Our team sees and hears a lot of speakers each year, so as an added feature to the speaker reviews, we thought it would be fun to ask a crew member his or her thoughts on a speaker. We are going to pick one crew member and ask them to rate the keynote or entertainer on a simple 1-10 scale. We won’t be identifying them by name but will list their position on the crew. This is just another perspective to help identify interesting speakers for your events.
Conducting a Standard Site Survey
When an event planner conducts a site inspection and evaluates a property, they often try to look at the property through the eyes of an event attendee. What does the lobby look like and is it clean? Is the front-of-house staff friendly and attentive? What does a typical guest room look like? Are the rooms, hallways and elevators clean and well maintained?
These observations can offer great insights into how the property functions and can also offer a glimpse into how smoothly a planner’s on-site experience with the hotel staff will be. The lobby, bellmen and guest rooms are the first things an attendee will see.
Conducting a Technical Site Survey
Just as event planners try to recreate the attendee experience on their site visits, our production managers recreate the crews’ first experience too. We start outside at the loading dock, take a trip up the freight elevator and experience the long push through back-of-house, passing around or through the kitchen, down long hallways filled with back-of-house staff and then finally into the ballroom.
By focusing on back-of-house, we get a different perspective and can look at the upcoming event from the viewpoint of our production crew. This extra step usually provides some interesting insights.
We recently completed a show at a property that had the worst back-of-house I have ever seen. The freight elevators were in poor condition, the back-of-house was dirty, storage was disorganized and we were not greeted or acknowledged by any staff we passed along the way.
The entire show was one challenge after another as the crew dealt with broken elevators, pre-arranged items such as truck parking, load-in and load-out times and a consistent lack of energy and interest by many banquet and support staff. And we were prepared for all of it.
A few months earlier, our site survey of this particular venue started at the loading dock and included the following:
1. Promises made with the CSM for load-in times and truck parking. However, based on the reaction from the dock supervisor (who we always ask to meet) it was clear that the CSM could promise anything, but this was his dock and you better know his rules.
2. A request to ride the main freight elevator (not just see it) revealed that it was broken. However we were assured it would work for our event. The elevator was clearly not kept clean as well.
3. A walk down the back hallway showed banquet storage that was disorganized and again evidence of a general lack of cleanliness and attention to detail.
Based on the above observations, we went into this event with a plan to deal with broken elevators, a back-up plan if our pre-arranged plans changed at the last minute and the expectation that staff requests (whether from us or the client) would take a long time to be resolved.
The event came off seamlessly and the audience was none the wiser for the challenges we faced. We were better prepared to deal with those obstacles because of the observations from our back-of-house site survey.
Next time you are on a site survey, ask the CSM to take you on a walk through back-of-house. See the dock, ride the freight elevator and walk the path to the ballroom. If those areas are clean and well maintained and the back-of-house staff (away from the guest areas) are friendly and attentive, it might provide some insight into how your last minute request to flip the room will go or what will happen when you need a stage added to a breakout room.
Overview: I have heard that this is one of the busiest conference hotels in the Hilton chain, and after working here I believe it. This is a very large property so it has some quirks that can definitely influence the success of an event, but that size also makes it a great hotel for events.
Ballrooms: There are a lot of ballrooms on this property.
The Chantily Ballroom is my favorite at the property. It is large with great rigging, and the loading area is directly outside the ballroom
The Grand Ballroom is also nice and has the same good rigging.
The Imperial Ballroom is on an upper floor (the third I believe) and is my least favorite ballroom on property. The room, registration area and hallway leading into the room are great but there are a few challenges:
The floor vibrates a little bit so you have to be careful with placement of the projection and screens.
There is an elevator that leads directly to the room, but it is right next to the loading dock, which you usually can’t use. The push from the loading area travels through the busy dock area which can slow down the load-in and out.
The elevator needs to be locked off or controlled carefully during the show because it is loud and would be a disturbance.
Note: We have always asked for and gotten control of the elevator, but I have heard this is sometimes an issue on other shows.
There also is a Trinity Ballroom next to the exhibit hall, but this is more of a tradeshow area than a ballroom. If you are using this room for a general session, pay attention to the house lighting in the room.
The best breakout rooms: above the Chantily Ballroom.
The West Wing of the hotel has good breakout rooms as well but it is a little off the beaten path, so signage is a must.
The breakout rooms in the Atrium are small and definitely require signage for attendees to find as well.
Note: The dock at this property is very busy with food delivery and use of it is very restricted. The main loading area does not have a dock, so trucks need a lift gate or forklift to load and unload. We have used the dock in the past, but it was negotiated in advance and was not easy.
Producer’s Notes: Great property in a great location with tons of general session and breakout rooms. Especially with a little experience, this is a property we like to work at.
Pros: Mark is not someone who we see very often at events. There always seem to be a couple of “hot” speakers every year who either present at the meetings we produce or are on the short list to be a presenter. Our client identified Mark as a presenter with a good message who they thought would resonate with their audience, and they were right.
The talk was on leadership where he presented his steps for turning around TaylorMade golf. The history and back-story about the growth of TaylorMade was an interesting story as well. He discussed the success he had with abandoning the traditional methods of building a golf brand and instead focused specifically on the golfer who bought equipment annually.
One big hit with the audience (and I am not sure if he does this at all events) was at the end of the presentation he gave away a number of TaylorMade golf clubs and bags.
Producer’s Notes: He was an interesting speaker and the golf connection definitely seemed to connect with the attendees in the audience. The growth of the company through non-traditional methods seemed to resonate with the audience, who were very engaged with his story.
Note: TaylorMade has now been sold to Adidas and Mark is serving as President.
There are too many occasions when we (as the production company) have to convince clients to allow us to conduct a technical site visit. I had a fascinating exchange with a conference service manager (CSM) on a recent site visit that helped prove why these site surveys are so important.
We were hired to manage the audio/visual component of an internal sales meeting and were bringing in most of the AV equipment from outside vendors (only using in-house for some breakout room support).
The CSM greeted us by thanking us for taking the time to do a technical site visit (again, we are not using in-house for this job.) She proceeded to tells us of the difficulties she had with the group who had just finished their conference at the hotel. As with our show, the AV was brought in from the outside but in this case, the production company or client did not see the need for a site visit.
Consequences of Running a Show with No Site Visit
Some things went wrong:
Their initial room diagram was incorrect because they were only working with the dimensions posted on the hotel website (which were not up-to-date)
They were unable to plan for the exact height and location of the chandeliers in the ballroom
The unknown lack of close freight elevators during the scheduled load-in time meant a long push and created extra delays
These initial problems resulted in the need to change the location of the screens, which changed the size of the stage, location of the power drop and front-of-house position
All of this meant delays, more stress and extra money for the client. The CSM and her team were affected too—their schedules were significantly impacted, which caused further delays.
Site visits by the production team, even on smaller events, often result in saved time, money and stress for the entire event team. Do a technical site survey!
Whenever clients hire rock bands for corporate shows, we always add a drum shield onto the equipment list. These are almost never on riders and many bands hate them, but when the lead singer, production manager and most importantly the client hears how loud the percussion sounds in a corporate ballroom, the hate quickly goes away.
An Easy Fix
The percussion instruments can sometimes overwhelm the guitars and vocals on the typically smaller stages that are required in corporate ballrooms. A drum shield or acoustic shield creates separation between the drums and other musical instruments and can allow the audio lead to better control the sound.
There is a reason old rock and roll artists are hard of hearing. A drum shield is a great tool to make sure your audience doesn’t suffer the same fate.
We have had the interesting experience with a couple of rock rands from the 60’s and 70’s who still think it is “cool” to make the audience wait in anticipation for their grand entrance on stage.
At a recent corporate event, the stage manager for a “rock band” listened to the rehearsed band introduction by a corporate sponsor and then told the band to “go on in 5 minutes”.
When we work with rock bands at corporate shows we always have five minutes of music and simple lighting effects planned to fill the five minutes the band waits to go on stage. We call it "the five minute drill." Hopefully you will never have to use it, but the "five minute drill" is a good thing for a production team to have in their back pocket.
One of the services that we offer at events is show photography. Many events feature a photographer to capture the key highlights and events, but one of our event photographers also happens to shoot unbelievable portrait shots and is often hired to shoot headshots for artists and performers.
As a fun, added feature to event photography, we started offering portrait photography for attendees and the feedback has been amazing.
At a recent sales meeting, 70% of the attendees sat for a portrait. The sitting takes less than 5 minutes and the finished and edited portraits are delivered within a week of the conference ending. We usually deliver the portraits to our client via a password-protected site, and then they provide the site information to the attendees.
Portrait photography works particularly well for internal meetings and sales meetings. Post-show meetings have shown that attendees love the photos and are using the portraits for Linkedin and anywhere else they need a professional headshot.
This is not a very expensive add-on to an event and is a fun way to offer an added benefit to attendees.
Type: Keynote, Captain of 1980 Olympic Hockey team
Pros: I have worked with Mike Eruzione a number of times as a keynote or featured speaker. On every occasion, you can feel the excitement and energy coming from the audience when he talks about the 1980 Olympic Hockey team.
Mike always connects the presentation to the theme of the conference and talks about leadership and teamwork, but in my experience the main purpose of his keynote is to entertain the audience with stories of the Hockey teams amazing run to the Gold Medal at Lake Placid.
Q&A was always lively, entertaining and there were multiple questions from the audience.
Cons: In my experience there really is no key message to his presentation. He may deliver more of a message if requested or possibly at other conferences, but when I worked with Mike, the story was about the Gold Medal team. I am not really sure that is a con however, as it is an entertaining and phenomenal story.
Producer’s Notes: Entertaining speaker who would be great for any audience who remembers the 1980 Olympic Hockey Team’s Gold Medal run.
Ron Blackmore is a talent agent/broker and runs a company called NextLevel, which contracts talent for private events. I have worked with Ron for over 10 years and always feel that he puts the clients’ interest first every time.
One of the things I most appreciate about Ron is his ability to present a group of potential speakers for any type of request. Whether you are in need of a rock group or a financial expert, he’s got a list of recommendations for you.
After the talent selection is made, Ron sets up and participates in pre-production calls with the client regarding the content and message of the speaker’s presentation.
He attends the event to serve as a liaison between the production team, client and presenter. This service is included in his cost, but his hotel room is an additional charge.
What I am most impressed with: We had a keynote schedule to present first thing in the morning and had a scheduled rehearsal the evening before. Due to a ridiculous combination of travel obstacles the talent arrived just 30 minutes prior to the rehearsal. Ron had arranged for all of the talent’s props to be delivered to the ballroom, set them on the stage, reviewed the performance and answered questions for the production crew. He even offered to get the audio and lighting lead coffee from Starbucks while we were waiting for the keynote. He helped make what could have been a frustrating rehearsal run very smoothly.
Producer’s Notes: Ron is a good alternative to large booking agencies because he takes ownership and pride in his job. He is professional and personable and has always delivered.
Pros: When it comes to the topics of business and economics, the name Steve Forbes carries a ton of name recognition. His presentation was focused on the economy but he did mix in a few interesting stories about politics.
He did a question and answer session and answered every question very directly.
One note, the audience was not filled with finance people but rather a mix of engineers, marketers and CEOs. The keynote was well received by the entire audience and there were still questions coming from the audience after the session time was up.
Steve Forbes took time after the session to sign autographs and talk with people individually as well.
Cons: Steve Forbes is not a young man, so some thought must be given to the way he will get on and off the stage. While the presentation was very interesting, it came off a little dry, but again the audience in general seemed very interested in his insight.
Producer’s Notes: If you are looking for a keynote with strong name recognition and a definite opinion on the economy, then Steve Forbes is someone to look into.
The Saturday afternoon before a large corporate show that we were producing, I looked down to see my cell phone ringing—not always a good thing this close to a show. The call was from the production manager for the band scheduled to be the Tuesday night entertainment. Three previous calls had planned this part of the show down to the smallest detail.
This was a drive show and the band (a name you would easily recognize) was supplying backline, monitor boards and all the mics and cables. We were only supplying a FOH (front of house) board and the PA—until their production manager called. It turns out that their production truck broke down and they wouldn’t be able to provide their equipment.
The Show Must Go On
When we work with riders and the band is providing some of the equipment and backline, we always identify emergency backup vendors for both band equipment and instruments in the event something changes with the performer.
By the time the band showed up to load in on Tuesday, we had secured all of the equipment they needed and the show came off without a hitch.
Riders that are included in an entertainer’s contract often include the specifications for a full rock show regardless of the size of the corporate performance and are often not changed by clients even when the band agrees to bring in some of the equipment.
The time and effort to identify back-up vendors for expensive entertainment is most of the time a wasted effort, but if a truck breaks down, it may be the difference between a great show and a show that never goes on.
Rock bands have long been famous with their specific and lengthy backstage requirements. These demands are found in a rider attached to their contract and can detail anything from a band’s snacking needs to lighting and sound equipment requirements. This list of requirements can be short or can go on for pages—in perhaps the most famous rider of all, Van Halen requested M&Ms with all the brown ones picked out.
Although this seems like an outlandish request, the rock group has said that it was included to see if the promoter actually read their extensive rider. If brown M&Ms were in the M&M dish, it tipped them off that maybe some of their other lighting or sound equipment stipulations weren’t attended to properly.
Riders and Corporate Events
The thing with riders is that while they are very specific, they are rarely modified to meet the needs of each particular show. A corporate event for example may not require follow spot operators or a stadium level PA system. And when the production team for the performer starts planning the show they usually make concessions that are more realistic for the venue or event.
Many times however, those modifications are not made to the contract. The contract signed by the client or their representative often still requires the client to provide the entire rider. Many times even when asked to modify the rider in the contract the band claims it as unnecessary.
Covering our Bases
When we finalize the equipment plan with performers we always send an email to both the client and the production manager indicating the changes and asking them to respond back that they agree to the revised plan. This final sign-off means less hassle when making final arrangements and adjustments for the equipment.
Overview: This is a very nice property that has been recently totally remodeled. Its management is very event friendly and understands what it takes to put on a good show. There are four medium sized ballrooms and plenty of breakout rooms.
Ballroom: Ballrooms and breakout rooms are divided into two sections on either side of the hotel, which is a plus if you only require enough space to be on one side. You will definitely own that side of the property. If your breakout room requires you to use both sides of the hotel, then signage is helpful for the attendees who will have to pass the lobby and walk to the other side of the property. We have worked more than one event that was large enough to require both sides and the attendees handled the walk without complaint.
One important note: The loading dock is very event friendly but it is a long push through narrow hallways to get to the other side of the property. There is a pull up street level loading door next to the Avadon Ballroom that can be used if you pre-arrange with the hotel and limit the amount of time you have the door open.
There are many branding opportunities at the property and the hotel is open to working with clients to maximize branding opportunities.
Producer’s Notes: Great property in a great location.
Pros: He is an energetic speaker who entertains the audience with fascinating stories about his life as an Olympic and professional boxer. He also tells a number of “behind the scenes” stories about his life and fights.
Ray uses a number of videos to create a visual timeline of his successes in both the Olympics and the professional boxing ring. Not only does this remind the audience of his success but these short videos serve to motivate and keep the audience engaged.
He also had a fun jump rope activity with the audience, which took place in the middle of the presentation and did a good job of keeping the energy up in the room.
Ray took questions from the audience and based on the number of questions it’s fair to say the audience was very excited to hear and talk with Ray. Ray took all of the questions and would often add a story or additional interesting points to the topic of the question.
There was also a motivational spin to the presentation that I saw. I would expect that he can do some minimal customization based on the theme of the conference, but in the end the audience is there to meet and hear about Sugar Ray Leonard.
On a fun note, we were visited by the fire marshal right before Sugar Ray’s speech. A visit by a fire marshal in the middle of an event is usually not a good sign, but as it turns out the fire marshal is a big Sugar Ray fan and asked if he could stand in the back and watch the presentation.
Cons: A younger audience may not know or remember Sugar Ray Leonard but his video highlights do a good job of telling his story.
One note: The videos files are not the best quality and should be pre-loaded into a playback device. There is no specific script as to where the videos play, Ray’s representative sits at front of house control and calls the roles. A rehearsal the day or evening prior to the presentation would be strongly recommended.
Producer’s Notes: I would strongly recommend Sugar Ray Leonard as a keynote speaker. The audience was interested and energetic throughout the presentation.
Pros: As a Fox Business analyst, Stuart Varney will be well known by many attendees—especially those who follow business news closely.
We have worked with Stuart as both a keynote economist and as a panel moderator. Stuart is intelligent, entertaining and very quick on his feet. As an economist he mixes economic forecasting and news with interesting stories from his time at Fox. As a moderator, Stuart is focused and very good at keeping a panel on topic and making sure that the pace of the conversation is not dragging.
Stuart is also very entertaining when it comes to Q&A.
Cons: Not anything specific. His commentary on economic issues is fairly conservative but the insight has always been well received by the audience.
Producer’s Notes: Stuart is a very solid Economic keynote. If you have a panel on stage and your budget can afford a professional moderator, he is a great choice for that role.
Pros: I have to admit that I didn’t know who John Foley was before his keynote, and had never seen him on any of our clients’ keynote lists. After seeing his presentation I have to wonder why I haven’t seen him before.
John mixes stories with leadership insight into a high energy, entertaining and informative keynote. One very unique aspect of John’s presentation is his use of videos from his time as a Blue Angel. The most interesting was a video showing the training and ongoing evaluation that each pilot goes through as part of the Blue Angels team.
John was a lunch speaker at the conference where I saw him speak. Even in this difficult time slot, the audience quickly became actively invested and interacted well with John’s presentation.
Of particular note, John stayed and took pictures with attendees and answered questions for at least 45 minutes after his presentation.
Producer’s Notes: Great speaker who should be on everyone’s short list.
For More Info: johnfoleyinc.com
We’re looking to cut down on the cardio. During the Q&A portion of events, we are usually running around the room, passing the microphone to all the audience members who have questions. Sound familiar to you?
We came across a new product that could replace our light workout with increased audience engagement—truly a win-win. Catchbox is a microphone inside of a foam box that can be tossed from person to person when they have a question to ask. It’s faster and more interactive than a traditional stage mic. Plus, it adds a little fun to meetings or events.
This product seems ideal for a breakout session where there is a small group of people, but it would be interesting to try for general sessions too. Although we have not used Catchbox yet, it is on our list of things to try. Once we try it, we will post a review, so stay tuned!
Update: Read our review here.
Consumers have more power than ever now because of social media—they are able to control the conversation. But the brands that interact with their audience through social media enable a two-way communication that allows them to better connect with their audience. So we found a tool to help manage that conversation.
Using a tool like HootSuite allows you to schedule posts, monitor conversations and hashtags, and communicate individually with attendees.
During the event, live tweeting helps the audience (near and far) follow along with the event’s highlights. When done correctly, it tells the audience to “look here!” “follow us!” and “see what we’re up to!”, leading to more engagement and a wider reach.
Benefits of Using HootSuite
HootSuite, specifically, is easily adapted to an event’s needs and can monitor multiple social platforms in one place.
After the event, HootSuite has a fantastic analytics report that can show the social ROI. It clearly shows how the hashtags performed, who was interacting with your tweets, and how many retweets and mentions a tweet received.
Most importantly, with all this information in one place, it can provide insights on the attendees’ feelings of the show—insights that could not be attained elsewhere. These insights can help brand managers form new strategies to further connect with their audience, or inform them of what worked or didn’t work according to their objectives.
So what’s your social plan? Don’t know? HootSuite can help you figure it out. Venture into the vast world of social media and refine its strengths to make it work best for your company’s needs.
Five minutes into the CEO’s presentation, one of the projectors on a two-screen widescreen blend went out. Half of a 60-foot wide and 20-foot high screen went black, and somehow this event was still a success.
The elapsed time from the moment the projector failed to the point that the entire back-up scenario was in place was 15 seconds. Let me say that again—a partial black screen turned into a fully blended, perfectly functioning, back-up image. In 15 seconds.
Back-Up Plan to the Rescue
The point of this post is not to point out how great we are, but rather to draw attention to the need for backup plans. It is helpful to have backups for key pieces of equipment and procedures that are assigned and understood by the crew. We take ten minutes before every show to meet with the show leads and discuss each back-up option and the roles and responsibilities that each crewmember has in successfully implementing the plan.
For the last 10 years, through the countless shows we have put on, we have not needed to use a back-up plan. But when that screen went black, our team was able to successfully implement our backup plan, getting the screen working again in just 15 seconds. This moment of panic ended up being a victory for us. And it is all thanks to that pre-show crew meeting.
Add it to the Job Description
While having and reviewing back-up scenarios are clearly not in the job description of an event planner (the hundreds of things that planners juggle on a typical show is more than enough), a good tip is to ask your production team “What will we do if a projector fails?” or “Not that it will, but what is your procedure if the wireless mic on stage fails?”
There is no way to guarantee that a piece of equipment will work flawlessly. What we can guarantee is that we have a backup plan in place that quickly and seamlessly gets the show back on track, and a fantastic team that knows what they are doing.