I am not an event planner. In all honesty, I have studied very little about Event Planning. I have no degrees in field. However, I am someone who has been to hundreds of events – usually as the keynote or feature presenter. I’ve seen astoundingly well-run events and I have seen utter nightmares. I’ve met wonderful people involved in all areas of event production, and I’ve met others who, if I’m being honest, would be of better use to humanity by living at the bottom of the ocean. In that time, I’ve learned a couple of things and wanted to share a few key ones with you. I’m sure that most of them are not new to you, but it is my sincere hope that you find something here of practical use. These suggestions are specifically aimed at the traditional “banquet” environment and can be adapted to most other settings.
LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION
Yes. It’s a wonderful thing to hold your event in that stunning hotel located at that world class resort. While the geographical setting is a HUGE psychological factor – and certainly a very enticing “draw” – even more important is the physical environment when your guests sit down to “do business”.
You want to create a connection between your guests. You want them to be comfortable. Relaxed. Open and welcoming to other guests who are in their own similar experience. You want them to feel a sense of unity. Physical space has a huge psychological effect on the mood and demeanor of your guests and something as simple as how tables are arranged can make a massive difference.
In a banquet environment, a lot of rooms are rectangular, and it is very important that the stage and/or podium area is as close as possible to members of the audience. The stage should be in the middle of the room, against the wall, and NOT on the far end. Whether you will be having speeches, presentations, prize giveaways, or entertainment, you want to have your group as CLOSE to the stage area as possible. Audience members far away from the “action” will feel left out, and grow disinterested. The closer, the better!
This is one of the reasons that most comedy clubs have their stages within virtual touching distance of the closest tables. And very similar to a school classroom, people at the front are usually actively engaged, while those at the back find it much easier to fade out and switch off.
This is where I first learned of – wait for it – THE DANCE FLOOR OF DEATH!
Quite often at events there is a DJ and Dancing is planned for the end of the evening. And invariably the area immediately in front of the stage is designated as the Dance Floor Area. Which is fine for dancing, however absolutely everything else leading up to that moment is compromised as a result. Rather than creating a closeness with platform and viewing group, there is a virtual MOAT separating the presenter from the audience.
When a dance floor is needed, I strongly recommend that the organizer relocate it to either the back or side areas of the room. This gives people an area to dance, and does not negatively affect the rest of the events activities.
Alternatively, if a dance floor must be located in front of the stage, fill it with portable chairs with an aisle down the middle (allowing for ease of movement). The chairs can then be quickly and easily removed after the performance. This is the least desirable situation, but it is a very effective way to deal with the dreaded DANCE FLOOR OF DEATH! (Trademark pending).
“WE CAN’T HEAR YOU!” THE DANCE FLOOR OF DEATH!
Most high-end venues have a dedicated technical crew, usually contracting an outside company for all of their AV needs. This is the best case scenario, with excellent equipment and qualified staff.
Many settings are a little less fortunate and are a case of “this is what we got”. Make sure well in advance that the sound system on site is a quality one, and insist on having a representative from the facility AND someone familiar with the system to assist with the sound check. Schedule the sound check MANY hours in advance of the event’s start, allowing for time to replace the system and or component if necessary.
I usually work with the house system. As a backup, I travel with 3 extra microphones (2 headsets and a handheld wireless), as well as a mini sound system – just in case. In general, be prepared for “surprises”. They happen all the time.
I’ve also been very surprised by the quality of sound systems found in the most unlikely of venues. I’m often entertaining in smaller rural locations including towns, villages and municipalities. Some of which can be very challenging to locate – even with a GPS! And yet, with very few exceptions, these halls are usually set up with absolutely great sound systems. The price is right for smaller community groups to purchase top-of-line systems (or at the least, very good ones) for a very reasonable price. Often too, there are several local people available who are very familiar with the system and can quickly get you up and running.
Regardless of WHERE the event is taking place, they often follow the same format. Frequently, there are speeches or presentations and it is always a good idea to give those who will be speaking a few moments of practice with the microphone. Remind all presenters to speak loudly into the microphone – it is extremely frustrating to listen to unintelligible mumbling for 10 minutes – and it’s surprising just how often this happens. A few minutes rehearsal is always a good idea!
If you are having entertainment, always have the performer provide a written intro for the Emcee or host to use. The intro should be short, informative, and create audience excitement. The intro for my MIND MAGIC show is…
We have a very special guest for you this evening! This man has spent the last 30 years exploring ESP and the paranormal. He has demonstrated his unique talents in Los Angeles, New York, London and Singapore. And he is here tonight to show you what he calls MIND MAGIC. Please welcome, Louis Pezzani!
I would also strongly suggest that if anyone is unsure about the pronunciation of a name, that they speak with the person beforehand. Get the phonetic spelling and write it down. I’ve heard my own name, “Louis Pezzani”, pronounced in some SPECTACULARLY wrong ways. At the bottom of the cue card for the Emcee, I add phonetically < Loo Eeee – Peh Za Knee >. Looks weird, but it does the job!
TAKE 5 (or 10)
Most banquets held in the evening follow a very familiar timeline.
6:00 Drinks and mingling
It is very important to have a few planned breaks during your evening. People need to get up, walk around, socialize, get another drink, etc. Without these breaks you will find the energy level of your group drops, and people will become distracted. I’ve had shows in the past where I was asked to go onstage at 10 PM after 2 hours of speeches and awards. NOT a good idea. I always suggest that a 10 minute break is called, giving everyone a chance to get some fresh air, stretch their legs and recharge their batteries. It’s a very good idea, will work wonders and your guests will really appreciate it!
I also strongly recommend that any presentation or entertainment start no later than 9 PM. And even that is pushing it. Why? One word: ALCOHOL. If your group initially arrived at 6 PM, and has been sitting (and drinking) for 3 hours – well, do the math. Focus is not as sharp, people start breaking into (potentially loud) cliques, and the evenings structure can start falling apart very quickly.
I could tell you stories of “Ladies Nights” and Fist Fights, Earlier is better.
BIG, BOLD AND BEAUTIFUL! DANCE FLOOR OF DEATH!
Most hotels and conference centers have projection screens and video cameras as standard equipment. Having large screen projections of the happenings onstage – and those in the audience – really transforms the event, and adds another dimension. It also enhances the connection, allowing people to actually see everyone taking part, rather than just a small, shadowy blobs.
Recommended for groups of more than 300 people.
Having a smooth running, successful event SHOULD – to the outsider – look easy. Like all things done by experts. You don’t notice the seams. It requires a lot of knowledge and experience, and a level head. Some luck doesn’t hurt either.
I’ve been doing this for decades and perform in a banquet settings more than any other type of venue. I’d love to help you with YOUR next event.
Please email or call me toll free, at 1.844.348.3909.
All the Best of the Best to you!