Preparing to Speak at a Big Event?

speak at big event

You’ve accepted an invitation to speak at a big event, how are you going to pull it off? Large groups require careful facilitating to get it right as lots of people will be watching you. In addition to preparing what you are going to say, here are some tips to help you step up into the arena of speaking to a large audience with energising event music.

TyAnn Osborn is an experienced Gallup Certified Strengths coach and facilitator of large groups. Here she shares some aspects that will make you look good when on stage.

Facilitating Big Events

While many strengths coaches prefer deep one-on-one engagements, others prefer small to medium-sized teams of 5 to 20ish. Some coaches might work with those teams for months or years, building a strong foundation of strengths and deep work. That is where I find that many coaches are comfortable. But what if one of those companies then asks you to facilitate a strengths session at an upcoming offsite event, or quarterly leadership development summit, or product kickoff and they casually let it drop that the event will have at least 50 people? Or 75 people? Or 100 people or more? Does your heart stop? Do you break out into a cold sweat? Take a deep breath and know that it’s ok! They wouldn’t ask you if THEY didn’t have confidence in YOU. You got this.

For as long as I can remember I have enjoyed being in front of large groups of people. In fact, the larger the audience the more excited I became. Was that Significance® showing up early? Perhaps, especially when combined with my Communication®. But even for someone who loves it like me, I can still get butterflies. The key, as I’ve discovered over years of facilitating these, is preparation (pretty much like all things in life).

What is the purpose of the event?

Is it to generate excitement for a new company direction or initiative? Team building for a newly formed group or one with a lot of new people? Enable skill building for high-potential employees or new managers? To help address issues around communication or some long-standing hurt? All of these things are a different goal and you will need to focus your content accordingly. Some of my favorite questions to ask clients include, “How will we know that the event is a success?” “What do you expect participants to feel, see or do differently as a result of our time together?” “What will make our event a great spend of your time and budget?”

Brass tacks: Large event practicalities

Every event of size needs an internal point of contact who is the leader of logistics and flow. This is not you, unless you also want to be an event planner in addition to the facilitator. I provide a worksheet on “hosting a successful strengths event” that details room layout, audio/visual requirements, room assistants, remote meeting information if people will be attending in a hybrid format, lighting, stage setup, and even music.

What kind of materials will you be producing for the event? Participant packets with their reports and handouts? Custom name tents? Or will everything be digital? Will you be able to physically take the materials with you? Will you have to ship them ahead of time? Can the client reproduce anything for you? Know your audience and what works best for them. I’ve seen facilitators provide stacks and stacks of paper to audiences where everyone had to fly in for the event. But how will they be able to carry that home with them? Most of that material gets dumped in the trash.

Energy: Build the atmosphere

Did you know that Disney plays faster-tempo music when the park is closing so that guests exit the park quicker? People will unconsciously adjust their pace to the beats per minute. Music is now a must-have for my events. There is nothing better to generate energy before the event than to have upbeat music playing. Also have a “walk on/walk off” song that captures your essence. Some of my favorites are: Lizzo “About Damn Time”, Boston “Don’t Look Back”, Survivor “Eye of The Tiger”, Kid Rock “All Summer Long”, Walker Hays “Fancy Like”, Green Day “When I Come Around”, Muse “Supermassive Black Hole”, The Weeknd “Blinding Lights”, Icona Pop “I Love It”, and Guns N’Roses “Sweet Child of Mine”.

You want a song that immediately has a great beat. And a big key to success is to have one particular song that is a cue for participants to end their breakout groups, periodic breaks, and lunch and return to their seats ready to learn – “I Like to Move It” by will.i.am from the movie Madagascar is fun!

Activities: Engage your audience

The cadence of your content should open with a high-energy activity/joke/story, have a bit of content, and then be immediately followed with a reinforcement activity. In large groups having participants arranged in table pods is my favorite arrangement. The least desirable of all is an auditorium/stadium-type seating. A facilitating technique I was taught early on is to NEVER make people disturb their “nest”. That is where they land when they come into the room. They put their stuff, food, papers, etc. down and get really irritated if you make them constantly pack up and move. However, you can have them move their own bodies around for activities, just make sure you let them keep and go back to their original nest.

A great opening activity for large groups is “stand up if”. It is energizing to see many people groan, laugh, stand up, point, and have fun with this one. You can also have the table pods of 8-10 people debrief exercises. You could have people group themselves for activities by birthday month… “All January birthdays go to table 1, all February birthdays go to table 2” etc. Or “all people with dominant Executing domains go to the far corner”, etc.

Closing: Finish well

Have a strong close. People won’t remember everything from the day but they will remember the last thing you said and how you made them feel. Be sure to end on a high note with a call to action, challenge, personal commitment, or group cheer (think “We Will Rock You” by Queen). Another facilitator technique is to finish with something that has people on their feet – see, you get an automatic standing ovation! Then give a big wave, say “You’ve been great (name of company)! Stay strong!” and head off the stage to your walk-off music.

Catch your breath, thank your point of contact and company executives, and then head out. Be sure to leave the rest of the day open for travel or just regaining your energy. Even for high-energy extroverts like me, I still need some restorative downtime.

If you have any questions about facilitating large groups please reach out! Don’t feel like you have to reinvent the wheel. You can find me at tyannosborn.com


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