Monthly Archives: August 2016


Cost-Effective Meetings


The Thing About Fall

Shorter days. Crisp leaves. Back to school. Those might be the thing about Fall for many folks, but for us, it’s a return to the intensity of live events and meetings. Because that’s the best cap to a good, hot summer, yes? Sitting in a windowless room with hundreds of your colleagues, as PowerPoint slides take the place of “What I Did on My Summer Vacation” stories.

We’re excited, honestly, about the return to our busiest season. And as we’ve noted before, the Events industry has changed radically over the last two decades. Gone are the days of dreamy budgets and endless resources. Here are the days of tight budgets and select resources. This can be a real challenge, for clients and agencies alike.

To help mitigate that challenge, we thought we’d offer some of our tried-and-true ways to manage meetings differently—and save some budget pain as a result.

Internal Resources

Our VP Client Services, Sandy Dizon, notes that sometimes the simplest thing to do is tap into the talent of your client’s team. When you know your clients well—which is what we all aim to do—you know that Peter is an amateur photographer. You know that Alexia would make an amazing host. And you know that Simon can take on whatever minor admin tasks there are.

For minor or less demanding tasks, talk with your client about using their in-house resources. Having one of their team pick music, take photographs, or host the event can save significant costs to your budget. Knowing the creative base your client brings also lets them draw on skills and expertise that they might not otherwise access in the regular day-to-day.

DIY Videos

We know the value of professional videos. But it’s important to recognize when and where doing simple videos in-house is a realistic choice for coming in under the black line. Current technology—and our own tech savvy—has progressed far enough that most of us can use video template programs, for the simple videos (event teaser, walk-in loop, bumper video, “happy snap” video of event highlights) typically shown throughout a meeting or event.

iMovie and Animoto allow you to insert photos and video clips into any number of templates. You can build interesting transitions and create your own soundtrack from their collection of stock music. The great thing about these programs is that they’re easy to use (really! we promise!) and the videos look great.

Theme Cascade


Many major business meetings (NSM, GIM, etc.) have brand/franchise sub-meetings, which often means we’re designing an overarching theme for the meeting and separate individual themes for each brand. Those costs quickly add up, because the main theme and sub-themes need to be connected enough to, well, be connected—but different enough, in this context, to be distinguished. That’s 5-6 distinct event identities and designs.

You could do that. Or, you could create a “Master Theme” that sets a predominant tone and design, and cascade each brand session from that design Picking out colours or symbols from the “Master Theme” allows you to differentiate all sessions, while ensuring overall coherence. When we do it right, you get a consistent look and feel throughout the venue that persists from the moment your audience walks in.


In a world where we’re all trying to cut back on the things we don’t need and focus more on the things that really matter, these are some suggestions to “KonMari” your next meeting. We can’t promise that being on, or under, budget, is “life-changing”—but it is smart.

Organizational Binaries: Creative Freedom v. Reliable Processes

The Creative Myth

As an agency that relies on the (mostly) unfettered creativity of its teams, we find ourselves navigating a changed market with different expectations. Our clients need to do more with less, which means we have to offer creative solutions at lower costs, within shorter timeframes. As a preferred supplier, we have to live up to our reputation for creative quality and consistency. But there’s a myth in our culture that genuine, authentic creativity can’t be structured or routine.

freedom vs processes

According to this myth, if creativity were a spectrum, at one end lives sheer chaos: out of the storm of images and words spinning furiously in the air, voila! the perfect idea metabolizes in a single, pure form. At the other end sits quiet order: in a highly organized and strict routine, the perfect idea must fit the right template for this task and neatly fill in the required “creative” notes.

The Space Between

We’ve found, though, that the ideal lives somewhere in the middle, depending on the team, the client, and the project. Some kind of order and ritual seem genuinely necessary to support our creative teams in doing their best work. But the order and ritual can’t be so prescribed or strict that it prohibits the necessary creative expression.

Our variable resource model means that we have access to creative, production, and technical professionals who bring unique, new perspectives to each job at hand. When we put a new team together with “best fit” in mind, we want them to bring those unique perspectives to our clients, but they have to represent our brand and our reputation.

The Mental Model

This is where we meet up with the “mental models” of last week’s post. Our creative and account teams have a mental model of what will work that they’ve developed together over time (and many, many failures). We know when it hits the right notes and will be able to deliver all that we need it to, because we have this model checklist in place. For us, the ideal creative concept

  • has depth, nuance, richness
  • can go in multiple, diverse directions
  • will be clear and accessible to the audience
  • doesn’t over-simplify the message
  • supports an environment in which our presenters will feel comfortable, natural, and normal.

If we’re able to check these off, we trust that the concept will be successful. This gives our creative teams a huge amount of freedom in developing the concept, and it lets them go as wild in their initial brainstorming, whiteboarding, thinkwalking as they need to—because for the concept to go a step further, it has to check off each item on this list.

The Open Map

For our Account Director, Tony Koth, this process is akin to exploring with a map in hand. There’s no single, mandatory direction—and someone can, ostensibly, get from A to B however they’d like. This method gives our creative team the time and space to try different routes, to explore the possibilities available—but it ultimately ensures they arrive in the right spot at the right time (within a tight budget, no less). They could forego the map and simply wander, because there is something to be said for getting lost and discovering something completely new. But we don’t recommend it as a daily practice.

And that is the demand of our industry: to produce exceptional creative concepts that will engage audiences and inspire action—every day. It’s not always easy to navigate the right amount of creative freedom and structure, and we don’t have this perfected yet. But we are actively working towards that sweet spot:

Venn Diagram


Smarter, Faster, Better by Charles Duhigg

#amreading: Smarter, Faster, Better – Charles Duhigg

Not Your Usual “Productivity”

Around the Audience office, we might, if we’re being honest, cringe when we hear the word “productivity.” Too often it stands in for slashing jobs or managing people like machines. Charles Duhigg’s productivity has a different focus:

“Productivity is the name we give our attempts to figure out the best uses of our energy, intellect, and time as we try to seize the most meaningful rewards with the least wasted effort.

This we can really get behind. Because if productivity is really about “using our time most effectively for the things that mean the most to us,” who wouldn’t be on board?

The Right Brain

Duhigg’s productivity resonates in a creative context like ours: we’ve got exactly the right brain on the right project.

The best people working on the things they’re interested in are probably doing it better, faster, and smarter. Why? Because they’re in a rewarding context, using trusted skills, and producing results they can be proud of.

It’s All About Directionality

We don’t have to see productivity as getting the most out of people. That makes it a kind of “resource extraction,” where people are things with desirable resources. Productivity then becomes the accomplishment of acquiring the most of those resources.

If we see productivity as a process instead, then we can focus on creating the ideal conditions for people to give their best resources. This kind of productivity can be mapped out for the ideal conditions and best resources.

A Tale of Two Airplanes

That idea resonates strongly for our VP Creative, Mark Higgins. Duhigg explores “mental models”—a way of mapping or structuring ideal conditions—in two intense stories about airplanes. (Note: if you’re having an already anxious day, don’t read about a plane on fire or going up instead of down. It doesn’t help.)  One is about Air France Flight 447; the other is about Qantas Flight 32. Two situations, both involving the Airbus plane. Both experienced intense systems failures. One plane went down in the ocean. The other landed safely.

There’s a lot to infer from this, not least of which is that airplanes are legitimately dangerous. (We kid: we fly a lot. And not one of us is nervous about those flights after reading this book.) What allowed one plane to land instead of crash was the capacity to fall back on a mental model of what flying should feel like, rather than relying on the information (erroneous, as it turns out) immediately at hand. It’s imperative to be conscious of what things look like when they’re working, what they actually look and feel like. If we have this sense firmly in place, we can recognize when it’s not ideal.

A Question of Timing

In our experience, these mental models are an intrinsic part of feedback. This is how we train our staff, and it makes sense in some contexts. When you’re not flying a plane, it’s completely appropriate to reflect in the aftermath, discuss what worked, what didn’t, how to make it more successful in the future. There are no lives at stake.

But if our focus is avoiding wasted time, energy, and intellect, then feedback is actually a terrible time to check-in on a project. We can look back and recognized when/where/how things went awry, but by this time, they’ve already gone awry.

Learning to Trust the Model

If, however, we verify our concept against a mental model early on, we know if and how it will work throughout the project. If it’s fuzzy or imperfect, everything has to be rethought and repositioned, which means new debates, new directions, new resources.

The takeaway: if the concept fits the mental model, it can give endlessly with minimal time, energy, and intellect—because their internal logic means that everything will hold, regardless of the situation. When we can trust it fully, we can give that extra energy to making it truly exceptional.


5 Tips for Great Visuals

Recently at The Meeting Show in London, we shared some useful tips on how to create better slides.  Want to to be a rock star at your next presentation? Follow these 5 tips for making great visuals:

1. See the Specs

Ask the meeting organizer for any all information they can provide about the room in which you will present, including room layout, stage drawings, and technical set up, particularly the size and quality of the screens or monitors. Will your slides be projected in 16:9 or 4:3? Will the screen be as big as a movie theatre or as small as a TV? Create your slides accordingly.

2. Learn about the Audience

How do they like to see visual information? Are they super detailed types who love a lot of data or people so sick of PowerPoint they would love for you to just tell a story? Ask for examples of the types of slides this particular audience prefers to see.

3. Make each Slide Matter

The vast majority of presentations have too many slides, and the slides are really for the presenter, not the audience. Every single slide in your deck should be well worth the brainpower required to decode them. For each slide ask, “What is this slide saying?” “What value is it adding?” “Is it essential to my story?” Be ruthless.

4. Share and Compare

If you are presenting in a larger program, ask to see everyone else’s slides, and make sure they see yours. In corporate events, repetition can be a problem with all presenters sharing the same information. Encourage everyone to follow your lead in being creative about the slides; you will collectively benefit from the added effort.

5. Get a Rehearsal

Great slides do not equal a great presentation. Know your story cold, especially the transitions from one slide to the next, your open and your close. Each “clicker” has its quirks, and using the comfort monitor instead of looking back at the screen takes practice.

Happy presenting!

Still need help with your presentation?  Contact us!