This transcript is from Episode 8 of The Savvy Event Planner Podcast
To listen to this podcast, please visit: http://SavvyEventPodcast.com/8
Transcript consists of interview only.
Tom: Folks, I'm on the line with Nathan Coe Marsh. Nathan is out of Orlando, Florida. He's been a friend of mine for a number of years. Nathan, how are you today?
Nathan: Doing great, Tom. Good to be here.
Tom: I'm thrilled to have you here, man. You are an incredible corporate entertainer, but you've taken that so far beyond what most of the corporate entertainers that I know have. You've become a speaker, you've gotten into MPI. So tell us a little bit about your background and how you evolved in the corporate market.
Nathan: Yeah, absolutely. So I've been working full-time corporate meetings and events as an entertainer since 2004, so entering the 11th year of doing that. It's funny, as part of just starting to try to build the business and find some new approaches for meeting folks, got heavily involved with meeting professionals international, and the road that took me down was starting to produce events. And I, within MPI, I moved from coordinating and producing events on a volunteer basis to being a director of education for meeting professionals international in Orlando, and then vice president of education for meeting professionals in Orlando.
It gave me a really unique perspective as somebody who's been both on the vendors side, who's produced some association events and has also seen some interesting gaps in how we educate meeting planners and what we can offer meeting planners. And that's led to the talk, the fine art of audience engagement, which we will be covering some of the content from here, and we'll be one of the break-out sessions at the special conference here in Orlando in 2016.
Tom: MPI in Orlando has to be an amazing group. Because if I remember correctly, didn't Cvent name Orlando the premier meeting destination place of 2015?
Nathan: Yeah, top meeting destination of 2015. So we're very excited about that.
Tom: You're a member of a big organization there. They plan the meetings, and yet you're planning the educational events. So let's talk a little bit about what you do under that aspect.
Nathan: Actually I did that for about two and a half years. I have recently cycled out of that and doing some other things with the local MPI group on that end. It was producing educational events and speaking lunches and various things at a local level, and coming at it from the perspective of an entertainer, we were able to apply some interesting things about making those more engaging, more exciting events from just coming at it from slightly different perspective.
Tom: So how did you go down this path of the fine art of audience engagement? What gave you the incentive? What did you see that was missing, and how did you learn about that?
Nathan: Yeah, absolutely. So it's been 11 years now of sitting in the back of sales meetings and corporate events and conferences, ready to go on stage and seeing way more awards ceremonies than anyone should probably have to. Realizing it was that, and as I was booking education for the Orlando MPI group, it was looking at we're very good when it comes to educating meeting planners at the logistics. We're very good at doing it. It's very easy to get lost in logistics. But what we realized, if we take a step back in an event, if you look at what an event budget, for instance, if you want to put 800 meals at a convention center, you're looking at $36,400, right? If you get the chicken and the fish option with a couple hosted beers, if you're looking at the fillet and the sea scallops, we're talking about $52,800 for that one meal.
Once we add in AV, creative production, entertainment, speaking, you and I both know how easy it is for a special event to go into hundreds of thousands of dollars. Two or three hours later, what happens? The cases are being rolled out, the loading docks. The foods either have been eaten, or it's, unfortunately in some cases, been thrown away, goes off to a better place.
So the question really is what are our stakeholders really paying for at the end of the day? What's the event owner really buying? Because it isn't AV, it isn't entertainment, it isn't food, it isn't alcohol.
Our planners are buying at the end of the day, the attention of the audience. It's about having the ability to influence that group of people and get access to what's going on inside of their brains. And that's true whether it's an association event, and you need those people to have the educational experience and the networking experience that's going to make them enthusiastic about forking over a couple of thousand dollars to renew their membership and attend the conference the next year. If it's an internal client event, it's an internal corporate event, you're wanting your employees to come away more effective, better able to do their jobs, more excited. And if that guy whose sitting in the third row is thinking about all the sales calls that he's not able to make, because he's at another stupid training, it's money that's going right out of the window.
So what I realized is we can focus a lot on the really important aspects of logistics, of contract negotiation, of all of those things. But if an event's going to have a real ROI, if there's going to be a real return on the investment, and you're actually going to achieve the strategic objectives of your stakeholders, you have to earn the attention of the audience. That's the same problem that you and I as entertainers have been learning to solve and/or forebears have been learning to solve for the past hundreds of years. So there are certain tips and tricks that we have for creating experiences that are going to ensure that you have that attention, that it is an immersive experience, and that your event gets real results. So that's what we'll be sharing some of today.
Tom: Okay. Well where do we start, Nathan? I love this.
Nathan: Awesome. So we start by breaking down–there are two creative problems for a performer, right? It turns out, they're the same two creative problems for a meeting planner. If I'm a magician, I have the creative problem of figuring out like the technical secret. If I'm going to make a dollar vanish and appear in an orange and on a technical level, how do I do that? Work on a ventriloquist. How do I control my voice and do these things so it creates the illusion of voice coming from somewhere else, or how do I juggle six balls? There's this technical aspect, and that maps up to the content of a meeting, which you don't have a lot of choice in. You get your content that's prescribed.
But now, the second creative job is how do we take that content and how do we turn it into something that's going to grab someone's attention, that's going to make somebody care, that's going to pull somebody through and make it a real theatrical experience. It turns out that there's a structure that I've used, and this comes from studying a lot of Eddyville entertainers and performers like that. And it also has some echoes in Madison Avenue as well with advertising. The structure is basically breaking down your experience into four different sections. There are four emotions that you need an audience to move through if you're going to get really anything done.
The first of these is attention. You've got to find a way, at the very beginning of the event, to create focus. And there are some awesome case studies where we're going to have some slides and some notes and some video for folks later where you can actually see this in action at actual events. It can be things as simple, and this is a great tip section, right? How to create focus?
One area that I think is really interesting, and there's a buddy of mine by the name of Brad Henderson, who's a phenomenal… He's both a performer and a meeting planner, so he occupies those same spaces, and he was saying to me once when he was talking about his events, “I write shows that look like parties,” and that's part of where this whole idea of mapping the show development on to the planning of the whole event comes in.
So to start with some practical things, one of the really interesting things about Brads events. So Brad designs events for a gentleman by the name of Richard Garriott, who's a video game magnet out of Austin, Texas, and they create these wonderfully immersive parties that are just legendary in the area. So for instance, they recreated a miniature titanic and put it on Mr. Garriott's lake. And the guests went on, had this amazing party. And then at midnight, they actually sank the titanic with the guests on it as part of the event. They've done alien landings, all kinds of really cool things. But one of the ways that they've created that immersive experience is by creating absolute focus from the very beginning. In Brads, case that begins with the invitation.
So for instance, there is an event. I was a part of called “Magic in the Manner,” that Brad produced back in 2007 where they brought in various extraordinary magicians and various different styles from around the world, but they put a nice little Richard Garriott touch to it. The way the invitations came was you got this card in the mail, and it had this really mysterious message. So in the message was…let me actually pull this up right in front of me. The message was like, “Mangled cats, the man sores. Can you imagine?” This is a card that you get in the mail, and then next to it was the clue that said 451 is less than T is less than 32.
When you think of 451, if you're a Ray Bradbury fan, you immediately think of Fahrenheit 451, the temperature at which books burn. And if you're thinking about temperature in Fahrenheit, you go to 32, and freezing. So there was this clue that the temperature was somewhere between burning and freezing, and the background of this, of course, is these are a lot of engineering types who are getting these invitations.
Richard's parties are legendary. So they really want to go anyway, so their motivated to solve this problem, and they start warming up the invitation. And when they warm up the invitation, it's been written in such a way that some of the letters, when you heat them up, vanish. Other letters stay. So right in front of them, they're taking a lighter what-not, and heating the invitation, and it's this magical experience that's happening in their hand from a magic themed event. So before they even get to the party, they're excited about it. The anticipation has been ramped up. So that's one tactic with the invitation.
Another tactic, this is something we see a lot, particularly industry events, is we have a really talkative industry. And if you have people who are not working, their drinking, their relaxing, their having a good time, how do you create that focus? Because guess what? Who is usually speaking is the CEO, or it's usually a critical message, if somebody's going to grab the microphone at very expensive event. There's a wonderful case study from Comic-Con, of all places, San Diego Comic-Con, where there was a particular session. And keep in mind, Comic-Con has all of these celebrities.
There's amazing star power there, people are thrilled. But they did this great thing where they had Loki from the Avengers franchise appear on stage, and it created far more excitement than it would have had this guy that walked out in a costume. You've got to see this video. It will be in the resources below. But basically, the key to this was they used a blackout to create total focus.
And this is a real key if you got talking audiences or what-not. We're plugged in as humans. If there's a sudden dramatic change in the environment around us, whatever we're doing, we shut up, and we pay attention. It's a survival thing if there's water coming in through the ceiling, if there's whatever. So if you're trying to create focus, that's a powerful little tip there; it's shutting off that light and doing it in that way.
One of the other things I like to talk about, we talk about how do we create focus. And really, this whole process, when you look at this attention, rapport, climax, reaction, these four parts, these are the four aspects that we're pulling the audience through. It's really about asking yourself a series of questions, so beginning with how are we going to create attention. One of the beautiful things about that is it makes it very easy to come upon creative solutions that you never would have come upon if you weren't asking yourself that question. We've got an industry where a lot of us will raise our hand and say, “Hey, I'm not that creative.” And part of that is that as a culture, we've been taught that creativity is this thing. You either have it or you don't. And the creative people just have ideas like fairy dust is just sprinkled on them, and they've got this new idea.
When you talk to really creative people, Stephen King, or Twyla Tharp, or there's a wonderful book, “The War of Art,” Steven Pressfield, when they write about what creativity is, it's a lot of work. It's sitting down consistently and doing the work and asking yourself the questions. And the better the questions you ask, the better the answers you ask. So that's one thing. It's when you start asking yourself, “How am I going to create attention at this event?” you come up with some pretty cool things like the unusual invitations, the other things.
Another technique, and this is an incredible speaker, Sally Hogshead. She's based out of Orlando, but is just blown up for the last few years. And Sally's book that was really, really influential was called “Fascinate.” Basically what she did was she, through research, isolated, “What are the seven triggers that make people, whatever their doing, stop and pay attention and be interested in something and want to learn more about something?” She has isolated these. So they are passion, mystique, prestige, power, rebellion, alarm, trust. And really the place to get this information is straight from Sally, because she's a phenomenal writer, and she lays this out so well in the book. We'll have the link in the information as well.
But one of the tools is asking yourself, “What's the fascination trigger of my event?” So if we're talking about the vaults [SP], it's something like prestige. If we're talking about burning man, there's a different trigger. There's something inherent about your event that's going to make people want to learn more and dig deeper. So that's a powerful tool there as well. Now, just as we're talking about things that can create more focus, there are also things that we do that dilute focus, and you and I have seen this all the time. So things ranging from the beautiful eight-foot, amazing centerpiece on the table. It looks so pretty and it's great.
If you're just having a dinner and people are having a conversation, and maybe there's five minutes of remarks, it's not a big deal. But if you're putting on, if you're investing in any content, if you're investing in entertainment, if you're investing in a speaker, whatever the case may be, those beautiful table settings that are so tall become like miniature skyscrapers people are trying to look around and peak around and see what's going on. The important point, as we're talking about attention and focus, being what really delivers on ROI is when that happens, that's money that you're just throwing away. And we know this as entertainers. And I think as event planners, you see this as well.
People are very binary in the way that they register in experiments. It's either a one or a zero. If you're watching an entertainer, we're not saying, “Oh man, that was a hilarious, amazing ventriloquist. But unfortunately I was seated right behind the giant centerpiece, and the sound system, the gain before feedback was terrible, so his voice wasn't as present as it should be, and there was this giant space between him and the audience, so we felt less connected.” They don't do that, right?
Tom: You like them or you don't.
Tom: “He's lousy.” They don't think about the environment.
Nathan: Absolutely. And it's the same with the meeting. Unless you really screw up a big thing, they're not going to identify all the little details, right? But all those little details are going to add up to them not being immersed in the experience. So they're not going to say in their head, “Oh, this was an amazing speaker that they brought for us, but it was at 7:00 in the morning, and we're eating at the same time, and the room was the wrong temperature.” It's the exact same thing. It's either a one or a zero for the planner as well. So these are some of those details.
So one of those really quickly, we had the high centerpieces. And the solution for that, by the way, we talk about limitations promoting creativity, those amazing event designers. I guarantee, if you speck that you want a beautiful centerpiece, but you want it to be the one that doesn't go above a high level, they're going to do something really cool for you, and it might be a significantly less spend. You can also do some cool things if you're looking. If you've got that budget, you want that, wow, and you like the centerpiece thing. You can go very thin and very high.
The other thing you might want experiment with, too…and again, if you've got those budgets for those cool centerpieces, and that matters, is using a LED pinspot on the table that's moving their eyes upwards and then have a rigged centerpiece as it were above the table. It should be very cool and very different and very unique. So those are some solutions around that particular problem.
Other things that dilute focus, we hinted at it earlier. You and I are very familiar with the dance floor of death where people put…you've got the stage, and you've got your entertainment, and then you put this giant dance floor, and then you put all the people on the other side, right? So what happens is as an audience, you're trying to listen to an entertainer or a speaker, whatever the case may be, it feels like somebody's yelling at you from across the parking lot. It just pulls you right out of the experience, and you lose it.
Another thing I like us to look at, so we're investing in a big key note speaker, right? Maybe we're spending somewhere between $30,000 and $80,000 to bring them in, it's a major feature of our conference, when are we programming that into the conference agenda? Ninety percent of the time, it's at 8 a.m., and bearing in mind that our attendees are traveling from, in many cases, all around the world. A lot of times, because they're out, they're taking that night before to go drinking, they go socializing, and you don't have that focus. So that's another one. It's when are we having our things?
So we look at the four basic things that we're moving people through. That's the attention category. And there are some other tips we can give, there's some other examples.
But that next category is the entertainment model for this. We call this rapport. And this is you can do the most amazing stunt in the world, as you know, or you can do the coolest magic trick or amazing ventriloquism or whatever. But if they don't like you, it doesn't matter. This second part of the show, when we're doing a show, is that part where we're building up that good will, we're having fun, it's a ride. This is where a lot of comedy is going on, and that beat can serve that exact same function when it comes to a meeting or a conference.
This is the time. There's something in common about this group of people, which is why they're at this meeting or this event or this conference. What unites them? This is the place in the program to celebrate that. So once you've got their focus, once you've brought them into your world, now we're going to gel them together. Because once we gel them together, we can get them to absorb a message, we can get them to do what we want them to do in a way that we can't if it's just this loose collection of individuals.
This is a great place for team building. It's a great place for networking, but it's also a great place where there's some very cool alternative educational models being developed that celebrate this idea that a lot of times when we're doing education at an event, we have one speaker at the front of the room talking to the entire group, but just mathematically no one person in the entire room. There's more experience, there's more expertise in an entire room than there will ever be in one person that's just a part of that room.
So one of the challenges, and this is a cool place to find solutions for that, is how do we supercharge peer-to- peer learning. How do we get these people to get the most out of the fact that the person sitting next to them and sitting next to them and sitting next to them has something that can be really valuable? So one tool is a cool model called the solution room. And this was developed in the U.S. of a proponent. This is a gentleman by the name of Adrian Segar from conferencesthatwork.com. It was originally developed with a partner of his, and some friends of his, at the MPI 2011, European Meetings and Events Conference. Basically the idea here is you're sitting around the table with eight people, and its great if this is arranged randomly.
If it's not, if people aren't choosing to sit by the person they always know or whatever, there's some butcher paper on the table, everybody's writing down some problem that they have professionally, that they're looking for a creative solution for. Within whatever industry that event's going on with, they write that down. Then you switch over one side, so you're in front of a problem that's not your own, and your problem is in front of somebody else. One at a time, each person explains what their original problem was to the group. The group takes five minutes and brainstorms on that problem. As they brainstorm, that person whose problem it actually is, isn't taking a single note, because the guy next to him, so he's free to really ask and dig and explore while the guy next to him is writing it down on the butcher paper that's on the table, all these notes from everyone else.
What's really cool about this, I did this at a conference, I was an attendee at, in Dallas, Texas in 2012 or 2013. And it broke down the barriers in a way that I had never seen for a networking event, because the people I was sitting at that table with, we weren't doing any of the BS of who's a buyer, who's a seller. The interaction didn't begin with that. It didn't begin with the uncomfortable, “Hey, so what do you do?” We were thrown into solving a problem together. And that meant that, A, those solutions were really effective, and people were ripping out those papers and folding them up and keeping them, but it also meant that we were connected on a deeper level, than if we just begin socializing.
So this is a really cool thing to throw into the mix. And again, we'll include that link, conferencesthatwork.com, Adrian Segar. Great resource on that.
So we've created focus. We've brought them into our world. We've gelled them together so they're one group. Now, we got to take them somewhere. Now is the really important point. This is the climax. We would call it the big finish, but it's not at the finish for a reason we'll get to a little bit earlier. And this is the point to say what's most important. What's the memory that you want your attendees to come back two or three weeks later, six weeks later, six months later. It's at this point, and not before you've gathered their attention and gelled them together at a group that you deliver that. So the emotional high-point of the presentation. If there's an image and experience that you wanted to define the event.
As entertainers, we think of this point as the “I've got a guy who” point. This came from a performer who's a real mentor for me when I was in college in Applus, Maryland, by the name of Denny Haney. And his thing was, “Nathan, you got to develop something so that if somebody's selling you, selling your show as an agent, it's “I've got a guy who,” is shot in the mouth with a paintball and catches it out of mid-air. It's a clear, succinct thing that people can take away and use. That's the moment for that in the conference.
So we've created their attention, we've gelled them together as a group, we've taken them somewhere that's emotionally and intellectually intense and rich, and now, what a really interesting moment. And the best analogy for this, I'm going to be totally honest, the best analogy for this is the seduction; if you look at the entire event as you would like a seduction in your private life. So two people, you catch each other, you catch the other person's attention, right? You build up some rapport. It builds to a powerful and intense climax, ideally for everyone involved.
Tom: I'm married. You're going to have to go somewhere else. You got something that I can relate to.
Nathan: Well, you might be able to relate to this next part, Tom.
Nathan: Because right after that, you cuddle. And I should say, or not, as depending on what people do. But what you do at that moment, this is such a critical moment. Because once you've reached that high-point, what you do now has a huge impact on how the other person feels about you. If you're like, “Hey, I'm out of here. I'm leaving. Whatever,” it has that impact. This is the same. It's the exact same thing in a show, and there's a great video you'll be able to look at when you get the resources. There's Johnny Carson and Frank Sinatra, and the Rat Pack at the summit of 1965 doing this incredible version of “Birth of the Blues.”
What you see there is they go through every step. They go through every phase that we've been talking about; attention, rapport, climax, response. This response moment is so beautiful, because you've got about 2500 people, probably in the show room, leap to their feet at the climax of this big, powerful sustained note. And they hit it, and they keep hitting it. And there's this thunderous curtain call, and there's a giant standing ovation, just this huge powerful wave of energy. And very quietly, Johnny Carson comes up to the mic, and you can hear just a pin drop. So it's gone from this huge powerful, big emotional thing to just this quiet, gentle moment. And he says, “Thank you so much, but we've had all the fun. And I just wanted to say what a pleasure it is being able to do what we love for people like you.”
And he's cuddling with you. He's taking you to this place, and then he gently sets you and brings you back down into the regular world. And it's something that lives with people, something that lives with people for a really long time. Every person in that room, I guarantee you at that moment, it felt like Johnny was talking just to them, and it was this one-on-one direct connection. That's very powerful, and it's very powerful when you follow that structure and when you get people feeling that way, and you get them through every piece of that emotion, because they attached that feeling then back to the conference. They attached that feeling back to the sponsors. When you structure it that way, it's the thing that people can't resist talking about, because it goes back to that old cliché thing: “They may forget what you say, but they'll never forget how you made them feel.”
Tom: That was something incredible, incredible stuff, Nathan. I'm sure the listeners are feeling like I am at the moment. When you were talking about Johnny Carson bringing them down, doing that cuddling, that literally gave me chills.
Nathan: It's powerful. It's powerful, man.
Tom: To take the idea of the show format and how entertainers bring in the audience and apply that to the meeting is just phenomenal. The first time I've ever heard about this was from you, and that's why I wanted to bring you on here today. Man, I appreciate what you're sharing here.
Nathan: Hey, my pleasure. My pleasure.
Tom: Now, for our audience, you've got some show notes, the slides and things, correct?
Nathan: Yeah, absolutely. We've got the slides, we've got videos of some examples that we mentioned. The notes go into great detail about everything we covered. We also have some alternative structures for you, because we've got the main structure, but then there's some cool other structures, too. So those will be available to you. There'll be a link right below, and we will get those e-mailed off to anyone who would like them.
Tom: Okay. And folks, they'll be in over on The Savvy Event Podcast website, so I'll give you all that information in just a few minutes. Now, Nathan, one of the things that we talked about before we went live with this was this is also a talk that you're giving that relates to a CMP certification. Is that correct?
Nathan: Sure, yeah. Absolutely. So if any of your listeners, and you know who you are, you're working on your Certified Meeting Professional certification from the Convention Industry Council, what we've been talking about is designed to fall under domain G of the CIC, CMP blueprint, so you'll want to write that down. Write the title of this program down, and when it comes time for your CMP renewal, this can be a clock hour for you.
Tom: Excellent. That right there, hey, folks, you just got a clock hour. Did I say that right?
Nathan: I think so, Yeah.
Tom: Having one of those moments. Nathan, I'll tell you what. Before we get out of here, again, our audience is planning events for their companies, is there any thought or tidbit or tip that you could leave them with that they should consider as they're creating their next event?
Nathan: So here's my favorite one, because we've talked about the whole AC, the structure of that I've been doing. My favorite is as we think about structure,– and you can tell I'm really interested in the whole structure thing and how we take people on a journey– there was a famous anthropologist who created, basically, the sense of what's the structure of Joseph Campbell, who created what's the structure of all these myths that take place over thousands of different years and all these different places. What do they have in common? That got translated basically into Hollywood. What's this journey that people go through that's mythic? That became a structure that says Star Wars was based on and was based very literally on, so it's a structure that's made millions of dollars.
And what's interesting about the structure is it models, in some ways, what's happening during an event. Because what happens in this structure is the heroes in an ordinary world, they're feeling some internal tension between two different things. There's a call to adventure. They resist the call, they meet a mentor, they go into this other world. Well, in a lot of ways, that's what we're doing when we bring a person to an event. They're in the ordinary world, we're calling them on this adventure, we're doing something to change them, and then we're bring them back out.
So one thing I've always been thinking about, and I don't have the examples, I don't have the other thing is how can you make your event a call to adventure? How can you take them on the hero's journey? I think it's an exciting challenge. I think somebody's going to do something really, really cool with that. Really interesting.
Tom: Well, I hope so. And hopefully this will inspire everyone who's listening. We've got a comments section on the website right below each podcast episode. So if you have an inspiration from this, go there and leave us a note. And maybe Nathan, would you mind?
Tom: You could interact with them a little bit, and maybe give them some additional.
Tom: Because that would be awesome. That would absolutely be awesome.
Nathan: I'm happy to be a resource. If anyone has any questions, feel free to reach out to me personally. We'll have my email information, and what-not, as part of this as well. I'm always happy to…I want to hear what you got from it and how we can help take things to the next level together.
Tom: Fantastic. Nathan, if they want to check out your show website, can you give them that URL real quick?
Nathan: Absolutely. That's going to be ncmarsh.com
Tom: Thank you so much. Nathan, we have a lot of stuff that we didn't even get to touch on today, because I'd love to find out more about when you were playing the educational events, how do you worked with the different presenters that we're working and things that you learned from that, but we're out of time today. Can I ask you or impose upon you to come back again sometime and talk to us some more.
Nathan: Let's do it. Absolutely, Tom.
Tom: Hey, fantastic. Nathan, I appreciate your time so much today. Thank you, my friend.
Nathan: Hey, my pleasure. Take care, Tom.
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