Conference Speaking: I Have a Little List
Thanks to Rachel Singer Gordon, Jessamyn West, Dorothea Salo and 90 people who’ve spoken in the library field, we’re gaining a little transparency and a lot of good advice—stuff I wish I’d known two decades ago (when I started getting speaking invitations).
In the spirit of what Tom Lehrer would call research (“Lobachevsky”)
I’m combining material from five posts and my thoughts on reading those posts.
The posts: “Ten do’s and don’ts for conference, workshop, and program
organizers” (September 11, 2006, The liminal librarian), “Speaking
survey: Results” and “Speaking survey: Comments from respondents” (November 17, 2006, The liminal librarian), “Ten tips for presenters” (September 25, 2006, librarian.net.), and—much earlier—“Conference economics” (May 29, 2006, Caveat Lector). I heartily recommend that you
read all five posts in full. (OK, I don’t meet Lobachevsky’s definition—I’m
naming my sources, which falls short of proper
plagiarism research.) I’m
omitting some material in those posts (e.g., Jessamyn West’s section on
A little personal background first, so you’ll see where these comments do and maybe don’t apply:
Ø I never set out to be a speaker, but I did do four years of high school (NFL) debate, impromptu and extemporaneous speaking.
Ø I’ve never been a particularly active speaker. During my peak years (1993 through 2000), I established an eight-trip limit (excluding ALA Annual and Midwinter) and only passed eight speeches a year through two-conference trips or multiple speeches in one conference or city. My maximum was eleven speeches in 1996, and that included one during ALA Annual. Given the increasing joys of air travel, the fact that I travel without technology and don’t write on the road and everything else, I’m happy with one, two or no speaking trips per year in the future—and unlikely to go past four or five unless they’re part of work, truly interesting opportunities or otherwise exceptional. (Three state conferences a year would be almost ideal.)
Ø I rarely apply to speak although I was part of a few arranged programs and did a generally-unsuccessful LITA workshop on desktop publishing three times over a couple of years. My experience and opinions don’t necessarily track well for people who are speaking to present research results or gain tenure, or those proposing paid workshops: I believe the ground rules are a lot different in those cases.
Ø Almost half my speeches have been keynotes and nearly all of my speeches have been written for a particular occasion. When I’ve been asked “what’s your fee?” I’ve never had a good answer. Now, thanks to discussions with other speakers and confirmation from Rachel Gordon’s poll, I think I do—but I don’t anticipate that many more invitations, as there are so many younger, higher-profile, probably more interesting, certainly better organized, and in some cases free or cheaper speakers around. I won’t say I’m yesterday’s news, but conference organizers might—and I wouldn’t argue the case.
Ø Nearly all my speeches have been to library groups, either at professional association conferences (states, types of libraries, types of librarians, etc.) or at libraries or groups of libraries. I haven’t had much experience with for-profit conferences and I’d probably adjust my demands upward for such conferences.
With that full disclosure related to my own biases, here’s what I make of the five posts—or those portions of the posts related to being an invited speaker at a conference.
Yes, I know there are always exceptions—some well known, some very much dependent on your own situation. I don’t ask about money (honorarium or expenses) if I’m invited to speak at an official ALA function during ALA Annual or Midwinter, because I know it violates ALA policy to pay members to present at either conference and I’d be going to both in any case. That exception would not apply if, say, PLA invited me to speak at their national conference (I’m not a PLA member) and probably wouldn’t apply if LITA invited me to speak at their annual forum (I wouldn’t be going to the forum under normal circumstances). I spoke for a nominal sum (covering driving, parking and lunch) at a California Library Association conference in San Jose, but would expect full expenses and an honorarium if the conference was in, say, San Diego—because I’m not a CLA member and wouldn’t be attending otherwise.
I’m going to combine advice from the posts into phases of a conference speaking situation. I’ll mark quoted material with the initials of the writer: RSG, JW or DS.
If you plan to do any speaking in your career, whether invited or arranged, it makes sense to do some work in advance.
Identity. Keep a current headshot (300 dpi, reproducible in B&W, looks OK at tiny sizes) and a few versions of your bio [short, medium, long] ready to be emailed off as needed. I keep a version of the “this is the pertinent information you’ll need from me” email on hand including name, mailing address, contact phone/email, SSN (if they need it for W-2s) and affiliation, and forward it as needed. Depending on the conference, you may be introduced using only the information you provide, so make it as detailed as you want it to be. You may want to have a short author bio for copy/pasting into a brochure, and a longer “information about me” paragraph to be given to the person doing your introduction. [JW]
I maintain most of this information on a website (now waltcrawford.name) because I had a free website back in dialup days, I wanted to make some miscellaneous papers available and it turned out to be convenient to store it there and point people to it when they need it. I maintain a brief biographical statement (suitable for brochures and introductions), a headshot (in color but it works in black and white), a selective vita and a full vita. Email info is included there but I’d rather not post my USMail address and certainly not my Social Security number on the web site. The latter is only needed if you’re getting an honorarium. Expenses do not require a W-2 and you should make sure that expenses don’t get paid as fees if you can avoid it. I also have a “speaking page” that spells out some of the information suggested elsewhere in this essay for what I need to know and what I anticipate.
If you have a blog but not a website, you can probably provide similar information in separate pages on the blog—or, as West suggests, have them on your own machine and email as appropriate. In any case, have this stuff available up front—and check your brief bio at least once a year to make sure it’s still current and correct.
I’m going to focus on invited presentations—keynotes and other cases where a library or conference organizing committee approaches a speaker. Much of the advice also applies to proposals (where the speaker has entered a paper or proposed a panel or speech or workshop). Initial negotiations also include money, but that’s worth its own heading.
Timeline. When you are initially asked to give a talk for a conference or event, often it’s a very exploratory discussion. An initial conversation should include the conference date…location, the expected audience, what the organizers would like you to do… and… honorarium/ fees/ reimbursement. Usually once you’ve had this discussion, they’ll need to get back to you with specifics…and the final word on honorarium/ expenses/ arrangements. Sometimes there can be a long lag between the first discussion and the second… Don’t purchase tickets or reserve a hotel room until you are sure that you’re confirmed to be at the conference. Once you’ve started making purchases for a conference, make sure you save all your receipts. Feel free to follow-up if you haven’t heard from the planning people in a timely manner…
Some conference planners may want you to deliver a talk you’ve given before, others will have a topic in mind they’d like you to speak on. Use the preliminary discussions to help agree on a topic. [JW]
As a potential speaker, you may elect to give the same speech over and over again. As long as those inviting you know what they’re getting, that’s not only acceptable but also sometimes preferable, although some of us aren’t good at repeating speeches. If you’re The Expert on X, you should be clear about how much you’ll customize your XSpiel for this group—and whether you’re willing to speak on Y. Based on my own experience, I’ll suggest being open to requests somewhat outside your comfort zone: Some of my most enjoyable experiences have involved topics or audiences that I wouldn’t have considered in my area.
If you’re asked to speak on a topic wholly outside your scope or one that poses a conflict of interest, make that clear—and if it’s a group you’d like to speak to, see if they’d consider an alternative topic.
Do be specific as to what you're looking for. If you have a particular topic or focus in mind, say so. If you have a specific time slot to fill, let your speaker know…. Do keep your speaker updated as your knowledge about an event progresses.... Don’t leave a potential presenter hanging. Be sure to get back to every potential presenter you contact, even if the answer is no. If you bring a program proposal to a committee and it doesn't make the cut, or you find you can't afford a speaker's quoted fees, or your budget has been cut, tell her as soon as you find out…[RSG]
Don’t play games with speakers. In the end you’ll both lose. I was once approached to do an overseas keynote under difficult circumstances; it would have required two very long plane rides, I’d already been to the general area twice before and the group wasn’t the best fit for me. I proposed slightly tougher than usual terms, although by no means extraordinary. Instead of returning with a compromise suggestion or saying they weren’t willing to spend that much, the conference committee eventually sent me a note thanking me for applying to speak but saying they couldn’t use me. If they ever invite me again (unlikely), I’ll have an easy two-letter answer.
Up until last year, I always cringed when someone asking me to speak said, “What’s your standard fee?” As with most of us (I believe), I didn’t have one and wasn’t quite sure what was appropriate. Thanks to Dorothea Salo, I’ve thought about where I want to be in the universe of speakers—and thanks to Rachel Singer Gordon and 90 of us who responded to her survey, I’m now willing to offer an answer. (If you’re wondering, that answer, for an out-of-state keynote or plenary speech not part of my job and where the group doesn’t make an initial offer, is “full expenses for the entire conference plus $1,500 honorarium,” with room to negotiate on the honorarium for a group I’d really like to speak to.)
How did I get there? Partly by talking to other speakers who were in demand at the time I was a hot item. Partly by observing the offers I got from state library associations and others, particularly once I knew they’d be going out to find sponsors. That answer was confirmed by Gordon’s survey.
Suppliers of speaking labor—and let’s not be coy, here; speaking is work—come in two basic stripes: gratis and paid. Of the paid variety, there’s the expenses-only kind, and the honorarium kind—and even the honorarium kind divides into those who make their living from speaking (quite the rara avis in libraryland, though I know of one or two) and those who treat it as a nice sideline.
The gratis speaker divides into two stripes also: the altruist and the whuffie-ist. The whuffie-ist tends to be an academic librarian…under the gun as regards retention and/or tenure. Solo vendors drumming up business, librarians on the job trail, and folks hoping to move into the paid-speaker ranks are also whuffie-ists. [DS]
There’s a third type: Speakers speaking on behalf of or sponsored by their organization. That’s neither altrusim nor “whuffie” (think reputation): it’s paid speaking, but the pay doesn’t come from the organizer.
A final type of speaker is the clueless altruist, who has more than enough whuffie to move into paid-speaker ranks but doesn’t realize it. These speakers can be taken advantage of by the savvy conference organizer; they exist because the economics of speaking is treated a lot like the economics of journal-bundle pricing—kept under wraps as much as possible, and for much the same reasons. (So that those getting shafted don’t find out, of course. What, you didn’t realize that?) [DS]
Those wraps have come off, at least to some extent!
This taxonomy crosses with another: the invited-speaker model versus the academic-speaker model… The academic-speaker model tends a bit less toward the star system because of its obvious substitutability factor, and it’s obviously toward the whuffie end of the scale of rewards. There’s crossover, though…
All of this, mind you, presumes a conference model in which lots of people come to a place to listen to a (relatively) few people. It presumes a hierarchy of speaking desirability, and it presumes at least on the “paid” level that one speaker can’t easily be substituted for another.
Indeed, insofar as clueless altruists create a substitute good for paid speakers, paid speakers resent them. But they don’t, interestingly, resent the conference organizers who recruit them—not openly, at least… In fact, conference organizers don’t have much to fear from clueless altruists who wise up, either. Two possibilities: either the formerly-clueless altruist moves into the paid-speaker ranks…or the formerly-clueless altruist was primarily valuable by virtue of low cost, at which point the conference organizer simply moves on to the next clueless altruist. [DS]
There’s a lot more to Salo’s post, much of it related to online conferences and the fact that you don’t need to speak at conferences these days to gain a reputation (I don’t care for “whuffie”), what with blogs and other expanded publishing opportunities. I’m only citing the portion directly related to speaking fees.
In commenting on Rachel Singer Gordon’s survey post, Salo suggests another set of distinctions:
I want to see conference-payment practice be fair and aboveboard, and as uniform as is reasonable. Sure, some people are hot tickets and deserve to be paid more for it, but that doesn't mean everybody else gets screwed!
One thing I think we need is a conference taxonomy. Rules are different for academic conferences, association conferences, and “pro” conferences, not so? [DS]
My experience is almost entirely with association conferences and in-house speaking events (staff days etc.). I would expect payment to be rare for a true academic conference—but I’m not an academic. I would personally expect considerably higher payment for a “pro” conference, which may be one reason I haven’t spoken at them (with one early exception).
Ninety people responded to Rachel Singer Gordon’s survey. Selected results that I find particularly interesting [RSG for all of these, but paraphrased]:
Ø Most respondents were “occasional” speakers—78% did fewer than seven presentations a year.
Ø Two-thirds of those participating on a panel didn’t charge a fee; among those who did, excluding outlying cases, the average was $240.
Ø Almost 60% of those doing 45-90 minute presentations do charge, and the average (again excluding outliers) was about $340, a surprisingly low figure.
Ø More than 70% of those putting on half-day workshops charge, and the average among those who charge (excluding outliers) was just over $580.
Ø Astonishingly, almost a third of those doing full-day workshops do it for nothing—and the non-outlier average for the rest was just over $1,100.
Ø Then there are keynotes—and here, more than a third give it away! Of the 25 respondents who do charge for keynotes, dropping the outliers, the average was just under $1,050.
Most people who charge also expect to have registration and expenses covered, presumably, since most of those fees wouldn’t even cover the costs of a typical out-of-state conference. (Fifty people explicitly charge actual expenses; 18 are covered by their institutions.)
The most popular exceptions—cases where people will speak for free—are for LIS classes, local workshops, conferences people are attending anyway, groups they’re members of, and as a personal favor to an organizer. Ten respondents always give it away; one never speaks for free. (One respondent charges $2,750 per day for an out-of-state event; I wonder whether that’s the person who never speaks for free?)
Comments include interesting variations—one who charges for rest time after an international event, one who charges less if it’s an existing presentation, one who charges $1,500 per day but will do multiple activities, one who—calling themself no longer a newbie—won’t even speak at ALA conferences because of the no-fee policy. One person noted that speaking can be energizing, which is true for some of us—but that probably means the conference is getting its money’s worth. I love state library conferences and try to attend the whole conference—but that doesn’t mean I’d speak at them without expenses and, typically, an honorarium. There’s love and then there’s fiscal suicide. One statement in particular is worth repeating in full:
This is my first year speaking at conferences. I started off the year saying yes to anything I was asked to speak at (within reason) regardless of whether it paid or not, unless it required serious travel. I'm realizing that it costs me a great deal of time and anxiety to speak, and that my effort should be worth something. I plan to ask for more money from now on and will be perfectly happy if that leads to fewer speaking gigs. However, there are certain gigs I'm willing to speak at for free just to be able to put it on my resume or because the connections I make there could help my career. Some may not pay now, but will pay off later in terms of career opportunities. [Unsigned, quoted by RSG]
Others argue that association conferences represent professional sharing and they shouldn’t charge for that. I’ll argue that’s only true for contributed papers and other proposals and for conferences you would be attending whether or not you were speaking. As for association conferences—well, if they really have no sources of funding, it’s worth talking over. I would be a little surprised if I was negotiated out of any honorarium, then found various companies listed as sponsors on the conference program. I would be a lot more surprised and upset if I later discovered that other speakers held firm and received some of that sponsorship money. (There’s a difference between altruism and being played for a sucker.)
What if you’re affluent enough that you really don’t have any use for the honorarium or feel the money could be put to better use? If you’re a keynoter and choose to speak for free, you should at least be aware that you’re making life more difficult for those who do need compensation for the vacation time they had to take at work, the effort of preparation, and the lost time at home. You could consider taking the honorarium and donating it directly to the association’s scholarship fund; that would appear to yield good results for everyone involved.
Don’t be afraid to talk money. If you want to know what someone charges, ask. If you have a specific amount allocated for an honorarium, offer. If you have a policy of not compensating speakers, say so. If a presenter comes back with a number that is out of your budget, make a counteroffer. If you require a presenter to pay her own conference registration, make this clear up-front. [RSG]
If you have a policy of not compensating, don’t be surprised if some speakers you want simply say no. If you require a (non-member) invited presenter to pay registration, why? That would be a deal-breaker for me, and I believe it’s the most unreasonable expense issue around. Again, that’s for invited speakers.
In my opinion and practice, expenses are separate from honoraria and should be handled separately. Ideally, there should be two checks: One for expenses (which need not be reported to the IRS), one for honorarium (which must be reported if it’s $600 or more and which I always report as income in any case). The second goes on your Schedule C; the first is just reimbursement, so shouldn’t.
As for the money side of expenses, that should be straightforward: Unless a speaker proposed a paper or is a member of your association and attending a regular association conference, or is being underwritten by their place of work, their expenses and registration should be covered. Period. And “expenses” may need to be spelled out in some detail. Here’s what I list as expenses on my “speaking page”, after earlier noting that I normally attend the full conference:
Full travel costs, lodging at the conference hotel (if there is one) or a business-class [or better] hotel, and either an adequate fixed per diem for meals or actual meal expenses. Full registration if it's a conference, including social events as appropriate. Depending on other issues, I may come in early or stay late to get discount excursion fares. I strongly prefer to fly American or its partners. I may be willing to trade time for fares (and inclusion of upgrade costs) in some cases…. For overseas trips, I normally expect at least business class travel on Oneworld airlines (American, British Air, Quantas, etc.).
It’s hard to separate expenses from arrangements, so we’ll cover those together in the next section.
Checklists. Make sure you know who is paying for and who is arranging: transportation to/from the conference city; transportation to/from the airport/train/bus station on both ends; parking and/or car rental; lodging (how many nights?); meals (which meals? are some covered meals at the conference?); conference registration (many conferences make you register even if they don’t make you pay, make sure this is clear); internet access, if not included; handout/notes reproduction
Sometimes you will get reimbursed before the conference (esp for things like plane tickets), but often you will be reimbursed afterwards, sometimes weeks afterwards.
Do you have specific needs or preferences? Make sure to let them know if you need special meals/dietary restrictions, hotel/airline preferences, time preferences for travel and/or giving your talk, and local information. You may need to repeat these instructions on your contract as well. [JW]
Make sure expense agreements are clear. Surprises can be expensive and unpleasant. What sort of lodging (there’s a reason I say “business class [or better] hotel” if there’s no conference hotel)? Does the lodging have a full-service restaurant if you need full breakfasts or a late meal when you arrive? How about parking or ground transportation at your airport?
Do get it in writing. If your association/ conference/ organization has a formal contract/letter of agreement, use it. If not, make your own. If this gives you pause, ask the presenter to send you a letter of agreement. Mail this out as soon as you and the speaker agree on the details.
In your contract or letter, include all pertinent information, such as: Day, Time, Location, Length, Topic, Title, Honorarium, Reimbursement policy, Transportation and lodging arrangements, Conference registration requirements, Equipment needs
Don’t change your mind at the last minute. If you have contracted for a given workshop or presentation, refrain from asking your presenter to change topics or format; she's probably already prepared as per your original agreement.
Do respond to e-mail or phone calls in a timely fashion. Answer questions honestly. If you don't have an answer, give an estimate as to when you can get details from your boss/committee chair/program organizers. [RSG]
There are few things more frustrating than being left hanging as a conference approaches, particularly when you’ve already purchased nonrefundable tickets that won’t be reimbursed until after the conference.
Gordon offers another tip that I have some trouble with, at least for invited speakers:
Don’t be afraid to ask for references. If you know a potential speaker only by her writing or a listing or a resumé or a program description, but think you might be interested, ask for references from recent events. By the same token, be willing to be a reference for someone who's done a good job for you.
I’ve never been asked to provide references. For workshops, on the other hand, it’s a reasonable suggestion.
Speakers going somewhere for the first time should ask more questions—and people inviting speakers should share the local knowledge they have. The idea is to minimize the number of unhappy surprises when speakers come to the conference or other non-local speaking situation. For example:
Ø Some speakers prefer to use rental cars for non-local events. Some of us don’t. If you’re dealing with one of the latter and you’re not in a position to have someone pick them up at the airport, let them know the good and bad points about other arrangements. If you’re a speaker who doesn’t wish to rent a car, ask about appropriate means of transportation. As one example, shuttles can be convenient, inexpensive, and reasonably effective ways to get from airport to hotel—but in some cities, shared-ride shuttles can be a horrendous mistake. (I speak from sad 2.5-hour experience, as noted in a blog post.) If you’re on the local arrangements side, you’re a lot more likely to know about potential problems of this sort—and if you don’t know, ask.
Ø If you’re inviting a speaker to a hotel-based conference, chances are the hotel offers reasonably full service and will satisfy most speaker requirements. In other cases, make sure that the speaker understands what they’re getting into. A hotel that only has a sports bar with hot dogs and fries is not a full-service hotel. A hotel where the only dinner restaurant is reservation-only, very expensive or very fancy, and where it’s not plausible to walk to a nearby restaurant may pose problems for a speaker—particularly when they get to the hotel at 9 p.m. and discover that the restaurant’s closed and there’s no room service. Need I mention that, if you’re suggesting a five-story hotel with no elevator as one alternative, you really need to let the speaker know up front? If I seem to be harping on meals, that’s because non-local speakers are likely to want to relax, and reasonable dining arrangements are part of relaxation. By the way, “breakfast is included in the conference” may be misleading: For some of us, particularly when speaking, continental breakfast is not breakfast.
Ø It should go without saying that the speaker and the inviting group should both make sure they understand time issues—how long it takes to get from the airport to the hotel (and vice-versa), what that means in terms of other arrangements, and so on.
You’ve arrived at an agreement on topic, length, date, time, expenses, honorarium and travel arrangements. If the speaker’s just going to fly in, talk and leave, that may be all you need to worry about other than presentation issues (next section). In most cases, though, a non-local speaker will be there at least overnight and frequently for two or more nights. There are some things speakers and conference groups can do to make sure the speaker’s reasonably happy during the event—and those things will differ (to some extent) for each speaker.
Some people are social and some are not. Some people are exhausted by travel and others are not. When you arrive on-site, especially if you get a ride from the airport from your host, you may need to let them know whether you’re a) ready to go out to dinner with a bunch of people, or b) ready to go back to your room and do your own thing until the next day. Either option is fine, but they may not be able to read your mind and know which you would prefer. The people arranging your ground transportation may not know your other schedule information, so make sure you have a copy handy. They also may not be as acutely aware of time differences between your home and your current location, so if you are tired early due to jet lag or the fact that it’s way past your bedtime, just let people know….
It’s up to you, usually, whether you want to attend any of the rest of the conference or not... I’m often pleasantly surprised by how much I’ve learned by dropping in on other talks at conferences that were outside of my specialty. Some of my favorite times at conferences have been having meals with local librarians and talking to them about their jobs and their regions. If you haven’t made plans otherwise though, your time is your own. [JW]
Some of us are social some of the time but not all of the time—and some of us are flexible, but may not deal well with being “on” too often. There are many gradations. For example, I might pass on going out to dinner with “a bunch of people,” particularly if that means ten or more, but might be delighted to have dinner with three, four, or five people. (When asked, I usually emphasize “a restaurant that’s not too noisy and a group small enough so I can actually chat with you”—and that people shouldn’t feel obliged to entertain me, although I’ve thoroughly enjoyed most group dinners during conferences.)
I’m a great believer in attending the rest of the conference and I’ll certainly second what West has to say about learning outside my specialty. If I’m at a conference for two or more nights, I’m usually delighted to spend at least one of those nights at dinner with others—but I’ll also usually try to spend at least one evening “down,” probably having a light dinner in the hotel bar (a survival tip for portion size and “dining alone” I learned long ago), reading, and making an early night of it. This presupposes that there is a hotel bar with decent food and enough light to read by—or a known equivalent in close walking distance.
Make sure you’ve said thank you and goodbye to everyone. Make sure you’ve gotten your receipts in, or know whatever follow-up will be required for reimbursement. Sometimes organizers like you to fill out paperwork for reimbursement at the conference, often there is a form to fill out and return once you get home. Sometimes you will get paid an honorarium at the conference, and other times it’s mailed to you along with or in addition to your reimbursement. Make sure your contact person knows that you’re on your way out when you prepare to leave. If you have a late flight but an early hotel checkout, you can almost always leave your bags at the hotel desk which can free you up to attend more of the conference or sightsee. [JW]
Good advice in general (advice I don’t always follow). I would note that it’s sometimes difficult to fill out reimbursement paperwork at the conference, particularly if receipts are required, since some of those receipts (e.g., hotel bill, transportation back to the airport, airport parking or transportation back home) won’t be available yet.
Do sweat the small stuff. If your presenter is coming from out of state, who will pick her up at the airport? Or, should she take a cab? Will your organization reimburse her for cabs? Who will make and pay for the travel and lodging arrangements? Is there a luncheon/dinner/reception to which you can wrangle her an invitation? If not, do you have some time free to join her for dinner/lunch/breakfast? (This is a nice touch, especially when dealing with an out-of-state speaker who may not know anyone at your event.) Does your organization/association require a formal invoice or reimbursement form? [RSG]
You may notice that this is pretty much the flip side of the speaker’s perspective. With regard to the parenthetical comment, may I suggest asking the speaker “Would you care to join people for X?” (where X is dinner, lunch, breakfast)—and if some grouch like me says “Maybe some of the time, but not for every meal,” don’t be offended.
One commenter noted her experience as a non-local speaker:
Too often, I am left to my own devices with no contact with the inviter(s) until 10 minutes before the event… I don't always desire company for dinner or breakfast, but it's nice to be given the option. The most pleasant events are those where the inviter remains in contact, asks if you want to be met at the airport, sends a picture so you know who to look for, arranges a meeting time, and offers companionship. [Emphasis added.]
Another commenter noted that you should “Ask your speaker about dietary restrictions or preferences.” Some of us are omnivores (or nearly so); some of us have strong preferences; some of us simply can’t deal with some items. If you expect me to dine at a banquet and the menu choices are salmon and eggplant, I will not be a happy camper.
Consider that you may like a speaker enough to invite them back some later year. You’re more likely to get an enthusiastic “Yes” (and maybe a compromise fee arrangement) if the speaker has enjoyed the event.
In this case, I’m mostly quoting Jessamyn West’s advice—noting that, for all of the setup points, it’s up to the conference, workshop or program organizers to make these arrangements.
Make sure that you know that you will have the necessary set-up for your talk. Be sure to discuss whether there will be: internet access, a laptop/projector, a white board/flipchart, a screen, a microphone (wireless?), audience microphones for Q&A, a podium, a tech person on-hand.
You don’t need all of these for every speech, to be sure, but you need to make sure your needs are accommodated. I’m easy, since I don’t normally use PowerPoint (or equivalent): I just say, “I need a podium for my notes and a microphone if there will be more than a hundred people.” Surprisingly, that hasn’t always worked. One of very few bad speaking experiences I’ve had came when I arrived to find no podium and no way to get one, with the suggestion “Oh, put your notes on a chair next to the mike.” Since I had mentioned the podium in writing at least twice, an appropriate response might have been to walk out—and, frankly, I wish I had.
Preparedness. It’s always a good idea to have a plan B. If the Internet connection doesn’t work, have screenshots ready. If your USB drive isn’t recognized, have a copy of your talk on CD. While you don’t necessarily have to be able to give your talk during a power failure, be prepared for some divergences from the set plan. Arrive at your talk’s location at least 15 minutes early to make sure all the technology works correctly. Plan to stick around after your talk both to pack up your things, but also to talk to people who may not have spoken up during the Q&A. Be mindful of the fact that there may be another talk happening right after yours, so if people want to schmooze, suggest another venue for further chitchat.
Even if you don’t use technology, arrive at the location at least 15 minutes early to see how the room is set up, discuss lighting (I like good lighting, so I can see the audience), make sure water is readily available, see whether there’s a timer on the podium, and so on. And, to be sure, so the local arrangements person doesn’t go nuts wondering whether you’ll show up!
You’re On. Occasionally you may not be introduced. Be prepared to introduce yourself. The less you read directly from your slides, the better. Try to stick within your time limit… [M]ake sure you keep a timepiece with you: on your wrist, your laptop or someplace else… If you are going over your time, try to find a way to graciously wrap it up, don’t just speed through the remainder of your presentation. [JW]
As one commenter said: Don’t try to stick within your time limit, do stick to your time limit—and wrap it up if you’re about to go over. “Not to do so is rude and unprofessional.” If something happens, be flexible—shorten your speech or find a way to gain some time. You will always mess up the conference if you go significantly overtime, even if you’re the only speaker in one program. If you’re on a panel, you will earn unpleasant thoughts (at the least) from the speakers whose time you’ve used up. I’ve been on one panel where each of four speakers was allotted 20 minutes—and, as the fourth speaker, I wound up with five minutes. I was not a happy camper.
Try to keep your eyes moving around to various members of the audience and pick up their cues as to whether you are keeping them interested… No matter how interesting and engaging you are, some people will drift off or leave early. Some may even sleep. Do not take this personally. Sometimes people don’t ask questions and sometimes they do. Try to keep answers brief and informative, and channel people who seem to require longer or in-depth answers to talk to you afterwards if their question isn’t of general interest. [JW]
Too many speakers put all of their speech into bullet points on PowerPoint slides, then “speak to the screen,” avoiding eye contact at all costs. Frankly, if everything you have to say is in your PowerPoint slides, wouldn’t we all be better off if you just posted the slides? I can read a lot faster than you can speak…
Commenters had some good additional points:
Make sure that you are provided with more water than you need. Sip it when necessary, and sometimes when not, to provide a break or pause in what you’re saying. Particularly useful if you’re asked a difficult question and you need a few moments to think.
If possible, have a version of your talk available electronically so that people can download it after the event.
[B]e enthusiastic. This will overcome any manner of other difficulties. You must want to be there, want to speak, want people to listen to what you have to say, and want their lives to be a tiny bit different after you’ve finished talking.
People commenting on Rachel Singer Gordon’s post also had some tips for local arrangements in making the speech work well: Make sure the room’s at a comfortable temperature. Ask what kind of lighting the speaker prefers. Once again, make sure there’s water readily available.
Finally, Rachel Singer Gordon offers some good advice for after the event, particularly since very few library speakers work through speakers’ bureaus:
Do talk up a good speaker. Presenters get new gigs through word-of-mouth—if someone does a great job for you, recommend her to others. [RSG]
I know the first statement isn’t true for some of you. Many people fear public speaking slightly more than they fear dying. Some people who aren’t quite that bad still shudder at the idea of getting up on a stage in front of a dozen, a hundred, several hundred people.
But if you know your stuff, if you’ve worked out the arrangements, if you care about your topic—you should be able to have fun speaking, at least in the aftermath. I was slightly agog at the start of my first international keynote, which was also the first time I’d faced a crowd of 600 in a sloped-theater setting. But between pre-speech activities, direct response to the speech, and the rest of the conference, it was a great experience, one I’d describe as fun.
I’ve been invited back to five state library associations outside California. Given the kind of speech I tend to give, any repeat invitation is a thrill!
But speaking is also work. For me, it would be hard work to do the same speech or workshop over and over. For anyone, it’s work to flesh out a topic, determine an approach that will work, time it out, and put it all together appropriately.
It’s also time out of the rest of your life. I think that’s more fun for younger people. I know that, when I dropped back to American AAdvantage Gold status after earning Platinum (50,000 miles a year) for two years, I sincerely hoped that I’d never earn Platinum again. There’s never been a state library conference I didn’t enjoy [except because of family illness], and I hope to speak at a few more in years to come—but the process still takes time and effort. Understanding and preparation on both sides can smooth out the rough spots and minimize the already-small number of problems in speaking situations.
Cites & Insights is sponsored by YBP Library Services, http://www.ybp.com.
Opinions herein may not represent those of OCLC or YBP Library Services.
Comments should be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org. Comments specifically intended for publication should go to email@example.com. Cites & Insights: Crawford at Large is copyright © 2007 by Walt Crawford: Some rights reserved.
All original material in this work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial License. To view a copy of this license, visit http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/1.0 or send a letter to Creative Commons, 559 Nathan Abbott Way, Stanford, California 94305, USA.