Summer is over, and that means a rash of conferences will be taking place between now and the week before Thanksgiving. Calls for speakers and sponsors are starting to go out for 2019. And my budget and calendar are busted.

Needless to say, I have attended, participated, and planned numerous conferences over the course of my career, and there’s just no excuse for crap programming.

I’m spending time (days out of the office, away from my family, plus travel), money (usually my firm’s, but for my service provider colleagues, it’s their money). And for my clients (the attorneys in my firm for me, but the paying clients for my firm’s attorneys), they are losing access to their trusted adviser/service provider/attorney for those hours or days.

It’s 2018 and there’s just no excuse for bad programming. So why are you still not taking speaking or moderating at a conference seriously? You said yes for a reason. 

Due Diligence

Conference Organizers: It is up to you to do your due diligence. Most of us at who are submitting to speak can provide a link to our presentation, a recent presentation on a different topic, or a write-up from someone’s blog. A search of Twitter will show what attendees really thought (and if there are no tweets on a session, that isn’t good feedback). A lot of conferences are in some way polling audiences on the program, speak with them and get the feedback you need. Just don’t go by the submission or the check.

Speakers: Make it easy for the conference organizers to do their due diligence. Post links to your bio, website, or LinkedIn. Send articles and back-up data with your submission. Include references.


Conference Organizers: I have no problems with pay-to-play models. However, it is up to you to ensure that the program does not become a sales pitch. The sponsor should not have final say on topic, or speakers. They should be there because they have value to add beyond their check. Check out ConnectMedia for a conference organization that does it right, every.single.time. I am happy to hand them a check, and the audiences keep coming back for more. It’s a win-win all around.

Speakers: Just because you’ve paid to be there, don’t disappoint the audience. If we wanted a product demo, we’d schedule a product demo. Show your specialization. Highlight your product. But never, ever hold me hostage to a product pitch … or be honest and put that in your program description. Sometimes, that’s exactly what I’m looking for, and will actively participate.


Conference Organizers: Avoid #manel (I love this term, and expect me to call you out if I see it). There is just no excuse for not having a diverse program on any topic, ever. If your speakers (especially your paid speakers) submit a panel lacking in diversity, reject it. And be up front and let them know you expect a diverse panel and will reject any that are not.

Read more on #manel here: The ‘Manel’ Excuse Form (seriously, read this post … it’s awesome).

Speakers: I don’t care what you think, there is no excuse for a panel that lacks diversity. It says something about YOU that you were unable to reach out in your community and find a woman, or person of color, to participate. And if you see a #manel forming, call out the organizer and offer/suggest alternative speakers.


Conference Organizers: It’s your job to ensure that your moderators know how to moderate a panel. If you’ve never seen them moderate a panel directly, and don’t fully trust their abilities, then your job is to train and coach them. Provide them links to tips, and definitely sit in on one or two group calls and provide them actionable feedback.

Moderators: I’ll make it easy for you. Nat Slavin, a founding partner of Wicker Park Group, is the best moderator I’ve ever seen. He knows how to pick a panel, set up the topics, move things along, integrate the audience, and leave you wanting more. I’ve seen others try and emulate him–he’s especially known for moderating GC panels–but I have yet to see someone do as good or better a job. Here’s Nat’s most recent blog post: Six Strategies Before You Moderate a Panel. Read it. Seriously.


We all need help with our presentation skills. At the very least, practice your presentation while recording yourself, and then play it back. I assure you, you will quickly see that you tap your fingers, or slouch, or speak to fast, or nervously sway back and forth, ummmm.

And if you are a panelist, how do you behave when you’re not speaking? Do you allow yourself to be distracted, look aimlessly around the room, pretend you’re looking down when you’re really checking your phone?

Either hire a professional speaking coach, get some media training, or grab a few people from around the office as you do a practice run. You won’t have to do this every time, but enough to gain insight into yourself as a speaker or moderator.

Take the time, after your program, to read the Twitter feed. THAT will be the most honest feedback. If there are no tweets, once again, not good; that means you didn’t say anything worthy of repeating.


Conference Organizers: One of my biggest complaints is when I have to choose between two or more sessions, select one, sit down and find that my expectations are not met. I have been known to get up and walk out, or just shut down my computer–I’m usually live-tweeting or blogging your session–and lean back in my chair, glaring, unable to escape. Not good signs.

Simply put, if I am attending a program for CMOs, I expect the speakers to speak to a high-level, sophisticated audience.

For a large and diverse conference, include the “experience” level, and mean it.

If it’s an industry conference, and the speaker is not familiar with the audience, educate them. James Kane is the standard bearer for this. He blew me away at LMA a few years back, and those who heard him speak continue to refer him business (saw someone do this in LME just this week).

As the conference organizer, one of your jobs is to manage my expectations.

Speakers: It can be months, even a year, from the time you submit your program until your program. Before you finalize your presentation and send it off, go back to the advertised program description. Do they align? Did you leave something out? Does something no longer apply, or is there a whole new section you need to add? Make sure to address that during your presentation.

Sure, things have changed since then to now, but those walking into your session are expecting to hear you speak on the description in the conference materials … make sure you meet their expectations. Understand your audience. Do YOUR due diligence (see James Kane reference above).


It’s 2018. There are no excuses for a bad speaker or panel. Period.

Conferences are great opportunities to show your wares. As a conference organizer (even something as simple as a webinar), your brand is on the line. As a speaker or moderator, you are showcasing your expertise.

The more time you put into preparing, the better you will show on stage. And, yes, it’s time consuming. But when you agreed to speak or moderate, you made that commitment to the audience, to yourself, and to your firm.

Don’t disappoint.