by Deborah Gardner | September 18, 2014

Deborah GardnerAs a longtime speaker, I find that planners sometimes see my services as an afterthought to the goals of the meeting, when in reality, they can be a great help. Every meeting is planned to produce results, and presenters should be part of that development from the beginning. Here are five ways to work most productively with your speaker.

1. Communicate up front

Any decent speaker will attempt to deliver what you ask of him or her. As professionals, speakers are ready to prepare, do the research, and apply their experiences and expertise to your event. But if the host hasn't prepped them properly, even the most gifted presenter can leave attendees unhappy, perhaps even feeling gypped at not getting what was promised. A poorly received presentation ultimately can make or break a meeting experience.

Many times I have asked questions about an event I was hired for, only to receive little substance in return. This makes my job harder. Communicate up front as much information as possible with the speaker. Share the history of your meeting as it applies to what your audiences liked or didn't like about presenters. Which presenter really resonated with your group, and why? Details such as these are helpful for a speaker to gauge how best to approach your audience.

If possible, provide your speaker with a single document providing all crucial information about the event rather than a flurry of separate emails imparting the program agenda, flight arrangements, hotel information and confirmation, time and place of sound check, etc. In return, speakers should provide information to you about their full travel itineraries along with their mobile phone numbers, just in case any problems arise during their travels.

2. Be flexible

Weather, mechanical failure, health problems, traffic… A lot of things can happen that will make your speaker either late or unable to attend. Giving your presenter the option to come in early is wise, even if it means paying for an extra hotel room night. Having a speaker show up early also can be an advantage: He or she can use the time to connect with stakeholders, the board and even the attendees in advance.  

Also, have a discussion with your presenter regarding a backup, just in case. Qualified professional speakers have a community to draw from and can provide an alternate who can present on the same topic, which could save you from scrambling at the last minute.   

3. Develop an appropriate room arrangement

Set up the meeting room to accommodate your speaker. For a presenter who has an extremely interactive program, a standard classroom or theatre-style arrangement could prove too restrictive, preventing the audience from moving around and enjoying the full experience. Well before the event, ask the speaker for any suggestions regarding room design.   

4. Designate an on-site speaker's helper

This is a person other than the meeting planner or decision maker who handles the speaker's on-site needs. This practice can be extremely helpful for me, because when I have multiple tasks to attend to during the course of a keynote, breakout, book signing, etc., I can call on this person for assistance. For the speaker, having that one point of contact on-site helps everything run smoothly.

5. Create a loyal team member

Consider the speaker as an extension of your hard-working team. Instead of micromanaging or analyzing everything the speaker is going to say, listen to why they do what they do. Speakers know their programs well and how they will work from other meeting experiences. For instance, I want my presentation to be as relevant and up-to-date as possible, and being asked to provide, say, PowerPoint slides many weeks in advance is difficult. Allow speakers to manage their own materials as they best see fit for the best outcome.    

Every speaker enjoys repeat opportunities. Just as meeting professionals follow their favorite supplier from venue to venue, speakers would like the same opportunity to follow you. They have a business model that has layers of other programs -- training, consulting and coaching that could help a follow-up meeting or event. You have built the relationship, so talk with speakers about their spinoff business services. You might be surprised how they can continue to help make your job easier.

Deborah Gardner, CMP, specializes in changes that challenge how organizations and individuals think and act. To find out more, go to