Prepping Industry Speakers for Your Events

Author: Dave Lutz, CMP       


Author Ritu Bhasin presents a session at PCMA EduCon 2019. Bhasin and PCMA’s education team members did session development meetings via video conferencing. (Jacob Slaton Photography)

What would you do differently if your job performance and compensation were evaluated based on overall session attendance and industry presenter ratings at your annual conference? While this notion may seem a bit extreme, conference education systems need increased accountability, which in turn leads to a competitive advantage. We all need improved systems for:

  1. Programming thought-provoking and relevant content.
  2. Recruiting or selecting industry presenters who will draw a crowd.
  3. Prepping and coaching presenters to effectively design and deliver engaging sessions.
  4. Having a feedback plan for measurement and improvement.

Let’s focus on speaker prep. Other than one-on-one coaching, session-planning calls can be the most effective way to prepare speakers. Many organizers treat these as tactical calls: The education staff provides speaker deadlines/requirements, and an overview of venue, room setup, AV equipment, audience, registration details, and onsite speaker resources.

Yet all of these details can be provided on a speaker portal, via FAQs, emails, or instructional video. Instead, the session-planning calls should be much more interactive where you learn and assess the presenter’s commitment to delivering a top-notch session, understanding of your audience and overarching theme, ideas for making the session content relevant and provocative, preliminary plan for using activities and exercises to ensure participant engagement, and input for how they can help fill the room.

When possible, you will be able to improve your conversation and assessment by conducting the calls via a video platform, like Skype or Zoom. If you have a conference committee, consider having one or two members participate in all of the advance calls for a given track. When this is done well, the presenter will do most of the talking, and not staff or committee member/s.

In addition to having presenter FAQs and deadlines published on your speaker portal, curate and/or create resources that will help your presenters elevate their game. Here are some of the best practices used by some of our clients:

  • Designate one person as the “Speaker Concierge.” Having someone who is there to help sends a strong message.
  • Schedule at least two presenter webinars four to six weeks pre-conference.
  • Choose facilitators who will provide tips for designing an effective presentation, an engaging panel, or developing activities for audience participation.
  • Curate or create short videos or links to resources that cover such topics as writing winning session proposals, PowerPoint and image best practices, copyright do’s and don’ts, attracting attendance to your session, livestreaming presentation tips, and incorporating audience response systems (ARS).

Dave Lutz, CMP, is managing director of Velvet Chainsaw Consulting.

Not One Size Fits All

For your industry presenter improvement plan it’s best to create a few categories — for internal use only — that represent the level of trust the presenter has earned with your organization. The categories might look something like this:

  • Seasoned — has presented numerous times for us with high attendance/ratings.
  • Emerging — has presented once or twice with good attendance/ratings.
  • Rookie — first timer.

Develop a communications plan for each category. For your most trusted presenters, you may have a brief conference call and be soft on deadlines. Conversely, rookie speakers would require that you schedule several calls and be more of a stickler on deadlines.

MORE IDEAS: Download the “Audience Needs Map” and discover “Seven Questions to Knowing Your Audience” by presentation services company Duarte.

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