Forward Thinking

People & Processes: Small Production, Big Impact

Conference expense budgets are tight. Technology innovations - including Skype, do-it-yourself screen capture, and affordable video-editing tools - will help you bring more and better thought leaders to your conference experience.

Professional speakers—often the most remembered and valued elements of a conference—are normally reserved for “main tent” sessions. But what if you could add a dose of that premium thought leadership to conference breakouts or facilitated small-group discussions as well? Wouldn’t that help increase value for your conference participants? You betcha!

Really Live Chat Rooms

That’s exactly what Jeff Hurt and I did to add another innovative element to PCMA’s 2012 annual meeting, Convening Leaders. In the Learning Lounge—a large space broken up into cluster “theaters” for small-group sessions—we created Really Live Chat Rooms. For that experience, we recorded Skype interviews with 15 thought leaders around the world, including a speaker from Australia. Many of these individuals are NewYork Times best-selling authors and are frequently hired as keynoters for professional conferences. All in all,we created 22 video interviews for a hard cost of $299 in total!

The videos were edited (by amateurs) and shown in various parts of the Learning Lounge. The average video was about 10minutes in length. Volunteer facilitators were coached to pause the videos after big ideas were shared and to help participants think through how they could apply those concepts to their conferences. Basically, the Really Live Chat Rooms experience became roundtable discussions on steroids.

Convincing Speakers to Play

Convening Leaders had a pretty compelling value proposition—the participants either hire or recommend professional speakers. But conferences with audiences of all kinds can attract this kind of talent.

Most professional speakers and authors command speaker fees of $10,000 or more. When they agree to a speaking gig, it can mean a two- to four-day commitment when you include travel, the time it takes to customize their presentation for your attendees, and other considerations. If you ask a speaker to participate in a Skype-style interview, that time commitment can be brought down to less than 30minutes.

To get speakers to agree to participate, you need to think hard about what’s in it for them. I recommend that the interview request come from the highest possible level within your organization, and that you add incentives. For example, agreeing to purchase a number of copies of their book to sell in your bookstore, or offering some other promotional value, may be all you need to get them on board.

Embedding the Interview in the Conference Experience

When you record a Skype interview, it isn’t going to end up being production quality, but that’s okay as long as the content rocks. Keep in mind that it’s also difficult for attendees to watch a long interview in a conference environment. The best use of recorded Skype interviews is to supplement the content of a longer session – use the thought leader videos to provoke discussion and add credibility. Attendees come to your conference to solve their most pressing problems. When concepts or ideas come from a leading authority on the topic, they tend to be remembered and acted on more.
Take away

Putting Digital Tech to Work

Many of the innovations in eLearning, webinars, and virtual conferences can be leveraged to improve your face-to-face meetings. Skyping in a panelist or using this technology as a back-up plan for a grounded speaker are examples of creative uses. Skype can be a bit jumpy, but as long as you capture quality audio and have exceptional content, audiences are very forgiving.

In-demand speakers and thought leaders command a high fee for the value they deliver. When you approach them with a proposition that gives them visibility without the travel, they’re likely to jump at the opportunity.

Dave Lutz, CMP

Dave Lutz, CMP, is managing director of Velvet Chainsaw Consulting.