Last week I spoke at a large insurance summit (about 800 people). Near the end of my talk, a student held up a flash card indicating I had 10 minutes left. From the stage I couldn't read the card, however I could tell by his waving it around in the air- the message was for me.
For a moment I started to panic, what if it's a message from home? What if it's an emergency? At that moment I stopped and addressed the student asking him what his sign said. Luckily the forgiving audience found this very funny but the student seemed embarrassed as he slicked away.
The irony is this insurance summit had a technology focus and they were using cue cards to keep their conference guest speakers on time. Surely there is better technology then a cue card to keep a schedule on time.
One of my pet peeves with venues today is they never have a clock in the convention room, so you have to be sure to wear a wrist watch. For many, wrist watches are out of date technology. Relying on your cell phone to keep time during a speech is awkward and often even the best of phones revert to a blank screen after 15 minutes to save power. Thus you have to fiddle around with it to get the time.
How to Keep a Conference Guest Speaker on Time:
- Prep the guest speaker before the speech to remind them how much time they have. Warn them what will happen when they go over (ie- they will be booed off stage)
- Ask the guest speaker how they like to stay on time. Some will have a wrist watch, alarm or some other way of staying on time.
- Ask the hotel if they have a time keeping device
- Cue cards can work ( and be recycled for all the guest speakers), just make sure they are big enough and the guest speaker knows the time cues and where the cards will be popping up ( ie- the time keeper will stand to the right of the podium and cue you at 10 minutes)
- Where agendas really get off track is when awards are given out, committee members are given formal thank you's, or presidents give a short update that turn into the gettysburg address. These items on an agenda are hard to predict. Build extra time into the agenda for them. Let the guest speaker know how much time they have if there time is cut back because of the previous session. Make sure they are flexible and adaptable to this in advance.
- Always build extra time in the agenda for speakers who go over. It can be used as valuable networking time.
Some events are very flexible with their agendas and speakers finish whenever they feel like it. If you can't afford this in your content-rich agenda, be sure to communicate your expectation.
How to Keep your Guest Speaker and Agenda on Time
- Clearly communicate the timeslot to your guest speaker in email and in the contract and reinforce verbally that they are expected to speak for that time- no more, no less.
- At the event, before their speech, clearly communicate to the guest speaker any agenda changes and exactly what time they should wrap it up.
- Have a plan- if the speaker speaks too long, how will you force them off the stage? Cue cards, music to drown them out, start clapping or simply walk up and grab the microphone from them....
- Have a plan, part 2-if the guest speaker doesn't fill the timeslot...what will you do to keep delegates engaged and involved? Have fillers like fun interactive activities, a raffle etc to keep people in the room.