Friday, 26 October 2012

A Last Look at Reasons for Entertainment

Creating Ambience

Particularly in theme events, establishing the right ambience for the event is one of the first considerations producers have. The ambience can be so much more than static d├ęcor or lighting, even if the lighting is automated. Adding other sensory input in the form of live entertainment helps to set a “living” mood. This can be done for any number of reasons, such as providing an atmosphere for easy discussion, for conducting business, or for relaxing. The proper choice of music can accomplish this with perhaps a jazz trio that enables unstrained conversation. As a side note, the importance of establishing and maintaining this relatively “quiet” ambience should not be passed over lightly. At far too many special events, the background noise level is excessively high, caused by poor room acoustics but exacerbated by music that is supposed to be background but is too loud. Producers tend to believe that volume equates to having a good time which in turn equates to a successful event and they could not be farther from the truth. In the majority of corporate events, guests attend because they want to dialogue with long-lost colleagues, and in many such events, to consummate business deals. This cannot be done if talking is uncomfortable. At the other extreme, atmosphere can be high energy. For example, a group of “paparazzi” greeting guests at the event entrance sets a lively ambience (Figure 1). One prime example from my own experience was adding to a beach party ambience by having a surf band enter the party in an authentic “Woodie” complete with honking horn, surfboards, and girls in bikinis.

Figure 1: Example of “Paparazzi” Greeters Helping to Set Ambience (Courtesy Alan Gough,, and Pacific Show Productions, – Copyright 2006)

Rewarding Performance and for Image Purposes      

Frequently, producers are called upon by clients to “just give me something really good”. This would seem to yield the conclusion that not all entertainment needs to have a deep reason. Realistically, there usually is one if the event producer or client is asked the right questions. For example, an incentive client may make just that statement, although the real reason for the entertainment is as a “reward” for top sales people (i.e. meaning motivational content). Likewise, a client may not state a reason but in reality wants to impress his or her clients by providing great entertainment. If budget presents a problem, producers may have to find performers or perhaps a single act, who can deliver an “all-round package” at a reasonable price. Such performers tend to exhibit three key characteristics. First, they are absolutely perfect at their craft (entertainment form) whether it is music, comedy, dance, athletics, or any combination. Second, they incorporate a component of comedy into their act and make it seem natural and spontaneous, not forced. Typically, though, it has been rehearsed, proven, and refined over the course of time. Third, they incorporate a component of audience participation into their act, again making it seem unrehearsed and spontaneous, and again it will have been proven to work over the course of dozens or hundreds of performances. Such acts, in my experience, regularly receive standing ovations and make producers and clients alike look good.

Celebrity performers can also be ideal as “rewards” or as image enhancers. Dianne McGarey, a producer with considerable experience in this area states, “Of all the things I do on a regular basis, celebrity events are my favorites. Over the span of 23 years, I have produced Smoky Robinson, Natalie Cole, Jim Belushi, The Four Tops, The Temptations, The Steve Miller Band, The Doobie Brothers, and Kenny Loggins . . . to name just a few. In almost every case, the client who chose these acts did so for the express purpose of creating a company image. They wanted to impress as well as entertain those in attendance whether they were employees, their own key clients, or potential customers.” For clients with good budgets, this is undeniably the best way to gain prestige. Figure 2 shows a celebrity (Jim Belushi) at a private corporate special event.

Figure 2: Celebrity Headliner at a Private Corporate Special Event (Courtesy Axtell Productions International, )

That's it for the reasons for entertainment. In future posts, I'll look at different types of entertainment and how to work with performers.

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Another Set of Reasons for Using Entertainment in Special Events


A novel and frequent use of entertainment in events is as decoration. The performer(s) take on the persona of decorations that can be either stationary or moving, interactive or inactive. Costumed living statues, interactive entertainers (e.g. stilt walkers, mimes, dancers, and others in themed costumes who move amongst guests anywhere but on a stage), and look-alikes are typical of decorative entertainment. Figures 1 and 2 are representative of extremely novel interactive, but decorative, performers.

My company produced many events using this form of entertainment. At some, we placed dancers in spotlighted statuesque poses amongst tables as guests entered an event space. Once all were seated, the dancers then gradually came out of their poses and began an introductory dance routine. At another beach party event, we actually hired bodybuilders to pose and lift weights as if on “Muscle Beach.”

Figure 1: Example of Dancers as Decoration (Photo by Photo Tech, courtesy of Event Solutions)

Figure 2: Example of a Performer as Decoration (Courtesy Designs by Sean,

Announcing, Introducing, or Advertising

For this use, performers may announce, introduce, and advertise people, products, services, and activities. These reasons are lumped together because the concept for each is similar. Some examples best illustrate this concept:

  • Celebrities as masters of ceremonies
  • Herald trumpets to sound a call to dinner, to introduce another segment in an event, or to draw attention to a speaker (Figure 3)
  • A personalized video greeting from a celebrity or from an automated talking head as part of a product introduction
  • Strolling “robots” used at a trade show to draw attention to a particular booth or product
  • A magical “reveal” created by a magician for introducing a product or person
  • Fireworks at midnight used to “introduce” the New Year.

Perhaps the best results occur when producers get creative with “off-the-wall” concepts. Here are some examples from my own personal experience. 
  • We once introduced a new Vancouver to Boston airline service by photographing a Paul Revere character riding a horse in front of a taxiing 747 while holding a huge banner announcing the service.
  • One of our clients (a gas company) made the front page of the local newspaper when we dressed up two actors as a new baby and Father Time and had them lighting a giant 15ft tall gas torch like an Olympic flame (it was an Olympic year), just before New Year’s.
  • For the introduction of a version of Microsoft’s Flight Simulator computer program near Christmas one year, we provided about a dozen Santa Clauses all playing the game at a bank of computers, an advertising gimmick that successfully drew a lot of attention and garnered press coverage.
  • A new dollar coin was introduced using an 18ft diameter flying helium “space ship” inside a convention center ballroom that made a surprise entry flying over the heads of assembled guests and dropping a giant replica of the coin onstage to a VIP speaker who proceeded to make a speech about the occasion.

Figure 3: Example of Trumpets and Horns Used to Announce or Introduce (Courtesy Calgary Exhibition and Stampede,

I'll cover the last reasons for entertainment in the next post.

Thursday, 4 October 2012

More Reasons for Entertainment in Special Events

Emotionally Moving People

Psychologists define the primary emotions as fear, anger, sadness, joy, surprise, disgust, and contempt. An emotion is considered a response to stimuli that involves characteristic physiological changes—such as increase in pulse rate, rise in body temperature, greater or less activity of certain glands, change in rate of breathing—and tends in itself to motivate the individual toward further activity (Emotion, 2004). People tend to confuse emotions with feelings and even psychologists are not united in definitions. “By one estimate, more than 90 definitions of ‘emotion’ were proposed over the course of the 20th century (Plutchik, 2001, p. 344).” For simplification, we will assume that emotions are the primary stated above and feelings are what emanate from these. For example, one might feel guilty about not contributing to a charity for starving children as a result of watching a movie that stirs the emotion of anger in the observer because so much food is being wasted due to corruption in poor countries. One might feel exhilarated and proud because of the emotion of joy experienced when hearing one’s national anthem played as an Olympic champion stands on the podium Any performance that is able to trigger strong emotions and subsequent feelings, to stir the audience inside, will be memorable, no matter what the performance genre (e.g. music, dance, comedy, acting). Emotional content is a direct reflection of the skill of the performers in choosing appropriate material, combined with their abilities to deliver it. We will explore this in depth in the next section.

I was once given the task of providing after-dinner entertainment for a black-tie gala of a national association. The organizer and her committee were not too happy with my suggestion of a harmonica player as they thought it was not befitting the occasion; however, because they were longstanding clients, they allowed me to proceed. The show went very well and after it, several people came up to me and thanked me profusely because they were moved to tears by the performance, which had managed to hit them deep inside. The choice of performer was purposeful, in that he had a tremendous ability to deliver emotionally charged songs (his own), delivered in a simple yet effective manner and I knew they would work. He was also adept at playing over 20 different mouth instruments and had won numerous awards.

Motivating and Inspiring People

Motivating an audience is distinctly different from emotionally moving them, although they will undoubtedly experience some strong feelings when being motivated. As opposed to only trying to stir inner feelings, motivation’s goal is to give the audience a reason to take some action. This might be to buy a product, to improve one’s life, to become closer to God, to work harder, to give to charity, to sell more cars, or a host of other reasons. Motivational entertainment takes emotional performances and adds a specific message and call to action. For example, if one is producing a fundraising event for special needs children, the entertainment might incorporate a moving song performed live by an onstage celebrity with video clips of the special needs kids in the background. At the end, a request is made for donations. For more excellent examples of this type of persuasive entertainment, one only has to watch the many charity telethons that raise millions of dollars annually. Almost any form of entertainment can achieve motivation if the content and timing are correct. Other examples of when it might be used are for incentive groups and teambuilding activities (e.g. with drum circles), for sporting events (e.g. with cheerleaders or loud rock music), and for conference opening and closing sessions (e.g. with motivational speakers). Figure 1 gives an example of a typical motivational speaker, a form of entertainment often used in special events. Inspirational entertainment differs from motivational primarily by the fact that there is not necessarily any call to action, only a general uplifting of the spirit.

Figure 1: Example of a Motivational Speaker at a Special Event (Courtesy inspirational business speaker Ian Percy –

Still lots more reasons to go and I'll look at them in the next post.