Considerations When Chairing a Large Group Event – Part 3: “Trickies” and “Do Differentlys”

Recently, I lent my skills to chair a large group event of 150 people.  By sharing my thoughts on this experience, I intend to solidify my learning from the event and share this with others.  This is the third post on a three post series. 

“Trickies” is a word that means challenges or areas of improvement or things that had to be overcome for a successful delivery.  Some people hate this word because it is not intuitive and it sounds goofy.  However, the goofiness takes some of its bite and allows people to share their stumbles and “close calls” a little easier.  Exploring what didn’t go so well is a great way to improve for next time.  For each “tricky” I will offer a “do differently,” solution(s) on how a similar event might be better tackled in the future.

  • Don’t underestimate your preparation work.  At first I saw this as a small job in comparison to what I normally do.  I was not providing content, I was not leading a delivery team, I was not involved with venue logistics or technical aspects.  All I had to do was introduce people, get out of their way, and let them do their thing.  However, a few days before the event, when I sat down to prepare my speaker introductions, I realized I should have given myself some more time.  While only a few sentences each, the introductory comments had to be appropriate and complement each other without overlapping.  I realized the 11 pieces I needed to write would take some time and attention to do it adequately.  The consequence was that I was unable to put much rehearsal time in and “winged it” much more than I would have preferred.
    The “do differently”:  Schedule your preparation time well in advance in case you discover your estimate is wrong when you start unpacking the project.  Also, it is best to not assume that your workload will be less compared, to previous projects, until you start to actually do the work.  Consider every job to be unique and expect that they all can blow up on you, even the small ones.
  • Be careful with events scheduled for a Monday.  Luckily, I started my preparation early enough that I could get my request for feedback notes out by Thursday afternoon.  However, considering Friday is a difficult time to reach people, I was cutting it close; especially if I was asking people to review anything lengthy. 
    The “do differently”:  For Monday deliveries, try to schedule your preparation work so that you could deliver on the Friday before.
  • Look at a practice event as an opportunity to share.  I often assume that everyone is busy and that no one is interested in sharing the opportunities that I stumble upon in my practice; just like a meal of Liver and Onions.  However, I could have used this event to share my knowledge with someone and given others the opportunity to start or grow their own practice.
    The “do differently”: Ask for assistance from other Practitioners, even if you have the capacity to do the work alone.  This creates opportunities for learning and mentorship for you and for others.  Also, if you can’t find someone to assist, you usually can usually find someone interested in evaluating your performance feedback.  Again a double whammy of goodness, you get some feedback and they get an opportunity to practice valuable skills.
  • Request feedback on your introduction comments well in advance.  I did this too late and as a result I had to rush them out the door which left only one day, a Friday, for people to read them and respond.  Luckily these introductions were short and easily reviewed but if they were more elaborate, more time would have been needed.  I used one-on-one targeted communications instead of a blanket email because I didn’t want to “info-overload” the speakers.  This takes extra time.
    The “do differently”:  Give people a few working days to review and respond with feedback on their introductions. 
  • Pay attention to the usefulness of your notes.  Originally, I put introductions for each speaker on an additional column that I added to the right of the agenda.  However, I realized the text was too small to be read easily in front of a crowd.   Therefore, I copied the introductions to a mind map format, to use color, pictures, and larger font sizes.  This step helped my delivery but took time that I didn’t plan for.
    The “do differently”:  Build in more prep time if you are being creative with your speaking notes.
  • Prepare for bridging comments.  These are the words said after a speaker has completed and before the introduction of the next presenter.  They are combination of prepared items based on what you know of the speaker and what they may say and improvised comments based on what you just heard from them. 
    The “do differently”:  Allow time in the agenda not just to introduce speakers, but for your bridging comments afterwards as well.  Have some prepared bridging comments to reduce the pressure of improvising on the spot.  Listen well to the speaker to customize these comments as needed.
  • Have a second home.  When a MC or Chairperson leaves the stage, it is a good idea to have a place where they can go to that is equally equipped to do business.  While the speaker is on, you can regroup, think, and take notes on what you will do next.
    The “do differently”:  Set up a 2nd station with a copy of the agenda, pens, post-it notes, etc.
  • Schedule time for a debrief.  This blog series originated from one sentence on a post-it note.  I normally build in time for a post-session review of my work but I didn’t do that for this event thinking the job was too small to learn much from it.   However, when I began thinking and about what happened, the debrief took way more time than planned.
    The “do differently”:  Allow time for proper debrief and never underestimate the power of a small job to pack some powerful learnings.
  • Take time to connect.  I was able to check-in with most speakers, including the only person I had never met.  However, there were few people I didn’t have a chance to get to.  I realized as I introduced them how embarrassing it would have been for the both of us if they were not prepared to speak or if they were not even in the room.  During these conversations, I confirm the pronunciation of their name, ask them if they need any assistance from me, inquire if they have visual aids that need to be set up, and let them know what to expect when they are introduced (will you shake their hand, how should they approach the lectern, do they need support, etc).  These conversations are especially important if you do not know the speaker well and they might provide content for your bridging comments.  Furthermore, this is also your opportunity to reassure and inspire your speakers as well; taking on a coach role.
    As a rule of thumb, the longer the introduction, the longer you will need to connect with the speaker.  Sometimes, it may be necessary to have a conversation with them in advance of the event.

    The “do differently”: Arrive early to familiarize yourself with the meeting space, prepare your physical materials, and connect with your speakers.  Consider a checklist to ensure you have fully briefed each speaker.

Here ends my mammoth blog series that arose from a single post-it note written down hastily during an event that I thought would be simple and easy.  If you ever have to chair or MC a large group event, I hope it is of some use. If you have comments to share or suggestions to add, kindly post them as a comment or email me directly at thejonuks@shaw.ca.

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