Are Your User Conference Speakers Ready for the Spotlight?

You’ve secured a prime venue in a desirable city for your user conference. A former US president will be the keynote. An iconic rock band will highlight the entertainment.

Now that you have all the ingredients for a fantastic event, just one question…

Are your technical experts ready for their moment in the spotlight?

In IAEE’s second Decision to Attend Study, 92% of professionals named education as the top driver for attending a conference.

Where does learning primarily take place at user conferences? In the breakout sessions and panel discussions where your best technical talent will be presenting.

  • Your best technical talent—intensely knowledgeable experts who are passionate about the solutions they support—are the ones who make or break the educational value of a user conference for attendees.
  • The challenge? Public speaking isn’t their day job.
    Your subject matter experts likely get ongoing, comprehensive technical education but very little training in soft skills, like presenting, handling tough questions, or facilitation.

Despite their best intentions and efforts, if technical experts lack these soft skills, they’ll struggle to engage their audience, weakening the education value that brought attendees to your conference in the first place.

Set your user conference speakers up for success.

A big part of helping them is understanding what technical speakers struggle with most. The good news is, with the right development, failure is preventable. You just have to know what to look out for first.

Working with global technology leaders, Mandel has identified three ways user conference speakers typically fail.

  1. Speakers fail to communicate “care-about” value.Right from the beginning of a session, if your audience doesn’t feel like they’re getting educational value, they’ll disengage. Or worse, they’ll leave the room.Things that destroy a presentation’s value?
  2. Apathy-inducing presentation openings
  3. Hard-to-follow presentation structures
  4. Reliance on over-stuffed slides, instead of memorable stories and analogies that bring technical content to life
  5. Speakers fail to present with “credibly contagious” conviction.User conference attendees don’t expect technical experts to sound like motivational speakers, but they do expect them to speak confidently and in an engaging manner.It’s hard to pay attention to a speaker who, instead of pausing, punctuates their talk with lots of “ums” and “ahs” and other filler words…like, you know? It hurts credibility and creates the perception that the speaker wasn’t prepared.Anxiety about public speaking can also result in a closed posture, nervous body language, and a flat or monotone delivery, making it seem like the speaker doesn’t care about the content or the audience.
  6. Speakers fail to build trust interactively.User conference attendees should reasonably expect to be able to get answers to their technology questions at the event.Yet, too often, technical experts fall into the trap of explaining the tiniest details in their decks, often at the expense of addressing mission-critical audience questions. Likewise, being caught unprepared by an obvious question, over-reacting defensively to a question that might feel like an attack, or giving vague answers when unsure, damages the credibility of the speaker and your event.

The best way to prevent speakers from failing?

A one-size-fits-all speaker readiness workshop is unlikely to be effective. Why? Because your speakers will likely have varying levels of skills and experience.

Instead, consider the following speaker readiness practices that Mandel clients have found work best.

First, invite all of your speakers to a kickoff webinar that offers key conference details, as well as an overview of common user conference speaker failures and how to prevent them. Strongly encourage first-time speakers to attend.

Then, use the kickoff webinar to promote other speaker readiness options:

  • For inexperienced speakers: Offer a comprehensive, multi-day training to build the skills needed for a successful conference session.
  • For veteran speakers: Offer a 2-3 hour refresher primarily focused on content development as opposed to delivery skills.
  • For particularly high-stakes sessions: Make expert presentation coaches available to key individuals and teams.

It’s all about ROI.

The average event generates returns of 5X cost, according to research by atEvent, which creates apps designed to measure event impact. It’s a safe bet that exceptional events generate even higher returns.

With 92% of conference attendees citing “education” as a primary driver for attending a conference, ensuring your technical talent is “user conference ready” is a smart investment.

Learn MoreGlobal clients have used Mandel’s world-class instruction, expert coaching, and proven tools to ensure the success of their user events. Learn how you can do the same.

And if you liked this blog, you may want to read our other posts focused on event preparation.


Sources Cited (in order of appearance)

International Association of Exhibitions and Events (IAEE). “The Decision to Attend Study – Second Survey” (2017).

Muir, Heather. “Why do Soft Skill Matter?” (2019). Mandel Communications, Inc. Retrieved from

Phillips, David JP. “How to avoid death By PowerPoint” (2014). TEDx Talks

Knapp ML, Hall JA, Horgan TG.  “Nonverbal communication in human interaction” (2012).

Holst, Brad. “How to React Non-Defensively” (2016). Mandel Communications, Inc.

atEvent. “Average ROI At Events Is 5x; Time For Marketers To Stop Being Average!” (2013).


Picture of Brad Holst

Brad Holst

Brad is the Principal & Executive Director, Communication Strategy and Innovation, at Mandel. He has designed and implemented successful communication, training, and coaching solutions for a diverse cross-section of Mandel’s global clients, from start-ups to top names in the Fortune 50. He is the prime creator of the proprietary models and processes in Mandel’s winning suite of communication content-planning tools, including the Mandel Blueprint®. Brad is a consultant who gets results, an insightful coach, and a dynamic, engaging speaker. He offers a rare level of business acumen based on his prior leadership roles with three market-leading companies: The Walt Disney Company, The Clorox Company, and Armor All Products.
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