Partnering with Event Professionals Makes for a Wildly Delicious Experience

Do you have a conference, team retreat, recognition event, association convention, or other important gatherings, trying to find your feet in this wacky post-pandemic/not post-pandemic world?

I get it. Half of the events I speak at are virtual, and most of the rest are in-person with a smattering of hybrid (the trend in the fall is looking like many virtual events are morphing to hybrid.) It’s a wacky, wonderful and wonderous time in the meetings industry for corporate and conference events.

Just like the birth of your first child, firsts can be fabulous yet totally and completely overwhelming at the same time. Are you bringing folks together for the first time in a long time, trying a new approach, or even going back to how you used to gather? We want to help in this blog post to set you up for success tried and true advice.

Here are some guiding principles for successful events with both best practices and emerging practices.

Creating Delicious Gatherings and Meaningful Events

You’re investing a lot of time, energy, and finances into your event. We wouldn’t be recognition experts if we didn’t see and honour that. Follow this advice and your audience will give YOU a standing ovation.

image of signs that say Help, Advice, Support, Guidance to partner withInvest in great support

You have only so much to invest, we get it. But sometimes your dollars can be spent on the wrong things. Consider what will deliver the most value. Swag, posters, and logos can be nice; however, no one raves in the evaluation, that the logo on a pen changed their life. Quality audio-visual and speaking professionals are essential, and this is equally important for live, virtual, and hybrid events. You’d never plan an elegant wedding in a five-star hotel only to serve hotdogs and boogie down to your Uncle Fred’s cousin’s neighbour’s Spotify playlist. Create a memorable experience for your audience and the ROI you’re accountable for.

Invest in your reputation

Your speakers are a reflection of you. There has been an influx of speakers who have hung their shingles during COVID because there are fewer barriers to entry. Decide if “free” or low fees are sufficient. It might be. Regardless, remember, you aren’t hiring someone for “one hour”; you’re hiring someone’s thought leadership, career and life experience, and of course, hours refining, practicing and delivering keynotes. What does your event call for? Adjust your budget accordingly. Maybe that’s a no-fee or low-fee speaker, and maybe you have to invest in the experience. They are a reflection of you.

Hire a content expert

Do you need a speaker who knows a little about a lot – or – a lot about a little? You can find content experts who specialize in a specific industry, topic, or trend. They have the most relevant examples, updated data, insights on emerging issues, and often a new twist on old problems. In addition, content experts can serve beyond the keynote in breakout sessions, hot seats, Q&As, and panel discussions, adding bonus value to your sponsors. Speakers have gotten used to being super flexible, so why not ask for everything you want so that your attendees can get the maximum benefit from speakers’ expertise.

image of 2 puzzle pieces that fit together as a partnerMatch the topic with a need

What is top of mind for those in the audience? What keeps them up at night? If you could wave a magic wand, what problem would you make disappear or opportunity appear? Pick the topic that addresses the audience’s biggest needs. When you do, you’ll have raving fans (versus an audience of “prisoners”). Once you have landed on the juiciest topic, and this is important, work with your speaker to adjust the description, subheading, and learning objectives to reflect your audience, event theme, and reason for the event. Great speakers want to work with you to make sure there’s full alignment between what they can bring and what your audience needs.

Save surprises for your next party

Some surprises are good, but some are not. As speakers, we can attest to no one benefiting when there is a last-minute change to the chosen topic (that took 20 hours to prepare – just saying) or a sudden realization that communication, at some point, fell into a black hole. We are seeing super short timelines on hiring us, however, that shouldn’t cut down on the planning time together. Have the call(s) so your speaker will understand the current key issues, learn juicy examples, understand industry jargon, sidestep “trigger” words (e.g., one client says do not use the word “staff” and rather use “coworker”), and can subtly weave into stories and examples highlighting sponsors and their products. Your speaker can also promote your event on their social, encourage the use of conference apps, and promote the use of social media handles and hashtags!

Get devilish with the details

As they say, the devil is in the details, and your speaker can be a huge help. There have been a few examples in COVID, working for amazing clients, where important details were missed, and it lead to keynotes being cut off halfway through, missed intros, unmuted joiners (one time a code blue was happening in the background which was traumatic for everyone!), or attendees arriving late. Every event has its “oops” moments. And, some of these issues are the adjustment to new ways of hosting meetings (for virtual), the complicated blending of attendee experiences (for hybrid), and being a bit rusty for the first live event (in-person). People are doing the best they can, for sure, so rely on your speakers for advice, tips, and tools. They do this full-time and want to help you be successful.

image of video studio equipment and the back of a man's head Equip for success

For a live event, think through the functionality of the space and where your speaker will be. Could there be noise from another room or event? Is everyone able to see the stage? If the room is large, do you need to rope off a section so you don’t have the speaker screaming to the back, busting the President and VP’s eardrums in the front row (there’s some magnetic pull for humans about the back of any conference room)? Is there a comfort monitor so your speaker can see the slides as the audience sees them, a timer so your speaker won’t go over, a headset or lapel mic so your speaker can connect with the audience (versus being stuck behind a podium). Even if you’re an experienced event professional, exploring options with your speaker, as they know their programs best, can help you make tough budget calls and delight the audience with a carefully curated experience. Just please, don’t slice the AV budget too much or else that could lead to a poor quality experience for your attendees and make your speaker look less professional (which by extension is a reflection of you.)

Focus on first impressions

As soon as someone takes the stage, from the President to the Sponsor to the Speaker, your audience is sizing up the quality of the event. Partner with your speaker to create a beautiful marriage between a well-scripted start and an authentically spoken introduction. Not everyone is comfortable, even people in senior positions, speaking in front of groups; the more folks are prepped, practiced, and resourced in advance (eg., have the speaker’s introduction with the phonetic spelling of their name), the more professional your event and key members will come across. It also allows you to maximize your investment with strategic use of your opening segment; you don’t want time being gobbled up such as delayed starts, intros that go long, or a litany of dad jokes cutting into your paid speaker’s time allotment. Furthermore, research shows people have an attention span in educational contexts of about 3 to 10 minutes (exactly how long is still being researched), you don’t want to lose folks before the core program starts!

Maximize the impact

How long do you want the speaker’s message to last? Given your investment in the event and speakers, you likely want to see some immediate change – mindset, action, habits, etc. Your speakers will have tools and materials to help ensure this happens, and there are cool tools that have hit the market to make this fun, accessible, and easy for attendees to get immediate value from. Whether it’s tip sheets and checklists, a book for everyone in the audience, or tools attendees can hold and use in the session, your speaker can partner with you to ensure maximum impact. There’s always a creative solution to be found (e.g., some clients moved from giving physical books to audiobooks for virtual events). Even if there is no formal budget line, there are always options. Ask for what you want: bulk rates, bonus materials, and even a few books to be gifted for prizes or sponsor gifts.

Phone a friend

If you don’t plan a lot of conferences, ask your professional speaker for a planning call and resources to support you, especially if it’s been a while. We’ve been working all throughout COVID, and have done and seen it all! Professional speakers would rather help you in advance, sharing what they’ve learned the easy and the hard way, rather than troubleshooting on the day of. If your professional contacts of go-to people have dried up or they’ve moved on due to COVID, speakers have a deep network of current referral sources you can draw from – AV experts, virtual platform hosts, event professionals, and fellow speakers. Need a recommendation? Guaranteed, they’ve got one!

We have even more tips if you visit our new website.

There is so much to think about. We are in this together! Whether we at Greatness Magnified work with you or you just want to know about good event planning and decision-making, please reach out for some advice from veteran events professional (my speaker Manager) Tami Adams to pick her brain.

Catch the 15-minute detailed video where Sarah gives you a sneak peek into her studio and what to invest in for professional virtual meetings and training.

image of Sarah McVanel in her remote studio as a partner

Here’s the 15-second version of the equipment description to create a delicious virtual meeting or training session that wows them all.

“There is more hunger for love and appreciation in this world than for bread.”

– Mother Teresa

Judy Kucharuk

Director, Marketing and Special Events, Encana Events Centre

"Funny, full of energy and incredibly motivating – all words to use when describing Sarah and her passionate stage presence. We were fortunate to have Sarah join us as a speaker for Spark Women’s Leadership Conferences and her presentations about leveraging greatness hit the core of our objective at SPARK: “A rising tide lifts all boats”. I would not hesitate to recommend Sarah to other organizations that are searching for a well-prepared, well-organized, thoughtful and passionate storyteller."
Shelley VanVeen

Learning & Development Manager, Libro Credit Union

"Sarah brought so much energy and enthusiasm to our International Women’s Day event at Libro! Her message was uplifting, thought-provoking and truly appreciated by our team. Dealing with Sarah was wonderful – she was open, professional and willing to work with us to customize her message to incorporate our culture and connect to our topic and participants. During the session, she was a pro with a powerful message and a fantastic delivery. We had wonderful feedback from all that attended and can’t wait to have Sarah back for another session in the future!"
Sylvia D’Intino

Executive Director, Community Living Hamilton

"THANK YOU so very much for leading the engagement activities today! You’re a constant professional, with an amazing attitude and always seeing the great in everyone. I am grateful for how you have helped us this year to transform our in-person staff recognition events into virtual and on-location events. Our staff feel more inspired, appreciated and motivated after they hear you speak, and I know our amazing in-house team here looks forward to designing engaging appreciation events with your support."
Melissa Chaulk

Manager of Professional Development

Canadian Dental Hygienists Association

"We work hard at CDHA to give our members a wonderful conference experience, so we were thrilled to have received resoundingly positive feedback on Sarah's opening plenary keynote. It was the highest attended of the entire conference for both dates!"
Jamie Campbell

Director, The Center for People in Organizational Development, Sheridan College

"Smart, challenging, innovative, committed, dependable, and reliable, I highly recommend her for all your recognition needs. I have brought Sarah into my last two organizations to help build a culture of recognition and celebration. The focus on appreciation is more important now than ever."

Some of the Great Organizations We Serve