There is a direct correlation between how well a speaker is briefed and how good the conference will be. The better the briefing the better the content. And therefore the better the conference. So how do you conduct the perfect speaker brief?
In this post we cover:
How are you currently briefing your speakers?
What does a simple speaker briefing look like?
What should the perfect speaker brief look like?
What other support can you give your speakers? (a full list of 20 things to consider)
12 things you as the organiser can do to add more value to your speakers when they speak for you
How to give honest, useful feedback to your speakers
*****A working speaker brief that has been used by over 1000 speakers DOWNLOADABLE AT THE END OF THIS ARTICLE*****
How are you currently briefing your speakers?
I often talk about the 700 or so events I have organised. Over half of those have been conferences (or smaller content led events like seminars and workshops) but I don’t often talk about my role as a speaker.
I’ve spoken at over fifty events. I’ve delivered presentations in Barcelona, Beijing, Budapest, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Los Angeles, London and Madrid.
So it is with these two perspectives, the experienced organiser and the experienced speaker that I look at the ‘speaker briefing’.
I want to highlight first of all that I am not going to cover the speaker contract: this is going to be all about the speaker briefing.
If you want to read a brilliant post on
The basic speaker brief
How an organiser briefs a speaker will be one of the most important elements of any conference.
A good briefing leads to a better prepared speaker and (assuming you have chosen a good speaker) a better session.
I wonder if any #eventprofs would argue with this premise? It’s certainly been the case in my experience as an organiser and as a speaker.
I would to say that how you brief your speakers will directly impact the success of your content led event. So there is a real need to do that briefing properly!
Before I look at the perfect speaker brief I wanted to look at the pretty basic speaker briefs I see when I carry out my event consultancy.
Here’s what these basic brief normally cover:
- The logistical details of the event. Date, location and time of presentation.
- Session details. Duration of session agreed, format required and details of any other speaker/s /chair involved.
- Presentation details. Deadline for delivery, format of presentation and guidance if using slides.
- Details of AV. List of what is available and request for additional AV.
So the first question I want you to consider, is how does this one compare to your event brief?
This is what I would consider the “bare minimum” that any speaker should receive to support their presentation.
It’s not much but it is useful. It will ensure that they turn up! It is basically and all pretty logistical.
To me a brief like this kind of says, “We hope you turn up and deliver ANY kind of presentation” It is a bit perfunctory, it does the basics of ensuring the speaker has a presentation and doesn’t turn up late.
But that’s not enough for the modern day conference and if you want to engage your conference audience you have to do much, much more.
Every speaker should demand a better brief and every organiser should prepare one.
The full event brief to ensure the perfect speaker brief
When I come across a great, full (but not the perfect brief – that comes later) there are the things that I tend to see as part of a fuller speaker briefing:
1. Audience information. A breakdown of who is likely to turn up (and a list of those already booked by company and job title), their experience and what they want to hear.
2. The objectives of the conference. An understanding of what the organiser hopes to achieve and what the likely objectives of the audience are.
3. The key themes running through the conference. A list of the themes that the organiser expects speakers to include / cover in their sessions.
4. Support on structuring their session. A suggested guide or a “how to” structure their session.
Now, with a full event brief we have an brief that says: “I need you to deliver the right content, you are important”. Wouldn’t you agree?
If you are an event organiser who runs content led events I would love you to take out your speaker brief and see if you have a “basic event” one or a “full event” brief.
The better the brief, the better the session and the better the conference. So we really have to move from the basic one to the full one. And then on to the perfect one.
The Perfect Speaker Brief is of course only part of the support an organiser offers a speaker
Before we move on any further and into the heart of the perfect speaker brief I wanted to cover the overall support we give to a speaker.
I presented a session IBTM in Barcelona “How to Support Speakers” I wanted to get across to the audience that taking the time to do a great speaking briefing is the key to a successful conference.
The session was recorded live and it would be great if you could take 20mins (no more no less!) and watch my session. The quality of the talk is hopefully better than the quality of the recording!
Here are the slides from the session.
My five main points are:
- EVERY single speaker (almost without exception) needs the support of the conference organiser.
- The conference organiser impacts the content as much as the speaker.
- As the conference organiser it is YOUR event and you are in charge, so you have to demand brilliant content.
- There’s a quid pro quo. You have to give something in return to get brilliant content.
- The conference organiser has a PROACTIVE role to help a speaker’s session to be memorable.
You get back the time, resources and effort you invest in a speaker
So, if I had to pick the most important of my five points it would be the first one: EVERY speaker needs support. And of course the best way to do that is to have a great speaker brief.
Treat a speaker with simple common courtesy, and not only will they deliver better content, but they will be delighted to speak for you again.
Each speaker should be expertly introduced and thanked after their session.
They should be thanked on a few social media platforms.
And later they should receive a thank you note and (if possible) a link to the recording of our session.
And then some honest feedback to complete the learning loop! (more on that below)
What should the perfect speaker brief look like?
It is not content that is King: it is the speaker who reigns.
As we all know there is no point having great content if it is delivered in the dullest, blandest and most boring fashion.
Speakers are at the heart of any event that delivers learning.
We all know this.
None of this is news to the savvy planner of course and no doubt everyone is nodding away. But the question I’d ask is: does your speaker feel like a King?
Speakers are so crucial to our conferences I’ve asked myself what do I do – as the event planner – to make them feel great?
Do I add as much value to their engagement as possible? The answer of course is no: I am but human! There is, however, so much more than we planners – mere mortals – can do to ensure our speakers feel like royalty.
Twelve things that planners can do to add more value to speakers
I’d say it’s unlikely that your organisation would be able to do all twelve, but surely half of them isn’t too much to ask? We’ve set the mark at 8 – 10 for our events.
You may notice that I’ve missed out “PAY THEM A FEE” you should where possible pay your speakers.
I hope this provides a good benchmark to how we treat the most valuable of resources at our learning events: our speakers.
Here’s some things for you to think about before your speaker briefing: you have to get the right speaker first!
1. Start with this statement: “We want to take a proactive approach in supporting our speakers to help them raise their profile. So tell us: what would you like us to do to support your session / how can we ensure you get the most out of speaking for us?”
2. Can you add speaker’s social media links on all of their sessions on the event website, in email communications and on the event app?
3. Do you use all of your social media channels to highlight speakers involvement and to encourage discussions and attendee engagement before and after the event?
4. Can you provide speakers with an email mailing list of all of the attendees who attend their particular session? Or perhaps details of all those attendees who selected an interest in the area in which the speaker is knowledgeable?
5. Do you upload to the event app or the event website information (not their presentation) that speakers think will be of interest to delegates pre / post event?
6. Can you proactively support speakers who want to poll attendees before the event?
7. Can you provide truly useful and honest feedback on their sessions to help them improve as a speaker?
8. How about offering a free to attend speaker training course for them to hone their skills?
9. It is important to regularly update your speakers on whom is attending their session
10. Allow them access to all conference areas for example the hosted buyer lounge or any VIP lounges
11. Offer a speaker zone: somewhere in your event space where speakers can have meetings, refresh and recharge
12. Can you facilitate and offer the opportunity for speakers to invite delegates to 1.2.1 meetings?
These are all pretty manageable and easy ways to add value to speakers.
What they also do, in most cases, is add a lot of value for your attendees.
An increased awareness and access to your King like speakers can only lead to a better understanding of their fantastic content. And of course a better event.
Want to make sure you are getting EVERYTHING from your speaker that will add value to your conference?
Giving speakers feedback – total transparency is the key
Not every conference (or similar event) bothers with giving speakers feedback. And they should. It’s one of the easiest things to do post event.
Not doing this, is to take a liberty of the time and effort that speakers take to deliver their presentation.
To assume that your speakers do not wish to hear from the attendees is guessing that your speakers do not want to improve. In short, to avoid giving speakers feedback, is to break the unwritten contract that upholds our learning events.
Back when I started organising conferences (late 1990s!) we used to collect feedback via the paper form, which we would either include in the delegate pack, or place on chairs during the last refreshment break.
Even with this old school approach, we would always ask for individual feedback on each speaker. This was pre the digital age; it is now much, much easier to provide feedback.
Sometimes the details we collected were not at all flattering.
With such detailed feedback available, literally in our hands, we were often left with a tricky question: should we be totally open in the feedback we passed on to each speaker.
While running events in various organisations, my event teams faced this more often than I would have liked.
So we had decisions to make.
Firstly, should we tell a high profile professional that their sessions was rated very badly? And if we do, do we then pass on the actual remarks word for word. Tricky eh?
In part to avoid awkward telephone conversations, I decided to give the speakers their score (honestly) out of 5 and benchmark the score in an email.
So something like “Our attendees rated you 3.5 out of 5. The average score for this conference was 4” But, we went one step further.
Total transparency was the key
Along with the individual email I attached scanned copies of every form that made a comment about a speaker.
No holds barred. It was there, all in black and white.
So, my lesson from the past is that we must help close the loop between speaker and audience, no matter how difficult it may be.
Our speakers take the stage to educate and inform, and in return our audiences should give their feedback to the speaker.
When the conference organiser closes this loop, they ensure that EVERYONE learns from our events. And remember, we are in the learning business.
The perfect speaker brief template
Now that we have covered all of the important support structures for our speakers it is time to look, in detail, at the speaker brief. You can use the following as a speaker brief template.
What follows has been used at over 100 conferences and by over 1000 speakers. It has and is continually updates. So check back now and again to see the most recent update.
It is worth saying that this template has received glowing reviews from speakers, not only from new speakers but from experienced speakers too.
2. Technical requirements for presentations
3. Details on the attendees (this can be just job titles and organisation or can be much more detailed using attendee avatars)
4. Venue information
5. Visuals of the space where their presentation will take place
6. When you arrive
7. Getting to the venue
8. Guidance and outline
9. Structure and narrative of the conference
10. Why their commitment is crucial
11. Detailing the conference key themes (three to five themes)
12. Pre session planning support
– how to structure their content
– key points in their presentation
– what key themes (from the three to five list) they will cover
14. Next steps
15. How to create memorable content (list of 10 ideas)
All of this is included in the Perfect Speaker Brief downloadable below.