Breathing Life into Your Next Business Conference

Live business conferencing can be used to fulfil many objectives, with the rationale behind such events often summed up through the now-familiar buzz-word ‘engagement’.

And engagement is certainly a high priority for many corporate clients as the raison d’etre of their annual sales conference, especially given the investment of cost and time necessary to gather an audience into one space at one time.

So, why do it? There are plenty of other methods of mass-communication – driven by increasingly smart social media technologies – which enable information and messaging to be delivered, in one hit and at less apparent cost. Streamed media and TV surround us in every aspect of life in the 21st century – much of it ubiquitous and potentially disengaging as these mechanisms noisily compete for our attention. Even our old friend, print, retains a role in the communication process, with hard-copy still reaping tactile rewards through touch, look and feel.

Yet around the globe, throughout the year, we gather ourselves en-masse into semi-darkened conference suites, to receive critical business information delivered from a presentation stage, where, like it or not, Death By PowerPoint often becomes the unintentional subtext of the event.

But if we rewind a little from the fervent and compelling desire to ‘present’ this year’s sales figures, next quarter’s targets or introduce new working practices and instead review the environments in which we might wish to engage with an audience, then the clues are already laid out before us: Stage + audience = theatre.

Whether you’re an active theatre-goer or not, there can be no denying that the human condition is improved by our exposure to live theatre – it’s entertaining, uplifting, pleasurable, memorable and unique. Theatre also allows an audience to access feelings they may not often experience - and elements of a storyline often extend beyond personal life experiences, so the mind is expanded and emotional responses heightened.

If we then overlay the theatrical experience onto the common components of a typical conference brief (enthuse, motivate, engage and inform) then how else can these objectives be effectively fulfilled – other than through live performance?

By introducing professional acting into the conference content, we provide uplift, contrast, interest and entertainment – factors which don’t necessarily fall out of a traditional business presentation. And by allowing actors into the mix, messages which might seem lame or dictatorial coming from the CEO can assume greater impact and reaction when delivered by well-briefed and engaging actors.

There are five key points worth noting about the value of theatre:

1. Expression & Communication

Theatre teaches us how to express ourselves more effectively. It develops our ability to communicate our thoughts and feelings to others, improving our relationships and improving the world around us.

2. Self-Awareness

Theatre teaches us about ourselves. It helps us understand how our minds and the minds of others work and helps us to see how the environments in which we live affect who we are and who we can become.

3. Human Interaction

Theatre reminds us that, even in this ever-changing digital age, there is still a human at the centre of every digital transaction, especially important where customer relationships are key to business success.

4. Learning Experience

Theatre is a great way to learn and understand more about people, places, and ideas to which we would not otherwise be exposed. A theatrical setting lowers barriers and makes learning fun.

5. Creativity

Theatre helps us to identify and develop our creativity, which in turn empowers us to be more creative in our approach to problem-solving business life.

Acknowledged, extracted and paraphrased from Dr. Kevin Brown, Assistant Professor, Department of Theatre, University of Missouri, Columbia.

Collaborative working provides a sound basis for introducing acted scenarios into a conference environment and many regional theatres will have access to the necessary talents to develop concepts and scripts which will forcefully deliver the right motivational messages.

While all types of theatre performances have benefits, laughter can also genuinely be the best medicine and an amused and entertained audience is going to be far more receptive to the challenges of the next sales quarter if these are presented imaginatively.

As Karen Foster, Executive Director of the Lichfield Garrick theatre points out: “Given a good brief from a client, we can use our theatrical expertise to create acted scenes, links and entertainment to deliver and underpin key business messages which also provides refreshing, memorable contrasts to screen-based presentations. When your team feel the message, they connect with it, no matter how difficult a concept or a statistic and when it’s delivered theatrically, they identify with the business’ aims and ambitions.”

This was proven at a recent Lemoncake client event where the client was brave enough to introduce a Pantomime segment into the main conference, complete with professional pantomime dame and actors who involved the key presenters in a pre-scripted trip through past, present and future business scenarios. With cameo walk-on appearances from senior management this session delivered and reinforced key messages which were then highlighted and reiterated by the CEO at the uproarious curtain call.

Lemoncake’s skills as event managers and producers rely on our ability to think beyond normal parameters and challenge the content of the events we work on. In past events, we’ve had actors posing as theatre Janitors delivering monologues while sweeping the stage; a ‘rescue’ helicopter pilot lowered into the midst of a deliberately dull presentation as well as weary, bag-laden shoppers bemoaning the lack of customer service. These elements all form part of the Lemoncake event mix and serve to deliver key messages through entertainment, added value and raising the engagement quotient of those successful events.