Saturday, May 05, 2012

Reverse Engineering Speaker Selection

Speakers set the tone for conferences, trade shows, seminars, and conventions.  Most meetings utilize one or more speakers to educate, inspire and motivate the attendees.  The right speaker can transform the audience experience.  Speakers should WOW and audience... not be BLAH.

Too often speakers are selected without much thought to the overall desired outcome of what is desired after they conclude their talk.  There is a lot of chat in the meetings industry for the need for "content", but content is not king.  Author Cory Doctorow said it best, "Conversation is king.... content is just something to talk about".  Content alone can be very dull.  If the information is better presented in a White Paper, then that should be how it is delivered.  Communication skills and the ability to connect with an audience can take content to a whole other level. 

The days of a brilliant speaker coming and presenting information to the uneducated audience are long gone.  Those who attend meetings are much more sophisticated and have a variety of access points to information.  They are often well versed in the subjects presented, and they want to be engaged in the conversation, not preached to by a "Sage on the Stage".

Before a speaker is selected there needs to be a discussion about the desired outcome of how they impact the meeting.  This will vary for each organization, but those making decisions need to probe deeper about what they really want from each keynote, breakout and luncheon speaker they put on the agenda.

Desired outcomes might include:

* We want the audience to learn something new that they can implement immediately.
* We want the attendees to feel they had a connection to the speaker and the conference.
* We want people to talk about the topic and the speaker in the hallways.
* We want the evaluations to include many written comments about the session (not just checking the boxes).
* We want the speaker to stay engaged in the event an participate at breaks and meals.
* We want people to tweet, blog, and post to Facebook and other social media communities about what they heard in the presentation.
* We want the audience to go home and tell co-workers (and others) about what they learned at the conference.
* We want people to proclaim to all about the high level of learning and fun they experienced at the event.
* We want each speaker to deliver an ROI equal to the entire investment.
* We want people talking about the speaker next year.

(what other desired outcomes might be added here?)

These desired outcomes do not match up with the following questions that are sometimes asked by those seeking speakers:

1.  Can we get the speaker for free or at a discount?
2.  Can we charge speaker for their conference registration fee?
3.  Can we get vendors to pay us to put one of their employees on our stage?
4.  Is the speaker famous enough for our board to approve?
5.  Can we shorten the time we give the speaker to 15 minutes to make our conference "like" a TED Conference?
6.  Do they have direct experience in our industry?
7.  Does the speaker have the right title or degree? 
8.  Will a someone call us into question or make us defend hiring this speaker?

(what other questions are people asking that do not lead them to the desired outcome?)

When starting with the desired outcomes it leads to a whole other set of questions?

1.  Who has seen this speaker and were they impressed beyond the normal level?  Can we call other conference organizers and ask them about the speaker?
2.  How many presentations has this speaker given to similar sized events in the last two years?
3.  How many organizations have invited the speaker to return to present at future events?
4.  Will the speaker stay beyond their presentation and engage with attendees (or do they leave for airport quickly after they conclude their talk).
5.  Will the speaker engage with the audience via social media before, during and after the event
6.  Does the speaker have books, CD's, and other programs? And do they give information or simply set up the sell from the stage?
7.  Does the speaker challenge the audience with a call to action, or simply provide information?
8.  How does the speaker engage the crowd (besides Q&A at the end of the talk)?
9.  Will this speaker have in immediate impact on the audience?

(what other questions should organizing committees be asking?)

These days there are lots of speakers to choose from for those planning events.  This is not necessarily a good thing, as a speaker is NOT a commodity.  Plenty of people who speak are not skilled at impacting the hearts and minds of the audience, and thus it is easy to select the wrong speaker.  The sad part is this is not discovered until after the conclusion of the presentation.  A bad speaker will suck the energy out of the room.

It takes a lot of work to vet the right speaker and ensure they will boost the engagement level of the whole event.  This level of inspection of the abilities of those who will take the stage is not just for the keynote, but for everyone conducting a breakout and panel discussion.  For larger conferences this can mean a daunting amount of work, but it is worth it.  Nobody is ever disappointed when a speaker brings both content and style to a presentation.  When people learn valuable information and are "WOWWED"... everyone wins.

Have A Great Day.

thom singer

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. 

1 comment:

Steve Baker said...

Hi Thom. This is a terrific dead-on article that should be a must-read for all meeting planners.
I would also add that the planner should take the extra time to make sure that each speaker meets the other speakers and knows what is going to be addressed. To often I've seen speaker #3 saying many of the same things as #1 and the lose the audience.
Steve Baker, Colorado