Seeking the wow factor

Gone are the days when meeting participants are content with sitting through hour after hour of mind-numbing meetings accompanied by overhead projections, PowerPoint presentations and droll introductory jokes.

Instead of being preached to, the delegates are looking to become engaged in the presentations and become active participants.

“Meeting planners are generally concerned about getting the best bang for their buck. A successful event is one where the guests are still buzzing with excitement after seeing an inspiring speaker, or feel invigorated by a little bit of magic that happened there that day.  As I teach in my presentations, this magic can be manufactured if you know how,” says self-proclaimed “corporate jester” Christopher Menu.

Menu, who got his introduction in the business two decades ago as a motivational speaker, offers services such as corporate event planning, master of ceremonies and corporate entertainment through his Edmonton-based Performance Possibilities.

Menu, who has handled a wide range of events over the years from a truck-stop hotel stripper’s retirement party to corporate Christmas parties, says there are many aspects to planning a successful event. These include choosing the venue and coordinating with staff, scheduling of presentations, organizing breakout sessions, decorations, entertainment, and meals, hosting VIPS and organizing technical equipment.

“You hope that everything goes according to plan, but it’s important to have a backup just in case,” he says. “Invariably any event will have its mishaps, from minor to major.”

The general rule in the performing arts is that “less is more” and the same can be said for planning meetings. Menu encourages planners to decide what their central message is going to be in terms of content, style, and sophistication and then tailor the details around that.

“Meeting planners want the event to be unique to them. That means that what occurs during the meeting, and what their guests remember afterwards, needs to be inextricably associated with the host organization, the program they put on, and the feeling of satisfaction arising out of that,” he says.

“If someone remembers seeing a great performer or speaker at a meeting, but can’t remember what the meeting was, or who it was for, I would argue that that performer has failed to deliver. A performer, like a speaker, is hired to deliver a message and while the delivery of that message may and should be fun, it is important that the guests understand that it was their hosts who brought them that fun.”

Martin A. J. van Keken jr., chief executive at MVKA Productions, also advocates finding the right entertainment fit for the specific event instead of the cookie-cutter approach.

“All meetings and events must have a unique quality or qualities that are in some way compelling. It is essential since many events and meetings occur annually or even many times in a given year,” says van Keken.

“Whether through lighting, décor, quality audio-visual, programming or entertainment, a compelling and dynamic meeting will ensure guests and participants remain engaged. Even a simple business session should have well organized and professional a/v, good lighting and perhaps some kind of brand reinforcement.”

When you are asked to host one of Canada’s biggest entertainment galas of the year, viewed by millions of people, it must be a testament to the quality and service offered.
And when it was selected to host the 2009 Juno Gala dinner and awards show, MVKA Productions vaulted to the forefront as one of the country’s top event planners in the country.

Based in Vancouver, B.C. since 1989, MVKA designs and produces customized corporate and special events, brand experience strategies and innovative meeting programs worldwide.

The company delivers meaningful and engaging event experiences. Featuring an in-house creative design and event production teams, it distinguishes itself by delivering high quality experiences that engages and inspires an audience.

For the past 20 years, MVKA Productions has designed, produced and implemented virtually every type of special and corporate event including awards ceremonies, galas, brand experience events, business and sales meetings and themed events.

“We believe it essential to understand our client’s diverse corporate culture, by channel or group, and keep this corporate philosophy top of mind when designing event plans and programs,” says van Keken.

“Our event production teams are well-known and respected for their detailed approach and commitment to excellence, thus ensuring an unforgettable and unique experience every time. The key to our success is the ability to take an idea from concept to reality, sharing our client’s vision and addressing their key objectives.”

But van Keken says it is key to tailor the entertainment to the message or theme of the event to provide what he calls a “wow effect” and not to just book entertainment for the sake of having entertainment.

“If it fits with a planner’s objective and theme, and their budget allows, then entertainment elements play an essential role in an event’s success. But just having some sort of entertainment without it being a good fit is not the best use of funds,” he says.

“In the correct circumstances, a band, pyrotechnics, contortionists, acrobats or any of a myriad of performers will add a live and therefore exciting dynamic to an event…We have seen first hand how the guests are enjoying the experience and therefore feel a part of the experience. In a corporate setting, this will energize one’s company spirit.”

Upbeat excitement
The Drum Café has been drumming up excitement among meeting participants for more than a decade.

Started in 1997 in Johannesburg South Africa, it now has teams in Canada, the United States, Europe, Asia, Great Britain and Australia. It has performed in more than 30,000 events and 50 countries including the opening ceremonies of the Beijing 2008 Olympics.

The Drum Café offers a unique form of interactive entertainment and corporate team building. Its interactive drumming program — where every participant gets a drum — builds teams, unites companies, and motivates employees.

“Very often conferences can be full of keynotes and PowerPoint presentations that can put delegates to sleep,” says Kristina Kilbourn, at the company’s Toronto office.

“When companies are spending fortunes to take employees to a conference it is important to ensure a good return on investment, and one of the very best ways to achieve that is by keeping them alert and attentive. Some form of interactive entertainment gets people out of their left brain and into the creative side of their brain.”

One of the programs that it offers is the “bookend program” where they kick off the event for 15 minutes, returning mid-morning for 15 minutes, again after lunch when people are lethargic. They then cap off the event with a huge celebration and high energy close.

“Meeting planners are looking for something different that will ensure a successful event and that will have them, as meeting professionals, stand out from the rest,” Kilbourn says. “Also they are looking for something that can be customizable and fit into their vision for the event.”

For an even more upbeat experience, companies can book Canadian Outback Adventures to create custom corporate team building events, unique group activities and exhilarating outdoor adventures.

The company, founded in 1992, offers corporate team building events and activities for companies based on spin-offs of popular television series including The Apprentice, Mission: Impossible, Iron Chef, CI: The Crime Investigators, James Bond and The Amazing Race.

“This is a great way to tie in the theme of the meeting, and an effective way to engage their participants,” says Murray Seward, the company’s general manager.

Seward notes that companies are looking for “new ideas, not the same old boring activities.”

One of the more popular events is its “Amazing Chase.” Based on the popular television series “The Amazing Race,” groups are split into two teams, then again into mini-teams whose goal is to work together to complete the race in as little time as possible.

Throughout the course the mini-teams come across a variety of signs to mark the location of additional route information, outline a specific task one person on each team must complete before moving on, or give a choice of two tasks the entire team must complete before moving on. At the conclusion of the race, medals and a trophy are awarded.
Corporate planners say this event not only brings employees closer together, but it also helps distinguish such character traits as who is a problem solver or which employee takes initiative.

Accommodating ideas

If you want a complete entertainment extravaganza, with all the glitz of Las Vegas, while staying north of the border, look no further than Windsor, Ontario. The newly-renovated Caesars Windsor provides that and more to all your meeting participants from the Canadian side of the Detroit River.

A recently completed $439-million expansion and renovation has transformed Ontario’s first casino-resort into a property rivaling the world’s best.

The extensive expansion and renovation has dramatically increased the size of the Windsor casino-resort, which now covers more than four hectares, making it the largest in Canada.

“This is a tremendous property. It is not just the largest casino-resort in the Detroit-Windsor market, it is the largest casino-resort in Canada,” says Kevin Laforet, president and chief executive at Caesars Windsor. “Combining this great facility with the world-renowned Caesars name makes Caesars Windsor a premier destination for world-class entertainment and getaways.”

As the largest casino resort in Canada, Caesars Windsor has it all — two four-diamond hotel towers with incredible riverfront views, several restaurants, 100,000 square feet of convention space, a 5,000-seat theatre showcasing headline entertainment and non-stop gaming action spread over two floors.

The Caesars Windsor four-diamond hotel features two towers, Augustus and Forum, and have a combined total of 758 rooms offering modern accommodations and upscale amenities including 24-hour room service, access to the indoor pool and fitness centre and spectacular views of the Windsor riverfront and Detroit skyline.

Ballrooms and meeting space provide the perfect backdrop for any special occasion or business function. The contemporary Augustus Ballroom, measuring 26,000 square feet, is the largest flexible space in the area, suitable for any affair. There are also seven fully-equipped conference rooms with high-speed Internet and access to an on-site business centre. A large variety of catering options and personalized service help to create an event that will be remembered for years to come.

“This is our first expansion of the Caesars brand internationally and signals our commitment to and confidence in this market,” says Gary Loveman, chairman, chief executive and president of Harrah’s Entertainment. “As the world leader in gaming, we are pleased to bring to Canada the customer-service excellence and first-class amenities that are the hallmark of the Caesars brand.”

Known as one of Toronto’s top resting places for the rich and famous, Four Seasons Hotel Toronto also offers superb conference and meeting services to fit the needs of all corporate groups. Its experienced conference service representatives ease the planning process by creating corporate events that are both authentic and well organized for clients.

Facilities for meetings and corporate events at the hotel include unrivaled meeting spaces, with advanced support such as high-speed Internet access, updated technical assistance and equipment and maintenance services. During the off hours, guests retire to the hotel’s luxurious suites, take pleasure in the amenities such as the hotel spa or indulge in the delicious cuisine in one of the restaurants.

Whether it is for a meeting, a conference or a corporate getaway, every step includes quality assistance to help its clients successfully plan and execute their event.

“For all corporate functions, entertainment components should be incorporated into the event,” says Hala Beisha, Director of Public Relations, at Four Seasons Hotel Toronto. “The reasoning is to provide the guests with the leisure time to relax, refresh and rediscover Toronto in between meetings. This offers a structure where work events and fun-filled activities are combined to create a balanced schedule for all business executives.”

The hotel even takes scheduling a step further for corporate events which welcome the spouses and families of the meeting participants. The planners offer many activities of interest from cultural events to musicals and gallery tours. For the kids, the hotel offers special children’s programming and babysitting services.

“As meeting and conference planners, we are constantly seeking to discover newer and innovative ideas for corporate functions. The primary goal of Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts is to pioneer original ideas and remain up to date with current trends. This is something we keep in mind when we plan such events for clients,” says Beisha.

“Another trend we have noticed over the past few years is that guests are looking for corporate events that are not only work-related — they are an experience. Therefore, we strive to create plans that include both the corporate meetings and activities around Toronto.”

Final words

Companies look for keynote speakers to not only entertain the audience but also drive a message home. Past politicians and athletes have been hired to motivate an audience with their words drawn from their life experiences.

“A great speaker will incorporate a challenge or call to action in their presentations. You and your audience can take that challenge and implement the benefits for an impact that could last a lifetime,” the National Speakers Bureau says.

Whether the purpose of the program is to entertain, inspire or inform, NSB’s “Speaker Search” is a key starting point to find speakers who can motivate, educate and keep an organization on the fast track.

With more than 30 years in the industry, it is a source for leading speakers across North America and sole agent to many of Canada’s most prominent individuals. NSB has an international reputation for providing fast, friendly, knowledgeable support, fair pricing, and worldwide speaker access.

When it was founded in 1973, there were 13 speakers listed in the directory. Now the NSB is the sole agent for more than 100 speakers, and works with thousands of others.

“We encourage meeting planners to make the impact last beyond the keynote. Audience members want to be moved, changed or inspired, through the speaking presentations they experience,” it says.

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