Why hold a live event? (Part 2)

Posted on Friday, April 18th, 2014 by

In Part 2 of his trilogy, Iain Liddiard continues to answer the age-old question: Why hold a live event?

(Part 1 and Part 3)

Now, whereas one would assume that someone with Head of Events on his business card would be all over this one, doling out justifications for what he and his team do, I’m going to go a bit Martin and ask, ‘Why?’

What does a live event give you that an alternative medium doesn’t?

Let’s start with the sales conference. (Future blogs will address the myriad facets of the live events universe and trust me, my views on team building make the next few paragraphs sound well balanced and reasoned!)

Right… why do a conference? Top answers are usually, ‘It brings us all together.’ ‘The group dynamic.’ ‘A global vision.’ ‘Synergy.’


Yep, it does bring people together in one location. It takes a large percentage of your internal resource away from their day-to-day/income-generating roles. And, at a not inconsiderable cost to you, sticks them in a soulless corporate environment, usually some distance away from where they live.

Now what?

Right about now, reasons why become a bit fuzzy. You’ve got the venue booked, logo designed, registration site done, off-site dinners sorted… Now, what are we going to do with them?

Exactly! What tangible takeaway are these 300 people going to get live that they couldn’t get cheaper/easier/more effectively via another medium?

Sales figures for 2013–2014? Oh bless you, fish in a barrel. OK, let’s work through this systematically.

You’re going to ask an accountant, who works with balance projections, spreadsheets and EBITDA, to present a complex buffet of facts and figures in a way that makes sense to non-accountants and fully engages everyone? You want him or her to create a communal experience?

Wow, good luck with that!

Here’s an alternative

How about you hand out a carefully designed A4 sheet with only the relevant facts and figures on it? One side of the paper offers up a beginner’s overview of your results, the other side presents a more advanced take on key facts and figures. You turn on the house lights, play some soothing music while everyone has a look through the sheet and talks among themselves. Then you open up a Q&A session.

Or, take a straw poll and ask, ‘Who actually wants or needs to hear about this in any kind of detail? OK, 30 of you? Everyone else, we’ve got some coffee outside, the free Wi-Fi code is on your badges and if you have calls to make, there’s decent reception in the lobby. Everyone back in 20?’

Why would anyone assume that someone who is employed to do one thing is equally adept at doing another? ‘I’m a concert pianist.’ ‘Brilliant, could you just land this airliner?’

Here’s another thought. For your next event, why not substitute all your presenters with actors? All of them!

  • Do a casting call, find someone who sounds and looks like a marketing executive/personnel Manager/CFO.
  • Get a writer on board and create a series of scripts based on your marketing plans/financial results/corporate vision.
  • Bring in some visual artists to create some really strong supporting imagery that can augment and enhance the performance.
  • Kick in some serious money for AV and sexy lighting.
  • Then line up your key players and put them on stage.

Every live event is theatre

It requires training, it requires skill and it requires practice.

Everything we do in the workplace is theatre. We’re all playing a role, every hour of every day, and at a conference, we’re doing it with bells on. You’re taking normal people and putting them in a surreal environment, with supporting technology and a ready-made audience. Who decided this was ever a good idea?

Kennedy vs. Nixon, Reagan vs. Dukakis – in both cases, one looked and sounded like a president, the other didn’t.  The message will be the same whoever presents it. The quality of presentation will inevitably be better, and if you get a half decent writer on board, the points will be made in a clear, unambiguous and more entertaining way. 

‘But it’ll be an actor, not a real sales manager,’ you wail. Yes… this isn’t Invasion of the Body Snatchers, the real sales manager is still there, but he’s there in his capacity as a ‘manager of sales’. Our actor sales manager is there to present a compelling and engaging performance live.

Wouldn’t it be great if, just like the Mandarin in Iron Man 3, the charismatic world leaders we all idolise were actually just a bunch of jobbing actors on a long-term contract? I would so love Obama to be a drama graduate from Boise, Idaho who just got lucky!

Theatre has the edge over its sibling (yes video, that’s you!), because if you ‘do theatre’, whether its 10 people in a meeting or 2,000 in a congress hall, you’re DOING THEATRE. If you’re not engaging your audience, then alongside the dead eyes and doodles in margins, you’re pissing away money, time and resources. Congratulations, you’re the support band everyone talks through or goes to the bar during.

So think carefully, what is the best way to get your messages across to these people?

If you made a video, would that work better? Well, you’d have a narrower margin for error. And, thanks to editors and directors, even the worst CEO can be made to look coherent with enough time in post-production.

Just for once wouldn’t you love to hear a financial director get up and say, ‘Right, overall we’re doing OK. Swindon needs to work a bit harder – yes Geoff, that’s you – but basically, we’re all safe and secure for the next 12 months.’

Bang! Done.

Because that’s probably all people in the room want to hear. If they want more information (particularly Geoff and those poor buggers in Swindon), then there’s a beautifully designed document they can take to their hotel room and read in peace or a funky website they can log on to.

So, Mr Head of Events, if it’s about content, the question still remains: why do it live?

Come back next week for the final installment of ‘Why hold a live event? The Trilogy’.

(Part 1 and Part 3)