Thursday, March 31, 2016

Interactive Presentations At Conferences... Have We Gone Too Far?

Have we gone too far with speakers forcing the audience members talk to their neighbors every seven minutes?  Is touching your neighbor's elbow really and saying "you can do it" what adult learning is all about?  

While interaction and audience engagement is paramount to learning and the retention of information, is it the magic bullet to make keynotes and breakout sessions awesome? If the speaker is not skilled at leading discussions and creating an engaging atmosphere, their talks become choppy and the activities become forced. 

Interaction for the sake of interaction is not necessarily creating better learning environments. There is so much more to being effective than scheduling times to make people turn to their neighbors and bare their soul. While I am not disputing the value of having the audience involved in the learning, my own experiences as a student have shown that a passionate and enthusiastic teacher is also important.  While we in the meetings business are talking a lot about audience participation, we need to have higher expectations of the speakers we put on stage. Experience presenting, a desire to impact the audience, and a passion to inspire are often overlooked in the selection process.

A speaker who captivates an audience does not have to follow a pre-set path of interactive games. Sometimes it seems committees are less interested in the skill of a speaker if he has submitted a well written learning objective filled proposal. 

I was recently in a convention break-out session where the speaker had the audience fill out a worksheet.  The speaker, to encourage full disclosure in personal answers, told the crowd to write down whatever they were thinking.... and that she would not make them share their answers with their neighbors.  The whole room burst into applause (I mean honest cheering), as every other session at this event was more about chatting at tables than hearing from speakers.

Is it possible we have gone too far with the need to make every talk be about sharing from the crowd?  Could a happy medium be what people really want in their conference attendee experience?  Before you attack me for asking this question (and as I write this I can feel some experts dismissing my thoughts because the do not agree with their own beliefs), ask yourself if we have not seen other concepts become hot trendy issues that later level out to the reality.

I am not saying "no interaction" (please do not think that is what I am writing about), but instead get speakers involved early to understand what this means and work with them to create activities that help their overall presentation be memorable.

My own memories of learning while attending conferences come from a level of excitement and energy from the teacher / speaker and their commitment to the audience (think back to high school - which teachers made a difference in your life? I bet they were the ones who were them most committed to helping you succeed). 

I like audience engagement exercises, and use them in my own talks, but this has become the buzzword in the event world.  A meeting organizer recently asked me how many interactive activities I would have in a 45 minute keynote?  My answer of "one or two, depending on the talk" (remember, this is the kick off keynote at 8:00 AM, not a workshop) was answered with "we require all speakers to insert an activity every seven minutes or we will not hire them.  Ummmm, what?  I asked a few more questions and she said her boss attended a seminar the month before and learned this would improve their event.  Not sure one way or the other, but I think the issue is deeper than games in the talks.  

Let's all work together to set the tone for conferences where people learn more and have positive experiences that lead to them coming back year after year.  Creating powerful learning experiences takes more than telling your neighbor they are a winner. There are many variables that go into creating an impact as a speaker, trainer or other person who is ready to teach. Engagement activities are just part of the very complicated answer.

Have A Great Day

thom singer

***Thom Singer is a professional master of ceremonies and keynote speaker.  He is known as "The Conference Catalyst" for how the way he sets the tone for corporate and association events. 

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Hire a Sales Speaker

Why hire a sales speaker for your next event?

Sales is the root of all success regardless of your industry.  When the topic of sales is ignored or avoided we are short-sheeting the success of our the organization.

Too often people who are planning agendas for corporate, legal, or association events shy away from the idea of putting sales and marketing on the main stage.  They make excuses as to why this topic is not right for their audience, and lean towards keynotes by celebrities, economists, innovation experts, or any pancake stack of technical industry-specific speakers.

All of the above are important issues, and some speakers who fall into these categories will "wow" an audience (some wont, but that is a different discussion), but if we ignore sales we ignore the future of everyone in the room.  All organizations need to educate their people as to the value of cultivating new and repeat business if we care about job security for everyone.

Sales is the oldest profession (yes, sales).  Without paying customers there is no company, law firm, or association.  One would thing businesses would realize this and champion "sales" to all, but they do not.  Too often law firms pretend they are not like other companies (they are, they need profits or they shut down) and act like sales is not to be discussed.  Non-profits proclaim that sales do not matter in their world (they do), but ask any CEO of an association and they will tell you if they numbers don't add up, people lose their jobs.  Sales are key to the future no matter what you do for a living.

Those whose job descriptions do not involve responsibility for the bottom line can stick their head in the sand, but that is limiting for the whole organization.  The smartest organizations will help everyone realize how they can impact sales, even if their role is internal.  The elephant in the room at almost all events is that sales matters to your audience.

Finding the right speaker who can take an often scary topic (yes, sales is scary) and make it relate to the crowd is the hard part, but not impossible.  Talk to the speakers you are considering and ask how their topics can be related to sales, or seek out sales speakers and look for how together you can customize your message to meet the needs of your audience.  Sales should not frighten people, but inspire them about growing the organization.

Have A Great Day

thom singer

*** Thom Singer is a professional master of ceremonies and keynote speaker. 

Sunday, March 06, 2016

Keynote Speaker Canceled - What Do I Do?

Keynote Speaker Canceled?  

The first thing to do if you found this post because you are in a situation where you speaker canceled is to call me at (512) 970-0398.  Maybe I am available to come and speak to your event, or maybe I know another experienced presenter who can fill in.  

The key is not to panic.  There are lots of things you can do that will still allow you to have an awesome event that will have a lasting impact on your event's attendees.

While it is rare that speakers cancel, this does happen from time to time.  While there is no excuse good enough for the meeting planner, I have known of speakers who have had travel issues with airlines. weather, been in car accidents, gotten the flu, calendared the wrong date, or had a family emergency. Life happens.

A speaker no-show is more common for small groups that are not paying the presenter or use local executives for their program.  Professionals make their living serving the client and will move mountains and part the oceans to be at the event.  Because professional speakers work with meeting planners everyday they understand and respect all the nuances that go into executing a meeting.  Also, professionals (especially those who are active in the meeting business and who see speaking as part of that industry) often have friends who are also speakers. A good reason to work with those who are active in the National Speakers Association is that they will have access to thousands of peers. 

I have seen events of all sizes scramble at the last minute to fill an open slot in their agenda.  Below are four things you can do if your speaker cancels at the last minute and you have tried calling me (or someone) to help you find a replacement. 

(These apply for both local business club luncheons or a large multi-day industry conferences):

1.  Always have a Plan B.  I have worked with several organizations who have my phone number on speed dial in case of a need for a last-minute speaker.  While you might not think this would be something that would happen very often, I have filled in seven times in the last four years (last minute can mean a few days in before the event, several hours in advance, or once I was pulled from the audience to deliver a 45 minute keynote).

Savvy professional speakers also have a network of industry friends they can recommend who can step in at the last minute if a problem occurs. While you never want to get that call from your speaker saying they are too ill to speak to your audience, if they have already found a fantastic solution it will make your day much better.  (Speakers who are members of the National Speakers Association can tap into this network no matter where in the world they are scheduled to speak).

2.  Look to your event agenda, past speakers or future speakers.  A multi-day industry event will have a full docket of speakers who will already be present.  Look to see whose program could be up-graded from a break-out to a keynote.  If it is a break-out session you need to fill, see if the keynote speaker has more information that can be delivered as a "booster shot" to those who might want more following his or her main stage program (some speakers will charge you for the extra presentation, but most will be happy to step in and help you out in your time of need).

If it is a local business luncheon, look at your list of past speakers you have had over the last two years and see if you can bring one of them back for an encore presentation.  Since they already know the audience and the venue, they might be comfortable filling in with little notice.

Additionally, maybe a future speaker would be willing to come in and do his talk early.  Some people might not be able to do this from a preparation stand-point, but asking is always a good idea.

3.  Create a round-table lab.  Your audience is full of brilliant people.   Select two or three topic questions that are cutting-edge and involve timely issues.  Get someone on the board or planning committee to be the Master of Ceremonies and explain openly and honestly about how the speaker could not be there.  Next proclaim this to be a fantastic and unique opportunity to crowd source knowledge and best-practices.  Make the audience the heroes.  Then share the discussion topics, having each table elect a discussion leader.  Every few minutes the MC will encourage a new question be bantered about at the tables.  During the last 20 minutes of the meeting each table reports to the whole the best thoughts shared in their group.

4.  Make it a networking opportunity.  Turn the speaker-less meeting into a "Networking Speed Dating Bonanza" by encouraging people make more contacts.  Extend the reception time, and once seated for the meal have everyone introduce themselves around their table.  When dessert is served encourage everyone to move to a new seat in the room.

A main reason people attend business events is for the "networking opportunities", and most meeting planners admit that no matter how much time they schedule for people to mingle, they do not do a good job of it.  Make this open time powerful by facilitating introductions and connections. 

Leadership is paramount to success in this situation.  If you confidently communicate to the attendees that the meeting will still have an equal or greater impact, then they will follow.  If you are timid about the changes to the program being positive, then they are lost.

If you found this article from a search while you are in a panic... I wish you luck, but I am confident you can and will find the right solution for your event.

Have A Great Day

thom singer