January 18, 2010 by Jeff Hurt
In early history, golf was reserved for the royals, played with sticks and pebbles over natural landscapes.
During the Industrial Revolution, golf clubs and balls became mass produced and inexpensive enough for more of us to chase the little white ball around a fairway, rough and other hazards. Today, there are millions of golfers in the world and thousands of professionals.
So what does this have to do conferences and events? Everything. And I’m not referring to conference golf tournaments either.
With more than 28,000 golf professionals, who are recognized as experts, these are the best of the best. Each April, approximately 90 golfers tee off at the Masters. These masters are unsurpassed at executing, at performing.
However, this doesn’t mean they are necessarily masters at teaching or presenting golf. In golf, it is well understood that mastery of play and mastery of instruction exist separately.
David Leadbetter is probably one of the best examples. He’s well-known as an excellent golf teacher and coach. If you want to improve your game, you go to him. Yet, if you were going to choose a partner in a match and had a choice between Leadbetter and any of the top 20 players at the Masters–choose one of the top 20.
Why? Leadbetter is a master at teaching. The top 20 have mastered playing the game.
Unfortunately, what is so clear in golf is not always so clear in the world of conferences and meetings. Conference organizers ask masters, those we know as subject-matter experts, to present when presenting may not be their strength. These masters know their skills inside-out. Yet knowing how to perform a skill and being able to present that skill to someone else are two entirely different things.
It’s possible to be a great presenter or coach and not be able to execute at the highest level. Only a few are able to do both equally well.
Why? Let’s return to golf for an explanation. To be one of the best in the world requires hours and hours of practice. Those best of the best focus on honing their skills. How they execute golfing has to be their focus. Teaching or coaching someone else becomes a distraction. They’d rather be doing it than showing someone else how to do it.
Similarly, the best presenters get their joy not out of their own play, but in helping someone else move to a new level. They know how to analyze each part of the game: grip, setup, swing, club selection, course management and more. They also know how to explain things in a variety of ways, so if one explanation doesn’t help the learner get the picture, another might. Great presenters have a lot of patience.
That doesn’t mean that golf teachers can’t play the game. They can play and frequently, they play it well. Yet, that is not their focus. Their focus is multiplying and replicating their knowledge in others.
So the next time you are considering people as conference presenters, ask:
Think long and hard the next time you decide to secure the master or subject matter expert to present. Is that master as presenter in the best interest of your attendee or learner? Does that master really focus on improving their game or improving how they help others learn their subject? Will that master be able to help change behavior?
Understanding this fundamental concept that the mastery of play and the mastery of instruction exist separately, is foundational to a successful conference. Applying this concept, that some are good teachers and motivators, and some are good performers, accurately, can help conference organizers craft a great attendee experience.
We’d like to hear from you. How do you choose who gets to present at your conferences or events? What are some of the best practices for presenters and teachers? Think about some of the best trainers or presenters you’ve ever had. What made that person so effective?
Filed Under: Speaker Coaching
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Good questions to ask ourselves. Tough, but important.
I’m glad that I’m at the place where people on the whole trust my brands enough to trust the speakers I bring in even when they aren’t known.
“Understanding this fundamental concept that the mastery of play and the mastery of instruction exist separately, is foundational to a successful conference.”
Yeah – awesome. I’ll be using that!
As a former academic, this is one of the problems I know most college students have with their professors. These people have spent their lives learning their subject area and are true experts. But when it comes to being a great teacher, well, too many fall short. I have had so many people come up to me and say, “thank you for making this easy to understand AND fun to listen to!”
Great example– even for someone who’s not a golfer 😉
Thanks for reading and adding your comments. Take that phrase and run with it, make it yours, embrace it, share it. Maybe, just maybe, it will help others when they are picking speakers.
The analogy holds true for all types of presenters for sure. Thanks for adding to the discussion.
This is interesting topic and timely also. Thanks Jeff.
Usually in scientific conferences speakers are selected by committee of which consist of experts in different fields. And, ironically they choose people who they see, and often who they themselves consider, as important people in specific fields. First of all, it does not reflect what the audience wants, and second of all, the speaker are those experts in their topic, yet lack the ability to present, like Jeff mentioned.
My take on the best practices would be to ensure that you personally or someone you trust has seen the person presenting, that way would makes sure that the person is good in engaging the audience as well as making clear presentation. Especially in topics where data is important factor of proving the facts, data visualization in a meaningful and clear way is crucial.
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Planners and organizers should also consider why they are hiring the speaker.
If you are looking for the star factor to either entice more registrations or to gain press for your event, then hiring the performer might be the right choice.
If your goal is to provide content and some valuable knowledge to your guests, then hiring the presenter is more likely to give you a win.
The key is to know the difference and not try to turn one into the other.
Thank you Jeff. As you know I have some strong opinions on speaker selection. I’m no golfer (that’s the understatement of the decade) yet the analogy holds true.
The fastest ways to get a bad speaker is to radar-lock on content. Reading a book and hiring the author to present is probably the most common and lethal mistake made by event organizers the world over. (Running a close second is not finding a trusted vendor partner to help in the search.)
Back to your post. Let’s say you haven’t yet found the trusted vendor partner to help with the search. A couple of tips from a beentheredonethatboughtthet-shirt.
Q: Is this candidate a presenter, a performer, or both?
A: Request testimonials and/or a list of previous clients. Crowd source fellow planners for opinions/experience with that speaker. Get on the phone with the speaker and ask the hard questions. See if they have a full-length presentation you can see, rather than a 10 minute demo DVD. Ask about professional designations ie: National Speakers Association has a Hall of Fame – the CPAE. Any speaker with that designation are podium finishers and trust them with your life, or at least that hour of your conference.
Q: Are they more of an expert at their game or an expert at helping others improve their game?
A: If I understand this correctly, this is a 101 of professional speakers: turning their experiences into applicable lessons for the group. You may never go to the Olympics or climb Everest however you can learn XYZ about your business from former Olympians/Everest climbers. Not all of them are skilled enough to do that. You can ask for the ROI of their presentation. If they don’t have take-home value for your attendees, NEXT.
Q: Is the potential presenter doing things to improve their skills to teach and present? Back again to professional affiliations. NSA is a great organization (CAPS in Canada). CAUTION: many of the finest speakers I know are not nor have they ever been affiliated with NSA/CAPS. They are naturals on stage. Give this point only a part of your attention. It’s not a deal-breaker.
Q: What is this candidate doing to create the optimal learning environment?
A: A couple of thoughts: customization of the presentation through a pre-conference call. Well thought-out room set up ie:Round tables (for groups less than 200), theater or classroom (for groups over 200). Multi-media presentation to engage different learning styles, including video clips, photos, animated stories, handouts.
Q: What is this candidate doing to ensure that what the attendees learn in their sessions transfers back to their game?
A: The name of that game is ROI. As previously mentioned, ask them straight out what the deliverables are. Any speaker worth their salt is more than just an interesting story.
My opinions on this topic number the stars! Thanks for reading.
As usual, great topic Jeff, and so well-written. You rock and stuff.
What a great comment and list of ideas/suggestions for meeting professionals. Wow, that’s a stand-alone blog post in itself…hint, hint…you might take it and run with it on your own blog. 🙂 Thanks for sharing that with us.
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