Like most jobs, the role of speaker has undergone a change in expectations recently. Speakers must now do more than just present. They must interact with and engage attendees. But asking what the audience thinks once during the presentation, when the question-mark emblazoned slide appears isn’t engagement. Interaction must be a before, during, and after conference responsibility for speakers.
The relationship between speaker and conference host is a symbiotic one. A well-known name and hot topic will bring new attendees to the conference, and an impressive presentation and interaction with attendees will bring them back.
Attendees expect interaction and are vocal when they don’t receive it. Conference planners can thank social media for that. In order to meet your audience’s expectations you need to insist your event speakers do the following:
Possess a Social Pedigree
Before awarding any application to present, examine the speaker’s social pedigree. The speaker should be involved in social media, use it regularly, and have a decent-sized following. All speakers don’t have to be Neil deGrasse Tyson with 3.71 million followers on Twitter alone, but anyone you’re considering as a speaker should show an effort on popular social media platforms.
A successful speaker in today’s world must be involved in social media, regardless of chosen career or niche. Social media is a way of spreading ideas and having conversations. Today’s social media platforms are yesterday’s Paris salons, where people are able to exchange ideas and build followings.
The other reason your speaker must have a social media pedigree is because it helps in spreading the news of your conference.
Talk About You
A good speaker has a following, and while not every association conference is of interest to everyone, you might be surprised how many of your members will come just to hear a particular speaker. A good speaker will publicize your event as part of his/her speaking roster. Christopher S. Penn and Michael Hyatt (marketing speakers) do a wonderful job of telling their audience where they will be. When they’re there, they make sure people know that too by posting about the conference.
Show an Interest in Your Audience
In the case of keynote speakers, they often come from broader industries than the niche served by your association. This means they may have to tailor their presentation accordingly. Make sure they have the interest and knowledge about who they’re addressing or you could be dealing with social media backlash. When well-known, national speaker and author of “The End of Business as Usual” Brian Solis spoke before the American Society of Association Executives several years ago at their tech conference, his presentation talked about business and corporations and failed to tie the lessons back to associations.
While astute conference goers can draw their own correlations, most won’t bother and they’ll turn off to the message. Don’t put your speaker in that position. Make sure she understands your conference audience‘s top concerns and how to connect through them. The little bit of preparation it takes will make you both look like superstars.
Give You Content
If your speaker’s on tour, it’s likely the presenter has something to sell – a book, idea, more speaking engagements, etc. On the other side, you need content. Remember the symbiotic relationship? Request your speaker provide you with a guest blog post (doesn’t have to be unique to your site), article snippet, interview, or additional background into how his idea came about will not only feed your need for content, and publicize the speaker, but also build interest on your audience’s part.
Engage Your Audience Before and After
Keynote speakers used to be rock stars. They’d fly in, give you the allotted time, and duck out a back door. No more. Presenters are discussion leaders so they must be present (virtually or otherwise) to help lead the conversation. Some speakers assign homework, some interact in a conference online community, while some follow the conference hashtag and engage people directly.
Professional presenters spend a lot of time traveling and often can do a little “social” work in between flights. If you’ve selected a social speaker, chances are he’ll do this anyway but make sure you encourage him to engage with your audience before, during and after.
After the conference is over, a great speaker will review the tweet stream and posts from her presentation. If you see a question directed to the speaker that has gone unanswered, feel free to pass it along. Answering questions and engaging attendees afterwards impresses the audience and may affect next year’s attendance numbers.
One note of caution: never write into a contract how many social posts are required. This creates an inauthentic situation and goes against the very basics of social media. Engagement is the goal, not a certain number of posts.
When you’re considering speakers, think of more than the presentation. Consider what they might be willing to do outside of the conference from a content and social media perspective. Engagement is the goal and successful speakers grasp the benefits of that for you, your association, and their careers.