With all of the focus that goes into prepping keynote speakers before a conference it can be easy for an event organizer to ignore breakout sessions which—let’s face it—is where attendees really get the goods. But failing to give your breakout sessions the proper care and feeding can ruin the entire event. Sure attendees will get pumped up to hear a well-known high-energy keynoter but it’ll be all for naught if the breakout leaders don’t come through.
That means it’s up to you to devote time and energy to getting breakout presenters ready for action. Four tips for making sure your speakers deliver breakout sessions that attendees will write home about:
1. Topical Solution. There are of course two ways to program a conference. Picking the topic first and finding a speaker with expertise on the topic is one way to go; choosing a presenter and then selecting a suitable topic is the other. But deciding on the topic first tends to make it easier to shape a session that will meet attendees’ needs because the company can be highly specific about the deliverables required for a successful session.
For ConocoPhillips’ latest annual conference which targets its dealers and distributors the company let select members of each group vet topics before speakers were chosen. The approach ensured that topics were of interest to attendees and it gave the company a firm idea of a topic for each potential speaker.
2. Through the Line. Once the speaker and topic are selected some event organizers assume everything’s good to go. Not so fast. Grade-A meeting planners make it a point to thoroughly prepare breakout leaders for their sessions. Call them at least once every few weeks leading up to the conference to check on the progress of their presentations prepare for technical requirements and respond to their questions.
ConocoPhillips prepared its guest speakers in part with up-to-date information about Conoco and the energy industry. “They were given enough background information on the state of the industry the state of the company and the state of the audience that they could be sure that their presentations were targeted and effective ” says CB Wismar vp-event marketing at Minneapolis-based Carlson Marketing which handled.
Lori Bowers speaker services and products manager at Auburn Hills MI-based George P. Johnson says some of the agency’s clients work with breakout speakers on up to three drafts of a presentation before signing off on it.
But don’t wait till the last minute to sign off. Meeting experts suggest that event owners have presenters’ final decks in their hands a month before the conference.
3. An Automated System. Cisco Systems requires speakers to meet several times pre-event with meeting management and the company uses an online content management tool to set timelines for the process. How many pre-conference sessions are required is based on the amount of time the presenter is speaking (Agency: George P. Johnson).
The automated system has been key to successful planning says Angie Smith Cisco’s manager-operations and event systems. “When it wasn’t automated we were constantly rebuilding project timelines. Now it has become so much more efficient.”
4. The Big Event. At its user group meetings Honeywell Process Solutions offers attendees as many as 130 presentations. To prepare the presenters—many of whom are Honeywell customers who aren’t experienced public speakers—the company offers a rehearsal room complete with production staff where they can prepare before the session. “Some will not go in there at all and some will stay in there for hours ” says Brian Chapman the company’s director-marketing communications.
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Getting attendees to fill out speaker evaluations is a must. And don’t just take a peek and then toss them. Use the surveys when you start planning the next event. If a speaker from a previous event is under consideration for the next conference those evaluations can help determine whether presenters are OK on their own or they need some additional prep work. “The first thing we do when we’re planning our next event is break out those results ” Chapman says. “For us it’s the bible.” Amen.