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Custom Tailoring Your Speaker's Presentation
By Barbara Sanfilippo, CSP, CPAE

Author of Dream Big! What's The Best That Can Happen?

You selected your speaker from a hot demo video, were assured the presentation would be customized to your audience and then, OUCH, you got burned. The speaker went into "automatic pilot" using stories and examples that did not relate to your group and did not involve the audience as promised. Does this sound familiar?

To ensure that you find a speaker who will take the time necessary to target the presentation to your specific needs, look for the following:

Pre-Program Questionnaire

Ask the speaker how they intend to find out about the challenges of your industry and association members. Many professional speakers will use a written questionnaire asking you for the following information:

* What are your specific objectives/results desired for my session and what would you like the audience to leave with at the conclusion?

* What is the specific purpose/theme of this meeting?

* What are some current problems, challenges or breakthroughs experienced by your industry?

* What are the top challenges faced by your members who will be in the audience?

* What are the positions and responsibilities of the attendees?

* Special jargon/terminology to use? To avoid?

* What are the demographics of the audience (age, sex, etc.)?

* If you would like me to recognize your association leaders please give me the names of individuals in the audience who have demonstrated excellence in the topic I'll be addressing and a brief description of their achievement(s).

* Please give me the names and telephone numbers of a few key association members attending your meeting that I can contact to get additional information.

* Please send me the following information: membership packet, meeting agenda, association newsletters and industry magazine, membership directory, etc.

Telephone Interviews

By calling the individuals you provided on the pre-program questionnaire, the speaker can get an insider's viewpoint and develop the presentation to reference key concerns. Typical questions to members may include:

* What do you see as the greatest challenges in your industry and business?

* What areas do you feel I need to touch on in my topic?

* Tell me about some of your successes in the area of (topic chosen).

* To make my overall program relevant and valuable for you and your peers, what suggestion do you have?

After reviewing the written material requested above and conducting the telephone interview, your speaker is now well prepared to tailor the presentation to your audience. Whether it be a one-hour keynote, a three-hour general session or a breakout session, this preparation is well worth the time.

Audience Involvement

If you prefer that the speaker deliver a highly interactive presentation with the audience, find out his/her style by asking questions. "How much audience involvement is included in this presentation? What kind of participation techniques are you planning on using (questions, games, discussion time, etc.)" Make it clear you are not looking for a lecture format. A speaker who has used a pre-program questionnaire and conducted telephone interviews can easily get the audience involved by acknowledging and including them in the program.

For example, one association asked that I present ideas on attracting and retaining customers. In my telephone interview with, Jim, the program chair, I was able to get several excellent examples of customer retention strategies he used successfully. It was then easy to involve the audience and provide the well-deserved recognition. I'll never forget the look of pride on his face when I said, "There is someone in this room who truly does an excellent job retaining customers. John Grade, where are you?" John raised his hand and I then highlighted his specific accomplishment as his peers applauded cheerfully. He then volunteered to add a comment. The association was pleased that I was able to recognize their members.

Another technique which I have found successful to encourage participation in large general sessions is to plant audience mikes and invite the audience to share success stories or discuss topics at their tables with a spokesperson summarizing. By getting off the stage into the audience, having the lights up bright and roaming the room with a wireless microphone, your speaker can re-energize a group that was lethargic after sitting through presentations by speakers who used numerous slides, stayed at the podium and did not involve the audience.

Added Value

If you are on a tight budget, consider asking the speaker to do an extra program. Many speakers are flexible and will do two programs for the same price, or slightly more, if they are conducted on the same day. For example, a general session presentation is delivered as well as a breakout program or a motivational keynote and a "strategic" workshop. Perhaps your speaker will agree to emcee, introduce a special event or host a panel. It doesn't hurt to ask!

How to help your speaker bomb (only kidding!)

1. Overset the room so there's plenty of empty chairs and don't offer to block off back rows/tables.
2. Set the room like a bowling alley, long and narrow, to avoid intimacy.
3. Give your audience lots of rich heavy foods and wine right before the speaker.
4. Keep the stage dark and in shadows and set the first row at least 25 feet away.
5. Don't return the pre-program questionnaire or provide the names to call until the last minute.
6. Make up a description of their presentation for your brochure or edit their introduction without their input.
7. Schedule your high-content speaker right after a humorist.

By taking the time to provide your speaker with the information requested and discussing your concerns and expectations, you can feel confident you'll get an exciting and informative presentation that your audience will never forget. As speakers and meeting professionals - lets partner in performance.


Based in San Diego, Barbara Sanfilippo, CSP, CPAE, is a popular nationally and internationally known speaker, author and consultant in the areas of sales, sales leadership, service and motivation. She frequently presents both business and motivational topics at CEO, management, association and sales conferences throughout the U.S., Canada, South America and Southeast Asia and has received high marks at many ASAE and MPI national conferences.

Copyright (c) 2001-2013 Barbara Sanfilippo



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