How to Chair without the Scare: 11 top tips

Charmaine Russell, Head of Conference Production at AMI, gives us the benefit of her experience on perfecting the art of chairing a conference.

Chairing a conference can be an intimidating prospect. Faced with a sea of expectant faces the podium can feel a very lonely place, and knowing that the smooth and timely running of the event sits squarely on your shoulders is daunting.

Chairing duties were thrust upon me just a few short months into my role at AMI and my learning curve was steep. Fast forward 4 years and I have now had the opportunity to chair over 25 of our packaging-related conferences spanning Europe, the U.S., Asia and the Middle East. Having learnt the hard way, here are my top tips to help make the experience as enjoyable as possible.

  1. Practice your opening address or at least the first paragraph to build your confidence. Delivering this well will help to settle those nerves.
  2. Know the key information. Check with the conference organisers on items such as planned fire alarms, where the coffee/lunch breaks are being held, who the sponsors are and what the WiFi password is.
  3. Familiarise yourself with the technology. Find out how the microphones, powerpoint clicker etc. work – both for your peace of mind when you are speaking, as well as being able to remind and assist speakers when the inevitable nerves kick in.
  4. Tailor to the audience. Think about the region you are presenting in and if you need to adapt your style/wording appropriately – for instance saying cell/mobile phone.
  5. Practice difficult names. Some names can be real tongue twisters or it won’t be clear how they should be pronounced. Double check with the speak if you’re unsure – in the heat of the moment you might not get it 100% right, but at least you know you gave it your best shot.
  6. Time each presentation. I use the stopwatch on my phone (make sure its set to silent!) to time each presentation to ensure each speaker gets their fair time on stage. Also keep an eye on how many slides each speaker has left so you can decide if you need to prompt them to finish.
  7. Open up the debate. At AMI we open the floor to questions at the end of each presentation. Some audiences are shy to ask questions until the chair has asked the first one, so ask to see the papers ahead of time so you can plan at least one question for each speaker. If you can’t think of a question try asking the speaker beforehand if they can suggest something for you to ask them. Encourage debate but if it starts going around in circles then it’s time to politely move the discussion on!
  8. Keep some essentials close to hand. Things I always have with me include water and throat sweets to fend off a dry throat or the dreaded tickly cough; tissues (you never know when you might need them!); headache tablets (the days can be long and tiring); a notepad & pen and a hard copy of the conference proceedings (if available).
  9. Thank your speakers. Try and do this both in person on the day and also with a follow up message. They have taken time to prepare a presentation, so a quick thank you is always appreciated.
  10. A smile can go a long way. Sometimes in spite of all you and your team’s best efforts, things don’t always go to plan. Try and stay as calm as possible (even if your mind is whirring at 100 miles an hour), distract the audience whilst the problem is resolved (filling in the feedback survey is a useful suggestion) and if all else fails…smile!
  11. Don’t let the power go to your head! Chairing can be stressful but try and enjoy the opportunity as much as possible…it’s not often you have 200-odd people in the palm of your hand!

 

To read more from Charmaine visit her Linked In page here: https://www.linkedin.com/in/charmaine-russell-01492419/

Suzanne Gaunt , EMAP, gives her take on what’s important for the events industry

We asked Suzanne Gaunt the marketing director at EMAP

about what has got her to where she is and her

thoughts on the future of the events industry.

 

Q If you were to tell your 20-something self 3 things they should definitely do to help further their career what would they be?

A. Build your network; Don’t stop learning; Push yourself

Q. Who in the business world has inspired you?

A.  Many people but I was fortunate enough to work for an inspirational entrepreneur at the start of my career, he taught me many things and I continue to follow his success.

Q. What would you say is the biggest issue being faced in the events industry at the moment?

A. Too much choice, certainly in conferences and exhibitions. It’s important to differentiate your event from the rest.

Q. What do you think the biggest challenge for the industry will be in 2018?

A. Uncertainty in the economy and politically. Brexit is preventing people from doing things, as a result projects are halting and people won’t attend events if activity is stalled.

Q. What innovative measures should the industry adopt in the next few years to ensure market sustainability and growth?

A. We need to do things differently. So many events feel the same. Next year we’re focused on providing a different feel.

Q.  Why do you think events such as the Event Marketing Summit are important for the industry?

A. To my first point it’s all about growing your network, meet with people who you can learn from and share your own learnings so the industry can benefit.

Nick Field tells us why you shouldn’t worry too much & why venues are a challenge …

We asked Nick Field, former MD of Legend Exhibitions, about his experiences in the past and predictions for the future of the events industry:

 

Q.  If you were to tell your 20-something self 3 things they should definitely do to help further their career what would they be?

A.  Don’t worry too much. Like most things in life, you can spend a lot of time planning and plotting, but the things that make the biggest changes are the things that come out of the blue. Don’t try too hard to stay on a rigid path. You’ll miss out on some great opportunities – and a lot of fun! Don’t be scared of failing – it’s how you learn. Treat colleagues and clients in the same way you would like to be treated. Life’s too short to behave like an asshole!

Q.  Who in the business world has inspired you?

A. I’ve been inspired by a large number of people – and Peter Jones is one of them. He has great self belief, supports his team – and when he gets knocked down, he gets back up, learns from the experience, and comes back with a smile.

Q. What would you say is the biggest issue being faced in the events industry at the moment?

A. People have so many more ways to get information nowadays. The days when exhibitions were just a few days of rows of stands have long gone. Organisers – and exhibitors – have to find ways to engage with their audience all year round, and to supply information that is clear, concise and very, very relevant.

Q. What do you think the biggest challenge for the industry will be in 2018?

A. On a practical issue – venues! In London, Olympia has recently been sold and will probably be re-developed, Earls Court has already gone, and Excel won’t be able to accommodate everyone. When you look at the government support given to the exhibition industry in other countries (such as Germany), the lack of support in the UK is really short sighted.

Q. What innovative measures should the industry adopt in the next few years to ensure market sustainability and growth?

A. Events can’t stand alone. They need to be part of a year round strategy, using a wide variety of platforms, that provide not only a platform for their respective target markets to gather information, but also provide an opportunity for those industries to really get involved. It’s no longer about ‘us and them’ – we all need to work together more than ever.

Q. Why do you think events such as the Conference Summit are important for the industry?

A. Events like Conference Summit are important in order to share ideas and move the industry forward. If events are successful, we all benefit. If some fail, we all feel the negative effect. We should all be in this together!