Thursday, 20 October 2011

Six Suggestions for Running Efficient Production Meetings

In event production, there is no room for error, and meetings are often full of minute details pertaining to the production. By efficiently conducting meetings and recording their results, the possibility for error is significantly reduced. Recorded meeting minutes and decisions can also help in providing specifics should any contractual disputes arise at a later date either with suppliers or with clients. 

Although far from an exhaustive list, the following tips are essential to running an effective meeting.

  1. Deal with the most important agenda items first. Too often, the items requiring key decisions are left until the end of a meeting when everyone is tired and ready to leave. Key items should be discussed when people are the most energized. For example, leave a decision about green room amenities to the end but put a key discussion about multimedia content at the beginning. 
  2. Follow Robert’s Rules of Order for more efficiency. US Army Major Henry Martyn Robert first wrote this now world-famous book in 1876 after presiding over a church meeting and discovering that delegates from different areas of the country did not agree about proper procedure. It is bar none the best and most widely used guide in existence to running orderly meetings, yet amazingly, few people who chair meetings on a frequent basis are aware of many of the key rules. Every producer should have a copy. 
  3. Set time limits for each agenda item. This forces attendees to be aware of the time allowed. 
  4. Limit discussion to one statement per attendee until all others who want to, have had a say. This, in more detail, is one of the essential points of Robert’s Rules of Order. It is the best way to stop a meeting from getting out of hand. 
  5. Have attendees address all discussion and questions through the Chairperson to reduce the possibility of heated arguments and of personality conflicts interfering with the conduct of the meeting. This is also a key Robert’s rule. 
  6. Sum up each agenda item, clearly establish any action required, name the person responsible for the action, set a target date for the action to be completed, vote on the decision if necessary, and record the results.
Following these simple suggestions will have you looking super-organized and in control, essential traits of a good event producer.

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Terrifying Roman Theme Dinner

Back in May I promised to talk about some ancient events, and the time has come to start doing so. 

It always surprises me how little we know about the history of our own profession. I did not know much myself until after I stopped producing shows a few years ago and finally found time to look at some history. Knowing what I do now, I would have to say that we are only barely beginning to scratch the surface of creativity, especially when it comes to comparing ourselves with ancient event producers and what minimal "raw materials" they had to work with.

I'm going to begin these visits to the past with an example of a Roman theme dinner that was created by the notoriously paranoid and cruel emperor Domitian in or around 88 or 89 CE, and to which he invited leading senators and other VIPs to commemorate Romans lost in the Dacian War. The account by the Roman writer Cassius Dio provides a good description:

"On another occasion he entertained the foremost men among the senators and knights in the following fashion. He prepared a room that was pitch black on every side, ceiling, walls and floor, and had made ready bare couches of the same colour resting on the uncovered floor; then he invited in his guests alone at night without their attendants. And first he set beside each of them a slab shaped like a gravestone, bearing the guest's name and also a small lamp, such as hang in tombs. Next comely naked boys, likewise painted black, entered like phantoms, and after encircling the guests in an awe-inspiring dance took up their stations at their feet. After this all the things that are commonly offered at the sacrifices to departed spirits were likewise set before the guests, all of them black and in dishes of a similar colour. Consequently, every single one of the guests feared and trembled and was kept in constant expectation of having his throat cut the next moment, the more so as on the part of everybody but Domitian there was dead silence, as if they were already in the realms of the dead, and the emperor himself conversed only upon topics relating to death and slaughter. Finally he dismissed them; but he had first removed their slaves, who had stood in the vestibule, and now gave his guests in charge of other slaves, whom they did not know, to be conveyed either in carriages or litters, and by this procedure he filled them with far greater fear. And scarcely had each guest reached his home and was beginning to get his breath again, as one might say, when word was brought him that a messenger from the Augustus (Domitian) had come. While they were accordingly expecting to perish this time in any case, one person brought in the slab, which was of silver, and then others in turn brought in various articles, including the dishes that had been set before them at the dinner, which were constructed of very costly material; and last of all came that particular boy who had been each guest's familiar spirit, now washed and adorned. Thus, after having passed the entire night in terror, they received the gifts."

Talk about an experiential event! We love to trigger emotions in modern events, but seldom consider fear as one that our guests would appreciate. I wonder if any of us would be prepared to go as far as Domitian did.