I once read a suggestion for how to evaluate a special event: ask attendees if they wish it could have been longer and see how they react. It was probably meant as a joke, because those galas and rubber chicken dinners are usually three hours long, if you’re lucky.
The one thing that adds unsavory bulk to many events is the need to have VIPs address the crowd. The most common VIP speaking offences are:
• The CEO who recites your boring mission statement verbatim.
• The Board Chair who details the board’s progress on the latest strategic plan.
• The event sponsor who lectures the crowd on the services her bank (or whatever business) offers.
• The drunk keynote speaker who trips over the podium and crashes through the head table.*
First, tell everyone that they will be scripted. If you don’t make exceptions, then no-one can complain (too loudly). Provide a script with timing, letting the VIPs know they can make changes, but that they have to stick to the basic outline. Then write them some good copy using these angles:
• The CEO: Get her to tell you her favourite mission-related story about your organization and write it up into a script. Maybe it’s the time she worked in the rabbit shelter, or witnessed a legal win for the environment. If it meant something special to the CEO, then that same story will likely resonate with the crowd at your event.
• The Board Chair: Get him to talk about the vision he has for the future and how he wants the charity to get there. Again, it works well to have a quick phone conversation, then write up the speaking notes for them yourself. Maybe he dreams of a new research chair to oversee a cancer drug trial, maybe he wants to expand the charity’s operations to China someday. You get the idea.
• The event sponsor: This one can be very tricky, but stick to your guns and the sponsor will come out of it looking like Mr. Awesome Pants. Instead of talking about his business, get the sponsor to take a role in the event itself. Get him to present an award to a deserving student, or announce how much the event has raised, or even introduce the keynote speaker. This way, instead of slowing the event down in a tar of business stats, he can keep the action moving and look like a champ.
And speaking of events – a special shout-out to Junior Achievement of BC for following these tips superbly for our gala!
* I am sorry, but there is no solution for the drunk keynote speaker. Now hurry up and follow my blog if you aren’t already! : )