Donald R. (Chip) Levy, M.Ed., is principal of The Rochelle Organization.
You know what your meeting attendees don't want? A sales pitch from any of your event's speakers about why their companies or products are great. Some tips to make sure your attendees get the best sessions possible.
There are few more disappointing things than going to a conference and hearing speakers give sales pitches about their companies or products. While a speaker code of conduct can address this behavior, here are three quick tips to ensure your attendees get the best session possible.
1. Know who you're choosing. Only on rare occasions will I ask someone to speak who I've not heard or who has not been recommended by someone I trust. But if a speaker is an unknown, require copies of evaluations from prior sessions and references from others who've heard the person speak.
2. Be specific about your expectations. Tell speakers (in writing) that there is zero tolerance for sales pitches masquerading as education, and that their best chance of success is to provide a great learning experience. Consider including the following statement in a speaker agreement: "If we hear of somebody selling from the podium, they'll never be asked back. Period."
3. Include a question on your evaluation form. Ask "To what degree was this session a sales pitch for a product or service?" Then communicate to speakers in advance what the scores mean. For example, on a 10-point scale, tell them 0-1.9 is OK and that they may might be asked back if their other scores are good, 2-4.9 puts them on probation, and 5 or above is "goodbye for good." Always send them the summaries of their evaluations—feedback improves performance.
Frequent and informative communication between staff and speakers is the key element. Remind them what's at stake for the audience, the association, and their reputation. Shape speakers' behavior by shaping their understanding of the event, the culture, and the downside of screwing up. Most important, don't underestimate your power in this situation, and don't hesitate to assert it. After all, you're protecting your association's reputation.
[This article was originally published in the Associations Now print edition, titled "No Sale."]