Originally posted by MiceNet Magazine
A bunch of industry comrades and I watched helpless as a plenary presenter stole $15,000 from us, as surely as if he’d held us up at gunpoint and made us toss our wallets and purses into his bag. He seemed pretty relaxed about his thievery, prattling happily without a care in the world, drunk on the sound of his own voice, ignoring frantic wind-up gestures from offstage.
This is what happens when presenters think only of their own egotistical needs, with no thought for the complex commercial ecosystem that keeps conferences alive. If a conference consistently loses money, soon there’ll be no conference. Exhibitions are a core part of balancing the conference budget, and selling those booths is tough work.
The exhibitors only get limited face-to-face time with delegates: coffee breaks and lunchtimes. That’s a few hours over the course of the event. So those delegates had better be in that trade show area for the duration promised, or your exhibitors will be coming after you with pitchforks and burning torches.
So Plenary Thief went fifteen minutes over his allocated time, apparently believing that a shorter lunchtime was a fair price to pay for an extra dose of his awesome international knowledge. As an exhibitor, I was sitting there working out the cost of each minute that he went over time. Based on the number of stands, times the cost of each, divided by the total minutes of delegate face-time in the program, it was a shade over $1000 per minute. That’s $15,000 of measurable commercial value stolen by one presenter, and that’s not even considering the salary costs of all the people working on the stands.
The repercussions didn’t end there. Five breakout presenters had their sessions shortened, trying to bring the timetable back under control. Five people who put a lot of time and effort into preparing those talks, with high hopes for lifting their personal profiles, building their brands and raising the skills of the industry community. Instead they’re clicking through their slides at Morse code speed and chopping their material to bits on the fly. Then there’s the army of catering staff waiting around, stressing out. Radiating shockwaves of damage, all from one selfish man.
So if you’re a presenter, don’t be a dickhead. You’re not some beloved entertainer with an audience hanging out for an encore. You’re one small cog in a large machine. Use a timer and get off that stage on time. If drug-infused musicians can stick to rigid time schedules at every music festival on earth, so can you. As someone who has to smash through about 150 slides in 45 minutes, I set up fifteen-minute time checkpoints, so if I’m not up to the picture of the hippopotamus at the thirty minute mark, I hit the accelerator. Presentations must open and close strongly. Do what you like in the middle bit, but if your presentation ends on “… there’s a lot more I’d like to say but I’m out of time”, that’s a bad presentation.
Remember your time slot will be shorter than the conference timetable says. Those are drawn up as if the audience is instantly teleported into breakout rooms, rather than the minimum of ten minutes it takes a crowd to shuffle from room to room, particularly in large convention centres.
If you’re a conference organiser, invest in a plenary stage manager who can keep things on track. And foldback monitors so you can send a large visual signal to rogue presenters that they need to leave the stage NOW. Stage Timer 2 is a good app for this. These simple precautions will help you sell a lot more trade booths for next year.
Ian Whitworth is the co-founder of Scene Change, a national AV company
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