Food, whether by presentation or by cooking classes and demonstrations, has long entertained attendees.
Question: What single element in a corporate or incentive event can best transform it from ordinary to extraordinary? If your answer is entertainment, you’re correct, so keep reading for insight from the experts.
“The demographic of the attendees is always what I think of first when it comes to entertainment,” says Jaclyn Trainor, CIS, associate program manager with Bishop-McCann, a specialist in the production of national and international meetings, incentive programs and events.
She asks, “Who are my stakeholders in this event? What are my clients and their executive team comfortable with, and can we push them outside their comfort zone to create a great experience for the overall demographic? Or can we do something they’ve never seen before?”
“Most events are boring,” says Dr. Elliott B. Jaffa, a behavioral and marketing psychologist, principal of Dr. Elliott B. Jaffa Associates. “Try to ensure your event is not.” To do that, consider the audience’s age. For a mature audience, for example, the doctor suggests hiring an oldie singer; but, rather than having them sing, have them tell stories about people with whom they’ve worked. His suggestion: Kenny Vance, founder of Jay and the Americans, who was also the musical director for Saturday Night Live and whose wealth of knowledge on the early days of rock and roll is beyond entertaining.
“For meetings with heavy-duty business content that last several days, entertainment can be an excellent way to alleviate the intensity of a hard-hitting business agenda,” says Rich Gibbons, president of Speak Inc. He elaborates that utilizing a humorous emcee, as well as a late afternoon or evening entertainer, can help break up intense sessions and allow attendees a chance to regroup and better focus.
Consider Your Budget
Trainor says the next step after considering the demographic of attendees is considering your budget. She asks, “What can we afford — big name entertainment or a great interactive DJ with atmospheric entertainment to enhance the experience?”
Although budgets always drive the level of entertainment, Trainor says you can get great performers at every monetary level. Thus, while tighter budgets may be best served with local talent, more generous ones tend to be a lot trickier. “You have their tech rider, personal rider, travel, entourage, meet and greets, etc. Then you must dedicate a team from your side to handle the big name, so ensuring that your staffing is properly equipped to deal with big name entertainment is a key factor, too,” she says.
One of Trainor’s more innovative methods of entertaining involved video mapping and the utilization of travel images projected onto the walls and ceiling of an all-white room — a three-course adventure that ‘transported’ the group to Spain with appetizers, Italy with the main course and France with dessert. Conceived for a recognition program in Miami and paired with food, music and atmospheric performers, talent included Flamenco dancers to represent Spain, LED ballerinas for France and an aerialist during the Italy portion. Even the wait staff participated by first wearing Spanish-style hats and red kerchiefs, then Italian-inspired chef toques and aprons and ending with berets.
She says, “Audience is everything. They are the ones we work so hard for and if the audience doesn’t have a good time, then we didn’t do right by them.” To best appeal to your audience, she suggests starting the celebration at the curb with such embellishments as a living champagne wall or even using a graffiti artist as she did to add edge to a corporate incentive trip in New Orleans. “At the end of the event, it’s always about how they feel.”
F&B Also Entertains
Food can be entertainment too. “We work with people who are foodies,” says Melissa K. Land, director of sales and marketing with Table Topics, a custom tabletop manufacturer for the hospitality industry headquartered in Elberta, Alabama. “They are about the food and anticipate great food with great wine. Their expectations are high, and we always want to exceed them.”
Explaining the selection of Perdido Beach Resort on Alabama’s Gulf Coast for the company’s National Rep Meeting, Land says, “With so many of our manufacturer reps from land-locked, cold weather states, this region’s climate and views play a huge part in giving them the ‘wow’ factor.” She adds that this property is a customer and that Table Topics likes to promote resorts/facilities that have purchased their product. “We knew that Voyagers, the resort’s restaurant committed to authentic Gulf Shores cuisine, was operated by Chef Brody Olive, an award-winner, and we love what he does with ingredients. Plus, he likes to use local vendors like Sweet Home Cheese Farm, which was used in many of our appetizers,” she says, adding, “We also wanted a venue with an onsite restaurant and bar to ensure they didn’t have to leave because, to be honest, it is like herding cats to get them all back to the same location on time.”
Beth Gendler, CMP, CDME, vice president of sales at Gulf Shores & Orange Beach Tourism, concurs with Land’s commitment to the F&B scene. “The best way to help attendees truly immerse into the destination is by incorporating local food and beverage tastings into their experience,” she says. Among this Alabama area’s renowned venues are Big Beach Brewing Co. and the Flora-Bama lounge. The destination’s only brewery, Big Beach serves up the opportunity for craft beer and food pairing dinners with a local chef, as well as trivia night team-building opportunities. Flora-Bama, a legendary beachside honky-tonk complex that straddles the Florida-Alabama border, has multiple bars and five live music stages.
Considered one of the last American roadhouses, its food and beverage offerings range from crispy dill pickles, fresh oysters and deep-fried Twinkies to its signature Bushwacker drink. But in addition to its food and venue appeal, Gendler urges planners to capitalize on the region’s greatest assets — its beach and water.
The Grand Ole Opry — an institution in Nashville — continues to entertain attendees who visit that destination.
Big Name or Not?
Regarding celebrity versus lower-profile talent, Gibbons, who is a specialist in speaker entertainment, thinks that if the audience’s attendance is obligatory or a given, incredibly talented performers with no celebrity sizzle typically blow the spectators away. “In this dynamic, modest expectations at the outset are wildly exceeded, leaving the audience pleasantly surprised and delighted. The warning, however, is that the exact opposite frequently happens with big-name celebrities as outsized expectations can be challenging to meet.”
Jordan Langer, president and founder of Non Plus Ultra, a company that manages and operates such San Francisco Bay Area event space venues as The San Francisco Mint and The Palace of Fine Arts, adds, “In my experience, working with celebrities or influencers can often be a poor choice as it may not be a good value.” He says that not only do large performers typically demand big fees, but that their production and riders are also massive investments. “In the Bay Area, people typically like to work with local artists, so sometimes the less-famous person will actually bring in a bigger crowd and a much more positive vibe to the event.”
Trainor adds that some of her favorite and most well-received entertainment choices have been the most unexpected, citing the example of getting a local music legend to perform for a gathering of incentive attendees in Hawaii. “No one knew him by name but, as soon as he started to play, the entire room was electrified, and the attendees were glued to him more than I’ve seen for even big-name entertainment,” she says.
The exception to this non-famous person rule might be the keynote speaker booked for the annual meeting of a corporate tech company coordinated by Cindy Y. Lo, DMCP, owner and chief event strategist of Red Velvet Events Inc. Set on having an A-List celebrity, the company’s selection process was guided by Red Velvet’s Lo and Extraordinary Events, a Los Angeles-based event management company. While the tech company was pretty committed to having a high-profile speaker, she realized two things when digging further and asking the purpose of the keynote:
1) They were using the keynote’s fame to help secure a sold-out conference and 2) They wanted an inspirational message. “By coincidence, this was the last year the Obamas were in the White House, so I went out on a limb and suggested Michelle Obama. I had to preface that she was not within their initial budget and asked how open they were to a budget increase. The other caveat was that Mrs. Obama was not accepting public speaking engagements at that time. So, we took our turn — it was like buying a house for the first time in a hot market. Extraordinary Events suggested that our client’s executive team write a letter detailing why we wanted her as the keynote and then to wait patiently. She accepted our offer and, to this day, I can honestly say this was one of the best keynotes our team has been involved in securing,” Lo says.
Regarding the pocketbook, Lo underscores that budgeting is not simply the cost of the entertainment. “It’s all the costs associated with the entertainment. Do we need an extra generator? Do we need special back-up dancers? Do we need distinctive lighting? Unique staging? Additional green rooms?” Her advice: If you’re on a budget don’t bring in a celebrity; get creative and think about options. She adds that you should not hire a celebrity without asking if they’ve done a similar job before because not all celebrities are created equal, and you don’t want to end up losing your client or job over a mismatch.
Set Clear Goals
Shannon Byck, CMP, managing partner, and Lynne Coyne, CMP, CITP, manager, event services — both with Intuitive Conferences + Events, a full-service meeting, conference and incentive travel planning company — list their top five entertainment considerations in order of importance:
1) Event goals and objectives — What are the clients trying to achieve with this particular portion of the event and how does that fit into the overall objectives of the meeting/conference? “When we have our planning meetings with clients, we always get them to think about the components of the event and that they’re not doing it ‘just because.’ We get them to think about the fit and purpose of each element to ensure it fits the overall big picture.”
2) Fit for the client — When brainstorming ideas for social events, the Intuitive team suggests you stop and assess who is the audience, what is the company mandate and will the entertainment reflect this. “We once booked a musical duo for an annual conference that was entertaining but was not a fit for the group as the attendees were looking to dance. The entertainment did not lend itself to joining in, so all sat during the entire evening or left early. This taught us the importance of matching the entertainment to the client.”
3) Budget — There are entertainment choices for all financial spectrums. The important step is ensuring you know your budget parameters before presenting options to guarantee you and your client/executive team are on the same page. When looking at cost-effective possibilities and working on a lean budget, you can consider such options as an interactive DJ or even put attendees in the spotlight with karaoke. Whereas, with more flexibility you can contemplate trendy items that can be customized and are exclusive.
4) Theme — Is there an overriding event theme that entertainment can support? And, if so, consider using taglines.
5) Past experiences — “We’re always looking to showcase something new and unique. The end goal is to provide them with experiences and entertainment choices they have not had before.” They suggest looking at what has already been done and what types of entertainment they liked and did not like.
“We cannot say enough about immersive experiences being a current trend in event entertainment and all aspects of event design,” concludes Byck and Coyne. “Outside of the box is becoming the norm, and planning events can really keep you on your toes in the attempt to ensure each social event is better than the last.” C&IT