7 Lessons for Events From the Conan O'Brien Show
Thursday, October 20th, 2011
It was clear to me that many of the methods they used could go a long way toward helping to improve events. Here are seven of my takeaways.
1 – Know Your Audience
Conan’s audience is a younger crowd that appreciates all kinds of music and has few issues with profanity. The band played rock, soul and even some big band music. And the comedian who warmed up the crowd spoke in their language, which really helped to loosen people up.
2 – Create a Positive Experience As Early as Possible
Do you think about EVERY aspect of your attendee’s experience? The producers of the Conan O’Brien show certainly seem to.
From the minute I got to there it was smooth sailing. Easy directions for parking and people everywhere to guide me. There was a relatively comfortable (though by no means plush – it was located in the parking lot) place where you could sit. But once we checked in, we were free to leave as long as we were back by 2:30. My friend, Rosana, and I grabbed a quick bite off of a nearby food truck and enjoyed a chat. There was a T-Shirt vendor there, in case we wanted to buy Conan T-Shirts.
When it came time to move the group of nearly 200 to the studio which was probably a 10 minute walk that included a busy intersection, the order imposed was nearly akin to choreography. At one point, we had to stand in a shaded area lined up as if we were going on an amusement park ride. Even though it was nearly an hour, the time flew with the help of a monitor showing the Conan show from the previous night.
3 – Use Music, Levity to Rev Up the Crowd
The energy of your audience plays a HUGE role in how your event is executed and received. Yet, how much attention do we place on nurturing it at events?
The nearly rabid audience enthusiasm you see at the beginning of most talk shows doesn’t happen on it’s own. It is carefully cultivated. On the Conan show, as soon as we were seated we met a comedian who, as I mentioned, spoke the language of the crowd, interacting with them and making them roar with laughter.
Then the band came out and did two numbers where some of them actually walked among the audience and got them to sing and clap. We were then asked to applaud whenever an applause sign lit up, which we practiced. Conan’s side-kick Andy Richter then came out and addressed the crowd and when it finally came time for Conan to emerge from behind the curtain, the standing ovation and wild energy seemed a natural outgrowth.
4 – Interact with Your Audience
You would think that when an audience is there mainly for window dressing, as in the case of most talk shows, interaction wouldn’t be so important. But the producers of the Conan show, seemed to understand how integral interaction is to achieving and maintaining the enthusiastic energy. Not only did the warm up comedian, the band and Andy Richter interact with the audience, but Conan himself did after the show was over.
5 – Throw in Something Unexpected
We weren’t expecting it, but Conan himself talked with and even sang to the audience after the show was over. We were even asked to view a video that he planned to air next week when he broadcasts the show from New York. It certainly was a treat for us, but also allowed him to get a preview of an audience response to it. The fact that we got MORE than what we had come to expect from attending the show really helped us leave with a very positive feeling about it.
6 – Use Volunteers as Guides
Coralling, moving and managing a group of 200 people who are so integral to a show, without rehearsal, seems a nearly impossible task. But the Conan show did it. Everywhere you turned, a large cadre of experienced guides was there to answer questions in a friendly manner and explain what would be happening next.
While I’m pretty sure these guides were paid, often at events volunteers are eager to help in exchange for experience or for free registration. Staffing events with plenty of trained volunteers can really help things go more smoothly and improve the experience for attendees.
7 – Create a Structure That Allows for Improvisation
Though it obviously had a well rehearsed structure, the Conan show left space within that structure for spontaneity and improvisation. That element that makes you feel as if no one knows what’s going to come next adds energy, excitement and freshness that you can’t get otherwise.
How can we achieve this at our events? Create sessions that provide structure but allow attendees to create content, add spontaneous discussions or include activities/games that break the ice and add an element of fun.
(Photo from EW.com)