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If you don't believe that perception is 99% of reality, then hold your next business event in a high school gym and save yourself some money.

The truth is that most company interactions with customers take place via phone or email, so a single event may be your one critical shot. It may determine 99% of the perception that a customer or prospect holds about a company.

Recently, I produced an annual user group for a small software vendor. After the event, one of its executives told me that a key customer from a Fortune 500 company said to him, "I've liked working with your company. But before this week I would have placed you at a 6 on a 1 to 10 scale. However, after coming to this event I feel that your company is a 10." This best illustrates the goal of what I call "business theater."

Despite the importance of events, many companies waste the opportunity to elevate the audience's perception of them. Here are five tips that can help turn an ordinary event into business theater, to help you create the perception you want.

1. Treat general sessions as the Big Show

In my 20-plus years of producing corporate meetings and events, I've noticed that a consistent shortcoming in the planning process, especially among small and medium "emerging" companies, is the lack of consideration given to the "look and feel" of the general session. Time is devoted to the venue, food and beverage menus, guest rooms and activities—all of which are important. But the general session is where you can make the biggest impression with the audience. Remember, people don't come to these events for the food.

When the General Session starts, it's "show time." The music and house lights come down, the booming "voice of authority" announces the meeting host, the stage lights come up, and our host becomes the center of attention as she welcomes the audience. All the money spent on your corporate advertising is wasted if this "production" bombs when an executive looks or sounds bad, microphones squeak, the visuals look poor or production elements miscue.

This is the big show, so imagine that everything counts—it usually does!

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J. Brent Frost (bfrost@corpmedianc.com) is executive producer and president of Corporate Media Communications (www.corpmedianc.com), based in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.