Top 3 Pointers for Your Convention Presenters

By Andrew Barlow, CEO, Overflow Communications 

While you may have invested in a well-known keynote speaker for your conference, you can set up your leader for success and your audience for inspiration by shrinking the drop-off in quality between their remarks and the keynote. While a professional keynote is a memorable and useful highlight of many a conference, there are a few key things you can do to keep the quality and energy level up throughout your event.

#1: Nail down a central theme.

While your organization might have a general sense of shared purpose, your audience isn’t there to hear the same information they could get through a Monday meeting or an email blast. They’re looking for inspiration and the chance to dream a little bigger than their home cubicles allow, so be sure to craft a visionary theme.

The best themes are worded to reflect motion “up and to the right,” so whether you choose INSPIRE or UPLIFT or ELEVATION, such eye-catching words lend themselves to a nice illustration and a subtitle like “Plumbing Innovations Summit” or “New Horizons in Radish Growing.” Such a theme will also help your other speakers choose their themes, words and graphics.

#2: Place your “clothespins” carefully.

Picture a member of your organization sitting in a darkened ballroom for one or two full days, anxious to learn, but eventually worn down to exhaustion by either unrelenting sensory overload or a stultifying stream of facts and figures. As you assemble your “run of show” for your event, take a moment to map the emotional flow, placing the more stimulating or motivating elements at appropriate intervals, to keep the overall energy up. These could include high-energy video, contests or event comedy bits.

One might call these “clothespins,” recalling a bedsheet on a clothesline, pinned in place, yet sagging in between pins. Establishing these high points first (typically at the start of each time block [ie. morning start, after lunch, etc.]), then weaving in your more informational sessions will give your attendees a chance to get into a natural rhythm. This can make them less likely to drift off to dreamland or a four-hour “cigarette break” in their hotel room.

#3: Lower your expectations.

The last thing you want is your speaker, be it your CEO, Executive Director or top salesperson, to have the personality and life squeezed out of them by expectations set way too high. Fact is, people aren’t likely going to remember more than one or two key themes from a presentation, so map out those themes in your planning phase. Then give presenters their simple tasking and permission to be redundant as they speak. The old extemporaneous speaking adage “tell them what you’re going to tell them, tell them what they need to hear, then tell them what you just told them” applies here.

Much as you would hit a nail multiple times to pierce a board, it’s good to hit a key message point (or set of three main points) three times in an address. This will clarify understanding, boost recall and maximize the impact of your message.

These three simple steps can help you simplify and energize your conference and keep your management team pleased with your abilities as an event planner. Unless, of course, you’re trying to get out of that job, in which case you should just wing it.

Andrew Barlow is an executive communications expert living and writing speeches in Austin, Texas. With a roster of happy clients including elected officials, high tech CEOs and non-profit directors, he helps leaders communicate creatively for maximum impact. He is the founder and CEO of