by Barry Maher
When you book a speaker, it’s their job to deliver the best possible presentation for your attendees. But a good meeting planner can make that job easier, more difficult or very close to impossible. Here are eight simple ways to help speakers give you the most for your money, whether they want to or not.
1. Hire Carefully. This seems self-evident. But speakers are frequently asked to conduct sessions far outside their expertise. Seasoned speakers turn those jobs down; those that don’t work regularly can find the temptation harder to resist. And we’ve all seen speakers who embarrass themselves and their meeting planners by revealing from the platform how little they actually know about the business of those in the audience. Just because someone is the self proclaimed “World’s Greatest Authority on Selling in a Small Business Environment” doesn’t mean they know anything about the problems your distributors face marketing marshmallows to mini-marts. And the person who actually is the World’s Greatest Authority on the subject may also be the World’s Greatest Bore. Ask questions. Many questions. Try to see an actual presentation or at least watch a demo video. Discuss the speaker’s experiences with similar groups. Check references.
2. Be specific. Before you make a commitment, work with the speaker to set specific goals for the session. Explain how those goals mesh with your goals for the other speakers and for entire meeting or conference. If all is ask for is “a bit of content, a bit of motivation, a few laughs,” don’t be surprised when you get a presentation that looks like a refugee from some other conference and leaves attendees wondering “Why on Earth were we listening to that?”
3. Help the speaker customize. Answer the speaker’s pre-program questionnaire as fully as possible. And don’t wait until a week before the event to return it. Include newsletters and any other material that will provide insight into your organization, its members, your terminology and your business in general. Make attendees available for the speaker to talk to in advance, and be available yourself. Whenever possible, have the speaker arrive early and mingle. The better the presenter knows your group, the better the presentation will meet your needs.
4. Get Feedback. Before the session, insist the speaker get very specific about just how he or she is going to meet the goals you’ve set. If you get someone who seems not to have been listening or seems too busy or too important to be bothered or just doesn’t quite seem on target, don’t be afraid to hold some toes to a little heat: up to and including a transcript or a phone preview of their planned performance. Speakers will tell you that you aren’t paying all that money for a brief presentation, you’re paying for all the preparation that went into it. Make sure you get it. A speaker who can’t deliver the goods beforehand to a single supportive meeting planner has no chance at all in front of today’s skeptical attendees. And a preview also allows you to help with further customization.
5. Promote Them Properly. How you present the speakers in your promotional material has everything to do with how attendees perceive them. These are your stars. Building their star power turns a meeting into an event. Just avoid over promising, setting them up for failure. Whenever possible, make it part of the deal that your stars attend receptions and other collateral events and give your attendees a chance to rub elbows.
6. Avoid Last Second Changes. But if you have to make them, try to rely on your professional speakers to make the changes, not the amateurs. When you have to say, “Cut 15 minutes from your keynote” as the speaker walks up onto stage, the pro should deliver a seamless performance and walk off on time. The amateur panics, cuts in places that kill the presentation and might well comment from the platform on the forced cuts. A client once discovered that all their competition was attending the public part of a training session they’d hired me to do. Right before I walked out, the CEO asked me to “talk about nothing for the first three hours and move all the content to the afternoon session.” I did. The people at the morning session were entertained. None of them even commented on the lack of substance.
7. Make the Room Work. You know the drill. What’s the plan when the speaker gets to the room and the set up isn’t right? For the pros it won’t be a problem. For the amateurs it could be a disaster. Whenever possible, it’s not a bad idea to require the speaker to sign off on the room at a set time before the presentation.
8. Evaluate the Performance. Providing a feedback form and discovering what worked and what didn’t work is not as easy as making the same mistakes year after year, it’s just a whole lot cheaper.