There's a fascinating connection between the arts and your events that can hold a transformative power. Imagine blending music, theatre, improv comedy, and dynamic choreography—turning ordinary corporate meetings into riveting, memorable experiences. This not only almost guarantees a memorable event, it also fortifies retention and amplifies learning.
But this recipe for success is also often overlooked because of many companies' traditional focus on analytics over creative flair. Yet, as we'll discover, a sprinkle of Hollywood magic can elevate events, ensuring your event's message leaves an indelible mark on its audience.
Kraig Kleeman presents an unlikely but successful mix of corporate honcho meets rock and roll performer. A lover of the performing arts, Kraig has coupled that passion and his business acumen to craft mesmerising corporate events. He is the founder of Rock The C-Suit, Kraig Kleeman Live and an established showrunner for global events such as The World Leaders Forum. He is also the bestselling author of A Winning Brand and The Must React System.
Quotes from this episode:
"Events still benefit tremendously from the integration of the performing arts. It can happen in a whole number of ways and customisation is key."
"There's always something that will happen on the stage that was unplanned and spontaneous, but was the result of just the creativity, the forethought, maybe prior experiences that will just come out of that performer."
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I'll never forget. We asked a question what phrase would you use to describe the events that you've been to in the last, you know, 12 or 24 months? And the one selection that was chosen by far the most was the word snooze fest.Adelaine Ng:
Are you just as surprised as I was to hear that? Welcome to Upon Arrival, a show that uncovers stories and strategies that make up all the moving parts of business events tourism? I'm Adelaine Ng and I've just come back from an events destination showcase in Australia's Gold Coast, famous for its golden beaches, vibrant surf life and exhilarating theme parks and, oh my goodness, did they put on a show. From enchanting garden lunches to breathtaking acrobatics, to fun and scary characters that emerged at SeaWorld. As a travel trade journalist, I'm blessed that I get to see all these ideas event planners can bring to life, turning what can easily be mundane corporate conferences into memorable experiences. So I may have mistakenly assumed that surely no one settles for forgettable events these days, but, as it turns out, what I found out from my guest this week is that more companies that we might imagine do, and we'll hear more about why that is the case shortly. This guest is a formidable force in the events world who promises to make your events anything but forgettable. Kraig Cleiman has been described as a fusion of Elon Musk and Mick Jagger. The founder of Rock the Seasweet, Kraig Kleeman Live and an established showrunner for global events like the World Leaders Forum, which means, yes, he has hung out with presidents and prime ministers. Kraig skillfully infuses his events with a heady mix of theater, music and comedy to make them not just captivating but purposeful as well. He's also a bestselling author of two books. Kraig, welcome to the show, so happy to talk to you.Kraig Kleeman:
It is a pleasure to be here. Thank you for having me.Adelaine Ng:
Well, I just want to let our listeners know straight up that in any other setting, I'm not cool enough to be talking to someone like Kraig Kleeman. I mean, you imbue the rock and roll vibe, even though there's corporate entrepreneurship right through your veins, and it's a really interesting mix. Now for those who can't see Kraig because you're listening on the podcast, Kraig is wearing dark glasses and a thick black hairband that keeps all his funky blonde hair in place, and I have a feeling he likes attention, which is fantastic, because he is all about having your events make a memorable impact. Have I got that right so far, Kraig? So far so good.Kraig Kleeman:
I think we're rocking in the free world right now, so let's do it.Adelaine Ng:
Well, the things you've done and are known for, I mean, that list is as long as my arm, so this conversation can go in a few directions and I was wondering where to start. But I was curious about Hollywood as your inspiration, because you say that that's where you take a lot of your cues from. Can you tell us about that connection for you and how you've applied that to the events world?Kraig Kleeman:
I sure will. And I will tell you. I think this crazy journey of mine got started back all the way in middle school. That was when I put together my first performance and performed it, you know, on stage, and went on to do that in high school and college. So I think in school I got a real taste of it. But, boy, I have been a big fan of rock, music and theater and all of the performing arts my entire life and much of my life, you know, kind of spun more into the business realm, but never forsaking the importance of the performing arts. And what I have discovered, I think, just in a new and a fresh way, is that corporate messaging benefits tremendously when integrated with the performing arts. And there's a lot of ways to do it Music, stage, improvisational comedy, choreography. Boy, when we start integrating those creative elements into events, and particularly corporate events, it just mesmerizes the audience and enhances, you know, retention and learning and all of it. So I think it always birthed in my love and desire for the performing arts. Then, you know, went into business and then in time began to integrate it With the many things that I was doing in business.Adelaine Ng:
Why do you think we're not doing that very often in the events?Kraig Kleeman:
Well, you think you know that that's a good question and I think it's in part because and it truly does have the ability to revolutionize events, no question. But I think in business, people go into business in part because they think analytically and they think quantitatively and Typically, when folks, you know, exercise that part of their brain as the dominant features for Thinking and irrational thought and all of it, then sometimes we miss that creative element and don't draw it out. A lot of creative thinking folks go into. You know I've authored two books. You know one of them I'm real proud, he had 11 bestseller lists on Amazon. I think a lot of folks who think, act and operate creatively Often don't make their way into the business world. So I think lots of CMOs and lots of events directors and content directors and events managers and such tend to think more along the lines of analytics and and quantitative more so than necessarily Creativity. And it's been kind of fun to fuse that into the corporate environment.Adelaine Ng:
I think what I've seen more often Recently of it Well, over recent years is that we've seen more inspirational content come into, you know, the most stuffy of meetings. So that's been a really good trend to see, because I think the corporates are recognizing that human need that needs to be filled and that somehow also is good for corporate objectives. But when you infuse that Hollywood touch, you know that music touch, that rock and roll vibe, does that take it another level. I mean, you know what? Have you studied in that space? You know what?Kraig Kleeman:
what we've really found is that I think sometimes we all agree it's. Sometimes it takes a little bit of research to confirm the obvious. But you know, people really rally around music. Of course we know they rally around food and beverage, but music is a real rallying point and so is the performing arts, just coincidentally, almost a sideline. I spent the first three weeks in July just a little time off, some vacation, did a road trip up in the north woods around, like the Great Lakes region and Lake Superior and all, and I made it a point to be sure that some of my lodging was in places where I could go to some of the local theaters and I saw Shakespeare production and I saw another great production that was out of venue, right on the water, on Lake Michigan's fabulous venue and the inspiration that comes from it. It transcends keynote after keynote after keynote and in that dogamere. I love corporate events. I've spoken at them, I was showrunner for the world leaders forum. I've had the privilege of being on a guest panelist alongside President George W Bush, tony Blair, the former prime minister of the UK, and learned tremendously. But what I've found is that while we can have great speakers who have awesome content particularly like folks that are world leaders that I just mentioned earlier. Events still benefit tremendously from the integration of the performing arts and it can happen in a whole number of ways and and I should say also Is the customization is the key. So, for example, you know, when we do performances we take classic rock songs like think Rolling Stones, you know, think Led Zeppelin, you know all those bands, but we all the songs that everybody knows. But we rework the lyrics so they're spot on for the audience and commensurate with the topics and the trends that that are relevant to that particular audience.Adelaine Ng:
Does it work, for I mean, not everybody's into rock and roll. You know, some people are more into the classical or the musical. So does it, you know? I guess in some people's minds it's like I'm not sure that this is going to be everyone's cup of tea. What would you say to that?Kraig Kleeman:
Yeah, great question. Let me just say that the rock music is one of typically three elements when we do a performance. The other two elements are improvisational comedy as well as onstage choreography, and so the improvisational comedy is real easy to customize for any audience. If you're working with a good team and a great improv comedy director, then it's a matter of just working on key words, key topics, and you know, with my performances I like everything to be rated G, so I'm constantly telling my talent hey guys, you know, you know foul language under any circumstance, nothing political. We want our audience to be attracted to every aspect of this show and never alienated. But in answer to your question, the improv comedy and the onstage dancing and we put our performance even out in the audience to celebrate people have a birthday and got a whole song and a gift. You know that goes to people's birthdays that particular month. But back to your question. I developed Rock, the C-Suite rooted in classic rock music because I'm kind of a classic rocker myself. But I was just at an event. I was on stage in Las Vegas at Caesar's Palace and one of the senior managers from a company named Essence maybe you've heard of Essence Magazine. They do events all over the place. And we were both speakers and we met backstage and he said great, I've got to talk with you because I don't want you to do Rock the C-Suite, but hip hop, our audience wants hip hop. And I said, yes, sir, and so we started a planning process already to do exactly the same thing, but hip hop music, so we can transcend genres and do whatever the audience requires.Adelaine Ng:
Wow, that'll be. I guess that would categorize this fusion music, but I'm sure people would just love that, especially if something's been created for them or right before their very eyes. That would be amazing. So if people haven't experienced you at an event, I'm just thinking what can they expect? Because obviously, from the videos that we can see online, it's like you completely take over the stage and you just inject the whole atmosphere with a bolt of energy and, of course, there's a rock and roll music that you bring into it. But what exactly can people expect? Yeah, great question.Kraig Kleeman:
So there are two elements of the performing group that we have. One is the full blown show that we've been talking a little bit about the band, the dancers, you know the improv comedy and a lot of folks saying that we create love, the idea, fantastic. Just don't have the budget to do like a two hour, three hour show. And then we talk to them about what we call Kraig Kleeman live and that's where it just me who comes and we sometimes will have dancers come along if we can find some locally and have a lot of confidence in the choreography and the rehearsals in advance. But then that we call them energy bumps and so I'll be on stage. Sometimes I'll be the MC as part of the energy bumps. Sometimes there will be another person who's the MC. But what can happen in conferences? Many conferences follow the traditional model of keynote, keynote, keynote, breakouts, back for keynote and finally networking time, and that gets kind of tough. You know, that gets a little bit tough for the audience. So when I do the Kraig Kleeman live, which is in effect the subset of rock, the C-suite in between each speaker I come on stage. The music is going crazy. Get everyone up dancing. We will often create a custom rock video that is written specifically for that audience, and my studio musicians will record it. We'll put it to video and you know we did one about Mark Benny off of Salesforce. That was just stunning, had the people going crazy. We did another one for the founders of HubSpot and the lyrics come up, you know, with the video itself. So we just mix a whole lot of things into even a Kraig Kleeman live performance and that's where the course, of course, is far less, because we're not bringing the band, we're not bringing the improv team. But I think what they can expect and answer to your question is a lot of energy, a lot of music, getting people up in some good, old fashioned, fun, clean entertainment that still accommodates the learning that we want to have happen, that the producers want to have happen in each of the conferences.Adelaine Ng:
I think what I like about you is that you know there's an element of unpredictability with you and yet there is a total trust that you're in safe hands because you're well aware of what the corporate side wants and you're seeking to help them fulfill those objectives in your own way. And that unpredictability comes in a way of how you mix rock and roll, you mix entrepreneurship, you mix in comedy and you also throw in some deep thinking, and I'm like that's a very eclectic mix, and I've probably missed a couple of other things as well that you know I haven't seen. So it's a really interesting approach. Are you actually leaving room at events for that element of well, let's see what happens? Or, you know, let's see what we can do with this?Kraig Kleeman:
Well, first of all, thank you for the kind word. Just a little thought. Well, I appreciate that and you know any answer to your question. I would tell you that the answer is yes, yes and yes. And what I mean by that is that Any performer who really, in my view, who is really in tune with their own creative self and their ability to manifest creativity, there's always something that will happen on the stage that was unplanned and spontaneous but was the result of just the creativity, the forethought, maybe prior experiences that will just come out of that performer. And so and I do want to say I appreciate, I do make sure that everything we do when we work with our clients is to be within the guardrails of their objectives and their goals, and I've spoken at plenty of these conferences that I do feel I've got a great idea for what they want to happen, but it adds a lot of value. But I do want to say that there's always a little spontaneous thing that will happen, or just a new way of phrasing things or a new way of doing things that went beyond the run-of-show outline that we created for the event, and almost every time there is goodness, as long as we stick within the parameters of the guardrails of the event. My philosophy is keep it rated G. As long as we always do that, those spontaneous moments will add value.Adelaine Ng:
Yeah, there is a group within the entrepreneurship community that just believes you should just be you and if swear words are coming out of your mouth, hey, you be you and you'll just attract your tribe. That's not an issue and that gives you your freedom to be yourself. But I was also thinking, you know, that can also be jarring for some people. So I don't know, I guess it's a personal choice for some people to what balance they want to strike. But at corporate events, I agree with you. I mean the less friction you can create, bad friction or unnecessary friction you create, the better it is. I mean you want to create the right kind of friction, right? I mean the kind that makes you think, the kind that gives you ideas, the kind that sort of jolts you out of the monotony and you know what's the normal of the normal. So it's an interesting kind of space. Do any examples come to mind when you think about past experiences where you've had an impromptu moment and somehow it's just managed to come together anyway and fulfill that corporate objective? You?Kraig Kleeman:
know that's a good question. So a couple of things, because there was a lot that you just said that I really appreciate and I'll try to answer the impromptu thing. But to depth down on what you said a moment ago, I agree with you. I think words matter, you know, and words can bring life and they can bring death and they can bring goodness and they can bring ineffectiveness. And I want to be remembered always as a person who brought words of encouragement, who brought words of inspiration, depth of thought, for sure, and challenging, absolutely, you know, but never sort of tearing down. So I just wanted to affirm the statement you were making a few moments ago, Impromptu, you know. I think some of the cool impromptu moments that have happened for me have been rhymes. I'm a bit of a poet. I published a couple of books. Neither of them are poetry, but I do have a couple of other books on my hard drive that are very poetic-centric, and so I've had a few moments where poetry just came out of nowhere and it sort of fit for the moment. It was kind of high energy and it came out almost like a Well soliloquy would probably be too strong of a word, but it came out sometimes in a thought-provoking moment, other times in a wildly humorous moment, but I think the humor element and the rhyme. Sometimes it just comes out of great claim and I don't know where it came from, but that's happened on stage more than once and always a good outcome, I'd like to think anyway.Adelaine Ng:
That is so cool, because we never hear a little bit of poetry. I mean, first of all, we don't hear a lot of poetry. It's one of those things that is I don't know. It's kind of drowning in all the noise that we've got around us now. We don't encounter unless you particularly Google poetry events in my area and go to that it's kind of I'm not hearing about poetry that much, but whenever I do encounter it it's like it takes my mind to a different space, more contemplative. It's just quite an enriching experience. So I love that. That's your little vibe, that you just jump into an event at any time, spontaneously. That's amazing. But what I also do appreciate about you is that you're not just a big whirlwind of ideas, you do research to figure out what people want, and I love that. You interviewed Was it 300 executives about their event experiences. So you were really interested to know how can I make this a better experience for you the next time? So tell us about those interviews. I mean, when were they conducted? What did you ask them? What did they tell you you?Kraig Kleeman:
know it was. I appreciate you bringing it up because we put a lot of effort into it. What I wanted to do was I wanted to validate some assumptions that I had from my own experience.Adelaine Ng:
Sometimes it's pretty easy to go down a rabbit drill a little too far before it's been validated you know so, and then find out it doesn't work, and then that costs a lot of money too. Exactly.Kraig Kleeman:
I think that, bingo, you're exactly right. So we conducted with 300 executives, director of VP, c-suite, all in Fortune 500 or global 2000 companies, and we just were pretty straightforward and we just put it out there. We asked questions, we made it very easy for them to respond and we asked questions that you might imagine hey, what is your view of this and how do you prioritize that? And you know, what do you like? You know, overall we found that they were generally dissatisfied with the current format. The other thing I think that we discovered was the thing that folks who attend conferences look forward to the most is the networking time. And you think about the networking time. There's usually some music and there's usually, you know, some sort of beverage and perhaps some food. And I'll never forget, we asked a question, you know we gave these terms like what phrase would you use to describe the events that you've been to in the last, you know, 12 or 24 months? And these are folks that all said they go to at least two or three events or more per year, and so we have some things like Way Cool, you know, just Okay. And the one selection that was chosen by far the most 49% of the time was the word snooze fest. Oh, my goodness. Oh, so that's what we knew. Hey, you know what? There's some room in the marketplace for someone to bring some pizzazz and some energy and some music and some goodness, good old fashioned inspiration to corporate events. So that research helped us a lot and I'm glad that you brought that up.Adelaine Ng:
Did that lead to any changes to you know the way you do Rock the Sea Suite or Kraig Kleeman live? I mean, were there any unexpected insights that changed the game a little bit or given you some tweaks?Kraig Kleeman:
I think it really confirmed what I was thinking. I think some of the new data that I received from it was and I guess I alluded to this a little bit was the level of dissatisfaction with keynote keynote, keynote breakout, breakout, keynote rabba networking. You know the level dissatisfaction with that sort of template. That's become quite standard. What I did not know was that, when asked the questions directly, how much they offered the fact that networking was their number one goal and the number one thing that they almost always universally enjoyed most about the conferences and of course there's great value at networking and a performance doesn't necessarily increase networking, but I think it's that human interaction, yeah, pressing the flash and shaking hands and having meaningful, even though brief, meaningful conversations. People are wanting that more and more. It was reflected in the research that we've done.Adelaine Ng:
I'm still a little bit in shock. That was it. 49% people of respondents said that they would describe the events that they had been to as a snooze fest and like why aren't companies actually listening to that and wouldn't they not have seen attendance numbers drop and that would have been a signal to them? Why have we kept doing the same thing, even though we regarded as a snooze fest and basically essentially a waste of time, and yet we're still running the same treadmill.Kraig Kleeman:
I think it's a great question and I'll harken back a little bit to some things we spoke about at the time. I do think, listen, corporations are businesses, you know, and corporate entities. I have three. I have an offshore team. I have another company, the new workforce based in Southeast Asia. I have more than 200 employees now Hope to have a thousand within the next 12 or 18 months. It's growing so fast. But the truth is that, just like that business, most businesses, particularly at the C-suite, the planning level, operates more in terms of analytics, quantitative thinking, analysis, product development, product demand. And, in all honesty, when I'm working with my other venture, the new workforce, I put on my analytics hat, I put on my marketing hat, I put all that on. But I think the reason is because most folks in business have gone that route due to the quantitative, analytical element of their own gift mix and that folks would have a dominant creative gift in their gift mix, typically go towards theater or acting or television. Or, you know, last night I went to see a band named Paramore. It's a great group, it was a great show, you know, good rock band a little bit later than my normal time in terms of when they came out, they kind of hit a little bit later, but I think that most folks who have that creative mojo move into the creative arts as their primary profession and so I think it's just getting a little bit of evangelism, getting the message out and letting you know folks and planners know that, hey, you can spice things up and you can really add value to your event and the messaging by communicating the messaging through the performing arts.Adelaine Ng:
So it sounds like we're really still at the awareness stage, so there's plenty of room to grow in this. I wanted to ask you as well, because I'm thinking that you know, it's probably time for a lot of corporations and organizations to do that survey within their own organizations, within their own employees. You know, what did you think of the event last year? Do you think we can do better? But I was also wondering is there an art to getting honest and really useful answers from those interviews? Because I often wonder about those questionnaires that we get at the end of events for feedback and if they actually do provide quality insights to the people who are asking them, because most people are actually in a hurry when they're filling them out. So I'm just wondering how would you go about, you know, getting quality answers when you're trying to get that feedback? You know.Kraig Kleeman:
I am not the survey expert, you know, but I've always felt that from a methodology perspective, the shorter the better, the easier it is for the folks to answer the questions, the better, and certainly the data set or the folks that you're, in effect, you're addressable market. You want to pick very, very cautiously. So I think in our instance, you know, what we did was very cautiously determined who we reached out to, we made the survey as simple and easy to reply to and respond to as possible and then we of course gave an opportunity for them to click on a link and have an interview with us. And then we also some of those who did not, of course, click on the interview, who gave very thoughtful answers. We reached back out to them. How many would you be willing to meet for 10 minutes just on Zoom, just to share a little more? Our founder would like to meet with you and we had a lot of folks who are willing to hop on a Zoom call for 10 or 15 minutes and we just called it essentially an events briefing. You know they would meet us for a 10 minute events planning briefing, events dialogue briefing, get a pointed briefing and in 10 minutes it just continued to confirm and validate what we learned from the survey they would send out.Adelaine Ng:
Now, did you love that as much as I did? I thought it was a great way of showing real interest in what your attendees or members really thought about your event, with the intent of serving them better next time and creating repeat business. You've been listening to part one of my interview with Kraig Kleeman. If you enjoyed what Kraig has been sharing, make sure you join me for part two next week for his thoughts on things like branding.Kraig Kleeman:
I think it's very, very possible to overbrand.Adelaine Ng:
Kraig's companies have also generated 30 million US dollars in just four years, and he'll be sharing his personal rituals that's resulted in this massive success, and I can tell you it's not what I was expecting. Don't forget if you found value in today's show, please click the follow button if you'd like to be notified when new episodes drop. I'll catch you next week for part two, to uncover more stories and strategies for a successful future. Till then, cheers.