In the midst of all that conference coordinators need to prepare for ahead of an event, it may seem easiest to just hope that your scheduled speakers come in prepared and ready to do their best. However, the state of your speakers reflects on more than just the speakers themselves, but on the conference as a whole. Help presenters be the best they can be with the checklist below:
♦ Decide if you will offer on-site speaker coaching: You may already be on board with the idea of coaching from an outside source. Or, you may be working with your speakers yourself. Either way, the first step to prepped speakers is to decide what you'll have available to them.
Pro Tip: If you're not arranging some kind of coaching for your speakers, you're missing out on an opportunity to help your speakers stand out. Consider it. From here on out, we're going to operate with the idea that speaker training of some form will occur.
♦ Discover technological availability and restrictions in the conference venue: Save yourself a big headache later and get as much information as you can about your on-site tech. At an especially large conference, you probably have spaces that range from state-of-the-art auditoriums to tiny conference rooms, each with different technical capabilities. Find this info out asap to save yourself (and your speakers) from technical disasters later.
♦ Send your speakers any information they'll need ahead of time: Be as detailed as possible. This may include anything from travel and lodging info, to technical availability for each speaker. This information can influence how your speakers present as well as how they schedule their own Rehearsal Process.
Pro Tip: Give your speakers the opportunity to schedule their on-site rehearsals with you ahead of time. Encourage scheduled rehearsals to ensure that everyone gets the time and attention they need. Nervous speakers often show up last minute when they see help is available. If possible, leave a little free time in your schedule for "walk-ins".
♦ Outline speaker deadlines: Be very clear about milestones that need to be hit. You can also give them some "best practices" information, like how they can build a rehearsal calendar on their own.
♦ Have a point person in charge of your speakers: Let speakers know exactly who they can consult if there are any problems. It may be you, it may be your assistant. Whomever it is, make sure that your speakers have any information they may need to contact this person on-site.
♦ Designate a facility for speaker rehearsals: While this may be part of your pre-conference prep, make sure that speaker rehearsal spaces are clearly labeled on-site. If possible, the rooms should have the capability for speakers to run the technical aspects of their presentation, as well.
Pro Tip: Don't leave the "space" issue to chance. Speakers will feel more calm and confident when they have a designated space to warm-up and rehearse, rather than a corner of a random hallway (although in a pinch, that's better that nothing!).
♦ Have speaker-friendly refreshments available: Conferences are usually overflowing with food, snacks, and beverages, but not all of them are a boon to speakers. While the standard coffee pot and pastries are nice, be sure there's plenty of vocal friendly options available, like water and decaffeinated tea. Have some natural cough drops ready for those who've been talking for days on end and may be vocally tired. Natural sugars found in fruit can give an energy boost. Bonus points if you've got a small bowl of breath fresheners.
♦ Participate in speaker rehearsals: An outside eye is invaluable when it comes to helping speakers be their best. If you've got on-site trainers, you're all set! If it comes down to you, here are three quick things you can be on the lookout for to help your speakers:
- Volume issues: Bottom line, speakers must be heard if they want their message to be received. Make sure that your speakers can be heard at the back of the rehearsal space.
- "Hiding" speakers: Some self-conscious speakers attempt to hide from the audience by speaking to their visuals or slumping behind a lectern for their entire presentation. Encourage them to make eye contact with the audience and step out from behind the furniture — keys to connection.
- Wanderers: Extra nervous energy can result in fidgety speakers. Help them to find and embrace their neutral position when there isn't a need to move.
♦ Ask for feedback: Lots of conferences solicit input from their audiences, but what about from the speakers themselves? Ask presenters to let you know how they felt about the speaker services at your conference. What could you improve for them next time? What worked?
♦ Assess your own scheduling and experience: Did your schedule flow? Were there snafus that could have been avoided? Were you spread too thin to accommodate what your speakers needed, or did things happen according to plan? This is the best time to brainstorm a new process.
♦ If you weren't able to schedule speaker trainers this time, consider it for next time: Even the best speakers benefit from guidance, and great speakers make for a remarkable conference. While peer help is useful, professional speaker consultants can unlock hidden potential in speakers that need expert input. Consider investing in speaker training for your next event.