Successful conferences rely on speakers delivering content that is relevant to the conference theme. The conference committee and/or board of directors works very hard to determine the theme that will attract and be meaningful to conference attendees. The program committee is then tasked with coming up with speakers that fit that theme.

Ensuring that the keynote and breakout speakers deliver material related to the theme will determine if a conference is successful but also whether delegates will attend future conferences put on by your organization.

The two keys to having speakers deliver on your conference theme are:
1. Having a strong process for selecting speakers and
2. Clearly communicating expectations with those chosen

Selecting Speakers

The program committee members are the content experts: they are responsible for determining the number of keynote and breakout speakers required and picking the number of sessions. They can target expert speakers that they know are competent to speak on a given subject or they can send out a call for abstracts to the general community that are perceived as experts within the subject matter.

Either method works, however the call for abstract method provides more variety of submissions and may identify a relevant topic that the committee was not aware of or considering. It’s also more work.

Communicating Speaker Expectations

We had a client that conducted a call for abstracts and the abstracts that were submitted were reviewed by the program committee and then shortlisted. The short list was ranked from strongest to weakest in regards to its suitability to the theme. The strongest proposals were approached about the possibility of speaking but before confirming the speakers, a program committee member contacted the speaker to verify the topic and how they would deliver the message.

Once each speaker was interviewed, the program committee met again and reviewed the proposed list of speakers. After communicating with the speakers, the program committee members had a much better understanding of the written content that the speakers submitted and were able to make informed decision as to which speaker would best deliver on the conference theme.

Ensuring that a speaker connects to the theme and delivers the message you want comes down to communication. Members of the program committee should always interview potential keynote speakers before they are contracted to speak. Understanding the audience and the desired message for the conference can only be done through two-way communication with a keynote speaker. Keynote speakers typically set the stage for and wrap up a successful conference so the more the speaker understands the audience; the better the chances are that they will deliver a solid, targeted message.

Targeted learning typically takes place in the breakout sessions. Communication is also crucial when selecting and determining breakout session speakers so they match up well to the conference theme.

Although a call for abstracts for speaker selection can be labour intensive it can prove to be worth the effort. Our client that utilized the rigorous call for abstract screening process had delegate evaluations that clearly showed the speaker content was relevant and well received.

Developing a process to evaluate and choose speakers that fits your conference theme will benefit your organization now and for future events. Building a strong program takes hard work and commitment from your program committee.

Communication is the key ingredient to ensuring success.