game show conference entertainment

I had an interesting experience recently, which I’d like to share with you.

A prospective client called me up, looking for a trivia host to emcee a corporate game show for a conference in New York City. Now, I field calls like this all the time, and have done so for almost ten years – in fact, conferences are some of my favorite events to produce. And so, I conducted a detailed walk-through with her of my various unique offerings, formats and emcees, and she sounded impressed.

However, by the abruptness of her tone and the sharpness of her voice, she also sounded to me a bit…nervous.

She said that this was an event for an extremely important group of conference VIPs: high-value loyal clients, prospects, senior executives. The contest stakes themselves were also high: the winners of the event weren’t just walking away with plastic trophies or Amazon gift cards, but with all-expense paid vacations.

I short, this event was going to be a big deal.

“Not to worry,” I reassured here. After all, as the industry leader in corporate game shows and trivia team building, TrivWorks has many years of specialized experience producing this exact sort of event. I hung up the phone, and within an hour had sent to her a detailed proposal (very professional-looking as always, if I do say so myself) with not just a customized service package, but everything she would need to put her mind at ease:

  • My full list of clients, including many Fortune 500 companies
  • Over three dozen positive testimonials from similar clients
  • Examples of TrivWorks’ media coverage in top-tier consumer & trade press
  • Detailed bios of my professional trivia emcees and game show hosts for corporate events
  • Proof that I’ve got adequate liability insurance coverage

Basically what I was saying was, “You’re in good hands.”  Here is everything to back up my claims of credibility, that I am a vendor who can be trusted to deliver a highly professional & enjoyable experience in front of ANY audience, including this one.

Well, apparently it wasn’t enough.

The next Email I received was a request to speak with the emcee who would be leading the event. This was an atypical ask. Had she been considering one of the celebrity or “special talent” emcees whom I work with, I could understand possibly wanting to speak with him or her before sealing the deal (as marquee event entertainers, I have to charge a premium to cover their separate appearance fees).

For the standard TrivWorks experience where you get a professional corporate event emcee to lead your team trivia contest, it’s usually a matter of me assigning based on availability, as well as a few other factors (which I’ll discuss below). I am incredibly choosy about how I select my corporate trivia emcees, after all, and would trust any one of them to lead an event for any TrivWorks client, with the knowledge that they would represent my brand well. It’s incredibly rare to have somebody want to speak with the assigned emcee, and even more so BEFORE making a decision on whether or not to proceed.

Alas, I acquiesced and agreed to arrange a call with the assigned emcee – but not before she had SELECTED which emcee she wanted (again, not the typical way we do things; as mentioned, emcees are typically assigned via availability – I also will take other factors into consideration, such as personality type, experience with specific groups/industries, etc.). In this case, the prospect reviewed my emcee list like a menu, and made her “selection.” She also wasn’t flexible; it HAD to be the one she chose, or else she wasn’t interested.

Luckily, the emcee she wanted was indeed available on the event date. We arranged the conference call, and I thought we were in good shape – that is, until the NEXT request came in.

She wanted references.

Now, here’s my thought on references. When I was just starting out as a corporate game show supplier in New York City, I had very little credibility to go on. I had several impressive clients under my belt and a few great media mentions, however besides that there really wasn’t much for a prospective client to go on as far as taking a risk on me. I knew that I had excellent references, and readily made them available upon request to those potentially seeking my services, even advertising “references available upon request” on my Website. Usually if somebody was close enough to proceeding but wanted just a LITTLE more reassurance, a quick phone call or Email with a happy TrivWorks client was all that was needed to nudge them over the finish line.

Today, however, the situation is different.

TrivWorks has now been around for nearly a decade, during which time the brand has been established as the event industry leader in corporate team trivia entertainment. I have an entire roster of prestigious Fortune 500 clients I’ve worked with, including some of the largest, most-respected brands in the world. I produce events nationwide. We’ve been covered in some of the leading trade and consumer press, and I have literally dozens of positive testimonials from clients of all industries. I’ve even been brought in to produce team trivia games shows for large audiences in Las Vegas. It’s been hard-earned, however I believe it’s safe to say that TrivWorks’ credibility has been well-established, and should (or so I assume) be self-evident.

And so when a prospect looks at all I have on display – the clients, testimonials, press, years of experience, etc. – and STILL wants references, it gives me pause (although thankfully, like the request to speak with the emcee referenced above, it rarely ever happens). Yet when it does, I can’t help but wonder: what could a reference provide here, which isn’t being communicated already?

Folks don’t always realize that every time I provide a reference, I’m essentially cashing in a favor. Yes, somebody had an excellent experience with me – but to take a phone call or respond to an Email on my behalf, interrupting their day, that’s an ask I’d rather not make unless it was ABSOLUTELY warranted. Did this inquiry fall into the “necessary” category? Would it make or break the deal? Or was it simply another request on top of a request to speak with my emcee? Not wanting to bother my references with something like this, I suggested that we hold the call with the emcee first, after which if she STILL wanted to speak with a reference before proceeding, I would arrange.

She agreed – but alas, there was still more…

She sent me a non-disclosure agreement (NDA), and asked that I sign it before our call with the emcee. I’ve encountered the NDA at various times over the past decade producing company trivia parties and team building events, typically from tech or media clients. It’s a means for companies to have some protection from theft of proprietary information, trade secrets, copyrighted materials and other intellectual properties, and given that I customize my events, I understand the desire to have those protections in place.

But those protections are usually requested AFTER the event has been booked.

I pushed back again, saying that I didn’t feel it was appropriate for me to sign anything – an NDA or otherwise – before having a formal event agreement in place. She responded by abruptly cancelling the scheduled phone meeting with the emcee. I followed up a couple of times over the course of a few days, with no reply; finally she wrote back that they were going in another direction. I wished her luck.

While no doubt cathartic for me to recounts stories such as this on my blog, that’s not the reason I chose to write about this incident. Rather, I thought I’d use it as a means to illustrate a point:

Your event is important. And I understand that.

I’ll bet there was a lot riding on the event the planner in the above story was putting together, not least of which was her reputation personally and professionally. Look at everything from a wide lens: asking me for references, needing to speak with the emcee in person, the insistence upon secrecy and signing an NDA, even bailing out the moment I started pushing back on these demands. All this adds up to somebody who has a very important event, for a very important audience. They CANNOT screw this up – the vendor HAS to be perfect. Otherwise, the repercussions will be severe.

Let’s take this exercise one step further. If the event is a hit, it’s a win for EVERYBODY! The group will have a fantastic experience, the planner gets all of the credit, and I’ll now be a “proven” vendor whom she will (hopefully) hire again, maybe even provide me with a testimonial or reference herself.

Now, what happens if the event ISN’T a raging success? What if the vendor she hires is unprofessional, unreliable, or just plain stinks at producing trivia events for corporate conferences? It reflects poorly not just on the planner, but on the event and conference as a whole. It’s this point right here which I believe this planner – any planner – was trying very hard to avoid.

And you know what? I don’t blame her.

As an entrepreneur, I know firsthand how valuable and fragile reputation can be. What you do out there reflects on your brand, and it must be protected at all costs. Was the person in this above example unnecessarily demanding? I believe so. Was she less than polite and professional in her dealings with me? Yes. However, I can look past this to see what was really going on here: the event was REALLY important to her.

Could this person have dialed it down a notch, I have no questions we could have produced an excellent event which reflected well on both her and her conference. However, is there anything else I could have done to communicate this to her? Would one more testimonial on my Website have helped? Would one more logo on my client page have tipped the scale in my favor? Even if I’d provided the references, and signed the NDA right away?

Who knows.

My guess is that nothing would have made her 100% at ease, with me or any vendor; that had she signed on, she would have only done so with hesitation, not feeling completely comfortable with her decision until after the event had concluded. She said that she’d decided to go in another direction, however I honestly don’t know what direction that could have been, since there really is nobody out there with the amount of experience or expertise doing these types of events as I do. Like I said, I wish her the best of luck with her event.

But here’s the takeaway: I know your event is important. Believe me, I do. And I wouldn’t promise to deliver the fantastic experience I’ve built a reputation for doing unless I was 100% confident I could do so each and every time, for every function and audience – including yours.

Here’s another article you might like about live game shows.