Liaising with conference speakers: top 10 things to get right

I’ve been chatting with lots of fantastic tech speakers over the past few weeks. My aim was to find about their experiences of organizing and speaking at conferences. I was interested to find out how they search for events, how they plan and organize their schedules, and what could be done better to help them have a smooth and enjoyable experience, both pre-event and at the event itself.

Below (in no particular order) are the top 10 issues that came up.

This list should be especially useful to event planners to help ensure that you can look after the needs of your speakers as successfully as possible.

  • Locate your conference in an interesting place

With cheaper air travel and low-cost hotels and rooms, it is easier now than ever before to get to almost any conference location. Speakers nowadays don’t choose an event based only on the topic or the audience; they also base their decision on the city itself. Is it easy to get to? How much are flights and hotels? Would my partner or family like to join me for the weekend after the conference has ended? Is it in a sunny climate? Is skiing, sunbathing or sight-seeing offered?

Each speaker will have a preference and there are many examples of conferences that offer a non-traditional location with excellent speaker line-ups.

  • Take care of your speakers’ travel and hotel arrangements

Speakers are busy people. They would much prefer if you, the organizer, arrange, book and pay for their flights, taxis, hotel and other expenses. It saves them a lot of time and hassle. They will be really pleased that you saved them this headache.

It’s also good for you as the organizer, as you have more control over what is booked, helping you to keep within budget.

  • Inform your speakers what is expected of them prior to the event

Do you want your speakers to attend a speaker dinner (remember to check dietary requirements)? Are there other fringe events you would like to invite them to? Will they need to do a speaker interview for your blog?

Tell your speakers before the event what you would like them to do and when they should be available. They can then organize their schedule and arrange their other meetings and events.

  • Make sure you have a diversity policy and code of conduct

It is becoming the norm for conference organizers to have a code of conduct in place. The code of conduct needs to be available for everyone to read and be aware of. This helps to ensure that unacceptable behavior at the conference is not tolerated.

Diversity is also becoming hugely important for organizers. It is not acceptable to have an all-male lineup. Organisers should always ensure that women and minority ethnic groups are fairly represented at their conferences.

  • Provide a ‘green room’

Some speakers get nervous before giving a talk. Some like a quiet space away from the hubbub of the conference where they can relax, tweak their talk and slides, and prepare. Many also like somewhere private where they can meet and chat with the other speakers.

If you have the space available, always try to provide a green room for this purpose (with good WiFi – a must at tech conferences!).

  • Find out the speakers’ A/V preferences

Speakers have very personal preferences when it comes to their needs on stage. Some prefer to stand at a lectern with a fixed microphone; others see a lectern as a restriction and prefer a lapel mic so they can freely walk around the stage. Women can have other microphone needs, especially if they are wearing a dress (where to put the mic pack!).

Some speakers need certain converters, clickers or have access needs that need to be taken care of. Also remember to inform the speaker of the screen resolution so that their slides are configured correctly. Don’t leave all of this to five minutes before the speaker is due on stage (it happens – a lot). Instead, find out their preferences before the event so they feel comfortable and you can relax knowing their A/V needs are taken of.

  • Let them know if the room changes

Speakers tailor their talks not only to the topic and audience type, but also to the expected size of the audience. If there is likely to be a small number of attendees, the talk may be tweaked to become more conversational and intimate, whereas a large crowd would require a more formal approach.

If you are able (there are now apps for this), try to find out what the demand is for each talk so that you can schedule each speaker in the most appropriately-sized room. If you do need to move the speaker to a different room, tell them with as much notice as possible to give them time to prepare – they will appreciate it.

  • Agree the commercial arrangements and confirm in writing

Many speakers don’t know in advance if there is a fee for their services or if only their expenses are paid and if so, what the budget is.  

The best thing is to be as open and honest as possible. Agree with speakers as early as possible what the arrangements are, who is responsible for booking flights and hotels, and if there are any other commercial options; for example, to give a paid workshop. Confirm the agreement in writing so both parties are aware. Even better, explain on your event website what your policy is for paying expenses, speaker fees and so on, so that there are no grey areas and everyone understands up front.

This open approach helps to avoid any uncomfortable conversations down the line.

  • Provide a simple call for papers (CFP) process

Many speakers submit multiple talks to multiple event organizers each year. Give yourself the best chance of securing the best speakers by providing a simple and efficient way for them to submit CFPs. Keep them updated throughout the process.

Remember to ask for updated biographical information as well. Speakers don’t like old head shots or out-of-date data being used in their profiles.

  • Communicate with and look after your speakers as much as possible

Speakers are the reason people attend conferences. They inspire ideas, drive innovation and bring people together to share knowledge.

So look after your speakers like royalty. They spend hours preparing their talk, giving a great performance and mixing with the other speakers and attendees to create a great atmosphere and a memorable event. Treat them well and they will return this with their loyalty. Plus, they will help you promote your event and sell tickets – a win-win all round!

Author bio

Natalie Gray is Head of Business Development at voxgig.

You can find Natalie on LinkedIn and Twitter.