For many of my clients, entertainment is often an afterthought. A line item they slot into the budget after the venue, travel, food and beverage, production, and guest speakers have been addressed. But for attendees, entertainment is also often the final segment of a meeting, the denouement of days of hard work when they finally have a chance to relax and celebrate.
Psychological experiments show that we remember the first and last moments of our experiences the most, while the middle tends to become a blur. That means entertainment falling flat can not only have a negative impact in the moment, but retroactively on the entire conference. Conversely, an engaging entertainer can elevate your event, creatively driving home key points and values through a memorable performance.
I've performed for well over 1,500 meetings, starting as a sleight-of-hand magician and now entertaining the top companies in the world with an interactive mentalism show. And I've realized that meeting and incentive planners have a lot in common with magicians. Our jobs are to deliver a high-impact experience for guests while "hiding the strings." Events should flow like magic, with each experience weaving seamlessly into the next. With that in mind, here are a few tips that I've found to maximize the value of your entertainment.
Introductions. A recent study by The College of New Jersey in partnership with magician Joshua Jay found that the right introduction can make an act up to 50 percent more impactful. Whenever possible, a C-level executive should make the introduction, which should always be pre-written and supplied by your entertainer. This important step engages the audience's attention and allows your entertainer to walk onstage to an already captive audience.
Dinner. At most dinner events, audiences are seated at rounds. This means that 50 percent of your group is facing away from the stage during dinner! Add to that the distractions from servers, glasses clanking, and guests rushing back and forth to the open bars, and you have a performance that loses its steam before it has even had a chance to pick up. The best time to schedule an entertainer is immediately after desserts have been plated, and servers should pick up all plates after the show has concluded.
Awards. As much as we like to pretend otherwise, the sweetest sound to most of us is our own name. Likewise, the people who care the most about awards presentations are typically those receiving the awards. Going onstage after a long awards presentation is like trying to revive a tired audience with coffee. It may work, but it's much more impactful to deliver a high-impact show first, allowing that excitement to continue over into the awards presentation. For maximum impact, schedule entertainment before any awards presentations that are 30 minutes or longer. The same goes for lengthy speeches.
No Surprises. Unless you're booking an act who everybody knows by name, don't save the entertainment as a surprise. On your agenda, link to the performer's website or have them create a custom YouTube video that can be distributed to attendees in advance. It is far better to create buzz and excitement before the show than to surprise your audience with talent who they may love but have never heard of.
Dance Floors. In an interactive performance, the closer the front rows can be to the stage, the better. It creates a connection that will circulate throughout the room, and that connection is lost when a dance floor creates a 20-foot gap between the performer and the audience. Consider covering the dance floor and adding a couple of table rounds that can be removed after dinner. Alternatively, you can position rows of chairs there to give people in the back a better view, or simply move the dance floor to the back of the room.
Schedule a Three-Way Call. Whenever I work with third-party planners and DMCs, I like to schedule a call with them and the client. This eliminates the back-and-forth stream of emails, where ideas are sometimes lost in the game of telephone. It's amazing how one 15-minute call creates rapport and trust between your client and your entertainment, and how many pitfalls can be avoided on the day of the event by putting all expectations on the same page.
No two events are exactly the same, and a good entertainer will roll with the punches to create a successful experience no matter what the conditions. But by keeping these few tips in mind, you are maximizing the efficacy of the budget and helping to create an experience that will make guests remember the entire meeting fondly.
Kevin Viner is a mentalist from San Diego, CA, who performs about 150 events a year globally. He is a regular on national television, both as a performer and a consultant. For booking information, visit KevinViner.net. Follow @thekevinviner.