IN THE famous play Hamlet by William Shakespeare, the lead actor reflects on the difficult situation he is in and says: “To be or not to be, that is the question.”

In thinking aloud about whether to choose life or death, he entices the audience to listen and discover their own answers as the drama unfolds.

Like Hamlet, will Singapore choose “to be” the premier South-east Asian Mice (meetings, incentive groups, conventions and exhibitions) city of choice for multinationals and the tourism industry of the future?

It has already made a good start. The inaugural Formula One night race in 2008 was a huge success, which was followed up by its 2009 repeat with supporting entertainers like ZZ Top, Black Eyed Peas and Beyonce.

This year marks the opening of Resorts World Sentosa and Marina Bay Sands — integrated resorts featuring casinos and theme parks which are attracting significant attention.

Creating the wow factor

As a keynote speaker for company events and a master of ceremonies (MC) for association conferences in South-east Asia, it is exciting for me to see the incremental growth for Singapore, which is bringing in billions of dollars in revenue through new group, company and delegate spending.

The challenge with big events planned by multinationals and those in the Mice industry is finding the right balance of content presentations or speakers and a “wow factor” experience that delegates can learn from and take away.

In this two-part article on emceeing and hosting events, I will share an example of a leading Fortune 500 company that planned a great conference on paper yet failed to execute it properly, resulting in negative delegate feedback.

Great plan, poor execution

Not long ago, I was engaged by a multinational company to be a breakout session presenter and closing conference motivational speaker.

The company was hosting a significant three-day conference for its employees, channel marketing partners and suppliers.

When I arrived, I watched a conference plan that was seven months in the planning slowly unravel.

Of the 300 people attending, 200 had been flown in from around the world for four days and three nights, and were staying in four- and five-star accommodation.

The event was to be hosted by a very competent senior human resources manager who fell ill. The task of hosting and emceeing each day was then delegated to managers who were to cover their section of the programme agenda and pass it on.

Day 1: The day was to start at 8am with an opening welcome and speech from the international senior vice-president.

The 300 people were strongly advised to be in the ballroom by 7.45am to be ready for the 8am kick-off.

However, the event did not start until 8.20am, with a flat introduction by a manager as the morning event emcee.

The programme was an hour behind at morning coffee and tea break.

Lunch was cut back from 90 minutes to 50 minutes to help make up time and get delegates to the afternoon breakout sessions to be chaired by company and industry speakers.

Ending nearly two hours behind schedule, Day 1 left little time for delegates to network as they quickly freshened up prior to an onsite dinner starting at 7.30pm.

Day 2: It was much the same as Day 1 as it finished an hour behind schedule.

Lengthy introductions by managers and jokes that did not strike a chord with the audience caused each hour to drag on to the next.

Delegates were unsure about changes to the afternoon breakout sessions.

Some sessions started late as speakers arrived late after lunch or were unable to find the rooms they were to speak in.

Day 3: A visiting US senior IT executive was to speak on internal security issues plus field audience questions from the stage before lunch.

To help get the conference back on time, his 60-minute presentation was cut to 25 minutes, receiving a mixed audience reaction.

He raced through his PowerPoint slides, having been asked to cut content to keep the event schedule intact for lunch.

All this was such a pity because the conference had started out with so much promise.