So you’ve managed to get yourself a speaking engagement. Great work! Now, how do you make sure you act like a seasoned professional even before you hit the stage?

It’s not just the conference organiser

There are many people involved in staging a conference or an event, and you’ll need to work in well with them. You’ll come across many, if not all of the following depending on the size of the event:

It doesn’t matter how big or small the event is, there is code of etiquette that you should follow in order to be seen as being professional. I’ve seen plenty of ‘pro-speakers’ who don’t follow these basics and end up getting a bad reputation among the ‘support staff’ for being difficult to work with. Although there’s nothing that can be done once a speaker has been booked, the various people involved in running a conference are often involved in planning for a conference as well. Even if you have a great reputation for a speaker, if you’re hard to work with, that reputation can impact you at the time when the conference organisers are compiling their speaker list.


Here is a smattering of comments that I’ve heard during conference planning meetings.

“They’re really great on stage but they never hang around to meet with the delegates.”

“Very hard to work with, we’re always having to chase him at the last minute.”

“Not flexible at all, you’ll have to work around them.”

“He/she has a bad reputation for pulling out at the last minute, especially when they get a better offer…don’t book them, it’s not worth the risk.”

“I’m constantly having to fix her presentation at the last minute. It’s like she’s using us to edit her slides for her.”

“I spoke at an event with him last year and he went 15 minutes over time. It impacted the agenda for the rest of the morning.”

When you’re starting out, you want to be a delight to work with! Don’t worry, the basics are pretty easy.

Don’t be “that guy”

Number one tip. If you’ve accepted a booking, that’s it. It doesn’t matter if it’s a freebie or if you’re being paid for it. That client deserves to know that your booking is solid.


I remember accepting a half-day, speaking/workshop gig for a bicycle store franchise conference. I knew it would be fun, interesting and of-value to the audience. Sometime later, I received a booking enquiry for a four day, multi-city road show for a global technology company. In other words, the MC engagement and I were absolutely perfect for each other. Unfortunately, one of the dates for the road show coincided with the bike store conference. So I had to decline. Half-day speaking fees verses four days. But your reputation is worth more than that, and there will be other opportunities.

You can always check with the original client first. Explain exactly what’s happening and be open and honest about it. If they can help by being flexible, many of them will. But please remind them that they always come first, no matter what.

I know of an entertainer who pulls out or substitutes another person in their place if they get a better offer. Needless to say, all the regular bookers and agents know this and don’t even bother booking them any more.

Be reliable

Do what you say you’re going to do. Be where you need to be. And on time.


If you’re asked to turn up for a sound check at 7:30am, even though you’re not speaking until after morning tea, be there at 7:25! There’ll be a good reason for the early start, and it may not be logical to you. The Audio Visual (AV) team may have already planned to mic-up the panel of speakers who are on stage just before you during the morning tea break and know that they won’t have any time left.

Have your speaking requirements to the team well before-hand. Do you need a whiteboard in addition to your presentation? Ideally, you’ll have let the conference organiser know by email a few weeks before. If you’ve forgotten or decided at the last minute…all is not lost. If you let the organiser or the AV team or the venue know a few hours before, they can usually help you. Asking what’s happened to your whiteboard just before you walk on stage won’t win you any repeat bookings.

Show some empathy

Everyone will be flat out and sorry to say, it’s not all about you. It will definitely be all about you when you are on stage, but at other times, conference organisers, event planners and AV staff will be trying to juggle the cacophony of list items of what is happening now, what’s happening later, what needs to happen and hasn’t, and what’s happened that should have! Although the conference delegate won’t see it, there is usually an ‘emergency’ happening during at least one point in the day. Their success is when they achieve the ‘swan-on-the-lake’ demeanour…it’s all graceful on top, but someone is paddling furiously underneath.


So here are some tips that I use to be aware of this and fit in, as well as offer support (by either helping, or by not being another problem!):

Pack the good stuff

Whether you have to send your presentation well before the conference, or whether you bring it on a thumb drive with you, here are some simple tips that will help you act like a pro:

Hang around

If you don’t have to rush off to catch a flight, try to stick around until at least the end of the next break. There will be some delegates who will want to catch up with you to ask questions. The conference organiser will love the extra effort you’re willing to make and those delegates who want to speak with you may even give you some more business.


As always, speak well, have fun, and say hi to your audience for me. ☺


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