I love public speaking. I’ve been fortunate enough to speak at more than 50 conferences around the world, and I’ve seen it all: Large crowds, tiny crowds, people who interrupt, A/V equipment that magically stops working the moment I open my mouth. But there are lots of things public speakers take for granted that conference organizers may not be aware of.
Recently, I spoke at a conference that set the bar — low. It was a shambles: Schedules were changed without notification, nobody could find the rooms, and equipment didn’t work. It would’ve been funny if I hadn’t invested the better part of a week (and a chunk of my budget) to attend. The lack of organization was disrespectful to the speakers, sponsors, and attendees alike.
This event reminded me of just how much work organizers do to ensure a conference runs smoothly. To help future events ensure a good experience for their speakers, I’ve decided to create a checklist that conferences can use to ensure a good experience for their speakers. Well-prepared speakers, after all, make for a better conference.
Organizer and speaker checklists
One month prior to the event, conference organizers should:
- Tell a speaker their session has been selected at least one month prior to the event. Otherwise, travel becomes difficult or expensive.
- Create a communication plan (with dates!) and email templates for all notifications. These always take longer than you think, and nobody will want to do them last-minute.
One week prior to the event, conference organizers should:
- Send an “everything you should know” email that covers the following:
- When and where they are speaking
- How to get to and from the venue (include parking information if needed)
- Rules and restrictions for the venue: security measures, food and drink policies, etc.
- A/V details: limitations of the projectors, location of projector screens or displays, ideal slide ratio (4:3 or 16:9), type of microphone, etc.
- Room size
- Confirm the speaker received your email.
- Most importantly, notify the speaker immediately if anything changes!
On the morning of the event, conference organizers should:
- Provide clear signage indicating where the rooms are.
- Wear T-shirts or name tags that indicate they are organizers or volunteers.
- Turn on and test all A/V: lights, projectors, TVs, sound, etc. Ideally, projectors should support dual-screen setups so presenters can read their notes.
- Help the speaker set up and operate any recording equipment.
After the event, conference organizers should:
- Ask for candid feedback.
- Thank the speaker — especially if they’re working for free.
If possible, conference organizers should also provide:
- Video adapters for common plugs: Thunderbolt, HDMI, and DVI.
- Someone assigned to the room to check if the speaker needs anything prior to the talk.
- Private wifi network for videos, examples, and demos.
- A wireless microphone, ideally the kind that clips to your clothing (aka a Lavalier mic). These allow the speaker to walk around and gesticulate wildly, which I do even if I’m not talking.
- A green room or other private space for speakers to rest and relax prior to their talk.
In return, a speaker should:
- Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse. Rehearse until you’re sick of your own voice. Your session will be better as a result.
- Record or screenshot all demos in advance. Live demos are error-prone and aggravating to watch.
- Start and finish on time so the next presenter doesn’t have to rush.
- Make your slides publicly available prior to the presentation and publicize the link in your presentation.
- Bring a video adapter for your laptop. Don’t assume the conference will supply one.
- Use a presentation remote that has been tested with the current version of the presentation software you are using. Microphones often pick up keyboard taps.
- Let the audience know when it’s appropriate to ask questions. If you want to save questions until the end, say so.
(For more public speaking tips, check out Speaking.io.)
A well-organized conference requires preparation and communication. I hope this checklist will improve both.
Did I leave anything out? Leave a comment below!
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