David Ahearn is co-founder of Four Day Weekend.
Our comedy group, Four Day Weekend, has had the honor and pleasure of performing at corporate awards banquets for more than a decade. Typically, we were hired to perform after the awards, which meant we were invariably met with a very challenging room. So we were forced to figure out how to take a bit more control of the outcome of the event, and thus our interstitial show was invented.
It's like the Oscars telecast. We open by interviewing an attendee, transition into an improvised song, and the show is off and running, with the Four Day Weekend hosts handing out the awards.
At various points during the ceremony we take a break from the awards portion of the show to perform one of our comedy routines. The format is a win for everyone, because awardees are honored while the audience is entertained throughout the evening.
Along the way, we've discovered some tips, tricks and tools for meeting planners and producers. Here are three:
1. Shrink the Centerpiece
Those large ornamental table decorations look amazing -- and also block the action on stage. When the husband's or wife's or parent's or friend's name is finally announced, that looming feather table piece that looks like a costume Cher wore to the actual Oscars in the 80s might be right in the way.
This creates a giant disconnection with the audience, which makes them ultimately turn to the person sitting next to them and start talking. Soon these amazing table ornaments have single-handedly created apathy for those watching the production. Want to take a picture of your special loved one who is receiving their award after a lifetime of hard work to get to this moment? Not if the NBC Peacock has anything to do with it.
Tip: Keep your centerpieces small and elegant, and allow people to see the production on stage. This is why they came to the event. Consider setting the room for the production and not to make the room look like the most amazing prom night any adult could ever hope for. Let our award winners be the stars and not a headdress Björk would wear for her upcoming concert.
2. Beware the Comedy Moat
When you set up the dance floor in front of the stage you create a huge chasm between your audience and the stage. We like to call this the "comedy moat." It is the 50-foot space between the people on the stage and the audience that ignores them, because they forgot to bring their opera glasses for the performance. We understand that you want to have the dance floor close to the stage so that at the end of the night when everyone is singing "Sweet Caroline," our middle-aged dancers can interact with the band. We also know this doesn't actually happen, and that the minute the band strikes up, the room clears like a Gulf Coast city after a Category 5 Hurricane Warning. That stage looks like Kim Kardashian's spiritual journal -- one empty space after the next. Forget about it.
The awards event, the event that everyone came for, will last between 90 minutes and two hours, and the room gets set to accommodate the 11 people that will dance after that event. Consider moving the stage to the back of the room, and at the end of the awards ceremony have your emcee direct everyone's attention to the back of the room where the dancing will begin. This way, our closest VIP tables truly will be at the front of the stage and all of the attention of the room will be placed on the most important aspect of the evening: your award winners.
3. Eat First
Nothing, let me repeat, nothing competes with food. Stephen Hawking could take the first step out of his wheelchair in years and if people are eating no one would notice. Nothing kills a performance or an awards banquet more quickly than the clanking of silverware while the VP of sales tries to engage the audience with his/her latest "that's what she said" joke. (We know you saw "The Office," Mr./Ms. VP. We all did. And for the record, they were making fun of people who say, "That's what she said.")
For all the people at the event who are not receiving an award the highlight is pretty much the free meal and open bar. People are hungry when they arrive. Their teambuilding session took a lot out of them and most of them can't believe they lost the bike-building contest to the western region. When is the east going to get the respect they deserve?
Let the people coming to the event eat, drink, and impress their co-workers first. Once dinner is out of the way the plus-ones and also-rans will be more inclined to watch the guy who won the award instead of them. (Bitter is better on a full tummy.)
If you pre-set desserts and then have a five-minute Voice of God announcement that the program will soon begin, you can tell your banquet captain to suspend service during the awards ceremony. This will draw the attention of the audience back to the stage where we can now honor all of the awardees and the producers and crew can get back to making fun of the talent with headset chatter. (We know you make fun of us. It's O.K., we know we are soft and entitled. We can handle it.)
These are just some friendly tips from they guys who take the stage and are out on the frontlines of combat for you. Oh, and one more small note: please try to keep rehearsals to less than an hour. And for the love of God, don't have a rehearsal to talk about the rehearsal.
Happy Awards Season from Four Day Weekend Comedy!
Four Day Weekendis a comedy troupe experienced in professional corporate bookings for award shows, emcee duties, workshops, and keynotes. Visit the group's Web site for more information.
This article was first published on MeetingsNet.com on June 17, 2015.