Confessions Of An Industry Speaker: What I Dislike About Your Conference

I feel like a professional conference attendee lately.

I have attended and spoke at nine different conferences in the last 63 days. That’s one conference for every seven days. In reality, I spoke more than nine times because sometimes I had two or three presentations at each event.

Seeing Your Speakers As Partners

As a meeting professional, I’ve always considered my speakers as my partners in creating a great conference experience. They are the ones that will help my attendees learn something new.

I want my speakers to focus on the attendees. On their needs and experience.

Not on my silly, self-imposed planning deadlines or unnecessary barriers I’ve created. That’s the wrong focus.

Things Presenters Don’t Like About Your Conference

During the past 15 months of conference presentations, here are some of the things I really dislike about your conference.

Remember, I’ve been on both sides of this issue as conference organizer and presenter.

1. Self-imposed unrealistic speaker deadlines.

When you send me a long list of unrealistic speaker deadlines, I balk. I question if you care about your attendees. How does meeting these silly deadlines help the attendees’ experience?

For example, I have a hard time believing that you need my PPT presentation 30 days or more before the event. Why? What are you going to do with my PPT one month before the event? Upload it to your conference website? Send it to your archive vendor?

Solution: Let me upload my PPT to your conference website hours before I present. Or better yet, let me upload it to my Slideshare site and let people download it if they want.

2. Your Conference CD delivered at registration containing all the presentations.

You’ve got to be kidding.

Why aren’t you distributing a USB flash drive? Why aren’t you uploading the PPTs to a conference website or Slideshare and letting the attendees decide which presentations to download. Step into the 21st century.

Solution: Ditch the CD and move to a Slideshare Conference page. Or provide USB flash drives and kiosks, and let attendees download the presentations they want.

3. Your market-ese, corporate-speak rewrite of my session description.

Wow, I didn’t know that your marketing department knew my presentation better than I did. How did that happen? (Said with the sarcasm!)

A marketing department should not trump education!

And if your marketing department must rewrite my session description, pick up the phone and talk to me about it. Don’t surprise me with it in print or online.

Solution: Ask your editors to review my description and edit for grammar. People want authenticity and clarity with session descriptions. Let me say it the way I know resonates best.

4. My learning objectives (LOs) clash with your conference copywriting style.

When did your copywriting style trump education learning objectives?

Most of the learning objectives that I’ve seen are nothing but pie-in-the-sky dreams. They do not specifically describe what the learner should know or be able to do at the end of the presentation.  

Solution: Get rid of your style guide for conference education and help the speaker craft the right LOs.

5. Your branded PPT template.


Your graphics department does not understand how important it is that I have a full slide for visuals and text. Nor do they understand how the mind works and that a repetitive image causes attendees to get bored. The branded PPT template is a nuisance and interferes with my visuals.

Your branded PPT template is based on broadcast, interruption, push-based marketing. Get a grip! Your audience knows the name of your conference and your brand without it being thrust on them in every education session.

Solution: Stop doing them! They are a waste of time, attention and energy.

6. Bright lights, tethered microphones and idiotic stages.

You secured me as a speaker to engage your audience. Right?

Then why do you blind my eyes with bright lights so I can’t see the audience? Why do you chain me to the front of the room with a wired lavaliere? Why do you limit where I can walk and interact due to a small stage?

If you really care about the audience, ditch the bright lights, give me a wireless microphone and dump the stage unless it’s a large opening general session. If you need the bright lights for live streaming, you’ve picked the wrong venue. Bright overhead light for live streaming should be on your site selection RFP!

Solution: Get an AV vendor that charges the same for wired or wireless lavalieres.

7. Making me register for your conference.

You already have my contact information in the database. Why can’t you just dump that information into your registration system via an Excel spreadsheet?

8. Using theater layout as your default seating.

If you want me to engage an audience, your default should be rounds!

9. Giving me a list of learner objectives to present that is compiled by a committee that are not subject matter experts.

That’s like asking students to give the teacher a list of items to teach. How dumb is that?

10. Suprise Surprise ambushed sponsor marketing messages disguised as presenter introductions.

What a great way to start my presentation with a three-minute commercial because your development department demanded it. NOT! Let me thank the sponsor at the end. Then we can let them give the commercial.

Efficiency Or Effectiveness: Which Do You Want?

When conference organizers focus on these things, they send presenters a message that efficiency is the focus. Not people! You care more about checking off tasks on your list.

It’s time for you to reevaluate these items and find new ways that focus more on conference effectiveness.

What other items would you add to my list of dislikes? As an industry presenter, what are some of the things conference planners do that seem silly or unnecessary?

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  1. Jeremy says:

    Thanks for this – but it works the other way around too. I am desperately trying to engage the speaker I am sponsoring and getting nowhere fast. But I do like your dislike #10 marketing message. I absolutely refuse to capitalize on my sponsorship in that way, but I had no idea what the alternative might be. Having the speaker thank me? Brilliant!

    1. Jeff Hurt says:

      Thanks for reading and commenting. I agree with you that it can work the other way around too. I try hard to make sure that I connect with my sponsors and event organizers. Unfortunately, sometimes I drop the ball and ask for forgiveness!

      If you really want to make an impact as a sponsor, ask the speaker to introduce you at the end. What I like to do is say, “Did this presentation meet your needs? If yes, let me introduce you to the sponsor that allowed me to be here. This is____________________. Would you do me a favor and personally thank ______________________. And better yet, if you are looking for this ________________ (product or service), please consider this sponsor as one of your options.”

      Thanks again for sharing.

  2. Let me engage before, during and after a presentation to know the attendees needs using Social Media tools. For my digital events presentations, I like to know who is attending (names/positions are optional), their tech experience level, and what are their special needs/questions so that I can address them in my presentation. In the past I have created questionaire websites that were linked to the abstract. I reviewed the results with the attendees onsite, and the group voted which were the concerns to be address. Then we began… The website could be used during the presentation as well as after. It is very rewarding experience for both presentor and attendee…Participatory, adult learning.

  3. Warren Farmer says:

    I coordinate our attendance and sponsorship at a lot of financial industry conferences. All of these items are things that you can clearly see when you watch the speakers. I can’t tell you how much I, and my creative team, hate the template format. Nothing ever fits right and we spend countless hours reformatting presentations for a 45 minute speech and no one, absolutely no one, gives 2 craps about the template.

  4. Thanks, Jeff. All points worth making. We all have to work together for the benefit of the attendee experience.

    I disagree about rounds though. Am I alone in thinking they spread out the audience too much, making it even harder to engage those pushed to the back by the wasted space of the tables?

    There are lots of great ways to configure a room, my favorite being the theater-in-the-round concept Greenbuild tried this year. The circular screen was suspended from the middle of the room above the stage the presenter never used…because they were working the audience.

    1. Jeff Hurt says:

      ‘@Mary Ann Pierce
      Thanks for sharing how you engage participants before the event starts. You’ve illustrated how to use crowdsourcing and getting the attendees to participate before they ever walk into the room. Thanks for taking the time to comment too!

      I love your frankness! “No one, absolutely no one, gives 2 craps about the template!” So true, so true. Thanks for reading and sharing.

      Good question about rounds and engagement. I submit that I was thinking about a different type of engagement where the presenter has the audience discuss content at their tables. Theater is not the best seating for audience discussion. Rounds or rounds with crescent (chairs only placed around half of the round) work well for audience engagement with discussion. I was thinking about a higher level of engagement than just looking at the presenter. I was thinking of participants engaging with the speaker, the content and with each other. As Dave Lutz says, the best seating is when people can see the whites of others eyes sitting near them, not the back of people’s heads.

  5. Dave Martin says:

    Jeff – great points. There are a few that we are doing at ERA that we’ll stop doing moving forward…like the template. I admit it! 🙂 I also really like the Slideshare idea as well as @Mary Ann Pierce’s ideas on engagement before and during the session. We are also looking to experiment with 15 minute sessions like the PCMA did. That was a great post and really got me thinking.

    1. Jeff Hurt says:

      Thanks for reading and commenting Dave. Oh, your speakers will love you for not requiring a template. Be prepared, some will expect a template because they use it as crutch but don’t let that discourage you from encouraging them to run wild and free with their visuals. 😉 Thanks again for sharing.

  6. Nancy Largay says:

    Jeff, a few additional comments:

    If I am donating my time and energy and brainpower as a speaker-please do NOT expect me to purchase a conference pass. Consider an in kind gesture because I am paying for all my own travel expenses and have invested time into the presentation!

    Stop creating CD’s all together. They are a waste of money and dated technology. Put the content up online via a secure website if you want to share. No CD or flash drive required.

    Please do not invite “shameless self promoters” to speak. They devalue the content and make me not want to come back!

    Lastly, make sure you have moderators who can moderate. Poor moderators lead to shaky discussions and the conversation can easily get hijacked.

  7. one of my biggest pet peeves when speaking at a conference is the registering for your conference. If my name is on the program, you have my contact info already why do i need to go through the extra steps of registering? it is small but sometimes it is the little things that fall through the cracks
    Other administrative things like writing and re- writing program objectives over and over are others.
    totally prefer round tables over theatre style!

  8. Someone needs to give the event organizer view on the point of registering. When I ran conferences I really wanted to simply give my registration company my excel spreadsheet of speakers to register them. And that would have worked fine for the sessions that came in through the call for presentations.

    The problem was that as many as half of my sessions were recruited, either by me, or by members of my program committee. Friends of friends, people we knew by reputation, people I generally got very spotty information about. The best way to fill in the gaps and make sure I could contact you for next year was to make you…register.

    Of course, the registration process also asks questions the exhibitors care about…industry, job function, purchasing responsibility.

    But don’t get me started on making speakers pay to attend. Bizarre and unconscionable.

    1. Jeff Hurt says:

      Great additions. I’m with you on requiring the speaker to pay a registration fee when they are donating their time. I hate that! Thanks for commenting.

      Yep, the writing and rewriting and rewriting of session descriptions and objectives can be a bother. I’m with you about having to register as well.

      As an event professional, I found it was actually easier for me to register my speakers than asking them to register on their own. If the registration company complained, then perhaps it was the wrong vendor for the partnership?? And my registration programs allowed the speaker to answer any unanswered questions if they wanted.

      I agree that making speakers pay is weird. Thanks for continuing the conversation and adding more of your thoughts. Appreciate it!

  9. cu2elearning says:

    Love this advice…and I for one will take it.

  10. LaDonna Coy says:

    This is all excellent, the presenter paying a registration fee and forced to use a template are among my favorite dislikes along with wasting money on CDs or flash drives when the whole Internet is at our disposal. Totally agree on the rounds or another configuration I’ve found helpful is classroom sized tables (6′), v-shaped orientation or better yet randomly placed and with only four chairs to create small groups. One thing I appreciate is when the Internet is made available in the workshop rooms at no charge to the participants which enables back-channel conversations and conference blogging.

    Now for a dream! I dream of the day when each table will have power strip so whatever digital devices are being used everyone can stay charged up, connected and engaged.

    1. Jeff Hurt says:

      Thanks for reading and responding!

      I’m with you. I like it when free WiFi is available durning a presentation too. It helps me engage with others! Thanks for reading and posting your dream too! It’s a good one.

  11. Jen_Alluisi says:

    I’m way late to this discussion, obviously, but I have to speak up on number 1. Want to know why my group asks for presentations in advance? Because we get SO MUCH CRAP from the attendees when they’re not available 2 weeks before the meeting. Some presenters never give us permission to post their slides, and we hear about that endlessly and bitterly from attendees. You would be amazed how angry the majority of attendees get if they cannot print copies of the slides to bring with them to the conference. And re: registrations – at our office, we just want to make sure your contact info, title, etc. is exactly the way you want it. Too many times a speaker has changed jobs 2 months before the meeting but never let us know, and his/her badge and info in the program is wrong as a result.

    Otherwise, I agree with it all. I will admit to editing course descriptions and objectives, but only to correct misspellings or incorrect grammar – I do not re-write. I can’t believe anyone has the audacity to do that!

    1. Jeff Hurt says:

      One is never too late to the discussion. Thanks for reading and commenting.

      Have you thought about not using speakers that provide poor PPTs? Or giving them some training on how to do it better? Asking for the PPT weeks in advance does not mean that there will be better PPTs. And, if the presenter doesn’t give you permission to post the slides, don’t use them. When I hire speakers, I make all of this part of the conditions of the contract, even if they are free speakers. If they refuse to let us post their slides or record the session, I don’t use them.

      Ultimately, it’s about change management for sure and change is not always easy for folks.

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