Tina Brown’s 12 Tips for an Engaging Event

The former editor has turned her attention to live events, which she says have the unique ability to create an emotional connection between guests. At her talk for P.C.M.A.'s Convening Leaders conference, she shared the crucial elements of a successful event.

Photo: Jacob Slaton Photography

The Professional Convention Management Association's Convening Leaders conference wrapped up Wednesday in Boston with a talk from Tina Brown. The former editor of Vanity Fair, The New Yorker, and The Daily Beast created the “Women in the World Summit” in 2010 at Lincoln Center in New York to bring attention to issues facing women around the world. Now she’s expanding that initiative with the launch of Tina Brown Live Media, which will produce multiple Women in the World events around the globe.

“I think live events are more and more popular. It’s the only place where you can have a conversation of any depth,” Brown says. “It’s something about the live event that makes people engage and stay in their seats, if you do your job right. The more addicted they are to their phones, the more they want to get away from them.”

Here are her tips for creating events that attract attendees and hold their interest.

1. Have a mission and share it through stories
“The success of our event is because we don’t talk about women’s issues; we present women who have something amazing to tell you and then we build around that. We keep the policy, the intellectual piece of it very much driven by the stories.”

2. Make it meaningful
“We are all overwhelmed, over-busy and overstimulated. So to actually get you out of your seat and get you to attend an event, you really need to feel it is worth your while.”

3. Incorporate video
“It’s always a way to engage, if you bring it as a storytelling piece—not if it’s a bland corporate video.”

4. Seek cheaper alternatives for video production
“In today’s world with the digital explosion you can get video done quite inexpensively, particularly if you involve students and interns and so on at journalism schools and video schools who are actually very creative. They can become very critical members of the team.”

5. Vary session length
“We’re all so busy that the tolerance we all have for a long, drawn-out session of anything is lower and lower. With Women in the World and all the events I do, I always vary the pace. I’ll have a 15-minute segment, followed by a 40-minute segment, followed by a 30-minute segment, followed by a break. The length of the segment is really determined by how [worthwhile] the material is.”

6. Carefully select moderators
“We are not interested in moderators that just show up and say, 'Okay, what are the questions,' and just sit down. We want moderators who are intellectually engaged, who want to bring something good to the discussion.” Brown says she preinterviews speakers “so we know where that person is really interesting and where they’re not, and telling the moderator how to avoid those places where the person can become very boring, which happens a lot.”

7. Quality audio is critical
“Many a great event has been killed by bad acoustics, by things you can’t quite hear. You have to be so on that all the time.”

8. Create intimacy
“We often build out the stage into an apron where we will have the apron going out into the audience so you are closer. We never have any tables or any kind of barricades between you and the audience. And we are very simple in our set. It’s all about the people on that stage. Make it elegant, make it clean, a big screen. That’s a very unpretentious set.”

9. Treat every guest as a V.I.P.
“It’s amazing how many events you go to where you are treated extremely callously by the event planners. I went to a Hollywood awards thing last week, it was a freezing night. I wasn’t greeted at the door. I couldn’t find anybody. I struggled around to find this and that. I was thrown onto the red carpet and immediately mauled. I couldn’t find a drink. I was in such misery I can’t tell you. I finally staggered out in a rage. I was thinking to myself—you have to be respectful of your guests. You have to realize they made an effort to come out and see you.”

10. Don’t overprogram
“People want to network and talk and hang out and go to the bar and do their email. If you are in their face with programming all the time, it wears them down.”

11. Shorten speaker introductions
“Those long, flowery, boring introductions where all the energy in the room goes down are really a thing of the past. If you can do it with video or you can do it very punctually, you truly score points with the audience, because they want to get to the meat of the discussion.”

12. Stay nimble
“The best laid plans can go awry. The thing you don’t pay attention to, it so often comes out and bites you in the backside and derails the whole event. Don’t be despairing when it all goes south. Pretend you are in Brazil where everything gets cancelled and everything is improvised. It still can be great.”

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