Wednesday, January 19, 2011

5 things speakers should ask the meeting planner

(Editor's note: Jennifer Collins is the president and owner of The Event Planning Group, one of the Washington Business Journal's top 25 meeting and event planning agencies in the Washington, D.C. region. A frequent speaker herself, she's organized every kind of event, from intimate to large-scale. She's also extraordinarily committed to mentoring women, serving as an advisory board member of Enterprising Women Magazine, and volunteering with public service organizations Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Incorporated and Girls, Inc. of Washington, DC – an organization providing educational programs to young girls in high risk, underserved areas. I asked Jennifer to share her insights for speakers--perhaps the most practical advice you'll ever get--from her vantage point as a meeting planner. And she delivered.)

Being a public speaker is more than just hanging out your ‘shingle’ and advertising that you’re now available for gigs. As a meeting planner, I’ve worked with a wide assortment of speakers. And I always appreciate those who go the extra mile in researching the exact scope, environment, audience and other details to help them best deliver their message. You might think that’s pretty standard – and it probably should be – but unfortunately that’s not always the case.

Before making the next commitment, here are the top 5 things speakers should know from a meeting planner:
  1. Identify room setup. You should ask questions about the room setup, for instance, will you will be behind a podium, or on a panel? If on a panel, will there be seating behind a table or in separate chairs? If chairs, what kind? This may sound rather anal; however, I’ve seen many presenters on panels who did not know they would be sitting in director’s chairs. If you’re a female in a skirt that happens to be too short or doesn’t easily move when you sit down, this could be rather uncomfortable and potentially give the audience a bit too much to see. Or if your preference is to appear behind a podium and organizers expect you to roam the stage in delivering your remarks, it’s probably best to know that before you arrive.
  2. To allow AV or No AV…that’s an important question. Have you ever showed up with PowerPoint in hand only to learn that there’s no equipment for such use? It may happen more often than you think. Finding out the overall format of the presentation is critical as well as allowances for audio visual equipment, including internet access. Sometimes lack of AV could be a budgetary consideration. At other times, it simply may not suit the program. Make sure to ask about it.
  3. Timing is everything. There’s one timeframe I least enjoy speaking within at select events. It’s immediately after lunch. It seems that pesky little onset of drowsiness seems to take hold of many in the audience. Therefore, find out when you’re on…and if it’s right after lunch, know that this probably is not the time to deliver an overall dissertation. But it also could prompt you to be more creative with your presentation. I found the following tips to be good points on livening up the presentation.
  4. Know your audience. I realize this sounds so generic, but I remain amazed at how many speakers simply have “canned” presentations they unleash on any audience. Remember, the point is for the audience to take something away, whether it’s learning something new, gaining a fresh perspective or encouraging a behavioral change. Whatever the case, make it relevant.
  5. A little background knowledge is key. And I’m not referring to knowing your audience as previously discussed, rather what will the stage backdrop look like? Some might consider this to be rather vain; however, this makes a difference for such activities as video recording. For instance, white is not a great color for videotaping or photography – on camera it presents a washed-out look. So it would be a good idea not to wear white or appear in front of a white backdrop. Another item I notice quite frequently is the use of black drape behind the podium. First, there’s nothing wrong with black drape. We certainly use it for many of our meetings and conferences at The Event Planning Group, LLC. However, if you happen to wear black, and your hair color is a dark color or potentially black as well, then you’ll blend in with the drape. I’ve seen this many times where the outline image of the person’s face is the only aspect coming through because of the blending effect. So consider asking about the backdrop color so that you’re not only heard, but seen as well.
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