Preparing guest speakers for your digital experience (i.e. event or meeting) has never been more important. The challenge right now is: how do you help your speakers adapt to a potentially new virtual reality (sorry we had to do it).
So, the best mentality to have when it comes to the speakers for your digital experience is to assume this is a new thing for them (the virtual aspect, not necessarily the speaking piece).
From my own recent experience of speaking, one of the hardest things to remember to do is to look directly into the web camera, and not dart around.
Assume this is a new experience for your guest speakers
I, therefore, went to the only trusted source there is on these topics, and asked our VP Professional Services (an expert in executing events and meetings of all sizes and types), Ivan Probst, what were his key ways to prepare speakers for digital experiences.
Here is what he said:
Tom Gardiner: Hi Ivan, and thank you for your time today. First all of all congratulations, you have been in the event industry for 10 years now.
Ivan Probst: Yes, I suppose it has been that long. Honestly, it feels like yesterday that I started.
TG: So we are in pretty strange times right now, and the pivot to digital experiences is very real. From a speaker perspective, how does digital differ to an in-person event or meeting?
IP: The important thing to keep in mind, is that this is probably a new experience for the guest speaker as much as it is for you, the virtual part that is. So it becomes very important that you really reassure speakers and make them feel comfortable. If you can do that, then you will ultimately get the best outcome for the speaker and the audience (and of course the event).
One thing that I have found in helping prepare speakers for (and event teams) digital is that a lot of what we did for live or in-person events is still needed. Our job has always been to make sure hosts and speakers are comfortable with the technology on the day of the event. And in that sense, this has not changed.
TG: Yes that makes sense. I know from my own recent experience I found certain things challenging about speaking virtually. So how do you start to reassure people early on?
IP: In my experience, a great first step is to immediately send over a speaker briefing. This outlines some basic information as well as signposts to the guest speaker what is coming up prior to the virtual event or meeting. The goal here is to provide clarity and start to give the speaker the cues that say “I have this organized”, that is the key to start making people feel comfortable.
The first thing to do: send over a speaker briefing ahead of time
Things you will want to include in your briefing for a virtual event or meeting are:
- Dates for practice sessions and the actual event – layout the timeline for people so they can be prepared and plan ahead.
- Links to live streaming – do not forget to give people the link to your live streaming tool for each practice session. This way, not only do they have the links they also know which tool you will be using, and they can go check it out if needed.
- Let them know of any other tools – say for example you are using second screens, you might want to give people a heads-up, and even invite them to join those tools. This gives the speaker a chance to familiarize themselves if they choose to do so.
- Spell out the agenda and expectations for each practice – signpost ahead of time what the aim and format is for each practice session. For example, in the first session, you might tell them you will be addressing things like: “Basic testing of sound, video, and slides”. Or even, that the practice is being run like the actual event or event or meeting (thereby signposting that they should come prepared to actually speak).
TG: That is really great advice. I know from years spent helping to organize a large user conference, that providing these types of details can really help. Ok, so you mention the practice session. How important is that in order to adequately prepare guest speakers for digital experiences?
IP: Honestly, I think practice sessions are even more important now. You really have to assume that speakers are not used to being virtual. I mean in a professional sense. It can be simple things, like keeping your eyes on the webcam, or just getting used to the flow and transitions when you do not have the same visual cues as a live or in-person event.
The second thing to do: make sure you hold practice sessions
TG: Great. Let’s say you send your speaker briefing and hold your first practice session, how do you continue to build trust and ultimately increase the confidence of the guest speaker? What final thing must people do to prepare speakers for digital experiences?
IP: Early on in my career I actually had a story of a speaker who enthused confidence at the beginning, but as it got closer and closer to the event start date, the speaker started to get stressed and unsure. When I spoke to them to try and bring them back on track, it turns out that they had some outstanding questions and concerns raised from the early on. It became apparent that not resolving these questions had caused concerns. Thankfully we were able to address these, and move on. So my advice is simple, make sure you follow-up, especially in times like these where virtual is so new to people.
The third thing to do: make sure you follow-up promptly to any questions or concerns
TG: Well thank you for your time today, Ivan. Those are some great ways to get the best out of guest speakers at your virtual event or event or meeting.
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