” | AC&F |