Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Are you ready for fall conference season? How speakers should prepare

It's summer here in the U.S., and perhaps a time when you're more focused on vacation than on voicing your views as a speaker. But autumn looms, and with it, a busy season of conferences and meeting. You may be tan and rested, but are you ready? Use this checklist to prepare for the coming conference season:
  1. Make a profile on Lanyrd, and note your speaking gigs, panels and even conferences you're attending this fall. Lanyrd, the social network for speakers and conferees, lets you promote your speaking gigs and track conferences--even if you're not there. It's a great networking tool.
  2. Refresh your bio, photo and other speaker materials:  Now's the time to make sure the conference organizer, your moderator and anyone else you're working with has a cleaned-up and up-to-date version of your biography and your speaker photo--not five minutes before your panel. While you're at it, refresh your online profiles.
  3. Reach out to your panel moderator and fellow speakers, or to the organizer, if you're speaking alone. Even if no coordinating calls have been scheduled, take the time to schedule a 15-minute call that will let you learn about the expected audience, time limits, goals for your talk or portion of the panel, and anything else you can glean. You'll walk in smarter and more prepared.
  4. Understand the logistics. Will you be seated, or can you stand? Can you walk around or is the mic in a fixed position? What's the size of the room in terms of seats? What's the available technology? Do they need your slides in advance? Can you bring your own remote? Get these questions in before you build your presentation--far better to work within your limits than have to redo everything at the last moment.
  5. Promote your appearances in advance. Reach out to possible audience members on social networks, change your email signature to let contacts know where you'll be speaking and use all the tools at your disposal to build an audience and interest in your talk. Ask the organizers for a Twitter hashtag, and for their plans to promote the panels and talks. Ask possible audience members for their questions, ideas and interests now, not later...you'll get help making your talk relevant this way.
  6. Get coaching. You can work on a particular presentation or just refresh your skills with an eye to moving them to the next level. Tell any public speaking coach you hire what your next talk (or talks) will be, and ask for ideas on making them memorable. (And we can do a better job coaching you if you call now, rather than the week before the panel.)
  7. Find out how the backchannel will be managed. Ask your conference organizers and panel moderators how social media will be handled. Will there be a hashtag for the conference, panel or session? Will someone be moderating Twitter and other channels during the talk and sharing feedback with you in a structured way? Can you provide electronic, rather than paper, handouts and resources? Is the group soliciting questions in advance?
  8. Enlist a pal: Get a colleague or friend to take photos or video of you speaking, and ask for feedback from them afterward. Some of my own most useful improvements--and reinforcement--have come from asking a trusted colleague to sit in the room purely to observe me, and be ready to share afterward. The photos and video are useful feedback as well as potential promotional material for your next gig.
If you need public speaking coaching before your gig this fall, I'd be delighted to help. Email me at info[at]dontgetcaught[dot]biz.

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