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An Open Letter to Event Planners

Posted on January 3, 2013 and read 1,872 times

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michaelw An Open Letter to Event PlannersMichael Weiss
Managing Director
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I recently attended a conference in Los Angeles. The list of brands presenting and attending was quite impressive. I don’t want to say which conference it was, but many of the attendees were from the biggest consumer brands in the world.  I felt very privileged to be rubbing elbows with such very important people. Of course, I was expecting to witness incredible, engaging and well put together presentations. The speaker list was “off the hook!”

I settled into my seat, put my iPhone away and prepared myself to be blown away. Two slides into the first presentation my heart sank. Not only was the presenter reading his slides, but every statement sounded like a question, rather than making a point. You know what I mean. If you don’t, say the following out loud:

“We found 25% of our users never make a comment on our page?”

“We realized we needed to create a stronger social media policy?”

Got it? Good.

The next presenter literally had a slide with 22 bullet points and a small photo on the bottom left of the screen. The slide background was white and the font was Times Roman 12 point. And his next 10 slides were exactly the same.

The iPhone came back out of my bag. It was time for Angry Birds Star Wars!

The third presenter was so nervous that the wavering in his voice caused him to mispronounce words and fidget to the point that he was unwatchable.

Did I mention that the room was at least 80 degrees and the sound system made everyone sound like Cylons? (Battlestar Gallactica reference – yes I am 43 and a geek).

Sigh….

Why, oh why, do conference planners continue to include poor presenters at their events? Is it so hard to qualify a good presenter? I don’t think so.

Full disclosure: I am not an event planner, but I am a presenter and professional speaker, so I am biased and have a certain perspective. Yet, I think if event planners spent a little time qualifying their speakers they could provide high quality speakers and make everyone happy.

So here is an open letter to all event planners:

Dear Event Planner,

We’ve all seen, listened to, and witnessed terrible speakers. And I’m sorry to say that you are a big part of the blame. It’s become the norm and frankly that is not acceptable. The truth is most people do not know how to present. I don’t care if they cured cancer, they may not have the skills to present a single idea and engage the audience. So, on behalf of all conference attendees, I present to you some ideas to find and schedule better speakers for your next conference. I don’t think I am asking for too much – am I?

Go See Them Speak!

Nothing is better than the real thing. If you are interested in a person for a speaking spot then go see them do it. This is ideal I know, but even if you cannot physically be in the same space get a link to a video of him or her speaking. If they don’t have a video then ask them to create one.  You will learn at least two things when you see someone present in front of an audience: How they present (obvious) and how they audience responds to them – this is key. You may not love what they are saying or how they are saying it, but if the audience does then they are doing their job.

If You Cannot See Them Then At Least Meet Them

Choosing a speaker from a submission form is like hiring someone from just his or her resume – it borders on unethical. A phone call is okay, but still not good enough. Make the time and meet them. If you can’t meet them then get a colleague you trust to meet them.

You can tell a lot about a person’s charisma, charm and speaking style over a cup of coffee. Are they animated? Passionate? Are they able to tell a story? Do they look you in the eye? Do they fidget? Are they well dressed? Pay attention to these details.

If All Else Fails – Get Reviews

We live and die from online reviews – Amazon, Yelp, Angie’s List – they help us to decide what to buy, where to eat and who to hire to fix our toilets. Why not employ this same mechanism when choosing a speaker? Find out where they last spoke and call your fellow event planners for a review. You can even ask for their feedback forms. If someone suggested a speaker, then ask him or her for an opinion. It’s a simple question: How was she as a presenter?

The bottom line is that in-person events are on the rise. More and more people are being asked to entertain, engage, inspire and educate audiences at conferences all over the world. More and more speakers are needed every day. And because of TED and other super smart conferences, the audience’s expectations are higher than ever. Take the time to find the best people for the job. The better the speakers, the better the conference – and that is a direct reflection on you. As Maya Angelou once said (and I am paraphrasing), “Two weeks from now the audience will not remember what you said, but how you made them feel.” Too often we are feeling let down and disappointed weeks after witnessing terrible speakers. You can change that by just taking some time to qualify your speakers.

Thank you for listening.





  • http://contentmarketinginstitute.com/ Joe Pulizzi

    Thanks Michael…you are so right about event planning.  It’s also incredibly difficult to appease everyone, but it is more of an art form and a science.  In planning for Content Marketing World this year, we have about 50 key placements.  In almost every case, I’ve seen each one present in either North America or Europe.  It makes a difference to see them first hand.

    I would also say that most event planners focus more on the information provided than how entertaining the speaker is.  Entertainment always comes first…because if attendees are not entertained, they will end up playing Angry Birds Star Wars and won’t learn a thing anyway.


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