Briefing Calls with Conference Speakers: a How-To

A colleague (who shall remain nameless) scoffed at my choice of blog topic.  Well, to the naysayers, I say the humble briefing call is worthy of some explanation and appreciation.  It’s important to get it right.

Briefing conference speakers you have booked is essential.  They’ll know a bit about your event already, but they need to know what you want them to do.  The most common, practical, and arguably best briefing method is a telephone call between client and speaker ahead of the event.  Much of the below is common sense, but they are all frequently asked questions, so allow me to elaborate.

When should we have a briefing call with our speaker?

The rule of thumb would probably be approximately 2-3 weeks in advance of the date of your event.  There’ll sometimes be valid exceptions, but this is usually optimal to ensure ample thinking and preparation time for all parties.  Leaving it to the last minute is nearly always best avoided, if possible.  And although always proposed with the best of intentions, holding your discussion months and months in advance (particularly when the speaker might have lots of other events to get through first) can mean salient points are forgotten and logistical details blurred, for everyone involved.  Best to strike a balance.

A typical speaker on a briefing call

What do I need to tell conference speakers?
 
Everything you can about the event.  I’m not referring to detailed descriptions of the onsite bathroom facilities or a complete history of your company from its inception in 1925 to the present day.  It’s the nitty gritty content-wise, and you should provide relevant and pithy detail on the aims and objectives of your conference, current talking points in your industry/company, a breakdown of the audience demographic, and if any other conference speakers are to be on the bill or perhaps which conference speakers you’ve had before.  It’s not limited to that, but it’s invariably a great place to start.  The speaker will probably have some questions for you, too.  Oh, and don’t forget to mention the dress code!

Typical JLA account manger on a briefing call

How long should the call be?

In my experience, allocating 20 minutes seems about right, on average.  Sometimes it can take longer, but don’t panic if you’re all wrapped up in 5.  There’s no need to try and drag it out for the sake of it.  It’s nice to chat, but concise calls are the best!
 
Is there anything else I can do to make sure the call goes well?
 
Sending over some background notes prior to the conversation can help conference speakers formulate their ideas in advance and come prepared to contribute.  No conference speakers like to come to a call cold!  Tempting though it can be to send swathes of information, the notes shouldn’t be the size of the Magna Carta or it will be confusing and the speaker can’t suss out what’s actually important for them to know.  A page or two covering the basics – including who they will be speaking to on the call – is ideal.

** Top tips for conference speakers and clients alike **

– When asked for your availability for a call, do offer a number of potential dates or times, if you can.  Your JLA contact will be skilled at juggling diaries, but it does help to have a few options to work with to minimise back and forth.  Or trying to get everyone on the line at 7pm on a Friday if it’s not really necessary.  No one wants to dial in from the pub.

– There shouldn’t be too many people on the line.  Too many cooks spoil the conference call.

– Good old-fashioned telephone calls are simply the best, but if you do insist on a video call (and I’d advise against)…make sure the technology actually works.

– Take the call in a quiet place where you’ll have good signal.  Or stick yourself on mute if you’re somewhere busy (and not a key contributor to the call).  Nothing more distracting (or downright obstructive) than a strange cacophony of noises swirling in the background.

– Dial in on time… obviously.

– Make a list of things to discuss in advance.  It’s your chance to chat directly with conference speakers – or your client – so make the most of it!

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