Orchestrating a professional speaker’s address at your conference is never a one-way street. Between scheduling travel and lodging, preparing the actual talk and simple technical logistics, your speaker will be all the more amenable to future appearances if you assist the process by readily providing as much pertinent information about your event as possible as soon as you can and working quickly to have every presentation need met before the conference actually rolls around. The stage you provide influences the magic any keynote lecturer can work. Meet any dedicated professional you engage halfway to ensure your audience gets the maximum benefit from experiencing his or her insightful pontification. In the end, you’ll be more likely to have worked with a motivational mind you would happily welcome back anytime and who just might reciprocate your respect by endorsing speaking at your future events to colleagues.
That’s the definition of a win-win that costs you nothing more than some considerate planning and consideration.
No matter how naturally charismatic and personable many professional speakers may seem, these are not buskers or dancing monkeys (!) ready to perform anywhere at any time for anybody. Refined public speaking is an art. An exceptional talk must be thoughtfully tailored with a certain sensitivity to its eventual audience. A hotel banquet room presents a more intimate setting for personal interaction than a theater that seats thousands upon thousands and yet that packed theater might deliver an amazing atmosphere. Each venue requires a not-so-subtle nuance, necessitating a shift in tone, pacing and overall presentation. The expected experience level of the audience may inspire an entirely different speech, depending on a makeup of novices, seasoned experts or varying mixed bags of the two. The presence of a foreign or sign language interpreter might require additional collaboration prior to the actual talk in order to ensure an equally enjoyable experience for every attendee.
You can make the audience’s time with your speaker magnitudes more memorable by helping your speaker understand who the audience is and what the assembled VIPs hope to take away from their time listening to the speaker and watching the presentation.
To a certain degree, public speaking is no different from any other form of performance art.
Remember the venue comparison above? Let’s revisit that for a moment. Imagine the theatrics and bombast of an epic stadium concert – say, KISS or U2. From the size and configuration of the stage and room to the furnishings and equipment, it’s a night-and-day departure from what plays best for a soulful singer-songwriter on any given Thursday night at a hole-in-the-wall pub. Yes, the talk’s substance is the backbone, but the finesse of presentation that maintains the audience’s engagement hinges on styling it to match the setting.
If you don’t inform your speaker of plans to produce a video of the talk, you may have a bad time on your hands if he or she turns out to be a highly mobile dynamo who deftly maneuvers from one end of the stage to the other. Some talks take on entirely different technical or artistic needs depending on presentation to a well-lit room or a darker space.
Speakers often need to polish ‘who’ they are on stage and get an understanding of where they are, so it’s a good idea to let the speaker experience the stage and set up before the audience enter the venue.
Let’s go out on a limb and suppose you lack the all-around resources to make exactly the electronic hardware, media software and IT infrastructure and support your speaker might need appear instantly by snapping your fingers. Even if you are just that kind of genie, you and your guest lecturer should sit down to leave no technical question or need shrouded in ambiguity well in advance. If for no other reason, make this a top priority out of respect for the all-too-real phenomenon of gadgets and programs set to their absolute perfect settings feeling more than free to suddenly glitch catastrophically after going completely untouched for as long as days at a time.
When it comes to electronic aids, it pays to be prepared. Barring the coincidental presence of someone’s convenient mobile WiFi hotspot, for example, you almost assuredly cannot conjure up internet connectivity on the day of a planned talk at a venue that doesn’t already have a network. That will present a problem if your speaker shows up, asks for the online login credentials and you realize the two of you never came together on the same page to discuss equipment needs.
Questions you should consider asking
Here are just a few sets of questions you can expect many justifiably preparation-obsessed speakers to broach and to which you owe them detailed answers in fairly short order if you want the upcoming presentation to remain memorable for all the right reasons:
How big is the stage?
What resolution is the projector?
What aspect ratio does your projector use for my slides – 4:3 or 16:9?
Are there any color issues I should know about?
Can you provide a dongle for my specific laptop?
Do you have a power adapter for my tablet or laptop?
Tell me about the audio setup please – can I plug my laptop into the main audio feed?
What kind of mic will be using? Handheld? Wired or wireless? Podium or lapel?
Any frequent technical hiccups with other speakers?
Will I only have my tablet or laptop on a podium to view my slides, or can you provide a comfort monitor?
Can you fix up a timer so I can keep tabs on my timings?
Will there be wifi and is it separate from public wifi?
Will you supply water on stage near-by?
Can you provide me with a large bowl of blue M & M’s, a hot tub filled with Yak’s milk and four dozen white roses?
If the answer to any of these questions doesn’t fall in line with your speaker’s ordinary setup, address it as early in your cooperative preparation as you can. The sooner you are both aware of your speaker needing something you don’t already have on hand, the more lead time you both have to either procure suitable equipment and software as needed or devise an improvised workaround.
For example, this is one actual veteran speaker’s standard technical requirements for producing a talk in almost any setting:
TECHNICAL REQUIREMENTS FOR MY KEYNOTE SPEECH
A projector with large screen or TV screen please.
The screen needs to have an aspect ratio that can be changed 16:9 or 4:3. Please let me know what the screen resolution will be at least a week in advance so that I can prepare my presentation for the correct aspect ratio.
A wireless clip mic that will give good clear sound output – or if you think it’d be better for your event, then a wireless headset mic. But I’d prefer a top quality clip mic that can clip onto my lapel please. The mic needs to be connected to the main audio input to the room. To clarify: a lapel mic or clip mic that clips onto a jacket – or a tiny mic that clips around the ear – and is attached to a radio transmitter. Fresh batteries for both the mic battery pack and the receiver module too please. THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT. Ideally, if you think a headset mic is best, I would like a DPA Headset mic but should this not be available an equivalent of suitable standard will be fine.
My presentation will need to be run on my Macbook Pro, therefore please supply the mini display port adaptor and cables to your chosen signal type – i.e VGA, HDMI etc. For example, if using VGA, I’ll need a 15 pin VGA connector cable to connect my laptop to the screen and a MAC ADAPTOR for the 15pin VGA cable to allow it to connect to a Macbook Pro.
EYELINE MONITOR OR SCREEN – I need to be able to easily see my slides in front of me, so please can you ensure that I can see either a TV screen in my eye line or that my laptop screen is placed in front of me very close to the stage. THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT. Thank you. If you have presenter comfort monitors on the floor facing up towards stage, this is also fantastic.
LINE OF SIGHT POSITION FOR MY LAPTOP TO BE PLUGGED IN TO A POWER OUTLET – my Macbook need to be positioned somewhere where it can be plugged into a power socket and has a line of sight for my hand held clicker – therefore it ideally should be placed near the stage and not be placed far away or behind anything that may impede the clicker signal from reaching it.
SOUND – A sound cable from the headphones socket on my laptop to the main audio input for the room.
If using a TV, we will also need external speakers that will plug into the laptop, please.
MEDIUM SIZED TABLE FOR MY PROP – A medium to large table at waist height for the props I’ll be showing during my presentation, ideally covered in a smart tablecloth please.
PLEASE NOTE: My presentation is a Prezi Presentation that is over 200 megabytes large – and it needs to run from my laptop only, so you’ll need all the leads (VGA and audio) to make this happen please.
PLEASE ALSO NOTE: I like to get to the venue AT LEAST one and a half hours before the talk is due to start, so I can set up, we can check the technicals are all working well and go through the slides with you.
*YOUR LOGO (HIGH RES) NEEDED PLEASE* – please send over a high-res version of your logo so that I can incorporate it into my presentation too.
Now, imagine this fellow showing up a day or two before his talk and finding your venue entirely unprepared for the majority of that checklist in place. No table for his props. The screen is the wrong aspect ratio. Assistants scrambling to round up adapters, cables and monitors nobody had a clue he needed. Does that sound like a recipe
Finally, that brings us to the presentation itself. This is the ideal time to listen more than you talk. Your speakers knows what will best flesh out a productive talk. Remember that most professionals will typically have several presentations sharpened to such a fine edge as to need only a little customized reworking and rehearsal to best fit any event-specific parameters. In order to properly repurpose an already-polished talk, your speaker will have a few questions that require candid answers.
For starters, if any previous speakers have had issues attending and speaking at your event, this is the time to bring them up. Rather than sweep them under the rug until someone trips over them, seize this opportunity to bring them into the open and form a collaborative plan for subverting them. In the same vein, familiarize the speaker with any existing codes of conduct and presentation guidelines for both the venue and your organization. There are times and places for surprises. The middle of a talk months in the making, is not one of them.
Some speakers have made names for themselves injecting their talks with some degree or another of profanity or ‘blue’ adult humor. Know your audience. For the love of all you hold dear, clarify in no uncertain terms whether or not that will fly with your crowd before someone’s 98-year-old sainted grandmother Googles a fresh variant on a classic curse word uttered into a microphone during an otherwise informative lecture.
Having everything out in the open well beforehand leaves fewer places for disconnects and misunderstandings to hide. Should it turn out that a certain speaker’s reputation, style or presentations needs don’t match those of your gathering, preemptive candor allows you both to go your separate ways with sufficient time for you to engage a replacement and prevent both sides from laying out massive time, expense and effort before a costly cancellation. As a bonus, you both will likely come away even from failed negotiations with solid mutual respect for one another as respectful, expert professional communicators.
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