Meetings

Event Planning Lessons From the Jeopardy! "Greatest of All Time" Tournament

By / Jan 16, 2020 Jeopardy legends James Holzhauzer, Ken Jennings, and Brad Rutter. Jennings won the competition on Tuesday. (ABC)

The game show’s tournament of champions was a ratings juggernaut, thanks to its memorable contestants and creative format. It also offered a few ideas when it comes to planning unforgettable events.

If you’re a Jeopardy! fan like I am, you probably really enjoyed the show’s “Greatest of All Time” tournament, which wrapped up Tuesday when Ken Jennings was crowned the GOAT champion.

While I selfishly wish it had lasted another few nights, as I was watching, I couldn’t help but think there were some takeaways in it for event planners. Here are three to consider:

Make the format memorable. The GOAT tournament was a good example of how you can slightly tweak a formula that’s always worked to generate buzz. For instance, the game show stuck to its three-round format, but players competed in a match that consisted of back-to-back games that lasted an hour instead of its typical 30-minute, single-game show. And the GOAT wasn’t crowned after winning one match: To keep viewers coming back (which ratings show they did), players competed in a first-to-three-wins series, which meant the show was able to run on consecutive nights to build up excitement. On top of that, the tournament had a special prime-time airing—the show’s first since 1990. As event planners, consider how you can slightly modify a session format or something else that’s always been successful to create renewed interest.

Choose contestants (and conference speakers and facilitators) wisely. The Jeopardy! tournament included the show’s three highest-earning contestants: Ken Jennings, Brad Rutter, and James Holzhauzer. But they aren’t game show celebrities only because they’re smart and earned millions. Each became known for other qualities that made them interesting to the audience, from how they play the game to their personalities. With the three of them on stage together, viewers got to see how those elements would mix. The outcome was lots of banter among the contestants (which included trash talk both onstage and online), along with plenty of correct answers and smart wagers. Consider who you can feature at your meetings that will get your attendees excited and talking. And if you can put people on stage together and create a dynamic that’s never been seen before, that’s even better.

Offer a prize worth playing for. To woo these contestants back to the game, Jeopardy! had to make the stakes high. That turned out to be $1 million and the title of “Greatest of All Time” for the winner, and $250,000 for each of the runners-up. If you’re hosting a hackathon or pitch fest during your conference, consider offering the winners something meaningful—and no, it doesn’t have to be $1 million. Some money to get started on their winning idea is good, but even better could be putting them in a room with industry leaders who can offer feedback and then serve as champions for the program, product, or service.

If you were watching the GOAT tournament, what other lessons do you think associations can take from it? Let us know in the comments.

Samantha Whitehorne

Samantha Whitehorne is editorial director of Associations Now. More »

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