Cliff Kennedy is the founder and president of Kennedy Speech Communications, which has offices in Chicago, Illinois and San Diego, California. He is an executive speech coach who has spent his entire career creating high-stakes, high-impact audience experiences. His background as a creative director, writer and executive producer of corporate events has given him unique insight into what audiences expect and how they connect with speakers and presenters. firstname.lastname@example.org
You can’t have a successful event without successful speakers. They bring your agenda to life and engage your audience on a personal level that can’t be replicated by any other meeting element.
From the keynote speeches in a general session to the breakouts, improving the effectiveness and impact of the speakers at an event leads to real and meaningful results: ideas and messages are communicated more clearly and effectively, the credibility of the speakers and the organization is enhanced, and the audience is inspired to believe and motivated to act. This leads to an event with increased impact and value, as well as one that generates a much greater ROI.
As a meeting planner, you have an incredible opportunity to elevate the performance of the speakers at your event. Though you may not work directly on the development of each speech or presentation, you can help to create a plan for the success of every speaking opportunity.
The process begins with a clear strategy. I believe that every event, and therefore every speech or presentation at an event, must engage the audience by offering a clear vision that appeals to their interests. It must empower the audience with the information and direction needed to achieve this vision. And finally, it must energize them with a clear call to action. Though not all speeches and presentations at an event have to achieve all three of these strategies, each must focus on at least one.
Great event themes don’t just sum up the purpose or topic of an event, they also guide and support the development of the speeches and presentations. To work in this manner, a theme should represent the overall vision of the event or organization. It then becomes a verbal shorthand that speakers can use to share this vision with their audience. And, even better, the audience can use it to spread this vision beyond the event.
Audiences don’t just listen to speeches and presentations, they experience them. Just like every other aspect of your event, including the lodging, meals, social activities and entertainment, the speeches contribute to the overall experience. Great speech experiences lead to a great event experience.
Remember this when you are developing the master agenda for your event. Don’t look at each session as a series of speeches, but as an opportunity to add to and enhance the audience experience.
Speeches are made of messages: Primary messages, which are the conclusions, and secondary messages that support those conclusions via facts, data, arguments, comparisons and stories. Speakers often spend the majority of their time discussing the support and never really get to the key takeaways. Make sure your speakers can clearly identify their primary messages.
Here’s an exercise I use with my clients: Pretend you only have three minutes to speak and you can only make five declarative statements. What would those statements be? Those are your primary messages.
Your speakers’ graphics and other media should support them and their messages, not the other way around. Many events provide a graphics template for speakers to use. Why stop there? How about offering a collection of stock images or high-end illustrations to help create more exciting and dynamic graphics? Or, if budget allows, hire a professional graphic designer to oversee and guide the media creation process for all speeches and presentations.
What’s the difference between a dull panel and a great one? Conflict or, more specifically, healthy conflict. Differences in ideas and perspectives that lead to real dialogue, real insights and a real experience for your audience. This means interaction between panelists who may not agree with each other. And that’s okay. But, it’s critical to choose the right person to moderate. Make sure he or she knows their role is to guide the discussion to a conclusion that has relevance to the audience.
By providing your speakers with information and guidance, you will help them succeed.
Develop a clear process for speakers to follow in preparing for their speaking opportunity at the event. This could include a development schedule with key delivery dates for drafts and media as well as a detailed briefing packet that includes information about the audience, key messages and an explanation of the event theme. Further support may include a broad program of activities, including webinars on content development and public speaking skills and pre-site and onsite rehearsals.
Finally, include the speech and presentation development process in the master schedule for the event and make sure the speeches are always on the agenda of every status meeting.
To raise the bar and create even better events in the future, closely look at the speech and presentation outcomes you are measuring. Instead of just asking audiences to rate a speaker on a scale of one to five, try to dig a bit deeper. How engaging was the speaker? Did he provide value? Did she create a memorable experience?
Great events come from understanding what the people in your audience believe is valuable.
Your audience is the final arbiter of success. If you want to know what they consider important when it comes to the speakers at your event, ask them.
Whether you are a seasoned pro or are just getting started in your event planning career, I strongly recommend that you look at your events from a fresh perspective. One that recognizes the critical role of the speeches, presentations and panel discussions. This new perspective will lead to greater expectations and more meaningful and lasting results. C&IT