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12 Mistakes To Avoid When Planning Your Meeting… And What To Do Instead.

On Sunday, the Tony Awards will take place here in NYC honoring “Excellence in Broadway Theater.”

What does this have to do with you?

Possibly a lot.

Even if you’re not an event planner per se… but you lead meetings (live or virtual), plan conferences, run classes, host groups, put on parties, or attend conventions, I suspect you’ll find something in here to take away and apply.

1. A Long Lagging Opening Speech

Imagine if the Tony Awards began with a long, flat welcome speech instead of a festive, high energy opening. The First Moment™ is essential. Even if you MUST have your top person kick things off, put something just before them that brings energy into the room. And if you have housekeeping, logistics, or updates to cover, by all means DON’T start with them.

2. A Wide Center Aisle

Imagine if a Broadway theater wiped out the center orchestra seats and replaced them with a wide center aisle instead? We all know that center orchestra seats are premium.They offer an unobstructed view of the stage and people pay big bucks to sit here. And yet time and time again, event planners use this space for a wide center aisle. Huh? The solution is simple: create two or more aisles on either side, just as theaters and movie houses do.

3. Lack of Music

An event is…well, an event. Too often there is dead air in a virtual meeting room or live event room when people enter. Music adds to the energy. It also means attendees aren’t whispering for fear of their conversation being overheard. Music creates a new mood; a shift in tone; and a change in experience. And isn’t that what you want?

4. Lack of a Bio Break

I’m always amazed at how event planners are inclined to jam an agenda. The following is a typical overview I’ll hear from a meeting planner: “OK…First our President will welcome everyone and make some opening comments. That’ll be about 10–15 minutes. Then one of our VPs will speak for about 20 min. He sometimes runs long. Then we have a few announcements, 15 minutes tops. Then you’ll go on for 60 minutes.” As a speaker, bringing the energy up after this type of sequence is a heavy lift…and without a bio break, attendees will be exiting the room (live or virtual) because human nature is…well…human nature. A break doesn’t mean lost time. It means increased attention.

5. Meals During Speakers… or Speakers During Meals
Even a top Broadway star would have trouble competing with cheesecake. Human beings love food more than they love watching and listening to anyone on stage. When you try to have a meal plus a speaker, you end up with a significantly compromised experience. Choose one or the other. Don’t do both.

6. Empty Chairs

At professionally produced events such as the Tony Awards or Oscars, you won’t see an empty seat. There are professional “seat fillers” who actually fill in the gaps. How can you accomplish this at your event whether virtual or live? Simply set the expectation for fewer people than you think may show up. Then, when others arrive, you have the feeling of a full house. If your event is live, set out fewer chairs than you think you need, and add more as attendees arrive. You can also block off the back rows until they’re absolutely needed. Empty spots or chairs are horrible for morale—both for the attendees and presenters. When I worked in comedy clubs and small theater venues, we used to put out fewer chairs than we knew we needed so that audience members would see the production crew adding chairs as people arrived. The subliminal message to those already present and those arriving: “Wow, this is THE place to be. We’re in the right room. They’re even adding chairs!”

7. Lack of Proper Lighting

Imagine if Broadway producers relied only on the house lights for the stage performers? As an event planner, you don’t need hundreds of colored lights, but you do need to light the stage. Take a sliver of your budget and illuminate the presenters so your audience can actually see their faces.

8. Cutting the Speaker’s Time

Imagine if just before the main act went on at the Tony Awards, they were told their time had been cut by 25%. A speaker’s “performance” is a carefully orchestrated experience. Cutting 15 minutes out means stories have to be cut, key points removed, entertainment elements slashed. Avoid adding unexpected presenters to the agenda and keep all presenters on track (executives included) by giving them a clear time allotment AND a countdown timer.

9. A Large “Moat”

Often meeting planners inadvertently set up a huge “moat” – a large gap between the stage and the first row of attendee chairs. An unnecessarily wide moat separating speaker and audience creates an emotional and psychological distance––not ideal for connection, transformation, and learning. Reduce the gap.

10. Separated Seating

There’s a reason that seats at performing arts centers are tightly set. Yes, there’s a dollar value associated; more bodies in the room means more money. But there’s an additional, experiential reason. An audience seated close together increases focus and creates a powerful human experience. Distance disperses energy. The value gained by setting up your space “theater style” far outweighs the value of having a table surface on which people can place their water glass, phone or pad of paper.

11. Stage Too High

A great stage is set just high enough for the audience to see the presenters or performers but not so high that audience members are cranking their heads back to look up. Avoid overdoing the height. The goal is visibility, not alienation.

12. Lack of Adequate Time Before Starting Again

When it comes to meetings, more time sitting in meetings doesn’t mean more learning. This goes for virtual events, too. People need time during an event to check their messages; use the restroom; and connect with others. Most importantly, they need time to process. An effective event flow allows for adequate break time. Intermission for Broadway shows is on average 15-20 minutes. Make yours the same.

So there you have it. 12 mistakes to avoid… and what to do instead.

Risk Forward & Rock On,

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P.S. Please share this link with your event planners….

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