You have everyone together in one room facing the stage—now what? A corporate event or annual meeting is only as effective as its script is engaging. Here are five tips to write a script that will keep their rapt attention throughout the entire general session.
1. The Play’s the Thing
You’ve got an audience and a stage with lights and music—what you have is essentially a play, so why not treat it as one? To take a playwright’s approach, start by asking yourself these questions:
What is the setting?
Are you a local organization in your hometown? Have you traveled to a resort or big city? Is this somewhere your audience has likely never been before? The destination is important because the world beyond the ballroom has an impact on your audience’s state of mind. Just like it matters that Dorothy is in Oz, it matters that your audience is in Palm Springs or Chicago or Washington, D.C. Acknowledge the setting in your scripting. It might even give you a valuable theme.
Who are the characters?
Your characters are those who take the stage and speak to your audience. What are their points of view, and what is the overriding objective? This can be anything from galvanizing an association’s membership or garnering support for a foundation, to selling the product. To elevate your characters’ remarks from simple speeches to targeted, motivated actions, you first need to ask…
What is the inciting incident?
Why are you having this event in the first place? Sure, it’s March and you hold your annual meeting every March, but there’s something more. Why is this year special? What is the state of the organization or the audience’s particular state of mind at this time? Answering this question will naturally inform the rest of your script and help you answer...
What is the conflict?
Yes, it seems particularly fraught to introduce conflict into an event. After all, most people don’t attend a meeting to find conflict. But conflict, which comes replete with obstacles to overcome and challenges to the audience, also has an uncanny ability to spice up an event script. What are your characters fighting against? Is it apathy, regulation, the status quo? Once you recognize the conflict and your characters’ objectives, you’re really on your way to creating an engaging event script.
OK, now you have the foundation for your script. What else can you do to elevate your event scriptwriting?
2. All About That Pace
Your event script need not consist of a series of speeches. If you find yourself scripting an endless procession of orators, try alternating speeches with video content. Break up the solo remarks with a panel discussion. Move from one speaker to a conversation. Diversification is key. The more you can mix up your show flow, moving from speech to screen to panel to group recognition, the more you avoid audience-numbing monotony.
3. Make ‘Em Laugh
Crafting the ebb and flow of your show is a good start. Now you can look at mixing up the emotion. What you’re talking about may very well be serious business, but there’s always room for levity. Creating an event script that has highs and lows, tears and laughter, will capture the audience’s attention and hold it.
So where’s the room for comedy? Perhaps in those grueling elements (board of directors introductions, sponsor recognitions, housekeeping remarks) that you have always felt you needed to “get through.” Consider these moments as on-ramps rather than speed bumps—things that force you to get creative to keep the audience alert. Recognize your sponsors through rhyme, or dance the board onto the stage. Whatever you do, look for ways to add sizzle to the meat.
4. What’s in a Name?
A lot, actually. Names tell the audience that someone new is about to take the stage. They cue the music. However, you do need to be careful not to create false cues. A best practice for an awards event—or any event, really—is to save the name for last. Rather than this:
Bill Smith is this year’s winner of the Outstanding Achievement Award. Bill, why don’t you come to the stage?
Today it gives me great pleasure to introduce the winner of the Outstanding Achievement Award...Bill Smith! (Cue music, cue applause, cue Bill.)
The audience will thank you for the cue and Bill will thank you for the applause.
5. Help a Speaker Out
Professional speakers may intuitively know when to pause or to build their speech to a climax. Others—your speakers, perhaps—may not. If that’s the case, adding clues to the script helps a great deal. Placing PAUSE into the teleprompter script will help a great deal. Want them to lead the applause? Write LEAD APPLAUSE. Other clues such as BUILD TO END or SLOW DOWN HERE will help an unseasoned speaker deliver remarks that have more shape and, therefore, more meaning. Remember, even after the script is out of your hands and being acted out by your speakers, you can still support the presentation.
Josh Golden is creative director at PCI, a marketing agency specializing in audience engagement through strategy, video, event production, digital services, and design. He spearheads the creative development of major projects for PCI’s corporate, government, and nonprofit clients.