by Barry Eigen
Planning Suggestions From Barry Eigen
The planning suggestions that follow were garnered from Barry Eigen's 18 years of meeting planning, and eight years as a professional keynote and dinner speaker.
One of the most important steps in the planning process is the development of a Planning Timeline. I usually began with the Conference Dates & Venue (not unrelated), and worked backwards from the event to set the key deadlines. First question: When do we want the program announcement to be in prospective attendees' hands? Next: When must the announcements hit the mail to meet the first goal? ...and so on. Deadlines vary with the size and scope of each meeting, of course. Keeping in mind that every meeting is unique, here is an example of a typical Planning Timeline:
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The Room Set
Increasingly, experienced meeting professionals are asking the meeting facility to break tradition and set rooms to the "long side." This means the stage and lectern are positioned in the middle of the rectangle's longest side which allows a speaker to more quickly build audience rapport by providing closer, more intimate contact with more of its members. And ask the hotel staff or banquet manager to set the front row of seats as close to the platform as possible. It is also more comfortable for audience members if their chairs (and tables if they are used) are set in a semi-circle facing the podium which will allow attendees to have their backs squarely against the backs of their chairs with their heads pointing straight ahead during the entire program. Try to avoid a large center aisle-this is where the best seats in the house should be. Rather fill the center with seats and create two side aisles. The argument, when there are two side aisles, that a center aisle is a local fire code requirement is usually fallacious as there will obviously be fewer chairs for a person to cross when exiting from either of the side aisles.
Please Note: The Room Sets described here are intended as suggestions only. Speakers vary greatly with respect to their likes and dislikes and it is a good idea to review room sets with speakers in advance. Like most professional speakers, I am definitely NOT a Prima Donna. I understand how difficult it can be for meeting planners to set a room to suit a single speaker and, accordingly, I want you to know I will work cheerfully in any room set you are able to arrange.
Also, because most people will fill the back of a room first, try to have only as many chairs as you expect people-with extra chairs stacked in the back of the room. When a room is used for more than one session and expected attendance varies from session to session, room sets can be quickly adjusted for the smaller audiences by running a strip of masking tape over the backs of the chairs so as to eliminate whole sections and force attendees to sit toward the front.
Building audience rapport is important for any speaker in any setting but it is especially true at luncheon and dinner events. If the dinner function will include a head table or dais at which dignitaries will be seated, do not ask the speaker to speak from a table lectern or from behind the head table. Rather, try to provide a small riser to the side of the dais which is visible to both the audience and the head table so he or she can speak simultaneously to both. Humor, which is always a large component of dinner meeting presentations, works best when the speaker can see everyone in his audience, and vice versa, including everyone seated at the head table. The speaker can still be seated at the head table during the food service, if the meeting professional so wishes.
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While many people think that whether a speaker is funny or not depends entirely on the speaker is not completely accurate, the truth is the way a room is set can either double the laughter… or kill it. And since every meeting planner knows the more laughter a speaker can generate the better the program will be, it is very important to do everything possible to help the humor work.
Here are five Room Set Rules for making humor sizzle:
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Apart from security issues, the purpose of using Name Badges is to encourage networking among attendees. Studies show 30% or more of the value of a conference does not take place in the breakout rooms, but out in the hall where attendees mingle. This networking is greatly facilitated when attendee's first or nick-names are printed in big, bold letters at the top of the name badge. They may or may not be enclosed in quotation marks. On a related note, it is surprising that most convention attendees still don't know whether to wear their lapel badges on the right side or the left. Experienced convention-goers know the badge should be worn on the right side so when shaking hands with another attendee their name badge will be positioned right in front of the other person. How about a little sign posted at the Registration Desk which reads:
are usually worn on the right
making them easier to read
while shaking hands.
Ribbons help distinguish speakers and exhibitors from association members, and members from non-members. Over the years I've seen a variety of other lapel badge designations including some that could probably accomplish the same thing but do so in a more positive way. For example how about "V.I.P." instead of "First Timer." Instead of "Non-Member," why not "Prospective Member." Or instead of "Staff," how about "Ask Me!"
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Most "professional" speakers will provide a brief, printed Introduction in large easy-to-read type, but many others (academicians especially) will have only a resume or curriculum vitae thick enough to choke a horse. It then becomes the meeting planner's (or emcee's) job to edit the biography in an attempt to create a crisp, 30 to 120-second introduction. Speakers, of course, vary. Some may have great experience but be light in academic background, and vice versa. An introduction should emphasize the speaker's strengths. The following outline may be used to organize the Introduction:
And how about an OUTRO? Sometimes the most difficult moments for an amateur emcee is what to say when the speaker has just finished and is taking his or her last bows. Here are a few examples of what to say when the speech is over:
Opening "Good morning, Ladies & Gentlemen..."
Ice Breaker "Today's speaker will show us how to _______ and _______."
Experience "(full name of speaker) is especially qualified to do so because she spent ____ years in the _______________."
Education "A graduate of the ____________________, (name of speaker) , earned her _________________ degree in ___________________."
Publications "She is the author of ______________: (list and/or say something interesting about speaker's books & articles), and has appeared on numerous TV and radio programs across the country including: ______________."
Interest Builder "Back by popular demand," or... "We were delighted to be able to engage her," or... "She's addressed audiences on three continents," or... "I know you will learn a lot from this next session," or... "Get ready for a terrific 90-minutes."
Here Is... "Ladies & Gentlemen... Please welcome: (speaker) ."
Copyright Barry Eigen. All Rights Reserved.
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