Speaker tips and tricks

It’s the beginning of 2013, which means that conference season is coming up quickly. As we start to plan for this year’s upcoming events, it’s important to remember key tips and tricks for speakers to help alleviate the planning headaches.

Being a main keynote speaker for a conference is not easy. Execution is key and it’s always smart to learn how to better do so. I recently stumbled across this informative blog post from Mike Brown, Founder of The Brainzooming Group. He gives tips on bettering your keynote performance from the perspective of the attendee in the back of the main keynote hall:

Don’t Do These Things

  • Never turn all the lights off to do your presentation in the dark. Darkness may make your videos pop, but you’ve made yourself invisible to the audience.
  • Use the microphone. You may think you have a booming voice, but don’t use all of your boominess only to not be heard in the back half of the room.
  • Let us know what in the world you’re planning to talk about, even if it only means something to you. At least with some advance notice on what you’re covering, we may be able to think ahead and create some personal connection to your material.
  • Spend less time on your credentials. You’re a keynote speaker. I’m confident the conference organizers picked someone qualified. The longer you take to justify your importance, the less I believe it, but hey, that may just be me.
  • Even if you did just type your presentation this morning, don’t call further attention to your indifference regarding ensuring we have a valuable learning experience.
  • We’re not talking while your video plays; you shouldn’t be talking either. When you insist on talking, there are two things going on that make no sense. One at a time is more than enough, thank you.
  • Put your important point at the top of the slide, not in small type at the slide’s bottom. With this room’s low ceiling, none of us in the back are seeing any of your “important” points.
  • We’re not interested in information so specialized that none of us will ever be able to do, imagine doing, or even learn something from hearing you talk about doing this work.
  • Do us all a favor and get us involved in your keynote presentation – even a little bit. Maybe ask for questions. Maybe ask a question. At this point, people are already writing very vicious things on the evaluations. Making them raise their hands to answer a question could slow down their ability to write bad reviews about you.
  • If you’re going to emphasize to us how important emotion is, you should actually show some emotion in your presentation. Funny might be a good emotion to introduce first. While you’re at it, maybe you could be a little humble and show some humanity. All three of those would be much appreciated.
  • Before you get done with your keynote presentation, give us at least one thing we can take away and use from your session.

It’s crucial to have a run-through of all keynotes in advance. This gives the AV and technical director plenty of time to work out any kinks, surprises, or switching from multiple devices (such as laptop to iPad to iPhone). Invite keynote speakers to arrive a day early and host a speaker VIP dinner to introduce them to each other and other VIPs attending the conference. Get to know your speakers so you understand what their needs are.

Keynote speakers aren’t the only kind! Being involved in a fireside chat or a panel discussion involves a certain level of preparation and focus. As the producer, you need to provide panelists a clear understanding of the event format, types of questions that will be asked, and what is expected of the panelists. Introduce the panelists ahead of time so that they get to know each other beforehand. The more chemistry your panelists have with each other, the better.

Most important of all, send all of your speakers a detailed logistics email to ensure they have all the information they need a few weeks prior to the event and include the following:

  • logistics
  • dress code
  • room setup
  • expected attendance
  • who is moderating (if applicable)
  • panel theme (if applicable)
  • type of questions
  • panel expectations

Your goal in the email is to make them feel confident that the experience will be well organized and positive so they can focus on their own performance. I love Guy Kawasaki’s blog post on How To Kick Butt On A Panel and often link to it in the email to the panelists. It’s a great list of tips and tricks to achieving a successful panel.

It’s also important to assign a speaker handler to each person (keynote, moderator, or panelist) and CC them on the logistics email. The speaker handler also greets the speaker on-site, escorts them to the speaker ready room, and makes sure that any last minute details are communicated effectively. The speaker handler acts as the liaison during the conference or event.

Whether it’s a keynote, fireside chat, or a panel, make sure to include a little Q&A time for the audience to get involved and ask their questions. Also encourage speakers to participate in the event as attendees, if time allows. After the event, make sure to include questions in your post-event survey about each of the speakers. Share the feedback with the speakers so that they can learn from their experience.

What are your tips and tricks for speakers? We’d love to hear from you.

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