What a Speaker Wants

Meeting planners: Answer these questions for a more successful event—and happier speakers.

The road to a speaker's success or failure begins long before he or she arrives at the podium, and association staff are in the position to smooth the path or throw obstacles in the way. Something as simple as providing complete information to a speaker can make a huge difference in your attendees' final experience.

Below, six experienced speakers list some of the information they'd like to have in hand before they speak.

Why was I asked to speak on the subject? A large social-service agency asked me to speak at an in-service about advocacy planning. I was not told that the agency was trying to jump start a failed advocacy program, and I didn't learn until that day that it had established policies I felt doomed the program. I would have prepared differently had I known.

Where are attendees employed? I spoke to a parks and recreation association thinking most attendees were working in the parks and recreation department of a municipal government. Not so. Most were recreation directors, and many worked in the private sector. The information I gave was fine, but I would have been more credible having used examples relevant to recreation staff.

—David M. Patt, CAE, president, Association Executive Management, and executive director, Association of Running Event Directors

What I wish I'd known, even tho' I asked:

Audience demographics, to include length of membership in the organization and levels of experience.

That the room set could not be changed, at all, ever!

That the announcements and introductions would take up 30 minutes of the 55 I was allotted to speak.

—Joan L. Eisenstodt, chief strategist, Eisenstodt Associates, LLC

Who is going to be in the audience? Can I speak with any of them before the program to learn more about their expectations?

What is happening in their field (economic conditions, hot issues)—in their words, not via Google!

If a recent speaker at a comparable program was really excellent, what made her so?

If someone really stunk, what did he do wrong?

If someone is speaking right before me, what specifically will she be discussing?

The hard part is that most meeting planners think they know this stuff and try to relate it themselves. Nobody can speak for an audience as well as an audience member can!

—Kevin Whorton, principal, Whorton Marketing & Research

If the organization you're speaking for provides you with any preconference survey information, check on the exact wording of the questions used. When I spoke at the ASAE & The Center Social Media Workshop, I was told that many workshop attendees had answered 'yes' to the question 'Are you on Twitter?' But during the first half of the presentation, the sea of questioning/confused looks was astonishing, so my copresenter and I regrouped and went back to basics. In retrospect, questions like 'Have you been on Twitter in the last week/day/hour?' would have given us better information.

It is always important for a speaker to learn about her audience before the event, but it is difficult to accomplish. In retrospect, I should have called a few attendees at random and asked specific questions about their Twitter experiences. Live and learn.

—Leslie White, president, Croydon Consulting, LLC

Let's start with the organization's name. Is the acronym said as a word ("POPS") or as individual letters ("P-O-P-S")?

Are there any leaders' names that are difficult to pronounce? Can I have a phonetic version?

Do spouses and guests usually attend the session at which I have been asked to speak?

If the presentation is at a meal function, will it be before the meal, during, or after dessert?

Is the group expecting 'bells and whistles' or a straightforward business presentation?

Is it the group's culture to ask questions during a presentation, or will they wait for a Q&A session at the end?

If there are other, simultaneous sessions, are the schedules coordinated so that all groups disband at the same time (rather than competing with loud coffee-break conversations)?

—Carolyn R. Fazio, ECAM, senior strategist, Fazio International Ltd.

Complete room information: audiovisual, room set, and so forth. A diagram of the room is preferred, but a text description is acceptable. I want to know where the screen will be located, if the room is set deep or wide, if floor microphones have been placed in the room, podium and style (angled or flat-top, etc).

Will there be a conference Twitter feed, and how will it be used? If it will be in play as a Twitterwall during my session, how will it be managed and displayed?

A week or so before the presentation: registration list so I can look at organizations represented, geographic diversity, and so forth. Also, information about any participants with special needs (large-type handouts, sign language, etc.). This becomes imperative when interactive sessions are designed so that I don't include exercises requiring extensive mobility.

—Jeffrey Cufaude, president and CEO, Idea Architects