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KEYNOTE SPEAKER PREP
ILLUSTRATION: MARK FISHER
Q.
We regularly hire speakers to deliver keynote addresses at our private trade shows and corporate events. How do I ensure that our experience, and that of each speaker, is as smooth and effective as possible?

A.
In my previous life as a chief marketing officer, I hired many speakers and naively assumed that if I was paying them to speak, they would deliver a great speech that met our objectives. When their efforts fell short, I typically blamed them or the selection process. I didn't take responsibility for my role in helping the speaker to be more confident and proactively assisting him or her to better meet our needs.

Now, as a professional speaker on the other side of fence, I know that while delivering a great presentation is ultimately the speaker's responsibility, event planners can do several things to ensure that the speaker is on point and on target with the stated objectives. So here are five key things you can do to make certain that your keynotes are as effective as possible:

1. Keep communication lines open. Call or email the speaker at regular intervals leading up to the event. I've found that this type of communication is best at 30 days out, seven days out, and the day before the engagement. You want to ensure that everyone is on the same page with regard to not only logistics, timing, and last-minute changes, but also messages and expectations. Plus, this ongoing conversation fosters a sense of teamwork between the speaker and the planner, creating a working partnership that benefits both parties. What's more, positive ongoing exchanges build confidence in your speaker, which is a win-win for both of you.
2. Assign an assistant. If you handle mostly big-picture projects rather than nitty-gritty details, assign one person to be the speaker's second point of contact. This person can help chase down information about contracts, payments, audiovisual needs, printouts, and more. That way, the speaker has one reliable contact as opposed to having to speak with everyone from AV providers to travel coordinators. As such, the entire process will run more smoothly, and it's likely the speaker will feel less harried.
3. Connect the AV person with the speaker in advance and on site. Ninety percent of keynote problems are AV related. I've run across everything from frozen videos and Wi-Fi connectivity issues to mic failures and blasted-out slide presentations. While many of these problems are often easily addressed prior to the event, they can be a nightmare – and an outright embarrassment – to handle on site and in front of a crowd. While your assistant should likely be the go-between for most exchanges, check that your AV technicians communicate directly with the speaker a few days before the event and several hours before the presentation to troubleshoot any technical issues. Along these same lines, develop Plan B and even Plan C scenarios in case an AV component goes on the fritz.
4. Greet the presenter when he or she arrives at the venue. A little extra attention goes a long way toward making a speaker feel confident and appreciated, factors that can carry over into the quality of the presentation. So ask the speaker to text you upon arrival and offer to meet him or her at the main entrance. There you can help him or her carry in books, equipment, and more – or simply make a face-to-face introduction and direct him or her to the presentation room and preparation space. Most speakers will arrive well-dressed (and perhaps well-heeled) with various materials in tow. So to keep their cool in more ways than one, it's important to help schlep some of the materials across the venue. Even if your speaker is only carrying a briefcase, meeting him or her communicates that your presenter is valued.
5. Rehearse the speaker intro. Don't just get up and wing it in front of a live audience. That's a recipe for disaster and a surefire way to set an awkward tone for the keynote address. Rather, decide exactly what you're going to say about the speaker and rehearse the spiel out loud to forge it into memory and bolster your own confidence. Also, for names with any pronunciation ambiguity, ask for a phonetic spelling to be sure you get it right the first time. With your content ironed out, focus on your delivery. Even though people providing intros aren't expected to be presentation pros, they still set the energy for the room. Bottom line: Don't offend the speaker by botching his or her name or reducing an impressive bio into random bits. You went out of your way to hire a great speaker, so promote the speaker in a way that energizes the audience and the keynote.

Even seasoned speakers depend on the host's preparation and support to ensure success. So whether you are paying a lot or a little for your speakers, they need your assistance to deliver a memorable and effective presentation.


— Alyssa Dver, cofounder, American Confidence Institute, Westborough, MA
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Send your tough questions about exhibiting to Linda Armstrong, larmstrong@exhibitormagazine.com.

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