03
Nov
15

Speaker coaching: The key to unlocking top-rated conference sessions

J5eu0When’s the last time your organization’s education committee was asked to identify the three to five greatest challenges currently inhibiting its industry speakers from reaching their fullest potential during the annual conference? I recently did this for a client and following were the responses that bubbled to the surface:

  • Attendee engagement within presentations is often minimal or formulaic.
  • Facilitators have difficulty reeling in discussion in the allotted time to cover all topics planned within their presentation outlines.
  • PowerPoint slides are overwhelmed by too much content.
  • Presentations often hit on the “This is what we do at…” but do not identify how the idea may be adapted within other contexts.

Do these sound familiar? What would comprise your organization’s “watch list”? Based upon these areas of focus, we then developed a one-page resource and shared it with all selected speakers, requesting they use this document in designing their conference presentation experiences. Specifically, we:

  • Provided 20 different brain-centric attendee engagement strategies ranging from “Write learning objectives into participant materials” to “Schedule post-session touch points.”
  • Encouraged speakers to limit their content and slide decks, plan appropriately for practice and feedback time, park unrelated topics and leave time at the end of their sessions for questions, feedback and evaluations.
  • Assembled 10 slide tips intended to help speakers overcome death by PowerPoint. Key insights ranged from “Limit bullet points and text” to “Use video or audio.”
  • Asked speakers to share with attendees not only their experiences, but also how their ideas might be adapted to other organizations with differing resources.

28ae5ecBut this is just the first step.

Next year we intend to offer a training webinar (or a series of shorter training webinars) that helps illuminate these and other strategies, and provide individualized coaching that allows for more robust reflection, planning, practice and feedback.

Additional ideas for investing in conference speakers might include one or more of the following:

  • Personal feedback from professional development/learning staff sitting in on conference presentations.
  • Key insights from an outside consultant conducting an education audit during the conference.
  • Aggregate feedback from attendee evaluations focused more on learning outcomes than on attendee reactions.
  • Self-evaluations conducted by speakers and peer-reviewed by staff/volunteers.
  • Online community devoted to questions, answers and other resources intended to support speaker development.

Growth in the delivery of conference presentations is an iterative process. Mastery does not occur overnight. Rather, repeat industry speakers should be provided ongoing learning guidance, opportunities to practice new knowledge and skills, meaningful feedback from seasoned colleagues and staff and job aids that enhance retention and transfer.

What strategies have you found most successful in mentoring your industry speakers in the design and delivery of top-rated conference sessions?


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meet aaron

Association learning strategist & meetings coach. Founder & president of Event Garde. Passionate about cooking, running, blogging, old homes, unclehood & pet parenting (thanks to Lillie the pup).

meet kristen

Writer, editor, public relations professional. Digital content manager. Proud mom of three. Total word geek. Spartan for life.

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