IF YOU'RE BOOKING EVENT SPEAKERS, DON'T OVERLOOK PRE-EVENT CALLS
TIPS FOR YOUR EVENT PLANNING CHECKLIST
Taking your time to choose the right speaker is a great first step to a successful outcome. After that, a well-planned pre-event call, about 3-4 weeks in advance of your program, will make certain your speaker has the best chance to shine and meet your objectives.
Curiously, some event planners are reluctant to engage the speaker (or their designated staff person) in this activity - yet, it’s a vitally important piece of the puzzle. At other times we hear from speakers that their pre-event call was a circus and not useful at all.
With pre-event calls, as with most things, a little bit of planning goes a long way towards giving your audience a message they’ll find really useful. It’s in the spirit of making events more successful that I asked some top speakers – and one person from our team here at DN - for their suggestions on how to do great pre-event calls. Some great tips here for your event planning checklist.
Let’s hear from the speakers themselves about how you can make the most of the time with them on a pre-event call. As always, I welcome your comments and questions about booking event speakers in the comments section below.
HELP YOUR SPEAKERS LEARN WHAT THEY NEED TO KNOW - TIPS FROM SIX EXPERTS
THE BASIC INFORMATION IS SO IMPORTANT
Polly LaBarre - Partner, Management Lab; Co-author, Mavericks at Work
I find the pre-event conversations invaluable, but in many cases, I end up having to be a kind of an investigative journalist to get at who the audience is, what they’re looking for, how I fit in the overall picture, how I can be most valuable to them. Seems pretty basic, but I’m surprised at how often it’s left on the table.
There’s also the opposite problem – and that’s a group of organizers who are either so wrapped around the axle and anxious about the event OR live in fear of some executive’s wrath that they can miss the point of the exercise: which is to find the common ground where they can equip the speaker to be his/her best self and create the most impact/value for the audience.
It’s really refreshing when, after you cover all the key details, an organizer will ask, ‘how can I help YOU be a success?’ Or, as I once was asked (just once): ‘What have you learned about what makes for a great event/talk? What should we do differently? What can we do for you in the 24 hours you’re with us to make this a success?’
To answer that question, what I’d focus on is: as much meaningful background and context about the audience and the event/themes they’re trying to hit as possible; a sense of the overall flow of the event (how did they put the puzzle together and what’s my role in it?); and then some practical details, like: don’t schedule super-early rehearsals when not needed; schedule meet and greets and photos and schmoozing AFTER the talk; don’t change things up in the schedule or other details (if at all possible) the day of the event.
What makes pre-event calls great from your perspective?
A limited number of players (often you get 5-7+ people on a 30-minute call, which isn’t terribly efficient). It’s especially helpful to have the main stakeholder(s)—a combination of the person who knows how the event will run inside and out and the person who “owns” the subject area/content.
What information do you absolutely want?
What is the purpose of the event?
The audience (in as much detail as possible—demographics, organizations, position—but also, what do they stay up at night worrying about? What are the key—specific—challenges they face? What are their key constraints? Specific industry perspective, if relevant)
What is their definition of success? In terms of what their audience gets out of the whole event? Out of my session?
Why did they pick me? What specifically about my message/material resonated and why?
Where do I fit in the overall flow of the event? And if it’s a recurring event, it can be very helpful to hear about past speakers who were a hit and why.
Do people go into detail that is unnecessary and unhelpful?
Yes, and I would love to not go over logistical details that you and the speakers bureau have already dialed in or will work on—e.g. flights, timing, A/V unless there’s something particularly important that only I can address.
Once you get on site, have there been things you WISHED the meeting organizer told you on that call?
I feel like I’m pretty good at getting the info I want/need from the organizers during the call. The one thing that often slips: if it’s a multi-organization event with participants from lots of companies, it’s VERY helpful to as soon as possible have a list of the various organizations in attendance (so I don’t talk about a competitor or I’m cognizant that there’s a high percentage of folks in finance, or whatever). I often ask for this and then never get it, but it’s a huge help.
Anything to add?
It can be especially rewarding when organizers treat you as a partner. After we go through all of the above, I usually “riff” on what I think my best content/flow might be and then ask for reactions—when they really speak up and talk about what grabbed them, what they’d want more of/less of, that can be a very helpful cue.
BOOKING EVENT SPEAKERS SUCCESSFULLY
Vikram Mansharamani, Harvard Lecturer, and author, Boombustology
A great call is one in which planners treat me as a partner in the process of trying to deliver an engaging live experience for the audience. The flip side, a less-than-ideal call, is one in which the planner takes the approach of dictating an approach as well as an outcome.
It is absolutely essential that I understand how my presentation fits into the theme of the overall agenda. Why was I invited to speak? What will the audience have heard before I step on stage?
While it's useful to understand the demographics of the audience, facts such as these can be conveyed in 2 minutes. Gender breakdown, age dispersion, political leanings, etc. shouldn't dominate a call. HOWEVER, I do find it very useful to have a list of sensitivities that might make the audience uncomfortable. For instance, I once spoke to a large audience in London for an investment firm and I was planning on discussing the anti-corruption efforts in China...but upon learning senior Chinese leaders would be in the room and were clients of the firm, I opted to deliver my message differently that expressed respect for the Chinese clients.
I especially like to know how the audience will be dressed. I hate being overdressed and seen as distant. It's also inconsistent with my message that everyone can be a dot-connecting generalist.
WHAT WE HEAR FROM SPEAKERS AFTER THE PRE-EVENT CALL
Matt Anderson, Director of Events,
When booking event speakers, what speakers want with pre-event calls is a simple, concise overview of WHAT the event is, WHO the audience is, WHAT the client is looking for in their remarks, and HOW they fit into the overall program (more of a “WHY did we choose you” vs. “You’re speaking right before the CEO”). In the speaker's mind, it should take 15- 20-minutes to cover all this. And if the speaker has additional questions, they are always going to ask them.
What speakers wind up getting on these calls is, more often than not, nothing very concise at all. Lots of people get brought on the call to present everything related to the conference: who will be arranging ground and who will possibly be greeting them but who the back-up person is in case the original person can't greet them, and what the dinner the night before is going to be (even though the speaker has indicated they won't be able to attend), and so on.
Speakers will be so much more receptive to the experience and the overall event if the calls are well thought-out. 95% of the time, they don't need to talk about the logistics - it just adds to the call and they aren't going to remember those things after the call because they have people who handle that. (There are sometimes when they WILL want to discuss a logistic - some will always discuss delivery of his PPT, others are careful to make certain they understand proper attired for them on site, etc.) If the event planners can just focus on content - what the speaker needs to know about the event and the audience to help them knock it out of the park – it will be time well spent.
Learn about the speaking industry with expert insight from
industry professionals in our eBook,
"Tips for Booking the Right Event Speakers".
EVERY EVENT PLANNING CHECKLIST SHOULD INCLUDE A PRE-EVENT CALL
Geoff Colvin, Fortune Magazine, and author Talent is Overrated
A great call gives me not just the basic information I need, which is very important, but also a feel for the group and the occasion – a forecast of the atmosphere in the room, so that I can begin to picture the attendees and think about the most effective way to reach them.
I want to know about:
- the event: Is it a long-established conference where attendees know each other well? A brand new event?
- the objective: What is the big-picture objective the organizers are trying to achieve? How do they see me contributing to their success?
- the attendees: Who are they, and what are the big issues that will be on their minds as I’m speaking to them?
- the program: What will the attendees have heard and done before I speak, and what will they be hearing and doing after?
- my session: How much time? Would the organizers like me to do Q&A? (I love it.) If I use PowerPoint, how far in advance do they need it?
One other idea: During the call, conference organizers may want to ask my advice on how they plan to get maximum value from me or other speakers. Not to be immodest, but I’ve seen a lot. Do you really want someone to speak after dinner at a Napa Valley vineyard where your guests have had plenty of excellent wine, many have flown in from the East Coast, and they spent the afternoon playing golf in the hot sun? Or might a pre-dinner talk work better?
THESE CALLS TAKE THE WORRY OUT OF BOOKING EVENT SPEAKERS
David Meerman Scott, author of The New Rules of Marketing & PR
I love it when the organizer who’s booking event speakers shares with me what they hope to get out of the event and how my talk fits into the big picture. I particularly enjoy discussing the "theme" or "vision" for the event. If there is a stated theme or a tagline that is used throughout, I want to know so that I can weave that idea into my talk.
I really like it when the person who is introducing me is on the call so that person can learn a little about me. It's best when the intro is more personal and the call can help.
What information do you absolutely want?
I'm a big fan of logistics! When is the sound check? What time do I need to be in the room for the talk? Is there a break before or after I speak? Who is introducing me? If there is Q&A, how is that handled? When is the next meal after I speak and can I participate so I can mingle with attendees? All of this information is really important to me.
I always ask for the social media #hashtag and if there is any onsite social media staff at the event. On fewer than 10% or calls, the hashtag is proactively shared with me. About 25% of the time if it isn't proactively brought up and I ask, someone on the call knows what the hashtag is. In another 15% or so, they know that they have a hashtag but do not know what it is. And about 50% have no clue what a hashtag is or why they would want one. I think every conference should be shared on social networks because it adds to the attendees’ enjoyment and increases the value of the event for them. Many times if the conference does not have a hashtag yet, I advise on creating one and get the ball rolling by tweeting with it leading up to the event and then onsite.
SUPPLEMENTAL READING: Don’t Sabotage your Event:
Advice from Top Speakers - Part 1
and Don’t Sabotage your Event (Part 2): Pre-Event Tips from Top Speakers
Once you get on site, have there been things you WISHED the meeting organizer told you on that call?
We forgot to tell you that we will be serving lunch during your talk. Is that okay?
CRYSTALLIZE THE EVENT GOALS IN YOUR SPEAKERS’ MINDS
Mike Abrashoff, former Captain USS Benfold, and author, It’s Your Ship
As a speaker, I want to know who the audience is, what's the purpose of the meeting, what are your pain points, why did you choose me, and what do you want the audience to do better or differently when they get back to work.
I also want to know what the attire is as accurate information can get lost when passed through the speakers bureau. I want to be aware of any company specific jargon. For example, some restaurants are called restaurants, some restaurants are called stores. The titles of the attendees also help...like GM's, AGM's, RGM's. Any little tidbit that makes me look like I did my homework with the audience gains me credibility with the audience.
Once I get that information, I can instantly outline how to tailor my presentation and give the customer confidence that I understand what their needs are. In all honesty, if I had this info in an email...I wouldn't even need a conference call but sometimes the conference call is the meeting planner’s ONLY interaction with the executive hosting the conference so they are learning, as well.
One time, I had a CEO tell me he wanted his people to take more accountability. I asked him how he'd know if they became more accountable and he didn't know. He hadn't thought it through. He just knew he wanted some more of that accountability stuff but didn't have a strategy as to what it looked like and how he'd know if they were successful. So sometimes, conference calls have another purpose...crystallizing in the event host’s mind exactly what he or she wants.
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About Tony D'Amelio
Tony has spent his career putting talented people and audiences together, first in the music business and later representing the world's leading speakers. After concluding 27 years as Executive Vice President of the Washington Speakers Bureau, Tony launched D'Amelio Network, a boutique firm that manages the speaking activities of a select group of experts on business, management, politics and current events. Clients include: Mike Abrashoff, Geoff Colvin, Katty Kay, Polly LaBarre, Nicole Malachowski, David Meerman Scott, Bill Taylor, Bill Walton, and Bob Woodward.