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.
I will kick it off (because it is my blog).
A Speaker Should Do More Than Talk At A Conference
By Thom Singer
Speakers set the tone for meetings, but many speakers are not serving as partners to the event planner before, during and after the event. If you want those who present at your meeting to be more involved with your community of attendees you should begin by talking with them about the role you want them to play in your event.
Some planners would prefer speakers stay longer than just the hour they are on stage. If you want your presenters to do more that talk and then dash for the airport you should start the conversation with your expectations for their level of involvement from the very first inquiry.
Too often the only question about availability is only focused on the time slot on the agenda, but if you want them involved creating pre-event videos, participating in your social events / networking breaks / meals, and hosting online chats weeks after the event, these expectations need to be made clear before negotiations about fees and times begin.
I believe a speaker should do more than talk at the conference. When I attend events (and I have been to many conferences, trade shows, conventions, seminars, etc...) I appreciate the opportunity to interact with the speakers during the happy hours, networking breaks, meals and in the hallways. Even if I do not speak with them, seeing them engaged as part of the "mini-society" of the conference is a positive.
Content presented from the stage is only a small part of the learning experience that takes place at an event. The whole human-to-human engagement and ongoing conversations are what help most people retain the messages delivered. Speakers need to embrace their responsibility in the success ecosystem of the meetings business and be available for more than a stage appearance (of course if you are booking big-time celebrities like Bill Clinton, there are reasons why this level of engagement is not possible).
If a planner desires to have a speaker more involved, in most cases they need to let this be known upfront when they are selecting speakers. Waiting until the week of the event to invite the speaker to stay for the happy hour will not fly, as speakers have busy schedules and some do not like the social side of a conference in the first place. Knowing expectations on both sides will eliminate any surprises.
I think speakers should always look for ways to provide extra value, and thus asking the organizer up front of their expectations can also help create the sense of partnership. There are cases when the planners do not care if the speaker stays, or due to confidentiality issues of the meeting, they do not want the speaker to participate beyond their talk. When this is the case, everyone needs to know this, too!
Speakers are an uncommon vendor when it comes to the meetings industry, as their product is unique and personal. They also have can have an unparalleled impact on the vibe of the event -- speakers can create a buzz of excitement or suck the energy out of the room. Plus what makes "good speaker" can be subjective (think art, some do not like Jackson Pollock, while others do!). This is not a commodity purchase ... thus you must look beyond the data when selecting the correct partner who will positively impact the whole event.
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