Showtime: Creating Event Keynotes & Breakout Sessions

I’m in the middle of helping 23 keynote & session teams at 3 very different companies design, build, and deliver sessions at their upcoming customer conferences this Fall. The high-frequency participation in lots of different examples of the same creative process is bubbling up some patterns in my noggin. I thought I’d share for all those on this path right now.

  1. Keynotes are stories, breakout sessions are stories, panel discussions are stories (but wait I thought those were spontaneous), product roadmap sessions are stories. Stories have a setup, the establishing of tension, the resolving of that tension, and a happily ever after.
  2. Here’s the repeatable operational process I use: 
    1. Write a title and abstract for the session
    2. Discuss & write what actions you want attendees to take at end of session
    3. Decide and write down what attendees will get out of it
    4. Discuss and recruit which customers will speak
    5. Outline the sections, with time durations, in a spreadsheet
    6. Write and discuss your slide titles, in a spreadsheet
    7. Do an initial interview with each customer speaker
    8. Create the slides for a skeleton of your deck, with only titles on the slides
    9. Dry run the presentation, discuss what content should go on each slide
    10. Decide what product demos you want to use when
    11. Progress the slides to a rough draft, with titles and content
    12. Do a speaker training class* with your presenters
    13. Dry run the presentation, with customer stand-ins, and rough demos
    14. Move the deck to a final draft
    15. Rehearse the presentation with slides, demos, and customer speakers
    16. Revise your final draft based on the rehearsal
    17. Deliver a dress rehearsal, with new colleagues in the audience
    18. Stand and deliver
  3. A good process for a keynote or breakout session takes 90 days. Start early.
  4. Customer/expert panels are stories. I’ve had numerous panel session teams tell me “we think these are the questions we should ask” before they’ve discussed or written down the story they want the panel to tell the audience. Better if your story drives your questions. Panels take more preparation than slide presentations. More. Those panel discussions you’ve been to that you thought were the best? They were relentlessly prepared.
  5. A session needs a session owner. This is someone skilled in project management tasks, with the people skills to cajole, persuade, and keep the team on track. The session owner is not necessarily a speaker or a content creator. Sales engineers and customer success folks tend to be great choices for session owners, and they also know things about the market and the business that you do not know.

I hope you have a successful event season at your company!

Moss Beach

*Danny Slomoff’s SCG is the best speaker training I know. I think everyone should do whatever it takes to get Danny’s help.

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