29 March 2018

Why being a conference’s last speaker is a compliment and opportunity

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Many people would shudder seeing their name last on the programme, closely followed by ‘end of conference’.

The closing session of the conference agenda is no one’s preferred speaking slot but the last speaker is given an opportunity not afforded to the other presenters. In fact, the last speaker has the potential to be the most memorable and leave the greatest impact.

“I know I’m standing between you and networking drinks so I’ll keep this short,” is a well-worn line we become used to hearing as producers (I’m even guilty of having used it myself on occasion). What we don’t realise though is this immediately sets the tone of the presentation. Audience members are left with thoughts like ‘he doesn’t want to be here’, ‘there probably won’t be enough detail in this to be useful’ or even ‘she’s right- I wonder what canapés they’re serving.’

The crowd may have thinned slightly- some may already be at the bar getting the first round of networking drinks. But you can find confidence knowing the people who remain are those who are genuinely interested and, most importantly, want to be there.

Instead, consider starting your presentation with a bang. Public speaker and author Ben Parr does this very literally. In a presentation he gave at the West Coast Contently Summit, he reached behind a banner and with a loud bang released a party popper which spewed streamers over guests. Parr refers to this particular tactic as a ‘disruption trigger’- people react to things we aren’t expecting (which is also the same basis as what we find humorous).

But your opening doesn’t have to be so left-field. It could be a short video, a controversial statement or interacting with the crowd. Consider the effect it would have when the chairperson introduces you, the audience claps and expects to see you walking to the stage.

But you don’t.

The audience is somewhat perplexed, suddenly roused from their post-afternoon tea stupor, before you speak directly from one of the cabaret tables using a hand-held mic. You ask the delegates at that table what they are hoping to learn from your presentation.

Remember their name and come back to them during your presentation- “John, you asked how we measure customer satisfaction rates and this is how.”

Throughout your talk, speak their language and relate your content back to things they know well. Can you compare your marketing strategies to the way the Kardashians have grown their market reach? Your audience is interested.

You can fall into the trap of being the last speaker and accept your fate to be background noise as people check Facebook and doodle on notepads, or you can be the disruptive force that they talk about for the rest of the week.

Written by: Claire Dowler

Claire Dowler is a Senior Conference Producer with Akolade. She recently graduated with a double degree: a Bachelor of Journalism and a Bachelor of Media and Communications Studies majoring in International Communication. Claire minored in sarcasm and puns.

A ballroom-dancer who collects salt and pepper shakers and volunteers for animal rescue, you might say Claire has eclectic interests.

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