Archive for January, 2013

What Do Meeting Planners Expect and Want from Speakers?

January 30, 2013

Originally published in the National Speaker Association’s Professional Speaker magazine (Updated May 2012)

I have seen both sides of planning meetings: 18 years as a meeting planner running citywide international technology meetings and fifteen years as a professional speaker whose target audience is meeting planners. I have spoken before tens of thousands of planners for more than 40 meeting industry organizations in 31 countries. What do meeting planners want from speakers? Read on…

The meeting planner profile:
Meeting planners have a lot on their minds. Meeting planning can be compared to putting together a 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle. Every piece must be in place or there won’t be a complete picture. If the planner forgets or does not adequately communicate a need at a seemingly small event — a coffee break for example — or predicting the number that will attend a banquet the ramifications can be huge. With angry attendees and questioning bosses, chances for failure lurk at every turn.

The analogy of the duck stately floating on the top of the water while paddling like crazy beneath the surface has never been more apt. In well-planned meetings, things seem to flow seamlessly with meeting planners working almost invisibly behind the scenes. If something goes wrong, however, his or her job can become the “javelin catcher.”

Meeting planners are 75% female. Successful planners tend to have good people skills as well as excellent attention to detail. In general terms, they are garrulous, they like to work with people with whom they have established a relationship, and they typically possess a strong sense of fairness. They are also very good at networking.

Their job often hinges on the success of the meeting. Happy attendees and good evaluations are a part of how success is rated. Selecting speakers is often part of the job, but only a small part. They are usually juggling lots of balls.

What meeting planners expect from speakers: 

  1. For you to “WOW” the audience
    Your role is to move the audience. This can be accomplished in a number of ways: through a visually dazzling performance, a soul-stirring program that lifts the audience or an insightful presentation that gives new meaning and clarity to a topic.A trend in the meetings industry is to carefully measure ROI (return on investment) from meetings. The MPI (Meeting Professionals International) tagline says it well: “Defining the Power of Meetings.” To this end, speakers will see meeting planners use more evaluation forms, mobile polling apps other tools in determining future speakers and whether they will rebook you. Strategic planners know that what happens on the dais is crucial to the success of the event.
  2. Absolute reliability
    Once you are booked, planners need to count on the fact that you will be there as scheduled. Book your travel so that you have backup options in case a flight is cancelled or there is bad weather along your route. Be there early and be prepared. Plan for contingency backups for travel, A/V, course notes or anything else crucial to success.
  3. Absolute integrity
    This goes without saying. But to reinforce this, the meetings industry is very well networked. There are about 60,000 professional meeting planners in the U.S. and many belong to professional associations. And they talk. The word gets around quickly about suppliers with unscrupulous or unreliable business practices.
  4. Make the planner look good.
    The best way for a speaker to make the planner look good, of course, is to do a terrific job on the platform. But beyond this, nurture relationships with planners whenever you can. Let all of your actions with the meeting attendees shed a positive light on the planners. In the planning stages, the meeting planner will often appreciate your advice as an experienced speaking professional when it comes to how to structure your presentation, the timing and the events surrounding it. Send thank-you notes and praise their good work to supervisors if the opportunity allows. Never publicly criticize planners or their organizations — not only because it’s unprofessional but because planners often have a significant voice in whether to book speakers again.
  5. Quick responses
    With so much on a meeting planner’s plate, a quick response is often the difference between getting the booking or not. One trend in the meetings industry is increasingly for shorter lead times for meetings. We are all living in an age where FedEx is not fast enough. A quick response, preferably by e-mail within the day, or two days at the most, is what they expect. Either you or your staff, and preferably both, should have honed technology communications skills.

How speakers can help planners:

  1. Be flexible. 
    Back to the jig-saw puzzle analogy. Things are crazy behind the scenes at many meetings – thousands of pieces are being put together. Schedules change. Stuff happens! Speakers who can roll with the changes and still get great evaluations are like gold to planners.
  2. No prima donnas please!
    Be easy to deal with! Unless you are on the very top echelon of the speaking circuit and can ask for just about anything, remember that you are just a piece of the puzzle, albeit a very important one. If you are a prima donna, your chances of being rebooked will decrease. If you are particularly difficult, your reputation will precede you.
  3. Have a very clear, complete contract.
    Planners commonly have contracts with hotels, speakers and other suppliers. The trend in the last few years is for lengthier contracts that cover all of the contingencies. Planners want clearly written, balanced and complete contracts/letters of agreements. No legalese, please. Particularly important, in addition to times, dates, rates and place are: details on cancellation (both sides); reciprocal act of God (force majeur) clauses; what travel charges will be covered; specifics on A/V if you use it; and emergency contact information. I also routinely include in my contract the information I know they will be asking for anyway, such as my bio, a link to online high-resolution publicity photos, the full course description (with learner objectives), and anything else I think they need.
  4. Provide your information online. 
    Planners use the web to research hotels, cities, suppliers and  speakers. It is simply a more efficient route. I have followed the principle that anything that I would send out in paper, or any question about my speaking services that I get asked more than twice, I put online. My calendar, bio, publicity pictures (both high-resolution for printing and low-resolution for the Web), course descriptions, clients, testimonials, travel expenses, video clips, sample introductions, past speaking engagements, you name it – it’s all at my web site.The model changes a bit in working with speaker bureaus, but the trend is to put more information online instead of less. Planners prefer it.
  5. Be prompt and clear with your billing.
    To use an old Broadway phrase, “if it ain’t on the page, it ain’t on the stage.” The implication is that any charges must be clearly detailed and agreed upon in your contract before you speak. There should be no surprises. My billing typically goes out no later than two days upon return to my office from the engagement. To speed delivery, I always send my invoice and scanned travel receipts as .PDF documents via e-mail.

For you speakers and planners reading this article: is there something you would like to add to this list? I am happy to provide updates as they are received.


1 of 13 Meetings Technology Predictions for 2013

January 16, 2013

©2012 Corbin Ball

These are exciting times. The rate of technology change is accelerating with thousands of ideas, apps and innovations bubbling up to help meeting planners, exhibitors, venues and attendees to do their jobs better.

This annual review published over the next 13 weeks will cover many of the major events tech trends to watch for this coming year.

1. Meetings technology will continue to get cheaper and easier to use.

This trend in software programming is driven by continued advances in web services  and open-source technology. This makes it easier, cheaper and faster to create, distribute and use technology to help in meeting planning.  There are hundreds of free, freemium, low cost, and do-it-yourself (DIY) options providing lower costs and more flexibility for planners. Examples include ContantContact’s new Online Event Registration starting at $20/month, a small fraction of typical online registration costs. Guidebookoffers a free meeting DIY mobile guide app with up to 500 downloads per event. Google Hangouts On Air offers free multipoint video conferencing, steaming and recording. Joomla provides free web site building and content management tools with over 9,000 plugins. …just to name a few! These forces are also driving mobile app development with hundreds of thousands for free or very low cost app available; many of them of great help to meeting professionals.

8 of 13 Meetings Technology Predictions for 2013

January 16, 2013

8. Internet video will see unprecedented growth for event marketing, communication and audience engagement.

Internet video has great opportunities for used for events. Videos can engage viewers, can increase retention of content, are accessible via many devices, and can be easily shared via social media channels. Videos can improve search engine rankings and video email marketing has fully trackable and higher click-through rates compared to traditional marketing methods. The costs to produce and distribute video from point of inception to delivery have reduced dramatically.

As events are visual, the visual nature video is a natural alternative to help market and extend the reach of events. Videos can be used before, during and after the event to convey the message and to improve attendance at future events. See the following whitepaper Using Video to Promote and Extend the Life of Your Events detailing referenced statistics and dozens of ways and ideas on how this is happening.

The development of BOBtv from bXb Online, a global online event platform designed specifically for events and associations supports this trend. It is a standardized way of making event video content available to remote attendees either live or on-demand and is the winner of this year’s EIBTM Technology Watch for meetings technology innovation, the industry’s longest-running and most prestigious meetings technology award. Endorsed by major meeting industry associations such as PCMA, ASAE and IAEE, this vendor-agnostic platform will curate event content and make it readily available to potentially a much larger global audience. In essence, BobTV, or similar technology, has the ability to become the moderated “YouTube” channel for event communication.

Going Native: iPad use is on the rise and event planners see the advantages

January 9, 2013

It’s no surprise that attendees are using the iPad more than ever at conferences and meetings.  Apple sold 11.8 million iPads during the first quarter of 2012, according to   The device is quickly becoming one of the fastest growing mobile technology products in history.

The platform of the iPad makes it a perfect choice for meetings.  The at-a-glance aspect, screen size, ease of use, portability and speed of device all contribute to its popularity.

“The increase in iPad usage at our clients’ events is dramatic,” said Wendy Phillips, vice president of sales and marketing for Gather Digital, a mobile event app company.  “In May 2011, the iPad represented 0.8 percent of mobile device usage at our corporate and association events,” she said.  “In May 2012, iPad usage had risen to 36.5 percent.”

Because of increasing iPad usage, meeting planners are becoming more interested in event apps that are native to the iPad.  “Planners know their event attendees are using iPads more and more,” Phillips said.  “And they want to give them a native app to offer the best possible experience.”

Having a conference app that is native to the iPad takes advantage of the faster syncing capability, the enhanced graphics and the larger screen size.  Going native also allows the ability to seamlessly use other applications, such as email, as part of the conference app.

Dr. Virginia Schmith, a clinical pharmacologist and chair of pharmacometrics with the American Society for Clinical Pharmacology and Therapeutics, generally attends three conferences per year and prefers using her iPad when an app is available.  She appreciates the note taking feature that some apps offer.  “Many times you have to write a trip report,” she said. “Taking notes in the iPad is faster than writing notes.”  Schmith used an app recently that also organized the notes by session and allowed her to email them to herself for printing or saving to her desktop computer.  “And the name of the session automatically shows up in the notes.  It probably saves an hour’s worth of time,” she added.

Corbin Ball, CMP, CSP, a meetings technology consultant and speaker is enthusiastic about the potential for iPads and tablet computers at events. “The instant-on, intuitive interface with screens large enough to manage documents, makes iPads and other tablet computers a natural for meetings and tradeshows. They provide benefits for all parties involved: attendees (rich media, interactive conference programs, networking and way-finding tools); exhibitors (for interactive kiosks, easier lead exchange systems, appointment scheduling and survey tools); hoteliers (an intuitive, portable sales tool); and meeting planners (paperless conference binders eliminating the need to carry around 4” thick, 3-ring binders full of paper).“

Ball feels that “mobile technology will likely change events more in the next five years than technology has in the last twenty years. We are in the golden age of app adoptions for events. Very soon, if you do not have an app for an event, attendees will wonder why the event is so behind the times.”

A good native app will allow the planner to have control of content, including images, text and corporate branding.  It should also offer sponsor opportunities within the app, high attendee usability with options like messaging, one on one meeting functionality, immediate schedule updates, maps, customized my schedules, note taking ability and a social media aspect, according to Phillips.

6 of 13 Meetings Technology Predictions for 2013

January 3, 2013

6.  Event Wi-Fi problems will get worse before getting better.

This demand for Wi-Fi at events is growing by high double-digit numbers each year. Tablet computers, on average, use 400% more bandwidth than other mobile devices and are becoming the fasted adopted technology hardware ever. Attendees have multiple mobile devices and expect the same broadband experience they receive at home and office – even though there may be thousands of people trying to access the Wi-Fi signal simultaneously. The recent Dreamforce Conference 2012 in San Francisco had over 10,000 simultaneous Wi-Fi users. The London Olympics logged more than 1 million Wi-Fi accesses on the BT network during the games. 5,000 attendees at the London Frieze Art Fair consumed more than t terabyte (1 thousand billion bytes of data).

The good news is that the technology exists to provide very high density delivery of Wi-Fi. Xirrus provides Wi-Fi arrays that can handle up to 1,792 simultaneous users from a single access point.
The bad news is that the equipment and bandwidth is expensive and many meeting venues are lagging far behind in the ability supply the increasing tsunami of demand. Both meeting planners and venue sales people need to educate themselves and, at times, each other on this very important, but technologically complex, issue. Two articles that can help are: Understanding the Internet Landscape at Hotels and Convention Centers — A Primer for Event Organizers and How to Discuss Your Event’s Wi-Fi Needs — A Primer for Event Organizers.