Happy speakers, happy virtual event!

Managing speakers is a whole new experience in the virtual event space. The technical hurdles are greater and speakers’ expectations will be subtly different too. Here are a few quick hints to ensure your speakers have a positive experience of your event.

  1. Block out the timing of each speaker’s presentation/panel in their calendars, and start the calendar appointment 15 minutes before they are due to go live so they have enough time to get on to the platform and get ready before their presentation. Include clear, concise instructions in the calendar invitation if they need to do anything other than just clicking on the link.
  2. Soon after you confirm their participation, ask your speakers to test whether they have any corporate firewalls that may block them from accessing your virtual event platform or streaming service.
  3. Pre-record presentations wherever possible to avoid the risk of technical drop-out on the day but provide your speakers with a guide for recording their presentation videos and tips for making their videos look professional.
  4. Allow additional time in your workflow to support speakers through the experience of creating their presentation videos and sharing their video files with you.
  5. Communicate with your speakers at least two weeks before the event if they will need to download any apps or browser extensions as they may need their IT department’s permission to install them.
  6. Rehearse each panel in the week leading up to your virtual event using your webinar/streaming tool. Ensure that everyone knows how to access and use: the speaker-only chat, delegates’ questions and any interactive tools they are planning to use.
  7. You can never guarantee your speakers’ or moderators’ internet connections so always have a backup moderator on your panel (even if this is you) and provide them with a simple step-by-step script to follow so they can step up with confidence if needed.
  8. There is often no opportunity to thank your speakers in a green room after their session so be especially diligent about sending off prompt and meaningful thank you emails after the event.

Flexpo – an inspiring, feel good confex!

Last Friday marked what felt like the end of an era as I helped Venture Business to launch the inaugural Flexpo confex at Sandown Park Racecourse. There were so many memorable moments, and we truly “walked the talk” with our flexibility on the day, Skyping in a speaker at short notice, helping a delegate to ask a question while balancing both the microphone and her baby in her arms – this was unlike any conference I have run before, and I loved it!

The speakers completely blew my mind with their eloquence, insights and unwavering willingness to stick around and talk to the delegates well after the end of their sessions. They were true professionals and advocates of flexible working rights for all. It was a privilege to work with Maddy Cole and the team at Venture Business on what was a passion project from the outset and I hope it continues to grow and increase in momentum every year.

Top 5 tips for hiring graduate conference producers

For those of us who have had experiences of hiring graduate conference producers, I don’t think many would say that it’s easy. It can be tough trying to differentiate between a selection of people who have very little real experience to speak of and often, very little understanding of what they are like as an employee.
I’ve put together a few tips that have helped me to recognise the better candidates during the interview process. I welcome your thoughts…

1. Setting a frank tone from the start of the first interview I find really helps to break down the nerves and/or the performance they’re putting on for you.

2. Listening out for the answers they think you want to hear. If I suspect they’re spinning me a line I’ll call them out on it, have a laugh with them about it and then ask for their real answer.

3. During the interview process, I like getting them to talk me through scenarios of how they’ve handled conflict, critical feedback and teamwork. I listen out for any alarm bells that would make this a difficult cultural fit and probe deeper on those if I have any concerns.

4. I think getting them to do the classic ‘create a conference programme’ interview project is still a great idea as it gives you both a flavour of whether they could do the job. I like to let them talk me through their project so I can understand their thought processes and observe what they have focused on. This can tell you a lot about their strengths and whether they’re more of a big picture or a detail person.

5. Work ethic is another thing I like to test with graduates – asking them to talk you through their approach to hitting deadlines, or how they’ve put in more effort than was required on a project can give you some insights into how passionate they are about their work.

Producers: should you work for a non-profit or commercial events firm?

Having worked as a conference producer on both sides of the fence, I thought I’d share some of the differences from an employee’s perspective. I hope this is of use if you’re considering switching camps but want to go in with your eyes wide open…

Non-profit organisations/associations/charities

You can usually expect a relatively high amount of meetings and more collaborative decision making.

Small associations sometimes offer ‘all in one’ production/logistics/marketing roles. This will give you fantastic exposure to the entire process but, if you don’t love detail, this job may make you want to run out of the office like a newly freed zoo animal.

There can be a very rewarding sense that you’re doing something to help a community you care about so, alternatively, you may walk home with a smile on your face more often.

Commercial conference companies

Hello profit share!!! You should expect a liveable base but definitely check out the profit share arrangement before accepting a job. The most common structure is 3 – 5% of the net profits from each of your events.

You’ll work closely with the sponsorship team to warm up and close leads so if the idea of sales feels like a mouth full of poison, this may not be for you.

You’ll see the world, courtesy of your employer! You’ll often have the chance to run events overseas and you’ll usually be allowed to tack on a holiday at the end.

But please remember that each organisation is unique. Research each employer thoroughly regardless of the sector they’re in as there are duds and gems in both worlds.  Good luck!


7 things I’ve learnt from running conferences around the world

I just got thinking, I’ve produced conferences in many locations around the world and there must be something I’ve picked up along the way from each of them. So, after a little brain racking, here is a list of some of my favourite tips and the countries I’ve picked them up from…

1. USA: informal social events in the evenings with your speakers and delegates can create a memorable event, ensuring word of mouth for repeat events. It’ll also mean you’ll have a group of people you will forever be able to phone and say something like ‘hey, we went to the rodeo together’ which is guaranteed to start a conversation with a smile!

2. UK: focused, meaningful group activities can be very rewarding for delegates – especially if the results are captured in a report and distributed to the participants afterwards.

3. Australia: an inspiring setting can improve interaction between delegates and, ultimately, your feedback scores. The event that left me with the most glowing evaluation forms was held in a room with full length windows overlooking Manly Beach… (I’m not saying that content isn’t king by the way, but there’s definitely an easy win to be had with picking the right location!)

4. Trinidad and Tobago: using face-to-face meetings to build tight local networks with businesses, media and government ministers can open doors for your conference and allow you to acquire more top quality speakers and sponsors.

5. Germany: it seems counter-intuitive, but a comfortable seated lunch will be better received by exhibitors than a standing exhibition room lunch. You’ll avoid people feeling like they’re crammed into the exhibition area around crowded cocktail tables, struggling with finger food and those awful click-in glass holders. Seated lunches are a far classier look for your sponsors, affording them more relaxed, professional conversations with their potential customers.

6. Norway: a chairman with a good sense of humour will keep your delegates interested and loyal. The face of your conference should have a personality, not just a great job title.

7. Major international events: integrating a poster tour gives lone delegates a chance to mingle with each other, breaking down that awkward school disco feeling in the refreshments area.

Please feel free to add your own tips below, I’d love to hear them!

Agenda now online for Windpower Monthly event

The programme for the Wind Farm Data Management and Analysis Forum I’ve just finished working on is now online. It includes a record number of speakers from top wind farm developer companies including EDF, Vattenfall, E.ON, Mainstream Renewable Power, juwi, Statoil, Maia Eolis, WindMW, ENERTRAG Windstrom, Verbund, ESBI and RWE.

Preventing wifi drop out at your events

On so many occasions I’ve watched helplessly as delegates cursed the intermittent wifi access at a venue. It’s not good customer service and they shouldn’t have to accept it. Nor should we as conference organisers. Here are some tips on what to ask a venue to ensure your dels aren’t stuck without communications during your event:

How many Wireless Access Points are there? How many simultaneous connections can the Wi-Fi handle? Across the venue, and per access point? Don’t just correlate this with your number of visitors – we normally work on visitors bringing 2.5 devices each.

The Wi-Fi checklist for organising your conference
Oliver Richardson

More at:  bit.ly/wificonftips

Freelance conference producer, trainer and consultant