Like it or not, more often than not, clients insist on asking keynote speakers and facilitators to deliver content in a less than optimal time-frame. It's hard to understand why this happens. Facilitators and speakers are hired for their expertise and skills yet, when they try to set boundaries and realistic time-frames, there is usually resistance. (I invite conference and meeting planners to stop by and share their perspective.) Sometimes, clients opt for quantity rather than quality. It's an outdated paradigm that by packing agendas for business meetings and conferences, information can be crammed into the brains of participants. It can't.
I recently ran into this situation with 2 clients and got to thinking about strategies for dealing with these scenarios. Clearly, this issue is not going to go away any time soon.
Before the Meeting or Conference
- Don't let the unrealistic expectations discourage you from setting boundaries.
- Communicate the optimal time-frame.
- Identify the downside and potential negative impact of cutting the time short.
- Put your concerns in writing and ensure that key decision makers receive a copy.
- Consider declining the speaking engagement if it is going to set you up for failure and reflect poorly on your reputation.
- Distribute participant profiles and get feedback from participants about what they perceive as the most relevant content.
- With this feedback, go through the agenda with your key contact and ask them to help you eliminate anything that is not focused, targeted and relevant to organizational realities.
- Get sign-off and be sure to include a phrase to indicate that the session is being delivered in a time-frame that is shorter than what you recommended.
During the Meeting or Conference
- Give a focused summary of the objectives and agenda.
- Summarize the input you received from participants.
- State up front the time-frame that you have been given is less than you requested. (Don't be afraid to state up front that this session normally takes 2 days but you have been asked to deliver in 1 day. If you don't, you may ended up taking the blame.)
- Ask participants to help the group stay on track and keep things moving.
- Use timers or time keepers for exercises that have a high risk of running overtime.
- Distribute a checkpoint reviews halfway through the session. Get feedback about timing and pace.
- If participants express concerns about being rushed or pressured, indicate that you agree that the time-frame is too short.
- Ask the participants to help you eliminate any exercises of content that isn't laser-beam focused on their day-to-day realities. You can do this before the start of each section. Sometimes, content can be skipped completely based on participant feedback.
- Provide options and use roundtables. There is no reason that all participants have to do all exercises.
- Do a final evaluation and remind participants to state any concerns they have about pace and time.
- Review the feedback from participants with organizers.
- Be sure to bring correspondence documenting your concerns about timing.
- Help the client and event planners uncover lessons learned and determine best practices for future corporate events or conferences.
What tips can you add to these lists?