apply the dramaturgic approach!
Most people talk about "planning" an event and think in terms of agenda, speakers, topics, and moderation, as well as venue and other organizational issues. In doing so, to my opinion they are missing out on the most important steps for making an impact at any meeting.
When I am asked to help a corporate project team design a meeting, I usually start with questions they might find odd. Who owns this meeting and who executes it? Why is it happening at all? What voices murmur on the subject? What experience or story do all involved share?
Asking this kind of questions is a different way to create memorable and transformative gatherings. I use to call this a dramaturgical approach, in reference to the term dramaturgy from the world of theater. Surely this is due to my personal background - I studied theater arts, did an internship as a dramaturge and worked on some conventional stages before switching to 'real' business.
But it is also the result of my experiences and observations in gatherings of various kinds, from community festivals to industry conferences. If you analyze the success factors in terms of emotional stickiness and profound changes in attitudes and behavior, you will discover a pattern. This pattern (based on how the human brain is wired and how systems work) will be a recurring theme of this blog, as it is very important from my point of view, when it comes to effective communication and meeting design. A dramaturgical approach helps to serve this pattern, thus helping to shape and format the content accordingly.
Good old Wikipedia says "Dramaturgy may be broadly defined as 'adapting a story to actable form.' Dramaturgy gives a performance work foundation and structure." while our new gen AI friend ChatGPT summarizes the transfer to the world of business as follows: "The dramaturgic approach transcends the boundaries of the performing arts because, much like a play, business gatherings also rely on structure, narrative, and audience engagement to effectively communicate their messages. In both realms, crafting a compelling story and understanding the dynamics of audience interaction are paramount for achieving the desired outcomes. Therefore, using dramaturgical strategies can enhance the impact, clarity, and memorability of business presentations and meetings."
But how do you use the dramaturgical strategies? Also here genAI at least provides a solid framework - for the picture of this blog post I fed the Wondershare EDrawMind AI Assistant with only the key term plus the aspects purpose, messages, people and format, and it created this comprehensive diagram, covering a lot of what I deem important.
IT starts with the purpose
You might say: "There's no need to inquire about the purpose of a town hall meeting or our sales conference." but It is a very important first step to really formulate the reason why without any bias and to agree on it with all the relevant stakeholders. As Priya Parker puts it in her wonderful TED talk "Assuming the purpose is obvious we skip too quickly to form".
Finding the purpose and subsequently setting objectives and goals for the event also allows you to finally measure success. And it helps you to follow the guidelines down the track in creating agendas and crafting sessions. When behavior change is an agreed goals, e.g. by complying to new ways of working or in an amended org structure, you may opt for a format that makes behavior visible, for example, with Peer Walk & Talks to reflect on one's behavior, or with Business Theater as a mirror.
The design process - have the right people on board AND do not hustle
In saying this, of course, I have my own interests in mind by offering my services as a consultant in this area. But taking a dramaturgical approach, asking the right questions, and following a purposeful yet realistic timeline is not rocket science. I am currently working on a compact online course that will give anyone, e.g. in Communication, HR and Organizational Development, some basic knowledge to make corporate conferences more effective (follow me in LinkedIn to not miss the launch).
However, I often experience - particularly in times of scarce resources - an overconfidence in 'hands-on' internal processes. Putting the weight of gathering design on the shoulders of a young talent as project leader or on random teams seems like an act of empowerment but it will never bear the same results as a dedicated team including professional consultants.
Calling 'the right people' to the table also means to identify ALL stakeholders to the issue - even the not obvious ones - and maybe to install a sounding board with diverse voices, preferably not only from the leadership level, and ask them to challenge main design and content aspects.
Most crucial for me is to appropriately allocate time. Time to set up the best team of experts and finally implementation partners, time to craft a compelling narrative and flow, and patience to hit pause, when something in the creation process feels wrong or the framework changes.
Compromises are sometimes required in life and business alike, but best results often come up after restarting from the scratch.
I could talk and write for hours about great event dramaturgy but let me instead share a short video, that was recently published by the Belgian reknowned event agency Triple Tree.
I am also more than happy to continue the conversation with you via the comment section to this post or in an individual appointment. Let me know which dramaturgic element you find most neglected in 'normal' corporate event planning or share your success and failure experiences in terms of of purpose and narrative driven event design!