I'm sure many of you have been keeping tabs on the Olympics for the past few weeks. How could you not? The daring feats of strength and athletic prowess were overwhelming this year. (Simone Biles alone — need I say more??)One thing that always comes to mind while I watch those Olympians take to the medal podium is how difficult it must be for them to give their all in a stress and pressure-filled situation like the Olympics. Yes, it's what they train for. But when all is said and done, they're only human like the rest of us.
Not long ago, I was on-site with my team at a major conference, helping speakers get ready to take to the stage. For many of them, this was an Olympic-type moment. Careers are made (and occasionally broken...) at conferences. Conference speakers reach a wider audience then they may be used to, especially living in the social media age that we do. And if you think it's not physical, ask any speaker who's put in an eight-hour day delivering three sessions on-site how they feel at the end of it all.
In my years as a professional actor, there have been many aspects of what I do that are described in athletic terms. There's a lot of mental, physical, and emotional endurance required to play a demanding role in front of a huge crowd. Many actors get very strict about their on-site prep. We encourage conference speakers to do the same, in order to give it their all when they present.
Olympics. Acting. Conferences. Look at that connection.
I've previously written the Conference Speaker's Toolkit, (if you haven't gotten to check it out, I encourage you to do so now!), but these are some practices to adopt beyond that checklist. Putting even just a few into play can help you deliver a gold medal, Ovation-worthy presentation.
The first key to on-site prep is to get to know the site. Many a speaker has been delayed or disrupted by unexpected traffic, both the vehicular kind and the human kind. I always encourage people to do a dry run of their travel to the convention center, as well as their traffic patterns through the site. Some of these spaces take up multiple city blocks, with stacks of floors. If you arrive at your presentation room out of breath with moments to spare before you go on, your going to waste valuable time physically recovering that you could spend connecting with your audience. Build that "get to know the site" time into your prep.
When you are on-site, chances are you'll have a thousand things you'll want to see, sessions you'll want to attend, or colleagues you'll want to connect with. That's what conferences are for! However, be sure to schedule your rehearsal time into your calendar as early as possible if you're speaking. Hopefully, you're using the full Rehearsal Process to prepare, and you can simply save some time for a Dress Rehearsal when you arrive. Regardless, that focused time (in the space where you'll actually present, if possible) needs to be adhered to on-site. You don't want to take the conference stage having not spoken the words of your presentation since before you arrived. Give it your all and commit to your rehearsal time.
And lastly, if you really want to go above and beyond, work with a coach on-site. Savvy companies (like some of our major clients)are truly coming to recognize the importance of a professional, on-site speaker trainer when it comes to the overall success of their event. If you're a conference coordinator, think about offering this invaluable experience for your speakers.
If you're speaking at a conference where this isn't an option for you, seek assistance from a trusted colleague. Invite them to your Dress Rehearsal, and come prepared with a list of questions like:
- Can I be heard in the back row?
- Do you notice any distracting gestures that I make repeatedly?
- Is my content clear to you?
- Can you decipher what I want my audience to do as a result of this information?
- Did you get a sense of who I am as a person through my presentation?
Great athletes and great actors don't leave things to chance in the moments before their time to shine. Neither should great conference speakers. Make a plan for your time on-site. And if you want to take advantage of on-site speaker coaching for your team or event company, remember you can always contact me directly.
See you on-site!