In the first lesson, we looked at fear of speaking and the first thing you should think of before a talk – and that is What effect do I want to have on the audience… in this second lesson, let’s look at some elements of etiquette and research you should do before you attend the event.
But first, can we be absolutely sure of a few things…?
For instance, that you have confirmed back the date of the event, the event timings – and the time at which you are expected to start and finish your talk. Make sure you have the email and telephone number of the event planner or organiser and drop that confirmation email to them.
Things like speaker order and timing can and do change before the event… so be prepared for your slot to be moved from morning to afternoon or vice versa, And, suddenly that 45-minute slot now needs to be half an hour. On rare occasions, you might even be asked to change the date – if the conference is spread over 2 or more days.
My point is to ensure you have their best contact details and they have yours… Be easily contacted and respond to correspondence immediately or at least as soon as possible. Organising an event is a complicated affair – and the planners can do without having to chase you up for answers.
You may be asked for a biography, headshot photo, or other details. Get these back to the organisers super quick. Often, the organisers will want you to send a copy of your power point slides (if any) so that they can incorporate them into a smooth and seamless production. Note the timescale they are working to and get those slides in good time.
The same goes for any handout they are printing for the conference pack. Many conferences have a conference 'pack' given to each delegate… they might offer the option of having a piece of promotional or information literature from you or your organisation inserted. I NEVER turn down that opportunity and ensure the planners have my pdf well before the deadline.
And of course, there's an overview of your talk. If asked for (and it usually is), make sure you know the approximate word-count for your precis. There is only so much room in their conference brochure, and you want to be easy to deal with – no need for them coming back to you asking for more words – or that they need you to trim the description by 100 words!
OK, for now, you are booked, let's say for the 22nd of next month to speak at 11.15 am and to finish at 12 midday. You've confirmed back – and there is clarity about any expenses or stipend or allowance you will receive. No surprises later. You are also clear as to whether you are invited to any of the social aspects… the pre-conference dinner – lunch on the day itself, the Gala at the end, etc. You know and are working to the deadline for powerpoint slides and any promotional material submissions.
Now – do some research… in the following areas:
Firstly, what do you know about the event? If it's an in-house affair, then it's likely you'll have more of a handle on it… however, if it's a conference or external event, then you need to know more.
Most conferences have their own websites and tend to offer a good deal of information about what happened last year – often supplying a gallery of pictures or even an edited highlights video for you to look at. If it's not obvious through a google search, then ask the organiser for the web page URL.
And now the questions – and don't worry there's a download crib sheet after this lecture with all the questions on it.
Who is the target audience for the event?
One-off or regular?
Is it a new or established event?
How expensive is it to attend?
Are there peripheral or social activities?
How many people usually attend?
Does it move around, or is it always at the same venue?
How long does the event last?
Does it promote itself well?
Who spoke at the event last year?
All these answers will give you a feel for the event itself.
Now… this year… It's worth running through the same questions as before for THIS year’s version (if applicable), but, in addition; What is the theme of this year's event? Didn't know there was one? Pretty much every conference has a theme, which you should at least refer to in your talk.
Good, we're getting there.
Just a little more research which will improve your performance by 500%.
A little research goes a long way.
You've established a good feel for the event through your initial research – now, to get a little more specific:
You need to know the itinerary – the timetable of what's happening throughout the conference.
If it's not available on the website – ask the organiser for a full itinerary so that you see the timing of the day or days – where you fit in the running order. You'll probably get a draft rather than a definitive running order – things change, remember. But it's a good start.
Do you speak after a break? I hope so because these are the easier slots to handle. Think about it… most people, if not everyone, leaves the room giving you a chance to set up whatever you need, take your space and breathe in the atmosphere from the front, and steady your nerves with a quick mental run-through. You can also check the technology works and that your microphone is attached correctly. If you have any props or tangible visual aids, then you can set these behind the stage, behind the podium – or simply off to one side.
Now, imagine having to do all that with everyone still in the room – gazing expectantly at you whilst you try and plug in your laptop!
Do you see why it's good to get an 'after break' slot? If you don't – all is not lost… the simple answer is to set up as much as you can in the PREVIOUS break. And have a quick practice with the previous speaker as to the handover… will you be using their microphone? Do you have to change laptops? Will someone be introducing you?
Audiences are usually pretty forgiving when it comes to speaker changeover – as long as they see progress… it's when something doesn't work, or it all starts taking too long that they get fidgety.
But I am getting ahead of myself – we are still in the BEFORE section – so let's have a look at those other speakers.
Who are they?
Wherever possible, look them up. Check them out on Linked in or Twitter – even Facebook. Some may even have a web page…
Ask the event planner for the other speakers' biographies and the overview of THEIR subject matter. This will give you an idea of the overall conference content – and you'll be able to see how YOUR contribution fits far better than just going in blind.
There are two speakers who are the most important ones – apart from you, of course. Those two important speakers are the one before you and the one after you. Why?
Well, whilst I adore, love, and respect event planners, they might… subconsciously even, lump similar speakers together. So you need to know how to position yourself in relation to your before and after speakers.
And even if the speakers are, indeed, different breeds – there is only so, much information under the sun… I have seen a speaker basically tell the same stories or use the same illustrations as the speaker before him. He would have done better to simply have missed out that section of his talk!
Ideally – get in touch with your shoulder speakers. Who knows they might turn out to be really useful business contacts.
Your task for this lesson is to look up an event online… obviously, if you have an event looming, then look at that specific one… However, for practice, any conference will do. Check out its website – explore where it was, who the speakers were, and what they covered. Where was it – and have a look at the photo gallery to get a feel for what happened.
Our next lesson is still concerned with Before you get in front of people. Before any of that, we need to be really clear about timing – and who you need to meet on the day of the event.