Dr. Jim Anderson served as the co-master-of-ceremonies for the 20th Annual Tampa Bay Transportation Supersession on September 24th, 2009, in Tampa Bay Florida.
The Supersession banquet is an annual gathering of transportation and Civil engineers from the greater Tampa Bay area. This year’s event was the largest ever and was attended by over 400+ engineers and guests.
This type of audience will get up and walk out if they become bored. Dr. Anderson was faced with a unique challenge when it came to keeping the attention of the 400+ engineers who were attending an industry dinner event after a long day of work on a weeknight. Great gig, tough crowd.
The banquet’s master of ceremonies (MC) last year had tried very hard, but had ended up not being able to hold the crowd’s attention and they had started to leave before the event was even half over. This year’s planning committee presented Dr. Anderson with a challenge: find a way to keep the audience in their seats until the end of the event. It turns out that a single large baking potato was a key part of his solution to this problem…
Not A Speech, But Rather A 3-Act Play
Two weeks before the banquet, Dr. Anderson held a meeting with the planning committee. The banquet is an annual event for all of the engineers involved in transportation in the Tampa, Florida area. He had been asked to be a co-MC for the event in order to help make it a success. The trouble was that he knows next to nothing about the transportation industry.
The other MC knew a lot about the industry having worked in it for over 25 years. This was a perfect pairing & his smarts and Dr. Anderson’s creativity held the key to the event’s potential success.
The planning committee wanted to focus on the future of transportation in Florida. Since this was not a typical speech, there wasn’t a speech to prepare. Instead Dr. Anderson was looking at creating a play with three acts: an opening, then a second act after the banquet’s first speaker, but before its second speaker. Finally, there would be a third act that would close out the evening.
As with all such events, when Dr. Anderson was brought into the planning. the clock was already ticking and time was starting to run out. The co-MC did a web search and found all sorts of images of future transportation systems from the 1940’s and 1950’s covers of Popular Mechanics and Popular Electronics magazines. An idea started to emerge.
How about if the MC’s came up with their own vision of the future of transportation? Make it so outlandish so that everyone knows that it’s not a real plan, but incorporate all of that futuristic stuff that everyone has always believed is coming.
Dr. Anderson thought that this was a great idea & with one addition. He wanted to have it all lead up to one thing: a proposal for a jetpack based transportation future. Hey, everyone loves jetpacks and engineers especially love â€˜em. The planning committee agreed and one of the members even agreed to build a mock jetpack for us to use.
The Banquet Was A Success!
So how did it all turn out you ask? The evening was a smashing success. The audience was riveted to their seats & they had to know how this 3-act play was going to come out. Not a soul left before they were told that the show was over.
The three-act play did its job by hooking the audience’s attention in the first act, extending the story in the second act and building up to a big finish in the third act.
The crowning point of the evening was when Dr. Anderson had his co-MC bring out the Jetpack model and put it on and then announced that the event was over and he was leaving to go home. That was what the audience had been waiting for!
Oh, and the potato? Dr. Anderson had brought one to the event as a backup just in case things didn’t go as planned. He ended up setting it on the podium and not talking about it, not moving it, not doing anything with it. It drove the audience mad with curiosity: why was the potato there? What were they going to do with it? Talk about holding an audience’s attention!