. . to ensure a happy audienceIt’s easy to criticise an event for spelling mistakes on the screen or for an inaccurate delegate badge, but when your event is under way no-one stops to think about all the trials and tribulations endured to avoid those errors.
Sometimes the professional organiser gets a bigger kick out of rescuing an event from disaster than from the perfect execution of a well-trodden, regular event with no surprises. But how long should you spend putting an event together and is there such a thing as having too much or too little event preparation time?
I was once invited to speak at an annual industry event in front of 1,200 delegates and I duly sent in my deck of PowerPoints some two weeks in advance. Having had no response from the organiser I assumed all was well. But when I turned up backstage with 15 minutes to show-time, I was told my visuals had not been received and could I just speak without support. Normally I could wing it from memory. But on this occasion the presentation was based on industry statistics. Having visual references was essential.
While waiting for the last speaker to wrap up, I sent a text to my office to get them to download the slides deck to my iPad. They were then transferred to the conference producer’s iPad, who then imported them into the main show deck.
As I was walking on to the stage and being introduced, the deck was still being downloaded, so I agreed with the producer that I would do a few introductory stories while the slides were being lined up. He was to give me a sound cue, such as a short burst of feedback, to signal that the slides were ready to go. The sound blurt duly came and I then went straight into my presentation. Clearly this was not an ideal way to prepare for a major presentation. Fortunately, the technology worked and the audience was none the wiser. However, I would not recommend such stress levels to any public speaker.
We recently ran an event for 450 automotive dealers in the UK. We had known about the event for some four months beforehand, but we did not actually get the CEO’s brief about slides support until the evening before the event…after dinner. We had to produce both words and visuals overnight for him to review 20 minutes before he was due to deliver his ‘strategy’ to his staff. There were 78 slides and it lasted over an hour.
The other side of the conference producer’s story is running a regular, annual event where you have plenty of time. Associations often put together such events and everyone is well aware many months or even years before the event about what is required, who is going to speak and what the content is.
But this forward planning does not seem to galvanise the speakers to produce their presentations any more quickly. It still takes an enormous amount of badgering, cajoling and bossing to get the sessions produced in good time. It seems all speakers need the threat of having nothing to show to get them to put their thoughts down on paper.
Could I make a suggestion? Let’s all agree that you can debate and deliberate as much as you like - but four weeks from the event there can be no speaker/visual changes. The only exception is if the Government has changed some relevant legislation…or someone has died. In this way, the producer has time to cross-check all the content so everyone is saying the same thing…or indeed different things, if that is the brief.
There is also the task of creating consistent branding across all the presentations, checking copyright on the various images and getting people’s names correct….especially those difficult-to-spell VIP guests from overseas.
More importantly, some presentations may lend themselves to a discussion rather than a ‘show-and-tell’ or even a video, if only to vary the pace and style of the information being presented. It may be that one of the sessions has to be dropped completely, as the topic has already been covered by someone else.
This is the kind of fine-tuning which can turn a good conference into a great conference that delegates will remember, even if it is only for a few weeks.
It would be interesting, as a conference producer, to pretend one day that all the visual material and autocue technology has ‘gone down’ in order to see what kind of audience reaction there might be. Some speakers would shine in a live situation without doubt. But most would fold under the pressure of no support and make themselves look very ordinary in the process…which is not what anyone wants.
So, give yourself and your technical team more time to do a good job and you will not only get a better show but a more relaxed and confident set of speakers - and a happy audience.