Attending a major conference in a big city like London was a daunting prospect for Geri Hunter. She was always pretty nervous about these events anyway, although she realized the enormous benefit she received from networking and keeping up to date with the latest trends. The recent terrorist bombings didn’t add much to her peace of mind either.

Because you won’t know exactly what frame of mind your delegates are in as they await the beginning of the event, it is important that the presenters opening words orientate the audience to the reasons for holding the event. They should refer back to the original objective and should cover the following:

• Who are the people running the event?

• Why has it been organized?

• What should delegates expect to get from it?

• How will the event be run?

• Where in the venue will elements of the event be held?

• When will significant activities and breaks happen?

This welcome speech should be well rehearsed and word perfect, delivered in an up-beat tone to set the energy level for the day otherwise you may lose the audience before you have even begun.

Safety and comfort

As the event organizers you are responsible for ensuring that your audience understands the evacuation procedure in the event of fire, flood or any other emergency and for checking that everyone has been accounted for. Find a way of integrating this information into the beginning of the event and include information about smoking areas, toilets and also identify one of the administration staff as a key contact for any queries.

Some venues set the room temperature at the beginning of the day to a low level in full knowledge that it will rise naturally during the first hour. It pays to recognize this and to empathize with the audience, asking them to let you know if the room temperature becomes uncomfortably cold or hot so that you can do something about it. Say “Because we’re not sitting still like you will be, it can be difficult for us to judge whether the room is comfortable.”

Timekeeping and flexibility

As the event moves on, you may find that the original timings were somewhat optimistic and you are not going to complete sections before the advertised break times. If this happens, be honest with the audience. They are probably more aware than you are that things are slipping. Whatever you do, keep religiously to the break times. They are important for boosting audience energy and, critically, the venue is already programmed to get hot beverages and food to you at these times. Changing the breaks on the run can cause far greater fall-out than changing the content of the event. Use the break time to take soundings from the audience about which material might be cut out and compensated for in other ways.

Above all be flexible in your event management and be prepared to do some emergency surgery to presentations later in the day.

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