Friday, December 14, 2012

The 12 Days of Conference - Day Four

As we prepare for 2013 I am hosting a series of blog posts called "The 12 Days of Conference".  Each day a different expert from the meeting, convention planning, speaking and hotel industries will add their single best idea on how to create better events or other tips for how to improve the "Conference Attendee Experience" in the new year.

 “Letting Go” 
(of the need to over-prepare and over-organize 
our events and presentations)
By Sara Canaday

OK, I admit it.  Being uber-organized feeds my need to feel somewhat in control of my time, resources, and results. I love the feeling of being over-prepared for a presentation with an outline with a solid framework, rocking transitions, and a theme that seems to magically appear with each and every story.  However, beyond the selfish and seemingly productive advantages of being über-prepared, I've seen some disadvantages that could slowly, but surely impact the overall quality and texture of my presentations, my ability to grow as a speaker and, ultimately, the depth of the connections I can make with my audience members. 

We’ve been trained and conditioned to over-prepare for every meeting and every speech. For planning professionals that means ghantt charts, Excel spreadsheets and automated registration and updates. For speakers that means detailed presentation outlines, choreographed stories, and perfectly timed humor.  Sure, our audience expects the clarity, structure and wit that come from carefully planned events and presentations.

At the same time, however, our audiences want a fluid conference experience and a genuine and more spontaneous connection with presenters. What this means for all of us is that we need to be more responsive to attendee feedback and reactions, not just before or after the event, but right smack in the middle of it.   As hard as it will be for some of us (ahem) to let go of the uber-organzied event or presentation plan, we will need to be much more fluid and in-the-moment.  

We need to be ever vigilant in observing what is happening “real-time”.  What is the mood? What are people's reactions? What conversations are going on?  What are people asking for, or anticipating from the conference?  There are times we need to (brace yourself here) veer from our detailed plans or go “off-script” so that we are improving and enhancing our events and presentations as they are happening.  

Yes, there seems to be a paradox here.  Our clients and audience members want us to be organized, professional, timely, consistent, and efficient.  Yet, they also want us to be fluid, reactive, spontaneous, and EFFECTIVE! 

Welcome to the world where you cannot control everything.  Welcome to the new world of conferences.  Let go and enjoy the ride.

Sara Canaday ( ) is a leadership expert, career strategist, speaker, and the author of  a new book,  You -- According to Them: Uncovering the blind spots that impact your reputation and your career (available on

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