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Event Speaker Planning Made Simple(r)

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Whether you plan sales kick-offs, all company meetings or major partner events for a living – you probably love your job and hate it at times too.

The love part… for a period of time at least, you have the attention of leaders who are pretty vested in the process whether they want to be or not.  The tough part… your personal reputation and perhaps career path is always on the line.  (The rest of us can have an epic fail and the whole company won’t know. You… not so much.)

I’d like to make at least part of the process a little easier for you – planning your speakers, theme integration and message continuity and it’s best started many months before the event.

Events typically suffer from three planning maladies related to speakers.

  • A patchwork quilt of topics – Weak continuity.
  • Presentations that meander – No message focus.
  • Shallow audience engagement – Marginal content/delivery skills

Here’s how all that can begin to change. Get all the stakeholders together for an initial speaker planning meeting and approach it this way.  [This document is available to download at the end of this piece]


Event Speaker Planning Worksheet
Event Speaker Planning Worksheet


  1. What’s the event theme? (Fill in the center horizontal box)
    Think hard about this one because every speaker needs to agree and integrate it into their topic. It’s better to come with several ideas then to start this process from scratch.
  2. Fill in the total segment time (Left top box) You’re only going to use 85% of it.
  3. Identify your opening speaker (Vertical left column)
    Choose wisely.  Events are all about momentum. This person needs to build it quickly and pass it on. If they can’t pull that off, you best invest in their ability to deliver better because they can easily drive the energy level into the ground in the opening moments making every other presenter’s job a lot harder.
  4. Assign speakers for each segment along with a duration. Factor in a 5-minute buffer between speakers.
  5. Collaborate on a draft title for each speaker (Top of column) Think tie in to overall theme.
  6. What are some possible take-aways for each speaker (Bottom of columns) More on this later *
  7. Identify your closing speaker. (Right column) Remember I told you how important your opening speaker was?  This person’s role is even more important. They hold the power of final impression. Their ability to summarize at a high level while pulling in elements from all the topics is essential to a successful event close. They need to inspire, not just inform.
  8. Personal planning tips for speakers after the planning session:
  • Have them plan their last presentation slide first *
    By identifying simple presentation take-aways first (bottom of the columns), presenters now have a litmus test to measure their content relevance. If some slide content doesn’t exactly fit – don’t force it in.  Be laser focused on driving to take-aways.
  • Then have them create their first slide next.
    Does the title reflect the event theme?  Titles should also always communicate value for the audience. Bad title: 2016 Financials.  Better title:  How is Your Company Doing – By the Numbers?
  • Start with a personal story (90-seconds tops)
    I get that not everyone is a storyteller. But starting by turning and reading bullets off the screen (#1 audience complaint) is a guaranteed way to lose an audience in the first 30-seconds.  As an alternative, have them step forward, plant (no pacing) and relate a personal story that ties into their part of the message. It is a time tested engagement mechanism. The science behind this strategy is also that presenters will be less nervous starting with a story (right brain) instead of diving into a canned bullet-driven script (left brain).
  • Delivering their message well
    – Keep content high-level. (Even if they think all the details are really important)
    – Keep slides simple because audiences have seconds to figure out what they’ve been mulling over for weeks. (Typically, no more content than audiences can scan and process in 7-8 seconds)
    – Most people know “what” they need to say. Too many struggle with “how”. This is where speaker coaches are worth their weight in gold.
    – 80% of presenters go over their allotted time. Practice until they’re 2-3 minutes early. No one goes short on presentation day.
  • After covering content, do a simple Summary and Close
    Most speakers seem to feel like they’re done when they run out of slides. (A huge lost opportunity). Speakers should practice stepping to the front of the stage, signal the close, “as I wrap up today…”, and deliver a simple summary slide (2-3 points, one line each) in 1-minute not a 5-minute rambling monologue. Then, speakers should Close with a personal call to action, challenge or personalized insight in 1-minute. Thank them and pause. (No dashing to the wings in mid-sentence.)
  • Graciously accept their applause and briefly introduce the next speaker if appropriate.


Planning huge events will never be easy.  I couldn’t do it.

But after all the hundreds of thousands (or perhaps millions) of dollars are spent and the clean-up crew has begun their work, people will remember the speakers and how well they inspired, motivated and influenced the collective. And if that wasn’t done well, all the custom lighting and cool corporate videos will not be able to salvage the impression.  Then you can only wait a year and try again…

[Download Your Planning Document]