Tag Archives: Event Planning

Lessons from Hosting the Scottish EDGE Final

Mel Sherwood EDGE10

If you had an opportunity to compere the final of the UK’s largest funding competition, how would you feel? If you’re like most people, including me, you may feel a little daunted by the prospect!

The Scottish EDGE final takes place twice a year and is an eagerly anticipated event in the entrepreneurial calendar. Held at RBS Conference Centre in Gogarburn and attended by 600 people across the course of the event, audiences this round saw twenty promising entrepreneurs pitch their businesses plans to an expert panel of judges in order to win a slice of a £1.3 million prize pot.

I’ve been involved with the EDGE in some way or another since the first round 4 years ago. I’ve run pitch workshops for applicants and have personally coached more than 30 EDGE, Young EDGE and Wildcard EDGE winners who have secured more than £1.25 million between them. So I was absolutely delighted to have the opportunity to host the Round 10 final.

Having sat through most of the EDGE finals I was aware that the host has a massive duty to keep the energy and momentum up throughout the day for the benefit of the entrepreneurs who are pitching as well as for the audience.

With that kind of responsibility on my shoulders, I was keen to do a good job in the role and ensure it was engaging, informative and entertaining. I pitched some ideas to Scottish EDGE CEO, Evelyn McDonald, and COO, Steven Hamill, who embraced my suggestions to increase audience engagement and Steven incorporated it into the script he kindly drafted for me. We included activities that required audience interaction such as ‘2 Truths and a Lie’ about the EDGE team which generated some laughs as we learnt more about each of them, and we asked the audience to guess the answers to questions such as ‘What is the total number of jobs EDGE winners have created?’  We also ran a competition for audience members to come up with an alternative acronym to EDGE and they came up with some crackers. Some of my favourites included ‘Everyday Delivers Grief for Entrepreneurs’, ‘Enjoying Da Gogarburn Experience’ and ‘Educating Drivers in Good Etiquette’ (you had to be there!) Incidentally, EDGE actually stands for Encouraging Dynamic Growth Entrepreneurs.

At the end of the day after seeing twenty entrepreneurs get out of their comfort zone to give their #pitchtastic pitches in front of a formidable panel and a packed auditorium, I got out of my comfort zone to wrap up the event by singing a song I wrote to capture the spirit of the EDGE. This was a bit of a challenge for me because I feel the same way about singing as many people feel about public speaking – super anxious, but thankfully it seemed to go okay!

Overall, the day went really well and there has been some great feedback, but it didn’t happen without any planning or preparation – there was a whole fabulous team of people involved in bringing it together and as the host I had to make sure I did my bit to ensure the success of the event.

Congratulations to everyone involved and to the twenty businesses who delivered such a high standard of pitches – whether you won or not, you were all absolutely #pitchtastic!

If you have the opportunity to host an event, here are some of my tips to ensure you are well prepared to ensure everything runs smoothly:

Before the day

  • Research the audience and why they are in attendance
  • Understand the event and its themes so that you can align your comments and reinforce key messages
  • Find out exactly what the organisers are expecting you to do
  • Prepare a script, or at least bullet points to ensure you cover everything that needs to be mentioned
  • Prepare some relevant anecdotes and stories you can weave in throughout the day
  • Prepare introductions for all speakers; make sure they are happy with what you will say
  • If hosting a panel, research the panel and prepare introductions and questions
  • Think through possible problems and prepare some solutions should the worst occur
  • Think about ways you may be able to interact with the audience to keep them engaged
  • Ask about the pronunciation of all names or words you are unfamiliar with (I did this for the majority and was still caught out by some slightly different to ‘normal’ pronunciation so always check every detail with the actual person you are introducing)
  • Practice what you are going to say, especially any unfamiliar words or phrases
  • Visit the venue where possible; at the very least obtain pictures so you have an idea of the set up and layout of seating, etc

On the day

  • Arrive early (I arrived just before 8am for a 9.30am start)
  • Let the organisers know you have arrived and ask if there is anything additional you should know or anything they might need you to do to help prepare for the event
  • Familiarise yourself with the space, stand on the stage, walk up any steps, check where the lectern and other props/staging might be, note where you will enter and exit the stage
  • Sit in a few different seats in the auditorium so you can see what it will be like from the audience’s perspective
  • Find out about any prepared fire alarm tests, where the toilets are, etc
  • Meet sound and lighting technician/s (they will be your best friend and ensure you are seen and heard)
  • Find out where and when you will need to get your microphone and make sure you are there at that time
  • Anticipate questions the speakers may have (e.g. how to use the slide ‘clicker’)
  • Warm up your body and voice so that you aren’t warming up on the audience’s time
  • Take a moment to prepare yourself mentally and get into the right state before the event commences

During the event

  • Start strongly and positively; remember you are setting the scene for the event
  • Stay alert and ready to adapt as required
  • Vary your voice and use open body language to ensure your delivery is engaging
  • Listen to the speakers so that you can incorporate a comment about their talk when thanking them
  • Keep to time; you may need to fill some time between speakers but remember it’s not about you so don’t go on and on leading the event to run overtime
  • Smile, be lively and enthusiastic and keep your energy up throughout the entire event

After the event

  • Thank the organisers, the tech crew and anyone else who has supported you through the event
  • Review your performance – think about what went well and what you would do differently in the future
  • Relax and recover!

If you enjoyed this article, click here to access Mel Sherwood’s ‘Top 5 Tips for Public Speaking Success’

Mel Sherwood is a pitch and presentation specialist who prepares ambitious entrepreneurs and business professionals to take centre stage, embrace the spotlight and present with more confidence, credibility and conviction. To find out more about Mel’s talks and programmes go to www.grow-your-potential.com or for public speaking and pitching tips follow Mel on Twitter @MelSherwood_

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How to Book the Best Speaker for Your Event

Speaker in front of audience

Have you attended a conference or seminar where the speakers were boring, uninspiring, unprepared or delivered completely irrelevant content? Yep, I thought so. Me too!

Having the right speakers and break out session facilitators is crucial to the success of an event. Therefore, if you’re in charge of planning, it’s important to put time, effort (and money) into finding the right speakers who will engage and inspire your audience and ensure your event is talked about for years to come. And I mean talked about for all the right reasons!

Here are my top tips to help you book the ideal speaker:

Details Details Details

Before you approach a speaker or a booking agent, ensure you have all the details to hand such as: When and where is the event? What is the theme? How many people will be in attendance? What time will the speaker be speaking? How long is the slot? What kind of equipment will be available? What is your budget for speakers? What is the outcome you require i.e. what do you want your audience to know, think, feel or do after hearing the speaker?

You’ll also need to be clear about the demographics of the audience, why they will be attending, what they are expecting to hear and how the speaker can provide the best value for the audience.

And be sure to book your speaker well in advance to get the best person for your event and ensure you have ample time to promote it.

Do Your Research

You might start with a Google search, but how do you know which speaker will be a good fit for your event and who will deliver what you require? Just because someone is well-known or an expert in their field doesn’t mean that they are a good speaker. I once attended an event with a keynote speaker who had been an extremely high achiever in the sporting arena. Whilst their sporting accomplishments were to be admired, unfortunately they not only stood and read word for word from their notes but they didn’t engage with the audience on any level and had not tailored the message to be relevant to them. At the end there was polite applause but it was pretty forgettable and finished the event on a bit of a low rather than the high that the organisers had intended.

The best way to find the right speaker is to ask people for recommendations. If you’ve run the event before, always ask your keynote speaker to give you recommendations – a good speaker will have a network of other speakers and will be best placed to identify someone else who is a good fit for the event. You can also consider using a booking agency who will provide helpful advice on who would be most suitable for your budget and the aims of the event. Most agents will also manage the entire process including booking any travel and accommodation for the speaker which gives you one less element to worry about in the lead up to your event.

Once you have your recommendations, make sure you have a look at some footage of them speaking, ideally with the same size audience as will be at your conference. And of course a conversation with them will help you get a feel for their style and approach.

You should also be looking for a speaker who:

  • will be easy to work with
  • arrives early to set up and mingle with delegates
  • helps promote your event through social media and their own direct marketing where appropriate
  • can supply you with a 30-60 second video promo that you can use in your promotional material
  • answers your call when you have questions
  • provides the information you need on time
  • and of course delivers an exceptional speech!

Consider choosing a speaker who is a member of the Professional Speaking Association or equivalent in your country; they are bound by a code of ethics which will give you further peace of mind that you can rely on their professionalism to provide the best possible service.

You Get What You Pay For (well… sometimes!*)

If you want a speaker who will engage, entertain, educate or motivate your audience as well as being deeply committed to ensuring your event is a success, you should consider paying a professional. Professional speakers have spent years developing their expertise and will spend countless hours researching your audience, tailoring their content to meet your needs and practicing their delivery to ensure it comes across smoothly, confidently and credibly on the day.

You may know of industry speakers who will speak at your event for free, but can you be sure they will deliver? They may be an expert in their field but if you’re not paying them they are more likely to be speaking for their own benefit, rather than that of the event and the audience. A paid professional speaker will not only be able to hold your audience’s attention with a well prepared speech but can offer a fresh perspective and will of course be completely focused on delivering a session that meets your expectations and the requirements of the audience.

It’s important to remember that a professional speaker speaks for a living and asking them to speak for free for the “opportunity of exposure” is not going to put food on their table! Having said that, if you don’t have the budget for a professional speaker, some speakers will consider waiving their fee if the audience is a good fit for them and if you offer something of value to them. Factors that may influence their decision to work with you may include the provision of professional recorded video of the talk, professional photographs of them in action, written and video testimonials from event organisers and delegates, contact details of attendees or promotion of their services and products. If they agree to this, please honour your end of the agreement.

*Be warned that sometimes higher fees don’t equate to a better speaker; for example some celebrity speakers will charge an enormous fee because they don’t actually enjoy speaking and they want to be compensated well for it!

Respect The Speaker!

A professional speaker will have honed their brand and refined their message over many years. Their slides will be carefully designed to ensure that their speech has maximum impact so, if you want the best from your speaker, don’t ask them to alter their slide presentation to fit with your event theme and branding.  They will also want to ensure their presentation is fresh and tailored for each audience, therefore, avoid asking for slides ahead of time and definitely don’t distribute them to delegates beforehand unless you have explicit permission from the speaker as this could ruin the impact of the session.

If you go to the trouble of selecting the perfect keynote speaker for your event, think carefully about when you schedule them into the programme; ensure there are no distractions such as eating a meal so that the audience can fully focus on their message.

A professional speaker will also provide a carefully crafted introduction to set up their talk and get the audience ready and eager to listen – ensure your compere has this in advance and communicates it word for word when doing the introduction.

If you take care of your speaker, your speaker will take care of you.

Respect Your Audience

Always remember that people’s time (and money) is precious. If you expect them to attend your event, it is up to you to ensure that you provide great value for them. Don’t scrimp on the speaker – think about what you are paying for the rest of the event and the combined value of even one hour of the audience’s time and allocate your speaker budget accordingly.

And finally, don’t be tempted to choose a speaker just because you like them; choose a speaker who is great to work with as well as being right for your audience and you will be well on the way to a successful event.

If you enjoyed this article, click here to access Mel Sherwood’s ‘Top 5 Tips for Public Speaking Success’

Mel Sherwood is a pitch and presentation specialist who prepares ambitious entrepreneurs and business professionals to take centre stage, embrace the spotlight and present with more confidence, credibility and conviction. She is a multi-award winning speaker, trainer and coach and the founder of Grow Your Potential, which specialises in supporting individuals and organisations to design and deliver winning pitches and presentations.

Mel’s background includes over 20 years’ experience in public, private and not-for-profit organisations in Australia and the United Kingdom and she has also worked as an actor, presenter and singer. To find out more about Mel’s talks and programmes go to www.grow-your-potential.com or for public speaking and pitching tips follow Mel on Twitter @MelSherwood_