On requiring experienced presenters to rehearse

reading time 3 min

There’s a small controversy brewing behind the scenes at conferences because of this trend to require speakers to rehearse their talk via video conference prior to the event.

Conferences are making such rehearsals a requirement. It is frequently listed as part of the CFP.

Should newbies be required to rehearse? Well, obviously. They need to work out phrasing, content, timing, etc. They’re just learning and will find value in the coaching they receive.

But what about experienced speakers? Should they be required too?

Yes. Yes, they should. I should. You should. We all should.

I’m an experienced speaker. I’ve been giving presentations at conferences for more than 2 decades. I’ve spoken at tech, political, grassroots, and commercial conferences. I’ve been the opening keynote and the conference closer multiple times.

Certainly I shouldn’t be required to do a test-run of my talk in front of the conference organizers like some newbie first timer?

I totally do need to do these rehearsals: Whether it is new material or info I’ve presented dozens times previously.

As an experience speaker, I’m looking for feedback that only the conference organizers can judge:

  • Audience mismatch
  • Mismatch between content and the published description
  • Too much material / not enough time
  • Wrong pace for the audience
  • Incomplete or confusing slides
  • A/V issues (What? I can’t play audio?)
  • “Hot button” issues that I should prepare for

The feedback I get is profoundly useful because it is the kind of feedback only the organizers of the conference can provide.

Sure, the newbs do their rehearsals to work out what they’re going to say. I’m looking for feedback at a much higher level.

Still not convinced? Here are two examples from when I was on the conference organizer side of things:

  • A highly-experienced speaker resisted a rehearsal but finally agreed “just to humor us.” It turned out he though the presentation time-slot was an hour, but it was only 25 minutes. How the miscommunication happened is irrelevant. We had a very productive brainstorming session about what to cut. Disaster averted!

  • The closing talk at a conference was by someone that was an excellent, experienced, speaker. During the rehearsal we learned that he had made wrong assumptions about the expertise of the audience. The talk would have been a total mismatch (i.e. “boring”). Instead, he was able to skip a lot of introductory material and jump to the more exciting parts. He was so happy that he could “skip to the good stuff”. (We were happy too! We prevented a disastrously bad closing talk!)

In summary: Should everyone be required to rehearse? Yes. Even experienced speakers? Yes. Why? Because the problems you will uncover are unique to that conference.

Lastly, speaking at a conference is a privilege and we should respect the process of the conference organizers. They have enough shit to deal with, don’t add to it by being the one speaker that resists doing a rehearsal.

Tom Limoncelli

Tom Limoncelli

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