Mind your language …

Events and conferences stay in people’s minds for different reasons. But not necessarily the reason for which the event was held in the first place. Lots of delegates remember the location, the people they met, the food…

Certainly, you want people to have fun and network; both are important morale boosters and team builders.

But having fun is rarely the principal objective for spending tens of thousands of shareholders’ money and monopolising a huge chunk of the communication team’s time.

What everyone wants people to remember from events are the ideas, the information and the practices that will help them work better; invest in new services and products or get behind change.

This means that the lunch buffet should not be the most energising moment in the day. And no one should be counting down to the evening entertainment and the free bar.

The best events are those where audiences come alive because presenters address their concerns directly; bring them new ideas; make them question how they currently do things.

What’s said on stage is what delegates should want to discuss at break time. It’s what they should want to tweet, video, write blogs about; think about on the way home and share when they get back into the office.

And what delegates see on stage should anchor the message, long after the precise words have faded.

So why do companies, who go to the trouble of choosing a venue a year before an event, leave speech preparation until the last minute and let their executives get up on stage to present fuzzy messages, buried deep in generic speeches?

It may be because speeches are seen as the personal responsibility of each speaker.

However, to be effective, events require speakers and communication managers to invest time in answering a few basic questions in the early planning stages.

The questions are the oldest ones in the writer’s handbook: Who? What? Why? If you’re setting objectives or selling products and services, you’ll also want to answer how, where, and when.

Once these questions are answered, everyone is well on the way to defining messages and building a narrative structure for the event, into which individual speeches will fit.

The most important question is ‘who?’ and it refers to the audience.

If a speaker is dull, you can be pretty sure they haven’t given much thought to who is sitting in the darkened auditorium.

Instead they have committed the common error of opening PowerPoint and typing about what is uppermost in their own minds. This could be a product they are selling, or the research they are doing or the data they have, or the changes they want other people to make.

Captivating speakers understand what makes their audience tick and how to address their specific needs, issues, challenges, and desires – i.e. the messages — before they go anywhere near presentation software.

They then add the personal detail that makes the speech a story that only one speaker; the one on stage; could tell.

If that sounds time-consuming, it’s because it is. Churchill is famous for saying: “I’m going to make a long speech because I’ve not had the time to prepare a short one.”

Few of us are Churchill. However much time he took, the rest of us need to at least quadruple it, and put messaging and content at the centre of event planning.

Joanne Taffe

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