Managing an outside speaker for a large event can get complicated! 

That’s why I want to share a few tips and tricks that will aid you in simplifying speaker management for your next conference.

When you envision your upcoming event, you won’t get far without considering the amazing speakers and binge-worthy content you hope to provide your attendees. After all, that’s what attracts delegates and sells tickets! As it’s so important, you’ll want to invest time and energy into making sure you skillfully handle the entire process. This includes everything from speaker procurement, to setting up their powerpoint when the time comes.

Since finding a speaker could be a whole post on its own, I’m going to focus in on what to do once you’ve actually found your presenter. Sometimes we imagine that if we get a “Yes!” from a dream guest that the hard part is done. And part of it is!

However, there is still quite a bit to be done if you want things to work out smoothly.

Recently, I met with a potential client who shared that speaker management is the task that frustrates her the most. It’s also the thing she spends the most time on. The constant level of follow up, detail chasing, and information that needed clarification was quite overwhelming.

Whether the speaker forgot to provide information, or sent along details that were low quality, it seemed things never worked out as smoothly as she would have liked. This created stress and threatened to derail other elements of the planning process. For instance, marketing, advertising, and releasing the programme can depend on speaker information. She came to me looking for ideas on how she can start simplifying speaker management.

Can you resonate? Facing yet another round of all this, she wanted to pick my brain.

Her goal was to start implementing a system that could decrease the level of time and energy she had historically had to spend on this part of the planning process.

If you happen to be creating your event with the help of a professional conference organiser, they’ll have a well developed process to manage this part of your event. Hiring a PCO is a powerful method for simplifying speaker management! If you only get to work on your conference once a year, however, you’re likely handling the speaker details yourself. It can prove to be a bit overwhelming (and very time consuming).  

As a PCO myself, I like to use a few online forms to get the job done.

For each stage of the process, I’ll gather specific information from my speaker. Feedback from previous presenters has made it evident that providing necessary information is easier when it’s just a matter of filling out a form. 

Some years ago I had attempted to create a complex system that utilised Excel…but it turned out to be more trouble than it was worth. In my efforts to start simplifying speaker management, I was making more work for both myself and my presenters!

My lesson? Keep it simple.

Now I use online forms to gather the information I need. This is perfect because I can easily distribute them via email (copying in a speaker’s team or assistant when necessary), and ask for exactly what I need.

Not only do these forms gather information, but they can also be set to automatically transfer the information into a spreadsheet. This keeps everything organised on my end, and frees up myself and my team!

Instead of spending all of our time trying to gather information, we can focus on personal interactions and engagements with the speaker.

This ensures they’ll feel welcomed and supported leading into the event, and makes it more likely they’ll pass along great reviews of our event to other speakers and industry professionals (and possibly come back next year!).

Since rolling out the forms, I’ve received nothing but praise from the speakers we’ve worked with. They’ve told me that they are super easy to use. They also don’t feel onerous, and they keep the speaker from forgetting important details.

By simplifying speaker management for ourselves, we created a better experience for our speakers as well!

Who wouldn’t love that!

So how do you know what to gather, and when?

First things first – essential information!

You’ll be advertising your event in advance, of course. That should include an effort to generate buzz and excitement around the speaker. You have lots of tickets to sell, and attendees will want to know who they’ll be learning from!

Keep in mind that it’s unlikely you’ll need ALL the information from the speaker right from the get go. Also, asking for too much information can be overwhelming for anyone.

Instead of dumping all my requests for information on them at once, I make a master list of exactly what I’ll need, and when.

This breaks things down into manageable chunks of information. These smaller pieces feel less onerous for a speaker to have to  compile and provide.

It’s one of the key elements of simplifying speaker management!

To start off, ask the speaker for:

  • Their bio (I recommend 250-300 words)
  • Their photo (needs to be high resolution, 300dpi, upper body)
  • The title of their presentation and a synopsis (again 250-300 words is sufficient)
  • Their correct name, job title, and organisation’s name (you want to be sure you’re advertising correctly!)  
  • Yes/No field regarding whether travel and accommodation are needed.

That may seem to be a pretty basic list, but getting all that information can prove to be easier said than done!

What makes it difficult?

Well, professional speakers who present frequently (or those whose business IS speaking) can often provide the information in a timely manner. After all, it’s an essential part of their job! Here in New Zealand, however, it isn’t uncommon for speakers to be practicing industry experts.

That means they likely have day jobs, and presenting is something they do in addition to their role. 

On one hand, this means you’ve secured someone who really knows their stuff! On the other, it also means they are likely working their speaker preparations around the demands of their day job. They are busy! They may need a number of reminders before they get you the information you’ve requested.

It’s not unusual to wait much longer than you would have liked, only to receive a poor quality (sometimes even unusable) photograph. Or perhaps there is confusion about what they plan to include in their presentation. Information has a tendency to dribble in, which makes your job harder.

My form-based system has done wonders in decreasing this issue and truly simplifying speaker management!

Next up – travel and accommodation.

Your speaker should have already indicated that they will or will not need arrangements. If they had answered yes in the first form, it’s time for the next form! You’ll want to consider things like:

  • Where the speaker will be traveling from and to (keep in mind that they may have itineraries and destinations other than their home base)
  • Necessary transportation to and from airport
  • Date arriving / Date leaving
  • Preferred time of flight (in the example below, you’ll see that your speaker may have quite a tight schedule!)
  • Total number of nights in hotel
  • Access to transportation while in town for the conference 

For example, I recently organised travel for Ian Taylor. I knew he was based in Dunedin, but he was actually in London at the time. His engagements resulted in a travel itinerary that involved London, Auckland, Roturua, Wellington, and Dunedin. This travel occurred across the span of several days, and he spoke at several events, including the one I was organising in Rotorua. 

This kind of schedule can be quite common, so don’t assume you can make travel plans for a speaker based on where they are actually from!

Finally, you’ll need to gather information regarding onsite attendance. This is where you gather details such as:

  • Allergies
  • Dietary needs, preferences, restrictions
  • Audio/Visual needs for presentation
  • A copy of their final presentation (you’ll want it pre-loaded and tested on venue technology before the speaker is on stage!)

Surprised by that last point?

It’s very rare these days to start an event without having the speaker’s presentation provided in advance. This is due, in large part, to technology. It’s vital that everything runs smoothly, and that last thing you want is a last minute surprise with the speaker’s key needs!

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