Friday, March 13, 2009

Advice to conference/training/event organizers as well as presenters/speakers/trainers

or...Take the Mystery Out of Speaking/Training Opportunities

Class photo by Travelin LibrarianThis is a topic that comes up among trainers and presenters occasionally. When it does, a lot of good information is exchanged and sometimes that information goes someplace useful (see additional resources below). In February, I had someone tell me that he was new at hiring trainers and he asked for advice. That got me thinking about all of the things that could be said. Over the last several weeks, I've asked others for their input (through FriendFeed and the podcast T is for Training). What follows is the wisdom from a large group of people who have been through it all and lived to tell the stories. I offer this not as "you must do", but rather as "please consider".

By the way, did you notice in the photo above that the laptop is sitting on a cardboard box that must be a make-shift podium?

Advice to conference/training/event organizers:

Before the event: This may seem daunting, but as you read it, I hope you'll see that this is just the basis for a good conversation (or email) about what you want. Much of the advice below translates into "be as transparent as possible".
  • When you contact a speaker/trainer, tell the person exactly what you need, possible dates, locations, etc. Don't just say "can you speak?"
  • Discuss who the audience will be, what they know, their expectations, etc. Remember to include information on the number of people expected.
  • Talk about what information you want conveyed, especially if you are looking for a specific viewpoint.
  • Tell the speaker/trainer what the facility is like and what technology (PC or Mac) will be available for the person to use. Since everyone had a camera (your cell phone), consider taking photos of the facility (from different angles) and sending them to the presenter. If there is something unusual about the facility, let the person know. For example, must the person stand at a podium? Will someone else have to advance the person's slides?
  • While you may have wonderful technology, some presenters like to bring their own laptops. When you talk about technology, you might want to ask about this. Will the person be able to use wifi or some other network connection?
  • If you are bringing someone in to be on a panel, be sure to mention who else will be on the panel (or who you hope will be on the panel). By the way, panels can have very different formats, so define what you mean by "panel".
  • Be upfront about what you can and cannot pay for.
    • If you expect the person to speak without receiving an honorarium or any money to cover travel, say that.
    • If you can offer an honorarium, don't just say that but also say how much the honorarium is. If the person needs to cover any travel costs, knowing upfront what the honorarium is will be important.
    • If you are going to offer the person a gift (and not an honorarium), please tell them that they will receive a non-monetary gift. (Wouldn't a monetary gift be an honorarium?)
    • If you are going to pay the person (honorarium or professional fee) and cover some of the travel costs, tell the speaker/trainer which travel costs can be covered. If there is a limit to how much can be covered (in a dollar amount), make that known.
    • If you expect the person to pay a conference registration fee in order to present at a conference, state that.
  • If travel is involved, tell the speaker/trainer if you will be making the travel arrangements or if you expect the speaker to make his/her own arrangements.
  • Mention your cancellation policy. If the speaker/trainer has made flight arrangements, for example, and you need to cancel the event, will you cover the cancel/change fee charged by the airline?
  • If you want handouts, discuss the format, deadline, etc. Can the handout be a file on the Internet for people to access at their convenience and not paper?
While it is possible to do all of the negotiation and hiring via email, fax, and snail mail, a phone conversation can be helpful, so don't shy away from arranging a phone call.

Do you require a contract? Some do, some don't. An agreement of some sort provides information for you and the speaker/trainer. It is something that you both can point to and see what was agreed. (I highly advocate for some sort of paperwork.)

Close to the event: 1-2 weeks before the event, consider touching base with the presenter/trainer via email to ensure that everything is on track. (It can be a brief email.) This not only provides some assurance to you, it tells the presenter/trainer that you remember that the person is coming.

In the email, state any last minute information that would be of use the the speaker/trainer, such as the number of people registered for the event or the name/phone number of someone in your office to contact in case of emergency.

By the way, this is a great time to double-check how the person is getting to the event. Does the person need to be picked up from a hotel? While it may be a bit inconvenient to arrange to have someone picked up, it can help with costs and provide a bit of hospitality.

If the event is a conference, you may want to invite the speaker/trainer to participate in some of the other conference activities. If so, make sure that the person knows where the activities are taking place. Considering meeting the person and ensuring that they can get to whatever (yes, a bit more hospitality). It is also a chance for you to talk about the presentation, audience, etc., and introduce the speaker to other attendees.

If the event has multiple presenters and/or a moderator, make sure that everyone has each other's email address so they can contact each other, if they want. An easy way of doing this is to copy all of them on your touching base email.

Day of the event:
  • Acclimate the speaker/trainer to your facility.
  • Stay available while the person gets setup and be ready to troubleshoot any problems.
  • Talk again (briefly) about your expectations for the event. This is a great time to refresh everyone's memory about handling Q&A, breaks, lunch, etc.
  • If you are not going to be in the room during the event, be sure to tell the speaker/presenter how to find you, in case the person needs help.
After the event:
  • You may want to follow-up with event feedback (formal or informal). That information is always appreciated.
  • Make sure that the presenter understands any remaining responsibilities (invoice, statement of expenses, whatever) .
  • Consider asking the speaker/training what could have been differently and be open to whatever feedback you receive.
Ongoing: If you are an organization that frequently hires people to do presentations or workshops, consider placing information on your web site for the speakers/trainers, so they can access it at any time. For example:
  • Photos of your conference rooms and/or training labs.
  • Information on the equipment available (hardware and software).
  • Copies of any forms you require.
  • Links to information about the area. Your local Chamber of Commerce likely maintains information on the area that you can link to. This is great information for speakers/trainers who are coming from out-of-town.
  • If there are specific hotels, eateries, cab companies, airport, etc. that you use/recommend, include that.
When you contact a possible presenter, it would then be easy to point the person to this information. In addition, anyone who wanted to propose an event could look at this information in advance of doing the propose. (Yes, that means that you do not hide this information on your web site.)

Advice to presenters/trainers: If you read the information above, likely you can see some questions you might ask, etc., but here is some advice just for you.
  • Ask questions. If you need more information, ask for it.
  • Be clear about your needs/requirements and do that upfront.
  • Don't make assumptions about the event, the organization, the budget, etc.
  • Understand that the organization may not be accommodate all of your needs.
  • Read all of the information that you are sent from the organization and complete all of the forms.
  • Hit any deadlines that the organization puts in place. If you want to move a deadline, ask in advance if a deadline is actually movable.
  • Be willing to negotiate, but also understand that somethings may not be negotiable.
  • Remember that you were hired for a reason. Be sure that you keep that reason in mind.
Additional resources:
Comments on this post are definitely welcome! Please add your advice, words of wisdom, etc.

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Connie Crosby said...

Some fantastic points, Jill. I've hit on many of these as either a presenter or as a conference organizer.

I do emphasize the need to give speakers a phone number (or two or three) for organizers on site at the event. I remember heading to a local conference in my city, giving myself lot of extra time but accidentally going to the wrong campus. When I realized my mistake, I barely had time to get over to the other campus and wanted to call my contact to let her know I might be late. Of course, the phone number I had was her office number and not her cell phone number. I tried calling the campus, but they could not connect me to the conference organizers since the organizers did not have a phone from the college. I arrived at the eleventh hour very frazzled. This is not good when battling nerves as well when you are about to speak. A phone call would have alleviated some of that stress.

Stephanie Zimmerman said...

Nice summary Jill. I followed the Friendfeed discussion and of course enjoyed discussing it on the T is for Training podcast. I've copied this into a file for myself so that I will always have it. Thanks for putting it together!

Anonymous said...

I'd add (if it's not already there) ... be very specific for how long the speaker will be required to speak. Do you want question time? Is it part of the session time that you have specified or extra? Will it be shared with other presenters in the session? Do you want a monologue presentation or audience interaction?

What is the theme of the over all event and would you like the speaker to weave this in to their presentation? Are you trying to do anything different with the structure or the conference (eg. more user participation, kick-off for an unconference).

What is the likely knowledge level of the audience? Who else has spoken to this population (eg. in this geographical region) recently on similar topics? How were they received?

For presenters - if you move about on stage, be sure to ask for a lapel mike. You may also want to ask whether you can get electricity for your laptop and wifi when you are not presenting. I have spoken at conferences where this was not available while I was in the audience.