September 7

event planning tip

video: Not sure if your guest speaker is a great speaker? Interview them instead!

Event planning tip

Conferences have speakers. A famous guest speaker that attract audiences, knowledgeable people who bring relevant information, sponsors or officials who need to be given some airtime or that one motivational speaker that can drill your message in the audiences head.

But is it smart to let your guest speaker give a speech? Generally: no.

Some people are fantastic speakers. They trigger, inform and entertain your audience, make them sit on the edge of their seats. Everything that interrupts them is just a waste of their shine. But those people are rare. Many guest speakers tend to speak too long or bore the living daylight out of your audience. Some will deliver exactly what you asked them to, but many are loose cannonballs: You give them the stage and sometimes they follow your recipe, sometimes they get completely lost.

When that happens, as a moderator, there is nothing I can do. I can cut a guest speaker short. But even if I do that so charming it doesn’t look rude, it is still wasted minutes and a message failed to deliver.

3 questions about your event speaker

So when I moderate a conference and we design the program, I always ask 3 questions about an event speaker:

1: are they good speakers?

2: are you sure they will deliver the content or message you want them to deliver?

3: will they do it within the given time?

If the answer is ‘no’ (because you have seen them) or ‘I don’t know’ (because you have never seen them give a speech) to either one of those questions… have them interviewed by your moderator. As interviewer I am in control. Of the time, the message and the mood. So that we are sure the speaker adds to to the program instead of distracts.

Everybody happy

And the speaker? almost none of them will mind or is offended. And most of them will be relieved: they know they aren’t good speakers, they are afraid of the stage and are unsure of what they are supposed to say. When I interview them, all that burdens falls of their shoulders. They can focus on what they are here for: experts. Dignitaries. Enthusiast. And everybody is happy: me, because I am a control freak. The speaker, because they shine. The audience, because they get what they want. And most of all: you. Because we can make a speaker contribute to your strategy. Even if they aren’t talented or are just a speaker you had to squeeze in.

read more about our interviewers

from dreadful to fire

A while ago I moderated a conference where we managed to get this top official from the European Commission as guest speaker. He is an absolute expert and influencer who could tell all about coming policies. So my client insisted on letting him give a 30 minute presentation. What followed was a dreadful powerpoint full of irrelevant technicalities in crumbled English. After 32 minutes there where still 20 slides left, so I politely cut him short and asked some relevant questions. The speaker lighted up, with fire in his eyes he very concretely went into future policies. The audience woke up: this was what they signed up for. I managed to save it, but I rather had it prevented it. I had suggested to my client to do an interview instead. Unfortunately they insisted on a presentation because they wanted to be polite to our guest.

Rogier Elshout interviewing a motivational speaker

going astray

Another time we had a great motivational speaker who is an absolute authority in his field and inspires thousands of professionals. So we were very exited to have this motivational speaker inspire professionals from around Europe with his inspirational speech. He started great but soon he started to talk a about his latest project, that was totally unrelated to what we asked him to talk about. And he kept going on about it. After 20 dreadful minutes I had to interfere and steer him into the right direction. From this I learned: even the best motivational speakers who know how to give a good presentation I rather interview if we are not sure they are strong on message.

Rogier Elshout interviewing a guest speaker

About the author 

Rogier Elshout

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