5 Skills to Look for in Speakers at Your Next Conference

by Harry Prince, 30 June 2022
by Harry Prince,  30 June 2022
5 Skills to Look for in Speakers at Your Next Conference

We’re not exaggerating when we say that your conference speakers can make or break your event. Poor conference speakers can create an intensely negative experience for attendees, greatly reducing the chances that they’ll want to attend your conference again next year.

On the other hand, engaging, inspiring conference speakers can take your event to the next level, making it a must-attend experience for the professionals in your field.

That’s why it’s worth it to look for conference speakers who already exhibit a few crucial public speaking and presentation skills. As you plan your next conference, look for speakers that offer the following skills:

  1. Previous Speaking Experience/Training
  2. Intentional Planning Skills
  3. The Ability to Speak to a Hybrid Audience
  4. Personable Storytelling Skills
  5. The Ability to Provide Actionable Takeaways

Creating concise, memorable presentations is an achievable skill. When you invite conference speakers who have already spent time and energy improving their presenting skills, you can offer much more value to attendees and spend more time optimising other aspects of your event. Let’s take a closer look at each skill to look for.

1. Previous Speaking Experience/Training

As mentioned, speaker training can be an extremely valuable way for presenters to improve their presentation skills and create more engaging presentations. Someone who’s gone through speaker training will have picked up skills such as how to:

  • Maximise their personal strengths and presentation style. Presenters will be able to craft presentations that aren’t cookie-cutter and generic, but truly one-of-a-kind.
  • Speak with confidence. No slouching, fidgeting, or mumbling for these presenters!
  • Create a more engaging, well-designed presentation. Whether they’re presenting in-person or online, these presenters know how to connect with their audience and get their point across in a variety of formats.

Speaker training gives presenters the tools they need to create an authentic presentation that reflects their unique personalities and experiences. Utilizing high-quality PowerPoint templates can also help elevate the design of your presentation and make it stand out.

If you’re struggling to find speakers with previous training, consider offering training to your speakers yourself! Investing in conference speaker training ahead of your event can greatly improve the experience for your speakers, and later on, your attendees. There are even some in-person courses you can send speakers to, like Acuity Training's presentation course in London, which is a good option if you want to setup group or individual sessions.

Speakers will feel more comfortable and supported, while attendees will walk away with invaluable insights from concise, powerful presentations.

2. Intentional Planning Skills

Audience members can easily tell when a speaker has put time and energy into a presentation versus when they’ve thrown a few slides together and are speaking off the cuff.

When you recruit conference speakers that put time and energy into the planning process, you can offer a much more educational and professional experience for attendees.

Your conference speakers should bring several presentation planning skills to the table, such as how to:

  • Create a presentation with a clear structure. There’s no need for a presentation with an avant-garde structure that hops from point to point without a clear path. A beginning, middle, and end will do just fine to guide audience members through the key ideas. If you want to start a presentation effectively, it's crucial to establish a strong opening that grabs the audience's attention and sets the tone for the rest of your talk.
  • Choose visuals deliberately. Your speakers should design the flow of their speech and slides intentionally. Their presentations shouldn’t have any fluff or unnecessary visuals that don’t support their speech. Every image should support a different key topic or provide additional insight.
  • Practise in a way that best fits their presentation style. Speakers should spend time not only practising their speech, tone, and cadence but also the physical aspects of the presentation, such as their facial expressions and body language.

Your presenters should start with a clear storyboard and develop their presentation based on the personal strengths and weaknesses they’ve identified ahead of time. Reach out to individuals who you know will put the time and effort into creating a solid presentation plan. These prospective speakers might be past conference speakers who did an excellent job or individuals you’ve seen present at other organisations’ events.

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3. The Ability to Speak to a Hybrid Audience

If you’re hosting a virtual or hybrid conference, you’ll want to specifically find speakers who have experience presenting to these types of audiences.

Naturally, in-person conference engagement is different from speaking to a hybrid or fully virtual crowd. With an in-person speech, the presenter can make eye contact with audience members, ask them questions, and sense the general emotions of the crowd.

With a hybrid event, the speaker has to engage with both their in-person and at-home audience. And, with a fully virtual discussion, presenters have to understand how to leverage virtual presentation tools and formats effectively.

That’s why it’s helpful to find conference speakers who are experienced in:

  • Engaging both virtual and in-person audience members. The speaker should know how to engage both audiences without prioritising one over the other. For example, they might take a simultaneous poll by asking for a show of hands from in-person attendees and offering a virtual poll for those joining online.
  • Using virtual tools as necessary. Your speakers should be comfortable working in the virtual space, clicking through the presentation slides, playing videos, and adjusting the volume as needed. They should also make sure all presentation materials are accessible by providing video captions and avoiding videos that only use text to get the point across.
  • Setting up a professional presentation space. If your speakers will be tuning in from home, they should be able to set up their at-home presentation space effectively. That means preparing a clean, private room, with minimal distractions and bright, natural lighting.

You want to give your hybrid and virtual audiences just as great of an experience as you do your in-person conference attendees. Choosing speakers that can balance virtual presentation considerations takes some of the stress and uncertainty off your plate, allowing you to focus on optimising other aspects of your conference.

4. Personable Storytelling Skills

An effective speaker isn’t just someone who can lay out the facts and guide audience members through a series of key points. An effective speaker is also a storyteller.

We’re not talking about telling scary stories around a campfire or sharing amusing anecdotes at the office water cooler. We’re talking about people who can pull stories from their experiences and day-to-day lives and share them in a way that facilitates understanding of a larger or more complex topic.

Speakers who can weave storytelling into their presentations will be much more engaging and indelible for audience members. Research even suggests that stories are 22 times more memorable than straightforward facts.

As you build your conference schedule, search for speakers who are experts in your field, with hands-on knowledge of the topics you’ll be highlighting at the event. These might be industry influencers, entrepreneurs, thought leaders, bloggers, CEOs, or researchers. 

Choosing expert speakers with a wealth of personal experience in your conference topic allows your audience members to benefit from hearing directly from the top movers and shakers in your industry.

5. The Ability to Provide Actionable Takeaways

Sticking the landing of a presentation is essential to the success of the entire speech. Many public speaking experts even recommend starting the planning process by figuring out how the presentation will end.

Your conference speakers should be able to organise the main points of their speech into a handful of key takeaways that attendees can bring with them after the conference concludes.

It’s best to end your presentation on a high note. Be Brilliant Presentation Group recommends including a do-remember-feel conclusion. This means speakers should wrap up the presentation by highlighting:

  • One thing audience members should do. Speakers should conclude with a rousing call to action that gets attendees thinking about one thing they can change in their professional or personal lives going forward based on what they’ve learned.If you are in need of a well-written and impactful speech, there are many platforms with experienced writers available to write a custom speech that meets your specific needs and requirements.
  • One thing audience members should remember. Speakers should clearly restate the One Big Thing attendees should know after attending the presentation. This ensures that they’re emphasising the most important takeaway from everything they’ve covered.
  • One thing audience members should feel. After an effective speech, audience members should leave not only with new knowledge on a topic but also a new feeling about the topic. It’s beneficial if speakers can end their presentation with an inspiring quote or a callback to a previous story they told to solidify this emotional connection.

Your conference speakers will succeed when they can help set audience members up to succeed in their daily lives. This starts with giving attendees clear next steps to take in their presentation conclusion.

You wouldn’t want to visit a restaurant if you hear that the chef started their cooking career yesterday, or get your haircut by a stylist who’s never picked up a pair of scissors. Similarly, your conference attendees don’t want to hear presentations from inexperienced public speakers.

By inviting conference speakers who are already well-versed in what makes for a successful presentation, you can create a more effective, successful event. Plus, you can develop your organisation’s reputation as a credible, powerful thought leader in your field, boosting future conference attendance.

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