Message and Memory: Keys to a Great Offsite (Part 1)
People come to SubCulture for all kinds of events. From concerts to fundraisers to musical theater, we’ve hosted and produced just about everything over the years, but one type of event that’s become more popular recently is the offsite. More and more, companies realize the need to gather outside the office, celebrate strong performance, review their goals, and motivate their teams with positive energy by giving everyone a change of pace.
For startups on a budget, it can be difficult to see the immediate return on a day away from the office, but leaders at companies large and small intuitively feel the human urge for variety and the need for a change of place to earn a different level of attention. What can be less clear, however, is the difference between a great offsite and a mediocre one once they’ve committed to leaving the office.
Our team has prepped and produced countless offsites here at SubCulture, so we wanted to help clarify the difference in concept and in detail. Great offsites deliver a clear message and create organizational memory. The message is the intellectual thinking you want to instill in your team, and the memory is the emotional boost you want them to recall long after it’s over. Achieving both requires a great presentation AND a great experience, and it’s the details that matter. We’ve broken down the key pieces to help you use theatricality to your advantage in creating a successful, memorable offsite.
SubCulture is a performance space, and the way we approach an offsite is the way we approach a live concert: we produce it to be an experience. It’s not a meeting or a discussion or a lecture, but rather time set aside to energize, engage, inform, and inspire. It should be memorable, lingering with employees long after it’s over and helping them focus and frame their work for the coming quarter or year. That way, your offsite becomes an appreciated ritual, a hallmark of healthy culture. That is its purpose, so that’s the objective we set out to achieve with each client, and we help them bring their culture to life.
We’re not just talking about proper volume here. Good sound is transformational – it makes you feel connected. We’ve all been to those events where people skimped on the system or chose to handle everything on their own. Sharp sounds make everyone grab their ears, which is just miserable. It’s a festival of distraction – the dreaded screech of feedback, an echoing microphone, or a hissing speaker – and you end up talking to the person next to you instead of being absorbed in the program. In an environment like this, it’s impossible for the audience to listen attentively.
For presenters, bad sound undermines their confidence. Even just the fear of an audio snafu can spook strong speakers and intrude on their delivery. The ability to communicate clearly has everything to do with a system that’s tuned to the room and a sound check to dial it in. The check gets your speakers comfortable in a new place and lets the engineer adjust for speaking patterns, microphone holding techniques, and different voices. Musicians demand a sound check before concerts to make sure they are delivering the best product, and you should too. These small preparations won’t detract from your work in the run-up to the offsite, but they will go a long way to making the offsite achieve the goals you set for it. You’ll feel better having done them.
Summary: Make sure the audio system is top notch, share the details of your program with the venue, and take the time to do a soundcheck before the event. Good audio allows for presence and engagement. It’s the first pillar of delivering your offsite message.
Great sound is empowering, and the tech that surrounds it completes the package. It’s never confidence-inspiring when your company leaders get up on stage and fumble with slides for 5 minutes before delivering the big speech. Producing a great experience means managing those types of transitions well, and it’s impossible to do from the stage. You need the tech and the team to handle it.
When you have a slide deck, a video, or any other media to share, it should all flow together seamlessly. You can think of this as the choreography of production – it’s how all the little details of your offsite come together into a successful program. At SubCulture, we focus on making it turnkey. The microphone(s), house music, projector with video, or anything else that’s live gets managed and tweaked by our production team. We’re in contact well before the event to help format presentations for our screen and anticipate pesky issues like having the right cables and connectors. On the day of, our team runs all the elements from the engineer’s booth, and presenters can click through slides and focus on their message.
We’ve heard so many times that it’s all very simple – just a microphone and a screen. Most experienced leaders know it’s challenging to execute anything at a high level, especially the things that seem deceptively simple. The reason it looks easy is because someone is working very hard to make it seem so. That’s what you want to look for when choosing an offsite venue.
Summary: Work with a team that knows what they are doing, and you’ll experience the power of production. Don’t sacrifice the motivation you want to impart to your team by neglecting the finer points of presentation. Your delivery will be stronger with a production team behind you.
A couple blog posts ago, I mentioned how one client of ours described his event as a mashup between a TED Talk and a Springsteen concert. One of the reasons why TED Talks are so compelling is because they are presented like a theatrical event. The content is original and interesting, but it would be far less appealing to watch if everyone was in a room with overhead fluorescent lighting. Instead, the audience is dimly lit, the speaker is the brightest part of the stage, and every other color amplifies the experience they want you to have.
When an offsite is treated like a theatrical experience, everyone takes it more seriously. Dimming the lights signals when it is time to begin, bringing people to their seats and eliminating the ‘shushing’ you heard so often in high school assemblies. When you start to present on screen, the ability to dim and uplight focuses attention on the content and shades other visual distractions in the room.
Lighting is also the non-verbal cue that can turn a boring offsite into a one-person show. It makes meetings less formal, but more effective. Lighting makes the same space feel like a movie theater when screening content; a TED talk for a stage conversation; or a gathering space for people to socialize. You can light the space in your company colors or set the mood for how you want people to respond.
Summary: Lighting lets people see the polish and professionalism in your presentation. It also creates different moods that can change for different parts of your program. Using it well helps you manage focus and attention throughout the day.
A RESPECT FOR PRESENTATION
There’s a reason why people remember concerts (often much longer than they remember their last company offsite), and it’s not because they get a t-shirt to remind them. It’s because art is enjoyable. It’s a sensory experience imprinted on our brains that came at us from multiple angles – loud and soft, light and dark, solo and chorus. At SubCulture, we maintain a healthy respect for great presentation, and we help our clients strive for and reach the highest levels of engagement by doing the same.
If you craft your offsite to help your team feel inspired and enjoy themselves, they will hear the messages you want to impart much more clearly. Like a great performance, it should resonate with them well after they’ve left, and they’ll feel grateful for having shared the experience.
This is Part 1 in our series about producing a successful offsite. Stay tuned for Part 2 next week!