Conferences, seminars, conventions and trade shows utilize a lot of speakers. In fact, the meetings industry provides speakers with much of the work that supports their careers. This includes paid professional speakers, free industry speakers, educators and topic experts. Some get paid to speak, while others are there to promote their brand, and every one of them has a direct impact on the success of the event.
But are speakers more than just vendors?
The speakers set the tone for the whole conference. Humans are experiential beings, and when we sit with others in the audience and participate in a presentation, we have a bond with all in the room. How the speakers engage the audience before, during and after their talk cultivates the mood of the “mini-society” that is created whenever groups of people come together.
The keynotes, breakouts, workshops and the other educational aspects of the conference are the foundation of the shared experiences and how they impact the audience spills over into hallways, breaks, meals and social events. A speaker who fails to connect with the audience can suck the energy out of the room, while a surprisingly refreshing presentation can energize everything.
A speaker should never be seen a commodity who is just there to fill a slot. Their high level information combined with their speaking experience and style can have a transformational effect. I have seen event organizers who work with their speakers all along the way to make them more than talking heads on the stage, but instead a valuable part of the overall team. Many speakers are excited to provide extended value to their clients by being present for more than just their scheduled slot on the agenda.
A conference begins online months before the opening session. Speakers can get involved by joining the online communities for the event on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc. ... and by creating promotional videos or other materials. Attendees enjoy establishing a more personal connection with speakers, and I have participated in pre-event webinars and written articles for blogs and newsletters that have added to a familiarity with the audience once the event begins. These same activities can hold true after the event as well.
I do not view the role of a speaker to be limited to the stage time, but instead believe that a speaker can be an important part of the planning committee. Active speakers attend a huge number of events, and their experience can be a great tool to help planners brainstorm concepts and vet other program ideas.
While celebrity speakers might not fit into this ongoing consultative role, others are ideally suited to assist and provide value all along the way.
Because the speakers can have a direct impact on the success of the event it only makes sense that they are more than a regular vendor. They should not just be talking with the organizers, but also with each other to ensure they are all on the same page and share common goals for the event. Experienced speakers can make adjustments to their program that will tie into what other speakers are saying and allow the audience experiences to build as the event continues.
The speaking business is made up of thousands of individuals, so there is not one answer to how to engage a speaker to be part of your overall team (or if they will be willing). But the more up front and deep conversations you have about the goals of your meeting, the more phenomenal ideas you will discover speakers have up their sleeves. A great speaker is more than a vendor!