We’ve all been there. So excited to be coming to a major industry conference in a world-class destination, full of stellar topics and notable speakers as well as workshops and cocktail receptions. It’s networking HEAVEN!

Gradually though, as you attend workshops and keynote sunrise sessions and theme luncheon speechess you find, to your immense dismay, that an alarming number of speakers whose content had you salivating, actually suck.  Or blow. Or otherwise resoundingly disappoint.  The sad thing is, a brilliantly organized conference with impeccable timing, food, location and events will not impress if the quality of the actual content doesn’t measure up.

If you are a meeting planner or someone tasked with spearheading the next company conference, retreat, trade show or similar, spare a few moments from menu selection, DJ playlists, swag and logo ware.  Please, please, please, take a good hard look at your speakers and workshop leaders.  Far too often the people invited to speak are experts in their field, brilliant researchers, scientists, engineers, physicians and the like.  Sadly, most of them are too busy doing what they so brilliantly do, to become great or even decent public presenters.

This isn’t a new complaint and I’ve taken my thoughts to various meeting planner groups and consultants, all of whom sadly nod their heads in acknowledgment but tell me there is no logistical way to help poor speakers pull up their socks in order to save you having to endure the product of their inattention.  Nonsense. We can put a man on the moon, and so on….

In reality, there are a number of steps to take to curate a decent speaker selection and to help those chosen do the best they can for your event. You’re not trying to coach them in perpetuity, just long enough for everyone to recognize how well you’ve managed this conference!

  1.  Research how your speakers speak. If there is absolutely no video of them online, be nervous. Ask for some. Also ask to see their slide deck. If there are any more than 4 slides/20 minutes of content and if those slides are jammed with text and numbers, you have some work to do.
  2. Find out if your organization or network has access to a speaker coach close to where your speaker is. Gently broach the notion that the organization is invested in the speaker’s success and will happily invest in it through a couple hours of great coaching. This process should start as soon as you have identified the speaker. If they balk, maybe there’s someone else with similar content and a better attitude.
  3. If you aren’t confident that great coaching can be found ‘out there’, reach out to a coach you do have faith in, and ask them to tackle the job remotely.  Any coach worth knowing will have their own way of managing that.  In my case I ask for the speech outline and any additional slides or material, rough draft is fine. I then make suggestions on improving the content with an eye to how the speaker actually presents and then we go on-camera, on-line to practice performing.

You invest a lot of time and a tonne of money in these events.  Catering fees are staggering; swag ain’t cheap unless it’s cheap swag; and speaker fees and expenses can be pricey.  Don’t scrimp on a few bucks to make those speakers earn their fees by getting coaching in advance.