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Planning Suggestions
by Barry Eigen
 
  • Timeline
  • Room Set
  • Ambiance
  • Name Badges
  • Introductions


  • Planning Suggestions From Barry Eigen
    The planning suggestions that follow were garnered from Barry Eigen's 18 years of meeting planning, and eight years as a professional keynote and dinner speaker.

    Timeline
    One of the most important steps in the planning process is the development of a Planning Timeline. I usually began with the Conference Dates & Venue (not unrelated), and worked backwards from the event to set the key deadlines. First question: When do we want the program announcement to be in prospective attendees' hands? Next: When must the announcements hit the mail to meet the first goal? ...and so on. Deadlines vary with the size and scope of each meeting, of course. Keeping in mind that every meeting is unique, here is an example of a typical Planning Timeline:
    Planning Time Line

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    The Room Set
    Increasingly, experienced meeting professionals are asking the meeting facility to break tradition and set rooms to the "long side." This means the stage and lectern are positioned in the middle of the rectangle's longest side which allows a speaker to more quickly build audience rapport by providing closer, more intimate contact with more of its members. And ask the hotel staff or banquet manager to set the front row of seats as close to the platform as possible. It is also more comfortable for audience members if their chairs (and tables if they are used) are set in a semi-circle facing the podium which will allow attendees to have their backs squarely against the backs of their chairs with their heads pointing straight ahead during the entire program. Try to avoid a large center aisle-this is where the best seats in the house should be. Rather fill the center with seats and create two side aisles. The argument, when there are two side aisles, that a center aisle is a local fire code requirement is usually fallacious as there will obviously be fewer chairs for a person to cross when exiting from either of the side aisles.
    Please Note: The Room Sets described here are intended as suggestions only. Speakers vary greatly with respect to their likes and dislikes and it is a good idea to review room sets with speakers in advance. Like most professional speakers, I am definitely NOT a Prima Donna. I understand how difficult it can be for meeting planners to set a room to suit a single speaker and, accordingly, I want you to know I will work cheerfully in any room set you are able to arrange.
    Room Set

    Also, because most people will fill the back of a room first, try to have only as many chairs as you expect people-with extra chairs stacked in the back of the room. When a room is used for more than one session and expected attendance varies from session to session, room sets can be quickly adjusted for the smaller audiences by running a strip of masking tape over the backs of the chairs so as to eliminate whole sections and force attendees to sit toward the front.

    Luncheons/Banquets
    Building audience rapport is important for any speaker in any setting but it is especially true at luncheon and dinner events. If the dinner function will include a head table or dais at which dignitaries will be seated, do not ask the speaker to speak from a table lectern or from behind the head table. Rather, try to provide a small riser to the side of the dais which is visible to both the audience and the head table so he or she can speak simultaneously to both. Humor, which is always a large component of dinner meeting presentations, works best when the speaker can see everyone in his audience, and vice versa, including everyone seated at the head table. The speaker can still be seated at the head table during the food service, if the meeting professional so wishes.
    Room Set -Lunch

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    Humor
    While many people think that whether a speaker is funny or not depends entirely on the speaker is not completely accurate, the truth is the way a room is set can either double the laughter… or kill it. And since every meeting planner knows the more laughter a speaker can generate the better the program will be, it is very important to do everything possible to help the humor work.
    Here are five Room Set Rules for making humor sizzle:
    • Take a tip from the comedy clubs and eliminate as much space as possible between the speaker and the front row of tables or chairs. A huge gap between the audience and the speaker is "Death Valley" and almost always deadens laughter.
    • Though not always possible, try to use "theater" seating rather than tables. When using "theater" seating, set the chairs in a wide arc rather than straight across so as to avoid putting attendees in a straight shoulder-to-shoulder line. An arc lets people see other people laughing which reinforces the humor.
    • Where tables are required (food functions for example) put the tables as close together as possible. Laughter is contagious only when people feel connected to one another. When the audience will be seated at "rounds," 8-foot round tables work better for the purposes of building laughter than do the big 10-footers. But most important, try to have the tables set as close together as possible. Accomplishing this can sometimes require considerable political skill since many banquet staffs understandably want as much space between tables as they can get.
    • Care should be taken in lighting the room. House lights should be up—never lower than medium—though the speaker should be relatively better lit than the audience if possible.
    • The overriding rule for making humor work is simple: Seat your audience members as close together as possible.
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    Ambiance
    • Lights, Heating & Cooling
      Before the meeting room fills with people, locate the controls for lights, heating, cooling and background music. You may be called upon to adjust these while a program is in progress. Familiarizing ones self with these controls is the mark of an experienced meeting professional as it is not uncommon to be unable to locate hotel staff when they are most needed. Make sure the entire room is well lit, but especially the stage area. If spotlights are available, consider asking the facility's staff to adjust and light them. If the room is normally lit by mercury vapor lights (now used more and more frequently especially in the larger convention venues) it should be noted they take extraordinarily long to return to their full brightness once turned off. When 35mm slide or LED projectors are to be used during a program requiring that house lights be turned off, make certain someone is scheduled to turn them back on as quickly as possible after the session.
    • Doors
      If doors at the back of the room open and close with the typical, loud click-click, ask the hotel staff for a roll of duct tape (the kind used to tape down loose electric cords) and tape the tongues tightly so as people come and go during a presentation the doors will open and close quietly and not be a distraction.
    • Cocktail Parties/Receptions
      A lengthy cocktail party is never a good beginning for your attendees or for any speaker, nor is it a good idea to schedule a principle speaker on the morning after everyone has been up very late the night before. For most groups (all groups are different) cocktail parties with minimal food which precede the speaker should be limited to one hour. If food is served, they can be slightly longer.
    • Business Meetings & Awards
      If your program calls for a business meeting, the presentation of awards or even extended announcements, consider putting your speaker on first, or sandwiching the business and awards program around the speaker. Nothing makes an evening seem longer than when the speaker is introduced right after a long business meeting. If the speaker must follow a long program, give the audience a brief stretch break before introducing the speaker.
    • Wait Staff
      Sometimes, the association president or meeting emcee will come to the microphone to make a few announcements just as the banquet is starting. It is uncomfortable for that person if he or she must struggle to get people's attention-and so much more professional when the food service staff immediately stops what they are doing the moment someone steps to the mike. A sharp meeting planner will prepare the wait staff in advance by asking them to stop serving and stand in their places quietly the minute anyone steps to the microphone. Once the speaker has the audience's attention and begins making his or her announcements, the wait staff can resume their service quietly. Of course, the same routine should be followed at the end of the banquet when the meeting emcee begins the main program. Wait staff should immediately stop clearing dishes and return to the kitchen, waiting until AFTER the program is over to resume cleanup.

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    Name Badges
    Apart from security issues, the purpose of using Name Badges is to encourage networking among attendees. Studies show 30% or more of the value of a conference does not take place in the breakout rooms, but out in the hall where attendees mingle. This networking is greatly facilitated when attendee's first or nick-names are printed in big, bold letters at the top of the name badge. They may or may not be enclosed in quotation marks. On a related note, it is surprising that most convention attendees still don't know whether to wear their lapel badges on the right side or the left. Experienced convention-goers know the badge should be worn on the right side so when shaking hands with another attendee their name badge will be positioned right in front of the other person. How about a little sign posted at the Registration Desk which reads:
    Lapel Badges
    are usually worn on the right
    making them easier to read
    while shaking hands.


    Ribbons help distinguish speakers and exhibitors from association members, and members from non-members. Over the years I've seen a variety of other lapel badge designations including some that could probably accomplish the same thing but do so in a more positive way. For example how about "V.I.P." instead of "First Timer." Instead of "Non-Member," why not "Prospective Member." Or instead of "Staff," how about "Ask Me!"

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    Introductions
    Most "professional" speakers will provide a brief, printed Introduction in large easy-to-read type, but many others (academicians especially) will have only a resume or curriculum vitae thick enough to choke a horse. It then becomes the meeting planner's (or emcee's) job to edit the biography in an attempt to create a crisp, 30 to 120-second introduction. Speakers, of course, vary. Some may have great experience but be light in academic background, and vice versa. An introduction should emphasize the speaker's strengths. The following outline may be used to organize the Introduction:

    Opening "Good morning, Ladies & Gentlemen..."
    Ice Breaker "Today's speaker will show us how to _______ and _______."
    Experience "(full name of speaker) is especially qualified to do so because she spent ____ years in the _______________."
    Education "A graduate of the ____________________, (name of speaker) , earned her _________________ degree in ___________________."
    Publications "She is the author of ______________: (list and/or say something interesting about speaker's books & articles), and has appeared on numerous TV and radio programs across the country including: ______________."
    Interest Builder "Back by popular demand," or... "We were delighted to be able to engage her," or... "She's addressed audiences on three continents," or... "I know you will learn a lot from this next session," or... "Get ready for a terrific 90-minutes."
    Here Is... "Ladies & Gentlemen... Please welcome: (speaker) ."

    And how about an OUTRO? Sometimes the most difficult moments for an amateur emcee is what to say when the speaker has just finished and is taking his or her last bows. Here are a few examples of what to say when the speech is over:
    • "Well, ladies & gentlemen, wasn't that wonderful! Let's give Joe Schmo another big round of applause for that terrific presentation."
    • "I think we ought to give Jane Doe a round of applause for hiring Joe Schmo as our keynote speaker, don't you? (lead applause) Thanks Jane. And thank you, Joe!"
    • "Thank you Mary! That was just superb! I know I am going to take some of the things you've covered today and put them to work as soon as I get home."
    • "What a wonderful way to start (wrap up) our 17th Annual Management Conference! You couldn't have been more on target, Bill, and we thank you very much."
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    Copyright Barry Eigen. All Rights Reserved.

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