Jeff Hurt had a great post on the "Velvet Chainsaw's Midcourse Corrections" blog about "Why Your Conference Needs Meeting Anthropologists".
Anthropology is the science of humans -- especially the study of humans in relation to distribution, origin, classification, and relationship of races, physical character, environmental and social relations, and culture. In regards to your meeting, when you have feedback from a third party who can observe and participate with your attendees, you will be able to make improvements for future gatherings, but also on the fly during the current conference.
Many meeting planners claim to be on top of these reviews themselves, or they rely on the after-event surveys. However, most often the running of the event is all-encompassing while on-site. After the event it is hard to piece together the parts that can really make a difference, thus making sure that keen observations are happening in real-time can be valuable.
Jeff's post reminded me about why hiring the right speaker(s) can have a powerful impact on an event, beyond what is said from the stage. Many professional speakers can attend 50 - 100 events per year. It does not take long until they can become experts in observing the good, the bad, and the ugly of the meetings industry.
Too many speakers do not join the mini-societies that occur at events. They arrive just before their talk, and fly out as quickly as possible after they complete Q & A. However, others become trusted advisers to the the meeting planners and freely participate with attendees, attend all meals, and share their ideas to improve the meeting. A speaker who is engaged with the whole conference can bring more value than just the words they utter from the podium.
I find that meeting planners and conference attendees are happy when I am willing to be active in more parts of their conference than just my keynote. The speakers can often help in the planning stages, as many who organize smaller corporate events (for example: technical users group conferences hosted by companies) are not full-time experienced meeting professionals. Often a marketing professional or an administrator are assigned the task of planning the conference on top of their regular job. Turning to the speakers for assistance in brain-storming ideas can be instrumental in creating a memorable experience. When the speaker is a resource for the meeting planner it is a win / win situation.
Additionally, keynote speakers who are part of the meeting team can help fill in if problems occur on site. I recently had a meeting planner turn to me to fill in when a breakout session speaker could not attend at the last minute. Most speakers have more than one topic they can present, and since they are already present they are the perfect solution to fill in if needed. Most will not charge more to step in an solve a problem. The breakout I hosted was a big hit with the audience, as they had already gotten to know me via the keynote and it showcased that I had other expertise beyond just what they had seen on the main stage. Win / win!
Your speaker's experience in having attended hundreds of meeting should be a tool for the meeting planner. Even meeting planners with decades of experience should tap into the observations of the speakers. A seasoned event professional recently asked me about what I had seen at other events to create more value for the sponsors at trade shows. Together we talked through several ideas and then created a pre-event series for the vendors on how to maximize their participation, which I presented (both by webinar a month in advance and live the night before the conference). It helped her create more value for the sponsors, and exposed my programs to another group of people. Win / win.
Hiring the right speaker(s) who care about the success of your event and who are willing to become a key member of the conference team will bring more value to everyone involved.
Have A Great Day.
Thom Singer is known as "The Conference Catalyst". He works with meeting planners and conference organizers to set the tone for a meeting. His presentations educate, inspire and motivate attendees to engage deeper in the event and make meaningful connections. http://www.conferencecatalyst.com