« 15. How to run conferences & engage the audience »

Written by Rachel Green. Director, The Emotional Intelligence Institute. She is the author of "Overcome the Fear of Public Speaking" and is one of only 800 people in the world with the highest level of accreditation in the professional speaking industry - CSP - Certified Speaking Professional.

Conference and seminar sessions can involve a great deal of detailed organisation to run efficiently and smoothly. In order to keep your audience happy and engaged throughout - you need to take care of the right details.

When things go wrong the audience can become bored, restless and disengaged.

These are not emotions you want your audience to have!

Do not go to all the trouble to have brilliant conference speakers and a wonderful venue, unless you also take care of the session details.

If you are new to running conferences there are many details you may not even realise need to be considered.

Here are ten tips to help you manage all the details so your audiences stay engaged in your conferences.

EI tip 1: Keep the audio-visual/staging technicians in the room.

The audio-visual equipment must be 100% right throughout each and every conference session. While it is cheaper to only have the audio-visual technicians set up and take away the audio-visual equipment, if you can afford it, have them there all the time. And, keep them in the room all the time.

This means they can:

  • monitor sound levels for each speaker,
  • control the lighting levels for each speaker,
  • ensure all power-point displays run smoothly,
  • change the batteries in the microphones as soon as they fade,
  • turn down the lectern microphone when someone is on a lapel microphone,
  • ensure the data projectors are compatible with the laptops,
  • maintain globes in the projectors ... and so on.

There is a lot to be done. When it runs smoothly it is barely noticed, but have one microphone that doesn't work or one PowerPoint display that goes wrong, and the whole session can be ruined.

Want to improve your confidence as a public speaker so your audience wants to listen to you? Book into our public speaking development package

EI tip 2: Arrange masters of ceremonies throughout.

Choose a good master of ceremony who can help to keep the whole program rolling. The master of ceremonies is the person who provides the glue to join all the conference components together.

They can ensure that even if a speaker has been boring that the energy at the conference is regained. They are the people who can help the audience look forward to each speaker with anticipation.

They are the people that can give special thanks to the speakers so they leave feeling really good, and they are the people that can keep the audience entertained in the dull spots.

Choose a good MC. If you are not sure how to do this criteria for choosing a good master of ceremonies are included in the E-book "Organising conference or seminar programs: Seven fatal mistakes that people make and how to avoid them".

EI tip 3: Allow time for the small things in your running sheet.

Prepare a running sheet of everything that is going to happen, minute-by-minute.

Do not just put the start and end time of speeches.

Also, allow for the master of ceremonies to introduce and thank speakers, to give notices, to provide some entertainment between papers, and for your participants to switch between concurrent sessions; and so on.

t is taking care of these little things that will make the difference and ensure your conference runs like clock-work. Then people will feel relaxed, the ideal emotion for a conference audience.

EI tip 4: Choose a clear system to stop speakers.

It is imperative that you develop a really reliable system of time keeping.

Decide in advance what this will be, e.g. a bell, signs, a buzzer, the microphone being muted, and so on. Then use the system strictly. People going over time frustrate an audience.

Do not frustrate your audience.

EI tip 5: Don't change programming at short notice.

  1. Your audience will have read your conference program in advance and arranged their time accordingly.
  2. Your masters of ceremonies will have written and rehearsed their introductions in advance.
  3. The stage management crew will have worked out what to do in advance.
  4. Your audio technicians will have planned in advance.
  5. Your caterers will be primed to be ready for a certain time.

Therefore, don't change the programming at short notice unless there is a crisis, e.g. if someone pulls out at short notice. Don't put a "new thing" in.

Want to engage your audience more easily and make your presentations more interesting? Book into our public speaking development package.

EI tip 6: Have microphones in the audience for questions.

Another aspect that frustrates audiences, is not being able to hear speakers easily, or not being able to hear the other members of the audience when they ask questions. Therefore, have good microphones for all speakers, and the master of ceremonies.

And, if you want questions to be asked - have microphones in the audience, as well.

EI tip 7: Avoid noise in adjoining rooms.

Noise can be very distracting both for the speakers and for the audience. Make the venue as quiet as possible.

If possible have exhibition areas, refreshments areas, etc. well away from the session rooms.

EI tip 8: Set up the AV early.

Set up the AV early so speakers can check everything is OK the day before.

It can help relax your speakers and master of ceremony if they have had a chance to check all their audio-visuals (AV) well in advance of their sessions.

If it's possible, set up the AV early so speakers can check everything is okay the day before. This means that speakers, masters of ceremonies, and others ... can spend time on the day psychologically preparing themselves and not trying to check equipment.

Do not expect a speaker to set up 5 or 10 minutes before speaking. It can leave them feeling on edge.

EI tip 9: Have huge names on name tags.

Part of the value of a conference or seminar series is being able to network with other participants. Make this easy for people.

Write the names on name tags in a very large print so they can be read easily from a distance. I mean HUGE!

EI tip 10: Keep your program on schedule.

Papers going over lunch and tea breaks irritate people because they have set their internal schedules to expect tea/lunch.

Speakers also get upset when other speakers are allowed to go over time. Deal with everyone fairly.

Give each person his or her allotted time - no more and no less. Stick to time. You'll be thanked for it.

How to improve your public speaking now.

Can you afford to have you or your team unable to engage their audiences? No! Organisations need to be represented by engaging speakers in order to get their message across as swiftly and effectively as possible. This applies to you if you are an executive or a manager too - do not bore your employees, your stakeholders or your board. We have a number of options to help you:

  1. Book into our public speaking development package.
  2. There is a definitive guide: "The beginners guide to being a brilliant MC".
  3. Read the book "Overcome the Fear of Public Speaking".

For more details or to make a booking e-mail us now or pick up the phone and call us.