ZERO Tolerance: NO Crap Speaker Content at Creative Events

If you love creative events and your job, for the love of God, help executives produce speaker content that doesn't put audiences to sleep, or worse.

Let’s review. In our 2nd installment on surviving the content development processwe expanded on these tips to organizing your universe as it concerns the speaker content development process for executives. 

• Decide the format
• Managing Ramblers
• Manage speaker content development process
• Manage keynote and external presenters
• Status Sheets

NOW … Tell stories. Let’s talk about stories. One of my favorite speakers for creative events and a personal mentor of mine is a guy named Dan Lumpkin from Lumpkin and Associates. Dan is a Certified Management Consultant and possibly one of the best speakers I have ever seen—and I have seen a few. (thousand) He can take a room of hardened criminals and have them crying like children in an hour. When I asked him his technique, he very simply explained the value of story-telling. Dan is part Native American and comes from a people who have an ancient legacy of telling tales to create feelings and memories that last. And, he uses this talent for business audiences brilliantly.

Stories are powerful ways to illustrate your message. And, furthermore, you creative events audiences love stories. They remember stories. And most presenters love to tell them … unless they are lousy speakers. Stories can surprise an audience and infuse a refreshing dose of emotion or humor into otherwise dry subject matter. As the saying goes, when people laugh they’re learning. Stories arrest our attention. Nobody tunes out if they hear a speaker say, “On October 20th, something unusual happened in our board meeting,” or “See this woman in the slide? I met her in 2012. At the time I thought she was lost, maybe homeless, until she said these words to me… ”

Stories are also very effective ways to vary presentations at creative events. If widgets are the topic of three different presentations, each presentation should include a different angle on widgets—and the presenters’ unique stories can provide those angles. A resourceful writer will search out the presenter’s personal stash of stories for possible use in the presentation. For every five minutes of presentation, build in at least one story, vivid example or case study. The audience will not only appreciate the effort, they’ll remember the stories. Sometimes forever.

Review speaker content pre-show. When all final content development drafts are submitted, schedule a content review. For this review, invite all team members connected to the creation of content and slides, the person(s) authorized to give final approvals, and others as needed. Order in lunch and dinner for the review because, depending on the scope of the event it’s almost guaranteed to be a long day. The objective is to read aloud every word that will be spoken in the show and evaluate every accompanying slide and video. If somebody in the read-through stumbles on a word or phrase, chances are excellent that the speaker will too. Now is your chance to find errors in title slides, discrepancies between items in the MC’s announcements and items appearing in the printed attendee program, breaks in continuity, and so on. The time you take in the speaker content review will spare you the headache of trying to resolve these things onsite, when even small details become bigger under the magnified pressure.

Manage deadlines. Some presenters will opt to create their own outlines, talk points or scripts. It means they’re taking ownership of their presentations—generally a very positive sign—and have taken a few items off of the loaded plate of the writer. All’s well so far. But here’s the rub: presenters are not always reliable about submitting their drafts, whether first or final, when you’ve requested them. Some of the higher status presenters may even ignore your deadline outright, which either means that their schedules are overloaded or they’re making a deliberate “diva move” for no other reason than that they can. To avoid late submissions, set the speaker content development deadline at least two weeks before you actually need them. If some presenters are still dragging their feet past deadline, consider asking someone with real teeth, (like the Exec who is paying for the event) to send them a “nudge” email or phone call (unless of course the president and CEO are the offenders!). When deadlines are missed you must persist.

Establish a writer’s room. Set aside a room onsite for the writer(s). This is where speaker content will be rewritten and copied throughout the event. Equip the room with at least two printers, to cover the one that inevitably fails when the CEO needs a printout of his 10th and final draft. The room should be as close to the stage as possible. The writers room can serve multiple functions for the event, including a secondary rehearsal space. Keep plenty of coffee on hand for the writers. Something dark and strong.

Manage bad news. Big events are often fun and celebratory. But how do you move forward with the balloon release when your organization has seen plummeting profits, endured a scandal, or fired its Board of Directors? How do you ignore the 900-pound gorilla in the room with LAYOFFS written on its hairy forehead? Answer: have your top banana address it shortly after the start of the meeting. He or she should talk frankly about it, tell what’s being done to move forward, and then get off it. Your audience will find it hard to concentrate on anything but the gorilla in the room, so it’s important to name it early. 

It’s equally critical for the leader to acknowledge the audience’s feelings about the situation. Superstar CEOs such as Lou Gerstner, Michael Dell, and Steve Jobs knew how to say, in earnest, “I understand your concerns” … before discussing their plan for managing the change or crisis. Depending on the severity of the situation, your speaker content developer should not attempt to craft such sensitive remarks without the guidance of your communications director or public relations agency.

Dress Rehearse on-site: Look, I know that your executives are busy keeping the wolves from the doors, but I have never, and I mean EVER seen an executive perform to their full potential without a dress rehearsal. They have too many things on their minds. They are often distracted before they arrive with other pressing matters. And, worst of all, they usually underestimate how difficult it will be for them to perform well under pressure. SO … put them under pressure early. Stage a dress rehearsal in place, on the stage, with lights, microphone, and a small audience if possible. Stage the whole ‘scheebang early. Make them feel what it will be like the next day when they are doing it live in front of 1000 people. At articulate, we've made an art form in preparing speaker content and executives for prime time. You can do it too. Get them focused by making them cognizant that they need to be at the top of their game right now. They may not say it, but they will appreciate the fact that you cared enough about the way they will look and sound to ensure their success with a Dress Rehearsal.

Stay tuned for Part 3

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