Going The Extra Mile For Conference Speakers

Recently i had some conversations about how conferences treat their speakers and volunteers. Most of the people – who were either speakers themselves or organizers – agree that the vast majority of all the tech conference they’ve seen treat speakers well. Very few (out of the dozens i’ve attended, maybe one or two) may could have given speakers more attention – either because of inexperience or because of planning problems.

All conference organizers – whether they have paid for their speakers, covered their travel expenses, or (as in the case of community conferences) have had speakers volunteer – usually treat their speakers very well. But I’ve gathered some suggestions that might make them REALLY feel special – and it usually doesn’t cost much or anything at all.

  • Have a dedicated speaker coordinators during the event. Probably a no-brainer since you have someone BEFORE the event accepting applications and communicating with the speakers – but making their lives easier by having one (or sometimes two, if it’s a big conference) dedicated volunteers there to greet the speakers in the morning makes speakers feel right at home. Coordinators ensure that speakers speaking in the morning are there a little early (hopefully) and have whatever they need in terms of fuel (coffee, for example) or cords/equipment. Coordinators might want to give out their contact info to speakers prior to the event in case speakers get lost on the way or there’s an emergency (one WordCamp, we had someone stuck in traffic for the day so we needed to move talks around… another speaker vomited that morning so we had to get our backup speaker ready, etc.)
  • Don’t make speakers wait for food. I’ve been to many conferences where there are long lines for lunch or crowded seating areas. Usually attendees make due, but it wouldn’t cost anything to give speakers a heads up or a head start to get them early access before the lines or crowds start. We did this at one WordCamp and we got alot of thanks from the speakers (the lines were longer at that WordCamp, something we fixed the following year). Not all speakers will accept the invite, but it’s nice to know you’re thinking of them. It’s the least you could do, and i’ve appreciated it when i was given the courtesy.
  • Refreshments. Along the same line as the above suggestion, have some water bottles for attendees available. I usually place a supply in the speaker’s room, near the podium. Have the “Room MC” ensure that the speaker has a bottle of water if they want it
  • Giving speakers full information on speaker/VIP dinners. It’s not surprising for medium or larger conferences to have a dinner for the speakers and pay for it. Sometimes smaller conferences aren’t as lucky. Either way, it’s best to give all your speakers the complete scenario prior to them coming down. Not just if the cost is being covered, but what food is being served. Provide gulten-free, vegetation options, etc. if possible. Personally, I would avoid areas that might make some speakers feel uncomfortable (like certain bars and nightclubs).
  • Don’t be afraid to check with speakers on spelling of their names on conference programs, posters, and website. Yes, i’ve seen conference speaker’s names and titles spelled incorrectly. It happens. Proofread, but in the past some speakers have appreciated the input or the fact they are seeing their name on something that will be available in print at the event.
  • Emails. I personally have speakers on their OWN mailing list (MailChimp) so they get any announcements all at once – quickly and easily. Sending a “Thank You” follow up email (along with a link to ask them to fill out a survey about the experience and the event) is also a great way of showing your appreciation after the conference. I’ve been guilty of sending too many emails, so don’t overdo it.
  • Speaker Lounge or Area. Give speakers a quiet area prior to them speaking so they can get their thoughts together and make sure everything is in order (slides, etc.)
  • Internet. If you can, provide a private internet connection just for speakers so that the general public internet won’t interfere with their presentation. Sometimes this isn’t possible, but especially if you are at a college, university, or paid conference hall there’s a chance they can provide this.

Take these as only suggestions, but doing these things will lead to speakers feeling THAT much more appreciated.  Sometimes organizers are crazy trying to keep the conference going in an organized fashion, but the above tips don’t really take that much more time or cost.

Any easy or low-cost suggestions and reminders for organizers that could help them further show their appreciation to their speakers?

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