You want to make sure your general session is streamlined, polished, and engaging. But there are so many things that can derail even the best-laid plans. Here's a list of bad advice, and some good practices to keep you on the right track.
1. Skipping rehearsals
Bad advice: Forget rehearsing. Who needs to keep going over your setup and execution, anyway? And besides, your senior executives are busy people—you don’t want to take up their time making them rehearse on stage, right?
Good practice: Content is king, and in order to have great content that is communicated clearly and credibly to your audience, you have to put in the time. Think through the program, troubleshoot potential problems, and revisit it multiple times to make sure it’s perfect. Your audience and your speakers (senior execs included!) will thank you for this. The more you care about how your session looks, sounds, and feels, the more your audience will stay connected during the session.
2. Not diversifying your content
Bad advice: You can easily deliver all your content via speeches, so you don’t need to incorporate videos or entertainment, or use up your budget on an expensive keynote speaker.
Good practice: Switch it up. Use PowerPoints when you need to, but throw in more unique visual aids such as videos, original live music, props, and an interesting keynote speaker. This will keep attendees on their toes and eager to hear what you have to say. Your production company can work with you to brainstorm the ideas for visual aids and other ways to bring those concepts to life. With regards to your keynote speaker, don’t just focus on a speaker who knows your industry; find someone who can take his or her story and connect it to your audience.
3. Not investing in good lighting, sound, and projection
Bad advice: Don’t worry about what people think of your videos, graphics, or presenters—just hire the cheapest audiovisual vendor you can quickly find. Don’t worry if your stage is too dark to see, nobody can hear your presenters, or your presentations are illegible. Your two-person hotel AV squad will make an ideal production crew.
Good practice: Make sure your viewers can see the faces of the people who are talking to them. There’s extra credibility in readable facial cues, and if your audience can’t tell if there’s any emotion behind the words, chances are they’ll dismiss your message entirely. A professional production company that can handle both your creative content and your AV needs can ensure that the right attention is paid to your technical requirements. If your production partner has created the content, then they are invested in ensuring the best possible audiovisual support.
4. Skipping the teleprompter
Bad advice: Hey, all the people on stage have been giving presentations for years, so nobody needs a teleprompter, right?
Good practice: Prompters make the speaker look better by enabling them to connect with the audience through eye contact. When your presenters can see your listeners, they can respond to their subtle reactions. They’ll look better on stage, on the big screen, and in the video recording of your performance. Scripted presenters also finish on time so your session is more likely to stick to the schedule you worked so hard to establish. A prompter is very affordable, especially when you compare it to the cost of the entire event.
5. Letting presenters create their own decks
Bad advice: If you aren’t concerned that your presenters have created their own decks in a different color schemes, fonts, presentation sizes, and formats, then certainly take the easy path to creating the decks. It takes one more item off of your plate! While you’re at it, tell them to just bring the deck with them on a drive, and give it to your AV team moments before the presenter goes on stage. What can go wrong?
Good practice: Have every presenter who needs a deck send your production company notes on what slides they need at least three weeks prior to your general session. By having the designer at the production company work on the deck, you will ensure that 1) there’s not too much text per slide, 2) the content will be legible from the back of the room, 3) the proper template has been used, and 4) you can take advantage of an artist’s ability to turn words into charts, photos, and/or infographics.
Think that will be expensive? Consider what’s at stake if your audience isn’t able to read the words on the screen or understand the content because the slide wasn’t designed to be projected to a large audience.
6. Not including a call to action
Bad advice: Don’t coordinate the speakers’ remarks from the stage to deliver a consistent, clear, and concise call to action. Why have your audience leave with an understanding of what you want them to do?
Good practice: Don’t let your audience leave your session asking themselves, “What was that all about?” Create a call to action that lets them know their next steps, with information on how they can act on what you want them to do.
7. Not allowing enough time to set up the room
Bad advice: Save money by renting the general session space just for the day of your event. After all, how long does it take to set up a couple of projectors?
Good practice: Ideally you will rent your space 48 hours before the start of your session, but 24 hours prior is the bare minimum. Think it’s expensive to pay that extra rental fee? Think about what the overtime charges could amount to for an overnight AV and rigging call. Also, you need to enable your production company to have adequate time to set up the stage, lights, and sound system so when it’s time to rehearse they are ready to go. There are enough last-minute challenges for you to handle on site without scrambling to ensure that your AV is working.
As you can see, there’s a lot to think about when planning and executing your general session. Fortunately, many common hiccups can be avoided by ignoring bad advice and implementing good event production practices. Throughout your planning, make sure to consider how your session will look, sound, and feel—your attention to detail will be rewarded with an engaged, captivated audience.
Hal Schild is senior vice president, creative services, of PCI Event Productions. Blending award-winning creativity, technical ability, and business acumen, Schild oversees the video, online, multimedia, and event production for annual meetings and conventions of PCI’s major corporate and not-for-profit clients.