Dealing with tough questions from conference audiences

6 05 2011

This morning I came across this piece offering advice for answering tough questions at meetings and events and thought it was worth sharing as tips for dealing with tough questions from the floor at conferences or ambushes from your competitors.

This article offers great advice for ensuring you come over well when without with difficult questions, but doesn’t cover what we believe to be one of the most important steps – preparation. In many cases you will know the likely topics to be raised and can take the time to prepare some stock answers – whether it be making sure you have some helpful facts and figures to hand or just the company line on the issue. This is often overlooked as once you’ve planned your presentation and practiced in front of your mirror all evening it’s easy to forget about the Q&A and making sure you’re prepared for every possibility.

Unfortunately, preparation also has the pitfall of making your response seem prepared and insincere – it’s very important not to appear to be feeding someone a line. You must take the time to digest their question and appear interested. Points 1 and 2 of the linked article go some way to covering this, but it’s also important to pause before answering, helping you look like you’re contemplating the issue rather than towing the company line. Further to point 1, alongside not rushing to offer platitudes you should also be careful not to nod whilst listening to their question (particularly if you’re about to disagree with their opinion!). It’s a very tough line to walk, between being prepared to tackle tough questions and not appear to be fobbing people off with pre-prepared lines, but if you remember to take your time before responding and be prepared to adapt your responses for each question you’ll avoid any disasters.

As a final note, it’s very important to never get angry. Sometimes your competitor will ask an awkward question or make a quip from the show floor that’s solely designed to be inflammatory. It can be hard not to take this personally or see it as an attack, but it’s important not to let this get your back up – if you’re lucky enough to have a keen sense of humour and a quick mind, then quip back and swiftly move on. Otherwise, take the high ground and move the conversation on elsewhere.





Inaugural conferences – should you speak?

22 04 2011

In the current conference landscape there are a lot of new events emerging, catering to specific niches and addressing the latest topics and trends. Some are extensions of existing events (like D’s Dive into Mobile) and others are entirely new events.

However, not all of these events are of the same quality and it can be hard to decide which invitations for your CEO you accept, which you repurpose for one of your VPs or Directors and which you politely decline. Even when the organiser has successfully run a ‘rock star’ event for a number of years you can’t guarantee that your CEO will be amongst his peers on a highly visible platform.

We always recommend erring on the side of caution for inaugural events. Even if you’re hoping to get your speakers out to ‘cool’ and upcoming events, you need to be certain that the right speaker takes the stage. If the organiser asks for your CEO for their inaugural event but can’t name any confirmed speakers, give you proof points about who’ll show up and which media will cover the event, then the alarm bells should be ringing.

All conference producers have ‘pressing deadlines’ – brochures need to be printed, agendas finalized and so forth, but the truth is you can usually wait until the event fleshes out a little more before confirming your speaker. Try giving the organiser some time to confirm other senior speakers and take some time to check for any buzz around the event. If the organiser has only managed to name a few directors and managers as confirmed speakers politely decline to speak this year, but signal your interest for next year’s event (when there’ll be ample proof points for you to pore over).

Of course, there’ll always be those events that are simply guaranteed to succeed due to the strength of the organisers brand and those will be no brainers. But where there’s doubt, don’t be afraid to substitute a lower level speaker in the inaugural year to scope out the event… You can always send your CEO to steal the show next year.

Finally, where these opportunities are not clear-cut a trusted third party speaker bureau consultancy will be able to help evaluate events and invitations and recommend the best course of action.





Making a call on event sponsorship – can you stand out from the crowd?

16 03 2011

Clients ask me all the time if they should sponsor conferences or exhibitions.  Like most PRs and marketers, they are lured by the prospect of engaging with hundreds or even thousands of their target audience at the same time, all in the same place.  A great opportunity, and I get it, I can see the value in that – but is it really ‘engaging’?

Can you spot your brand?....didn't think so.

I read a great example of what I’m talking about today on AdAge Digital in reference to the ever popular SXSW event in Austin, taking place this week.  Here’s an event that has been around for a long time and has always been under the radar, more of a music festival than a business event and for those who know it well – they would like to keep it that way. But aaah the curse of popularity. As the AdAge piece points out, the big brand corporate world has taken over and in the opinion of some, taken the shine off the event, with smaller start ups and brands getting lost in the frenzy – the competition for attendees attention is just too fierce that nothing gets through to them except the down-your-throat big bucks marketing stunts that very few can afford.

And that leads me to my point. What I tell clients when they ask me if they should sponsor an event is, it depends on the event. If you will be the sole sponsor or one of only a handful, you stand a reasonable chance of awareness and engagement among the audience. By contrast, if you’re competing against over 50 brands and their logos, stands, free food, drinks, laptop bags, etc – unless you have the marketing budget to compete with the big boys, you’re not going to get much value.

Evaluate each opportunity as it comes and think about how this is going to help meet your PR/Marketing goals.





Hot conference topics and themes for 2011: content

1 03 2011

Thanks to many of the innovations we’ve already covered, content and the way we access, monetise and distribute it has also become increasingly important beyond traditional broadcasters, developers and publishers.

While many of these topics have been key fixtures on agendas for a number of years now, increasing awareness and rapid industry change is making this issue more important. Social media as a driver of user generated content, HD content, viral videos, IPTV and so on have caused a huge shift in the way we access content and businesses are keen to catch up. There are events like the Content Delivery Summit devoted to each of these areas and many broad media events such as the Media 360 covering technical issues of distribution alongside the more creative challenge of creating engaging content in the form of videos, games, websites and so forth.

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Where highly technical questions of how to stream content at higher quality and faster than your competitors has been a staple for a long time, questions of how to build communities around your content and ensure that your content has appeal beyond just the TV screen are now becoming a greater focus of many conferences.

Be prepared for content to really be king in 2011.





Hot conference topics and themes for 2011: cloud computing

21 02 2011

Cloud computing has continued to grow and gain mainstream acceptance and this is likely to accelerate through 2011; the maturation of services and new models and applications should cement cloud computing at the forefront of many conference agendas.

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Whereas cloud computing has thus far largely been the subject of specialist events like the Business Cloud Summit and those targeted squarely at the CTO, we are likely to see coverage at a wider range of events going forward. The majority of this will probably take place via end-user testimony as more companies in a wider range of industries adopt cloud technologies and models for a wider range of processes. For example, we’ve already seen cloud models for RFID (the infrastructure is loaned and managed via a cloud portal, reducing initial outlay and overheads) and every day new applications are being dreamt up.

Alongside the conferences discussing the advantages of cloud computing for business and enterprise will be those discussing the consumerisation of cloud technology, through video, gaming and content delivery like the CDN World Forum. As the cloud begins to play a larger role in our lives both at work and at play it can’t help but seep onto more and more agendas across the board.





Hot conference topics and themes for 2011: social media

17 02 2011

Social Media will continue to be important in the conference landscape as our lives become more connected; TVs now even let you tell your friends what you’re watching. Communities are continuing to grow around all aspects of our connected lives and monetising and engaging with these audiences is becoming increasingly important to marketers and advertisers alike.

While there are a lot of established pure play social media events, it is likely that more will surface and that more and more traditional business focused events will incorporate social media streams looking at how to leverage social media beyond the marketing department. Gamification, crowd sourcing, merging and blurring work and social lives and collaboration as a driver of innovation, business and efficiency will all find their way onto more conference agendas.

Further to this, although many events already utilise social tools (such as a Facebook page or a LinkedIn events page, live Twitter walls and blogs), their use should increase as delegates and speakers look to extend their influence beyond the stage and the networking breaks. Some conferences already have great communities built around their content (think TED) and many more are starting to follow in their footsteps.





Hot conference topics and themes for 2011: mobile devices

11 02 2011

This is an expansion of the mobile theme; with markets continuing to mature and mobile devices growing in affect across markets we expect them to feature more heavily on conference agendas. This will be particularly buoyed by the maturation of the tablet market, which is likely to feature more heavily on mobile event agendas and perhaps spawn tablet specific events.
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Events in the telecoms sector such as the Mobile World Congress and Open Mobile Summit alongside the consumer electronic shows like IFA and CES will continue to be the main arena for mobile device discussions. However, mobile devices will also become an increasing focus at media and advertising events, with delegates wanting to know how to advertise on these platforms, reach new audiences and stay ahead of the curve. The proliferation of devices is also likely to inspire design and interface debate around how to keep user experience the same across devices and allow consumers to move freely between screens and across platforms.