One of my personal goals has been to become a more prolific and accomplished public speaker. Over the past year, I spoke at ten events ranging from smaller fireside chats of ~50 people to panels and keynotes at larger conferences with over 500 attendees.
I've learned so much about the craft of public speaking and while I still have more to learn, I feel confident about my ability to hold an audience and speak with substance and brevity. However, this post is not about being a good presenter; there is great content out there already that addresses that. Rather, it's about conference organizers and how to get the most out of your speakers.
Organizing a conference is no easy task because there a million details that need to be managed. If you have a massive budget (e.g. TED), this becomes a lot easier but obviously not all conferences have that luxury. However, sponsorship is not the primary thing that determines a good conference. How you use the money and resources you have at hand is what really matters. The best conference organizers I worked with all did three things incredibly well, which led to to the best prepared speakers with great content:
I recently spoke at a conference where the themes were all over the place. The organizers didn't have a clear point of view on what they wanted their audience to get out of the conference or the talks. Most of the sessions were very tactical panels on a completely different set of topics than the keynote speeches which were all delivered in a short period of time at the end of the day in the middle of the conference. While all the talks were great, the lack of cohesion didn't make any sense to the audience, who looked noticeably confused.
In contrast, I've spoken at several conferences where each day had a clear theme, a set of speakers whose talks and panels matched it well and flowed into the next day. Having that sense of structure and clarity on what the organizers wanted the audience to take home made it much easier to create relevant content. Ultimately, it led to a great connection between speaker and audience.
People are busy and if you don't see them every day, they're apt to forget details. One conference I spoke at spoke to me three months before the conference and then didn't contact me again with any details to remind me of when my slides were due, preferred formats or even how to get to the conference. Fortunately, it was local and on my calendar. However, when I got there, the conference organizers then told me that PDF wasn't an acceptable format for slides and they could only present PowerPoint formats. After multiple conversations with the IT team, I was finally able to get my deck up.
As a conference organizer, follow up with your speakers on a regular basis, reminding them of key details. As the conference gets within the week, let them know any last minute things, including the schedule and have the key A/V people on hand at the conference.
I take speaking responsibilities seriously and spend significant time and effort preparing and practicing for conferences. Given that, I assume that organizers should be respectful of my time and appreciative of my effort.
This doesn't necessarily mean a cash payment but generally basic expenses like transportation and accommodations should be covered. For example, if you have to travel 50+ miles to an out of the way hotel, it's not unreasonable to cover the cost of a rental car or taxi. Either way, it's best to be clear and upfront at the beginning about who is paying what expenses rather than letting people make assumptions. As to paying speakers directly, I think it depends on the conference but even a small contribution to charity in a speaker's name is a nice gesture.
Lastly, a simple personalized thank you goes a long way. At a recent conference that I spoke at, I received a note a day later from the organizers that was a generic one sentence form letter. I'm not sure that they even bothered to attend my talk, even though it was a keynote type speech for the entire 300+ person audience. As a speaker, it felt insulting and I would have preferred to have received no communication at all. It doesn't cost money to treat people with respect and consideration, especially when they've put the time and effort in to try and make the event a success.
As a speaker, my goal is to present great content that makes your conference audience walk away with new ideas and a sense of inspiration. A conference organizer who proactively sends timely relevant details, provides a clear structure and appreciates your efforts ultimately creates the best conference speakers.