5 Top Ways to Make your Show… a Show!

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5 Top Ways to Make your Show… a Show! "October 18, 2016
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Whether your introducing your new board, giving an award, hosting a panel discussion, or welcoming to the stage your featured keynote presenter, a little “show-biz” can go a long way.
By Scott Babcock, Senior Event Producer, PCI.

Whenever there is a group of people sitting in chairs, all facing the same direction, and you have a story to tell, or a message to deliver, then it’s a show, and it deserves all the attention to detail and production values you can muster to keep your audience focused and engaged.

As a producer of dozens of corporate and association meetings and events over many years, I’ve had the opportunity to observe what elements make the most difference, and here are my top five ways you can spice up your next production.

1) Use Lighting for Maximum Effect

There is no one production element that can add more bang-for-the-buck than lighting. And you don’t have to break the bank to get a professional-looking, impactful set and stage look.

Many AV companies will suggest a pair of tall poles at the back of the room with a set of lights on them that illuminate the entire stage. Avoid this at all cost.

Seldom does a presenter or panel use the entire stage. Having the ability to light only one portion of the stage at a time makes a huge difference in the look of your show.   Illuminating the entire stage when a presenter is only using a small part of it only reinforces that the stage is mostly empty, and brings unwanted attention to any other detritus on the stage (chairs for panelists, band instruments, unused lectern, etc.) So, insist on having the ability to illuminate only the parts of the stage being used at any given time, along with the ability to illuminate the entire stage when necessary.

Color is your friend. Letting your AV company provide only white light (called “no color” in the industry) will result in washed out faces and muted, flat images on your screens in your camera shots. It’s called “no-color” for a reason, as that’s what your audience will see.

You can also use color to help break up sections of your show. If the audience is looking at the same color scheme for the entire show, their eyes will get tired and their attention will wane. If you have any type of set pieces, or drape, avoid black and go for white set pieces and gray drape. This way your lighting director can change the colors on the set or drapes during those moments in your show when the topic or presenter has changed.

And, don’t forget backlighting. If you are using cameras to bring images to screens in your room, you want overhead backlighting on your stage so your presenters won’t look two-dimensional on the screens.

2) Make Your Music Matter

Regardless of what the show is all about, music can help create the right mood, fill in the gaps, and add just the right touch of “show-biz.”

Walk-In Music: This is what your audience members hear as they walk into the room and find their seats. Walk-in music can be easily overlooked, but it really sets the tone for what the audience is about to experience. Even if your audience is chatty, they still perceive the music. Choose wisely and make it count.

Walk-On Music: Nothing is worse than the awkward gap that can result from an introduction of someone followed by applause that doesn’t last long enough for the person to hit the stage… especially if they are coming from the audience. Music not only fills that gap, it adds impact to the moment.

It’s very tempting to use a song you know and love as walk-on music. But actually, to get the best result, you should avoid recognizable songs, and actually, avoid songs with lyrics. Why?

Because the amount of time it will take for an individual to get from the audience or backstage to the stage is often unknown. It can be less than 10 seconds, but it can take much longer. This means that when your presenter has reached his or her spot on stage quickly, the song will have just barely gotten started. You are stuck with having to either a) make the presenter stand there uncomfortably while the song’s “good part” plays out, or b) fade out the song before it gets to the part you really wanted the audience to hear in the first place.

Plus, if the presenter takes too long to get on stage, the part of the your song you liked may have played itself out and you are stuck with the next set of lyrics that may not fit, and then those get cut off mid-stride.

So, your best bet is instrumental tunes that can last for 10 seconds, 20 seconds, 30 seconds or even more — and then be faded out without any sense of having “interrupted” the song. Just like Walk-In music, let your Walk-On music set the tone.

3) Don’t Forget the Transitions

Many show organizers will spend days struggling to put together just the right order of elements for the show. Who goes on first? Who goes on last? Who gets the longest slot? Tough decisions. But, once that process is finished and your run-of-show is ready to go, too many organizers forget about what happens in between those elements.

Who introduces whom? Does a voice-over introduce the next person, or does the person who was just on stage do it?

And what is on the screen when one person is done but the next one hasn’t been introduced yet? You can’t show the title slide of the next person yet, but you can’t show the backside of the preceding person exiting the stage either!

This is where “show slides” (often called bail-out slides) can make a big difference. Have a conference/event logo on a slide ready to go for all your transitions, so you have something to show on the screen when nothing else makes sense.

Transitions, or the lack thereof, can really make or break a show. They are often overlooked in the planning stage, and even imperceptible to the audience once the show is underway, but looking step-by-step at all your transitions in advance is absolutely vital.

4) Let Your Set, Set the Tone

Ah, the ubiquitous step-and-repeat banner and/or black pipe-and-drape backdrop. Asking your audience to look at these throughout an entire show is asking an audience to tune out too soon.

As noted above in the section on lighting, you can go with inexpensive spandex set pieces and gray backing drape and get a slick-looking set. Your lighting designer can then not only change colors on your set, but can use built-in patterns (called gobos) in some of the lighting instruments to cast interesting shapes onto your set pieces. Even a simple white background (called a cyc) with some LED uplights on it can have terrific impact. These are not terrifically expensive items.

If you have a bigger budget, let the set create the look, feel and even emotion you are hoping to evoke from your audience. Are you looking for high-tech and gleaming surfaces, pastels and soothing imagery, patriotic fervor or warm, homey, inviting touches? I’ve had clients ask for all of the above – in one show!

The latest technology makes wide screens a common go-to for organizers. Wide screens can convey any type of look or feel, and can immerse an audience in powerful imagery. That’s the good part. The challenging part is that you have to have something on those screens all the time, start-to-finish. And ultra-wide screens require background graphics that fit with all the smaller graphics, camera shots or videos being played on top of them. This can be a real challenge… finding all the right source material for every moment in your show.

Designing a set to meet a client’s needs is an art, so be certain to bring in the right people to make that happen. And speaking of the right people…

5) Make the Call for a Show-Caller

You’ve got the ideas, the theme, and the run-of-show all figured out. Now what?

Now you need someone to put it all together for you. Many AV companies can provide the lights, the speakers, the projectors and screens, even some basic set pieces. But that is as far as most of them go.

What you really need is a Producer/Show-Caller. Someone who can:

  • Find the best gear for the best price
  • Design the stage and set for maximum impact
  • Look at your run-of-show and ensure all the transitions are seamless
  • Listen to you, discuss your theme, discuss your vision, and help you deliver your message and keep your audience engaged from the moment the houselights go down, to the final echo of rousing applause.

A good Producer will also be a Show-Caller. This person not only knows your show top-to-bottom, he/she sits in the back of the room and is in constant communication with the lighting director, the audio technician, the video playback operator, the graphics operator, the stage manager, the teleprompter operator, and the technician who operates the device (called a switcher) that sends the various sources to the screens (slides, videos, camera, etc.)

When I serve as Producer/Show-Caller, I have looked at every moment of the show, every slide, every video, and every transition, and have created a special show-caller’s script which allows me to “call” the show to all those operators and technicians. You, the client, then get to sit back and watch your show, knowing that it is in very capable hands.

Big show of small, using these five elements to their maximum advantage will add a professional touch and impact to your shows.

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