This year I have had the opportunity to speak at several state and regional conferences. Up until this point I had only spoken at smaller venues, mostly local societies with audiences of 100 or less, in my local area. This year I also had the opportunity to witness a little bit on the conference planning side. This by no means makes me an expert on either of these sides at any level. I have the utmost respect for those who have the ability to plan conferences, to delegate, to deal with stressful situations, and to keep on smiling throughout! But I did learn a few things along the way that I will use to better prepare for next time I am invited to speak at a conference.
The first thing I learned outside of the general nuts and bolts of being a speaker (you learn these things by speaking to the local societies near you, they are often looking for speakers), is to be sure I understand the contract. When speaking at my local societies I have yet to sign a contract and most of the business has been done over email, so the contract was new for me. I made some assumptions I shouldn’t have. Had I asked questions when things weren’t clear instead of thinking “well, it will be fine” or “I’ll just figure that out when I get there” some confusion and awkward conversations wouldn’t have happened.
From that came the need to have flexibility. This applies to conference planners and speakers alike. When you get to a venue and things aren’t what you had in mind, it really does no good to have a major hissy fit (or even a minor one). All that does is get people upset. Everyone should breathe just a little more deeply, take a few minutes to calm down, and then problem-solve. Usually there is a solution to just about anything if you can keep calm.
Be prepared for strange situations. Rooms get changed, times get changed, projectors stop working, power goes out, people fall down stairs, the lunches aren’t lined up in an efficient way, the fire alarms go off, speakers get sick or injured or miss flights, weather happens, microphones have feedback or their batteries stop working… This list could go on and on and on. For every speaker out there, there is probably at least one story of strangeness happening during conferences. Flexibility helps with strangeness. There are a lot of things out of our control and being rigid only helps in raising blood pressure. Laughter is the best medicine. Make light of strange situations, make jokes, be witty, and in general “roll with it.”