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IABC at the IMPROV or ... 'Hey! Who said you could have fun at a meeting?' (business conferences)

The annual professional awards event like we look forward to having a molar drilled, or our car towed away, or being detained by the Turkish border police.

Why? Because none of those things are any fun, that's why. Somewhere along the line some prune-faced committee member tricked us all into believing that professional meetings should have the tone and atmosphere of a funeral. Well, Jack, the line stops here. It's the 1990s, my friends, and meetings can be fun ! What's that you say? You want proof? You want an example? OK. Here's how we did it in Cleveland, and how you can do the same thing in your Anytown, the world.

The Place Is the Thing

We started by selecting a place for our meeting that would break the traditional mold of oak-paneled corporate board rooms and chandeliered hotel meeting rooms. We picked a comedy club. There are more than 300 comedy clubs in the country, so there's got to be one in your town-even if you live in Fort Wayne, Indiana! (The club there is Snickerz. Hey, that's how they spell it.) Anyway, we selected the IMPROV, one of a chain of wellknown comedy clubs in the US.

Of course, the most important thing you need at a meeting is food. Fortunately for us, the Cleveland IMPROV has its own catering service. They serve dinner to comedy club patrons before the early performances on weekends. This made our meeting planning easy. For you in Anytown, however, the comedy club you choose for your awards meeting may just serve drinks. You will then have to work with the manager to see how you can bring in your own caterer. Just make sure you deal with somebody with a sense of humor-especially when it comes to the bill.

You might also be able to strike an arrangement with the club manager to make your program and their comedy show a package deal. For our Cleveland IABC awards program, one price (US $26 for members and $30 for nonmembers and guests) covered the meal, the awards program and also admission to that evening's comedy show. A Funny Thing Happened OK, everybody thinks it's a great idea that you've picked a fun place to hold your awards dinner, but what do you do now? Now ... YOU have to actually be funny. I mean, you used to be able to blame the dullness of your event on the site-the senior citizen center, the art museum meeting room, or the library community room. But now that you're actually in a fun place, your audience is expecting a fun meeting. Who you gonna call? Jokemakers.

Think about it. You're in a professional organization with a number of people who are professional writers. Albeit, most of them are stuck writing boring annual reports (forgive the redundancy), but I'm sure they would appreciate an opportunity to be truly creative.

So, first seek out somebody within your ranks who is truly funny and turn this person completely loose. If you have nobody truly funny (or if you live in Fort Wayne, Indiana), use your local comedy club as a resource. The manager can put you in touch with a few local comics. Either they can help you put your program' together or they can lead you to a local comedy writer who can. (The downside of this way is that it'll cost you.)

In Cleveland, my real job is writing speeches and publications for a nonprofit organization. But, on a free-lance basis, I write gags for local and national comics, comic articles for magazines, and I currently write a regular column for a nationally syndicated joke service. My fellow IABC board members know about this (and still let me maintain my membership), so they drafted me to write the program and emcee the show. In turn, I immediately drafted a partner. Dan Davis is the creative director of corporate communication for University Hospitals of Cleveland. He's also a funny guy and proves it by using humor effectively in his award-winning publications. Dan also has been invited to speak before several professional organizations (including the 1989 IABC District 7 conference) about how to make humor work for you in your own publications.

(Commercial message: If you don't have comedy pros in your organization, give Dan or me a call. We work cheap.)

Anyway, Dan and I conceived a short program which would start off with a brief monologue poking fun at our own organization, at traditional awards presentations, and especially at award rules.

There's a category of annual reports for those without financial data. Now ... correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't the point of an annual report to show people how much money you have? I mean, isn't this sort of like Ameritech publishing a telephone book with just the names and addresses, and no phone numbers? And if you asked them why, they would say, Hey! If we would have waited for all the damn correct phone numbers, we would have missed our printing deadline!...

All right, you get the idea. Anyway, after about 10 minutes of this routine, I was joined on stage-where we had our awards displayed-by our IABC vice president and awards program chairman, and began the legitimate reading of the award winners.

But ... in between the real awards, we broke up the program by presenting several bogus awards. For example, in the special category "Newsletters without steroids," the winner was The Pump You Up Gazette.

According to our Midwest judges, this newsletter really hits the lowest common denominator among its readers-something we should all strive for. Massive white space and one-syllable words make for quick, easy reading."

Accepting the award was either Hans or Franz (I couldn't really tell), who of course was my partner Dan Davis dressed in full real-man regalia.

OK, sure, these aren't exactly bons mots from the mouth of Alistair Cooke. But, hey! This is supposed to be fun.

You don't have to do bogus awards in your Anytown program, but you know how long, long, long the reading of the litany of awards can be. Sol you should consider some way to break it up and wake up the crowd.

Garcia Vaughan was elected to the 1990-91 IABC executive board in June to replace Vickie Tassan, who resigned from the board because of expanded job responsibilities. Vaughan will serve as a director-at-large, Membership Marketing. She is corporate communication director, Coldwell Banker Residential Group, Mission Viejo, Calif. She graduated with honors from the University of California, Irvine with a B.A. in Social Ecology. She has won numerous awards and was president of Orange County/IABC's award-winning chapter in 1987-88.
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Author:Sidley, John David
Publication:Communication World
Date:Aug 1, 1990
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