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Selecting/Working With Speakers - Part 1

Corporate Events in Napa Valley

 

For many meetings, the speakers are the heart of the matter. The extent to which they convey the envisioned message might even, in some cases, be the single biggest determinant in whether the meeting is judged a success or failure. Planners who are involved in the entire process of finding, hiring and working with speakers have more factors to consider than a novice might suppose. Here's a step-by step guide.

WHERE TO FIND SPEAKERS

  • Speakers bureaus - If you call a speakers bureau, call one that you know or one that has been recommended.
  • Professional associations - Become involved in a professional association such as Meeting Professionals International, the American Society of Association Executives, the National Speakers Association or the Professional Convention Management Association. Even if you don't attend their professional conferences, their education/conference departments are great resources.
  • Professional conferences - Most professional speakers use these as opportunities to showcase themselves. You can hear them speak, meet them and get to know them.
  • Colleagues and periodicals - Peers will give you the most honest feedback. Also find potential speakers mentioned in trade journals, business publications and newspaper articles.
  • Educational institutions - Depending on your topical needs, you may want to call a specific department at a university, such as the economics school. Professors have great expertise and may be relatively inexpensive.

EVALUATING SPEAKERS

  • How quickly does the speaker respond to your questions?
  • How willing does the speaker appear to accommodate your needs?
  • Gather references on the speaker.
  • In general, how easy does the speaker seem to be to work with? It's best to assess this subjectively through personal conversation.
  • Ask the speaker the following questions:
    • How long have you been speaking?
    • What are your credentials and background?
    • Will you be speaking any place where we may see you live?
    • Do you have any professional videotape, audiotape or written promotional materials?
    • Have you spoken for other companies or associations in the same industry?
    • Will you customize your material to my group? To what degree?
    • What kind of pre-program research will you do (e.g., ask for an annual report, talk to staff or management, find out about the industry)?
    • Will you bring your own handouts?
    • Will you be accessible to the audience, either before or after the presentation?

SPEAKERS BUREAUS
If you use a speakers bureau, be prepared to answer "the five Ws" (or if you're not using a speakers bureau, at least know the answers for yourself):

  • Who is the audience?
  • What is the budget?
  • When is the meeting?
  • Where is the meeting?
  • Why are you having the meeting?

You also may be asked:

  • Is the first time this meeting is being held?
  • What speakers have you hired in the past?

Be realistic in your budget and limitations. If you have free rein and can spend as much as it takes to get a name speaker, then a celebrity may be the answer. Otherwise, don't dismiss a potential winner just because he is not a household name.

PREPPING YOUR SPEAKER
It is almost impossible for a presentation to look anything but mechanical and canned if the speaker hasn't had the opportunity to understand the audience. At a minimum, make sure to tell your speaker about:

  • Audience size, age range, ratio of males to females.
  • Topic and length of presentation.
  • Session format including time allotted for audience questions.
  • Names of those sharing the platform, if any, and their topics.
  • Ancillary media events (pre and post-meeting interviews).
  • Dress code (business attire, casual, black tie).
  • Rehearsal hours, if planned.
  • Speaker lounge or ready-room location, hours.
  • Whether multiple ranks will attend, or the entire audience comes from one level in the company.
  • Current issues/challenges in the company or division.
  • Subjects which are off limits for whatever reasons.
  • Names of high-profile people who will attend.

Consider carefully whether you wish for anyone to be included by name in the speaker's remarks. Sometimes it helps to personalize the presentation; sometimes it's better left out. The speaker may:

  • Ask you and some attendees to fill out a questionnaire.
  • Want to talk to some of the attendees.
  • Want you to send material about your company-e.g., annual reports, office memos, company newsletters, etc.

HELPING YOUR SPEAKER

  • If your speaker is to speak after a meal, make certain the table service will be finished or will be unobtrusive when the speaker begins.
  • The room should be set at a comfortable temperature, the podium well-lit, and the sound system in perfect operation.
  • Keep any noise-generating meetings out of adjacent rooms.
  • Keep the meeting on schedule, especially for that last speaker before everyone runs to the airport.
  • Plan your introduction carefully. Make sure not to mispronounce your speaker's name or misspell it in any literature. If you condense the bio provided, make sure that you emphasize the important points. If the speaker gives you a specific intro, read it as is; this might be a set-up for the presentation.
  • Involve the speaker in the development of conference promotional materials. Most speakers welcome the opportunity to help you promote their presentations to potential attendees. Use their unique knowledge to develop a program description that helps ensure that both attendee and speaker expectations will be met.
  • Make sure the speaker receives copies of all the promotional material, as well as any media invitations you have extended.
  • Work with the speaker to create memorable handouts. Surveys show that conference attendees rate handouts as an essential part of the learning experience.
  • Make sure the fee you pay to the speaker includes preparation of the handouts.
  • The conference organizer may need to reproduce a large number of handouts required for the program. If so, make sure you have established deadlines that will work for both of you.
  • Treat your speakers as part of your team. Keep them informed as the program develops. Provide them with a speaker kit outlining when materials are due-particularly as it relates to promotional deadlines. (Note: many speakers will provide you with their own kits, asking that you respond. Do so promptly.)
  • Let speakers know the location of the speaker's lounge as well as (it should go without saying) the meeting room. Let them know when the speaker's lounge will be available prior to the meeting.

 



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