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How To Prepare Your Event Speakers For Success: Key Facilitation Tips & Tricks

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I’ve been hosting and speaking at a ton of events these past few years now that the virtual event world has opened up full-force. I love it! No matter what role I’m playing whether it’s moderating, facilitating, or guest speaking, I always gain new insights and learn from the people involved. As a speaker, the times where I am able to get the most out of an event is when I am given the tools to be successful beforehand. While I’m immensely grateful for every event I get to speak at, there were times where to be frank, I felt uncomfortable due to a lack of preparation for the speakers on the panels despite good intentions. I understand how organizers feel. There are so many variables to keep track of in addition to having the speakers. Still, I want to share how as someone who speaks a lot and hosts a lot of events, how you could indeed balance both operations and speaker support to make your event a success.

The Ultimate Speaker Management Checklist

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In this blog, I will give you my behind the scenes ultimate “speaker prep” hack so that no matter what event you host or guest speakers you have, you will feel more confident in how you prepare speakers. I hope reflecting on what you could do before, during and after with intention and thoughtfulness could encourage you how you could avoid all the awkward moments you may have seen at previous events. Let’s be honest we’ve all been there before – as a participant and as a host! Situations where:

  • Speakers can’t find the right link to join the talk (and endless technical mishaps)
  • Speakers show up but there’s no guidance on how the conversation should flow. I have to admit, I cringe a little when I hear a host say, “So who wants to talk?”
  • Speakers over dominate the conversation or go off into unrelated tangents, and are not managed.

It’s essential that as hosts we learn to invite speakers to our virtual events like a pro, and empower them to show up prepared. Of course, there is such a thing as “over preparing” your speakers to a point where everything sounds too structured and over rehearsed. My goal as a host is always to keep the conversation natural by crafting a flow of speech before-hand, and sharing that with the speakers. These hacks are crafted to help organizers do more with less and really understand from the operation and speaker lens how to design a flow that is thoughtful and reduces miscommunication.

Speakers are welcome to share this resource with organizers who are new to hosting events, or for those who just want to learn how to prepare for events better.

The Ultimate Speaker Management Checklist

DOWNLOAD NOW

BEFORE THE EVENT SPEAKER PREPARATION HACKS

First things first – organize your information about the speakers. Organization is key for not only coordinating with your speakers, but setting your own team up for success by providing them with information for graphics, press, blogs, and more.

The goal is to have all the key information of the speaker organized in one document. That document should live in the same folder with marketing graphics that include speaker info, for example. This is a practice of a single source of truth and making it easy to keep information in one place.

Preparing BEFORE you even ask a speaker if they’re interested:

1. Prepare the Calendar Invite: Create the calendar invite of the event (including marketing graphics) in advance so that as soon as the speaker says yes, they can add the event to their calendar and not forget. Double booking happens all the time 

2. Create A Speaker Information Collection Form: As soon as a speaker says yes, use Typeform (or another quiz and form creator) to ask speakers key information about themselves so that you don’t lose all that information in an email somewhere. If the information is not there then, follow up. Here is how we ask speakers to share their information up front to organize it all in one place.

  • Information that are good to collect up front include:
      • Full Name
      • Title, Organization
      • Gender Pronoun
      • Contact Information
      • Photo
      • Bio
      • Social Media Handles
      • Any quotes you want to collect

3. Give Yourself Time To Look For Back-Ups: If speakers decline it’s important to have a prepared list of who you can follow up with next. What date do you need everybody’s confirmation by to have time to prepare all the assets needed for the event? 

Quick Tip: It’s not the speaker’s responsibility to bring you guests, though they will help you if you ask casually in your early communications. It’s simply not a fair weight to burden your speakers with when they are already likely volunteering their time to speak at your event.

Read some of reflection blogs from the past events hosted by InnovatorsBox®

Preparing for When the Speaker Accepts:

1. Send Speakers Information That Anticipates Answers to their Questions & Encourages Engagement: I usually put together a document like this which includes:

    • What my intention for the speaker is: Engagement intention is incredibly important, Will they be expected to be on video and audio? Will it be recorded? 
    • What the audience intention is
    • Important Dates
    • My Contact Information
    • An Event Overview
    • Key Links
    • Who The Other Speakers Are (Including Photos)
    • Social Media Examples Promoting the Event For Them To Easily Share
    • Flow of Content

And again – it’s all in one place, a single source of truth!

The Ultimate Speaker Management Checklist

DOWNLOAD NOW

I usually also have a folder of all the graphics pertaining to the event in one place, and share it with the speakers as well. It’s important to consider all the dimensions and usages of the images in one place, instead of duplicating. (Example, an Instagram post versus a LinkedIn cover post.)

You should have a guide to broadly who is saying what and what types of questions are being answered. Share the flow at least a week or few days before the event to give them time to digest and review the details.

2. Keep Speakers Informed in ONE Email Thread: Send one email with all the key people involved in the event and start a thread. Keep people informed on where things are as the event date gets closer. Setting auto calendar event invites is also a key practice.

Setting Up A Prep Call With the Speakers:

Especially if the event is a panel, it’s good practice to speak together in a group once before the event itself. I usually limit my calls to 30 minutes with the agenda of explaining the intention of the session, overviewing key logistics, introducing all the guests, and sharing what we all hope to achieve and cover in the event.

1. Schedule The Meeting With A Tool To Avoid Miscommunication: The goal should be to set a time that works for everyone, and to get there with less email back-and-forth and time-zone confusion. You can use tools like Doodle to identify the times that work for the majority. But my favorite way is actually creating an open Google Document with a calendar for people to fill out in real time what dates and times work. Then I send another clear calendar invite follow up. The key is to make this easy and set a time and date as fast as possible.

2. Opening Questions for the Prep Call: As a host and moderator, your goal is to gather insights and data and nuances that would be ideal to cover in the talk. Here are opener questions I love using that I recommend:

    • What do you feel we should discuss that is not usually talked about?
    • What should we cover that would make this session meaningful?
    • What changes are you seeing in your space?
    • What are your thoughts on this A/B topic? 
    • How is everyone engaging in this A/B topic differently?
    • What is coming up for you based on the topic we have in mind that you wish we discuss?
    • Anything else you wish we covered?


The key is to keep it open to gather as much potential insights as possible – that’s the secret sauce to a unique and insightful panel.

Quick Tip – Take photo and video clips from the prep call that you could use for more “humanized” marketing materials.

3. Send A Follow Up to Prep Call About The Flow: After the prep call, hosts should organize the notes to create a starting point for creating the program flow. Send a quick follow up email to all guests and speakers on next steps and when you’ll update flow.

PREPARING THE PROGRAM FLOW:

When looking at my notes from the prep call, my goal is to identify the core themes and questions. Synthesizing information and finding patterns for me is something I do very well and enjoy, but it took practice. I got used to consuming a lot of diverse data really fast throughout all my different jobs. That may not be the case for you, and that’s okay. If you are not as comfortable in identifying patterns, I recommend creating the flow in this general format: 

    • Buffer Time (15 Minutes or So) Before You Go Live. Remind all speakers they have about 1-2 mins per questions and that they will be tailored to them
    • Introduction Opener
      • Welcome
      • Setting Intention
      • Introduce Speaker
      • What to expect and why that’s relevant
      • Thank guests for joining
    • Introduce then the moderator, moderator will then kick off the program
      • Moderator introduces oneself and explains why this conversation is meaningful for you
      • Introduce each speaker by name, title, and highlight one brief phrase about them, so that others know who they are. Panels are not a long time for everyone to do an intro, so moderators should do this gently within a few seconds in a way that makes everyone feel welcomed.
      • Introduce the first theme
    • Theme 1 (A: 1-2 min per panelists)
      • Introduce theme 
      • Why this theme is important and context
      • Question 1 in theme 1 to person 1 
      • Question 2 in theme 1 to person 2
      • Question 3 in theme 1 to person 3
    • Theme 2 – (A: 1-2 min per panelists)
      • Introduce theme 
      • Why this theme is important and context
      • Question 1 in theme 2 to person 2 
      • Question 2 in theme 2 to person 3
      • Question 3 in theme 2 to person 1
    • Theme 3 (A: 30 second per panelists)
      • Introduce theme 
      • Why this theme is important and context
      • Same Q in theme 3 to person 2, 1, 3
        • Again direct the order and mix it up
    • Wrap up as moderator and check in with host on FAQ
    • FAQ and Open Time
    • Host wraps up and takes on insights and share key insights, next steps

    The Ultimate Speaker Management Checklist

    DOWNLOAD NOW

    Prep Questions Strategically as a Moderator: Please do not ask questions like “Who wants to answer?” or “Anyone can jump in” – this leaves room for a lot of miscommunication. As a moderator, it’s your job to guide the room and empower them so they can answer what they are comfortable with answering. This way they show up as their best selves from the beginning and dive deep into storytelling from the get go.

    You should have a guide to broadly who is saying what and what types of questions are being answered. Share the flow at least a week or few days before the event to give them time to digest and review the details.

    Now at this stage you may be wondering to yourself, is this too structured?

    Am I feeling too scripted? You said you wanted something more organic and natural.

    Sure, you’re free to add more or less flexibility to the structure. But the point is not to prepare your speakers to be scripted, the goal is to prepare them to speak meaningfully on the topics at hand. Also directing questions that they could easily get into the flow empowers them. While I do usually put my notes about what I’m going to say nearby I don’t read word for word. I simply use the structure to speak like I naturally would.

    THE DAY OF THE EVENT SPEAKER BRIEF CHECKLIST:

    • Reminder Emails Sent to Speakers and Panelists about the event again and be reminded of the excitement. Share intention and why this is going to be great. Give some personal touch! Email can include
      •  # Of Participants (if applicable) 
      • Engagement Expectation
      • Any Tech Updates
      • The Event Link (Again!)
    • Panelists Join Event A Few minutes Early, Give them time to settle in, remind them about water, audio, lighting setting. And use that time to remind them of the intention to check in with how they each feel. Adding music can help too! I usually inform panelists to follow my lead and not worry about the document so they can answer naturally and that I will ask organically other questions on the spot based on the flow.
    • As a Moderator, Keep to the Flow Without Rushing Speakers or Going Too Flow
    • As a Moderator, gently nudge and encourage vulnerability by asking nuanced and thoughtful questions.
    • As a Moderator, Encourage people to engage and comment on things in the chat
    • When throwing out a question, always add context: This question is important for me because x,y,z, wow and I’m seeing x,yz, engagement in the chat. I’m feeling a,bc.
    • Give Verbal Cues We’re nearing the end of the event: “Now as we get to the last question…” 
    • Wrap Up Thoughtfully, Give a few mins to leave a core question that you could ask speakers at the end to wrap up gently. It’s important to end on a high note! Don’t ask a question about what’s all going wrong in the world.

    FOLLOWING UP AFTER THE EVENT:

    When the event is over, it’s not REALLY over. Immediately show your gratitude that your speakers have given you so much of their time and insights by sending them up a follow up, thank you, and sharing on social media how the event went (this also helps create FOMO for those who couldn’t make it).

    In the follow up email to speakers:

    • Thank your speakers
    • Share what happens next
    • Share screenshots and photos taken so they have the resources from the event as well

    Also send a follow up thank you email to all guests as well so for those who missed they also know how to engage. Include expectations on their next steps and how to engage back if they need help.

    Yes, preparing speaker events takes time but in return you will save time, avoid awkwardness, and most importantly, make your speakers feel appreciated and prepared to make your event as helpful to your participants (and yourself) as possible.

    For a great summary of this blog and actionable guidelines for all the things I’ve discussed, download our free Speaker Prep Checklist which can help any organizer prep a successful event – from start to finish!

    The Ultimate Speaker Management Checklist

    DOWNLOAD NOW

    About the Author

    Monica H. Kang

    Monica H. Kang

    Monica H. Kang, Founder, and CEO of InnovatorsBox® and Author of Rethink Creativity is transforming today’s workforce through the power of creativity. She helps companies rethink culture, leadership, and team development by making creativity practical and relatable regardless of industry or job title. She has worked with clients worldwide including Fortune 500 companies, higher education, government, and nonprofits. Monica’s work has been recognized by The White House, Ashoka Changemakers, National Minority Supplier Development Council (NMSDC), and Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC). Prior to InnovatorsBox®, Monica was a nuclear nonproliferation policy expert. She holds an M.A. from SAIS Johns Hopkins University in Strategic Studies and International Economics and a B.A. from Boston University.

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