I’ve been thinking a lot about the term “high energy” as it applies to events. It’s something that’s asked of us all the time. People want to build buzz; they want to get their people excited about whatever it is they’re trying to launch or promote. But I think this is a trend we need to steer away from. Let me explain.
When people say “high energy” they’re talking about manufactured energy – the stuff that comes from fireworks, complex lighting, and loud top 40 music. It’s the sizzle they’re going for. But what we’ve noticed is that what people really mean when they say “high energy” is that they want to capture and hold the attention of their attendees. After all, people are more distracted and distractible than ever before – and our beeping, flashing smartphones don’t help.
It makes sense that you want to wow them with your event, because you think that’s the way in. That may be the way to get them to look up from their phones and momentarily pay attention, but I think “high-energy” events are doing just the opposite. They may be loud and noisy, but they’re not necessarily making any meaningful connection with your audience. They aren’t helping to inspire your attendees to create sustainable change. And they aren’t aiding to increase retention. So, how do you give your people something that’s worthy of paying attention to and that they’ll remember long after your meeting is over?
High energy vs. natural energy
First let’s look at the definition of energy. Oxford Dictionaries defines it as “the strength and vitality required for sustained physical or mental activity.” There is no question that the goal of any successful event is to create and sustain that strength and vitality throughout. But what type of energy will help you accomplish that?
I think it’s “natural energy.”
Created before and throughout an event, natural energy is more effective at connecting with attendees and will be sustained longer after the event is over. These are events of substance and meaning, and engineering them takes real thought and understanding. There are many ways you can create this type of energy including:
- Utilizing auditory sciences to craft a musical soundscape that will support your event and serve a purpose, like setting the ideal tone for your messages
- Drawing upon neuroscience research to deliver information that people will remember
- Incorporating adult learning principles to maximize learning
- Leveraging the power of storytelling techniques to engage audiences from start to finish
The power of natural energy is sustaining the participants’ engagement by forging an emotional connection with deeper, more meaningful elements and communication.
It has always been my mission to engineer events with the intention of moving people toward a desired action or outcome. It’s not only what happens during the event that matters, but more importantly what the attendees take away with them and are able to achieve as a result. I like to think of successful events in terms of this quote from the The Energy Project: “Emotional energy is about learning to cultivate the specific emotions associated with high performance, because how people feel profoundly influences how they perform.”
So instead of asking for “high energy,” ask what you can do throughout your event to ensure you’ll cultivate natural energy and those emotions associated with high performance. Is it a loud and showy high-energy opening followed by a series of uninspiring breakout sessions? Or, is it a seamlessly engineered event that follows an energy and story arc that brings attendees along on a journey building gradually toward a climax? What we propose certainly takes more planning, but you’ll find that the results speak volumes.
Just like in the movies
A simple way to understand the difference between a high-energy event and a sustainable-energy event is by taking a trip to the movies. The high-energy approach is often focused on the spectacle, similar in many ways to a big budget Hollywood film. There are typically a lot of special effects, but not a great deal of emotional depth. It’s like rolling out the next Transformers movie; there are tons of explosives and visual sizzle, intended to entertain but in the end, not designed to stay with you long term.
Consider instead an AMC or HBO series – a visually stunning cinematic experience coupled with a compelling narrative that keeps people coming back week after week or hour after hour as binge watchers do. The energy here is engaging people on a human level. There are thought provoking moments that result in actual conversations with friends and colleagues between episodes. The special effects in these types of shows or movies are created within. It’s an emotional charge rather than a big bang.
Now I’m not saying do away with the special effects altogether. There is still a time and place for these, if applied in a thought-provoking way. If integrated into the story arc and used in the right places, rather than just thrown in randomly, special effects can be extremely effective.
So how can you create natural energy to ensure your events are capturing people’s attention in a more sustainable way? Here is a sampling of tactics:
- Do the unexpected. Big high-energy launches have been done before. There’s nothing new about fireworks or top 40 music (as catchy as it may be). If you really want to capture people’s attention you’re going to have to be willing to go against the grain and do something different. Trust me when I say that people want to think; they want to be inspired, and they want to be excited. They want to believe that you’ve pulled them out of their busy schedules for a good reason. So shake things up. Do the unexpected to throw them out of their norms.
- Re-mapping touch points. You create and build different energy when you change the format of an event. When something is predictable, it’s much easier to tune it out. But when an event takes you on a journey, both physically and symbolically, it’s harder not to pay attention. Spread out the unexpected moments, put more thought into each element and consider how they can work together, building up to the climax rather than giving it all away at the beginning. Remember that the key is to create an energy that will drive your people to action once the event is over.
- Re-think music. Leave top 40 music to the radio DJs, and think about how music will actually connect the elements of your event. Why not curate an event soundtrack that links the key moments of the event in a seamless way and enhances the experience or journey? Music should never be an after-thought. It’s extremely powerful when used correctly.
- Technology Use. Debut is known throughout the industry for technological “firsts” but rather than using technology for the sake of keeping up with the times, you should implement technology only when it will add something to the experience. We believe technology can contribute to the energy of an event when it engages participants to think outside the meeting room and forge real connections. But be warned that technology can be energy-sucking if it’s competing with the natural energy of an event and can also be distracting if used in a haphazard way.
- Interactivity. No one wants to sit and be talked at. The more involved your attendees are in an event, the more likely they’ll be to pay attention. In an age where news is delivered in sound bytes and 140 characters, people are all too easily distracted. If you want to hold their attention, think about how you can get them involved, up on their feet, moving around, and changing locations within reason.
- Conversation. People are more likely to join in if they’re part of a dialogue. Avoid one-way dialogue in favour of two-way presentation conversations. This dialogue can extend beyond the duration of the conference. The more intrigue you can present through your event communication, the more excited attendees will be to participate. Let them know their voices matter and are being heard.
- The arc. What makes a roller coaster so exciting is the slow climb toward the top before the hair-raising fall. If you got onto a roller coaster at the top and descended immediately, you’d lose more than half the fun and excitement. Let your event build up some anticipation and energy before it delivers the real punch. Set the stage that this is a different kind of event and then follow up with more unexpected twists and turns. The contrast of serious moments and challenges with celebration and solutions will create the right kind of energy and engagement – the kind that results in desired actions.
- Storytelling. Bring your messages and goals to life by telling relevant stories. Personalize it for your participants, tell the story from a different perspective, or use real experiences that will relay your content and goals in inspirational and aspirational ways. Make participants want to get involved and do more.
This is what it comes down to: creating the right energy mix requires a deeper level of understanding. While it may seem like more work up front, it will be worth the effort with more eager participants and better overall performance.
About the author
Ben Moorsom is President and Chief Creative Officer at Debut Group, an agency that specializes in corporate business communication and events across North America. Since 1997, Debut has pioneered new ways of delivering content and has mastered the art of creating greater perceived production value for their clients. For more information, visit www.debutgroup.com.