Every speaker can become a better speaker by organizing events, moderating panels, and being an MC.
In 2014 I starting organizing events for Startup Grind in Hong Kong. The events are as simple as an event can be, and yet they’re still a lot of work. For each event my team and I have to:
- Find and recruit a guest (which also includes getting a bio and photo from them)
- Post content to event website and then double check content there and on other websites like Meetup.com
- Set up payment details
- Schedule the venue
- Schedule a video crew
- Do PR outreach
- Create content to post to social media and do the posting
- Review speaker profile and create questions
- Sometimes meet with speaker in order to prep beforehand
- Confirm with speaker, venue, and video crew before event
- Schedule catering
- Buy drinks, cups, plates, napkins, etc.
- Coordinate with team to make sure people will be there to help with check-in
- Conduct event, including interviewing the guest
- Track expenditures and submit receipts
- Invoice main organization to get reimbursed
- Get video from video crew
- Upload video to YouTube and post to social media channels
Then there are all the last minute questions that crop up:
- Who’s going to pick up the pizza?
- Did someone send out the reminder email a week before the event to get last-minute attendees in?
- Why hasn’t anyone posted anything on Twitter for the past week?
- Why is the time off by a half hour on Meetup? How did we not notice this before?
- The guest is late! Where’s the guest?
- How come nobody is showing up? Did we get the address wrong?
This is just a small sampling of what it’s like to run a simple event. Organizing over 20 Startup Grind events has made me a better speaker because I have more empathy for event organizers. As a result, I am never late to an event. If anything, I try to show up far ahead of time because I know that the organizer is stressing out every minute I’m not there. I try not to burden organizers with demands, especially during the event when they’re frantically running around trying to get things set up. At every step I compliment the organizer as often as I can on how organized they are, how much work I can see they’ve done, and how grateful I am to be involved. I also try to help wherever I can, whether it’s setting up chairs or getting the projector to work.
I like to think I do these things because that’s what decent people do, but I’d do the same things even if I were entirely selfish. If I can help the event come off as more professional and polished that makes me look better. If I help the organizer and give them compliments and they like working with me because of it, then they’ll bring me back in the future and recommend me to their friends and associates. I only win by helping out and having empathy for the organizer, and there’s no better way to understand what an organizer needs and wants than to be an organizer yourself.
Alex Pirouz, Founder of Linkfluencer, a LinkedIn marketing consultancy, expresses similar thoughts. “Over the past 10 years I’ve hosted easily over 30+ events,” Alex says. “This has given me a great perspective and appreciation for the work and effort that’s required to put on a great event. This insight has given me a great appreciation and understanding on what event managers and coordinators are looking for when hiring speakers.” Alex continues, “Event managers have so many other things they need to worry about and everything happens literally minute by minute so leaving a buffer really helps, and getting to your keynote 30 minutes earlier is huge for helping the event manager not feel rushed. There are many other examples that I can think of but this was by far the most powerful!”
I’m writing this as I return from Taiwan where I moderated three sessions of startup demos at the InnoVEX event which is part of the larger COMPUTEX show. I wasn’t the featured speaker in these sessions–the focus was on the startups. Still, it was a valuable experience every professional speaker should seek out. As a public speaker you won’t always be doing keynotes, you’ll also do breakout sessions, roundtables, workshops, and panels. Gaining experience moderating panels and other types of sessions will help you perform better in those situations.
Just before heading to Taiwan I was in Las Vegas to speak at the Content Marketing Conference that was hosted by WriterAccess. In addition to my presentation on how to get your content featured in top tier publications I was also a guest on a global content marketing panel with Byron White, CEO of WriterAccess, acting as moderator. In preparation for moderating in Taiwan I reached out to Byron to get some tips and he created a whole blog post 9 Tips for Moderating Panels that WOW Attendees in response. One of my favorite tips is to have a “group huddle” before the panel.
Gathering the panelists before the session is key to making the panel sing well together, either by phone or in person. It will help them all learn what questions the other panelists are answering and avoid duplicate answers, which are a real buzz kill for the audience. — Byron White
In Taiwan I tried to get together with each person I would be talking to on stage and I walked them through the format in detail, told them what questions I would be asking, and answered questions they had.
I also enjoyed this tip from Byron:
From the audience perspective, it’s a lot more fun to watch a ping pong match than long, rambling answers that are repetitive. Encourage your speakers to keep their answers to one minute or less, with a followup question from you that helps dive deeper into the topic, if appropriate. Bite-size suggestions are much more enjoyable and, by the way, much more “socially distributed” by the attendees. Coach your panelists on this opportunity.
My guests in Taiwan only had 9 minutes each to respond to questions. Some of them went on too long with their answers and I had to cut them off. By trying to say too much, they actually ended up getting less of their message out to the audience.
Moderating an event will help you become a better speaker when you’re the one being moderated because you’ll understand better how to respond to the moderator in a way that helps both of you out. Read the rest of Byron’s tips for more ideas on how to be a better moderator, and a better speaker.
Wait, is it MC’ing or emceeing? Ah, whatever.
Performing as master of ceremonies at an event will make you a better speaker if only because as a speaker you often end up being your own MC. This may happen because you’re speaking in a breakout session where an MC is not part of the format, or because you’re at an event where the MC isn’t doing a very good job, and it falls to you to give yourself a better introduction.
Andrew Work is the Editor in Chief of the Hong Kong-based Harbour Times and a professional MC with experience managing various organizations and events. I’ve seen Andrew masterfully MC events like the annual Asia Self Storage Expo, bringing energy and flow to what could easily be described as not the most exciting business topic in the world. “Being an MC, combined with 30 years of event management experience, attenuates you to all the little details,” Andrew says. “Those details are critical for an MC to master, but they also help you to be a better speaker. Normal speechifying is usually considered a one-way communication, but as an MC you need to read and engage with your audience, creating a communal experience people can feel a part of. All live speaking should incorporate that sensitivity and adjust on the fly.”
As an MC you notice if someone walks onto the stage a second too early or a second too late. You really notice if someone is a more than 10 seconds late because then as MC you start feeling awkward about the extended pause. A great event is choreographed and being an MC makes you sensitive to that fact. When you go back to speaking you’re then much more aware of your place in the show and how you can contribute.
I just barely spoke at Echelon in Singapore put on by the tech magazine e27 and Nicole Tan of strategic digital communications agency Pink Tangent did a great job emceeing for speakers like Kipp Bodnar, CMO of Hubspot, in front of an audience of 250+. I asked her “How has MC’ing events made you a better speaker?” and here was her answer:
To answer your question, emceeing makes you a better speaker because:
1. You have to be on the ball at all times. Last minute announcements need to be made and sponsors need to be thanked. This makes you a better speaker because you learn to be alert to things happening around you.
2. You learn to improvise. Speakers can finish their sessions early, on-time or late. And some even go missing before their talk. Such improvisation makes you a better speaker because you learn how to be prepared for last minute happenings and improvise on the spot.
3. You’re the first point of contact as an emcee, which means it’s your job to gauge the crowd and maybe wake them up a little. This helps when you’re the next speaker after a couple of sessions when the audience starts getting a little impatient or bored. You learn how to get them alert again!
There you have it. Drop the mic.
Not only can organizing events, moderating events, and being an MC help you improve your skills and business practices as a public speaker, but these activities can lead to more speaking opportunities. Even though you’re not the featured speaker in any of the above situations, you still get to show off your ability to speak and work a crowd. You also get to show that not only can you speak, but you know what it’s like to be in the shoes of an event organizer. If you were an event organizer and could choose between hiring a speaker who had done all of the above and one who hadn’t, which would you prefer?
Are you a public speaker who has organized, moderated, or MC’d events? What benefits have you received to your career as a speaker? Tell us in the comments below.