There are so many events that I go to where it feels like there are more speakers than guests! People don’t really want to sit and listen to five or more speakers. If you overload your event like this you’re bound to leave your guests bored at best and irritated at worst.
If you’re not careful, booking something like this can become a scheduling nightmare for you. But you can avoid all this by simply determining how much time is available for presentations. Does the event take place over several days, or is it a morning session? Even if it’s a five day trade-show, you must determine how much actual presentation time there is. Keep in mind that people also need time to eat, network, roam and smoke. If you’re planning a one day event, the general rule is three speakers.
You can either space them out with the “headliner” appearing at the end, or have an evening gala with all three splitting their time. If the gala doesn’t allow for this kind of thing, you could have them all sit on a panel, speaking in turn. Obviously, this only works if the speakers’ subjects all relate to each other well. So, the amount of time you’re able to devote to presentations is critical and directly tied to the amount of time you have for your entire event.
If things are getting kind of tight, there are ways to free up some time. For example, if there’s more than one conference room, you can run two or three presentations at the same time. But bear in mind that you’re going to have to split your attendees up or else force them to choose which speaker to see and this can diminish the impact of that speaker. If this is a problem you can stagger the presentations so people can catch “most” of both. However, this is generally not a good idea. If you’ve got humongous attendance (3000 or more) or perhaps even “football stadium”-like attendance, everyone can see everything, but this is seldom the case for the type of events I do. I’ve seen some speakers do two talks in the same day, but two is usually the maximum before his or her voice wears out. If you are truly interested in getting more than one talk out of a speaker, be sure to ask how many talks s/he can present in a short time frame. If there is a tight time limit on the speaker’s presentation time, remind him or her prior to the talk. I also recommend that you have a designated person sitting in the front of the room who will give a 10-minute signal followed by a five-minute signal. This allows the speaker time to wrap up the presentation in a sensible manner. Use a piece of white cardboard or something similar that can be seen in the dark.
As discussed in my other blogs (e.g., the budget blog), it’s going to cost a great deal of money to have two, three, or even four speakers. It might even cost a lot just to have one (good) speaker there. So budget accordingly. Of course it goes without saying that it’s better to have one good speaker than to have two or three mediocre ones. And if you have not booked a speaker or entertainer before, accommodations and travel expenses are usually provided by the booker. So you only want to bring on as many good speakers as you can afford. Those of us who spend our lives on the road have experienced everything imaginable from magical presentations to horror stories.
A good speaker is first and foremost a good entertainer. If you have a keen audience, be sure to find a speaker who will not be above or beneath their interest level and who has top quality slides or images. Conversely, if your audience is mostly beginners, you need not book a top-of-the-line expert. Usually you get what you pay for. The price range for speakers and entertainers ranges from free up to several thousand dollars per presentation. If money is a consideration for your client, consider partnering with other nearby groups, charging an admission fee, or holding a fundraiser to help offset some of the expenses.
A standard duration for a talk is 45 minutes to one hour, often with time for questions and answer at the end. This doesn’t apply to entertainers, obviously. If there are time constraints, it is important to let the speakers know before they prepare their talks.
If you can, have the speaker visit the venue before the presentation to familiarize himself or herself with the venue and the equipment. Often speakers may say that this is not necessary, but as an event planner you should insist on this. Did you know that 95% of all presentation blunders can be solved in advance by visiting the presentation venue?
I think generally the shorter the program is, the better. When people attend events, they generally go to network and build their database; maybe even see old friends. They aren’t going to want to hear long-winded speeches. Keep your program engaging, but short and quick. Make sure your speakers and entertainers know how much time they have to work with, and see to it that they adhere to it.