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Conference PlanningOver the years I’ve worked on conference planning committees helping to determine what the content would be for the professional development sessions and keynote presentations.  A daunting task, for sure, to find the right mix of speakers that will be a good fit for your audience and whose speakers’ fees (if applicable) are within the conference budget.

A few things I’ve learned along the way:

A couple years back, Elise Mitchell of Mitchell Communications was the conference chair for PRSA’s Counselors Academy Conference.  She challenged us to think about each speaker’s presentation against the 3Ps – people, profit and potential.  Conference attendees want to know how to manage their teams more effectively, want to know how to sustain a business and what options are available to grow the business.  If a speaker’s call for presentations (CFP) response could answer one of these three things, then they had a good chance of being selected.  The 3Ps may not be applicable for your attendees, but what criteria will you use to determine what presentations will be best for your group?

Think about the conferences you’ve attended – what type of keynote speaker were you drawn to?  For me, it is someone who not only has a good message to share, but has a command of the audience and makes me feel as though he or she is speaking directly to me.  And typically those presentations can be labeled as either motivational or inspirational.  It’s tough to capture the attention of a large crowd, as a conference planner I know I want someone who leaves my attendees with that “aha moment” and ready to take on the rest of the conference.  Speakers who regularly deliver keynote addresses will have short video clips available for your review – pay close attention to their style, the way they work the room as well as the topic.

Now for that call for presentations (CFP).  The CFP is a great way to add some uniformity to the speaker selection process.  Each potential speaker is required to complete the form, providing information on the suggested topic, what the takeaways will be for the attendees and most importantly, links to past presentations and references for where/when they’ve made the presentation in the past.  And as a planner, it is imperative that you do some of your own research into the speaking abilities of the individuals applying.  Just because a topic sounds interesting doesn’t mean the presenter will be the right fit for your group.  Call the references, do a search to find a review of the presentation, or maybe even a video clip.

Be clear in the CFP about the makeup of the attendees– male/female, age, local/national/international, etc.  Will you be able to compensate your speakers?  In lieu of full payment, perhaps your speakers would consider such things as travel and hotel accommodations, small stipend, or a complimentary conference registration fee.  If they are an author, maybe purchasing a copy of the book for each attendee would be a sufficient financial arrangement.  Whatever your compensation strategy is, be sure that is outlined upfront.

And finally, what does the agenda look like?   Will your keynote speaker kickoff the conference?  Will you have a great closing session?  Breakout sessions, roundtable discussions, small group dialogues?  All this needs to be taken into consideration when thinking about your content.

We’ve all been to conferences where we’ve left feeling less than satisfied with the learning opportunities.  Perhaps considering some of these suggestions will help ensure your next conference isn’t one of them.

Abbie S. Fink
Abbie S. Fink
Vice President/General Manager Abbie has been doing public relations her whole life…from organizing a picket line in 6th grade to organizing client communications today. She’s passionate about a lot of things, you’ll see. Check out Abbie's full bio

1 Comment

  1. Great suggestions for finding the right speakers. Thanks Abbie. A little homework on the front end can lead to a better fit between your audience and your speaker.

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