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Let’s talk about speakers

Artwork by David Brown

Who better to ask about issues surrounding speakers than a couple of speakers?

And there may no better pair than Ron Culberson and Neen James. Culberson is a former hospice worker and middle manager who became a humorist. Based in Herndon, Va., he is president-elect of the National Speakers Association and is a Certified Speaking Professional (CSP). His “Do It Well, Make It Fun” presentations show people how to do a great job with a great attitude and, at the same time, enjoy their work.

James hails from Australia, but now lives in Doylestown, Pa. Her focus is productivity and she’s become known for presentations like “Super Productivity: How To Be Massively Productive!” and “Impactivitity: Get More Done With Super-Productivity.” James has her MBA; like Culberson she has also earned her CSP. More information about both, along with almost 3,000 other speakers, is available on the NSA’s web site.

Make it a good fit

A speaker who is a poor fit for the occasion feels as uncomfortable as a pair of too-tight shoes.
Take the industry expert, armed with a detailed PowerPoint presentation, who has been assigned the keynote slot. She may be a topnotch speaker, but she is out of place.

“The keynote speaker turns down the lights, starts in with the slides and you see people immediately start checking their email,” Culberson said.

Keynote speakers should be an amalgam, insightful, yet entertaining; engaging as well as inspiring.

“The purpose of the keynote speaker is to get the attendees pumped up and motivated,” Culberson said.

Meeting planners must define the purpose of the presentation before they begin a search for a speaker. “They need to be very clear about what kind of outcome they want,” he said.

Thoughts on thought leaders

Celebrity speakers grab headlines. But to make an impact on the audience — and likely, the bottom line — James recommends a thought leader.

“A thought leader is able to not only comment on their area of expertise but to predict future trends,” she said. She urges planners to learn to distinguish between “experts” and “authorities,” and choose the latter.

“Experts can regurgitate information, but an authority is a person who has depth and credibility in that area,” she said.

Meeting planners should also look at the freshness of a speaker’s presentation. Be wary, she warns, of the speaker whose presentation is the same as it was two to three years ago.

Social media a must
Speakers who are active in social media are likely to be more engaged with audience members before, during and after a presentation. The result? A richer experience for all, said James.

“Meeting planners need to ask more of their speakers. They can’t just have speakers walk in and give the speech and walk out,” she said. “They need to partner early to create excitement before the speaker enters the room. It doesn’t matter if it is a retreat or a larger conference, social media is where the conversation is occurring before the speaker even hits the stage.”

James requests Twitter hashtags for the conferences where she appears. A week or so before the event, she begins tweeting about the conference, sending out content and links to her videos. She also uses LinkedIn and Facebook to connect with her future audiences.

By the time she arrives at a conference, many attendees feel as though they know her because “we’ve had this conversation on Twitter,” she said.

She encourages audience members to tweet during her presentation, viewing it as a way for participants to record important points, as well as share information with others. She has a contest for the “most fabulous” tweets sent during her presentation, awarding as a prize a gift certificate to a national shoe store chain (James is an admitted shoeaholic).

“The energy in the room the contest creates is amazing,” she said.

Not all speakers are as active in social media, but for James it is a standard.

‘”I don’t sign up for a date; I sign up for a relationship,” she said. “I think speakers can add more value.”