The relationship between a speaker and a meeting planner has some unwritten rules for politeness. Unfortunately, not every planner nor every speaker knows what they are.
Luckily, by starting with courtesy and consideration, each party has the opportunity to teach the other.
Your rights as a meeting planner:
• To be told that the speaker has arrived (by text, voicemail or in person).
• For the speaker to be amenable to a sound check, a visual check-in, or other reasonable requests that will help you feel more confident about their presentation.
• To have the speaker show up properly dressed and ready to present their best stuff
• For the speaker not to pitch from the platform without prior approval.
• To get any handouts (or their template), books, or other items in ample time for distribution.
• For the speaker to act in a professional manner from the moment he or she arrives at the venue until the moment they leave.
• To have the speaker present the content that you hired them for, without tangents or going too far off the path.
You have the absolute right to these things, and perhaps more. After all, the speakers you've chosen are important to the success of the event and the satisfaction of the meeting owner that hired you.
There are some speakers who never think about you. They never consider your needs. Most likely, rather than conscious discourtesy, this is because they just don't know your preferences.
You have to let speakers know in advance what you expect. Just like in any relationship in your life, the speaker can't read your mind. What you think is normal and polite may be something that the speaker has never even considered before. You might want to provide a "pre-event checklist" in advance as a separate file, incorporate it into the contract, or make sure it is in the speaker's room upon check-in.
The speaker has a right to want a few things from you, too. All successful relationships require a little give and take. Here are some things to provide speakers to ensure they do not complain about you or your organization behind your back:
• Invitations to attend meals in addition to their speech. Some speakers love to do this -- the business attracts a lot of extroverts. But there are also those who are not, or who are coming off a multi-city tour, or who picked up some germ on an airplane somewhere and aren't feeling their best. Keeping a speaker out the night before your event may not be in their best interests or yours. The solution? Ask with an option. "Would you like to come to dinner with us?" is a different question than "We'd like you to come to dinner with us. Can we meet in the lobby at 6 p.m.?" One feels like an option, the other feels like part of the job. Just like you cannot assume they don't want to be asked, likewise you cannot assume that they do. By making it completely clear it is optional and will not affect the business relationship between you, you allow a tired, ill or introverted speaker to relax so they can perform their best for you.
• Rational sound checks. Expecting a speaker to do a sound check at 7 a.m. in your time zone when the speaker doesn't go on until mid-afternoon are tedious. Perhaps the sound guys can do it right before the room opens for lunch? Find out if there are any options and give them to your speaker. They'll comply if they must, but options are always welcome.
• Prompt payment is always appreciated. The speakers are actually a surprisingly small community, and they talk about you when you're not there. Fast payment is one way to get a great reputation in the entire industry, not just with one speaker. Same goes for providing feedback from the audience or the C-level attendees. Speakers use this feedback to market themselves into new engagements, which is how they stay in business. Cumulative feedback, or writing a testimonial yourself, are essential to their future.
• Creature comforts are quite welcome. Speakers wax lyrical when they talk about meeting planners who put a gift basket in their room, or who made sure they had a nice, quiet room and enough time to sleep. Skimping on caring for your speakers is pennywise but pound foolish.
• Simple praise. Speakers are often fueled by a sense of contribution, with a heavy sauce of ego on top. Think about how you'd feel addressing a room of 500 strangers. Giving some quick verbal feedback -- before and after their presentation -- is a great way to get them eating out of your hand that costs you nothing.
These easy strategies will make the meeting planner-speaker connection enjoyable and easier for all involved. Positive energy is contagious and gets picked up easily by attendees, staff, and executives. Wendy Keller is a Chicago-based author, literary agent, and speaker who specializes in addressing resilience -- how to bounce back from anything life throws at you and thrive. Her inspirational story and a description of her speaking topics can be found at www.wendykeller.com.