Whether you are a presenter preparing for a conference or a meeting planner working with speakers, here are the minimum six things speakers need to know to design a more powerful learning experience.
The desired outcomes
Not just for the end of the presentation, but for when people have left the gathering and are trying to apply the new information in their personal and professional efforts:
- What is it that they should be capable of doing?
- How should they be feeling about their efforts?
- What concepts or insights should most shape their choices?
The industry/profession/organization context
Different times require different information. Speakers, particularly those coming from outside the industry or profession, need to understand the current context in which the audience members operate: economically, socially, organizationally, etc.:
- What are their most pressing issues?
- What information is unlikely to be well-received or unhelpful?
- What relevant info related to the sponsoring organization needs to be understood?
Being provided an executive summary document (1-2 pages) of the industry/profession landscape, the players within it, and the key terms and facts is always valuable.
The conference context
A session does not happen in a vacuum. It usually is part of a conference program or a menu of professional development options individuals can select from as they desire:
- Where does an individual presentation fall in the program?
- What content might others be addressing before a session, information that a speaker may want to connect to or mention.
- What time of day is the program being held and how will that affect individuals' energy and attention?
The learning expectations
How do the audience members generally prefer to learn? Do they tend to be more left-brain analytical learners or more right-brain conceptual learners? What learning formats have they most enjoyed in the past? What teaching techniques are they most accustomed to experiencing? What types of visual information (handouts, slides, flipcharts) are participants used to experiencing? What are other learning norms/preferences a speaker should consider honoring?
The likely attendee profile
What is known about the likely attendees for a session? Speakers can craft better content when we know basic demographics (age, gender, race or ethnicity) experience and knowledge levels, participant job functions and titles, types and sizes of organizations participants represent. If participants are registering for a specific session can their interests/needs be captured on the registration form, in a short electronic survey, or solicited via social media? Will anyone have special needs (visual, auditory, or mobility)?
What is the physical environment for the session? Speakers need to know all the specifics about a room set: basic configuration; number of tables and chairs; placement of LCD screen and computer cable connection; whether or not there will be a podium, headtable, or riser; microphone options; and other activities that will occur during the session (logistics announcements, awards, etc.). Other critical questions:
- Is there a social media backchannel for the conference and/or individual sessions?
- What are the key advance deadlines?
- Will participants be accessing presentations/additional materials in advance and if so, how?
Finally, reconfirm session date, time, room location, desired arrival time, who to connect with upon arrival, who to call on-site if needs arise, and how evaluations will be handled.