Entertainment for conferences and conventions has evolved over the past 10 years, moving beyond music to more engaging acts, such as comedians and mediums, said Marc Mulherin, general manager of the Branson Convention Center in Branson, Missouri.
“When I first got into the industry, you saw DJs and bands, and that was the extent of it,” he said. “Now some conventions will hire Las Vegas-style Cirque du Soleil shows.”
For meeting planners, the most important thing to do when choosing entertainment is to know their audience and know what’s going to keep them engaged, said Sara Shelton, vice president of Triangle Talent, a talent agency based in Louisville, Kentucky.
Branson Convention Center
If planners don’t stay up with trends or don’t know what their own attendees want, they risk losing their audience. Mulherin has seen events where thousands of people stick around for the show, and he’s been at events where only a third of attendees stay for the entertainment. If an event isn’t mandatory and if it’s not interesting, many conventioneers will do their own thing.
“If the group doesn’t continually seek out something fresh and new and that their people want, it can really impact conventioneers in a bad way,” Mulherin said. “Staying fresh with those trends is really important.”
In an entertainment town such as Branson, groups have plenty of options. Staff at the Branson Convention Center, which is managed by SMG, works with the city’s CVB and local theaters both to send groups to theaters and to bring shows to the convention center.
When planners want to bring entertainment to the center, Mulherin makes sure they understand the logistics and costs involved with setup: stages, lighting, audiovisual and more. Planners often don’t realize what goes into turning a blank slate into a concert hall, a fact that can sometimes rattle their budgets, he said.
Entertainment changes up a meeting; no one wants to sit in one spot all day listening to someone speak.
“Entertainment helps break up the monotony of the day and helps keep you energized and focused,” Shelton said.
Entertainment can also help the flow of an event, she said. If you want to put attendees in one place for 20 minutes while staff flips a room or sets up a presentation, entertainment is the key. It can also be used to draw people from place to place through an event or venue, she said.
In addition to guiding attendees and pacing an event, entertainment can help give attendees a taste of the city they’re visiting. Triangle Talent has a roster of both local and national acts, and when a planner contacts the agency, it can help the agent choose a band or act based on audience demographics. Many organizers want local flair for their events, and the agency works with Kentuckiana and bluegrass bands that “we keep pretty busy,” Shelton said. The agency also has a staff person dedicated to handling specialty acts: hypnotists; full-blown circuses; animal acts with seals, tigers and bears. “Pretty much anything quirky, he can get,” she said.