One of the best practices in staging corporate events? Actual practice!
by Josh Golden, Director of Creative Strategy, PCI.
Corporate Events: Best Practicing
Last night I had a dream: I was standing on stage at some convention. I was the host, chair, or keynote speaker – someone important. But I didn’t know where to stand. The teleprompter malfunctioned, jumping around. Videos played, and I recognized not one. I invited awardees to stage with no idea who they were or what I was to present. I wasn’t even dressed appropriately. It was terrifying!
I spent many of my younger years in theatre, with actor’s nightmares a near nightly occurrence. I had my fair share of scream-inducing dreams about waiting tables (an occupational hazard for actors). This, however, was my first time sweating through a corporate event of the mind.
It dawned on me: This is what many CEOs, presenters, and board chairs feel like at their conventions, walking on stage with little clue as to when to go on, where to stand and, often, when to leave. While many execs spend days fine-tuning their remarks, avoiding political pitfalls, and being sure to emphasize key points, they are seldom afforded the same preparation for what to do on a stage, under bright lights, in front of hundreds, if not thousands, of people.
No actors would find themselves in such a predicament, clueless as to their cues and marks. But it happens to corporate executives all the time. It’s a shame, because it casts them in an unfavorable light, detracts from the audience experience, and is so easy to avoid.
There are a few simple tricks, many derived from the theatre, to improve any staged event. And they can all be implemented in a brief rehearsal.
Rather than allow speakers to stage themselves on the fly, a rehearsal will allow the event manager to strategically place the action. So, where do you put people?
Theatre teaches us that downstage (closest to the audience) is stronger than upstage. Stage right (the audience’s left) is stronger than stage left, because we are accustomed to viewing things from left to right (at least in the Western World). Therefore, the strongest part of the stage is downstage right. Are you using a lectern? This is a great place to put it. The audience’s eyes want to go there, and it will give your speaker their natural attention.
Moving diagonally from upstage to downstage is stronger than direct crosses (moving from one side of the stage to the other). Have your speaker enter from upstage left and cross the stage to that lectern, rather than walk straight down to it. This gives the audience more time to see the presenter and will generate greater applause for the entrance. And that, certainly, helps get any speaker off to a better start.
Some speakers are perfectly comfortable staying put. Others need to move. You’ll discover this quickly in rehearsal, giving you an opportunity to help. Does your speaker tend to wander? That’s okay – it may help to engage the audience if the movement is “motivated.” Encourage your speaker not to pace, but to pick key moments to move. Also, direct the speaker to look into the audience and find someone who’s not listening – someone who seems bored or distracted. In order to get that person to look up, listen, or nod, your speaker will need to diversify inflection and pace. Your speaker will need to go beyond saying words, to using words. Before you (and the speaker) know it, the speech will come to life.
Cultivating Good Shepherds
You may not have time to rehearse every participant. Awards are often surprises, and you won’t see the recipient until he or she steps on stage. You will, however, have time to rehearse with the presenters. During the presenters’ rehearsal, let them know where you intend people to go. Allow them to shepherd awardees, directing bodies on stage and making sure people enter and exit gracefully.
If you have two presenters, have one hold the award and the other shake the recipient’s hand. This will make it easier to guide recipients to the center of the stage, pose for a photo, and let them know when to exit the stage. If you clue your presenters in during rehearsal, they will be equipped to do the rest.
Walk the Walk
Like any theatrical production, your show’s success is all in the timing. Is the planned music clip long enough to cover the award recipients’ walk on? How long is that speech, when actually delivered? Only through rehearsal can you test planning against reality. Have your speaker walk onto stage – see if it flows right. Make sure the speech is really five minutes – not eight. Testing your show’s flow will elevate your event into a production – something that will keep an audience engaged, inspired, and, ultimately, in the ballroom.
A rehearsal also helps your technical crew prepare. If a presenter plans to stay behind the lectern, the crew can prepare a “special,” a lighting look that prominently features the lectern so you don’t have a big, fully illuminated stage. There is also immense value in your audio crew being able to hear in advance the actual voices that will be using the microphones — a few tweaks can go a long in helping speakers be more audible and pleasant to listen to.
Can you always rehearse the onstage talent as much as you’d like? No. Will you always avoid the nightmare scenario of an AWOL MC? Likely not. But paying attention to the basic principles of theatrical staging can minimize disruption to help transform your event into a higher quality, bigger impact production.
Anyway, we can dream!