The amount of time before an event to begin planning depends on many factors including the duration of the event, the experience level of the speakers, your experience level, and the amount of speaking you will do during the event.
If you are a procrastinator, end your habit now. Your credibility and the credibility of the event planner rides on your performance. Get it right and get it right… early.
Gather Event Information
Meet with the event planner to gather as much information as you can about the event, the occasion, the theme, the agenda, the venue, staging, audio support, visual support, ambient music, audience position, dignitaries, everything. Use the accompanying Event Information Form to record the information. In this first meeting, you will quickly learn how well the planner has the event under control and how well he/she understands your role. By the questions you ask, you will show how seasoned you are. This first exchange is an opportunity to build trust so put your best lip forward.
Review Agenda with Event Planner
Walk through the agenda with the event planner and ask key questions:
- How long would they like your opening remarks?
- What is the mood of this audience?
- Would they like you to be dynamically entertaining or lower key? What are the limits?
- Are there prizes to give out? Who draws them?
- How long does each speaker have to speak?
- How will we signal to them if they go overtime?
- Is someone who is unscheduled to speak likely to ask to speak? Can we schedule them instead of riding the event with white knuckles?
- Are administrative announcements required such as washroom location, smoking policy, etc?
- What agenda, if any, will the audience receive? Would they know if the event got off track?
- Is there a meal? How will it be served?
- Is anyone expected to speak during the meal service? If so, recommend that they wait until coffee and dessert are served. . The hubbub during a meal prevents a speaker from being effectively heard. Have the caterer instructed to wait until the speaker finishes before they clean up. Best is to wait until the meal is finished and observe a five to ten minute break. Music, however, is a welcome addition during meal service.
Gather Speaker Information
The meeting planner should gather all the speaker introductions for you. Attached to this article is a form called the “Speaker Information Form” that you or the event planner can use to capture information from speakers.
Coordinate speaker introductions well ahead of the event. Don’t ask for the “speaker bio (biography)” because that’s what you’ll get. Ask for the “speaker introduction.” A seasoned speaker will write his/her own. I once received about 700-1000 words on one page of microscopic text, detailing the speaker’s entire professional life. It took at least an hour to trim this down to a reasonable size.
Review the introduction to ensure it clear and concise:
- Speaker Name
- Speaker position and credentials, if required
- Speech Title
- Speaker introduction - not more than 100-150 words on the speaker's background and a primer to the subject of the presentation.
Identify the high-level question. Why is the topic important to the audience? Identify the benefit this speaker delivering this subject will bring to this audience on this day. Describe how the speaker is capable of addressing this subject. Sell the speaker and the topic without upstaging the speaker.
If a speaker has no title for their talk, that’s fine. It’s up to them whether to have one. A celebrity speaker might be called upon to simply share their experience, a talk that requires no title. I once saw Carol Burnett speak at “The Power of Women” conference. She just answered audience questions, giving no prepared talk. She required no title for her presentation. Everyone loved her because everyone loves her.
Try to get the introductions in electronic form so that you can incorporate them into your own style of notes. Otherwise, you will need to transcribe them. If you can suggest improvements to a speaker’s introduction, communicate it back to the speaker to give them the opportunity to accept or reject your idea. If you still have a concern, refer it to the event planner.
Confirm any special requirements of the speaker such as audio/visual, props, stage setup, handouts, involvement of other volunteers, audience plants or any special emcee involvement.
Instructions to speakers
While it is the event planner’s role to gather speaker introductions, they may need your help to communicate exactly what you, the emcee, require as introductions. Attached to this article is a sample message called “Speaker Information Requirements.”
Research the Organization
Take the time to better understand the organization for which you will speak. Review the organization’s web page if they have one. If it’s available to you, borrow a copy of any training material the organization provides to its members. Try to find the organization in the news. Interview members of the organization. As you do these things, look for information that you can incorporate into your remarks. The audience WILL notice your effort.
Prepare Your Notes
Your notes comprise opening remarks, speaker introductions, transitions, and closing remarks.
Prepare opening remarks, usually of two to five minutes in length. Make it upbeat. If the event occurs regularly (monthly, annually, etc), refer to that cycle. Welcome the audience and thank them for their participation. Set an upbeat, energetic tone. Use safe humour, tailored for the audience, and do it well.
Lead into the event. Turn from the joy of simply being there and focus the audience on what is about to happen. Let them know the course of events.
Write any administrative instructions clearly and crisply. Review them and tighten them to get it right. Even something as apparently simple as instructing an audience how to line-up for a buffet must be painfully clear.
Plan a maximum of 15 minutes for a large event such as a multi-day conference. If you actually take less time, it enables you to build a little slack into the schedule, time quickly consumed by one run-on speaker. Smaller events generally require less time so you might schedule a little less. You might require as little as two to five minutes for your opening remarks at a well-organized dinner.
Incorporate or transcribe speaker introductions as the speakers intended.
Ensure you transition smoothly between speakers, in and out of breaks, in and out of meals.