First-Time Speakers: How to Better Prepare Them

Just like first-time attendees, first-time speakers require some care and feeding, not only to make them feel welcome and prepared but also to ensure that they deliver a session your attendees will love. Here are some ideas to make that happen.

Over the weekend I was catching up with a friend who told me that in the upcoming weeks she’d be speaking at an industry event. It will be her first time speaking as an expert on stage to a group of her peers, and she is plenty nervous.

It’s unlikely that first-time speakers can ever be over-prepared, so arm them with all the information they need to have.

While I assured her she’ll rock her session (just as I assured her she’d remain anonymous in this post), her nerves got me thinking: How can associations welcome and best prepare their first-time speakers for their upcoming gigs?

Sure, groups think about welcoming first-time attendees, whether that’s through onsite first-timer receptions or preconference webinars, but is the same amount of thought given to first-time speakers and presenters?

The good news is that many organizations do put some effort into preparing this group of speakers. But whether you do it currently or are looking to up your preparedness game, here are a few ideas to consider.

A who’s who. Just like exhibitors like to know what your association’s tradeshow audience and buyer ratio is before they purchase a booth, your speakers—especially your first-timers—want to know who they will be standing in a room in front of. In addition to a traditional exhibitor prospectus, you may also want to consider a speaker prospectus. The information to include: stats about your attendees and industry, top issues important to your audience, previous session topics that have evaluated well, and conference theme description. Here’s an example of the panel speaker prospectus [PDF] from MedTech 2015. Bonus: This prospectus could boost the performance of your seasoned speakers, too.

Perfect match. Speaking of experienced speakers, why not invite them to serve as mentors for your newbies? They can share the presentation styles that have worked for them, their insights into the audience, and even challenges they’ve faced. For example, the National Association of College and University Attorneys issues a call for speaker mentors each year, who are then selected based on their speaking experience. Those chosen each provide advice and guidance to one mentee on how to either become a NACUA speaker or how to improve speaking skills.

Resource rich. It’s unlikely that first-time speakers can ever be over-prepared, so arm them with all the information they need on practical matters like how slides should be formatted or what they should name their session. PASS, a group for data professionals, has a Speaker Resource webpage that contains lots of details on preparing a technical presentation. The Retail Industry Leaders Association has speaker and presentation guidelines posted [PDF] for its Retail Asset Protection Conference. Among its tips for speakers: Ensure the session title and description match the intended content and outcomes, and provide specific takeaways and action items for attendees to enhance their own organizational efficiencies. RILA also assigns a committee member to work directly with speakers to provide direction and audience insight as they develop their presentations.

How do you prepare first-time speakers for your meetings and conferences? Share what’s worked in the comments.


Samantha Whitehorne

By Samantha Whitehorne

Samantha Whitehorne is editor-in-chief of Associations Now. MORE

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