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How to Avoid a Read-Off-the-Slide Conference Speaker

Posted on 23rd January 2013 by Tim Spell
By Admin |January 23rd, 2013

Whether it was at a conference you planned or one you attended (or you’re thinking back to college lectures), we’ve all experienced the he-should-be-interesting-yet-he-is-extremely-dull speaker. You do not want any of those at your next conference or event—no one comes hoping to be read to. So how do you get a speaker to stop reading his slides word for word? If he is mid-presentation, it’s probably too late. But I’ve come up with a few tips to utilize before the conference to ensure dynamic presentations from your speakers.

1) Choose your speakers wisely

If you already know someone is a terrible presenter, do not to invite him back! Nine times out of ten there’s someone else with similar content and better delivery skills. This will be more interesting for your attendees even if the new person is a level down. If the snooze-cruise is the absolute only expert on the subject, invite him with caution and be sure to use the tips below. 

2) Ask for materials well in advance 

When speakers are asked to provide materials (slides, speech notes, etc.) a week or more in advance, they will be forced to think about what they want to say and how they want to say it. It will also give you the chance to check out their format. If the slides are text-heavy, you have the opportunity to approach her in time so she can make a change. A good cover for requesting materials early is saying you need the information for a program, an announcement, or your conference software—speakers will be thrilled to know that audience member can follow along on their smart phones during the event.

3) Review speaker proposals with a small panel

Instead of having the burden and judgement on you, form a group. Bringing in different opinions will guarantee quality presentations. There are a number of ways you can go about this. Allocate time for in person meetings or take advantage of online conference management tools–that way the process will be less disruptive to your coworkers.

4) Tell them you want it interactive

There is nothing wrong with asking for what you want. Say something like, “This year we are trying to really engage with the audience. It would be great if you could incorporate some interactive elements into your presentation!” People will make attempts to accommodate requests like this to help ensure their own success.

5) Make sure they are comfortable

Sometimes people read off their slides because they are too nervous to do otherwise. Make sure you provide all your conference speakers with everything they need to feel comfortable: water, a podium to stand behind, etc. Get creative! A man I know always needs something in his hand to squeeze while speaking to a group of more than five; one time we could not find anything small enough to hide in his hand, so I pulled the eraser out of my pencil and handed it to him just in time! Research also shows that sniffing a familiar, calming scent helps relieve anxiety. Cotton balls are small and can hold a scent for the speaker to have on hand. 


Speakers are under a lot of pressure. Do everything you can to help them relax!
Photo by on Flickr

While it is impossible to guarantee that a speaker will be engaging, these tips will help you get a step closer to having a memorable event!

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