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Why I’ll always be a “high-maintenance” speaker

April 27, 2015

As a conference director, I ask a lot of my speakers.

As an attendee, I ask a lot of presenting speakers.

As a speaker, I ask a lot of organizers.

Clearly, I am a pain in the ass.

Wade KwonI’m an advocate for the audience. They should not be forced to sit through unprepared shoddy speakers or technical glitches or general ineptness. Things can and will go wrong, but I do everything possible as a speaker to minimize those effects.

I don’t understand why other organizers give spots to “low-maintenance” speakers. My high-maintenance approach can appear diva-ish, but maybe I can make my reasons clearer.

The process begins with the first query. When asked to speak at an event, I’ll ask about the audience: pressing topics, size, demographics, skills and experience. I’ll ask about logistics: travel arrangements, compensation and contact person. I’ll ask about the room: podium, screen and projector, wi-fi, dimensions and AV equipment.

I always insist on using my Macbook for slides. It works perfectly with my paired remote, and it shows the slides with the proper font. Sometimes, I’ll have 10 or more pages pre-loaded in my browser for live demonstrations. I find the risk too high in using an event-provided laptop (almost always without a remote). Practically every speaker out there is using her own laptop for presentations.

One of the most important topics I ask about is time: How many minutes of speaking time? I practice my talk over and over to fit within the time allotted. (And admittedly, I have gone over the time limit in my last three talks, so I definitely need to work harder in this area.)

Knowing that I can shorten (or lengthen) my talk on the fly ensures that events and sessions end on time as promised, but that I haven’t rushed through the material or skipped over too much of it. Often, an organizer will tell me the start time is noon, but after waiting for stragglers and housekeeping announcements, I find myself starting 15 minutes later. But if the event ends 15 minutes late, that’s on me.

When I show up early, I’m there to set up so that everything works: microphone, projector, remote and lights. I become focused, and occasionally testy, dealing with stubborn unfamiliar equipment and lax technical support. Remember, if a slide is too dim onscreen or a microphone triggers loud feedback, that’s also on me.

After the event, I’ll give feedback to organizers on what to look for next time, especially if something went wrong. It’s easy for me to know which ones care about improvement and which ones turn a blind eye. Guess which ones I won’t revisit …

That’s OK. I’m a pro. I can end on time. I can work without slides if the projector fails (which has happened a few times). I can work without notes. I can introduce myself.

I am there for the audience to learn and to ask questions and to be stimulated. Typically, a happy audience leads to happy organizers, but I’ve stepped on enough toes (and egos) to know that good results aren’t always enough to receive a return invitation.

I’m high maintenance. That’s guaranteed. What’s also guaranteed is that I’ll show up early, I won’t flake out on an event, I’ll be fully prepared for any contingency, and I’ll give a top-notch talk to the audience.

I love asking questions to the listeners. I love telling funny stories and shocking the crowd. I love answering questions and solving problems. I love applause.

I may not get to do it for every audience, but when I do, it’s a lot of fun. For me and for everyone in the room.

• • •

Book me for your next event …
if you dare.

Contact me


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