Look After Your Speakers

A guest post from Dermot Daly.

Further to Paul’s post on reducing awkwardness, I thought it worthwhile to add some thoughts on reducing awkwardness for speakers.

One thing we did for Úll, which I still think as hugely important is to ensure that speakers and delegates mix freely. We wanted every speaker to also feel like they were attending, and we wanted to ensure that attendees felt every bit as important to us as the speakers. So: No “green room” for speakers to hide away in, and only socialise among themselves. No special coloured speaker badges to make them stand out from other attendees, no speaker who attends, but leaves straight after their talk.

Your speakers make your conference. Their talks are the reason people come, and form the foundations of conversations amongst your delegates. You owe it to them to reduce awkwardness for them too.

So, when it comes to running a conference, how can we achieve this? It’s all about giving as much information as possible at every opportunity. Here’s a few things we did for Úll.

Approaching your speakers.

Generally, we tried to approach people through a contact. This way, we’re not totally unknown. Our mail asks them to speak, but we give as much facts as we can at this point. When and where the conference is, any underlying theme, the length we’d like them to speak for and so forth. We also are explicit about what we are offering: A fee, a number of nights in a hotel, and return flights to Dublin. We offer all speakers the same deal, and state this explicitly, so nobody feels they are getting a different deal to others.

Getting them to your city

For flights, some people like to arrange their own which we re-imburse, others are happy to allow us to arrange them. We find the former usually works best, but we do either. We keep in regular contact with our speakers. They are essentially our guests in our city. We try to put everyone in the same hotel, and use a single point of contact in the hotel to look after our needs. If necessary, we can introduce the speaker to our contact in the hotel.

Generally, we arrange airport pick-ups. Usually through our volunteers, but myself and Paul also meet speakers if the schedule allows for it. We take them direct to their hotel.

Upon arrival, we have a personalised, individual welcome pack. This contains the all the information they need:

During the conference

With the quality of the speakers we’ve had at Úll, it’s easy to forget that this is not their day job. It isn’t – most of them have a “main” job, and talking is a side gig so remember, speakers may be nervous; We find more information alleviates this. Make sure they know: When their talk is, who is on before them, who is on after them, or if there’s a break either side of their talk. Explain the process between the previous talk and when they take the stage.

The AV setup is very important. For Úll we had a “WWDC” style setup. A large screen, and two speaker monitors which face the stage. On one speaker monitor is what is on the screen behind them, on the other we had presenter view, which shows what’s coming next. (For geeks: This is achieved either with a Mac pro an extra video card, or in the case of Úll, 2 iMacs, each showing the same presentation, both sync’d to 1 remote; one configured to show main screen, the other to show presenter mode.).

Each speaker is given the resolution in advance, and ample time to set up their presentation on the AV setup. We also offered rehearsal time the day before should they need this.

A tip: When introducing a speaker on stage, use their name at the very end of the sentence. It works so much better. So rather than saying “Michael Lopp writes Rands in Repose, and has spoken at Úll in 2012 and 2013, please welcome him on stage”, try “Our next speaker has spoke at Úll in 2013 and 2013. He’s the author of Rands in Repose. Please welcome Michael Lopp”

After the Conference

We try to ensure that our speakers leave as they came – with as little awkwardness as possible. So: Arrange an airport drop if they need it (they don’t always, as they have made new speaker-friends!). For those staying on, we make ourselves available for a dinner or drinks during the week, or we give them advice on how to spend their few extra days in Ireland.