When it comes to shock and awe, anger and disapproval, entertainment and excitement, the MTV Video Music Awards (VMAs) have continually delivered, and this year was no different. This show has easily become one of the most “buzzed” about award shows of the 21st century. To those watching, the event was either a huge success or a complete disappointment, depending on where you get your news. Despite that, watching the show through the perspective of event manager, I discovered an entirely new view. The inner workings of this show to be a complete wonder, and after digging a little deeper, I compiled a list of 5 event management lessons to be learned from this highly anticipated, pop-culture event.
#1 Dress and Act Accordingly:
“Miley Cyrus made headlines this week after her racy performance at the MTV Video Music Awards shocked viewers and sent Twitter into a frenzy. Cyrus sang her hit song ‘We Can’t Stop’ at the awards show before stripping down to a nude-colored two-piece to perform with Robin Thicke on the summer anthem, ‘Blurred Lines.’ But despite her inappropriate on stage antics, Cyrus says she’s surprised people were still talking about it three days later: ‘You’re thinking about it more than I thought about it when I did it. I didn’t even think about it because that’s just me.’ – Huffington Post
I won’t jump to conclusions on anyone’s behalf to say that Ms. Cyrus’ VMA performance was neither bad nor good. But I will say that these types of impressions are lasting, and it is vitally important to consider the organizational message that you are putting out there and allow that message to work itself into your show. As awards ceremonies go, you will have many guests grace the stage over the course of the event. Often you will need to sit down discreetly and politely with the most important guests, including presenters and performers to discover any potential challenges. Using Ms. Cyrus as an example, her performance may have been acceptable for MTV, but would have not gone over well with Disney. Whether it’s an MTV or Disney type of gathering, it’s best to know your event, know your audience, and then plan accordingly.
#2 Staging Should Be Seamless:
“The stage crew working the MTV VMAs were super busy, as always: They hustled to deconstruct Lady Gaga’s elaborate set following her show-opening performance, and had to build what was essentially an entire third stage—the one that the other four members of NSYNC emerged from—over the course of a single commercial break. (It was mostly seamless.)” – Entertainment Weekly
Event management is a multi-dimensional profession. In-depth technical design knowledge and full understanding of how to communicate a company’s message across an audience are needed in order to make the event effective.
This part might be delivery of music equipment, decorative effects or stage elements that you may need, such as a microphones and amps, lighting, power outlets, projectors and screens for slideshows, smoke machines or other stage magic effects such as mirrors, banners and corporate signage, etc. If you subcontract a company to manage the staging elements of an event, consult with them to ensure they are able to provide and set-up their own equipment. You will also want to confirm where the stage and service sections will be on the site and what the production schedule will be. This way you can find out what assistance they may need prior to the live event.
#3 Don’t Forget the Sound Check:
“Speaking of microphone problems, they were rampant: Basically, the first sentence or lyric of every line or speech of the night got cut off. Was that because there were so few live microphones over the course of the night?…..Either way, sound was a problem for long stretches of the show—some things seemed mixed extremely loud (like Bruno Mars), while others got lost in the arena’s large empty space (most notably Macklemore & Ryan Lewis’ ‘Same Love,’ a delicate song nearly crushed by the sound system but saved by Macklemore’s charisma and Jennifer Hudson’s pipes).” – Entertainment Weekly
It always pays to have a quality technician in the room rather than save a couple of bucks on someone who will just wing it. It’s also a good idea to have a sound check with microphones as well as audio with computers. Now that more and more presentations have multimedia included, it’s important to test those devices altogether.
#4 Entertainment is Everything:
“You cannot fathom how intense the crowd reaction was to Justin Timberlake’s performance. The crowd on the floor was only half into everything up until that point (the Miley Cyrus/Robin Thicke joint was probably the biggest thing in the show’s first hour, at least as far as audience engagement went), and even as Timberlake started, they were still only partially into it. But once he hit ‘Cry Me A River,’ everything got kicked up a notch, and as he made his way around the arena, people slowly started standing up. By the time the other members of NSYNC emerged for a quick trip down memory lane, everything at Barclays was on their feet going absolutely HAM. That reaction was the night’s biggest—and best (it even helped mask the malfunctioning elevator platform that left poor Chris Kirkpatrick to twist in the wind). Also, Timberlake stopped for a water break just before the NSYNC reveal—which proves that he needs hydration and is thus human after all.” – Entertainment Weekly
In the world of entertainment, there are the good entertainers and there are great entertainers. Good entertainers can still get the job done, and are probably easier to come by, but they give a performance that is mediocre at best. They are the ones who are: probably doing this as a side gig, doing the minimum at keeping the audience engaged, and are probably cheaper than great entertainers. I call them glorified wedding singers.
Great entertainers, on the other hand, go above and beyond the call of duty. They captivate the audience in ways that make the good entertainers look bad, and they do it all with ease. Ever heard the expression, “you get what you pay for?” I believe the same holds true when it comes to selecting entertainment professionals for your next event. While savings is always a plus, think about it as an investment, and your mindset may change. I must warn you, once you’ve seen the gloriousness that is Justin Timberlake in person, such as I, you may never go back to good again.
#5 Hire an Awesome Host and an Awesome Back-Up Host:
“One Direction was supposed to usher us through the MTV Video Music Awards on Sunday by serving as the evening’s hosts. The boy band presented the first award of the ceremony minutes after taking the stage, handing out Best Pop Video to Selena Gomez. After that, we never saw the five some again, except via sporadic crowd shots and during their acceptance of the Song of the Summer honor.
Instead, Kevin Hart, who hosted the 2012 awards, took the stage twice. The comedian repeatedly claimed he was not the VMAs’ host, yet he was the only person to shepherd the awards along in any form.” – Huffington Post
The value of having a good MC is invaluable, but what if that MC goes MIA? At this year’s VMA’s we recently learned the effects of not having a central host can have on an awards show. Maybe MTV can pull it off, so to speak, but for the rest of us, this theory will most likely not work. Television is a completely different ballgame, and unless your event is a made-for-TV awards show, it’s probably best to appoint someone in charge to work the crowd and to work the show. Not only that, you may also want to consider having a back-up host in the case of unforeseen change.