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Why hold a live event? (Part 3)

In the final installment, Head of Events Iain Liddiard concludes his answer to the question: Why hold a live event?

(Part 1 and Part 3)

Ah, welcome back!

Most of the time, a live event isn’t about content. It’s about credibility, trust, conviction. And all that human stuff. 90% of what you say will be forgotten by the next break, but the way you say it will resonate for years.

Ooh, that suddenly sounded like Maximus in Gladiator!

A cobbled-together presentation, unfocused and under-rehearsed actually says, ‘Look, I can’t be arsed. I’ve got much more important things to do. I drafted this on the way here and now you’re stuck with me babbling on for the next 30 minutes. Look at these slides someone in my department did. They are overloaded with facts and figures because they were trying to second guess what I might actually need.’

Inevitably speakers don’t prepare anywhere near enough, relying on speaker support (PowerPoint) or autocue to drag them through their 20-minute slot.

Autocue! The devil’s varifocals! Nothing says insincerity more than watching someone trying not to appear to be reading words someone else has written for them. The only justifiable users of autocue are newsreaders and 60-year-old rock stars who can’t remember the words to hits they wrote in the 70s or which city they’re in.

As far as I’m aware, very few members of the Royal Shakespeare Company rely on autocue. They do the boring old thing of learning stuff, understanding what it means and presenting in a way that convinces, engages and enraptures.

Everyone made huge fuss about Cameron doing an unscripted party conference speech. Hello? He’s the prime minister of Great Britain, he should be pretty bloody clear about what he believes in!

PowerPoint is autocue for cheapskates. Extending a 20-minute speech over 40 slides full of prompts is laziness writ large, folks.

If a CEO dies on his feet at a conference and nobody’s listening, does he actually make a sound?

Doing it live is about taking down barriers and opening up lines of communication. Talking is the original and still the best method of Bloke A passing something across to Bloke B.

We are pack animals, and as such, with the possible exception of surfing dodgy websites, we think a communal experience is pretty cool; whether it’s a one-on-one chat or a global gathering.

Broadly, all the things my mate Martin thought detracted from ‘engaging with the music’ are the very things that make the music relevant.

It’s about creating the business equivalent of a mosh pit. It’s accepting that it won’t sound as good as the CD/video/website, or as well-structured as it might if it existed as print or a website. However, it’s all about embracing the humanity of one person standing up, talking to another. It’s the unpredictability, the sense that things could go wrong, the spontaneity, the smells, the tastes, the sounds.

It’s the reason why a DVD of a live concert is NEVER the same as being there. 29 HD cameras, covering every part of the show cannot hope to reproduce the emotional experience you’re having up in Block 347, where the stage is the size of a postage stamp and the bloke next to you is singing the wrong words in the wrong key.

Why did 2 million people apply for 18,000 tickets to see Led Zeppelin reform for one night at the O2? It wasn’t to hear a definitive version of Kashmir. The post-gig DVD actually diminished the experience…

A live event is fundamentally (and inherently) flawed, and that’s what makes it so astonishingly brilliant

Perfection is easy. When there are a million things that could go wrong and you still manage to make that connection, that bond, that spark, you’ve made it all worthwhile.

Bringing 300 people together in a venue in Birmingham is really going to be about what happens outside of the main room – at the breakouts, social events, coffee breaks or in the bar after the Gala dinner. Because that’s when the interactions happen – the rest is just foreplay. Unless you see the plenary sessions as an opportunity to truly perform, to engage, to do those things that a live concert does best.

Tell stories, ask questions and open up a real dialogue

Assume your audience can read; text-heavy slides are a ready-made excuse to ignore you. They’ll be a few lines ahead of you anyway.

If you find yourself bathed in the glow of a hundred iPad screens, you’ve lost.

Fascinating fact: A few years ago we were involved in a large congress for an IT company somewhere in Europe. For the keynote presentation the lights went down. Cue panic from my lighting director who thought that someone had over-ridden the house lights and brought them up by accident.

Not the case! It was just the ambient light created by 3,000 people turning on their iPads and mobile phones to watch the broadcast of the session they were sitting in and blog/tweet as they did it. Retrospectively, we could have saved them tens of thousands of pounds and shot the CEO in his office in California and just streamed the results. If nothing else, all the demos would have worked!

But outside of this session, when the delegates got into the workshops, the training sessions, the social activities and the demo labs, BOOM – more interaction than you could ever imagine, fewer slides, fewer lights, and suddenly a scenario where the medium matched the communication objective.

Why hold a live event?

Basically, if you want to listen to the record, play the record.

If you want it to be faultless every time, watch the film.

But if you truly want to experience something, do it live!