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Make Your Speaker a Rock Star

When you hire a subject-matter expert for your keynote, unless their area of expertise is communicating, they may need some help.

Public speaking is a skill, and sometimes your subject-matter expert might need some support to learn it.

Janet Sperstad, CMP, faculty director, Event Management Business Solutions at Madison College, suggests planners ask themselves, “What can we do to support the speaker?” If the subject matter is dense, planners might ask audience members to contribute their top three takeaways, either using the app or email while still in the room, or even on flipcharts while exiting the room, and then collect those points together and send them out to all the attendees as a reminder.

Sarah Michel of Velvet Chainsaw suggests that after paying for their time and transportation, it pays to invest a little more in training for the speaker. Michel says, “Subject-matter experts need to be learning facilitators or all that expertise goes to waste.” Velvet Chainsaw and other consultants offer speaker training online through webinars, and in person through workshops and one-on-one sessions. Speakers tend to appreciate the investment in them, and Michel believes it can turn them from an “information-giver” into a “sense-maker,” or someone who presents solutions, not just facts.  

Another way she helps associations get the most from subject-matter experts is to hire a “content weaver.” This involves planning for a facilitator, or weaver, to take the stage for a short time after the keynote is finished. The weaver distills the message and repeats it, and reaffirms action items and practical approaches tailored to the attendees’ needs. This helps the audience retain the information and mentally commit to plans to implement it. 

Lastly, Michel advises planners to ask to see any presentation materials ahead of the event, and if the slides are text-heavy or there are just too many of them, edit.

“I cut PowerPoints all the time. I’ll add images and cut text. The brain learns from pictures, not words.” If this seems like adding yet another task to a planner’s workload, there’s an app for that. Many of them, actually. Michel uses, which charges a small subscription fee and allows users to upload a PowerPoint and, based on keywords on each slide, the service adds images. Each image only allows a limited number of words, forcing the user to think visually.

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