July 14, 2010 by Jeff Hurt
Photo by LiminalMike http://www.flickr.com/photos/revcyborg/5228173
Have you heard of HARO – Help A Reporter Out? We’ll here’s your opportunity to HAPO – Help A Planner Out.
If you have expertise in meetings, events, education, association work, marketing, branding–whatever, think about helping this meetings and education specialist.
Meet Veronica Bemis, Education Program Coordinator, American Wind Energy Association (AWEA). Veronica is an avid reader of this blog and active in PCMA. She and her colleagues at AWEA just conducted a competitive analysis on their education events and meetings. Their goal is to improve their attendee’s experience and learning.
So, she’s crowdsourcing her new speaker letter that she’ll be sending to workshop and conference speakers. Remember, the goal is to improve the attendee’s overall experience, education and learning. So she’s asking her speakers to help. She has a new speaker letter.
Traditionally, this speaker confirmation letter just focused on logistics–event registration, lodging, etc. Now Veronica wants to encourage speakers to step up to the plate and deliver differently.
Here’s her speaker confirmation letter. I have some ideas to share with her and will do so later.
So, what advice do you have for her about her letter, process and ideas?
On behalf of the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), I’d like to thank you for agreeing to participate in the AWEA Health & Safety Workshop, on October 26-27, 2010 at the Renaissance Hotel in Austin, TX.
This year, AWEA is focusing on shaking up the standard workshop format we’re all used to attending. In addition to the traditional format of speakers lecturing to an audience, we’ve added several components to this year’s program; hands on case studies, interactive sessions and panel discussions, and live demonstrations.
The goal of this effort is to create a more effective education experience and encourage our attendees to become active participants rather than passive attendees. In order for us to reach this goal, we’d like to ask for your help by developing your presentation prior to the workshop (and not on the plane over to Austin!). I’ve scheduled some conference calls and a web seminar to assist in developing your presentation.
Developing your presentation
1. Introductory conference call with your moderator
2. Collaborative web seminar with your moderator, speakers, and/or panelists
3. Final conference call and presentation due date [DATE]
4. Please keep in mind that your presentation and the success of your session will be evaluated by your peers both during and after the workshop.
5. Use AWEA staff as a resource!
So, what advice do you have for Veronica? Fire away please. It’s time to HAPO!
Filed Under: Event Planning
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Veronica: I think you’re totally on the right track — expecting more from your speakers and enhancing the attendee experience. But I wonder if you’ve put the cart before the horse. You’ve already agreed to let them speak — and now you’re outlining your expectations in the confirmation letter. What if some of your speakers simply aren’t up for this? I would rather see this turned around to a “Call for Papers.” In other words: “What can you do for my attendees?” By making potential speakers outline their topic, their presentation style and their deliverables in advance, you can pick the best ones up front. I still think you’re going to have to do many of the things outlined in your letter to get the best possible presentations. And you may still have to recruit speakers outside your “call” until your industry gets used to the Call concept. But after a few years, you may have more presentations than you can handle. Talk to PCMA about their process.
Veronica — Great plan to engage everyone as they plan their sessions (though I agree with Donna that you’d have won more than half the battle if your description of the approach had come with call for presentations rather than afterwards). I wonder if discussing the suggested approach for their sessions be covered in this letter, though. Why not just say you’re contacting everyone to discuss their session personally and leave the details to the call, rather than break the news in a letter? Some things are just so hard to explain well in writing… and as we know, some people rush their reading of long letters (and long blog comments like this one!) 🙂
As Jeff well knows, I’m an advocate of changing the language to alter perceptions. Nix every reference to “presentation” and “attendees” in your letter. Use, instead, words like “facilitate,” “guide,” and “lead” for the role you want the session leader to take. Instead of referring to their “presentation,” use words like “session,” or even “training.” And rather than refer to “attendees” talk about “learners”; even “participants” sounds a little more active than “attendees.” (I can attend without learning a thing, right?)
Change the language and you start to change the perceptions… which can lead to behavioral change. The pen is mightier than the sword.
Good luck! I hope you or Jeff will post how this all turns out — from the letter to the response of those invited to lead your sessions (see?!?) to how those sessions went!
Thanks for your comments. With this particular workshop, we have a mix of abstracts and our search for speakers. So once we have an official invite letter and they agree to accept we send our confirmation email (which traditionally was just a regurgitation of logistical information). I think we can incorporate this when we do our call for abstracts for our larger conference and exposition (23,000 attendees).
Veronica, great idea to get input on this new process! I love the idea of doing conference calls with the speaker and moderators, but don’t think there is a “one size fits all” process.
I’d recommend having the letter focus on just one initial call. In addition to the objectives you list, consider adding agenda items of their game plan for engagement and interaction along with the timeline, action plan and due dates to accomplish. On the call, stress the importance of education vs. an information dump.
From that call, you may realize that they have a great plan and just need to be monitored to deliver…they get it. Conversely, you may find that you need to do more hand-holding and schedule follow-up calls and coaching.
Consider doing a webinar for all speakers and moderators that helps give tips and suggestions for best practices for active and engaging learning.
Many groups are trying to leverage their speakers to get more bang for their buck…even if you aren’t compensating them. Consider sourcing blog posts, LinkedIn discussions, tweetchats or advance webinars to help improve and extend the learning.
Lastly, be sure to survey well by speaker, not just by session. Assess how well they deliver on interaction and meeting the learning objectives. Database this info so you bring back the best, coach the middle and weed out the bottom.
It’s a journey. You’re heading down the right path, but it takes stick-to-itiveness to make long term improvement. Good luck!
Hi Veronica (and Jeff et al)
Your speaker letter is great in that it makes it clear to the speaker that they are involved in a process, that it’s about more than just turning up and talking at… A few points I also like to include in my first (post invite) formal communication with speakers are:
Who the other speakers are and what they’ll be talking on.
What I expect his/her contribution to be to the event that stands out from others (good practice example, particular perspective etc).
What the rest of the event looks like and how they could be involved with this (I like my speakers to commit to the whole thing and work hard to persuade them that this is in their interest – they get to learn, network etc with other attendees and their presentation will be enhanced by their awareness of the audience’s interests etc over the course of the event. Also the audience will appreciate their level of commitment to the event (good for the speaker), which boosts audience appreciation of the event in general (good for the organiser).
How I would like them to present. For me this usually involves dissuading speakers from using powerpoint (when has a presentation ever been improved by slides – I mean, really?). If the speaker lacks the confidence or the presentation skills to manage without powerpoint then I would hope to have found this out before inviting them! I also go over timings in detail so if they have 20 mins I suggest they practice in advance to ensure their contribution is no longer than 10-12min so they have time to take questions and still finish on time. I try to keep a strong emphasis on participation and conversation at all my events, which may not be as relevant for everyone, but it is true that people don’t take in nearly as much when they’re ‘told’ something as they do when they learn it through interactive exchange.
Stress that it is in their interest that the conference is as successful as possible and try to recruit them to help with marketing – getting the word out to their networks – and any comments or suggestions they have on how the event might be improved.
And I would have fewer conference calls, working one-to-one with each speaker, otherwise it’s hard to be sure how engaged everyone is, and I believe it makes speakers feel more invested in the event.
And I provide everyone with as much background info as possible to help them prepare. They may be an expert in their topic, but the theme and focus of the event, what brought us to that particular theme, should be emphasised so their contribution doesn’t seem a poor fit on the day (bad for them, bad for delegates, bad for you). Recent articles in sector press or journals may be all you need.
Sorry, this looks very long-winded! I do hope some of my suggestions are useful. And I totally agree with Dave – avoid language that has echoes of old-style them-and-us talking-heads conferences – nobody ever really enjoyed those!
Best of luck, and enjoy!
This is interesting to think about particularly as we prepare to work on an AWEA survey in the coming weeks. My comments here come more as a speaker than a planner although I’ve chaired and staffed a few, I hope they’re not redundant to the excellent advice you’ve already received:
1) Offer resources in advance or in addition to the introductory call. In #5 you volunteer as a general resource without many specific tangibles and in #1 you offer to share demographics on the call. Can you share them in advance, in writing where they can read them (if they’re motivated)? This assumes they’re auditory rather than visual learners and most of us are a mix.
2) Consider communicating the change in your learning model through a larger conference call that all speakers are invited to. The introduction is great in signaling a change in direction for your education program formats–this is helpful and would get my attention. But if I received this letter, I’d want to learn more at the same time as other speakers as a group.
3) If you did a single call, I would make this call interactive even if it gets unruly. As a speaker I’d want to learn from you describing it and I’d also want to hear your answers to the various questions my peers are asking. The more this change is communicated through a one-to-many, two way dialogue, the more effective it will be throughout your community of speakers/content providers. (Covering this issue through just one or a few conference calls is also a great time saver.)
4) Avoid inadvertent condescension. I have met more than a few prima donnas over time who are experienced (and often great) speakers. Not all speakers are the same: many are very experienced and have locked into certain patterns of behavior and may not think they need help (even if they do). Offering tips or a practice partner seems very elementary. Perhaps less is more in this letter; I’d re-read and rewrite it as if a keynoter was reading it. You’ll probably find a shorter letter more effective in getting them to follow your calls to action (coordinating their session, writing learning objectives, and sometimes changing their relationship to the audience when they are speaking).
5) Requiring learning objectives this year for a speaker who’s already been chosen (as another commenter noted) is a bit “horse after the cart.” You may have to live this year with voluntary adoption as speakers try to be more structured with varying degrees of success but in the next year, they won’t just take your word for it that greater interactivity creates a more effective education experience–they’ll see it with their own eyes at your conference.
In your letter, I would also encourage your presenters to engage early on – even before the event. Invite them to post on your event blog, create a video commercial, pose an intriguing question. In essence start the conversation with the participants so the speaker can craft a presentation about what the audience cares about.
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