November 28, 2011 by Jeff Hurt
Your conference presenters have tremendous power.
They probably have more power than the venue, the logistics, other registrants, the host organization, the schedule or the content on your attendee’s experience.
So shouldn’t conference organizers focus their energies on enhancing the aspects that truly make a difference in an attendees’ experience?
How many of your past conference attendees return because the logistics were so smooth? Or registration ran perfectly?
None of them! They return because the experience was valuable.
Conference organizers should focus a majority of their time on the biggest influence on a registrant’s experience–the presenter. We need to ensure that our presenters have a powerful and positive effect on our participants’ learning.
Poor presenters damage a conference experience. Status quo presenters keep the experience feeling lukewarm. Excellent presenters cause our conference participants to want more…and that’s what we want!
It’s time for us to direct our attention to higher quality presentations. Helping our speakers provide presentation excellence is the single most powerful influence you can have on your conference experience.
Here are six traits that cause presenters to move from good or experienced to excellence!
These presenters don’t walk into a breakout and just begin presenting their outline. They mingle with participants as they enter the room. They talk with attendees as they assess their knowledge, past experience and insights. They integrate other conference content with theirs providing context and relevancy.
They tend to spend a greater portion of their time understanding if their presentation is meeting participants’ needs. They ask for and seek feedback from their audience to improve their presentation, not just at the end, but throughout the presentation. They easily anticipate, plan and improvise to adapt to their participants’ needs.
They build an atmosphere where errors are welcomed, participants questioning is high, engagement is the norm and where attendees can easily become effective learners.
Expert presenters are extremely skilled at scanning the room for attendee behaviors and inferring what participants need. They concentrate more on what the participant is doing than what they are saying next.
Expert presenters have extensive practice presenting and facilitating. Their presentation skills seem effortless. Their brains have automated their learning routines. Their cognitive skills for delivering presentations and focusing on participant learning are so refined that their working memory can deal with more complex learning situations.
Most conference presentations provide surface learning, the ability to recognize or “know of” the ideas. Expert presenters aim for deep learning where participants relate and extend the ideas and make relevant meaning of the content.
What are some other traits of expert presenters? How can conference organizers foster expert presenters versus industry speakers that they feel they must secure?
Filed Under: Conference Education
I totally agree they are so important. But in my experience too many organisers have taken advantage of thier ‘assets’ their speakers. Here’s a recent blog on the subject:
The second point is how this impacts on ‘peer’ learning formats. I plan to have an interesting couple of days with Adrian Segar discussing this.
Are delegates ready to attend and pay for conferences that don’t have speakers? Maybe they will learn more, and I say maybe, but will they take that big step. You’ve outlined reasons why it’s a risk.
Good post Jeff. I attend my industry conferences, speak at conferences, and have put on conferences. I can’t tell you how many times I have sat through awful presentations knowing full well the conference organizers could have afforded a professional presenter but chose to go with a friend or President/CEO simply because of their title but without regard to their abilities to teach.
Keep up the posts. You have become a daily read for me.
I believe that expert presenters integrate aspects of peer learning and sharing in their presentations. I also think a blend of peer learning that Adrian advocates along with facilitated and expert presenters make a great mix for the traditional Annual Meeting, I doubt that many associations can make revenue to sustain their budgets from pure peer learning conferences. I do think peer learning formats have their place for some association meetings though.
Thanks for reading and commenting William.
Thanks for reading and commenting. I truly believe that expert presenters, both professional and industry speakers, are needed for conference success. It’s time organizations budget for them and also invest in presenter training for industry speakers.
Jeff, I’d love to see a follow up or two about ‘how to buy’ expert presenters.
Presenters are like writers. There are few who have “made it” compared to many who want to make it. In other words, it’s a buyers market for meeting planners.
The challenge for many meeting planners is assessing the value they’ll get get for their money, so price leads the way. Sometimes you may find up-and-comers who are (like buying a stock on the cheap), but over time the experts come with a real price tag.
To the point of your post, however, one additional trait of expert speakers is that they are usually competent business people (who can help the meeting planner understand the value they bring to the table).
Keep up the great work.
I agree that a speaker can make or break an event. Meeting and event planners may cut corners by trying to hire a free industry speaker, but a professional speaker can make you money in the long run by drawing a crowd, by delivering on their promise, by partnering with the meeting planner and staying on top of details.
Celebrities will fill seats, but if they’re not good speakers, it will show in the evaluations and that’s a reflection on the event and the meeting planner. Make sure you’re hiring a professional who knows how to speak, knows how to work an audience, and knows how to work with a meeting planner. A professional will understand the strategic objective and theme of the meeting – and will customize the message.
H-m-m…a post on how to buy expert presenters. I’ve written a couple about the process in the past. May be time to write a new one. Here are two I wrote a while back : Cheat Sheet For Hiring And Paying Professional Speakers and Top Two Criteria When Choosing A Good Speaker
I totally agree that expert speakers can succinctly and artfully articulate the value they bring to the table and to the meeting! Thanks for reading and commenting Roger.
So true that a professional speaker that is good at both content and delivery can bring much more value to the event than the traditional volunteer speaker who is bad at presenting!
Thanks for reading and commenting too.
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I always say a skilled presenter can make a dull subject interesting and entertaining. I have sat through Brand Name speakers who disappointed, and been unexpectedly motivated and moved by No Name speakers with great presentation skills. Never underestimate the power of an outstanding presenter; they are invaluable.
I’m with you. The right skilled presenters can facilitate authentic learning experiences. They covers their subject matter in an interesting and engaging way. Then they stop talking and allow the participant to uncover what that topic means to them which leads to real learning. That’s when the real win occurs.
Thanks so much for reading and sharing your thoughts.
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