How to Make Key Volunteer Leaders Shine During General Sessions

Dear Producer: The planning and development of our association’s fall conference is well underway, but we need some advice on how to assist a few members of our volunteer leadership team become more relaxed and confident during their general session presentations. What kind of support can you suggest that will help our presenters shine on stage, especially the ones with the least amount of experience in the spotlight? – Perplexed in Boston

Dear Perplexed: That’s an excellent question! What your volunteer leaders need is a skilled and understanding producer/coach. Whether you seek the advice of a presentation coach, a production company whose producers offer this type of service, or you stay in house, there are important questions to ask and key tips to offer your speakers.  

One of the producer’s top priorities will be to assess how much presentation experience each of your volunteer leaders brings to the stage. Have they ever delivered a speech in front of a large audience before? Do they have experience working with a teleprompter? Have they presented from center stage in the past, without the benefit of a lectern to lean on, literally and figuratively speaking?

Many producers have extensive experience working with and coaching C-suite executives from both the association and corporate worlds. And it’s this type of knowledge that they’ll share with your leadership team, such as:

1.    What’s the story they’re trying to tell? Be sure they focus on key points and images within their presentations.

2.    Make sure they know what is occurring before and after they speak, as well as how they get on or off the stage based on the cues of other speakers.

3.    If they’re working from a lectern, are the presidential paddles set at a height at which they can easily read the teleprompter script?

4.    If their wireless microphones cease to operate, do they know what the plan is to secure a wired microphone to continue?

5.    Are they aware of the audio cues the show caller is expecting to hear from them to roll videos within their presentations, and do they know where on stage to stand when that video is playing?

6.    For marketing and promotional purposes, look for a photo opportunity moment by making sure that your organization’s logo/branding in incorporated into their presentation.

For your least experienced speakers, they may require an initial in office coaching session, well in advance of your conference, during which the producer will work on technique and delivery. In some cases, an iPad-based teleprompter may also be used to begin preparing your speakers for what they’ll experience during the conference. But for most presenters, multiple on-site and on-stage rehearsals will be sufficient.

As you know, presenting on stage is much more demanding than rehearsing in an office. And the producer will address these challenges with each of your speakers onsite. From bright stage lights shining in their eyes to hearing their own voices amplified throughout the room, the producer will be by their sides to instruct them every step of the way.

Veteran producers will also help refine your speaker’s pacing and stage positioning, taking full advantage of multiple down stage monitors so they appear to be addressing each section of the ballroom. As the allotted rehearsal time allows, they’ll continue to guide your speakers through multiple run-throughs of their presentations until they’re comfortable and confident with their onstage presence.

And finally, many producers will also act as stage managers during general sessions, which adds an additional layer of support. It’s during these last few minutes, just before your speakers hit the stage, that the final polish is applied to ensure that your speakers shine as bright as any star in the sky.

Thank you for your inquiry, and we wish you and your leadership team the very best of luck during your upcoming conference. Break a leg!

About the author: Jim Pringle is a senior producer at Fusion Productions, with more than 25 years of experience as a meetings, events and television producer.  He has coached hundreds of association and corporate speakers during his tenure with Fusion Productions

Jim Pringle coaches a keynote speaker at a fundraising gala.

Jim Pringle coaches a keynote speaker at a fundraising gala.