A Meeting Planner's Guide to Retaining and Managing Meeting Resources
What Makes Meetings Successful by Patti A. Wood, M.A., C.S.P.
CHOOSING A SPEAKER
You are sitting in your office with the blueprint of your meeting. You know the design of your meeting, you know the objectives, but how in the world do you choose a good speaker?
Choosing a Professional Speaker
Have you ever read a great book and wanted to hire the author as a speaker because you thought the subject as interesting or the title would be a great fit for your event? You’re more likely to be successful if the choice is based not only on the writing skills of the speaker, but also on the delivery skills and on how that speaker matches the meeting objectives, program format, audience composition and expectations, and organizational culture.
For example, currently there is a trend to hire Native American speakers for meetings. Hiring a speaker because of a trend may make your meeting disjointed and nonsensical. However, if your meeting objective is to create excitement in your sales force for a new line of earth friendly products, hiring a powerful Native American speaker, whose topic is ‘‘The Soul of the Planet,’’ could create the perfect meeting.
Professional speakers make all, or a portion, of their living from speaking. They depend on their skills in speaking and on subsequent referrals, and since they speak approximately 60 to 260 times a year, there is an excellent chance they’re good at what they do. They will be more adept at dealing with any meeting crisis, whether is requires revving up a low energy audience or making jokes while the AV person fixes a screeching microphone. A professional is a professional.
When shopping for any speaker, there are many issues to take into consideration in order to make sure he or she is not only a good speaker, but also a good match for your organization.
1. Seek word of mouth referrals. Ask other sales managers, meeting planners, or members of your professional groups for recommendations. Make it a habit to write down the names of good speakers you hear about, as well as the names and numbers of people who make the referrals. If you are having a meeting at a hotel, ask the hotel convention sales manager or banquet manager for recommendations. They can also give you the scoop on how easy the speaker is to work with.
Some questions to ask someone who is referring a speaker:
A. What made him a good speaker?
B. What did you like about him?
C. How did the audience respond to him?
D. Did he say or do anything that could be offensive or controversial?
E. Do you think he would be a good match for my organization?
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There are other free referral resources you can call for professional speakers. The National Speakers Association (602-968-2552), Meeting Planners International (214-712-7743), and International Group of Agencies and Bureaus (317-297-0872), to name few, will give you a list of their speaker members and their topics. If you want to hire a local speaker, these organizations will give you a list of speakers who live in your meeting area. These organizations will not give you specific recommendations. You may be able to get more specific information from a local chapter of these organizations and by previewing speakers at monthly chapter meetings.
2. Ask to preview potential speakers in person at an engagement preceding your meeting. Even if you can not see them speak on your requested topic, or to your type of audience, you will get to see them in action. Little details, like how they walk in the room and deal with audiences after the speech, are not available on most preview tapes. Take time to ask a few audience members what they thought about the speaker.
3. Ask for a video or an audio tape to preview. Ideally, you want to see the speaker present your selected topic, but any topic is better than none. Don’t be swayed by slick production values and editing. In fact, these days most professional meeting planners are asking for at least fifteen minutes of uninterrupted speaking, this way they won’t see just the good parts. Some even ask to see tapes where there is a mistake or a crisis to see how the speaker recovers.
Here is what to look for on a preview videotape:
A. Energy level—Does the speaker grab the audience's attention? Did she hold it throughout the speech?
B. Audience participation—Does she involve the audience with examples, compelling stories, exercises, or questions? Could the audience gain the information better firsthand, or just as well as from a typed pamphlet?
C. Content—Is the content presented clearly and structured logically? Does the speaker say anything new? Does she present valuable information in an innovative manner? Does she know the subject matter?
D. Enthusiasm—Does the speaker seem to enjoy what she does and is she passionate about the topic? Does she transfer those feelings to the audience?
E. Audience reaction—If there are audience shots, are they "with'' the speaker? Can you hear their laughter? Are the audience members restless?
F. Customization—Does the speaker personalize the topic for the audience? Be aware that some speakers purposefully do not personalize a taped speech. If you can not see a speaker's presentation in person or on tape, there are other ways to establish confidence in your chosen speaker
4. Ask for references. I recommend asking for references from clients in a related industry or audience type such as yours, as well as recent clients, who have seen the speaker talk on the topic you have selected. You can ask the reference(s) any or all of the five questions in Step One, as well as how easy the speaker was to work with and what impact the speech had on their organization. Some people may feel uncomfortable giving negative comments, so ask a few questions to get around any hesitancy:
Instead of: Would you hire the speaker again (if the speaker has more than one topic)?
Ask: Would your organization want the speaker to come back to speak on a different topic?
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Instead of: What is your opinion of the speaker?
Ask: How did the audience react to the speaker?
Instead of: Were there any negative comments?
Ask: What were the negative comments from your audience or the critique forms?
Always send a thank you note to references who have given you their time and thoughtful opinions.
5. Ask for a list of objectives. If you are especially concerned about the content’s being a good match for your meeting, ask for a detailed outline of the presentation before you make your speaker selection. Some groups, like the Million Dollar Roundtable, ask for a speech transcript. Most professional speakers would balk at such a request made before any contracts are signed.
6. Request a resume or biographical sketch, a client list, critique summaries, or reference letters. Examine the speakers resume and client list to see what qualifies him or her to speak on the topic you have selected. If it’s not clear, ask the speaker what he believe qualifies him as an expert. Examine the summaries of critiques from the speaker’s past programs to see if the scores and comments, such as ‘‘energetic’’ and ‘‘dynamic’’ are what you want in your speaker.
7. Use your instincts. The most important factor in the selection of any speaker is your gut reaction. Most meeting planners say they make their buying decision in the first minute on the phone with a speaker, or in the first two minutes of viewing a tape. Spend some time with the speaker, either in person or on the phone, to get to know his personality. Some top ranked celebrity speakers work through an agent, but most will be accessible upon request. Do consider the fact that some speakers ‘‘turn on’’ only in front of an audience, and a high-content author or ‘‘professor-type’’ speaker may not have razzle dazzle personalities, but could have an insightful message. However, most audiences remember the delivery of the speech, so when in doubt, trust your gut instinct.
Below is a list of questions you can ask potential speakers. If you are shopping for multiple speakers or if you are under time constraints, call speakers and tell them you are mailing or faxing a questionnaire.
A. After listening to my needs, how would you meet the objectives and expectations?
B. What is your expertise in this topic area?
C. What insights/new knowledge will my audience walk away with?
D. What distinguishes you from other speakers on this topic?
E. What comment about you do you hear most frequently from audiences?
F. What groups have you spoken for in the last month?
G. If your meeting topic or industry is considered controversial, ask potential speakers to discuss their viewpoints.
A great tip-off to a good speaker is if she asks you questions such as, ‘‘Tell me about your group. What are your audience’s needs and expectations? What do you want to accomplish?’’
The Volunteer Industry Speaker
Using a non-professional speaker has its benefits and drawbacks. The major benefit is, of course, saving money on the speaker fees. But there are others. You may be able to find the perfect speaker within your organization, your industry, or business network. Perhaps a top salesperson in your organization would be just the right person to do a 30 minute speech on the secrets of building and maintaining customer relationships. The examples from an internal speaker will strike a chord of recognition with the audience and gain their respect in a way that no outside speaker can. The old adage that you never make a profit in your own hometown can be interpreted to
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mean that an outsider delivering the same message as an insider is often given more credibility. Try selecting someone internal from a different office if you must save on fees. The drawbacks vary from speaker to speaker. Some internal speakers may require more handholding and ego stroking because of their position in the company. Others may perform well in a one-on-one situation, but may not possess the speaking skills needed for a large audience. Some may use too many ‘‘I did this’’ or, ‘‘I’m so great’’ messages in the speech which might alienate their peer group. Others may be difficult to manage or make speaking suggestions to because of their organizational status.
If volunteer speakers have little speaking experience, they may have trouble dealing with crises, such as starting late or having to talk while dessert is being served. Follow the suggestions in the section, ‘‘Integrating Your Speaker,’’ to help volunteers overcome any ‘‘symptoms’’ their inexperience may invoke. It may even be worth sending them to a presentation skills seminar before your event.
Celebrity speakers are in a class by themselves. Their varied speaking skills and possible personality quirks, coupled with high fees, make their selection particularly challenging. If you are relatively new at booking speakers, you may be better off going through a speakers’ bureau for such top-dollar speakers.
Speakers’ bureaus have their benefits and drawbacks, as well. The major benefit is their reliability. They only utilize speakers who do a great job. Otherwise, it hurts their business too much. If you ask them, they will tell you about their speakers’ little quirks...this one wants a limo and champagne...this one insists on airline tickets for his spouse...this one doesn’t want a question-and-answer session...this one always gets a standing ovation, etc.
If you want to hire a celebrity speaker, do so for the right reasons:
1. To increase attendance. Celebrity speakers will typically increase attendance two-fold. If they are ‘‘current’’ celebrities, e.g., Jimmy Carter, Diane Sawyer, etc., they can triple your attendance. Of course, their prices will reflect their status and abilities.
2. To create a media event. Current celebrities can help your organization gain recognition and respect in your community. If your event is in your hometown, pre-publicize by sending out press releases to daily publications at least a month in advance, and at least three months in advance to monthly publications.
3. To create a buzz in your organization. If the meeting itself doesn’t create enough excitement and anticipation, hiring a celebrity speaker might be the first call to make. Your audience will be talking about the speaker before, during, and after the event.
4. To get a well written speech. Celebrity speakers are well known for hiring top speech writers to create their speeches. While this may sound insincere, in actuality, it means that you’ll get a top dollar speech. Be aware, though, that if they didn’t write their own speech and they have been giving the same speech for years, their delivery may lack spontaneity and energy. Talk to referrals who have seen the speaker present recently.
When selecting a celebrity speaker, please remember to take all the precautionary steps that you normally would take with any other speaker. Request references and check them thoroughly. Don’t assume a big name, bought with big bucks, equals a big success. It’s clear that celebrity speakers, like any other speakers, will have their drawbacks, each of which requires appropriate actions from you.
One drawback is that you may not get to speak to a celebrity, in person, until the day of the event. Usually you will talk with a booking agent, who talks to the celebrity’s agent, who talks to the celebrity. This means you need to be very clear and specific when stating your needs and expectations. Put in writing what you want and why you are hiring a particular speaker. Some meeting planners also have speakers sign a statement stating that those expectations will be met, or the fee will be refunded. Also, send material on your organization, along with any special consideration for
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appropriate language. Even something as simple as the use of ‘‘client’’ instead of ‘‘customer’’ can change an audience’s opinion of a speaker.
Celebrity speakers, whose fees run $10,000 and up, require thoughtful selection and pre-planning. Recently, a big name sports figure was asked to speak to a large association of disabled athletes. Because he was presenting to the group as a favor to a friend of a friend, no direct contact was made with the sports figure, nor was the group’s unique needs or special concerns addressed. The group had assumed he would give his usual motivational speech about discipline as a means of achieving excellence. Instead, he gave a speech to a group of disabled athletes on how tough it must be to be ‘‘crippled’’ and how unfortunate it was that they had to work extra hard to be athletes. The audience is still talking about that speech— and how horrible it was.
Expectations, naturally higher for celebrity speakers, can also be easily dashed. If you haven't done your homework and the author of that exciting best seller speaks for an hour in a whispered, monotone voice, or that hot, new comedian tells a string of offensive jokes, you will create more negative feedback than if you had hired a less well-known speaker.
Negotiating a Speaker’s Fee
Once you have selected your speaker, you need to negotiate the fee. Most professional meeting planners recommend that the best strategy is to be up front about your budget, "This is what I have to spend. Can you do it for that price?'' You may ask, "Why tell them my budget up front?'' Let's say you call a speaker or agentand ask what their fee is, and they say, "3,500 plus expenses.'' If your budget is $1,500 plus expenses, you now have to ask them to come down $2,000 and basically lose face. However, if you call and say, "My budget is $1,500 plus expenses. Can you do it for that?'' The speaker or agent who wants the business may try a creative negotiation where they can accept a lower fee, plus some bartered items. There are certain concessions that a speaker will negotiate. The basic premise is the same as with any negotiation— find out what they want and if it is consistent with your needs, give it to them. Below is a list of what professional speakers want:
1. Professional speakers want more business. Your audience members may represent many different companies or different offices for the same company, each with the potential to hire a speaker. Tell the speaker how much potential business there is in the audience and ask for a discount.
2. The speaker may come down on price in exchange for future business. If you are planning more than one meeting in a year, a speaker is likely to give you a discount if you book her for both meetings in one contract.
3. Some speakers will give you a discount in exchange for a copy of the mailing list of meeting attendees.
4. If you are having the meeting at a resort location or a popular city, offer an extra night's lodging and meals, and an activity, like free golf.
5. Offer to highlight her in the company newsletter or have an article she has written published in your professional publication.
6. Some speakers may have a book or product, and might lower the fee for the opportunity to sell their book or product. If you agree to do this, put in their contract whether they can "sell'' their product during their speech. Most meeting planners prefer to be the ones to announce after the speech, "If you would like to purchase....''
7. Some speakers would like the opportunity to be "known'' for speaking to a particularcompany or industry. For example, a speaker in the computer may want to be thought of as being on the cutting edge so he might offer you a discount or even speak for free at an America Online or Prodigy show. Or, a new speaker, who doesn't have any Fortune 100 clients on their referral list, may give a discount if you write a particularly glowing reference on your company letterhead if you like his presentation.
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Other suggestions are offered under Speaker Etiquette.
Integrating Your Speaker
So many mishaps and disappointments can be avoided and so many happy audiences can be created by following some of these guidelines for speaker preparation.
1. Know your objectives and your audiences’ expectations and communicate them to your speaker. Better yet, put them in writing. This has been mentioned before, but it bears repeating. If you heard a great speaker a year ago and you hire him for your group, be very specific about your expectations. ‘‘I want you to do the same speech with that great story about the coach and his son.’’ Or, ‘‘I want the same speech, but would you replace the coach story with something more appropriate for our organization?’’
2. State, over the phone or perhaps in your letter of agreement, what type of speech you want. For example, motivational, humorous, skill building, audience participation, or serious information sharing.
3. If you have a meeting theme, such as ‘‘Workforce 2000’’ or ‘‘Value Added Customer Service,’’ decide if or how you want the speaker to incorporate your theme. It could be as simple as changing the speech title or mentioning the theme in his speech. Ask your speaker for ideas and suggestions. More and more speakers are tailoring speeches for their clients.
4. Give the speaker as much information as you can about the demographics of your audience: size, average age, gender, educational background, job responsibilities, typical work group problems, etc.
5. Give speakers an idea of how their speech will fit in with the rest of your meeting schedule, other speakers, and events. This can be as simple as sending them promotional material on the meeting and a meeting schedule. If another speaker will be speaking on a similar topic, it is wise to let both speakers know about it and arrange a time for them to discuss how their topics relate. Having your morning keynote speaker say, ‘‘Bill Thomas, your afternoon speaker, will inform you of the specific skills needed for dealing with this issue,’’ is not only a great advertisement for the afternoon session, but makes you look good for putting together two well matched speakers. Suggest to the afternoon speaker that he attend the morning speech or give him a synopsis of the content.
Tom, a sales manager I know, makes a point of doing this. While driving his afternoon speaker from the airport, he told her what the morning keynote was about. He noted that the keynote speaker had wandered off the chosen topic of motivating employees, as outlined in the conference material. Tom told her that the morning keynoter had covered some of her afternoon material on nonverbal communication, and had included an exercise similar to one she had planned. Now, well informed, she was able to make changes in her content and exercise. The sales manager realized how close he had come to having a speaker present and look unprepared by giving the same information twice. Let the speaker know what is scheduled before her presentation, as well as what comes on afterward.
6. Let the speaker know about any current organizational changes, stresses, or specific problems that might affect the audience’s reaction to the speech. Speakers have horror stories of being asked to give a humorous or motivational speech only to discover that the previous speaker had just announced budget cutbacks or dramatic reorganization. The speaker can perform better if she has been prepared. Of course, ask for her discretion in sharing the confidential information with outsiders.
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7. Outside speakers may require some extra preparation if you want them to do any speech customization. Send them material on your organization or industry (annual reports, newsletters, manuals, etc.) Take the time to highlight important points, such as sales problems, product names, or industry jargon. Give them definitions for any ‘‘acronym speak’’ you might want to use. For example, 3P for Price Per Pound or UP for Unit Price.
8. Suggest that the speaker call or meet with a few audience members. Get permission from the contacts and give the speaker their names and numbers.
9. Unless the talk has to do with plant logistics, e.g., how the equipment works, the environment, workplace culture, or stress factors, as a rule, plant or facility tours are not as helpful as a good twenty minutes of background information on the company.
10. Always, always, always send the speaker a fact sheet with the following information:
A. Exact times (start and stop), location, hotel name and address, name of contact at hotel, phone and fax numbers, day and date of meeting, and title of the speech.
B. Your full name and an alternate contact’s name with day and evening phone numbers in case of a last minute question or emergency.
C. If your meeting is out of town, state the time and date you will arrive at the hotel and whether or not you want the speaker to call you when he arrives on the site.
D. Request for room set-up and audio-visual (AV) equipment requirements.
E. Leave a space for the speaker to list any special requests, e.g., a pitcher of water without ice, or seats in the back rows roped off.
F. The name and phone number of the person introducing the speaker or the room monitor’s name.
G. Request the speaker’s sample introduction or biographical sketch and handout materials to be delivered to you by a certain date.
H. If your speaker is arriving from out of town, request the time and date of arrival, flight number, etc. Give ground transportation options from the airport to the hotel.
I. Send the speaker two copies (one for her file) with a return envelope or fax number. Provide a space for the speaker to sign and date one copy to be returned to you.With a couple sheets of paper, you’ve decreased the likelihood of your speaker showing up on the wrong day, at the wrong hotel, forgetting the introduction, or suddenly asking for an expensive piece of AV equipment.
11. Here is an unusual suggestion. Send your speaker a copy of the speaker evaluation form you will be using (see example). If a speaker sees a critique form that emphasizes relevance or value, guess how they will aim their speech!
12. Tell the speaker what a successful speech would look like, sound like, and be like for you.
13. Then, talk about what the audience is looking for in a speaker and what kind of content and delivery they will expect. Some meeting planners who hire speakers engage them on the basis of what they want themselves, rather than what the audience wants.
Recently, a speaker was hired through a speakers’ bureau by a client who requested an upbeat, high energy, humorous, motivational speaker for a kickoff breakfast. When the bureau asked about the audience, the client described them as production managers and top executives and their spouses. When asked what style and content emphasis the client wanted, he said, ‘‘Something enjoyable and upbeat that would be interesting for the members and their spouses— a light serving of the content that would be delivered in-depth that afternoon.’’ When the bureau asked what success
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would look like, the client replied, ‘‘Everyone would have a good time and there would be high attendance at the afternoon session.’’ The client thought he had further covered his bases by talking directly with the speaker on the phone and having the speaker visit two of the offices in the area.
The speaker gave an energetic, humorous, motivational speech using industry specific examples. The audience smiled and laughed and a record number attended the afternoon session, but the client wasn’t happy with the outcome. Why? Several of his senior executives wrote on their evaluation forms that they didn’t want a humorous, motivational speaker. The client did not ask his audience what they wanted in a speaker, speech, or what their expectations were. The speaker had followed the client’s guidelines, but failed to please all members of the audience. If the client had conducted a pre-conference survey, assessing the audience for content and style needs, or had the speaker done a better job and requested more background information on the audience’s needs, everyone would have been happy. Remember, don’t assume anything!
There are many questions on etiquette you may have in dealing with a speaker. Let’s go over some of themost frequently asked questions.
1. What special amenities are common courtesy to provide a speaker? That depends on the speaker. Don’t assume all speakers need a limo. Some may prefer a rental car or to have someone meet them at the airport. Some airlines and convention bureaus provide greeting services for speakers. Ask speakers directly what their preferences are. Celebrity speakers who are not met at the airport should be greeted at the hotel by their host, preferably with the room key in hand to avoid having to check-in. The required registration signature card can be placed in the room, along with welcoming notes from you and the hotel general manager. The host can return the card to the front desk after escorting the speaker to the room. Finer hotels will assign a staff person to this host position if you don’t have a volunteer available. This service costs you nothing and sends a message to the speaker that she is important and expected.
If you are planning a meeting with multiple speakers, assign each speaker a host to help with meeting logistics and to cope with small scale crises. If the speaker is late, the host will know the speaker’s program time and be able to deal with any necessary arrangements. Celebrity speakers and keynote speakers (professional and volunteer) should have a high quality hotel room. If your budget does not allow for this, reserve the room with the best view. Other speakers will not expect the luxury room, but a good view usually doesn’t cost anything.
For a celebrity or keynote speaker, Meeting Planners International’s guide suggests a ‘‘...small amenity of a personalized greeting in the limo such as...a letter from the event chairperson...’’ A simple or humorous amenity will help relax a tense individual and provide a topic of easy conversation between the host and the newly arrived speaker. Suggestions for gifts in the limo or room: cheese and fruit, a hometown newspaper, a book on the speaker’s favorite hobby, a book of quotes, a guide to the city, health foods, an executive toy, a company t-shirt, a box of favorite cookies or candies, or puzzles. The speaker’s agent and secretary are great sources for information to personalize a gift. A small present, under ten dollars, can have a lasting memory for your speaker.
Dan, an associate, told me about a well-planned meeting that seemed to be falling apart when the celebrity speaker called to say he would be unavoidably late. Dan called a volunteer speaker, Susan, to fill in. Susan told Dan she would be glad to, but she was very nervous about taking a celebrity’s place. Dan knew she would be great and because of the tension he sensed in her voice, he planned a relaxing surprise for
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her. He called Susan’s secretary and asked what kind of music Susan liked and if she traveled with a portable walkman. Having received good advice, he stopped by a record store on his way to meet Susan at the airport. He handed her an Ella Fitzgerald tape and a walkman. After filling her in on the conference, he suggested she relax with her music. Susan gave a wonderful speech, ‘‘Going the extra mile for customers,’’ and even spoke about Dan’s thoughtful gift as an example. So, go that extra mile!
2. Is it asking too much to encourage the speaker to participate in all meeting activities? First of all, if you have an expectation that the speaker will participate in activities, clarify it up front, perhaps specifying in your contract which events you wish the speaker to attend. Some speakers are delighted to attend events and welcome the opportunity to get out of a lonely hotel room to meet audience members and to network. Some speakers prefer to ‘‘make an entrance’’ and not be introduced to the audience until the time of their speech. Others prefer to rest from their travel and prepare for the speech. Still others, mostly $10,000 and up speakers, feel time is money and may charge you to attend special events. All you may have to do is ask the speaker to join an event.
Explain the significance of the event, and the speaker will most likely accept the invitation. Don’t use socializing as a replacement for giving the speaker information and contacts from your organization. If the speaker prefers not to attend additional meetings, remember that his speech preparation may require you or the host to inform him of the content that has been covered or the fun activities he can refer to in his presentation.
3. How can I save myself from last minute crises? The host typically is in charge of any assistance the speaker may need. That may include providing a pitcher of water; taping off the back row of seats and encouraging audience members to fill in the front rows first; giving out handouts or placing them on the chairs; checking with the AV person and the speaker to make sure all the equipment is in place and in working order; making sure the speaker arrives at least 15 minutes before start time and is greeted and introduced to any officers or important attendees.
Many speakers will want to check out the room layout and equipment as soon as they arrive at the hotel. Call the convention or banquet manager (their name and number should be on the information sheet mentioned earlier) to arrange early access to the meeting room to test the equipment. Especially, check the microphone for feedback screech. For volunteer speakers, suggest that they do a dry run the day before or early in the morning so they get a feel for the room.
4. If there are multiple speakers, must I cater to them individually? Speakers have their caste system like any other profession, and a speaker with a $50 fee won’t mind taking a courtesy van from the airport or not having a basket of fruit in his room. If you have only a few speakers on your program and there is a chance for them to interact, it would be advisable to give similar gifts to all of them.
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5. How should you appropriately introduce a speaker? Who should do it? Many professional speakers will send you a typewritten introduction, with a request that it be read, as written. If you feel the introduction is too long, or otherwise inappropriate, ask the speaker or her secretary to edit the content. Most speakers do not appreciate someone else heavily editing their intro or passing it by with, ‘‘This speaker has done too much to go into the details, so here he is!’’
The introduction should qualify the speaker to present the chosen topic to a specific audience. It should engender credibility. That doesn’t mean merely listing credentials, but adding a few personal characteristics, such as, ‘‘He knows how to handle organizational chaos. He has six kids, four dogs, two cats, ten fish, and one partridge in a pear tree...’’ can enliven the intro. See example.
If you are asked to write the intro, find at least one personal note, such as, ‘‘In talking to Alan, I discovered that he, like most of you, wishes he had more time to play golf, but as I list his accomplishments, you’ll see why he doesn’t have that time.’’ Make sure the person who does the introduction does it with full commitment— not half-heartedly or rushed, "They asked me to introduce the speaker today, even though I don't know him...'' Anyone can introduce the speaker, though big name speakers are traditionally introduced by the highest level person at the meeting.
6. How do you gracefully handle a prestigious speaker whose speech is running overtime? Anticipating and preparing for small crises often prevent them. If you are on a short time schedule for your meeting, always make reference to your time constraint in your contract or cover letter to the speaker. Let the speaker know that you or a room monitor will be available in the front row to "help monitor the time. Use time cards to cue the speaker when 5 minutes are remaining, and again at one minute.
If you haven't planned ahead, and the speaker is talking beyond his limit, without any sign of concluding, basically, you're stuck! You can try to catch his eye, hold up a sign, stand up and move toward the exit. If you are really in a bind for time, and you can risk speaker fallout, you can move to the front of the room and express your regrets saying, ``Oh, I wish we had time for more, but...'' This may insult your speaker. The best plan is to prepare— and emphasize your time constraints before any speaker begins speaking.
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7. What do you do if you are concerned your speaker may receive a rude reception?If you have control of the speaker selection, the best approach may be to not ask that person to speak. If there is a reason he must speak, then prepare the speaker and the audience. As diplomatically as possible, inform the speaker about possible negative audience response, perhaps using an example of another speaker or an imaginary situation: ‘‘Our audience is very pro-union, and the last non union speaker...’’
Prepare your audience with promotional materials that detail the speaker’s credentials and expertise. Explain why this speaker will be presenting; give them a reason to listen and show respect for the speaker— even if they may not agree with him. The introduction should be very positive and supportive. Refrain from any parental-type instructions, such as, "You had better listen...'' As the host, make it a point to go to the podium after the speaker has concluded, highlight the powerful points, and attempt to create a positive closure.
8. How do you make sure you get good meaty questions— and plenty of them— for a Q&A session?
A. Inform the audience before the event that the speaker has agreed to answer their questions. Provide them with pre-meeting material, relative to the topic and encourage them to prepare for the session by writing down a few questions.
B. Ask a few sharp people in the group to bring a few questions to ask the speaker.
C. Before you introduce the speaker, pass out cards for the audience to write down any questions for the Q&A session. Some speakers prefer to answer questions as they go, so check with them first. If you want them to hold questions for the Q&A session, make that clear. If you find you don't have time for Q&As or if you fear it may get out of control, ask that the cards get passed in and announce that the speaker will respond to them in an article for the company newsletter or special bulletin. Be sure you clear that with the speaker first.
D. Have everyone in the audience turn to a partner or divide into small groups and generate two or three questions. Then ask each group for their questions.
E. One speaker's secret to getting good, pertinent questions is to ask for them. Instead of the typical, "Are there any questions?'' which has come to mean, "I'm finished. Let me sit down now,'' this speaker acts as if he expects a good question, "What questions do you have about the reflecting technique? What do you need to know about the Sales Closing Method to use with your customers tomorrow? What doubts do you have about what I've said that would keep you from implementing this new system?'' Encourage your speaker to use these question-getting techniques.
9. How do you "rescue'' a speaker from a particularly objectionable line of questioning? Again, preparation can help you prevent this crisis. You can use the same techniques mentioned in #7, above, to prepare your speaker and audience. Distribute cards for the audience to write questions on during the speech. Collect them at the end of the speech and select the questions to ask. Have a couple of questions written ahead so you can pass them to the speaker while you are choosing the audience's questions.
Another suggestion is to have someone other than the speaker introduce the Q&A session and act as a moderator. The moderator can open with a comment such as, "I'm sure you have insightful, pertinent questions for our speaker today. I'll be facilitating this session...'' The moderator is then in a position to respond to unsuitable questions, "That's not an appropriate question for this time,'' or "That sounds like it would require too much time to answer,'' or "That sounds like a more personal question. Let's take a question that affects the entire audience.
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10. What time of day is it best to schedule a speaker in your agenda? Time selection is a personal choice in many instances, depending on the personality and characteristics of your group. If you think they want a big kickoff that energizes them for the rest of the meeting, have your ‘‘big’’ speaker at the beginning of the meeting. If you want the audience to leave charged up, have the ‘‘big’’ speaker close the meeting. Whatever you do, make sure the rest of your meeting and logistics support your choice.
A big name speaker was asked to write a speech as the final keynote of a three-day meeting. She was scheduled to speak to 400 people from 2:00 pm - 4:00 pm, after a luncheon meeting. When she arrived at 1:00 pm, she was told that sixty people from the audience would be leaving during her presentation to catch the last flight home. At 2:30 pm, the president was introduced and gave an impromptu speech for twenty minutes and then awards were presented until 3pm Fifteen minutes into her speech, sixty people got up and left the room! Not only was that disturbing to the speaker, but the rest of the audience had no idea why so many people were leaving.
The moral of that story is: Plan for your speaker! If your tee-off time is at 12:30 pm and your speaker doesn’t finish until 12 noon, guess what? You’re going to have a group of antsy people who don’t want to listen to the speaker. Or, you’ll have an empty room because golfers are sneaking out to grab lunch before they hit a few balls. Planning your meeting so that the speaker adds value and provides a shift in energy can take care of many of your timing concerns.
It’s Not Over ’Til It’s Over
So, the meeting has ended and you’re back in your office the next day, but your meeting duties haven’t ended. You need to take all the meeting evaluation forms and summarize the findings so you’ll know what you want to repeat again or change for your next meeting. You also want to do your duty to Miss Manners and write letters of appreciation to everyone who helped make the meeting a success— especially the speaker.
In this age of computers, it is so easy to use a generic thank you letter in such a situation. The old familiar standby, "Thank you for making our meeting a success. We appreciate your coming to speak to our group. Blah, blah, blah. Sincerely...'' Not very sincerely, though. A personal touch is much more appropriate and ever so much more appreciated by the speaker. If the speaker wasn't that good, you may want to call and review the comments so a better job is possible next time.
If the speaker was great, pull specific comments from your critique sheets or ones you remember from conversations in the hallways and at the dinner table. For example, "Your story about your son still has everyone laughing and remembering how important it is to generously give praise,'' or "Your humble style and personal warmth enabled our group to open up like they never have before. Thank you!'' Writing such specifics in a letter reminds you what your audience likes in a speaker and will help you in future speaker selections. Sending such a letter not only leaves your speaker with a lasting good impression of you, but of your organization. And, who knows, you might be a great example in his next speech!
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Patti Wood MA is a Professional Speaker and a Communication and Body Language expert based in Atlanta, GA. Patti’s clients include Fortune 500 companies, government agencies and associations, and she has written seven books. Patti is currently finishing her newest book People Savvy. To learn more go to the People Savvy Web site www.pattiwood.net