Conference keynote speakers are essential elements of general sessions and help in bringing a community together. Likewise, many attendees seek informative and impactful learning sessions – education, tutorials, workshops etc.
Most times, the speakers chosen volunteer their time - receiving a hearty thanks, free event attendance and possibly reimbursement for travel expenses. As a result, program committees may focus on the individual’s background or credentials, and are reluctant to evaluate communication or presentation skills when selecting speakers.
Given the important role they play, why would you leave this to chance? Several of the most valued elements of the attendee experience may be left to speakers who are not engaging, interesting and informative. With most events now delivered digitally, it is even more critical that speakers be on the top of their game, since the absence of audience verbal cues makes it harder to ‘read the room’.
Speaker education and prep for subject matter experts, committee members and staff should be a regular part of your program plan.
Event Brief – Provide all speakers with an overview of your conference. This should include:
- Conference history
- Committee members
- Conference scope
- Audience makeup and demographics
- Current or future challenges, opportunities or themes they can link to their message
- Presenter coaching plans to help them deliver engaging sessions
Speaker evaluation criteria and mechanism – (Let them know in advance that they will be evaluated with the feedback being shared)
Keynote Sessions – Many keynote speakers are selected based on name recognition or title. Guide industry speakers away from using a generic stock speech to delivering thought-provoking and relevant content that fits your event. Reinforce this is not entirely a branding or marketing opportunity for the speaker.
Education Sessions – Education sessions are often ‘information’ sessions, where sharing overwhelms teaching. Provide information on adult learning principles, if this is not part of their background.
Challenge presenters to deliver their topic so that attendees leave having achieved not only awareness and understanding, but also a sense of the topic. Knowing how to apply it to current or future work is essential.
Preparing Speakers – The program committee is responsible for informing and preparing speakers for their sessions. Conduct orientation calls with all speakers, 4 to 6 weeks pre- conference, covering common areas – deadlines, requirements, venue and room setup, AV resources and presentation expectations. For digital events, include the platform choice, system requirements and connection guidelines.
In addition, have one-to-one discussions with each speaker to ensure they are comfortable and on track for their sessions.
Make every effort to deliver the best attendee experience at your event. Beyond the planning and logistics, work with your volunteer speakers to help them be at their best.