Posted by Joe M. Turner | TurnerMagic.com on September 15, 2010
How Magic Works In Corporate Settings
Part Three: Convention Dinners and Galas – Visibility
One special evening of a conference or convention – often the final evening – is typically built around a gala banquet event and some kind of after-dinner entertainment. Presenting a solidly entertaining show for these audiences is a core competency for my profession.
As you might imagine, I’ve found myself in a variety of venues and performing situations along the way. Like every meeting and event planner, I’ve also had to deal with last moment challenges and changes. Technical problems, lost luggage, travel issues… you probably have your own list of horror stories. Part of being a professional is being prepared to deal with those curve balls. Whether the audience is fifty people or fifteen hundred or more, I’ve got to be ready to create a successful experience for the audience, no matter what.
That said, there are a number of points on which meeting and event planners can work with performers up front to make sure that known pitfalls are avoided, creating the best possible environment for a successful event.
One major pitfall is the issue of visibility. The audience must be able to see the performance. This is an obvious point, but in the planning of a large event, this singularly important component of the experience can be inadvertently weakened by seemingly unrelated choices.
In this article, I’ll share some concepts on the importance of visibility, plus some personal “lessons learned” that meeting and event planners can keep in mind to enhance the success of after-dinner entertainment for their galas and banquets. Even if you’re working with entertainment of a non-magical nature, it’s worthwhile to do at least a mental run-through of your event plan with these concepts in mind.
A large centerpiece, while dramatic, can obstruct the view of everything else in the room.
Consider those tall, elegant centerpieces on the tables. Bold, artistic centerpieces can set a dramatic tone in a banquet room, but they can also hinder conversation at the tables. If there is an after-dinner performer or speaker on the bill, consider a smaller piece. Alternatively, you can arrange with the host or banquet captain to have the centerpieces moved to another location before the performer begins. You might move them to tables along the outside walls of the room, or use them to create another decorative element in the room such as a bordered walkway to a photographer’s corner or the exit.
Besides centerpieces, are there balloons, lighting trees, extra microphone stands, an unneeded speaker’s podium, tray jacks, or other extraneous items obstructing or cluttering the audience’s view of the platform?
In addition to possible physical obstructions, lighting is crucial to visibility. Discuss the options with your performer. I work in a variety of environments, either using the venue’s existing lighting, or working with the production company if the event is using theatrical lighting. When budget is a concern, an act who can work effectively with a venue’s existing lighting is a smart choice. When producing a large event, though, there’s no substitute for professionally produced lighting.
Platform or Stage
It’s a given that a raised platform or stage not only improves visibility, but also enhances the production value and theatrical impact of an event. That said, if your event has fewer than 100 people, you can often produce a successful event without a raised platform or stage. With enough space between tables, everyone can see a properly positioned speaker. Consider a corner of the room for the stage area; this can sometimes allow you to dodge inconvenient columns or posts. Some groups working with a limited budget can find success by setting up tables on one end of a large room and theater-style seating on the other; if your group doesn’t mind changing seats for the show, you can accommodate larger numbers without using a stage. If going without a stage, make sure the lighting and sound are flawless.
Distance is a key component of both visibility and a sense of immediacy. Separating a performer or speaker from the audience with a dance floor or other large open space always reduces the effectiveness of the presentation and diminishes the audience’s experience (Figure 1). Splitting an audience with a dance floor (Figure 2) will also drain the energy from a live presentation or performance.
If a dance floor is required, place it to one side of the room and add an additional table for the DJ (Figure 3). If the DJ or band must use the same stage as the performer, or if the dance floor cannot be repositioned, try to place seating on the floor until the dinner and show are concluded, then have those tables removed during a break after the featured performance and before the dance music starts.
Atlanta magician and keynote speaker Joe M. Turner presents an illusion via IMAG at a 2010 conference.
Image magnification, or IMAG, can be a valuable solution to problems of distance and staging. By projecting the speaker, presenter, or entertainer’s image on large video screens, problems of distance are quickly overcome. In addition to allowing more viewers to see the proceedings at a greater distance, it also broadens the scale and thus the variety of entertainment which can be presented effectively.
With regard to magic specifically, IMAG allows performer to use a wider range of equipment and draw upon a broader repertoire of material during the show. For example, a magic routine with a handful of dollar bills, a deck of cards, or the company’s annual report suddenly becomes just as visible to thousands of people as a full-scale stage illusion. This can result in savings on the entertainment budget because the transportation of additional illusions and assistants may be trimmed if the show is designed for a single performer.
If you think IMAG may potentially be part of your event plan, discuss it with your performer so that you both talk through the full range of options available as part of the entertainment. One last tip – please don’t record the projected video without the knowledge and consent of the performer; an infinite set of repeat performances for future audiences is an added value for which performers and speakers deserve to be compensated.
Whether at a dinner or a luncheon, no experienced speaker or performer ever wants to be trapped behind a lectern at a head table. Add a platform on another wall to improve focus on your performer and to give him or her space to move. Likewise, the people at the head table should not be relegated to watching the side or back of any presenter. Give your performer or speaker the opportunity to make an excellent, lasting impression on your organization’s leadership by letting them experience the presentation as it is intended to be seen: from the front.
Good visibility is critical to the after-dinner entertainment experience. Savvy event planners and meeting planners keep visibility in mind even when working on details that seem unrelated to the entertainment. First-time planners — often those who have recently been tapped for “this year’s event” — sometimes find themselves surprised at the last minute when all the pieces of the puzzle are finally in the same room at the same time. These tips are intended as helpful hints from someone who has worked through the challenges and wants to help you create the best possible environment for your successful event.
Stay tuned for more thoughts on entertainment and event-planning pitfalls… and how to avoid or overcome them! And in the meantime, if you’re planning a meeting or special event – call me and let’s talk about how my visual and psychological illusions can add value to your conference or banquet.