There are a million ways to screw up an event, but only 10 ways to get it right
OK, now it’s serious. We have our big annual fundraising event and we need to have it be a huge success. Sadly, these events are largely constructed by a committee that have little understanding of how events should flow, and the critical importance of timing and transitions. No offense. The most basic emotion at these events is restlessness. This is not the first fundraiser these people have ever been to, unless it’s the first fundraiser they have ever been to. But I am guessing 100% of folks in attendance have already attended to one prior to this.
They know the drill….they care about the event’s mission or the person that invited them. Preferably both. So the responsibility you have to the guests and the ones doing the inviting, is to be clear with your message. People seldom remember the roast beef, but they remember the content of the presentations and the silky smooth flow of an event. A lot of “awkward" produces polite agony. Be prepared.
This upcoming 10 part bloviating blogathon will evolve into a free E-Book, then probably a 6 part mini series on PBS hosted by Benedict Cumberbatch.
We will cover critical topics like:
1. Be honoring of the event length. If it suppose to end at 9:30, it should be targeted to end at 9:23. If the program is set to begin at 6:30, then 6:55 is a long delay, especially if food is involved.
2. Speakers are usually a combination of professionals and non professionals. It helps to have a good cop/bad cop set up. A competent emcee can play a non threatening bad cop. The executive director of an organization (good cop) can't say to a colleague, "when you talk it reminds me of my colonoscopy prep." A good emcee can offer pro tips for succeeding at a high level that will get the message across without awkwardness from a peer. One disaster from a speaker professional or non professional will have lasting impressions not only for the night, but when people get the invitation the next year.
3. Audio visual equipment that doesn’t work is more than embarrassing, it can reflect how much an organization has it "together.” Not fair, but it does count. A sharp dressed guy with bad breath. What do you remember? A poor sound system is a capital offense, and a speaker in the dark because of poor lighting is not only hard to stay focused on, but gives the audience permission to not care and to start checking their phones for updates on the game. Usually the presenter and the audience are stuck in the same dull glow of chandeliers. One spotlight, or any way to draw the focus exactly where you want it will do wonders. If they can't see well or hear well, they can be expected to care much.
4. An emcee will set the tone. The biggest buzz of the academy awards every year is, “who’s hosting?” The winning actors at the top of their field holding the gold trophy get 2-3 minutes to talk. You would think audiences would want to hear more. They don’t. A good emcee know how to manage the stage. A bad emcee is not worth having.
5. Videos need to be used artfully at live events. To have a live audience and show a 20 minute video is punishable by 6 years in a Russian work camp. Videos can be powerful, but they need to be short, well produced, and perhaps also added as part of a follow up thank you e-mail guests receive the next day.
6. The critical ask. Who is doing it? Are they charismatic or is it Ed from accounting? What time in the event does the ask come? The longer people sit on their wallet, the harder it is to get them to reach for it. When you open the front door and a Girl Scout is standing there, you know she is going to ask for the sale. EVERYONE at your event knows this is coming as well. Is your 'ask' going to be as cute or inviting as the Girl Scout? Or will you be telegraphing "Here it comes! Another effective giving technique is to bring several unleashed Rottweilers into the room as they get out their checkbooks while listening to Welcome to the Jungle by Guns and Roses.
7. Communicating with the banquet captain, or theater manager. If noise of movement is occurring in and around the presentations, it is yet another reason to have people be distracted from the most important part of the evening. Have predetermined requests and the expectations that they be met.
8. Is the staff and committee frazzled? Of course they are. Remind everyone they need to be compartmentalizing their nerves until the event is over. Also, despite how hard everyone works and is deserving of attention, 90% of the guests in attendance don’t know them or care who did what? Spending time publicly thanking each one is nice but I would suggest doing it in private and not asking the audience to respond to things they don’t care that much about, or applaud for people they don’t know. For example, “we’d like to thank Wendell tonight who got the pens from the local Office Max, and Gloria who made the pinecone arrangement on the table that are supposed to look like the cast of Gilligan’s Island.
9. The order in which things happen are way more important than you think. What you think is the way you want to start or end, may be the worst way to start or end. Navigating silent auctions and live auctions along with other money enriching tactics needs to be orchestrated well.
10. More is never better. You can’t make everyone happy, you’re not chocolate.
11. Have a non compete clause! Don't make any part of the night compete with any other part. Don't entertain while serving food. Don't have people handing out response cards during the ask. Give your guests only one thing to focus on at a time. Otherwise, the most important thing might be missed. Or worse, ignored.
First Encore thought... Isn’t this event/ process supposed to be fun and joyful? A good emcee, speaker, or entertainer doesn’t cost you money, they make you money. Did I mention I do this for a living?
Second Encore: usually always Freebird, or Stairway to Heaven (I grew up on 70’s rock)