I still need some water, please.

Back in 2007, I suggested 10 tips for those who organize workshops and conferences, specifically in regards to working with presenters. Six years and countless workshops later, I have some more tips.

1.  Ask in advance if the presenter is willing to be videotaped and/or photographed. I often do not like to be videotaped because of proprietary issues. I’ve had my content blatantly stolen in the past, even though workshops are generally the presenter’s intellectual property. Ask in advance if the presenter is willing to be videotaped or photographed during the workshop. On the other hand, make sure you have photographers available, especially in today’s social media. Presenters—including me—often post photographs on their social media accounts, like Twitter and Facebook, so be sure to e-mail the photos to the presenter. In fact, it may be a good idea to e-mail the photos prior to publishing them. Having a professional photographer is a great way to publicize your event and organization.

2.  Don’t ask the presenter if s/he is willing to share a hotel room with someone. Oftentimes, I’m asked to share my hotel room, or stay at someone’s house, to keep costs down. This is an incredibly awkward position to put me in. First, presenting is so mentally exhausting, what with the travel time, preparation, and so forth. It’s not a hobby; it’s hard work. By having a room to myself, I get to recharge, prepare for my workshops, and catch up on things. There are also a lot of presenters who have medical conditions they would prefer to keep private. When I’m asked if I can share my room, I always feel backed into a corner. I feel as if I’m wrong to say no, even though I know I’m not. Bottom line: budget for individual rooms for every presenter.

3.  Do not expect the presenter to provide copies of his/her own handouts. More and more organizations are going paperless nowadays, which is certainly noble. However, for some workshops, such as my writing workshops, handouts are crucial. It is frustrating to be told that I must provide the handout copies, especially if I’m traveling by plane and arrive too late to find a copy machine.

I gave a presentation and requested that copies of an article, a major part of my talk, be shared with the audience. The organizer resisted at first, and then said I could simply show it onscreen so that the audience could read it during my presentation. I dismissed this idea quickly for obvious logistical reasons—it’d be hard to read even if on a large screen, and I didn’t want to wait around watching everyone read it. The organizer finally relented, and agreed. Upon arrival, I asked where the handouts were, and the answer was, “Oops, I forgot.” Do not sacrifice quality or content for convenience and being eco-friendly.

4. Be reasonable when requesting PowerPoints in advance. I’m always frustrated when organizers request PowerPoints more than two weeks in advance, especially if my PowerPoints include current events. A conference I was invited to required that I submit my PowerPoint more than a month in advance so that the interpreters could prepare. While I understand this—especially for a conference with multiple presenters—the timeline was incredibly constraining. A week in advance is certainly reasonable, but no longer.

5.  Make sure the presenter is aware of community issues and politics. I was asked to moderate, as a neutral “outsider,” a forum on some sensitive topics. I asked for as much background or information as possible, but got only superficial details. At the forum, I sensed an underlying tension among the participants. Almost immediately, people spoke to each other angrily and out of turn. Even though their anger was not directed at me, I felt helpless because I had not been warned of the minefield I was stepping onto, nor did any of the organizers help control the mood. Fortunately, I was able to quickly get the discussion back under control, but I didn’t appreciate being thrown in the fray like this.

6.  Inform the presenter in advance who the interpreters are—and respect the presenter’s interpreting preferences. It’s always a bit harrowing to walk into a situation and not know who my voice(s) will be. This is exactly why I like knowing who my interpreters will be in advance. Also, if presenters request no voice interpretation—respect their preferences.
Last fall, I requested that my Think of a Word, Quick! workshop not be voiced because it is purely a skill-building workshop. If a participant can’t sign well enough without an interpreter, that person is not qualified for this workshop.  I was told that per conference access policy, all workshops and presentations had to be voiced—which was reasonable to me. Still, it completely thwarted my workshop activities. I found a workaround, though: at the start of the workshop, I asked if anyone wanted an interpreter. Nobody did, and so the interpreter left.

7.  Be hospitable. At a leadership conference, my co-presenter and I were surprised to find nobody upon arrival. We looked in the program book to find where we were to present. When we entered the empty room, we began setting up the LCD projector and laptop. As I was doing this—I was 37 weeks pregnant at this time—the planner, who I had never met but had gotten on well with via e-mail, came in screaming in sign language, “STOP! DON’T DO THAT!” She was furious because I had moved the LCD projector over to the side a bit.

I expected the planner to be friendly and welcome me to the conference, especially given her disastrous introduction.

She did apologize later, and I figured it was the result of her being stressed out. That following summer, I presented a workshop for the same national organization.  I expected the planner to be friendly and welcome me to the conference, especially given her disastrous introduction. Nope. She was cold and standoffish: nodding blankly when I asked where my room was, then focusing on her pager and ignoring my attempts at friendly conversation. Stress does funny things to people, but this was unacceptable. A simple friendly hello, ensuring that the presenter is all taken care of, and being polite and respectful instead of reactive—are traits that go an extremely long way.

8.  Provide the presenter with your contact information. If you or another committee member will not remain in the room during the workshop, ensure that the presenter has your immediate contact information, in case of emergencies (which could range from room temperature to room lighting to actual crises). This includes your text number, e-mail, and so on. More importantly—be responsive. I texted the aforementioned conference planner several times, and never heard back, which is why I approached her only to be ignored in favor of her pager.

9.  Introduce the presenter respectfully and appropriately. I always cringe when a person reads from the biography I provide word-for-word; this is impersonal, and boring. Be engaging; add a personal touch and welcome. And do your homework. Don’t say things like, “Uh, I think you did this and that, right?” and look at the presenter during the introduction. Nor should you say, “Well, I’ll keep the introduction short and sweet; the presenter can introduce herself.” Finally, make sure the information you have is accurate. Oftentimes, inaccurate information has been provided about me and I’ve had to politely—and uncomfortably—correct the person onstage.

10.  Ensure that rides to and from the airport are set up in advance, and that the car is clean. Two experiences, out of many, are quite memorable. Once, a committee member drove me to the airport, and her SUV was so filthy that I literally gagged and physically had to hold back my vomit without letting her know. The SUV was littered, smelled of recent heavy cigarette smoke, and was very, very crowded with her things. The hour-long drive to the airport felt like an eternity.

The second experience was when I had arranged to be taken to the airport at 10:30 a.m. The committee chair said “whomever is available” would take me to the nearby airport. Based on this, I made arrangements to visit a friend at 9:30 a.m. at the hotel. As I chatted with her, the appointed driver tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Let’s go.” He said that since someone else was leaving an hour before me, he wanted to save time and take us to the airport together. I obviously had to oblige, but I was so disappointed that my plans weren’t respected, and that I was forced to wait a very long extra hour at the airport.

Finally, please don’t forget the water. This is still one of the most maddening parts of being a presenter: showing up only to be given no water, or worse yet, a cup of water that I could easily—and often do—knock over. If you want to be eco-friendly, provide the presenter with a new reusable bottle filled with water, but make sure the water comes in a container with a lid that helps prevent spills.

Read about how presenters can make organizers’ jobs easier.

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  1. Denise Johnson says:

    These are great tips Trudy! I am glad you share this information with us.

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