As an individual that is often asked to be a speaker at conferences, I have come to realize that the energy and passion of the speaker must transfer to the audience. The audience must at all times feel engaged, and the topic must be of interest to them. Most importantly, the audience must be able to feel the passion and the energy of the speaker. Speaking to unknown attendees can often be challenging, so understanding the need of the audience is most important in order to complete a type of transfusion of energy. This specific article will look at a conference that was held on November 1 and November 2, 2017 in Plano, TX, and will look at how I came to identify the need of the audience that I spoke on, the goals and solutions that I proposed, as well as how I planned to measure the effectiveness of the presentation.
When it comes to speaking in front of an audience, with no idea who specifically is in the audience and their role with organizations, the challenge can often be around what they came to the conference for and what they want to hear. It has been proven that successful speakers understand the audience needs. To identify the audience, through the process of making an informal list of the types of people that will attend can help the speaker understand the approach that would be needed. After identifying the audience, it is a good practice to analyze the audience to gain an understanding of what the need is. Examples could include speaking in front of an audience, one must remember that they have no knowledge of the speaker’s background; where speaking with your manager, they are aware of a person’s background. For the analysis things a person may want to consider include basic demographics, education level, knowledge level, and even attitudes (IEEE Professional Communication Society, n.d.)2.
The audience I chose includes professionals from across the country that attend the Camp IT Conferences that I am a speaker at. This specific conference focuses on Information Technology Project Management Offices and Portfolio Management. An overview of the conference looks at how organizations, specifically information technology departments, face increased pressure as they work towards ensuring that their projects deliver the desired outcomes. The purpose of the conference is to enable attendees to learn how they have be able to change or add to their approach based on current organizational challenges. The focus of this conference is best practices while remaining tool neutral; showcases real world experiences; delivery management; governance; and even optimization (Camp IT Conferences, n.d.)1.
Initially, what I do know is that the attendees are normally people that serve in high and executive-level positions within companies. The size of these companies ranges in size from small to Fortune 10. Through the analysis completed as mentioned in the beginning and based on my experience, I, identifying the audience has started to become second nature.
Over the past few years, new project methodologies have been emerging and one of the hot topics that many organizations now face is which methodology is right for them. As a consultant, I have seen and worked with organizations as they struggle through this choice, and is currently engaged with a client that is suffering through this painful process. Although I have learned many lessons over the past 15-20 years that could potentially help organizations, it is difficult to help them all when consulting; however, through speaking engagements, I have found a way to help many.
The primary emphasis I have found within organizations is not so much which one to use, but more around how to transition from one methodology to another, or when to use which methodology. Often organizations, like the one I am currently consulting with , do not realize that there is still a process to the transition and certain things that must be considered. Also, although agile may be a good approach for some types of projects, I do not believe that agile necessarily works for every project type. Based on the experiences working as a full-time employee, and now as a consultant, it was clear that just one of the needs was centered on helping organizations realize not only which methodology may work for them, but also how to complete the transition.
Though identification, analysis, and the environment I work in, it was clear that one of the biggest challenges organizations face today with project management, is which project management framework to use. For me, the attendees are in high and executive leadership positions, so the communication must meet their expectations. The most challenging part is meeting all the individual needs of each attendee as each one comes with a different goal in mind. The size of the organization can also play a role, as well as the maturity or knowledge in the area of the individuals within the audience. This can often be tricky to navigate, but I have found success over the past two years.
Goals and Solutions
Many years ago, I had the honor of attending a Dale Carnegie Powerful Presentations course while employed with Walmart Stores, Inc. In this week-long course, attendees were challenged to step out of their boxes in different ways all while being videotaped for review afterwards. From being put in front of a podium and only then being told what to speak on, and while speaking being told to act out strange scenes, some attendees found it difficult while I found it exhilarating. Back then, I quickly learned that just standing behind a podium and talking to an audience is very different from engaging the audience. However, speaking isn’t enough as the audience should leave with some goals and actions items that they can in turn put in to place. When you add on the fact that they are sitting in different speaking sessions for at times more than two days, it is easy to quickly lose an audience before you start speaking.
So, the question is how is a speaker supposed to inspire an audience to have goals and take action? How do they come out of the conference with a solution? The first thing to recognize is that the attendees are attending the conference in the hopes of finding a solution, or at a minimum leaving with a goal or action item. Staying away from personal decisions allows the session to also take on more of a sharing and discussion atmosphere (Segar, 2012)4.
There are also participation techniques that can be used during these conference sessions. As a speaker, and depending on the conference, I have used all of these at different times. Of the several, one called ‘The Three Questions’ I have always found to be helpful. Although normally done on index cards, what I do is select several audience members at the beginning of the speaking engagement and simply ask them what they want to happen, how their experience could help others, and how do they get there (Segar, Participation Techniques You Can Use in Conference Sessions, 2011)3. This also helps me understand their needs more which allows for quick changes in the communication, but also helps to identify goals, action items, and even solutions from the audience.
My goal as the speaker is to make sure the audience feels fully engaged, and that there is interaction with each one of them throughout the session. To accomplish this and to help the audience realize their action items and goals, I ensure that engagement is throughout the presentation. I have also found it to be more effective when I go out into the crowd and do not stay tethered to a podium. Throughout the presentation there are questions to the audience, which also prompts discussion. Through these discussions the solutions that some of the attendees may be seeking can often be found. Helping the attendees recognize the fact that there are goals, actions and solutions out there for them in more than one area is the primary goal of mine when speaking at conferences.
When it comes to measuring effectiveness, based on my experience, it varies from activity to activity. When conducting training, I can measure the effectiveness based on the results that are seen. When the project manager leaves the training, and there is a visible improvement in how they are handling their projects, this is a clear indication that the training was effective. When holding a meeting, effectiveness can be measured based on the outcome of the meeting; was a decision reached or is there a need for an additional meeting or follow-up? When it comes to projects, effectiveness is often measured by the return on the investment meaning in a specified timeframe was the company able to make a profit after the cost of the project.
When speaking at a conference, sometimes measuring the effectiveness can be difficult. However, I have found that by talking with the attendees before and after you speak, and making that relationship with them can help. I spoke at a conference a couple of years ago, and some of the attendees still contact me to let me know the progress they continue to make. Other ways that I measure effectiveness is during the speaking session itself. The first sign of failure is if attendees start getting up and leaving the speaking session.
In November of 2017, I spoke about project management frameworks, with the goal of helping organizations identify options to use when looking at implementing or changing project management frameworks. As may organizations struggle with this, I see the goal of giving the attendees some tools to use and some items to watch out for. To measure the effectiveness, I hope to continue to hear from the attendees after the conference and their progress.
Throughout everyday business, there are audiences. These audiences may vary in size from two or three to several hundred. The needs of the audiences will also vary depending on the activity the audience is involved in. When it comes to a meeting, normally the facilitator will have a very good idea of what the outcome of the meeting needs to be, as well as the needs of the attendees. When it comes to speaking at a conference, some homework must first be done to ensure that the presentation meets the needs of the audience, and that they leave with a goal, options for solutions, and feel like they got at least the information that they came to the conference for.
As I have been speaking for several years in front of audiences of varying sizes, I have also learned a lot about how to prepare. As this article covered, identifying the need is vital as you would not speak at a veterinary conference about cooking techniques. Making sure that the speaker’s goals align with the goals of the attendees is also very important and having the ability to inspire them to leave the conference and take on the task. Over time, I have learned how measuring the effectiveness can be applied, but can still be challenging.
- Camp IT Conferences. (n.d.). IT PMO / Portfolio Management. Retrieved October 24, 2017, from Camp IT Conferences: https://www.campconferences.com/events/2017/portfoliodallas.htm
- IEEE Professional Communication Society. (n.d.). Understand Your Audience. Retrieved October 30, 2017, from IEEE Professional Communication Society: http://sites.ieee.org/pcs/communication-resources-for-engineers/audience-purpose-and-context/understand-your-audience/
- Segar, A. (2011, June 27). Participation Techniques You Can Use in Conference Sessions. Retrieved October 30, 2017, from Conferences that WORK: https://www.conferencesthatwork.com/index.php/promo/2011/06/participation-techniques-you-can-use-in-conference-sessions/
- Segar, A. (2012, May 24). Inspiring Conference Attendees to Take Action. Retrieved October 30, 2017, from Conferences that WORK: https://www.conferencesthatwork.com/index.php/facilitating-change/2012/05/inspiring-conference-attendees-to-take-action/
Tell me your thoughts in the comments and let’s open a dialog. I would be excited to hear other opinions on this topic.
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Over 20 years project management experience with a passion for helping organizations grow their PMO, their project managers, and their teams. My passion has taken me to the pursuit of a Doctor of Education, as I enjoy seeing the proverbial light bulb come on. I am a believer in continuous growth and improvement, and believe that an organizations culture and environment is what drives the growth of PMOs and all areas, and not the other way around.