Generally Speaking Is it just me, or have too many general sessions become too general?
Content I’ve heard orseenelsewhere.Theoblig- atory three-minute clever video with a cute mes- sage. A litany of announcements I didn’t travel across the country to hear.Asea of generic plati- tudes about the profession. Somuchwasted time. This brand of general session must change.
Now. Here are a few ways you might turn up the volume (and the impact) on your general ses- sions. Make them more specific. If your major
speakers’ remarks could be offered anywhere, anytime, to anyone, they likely will resonate with no one at your event. Ensure speakers make spe- cific connections between their content and your community’s issues and realities. Obvious? Indeed. But it still happens too inconsistently or is done too gratuitously. Planners simply must coach presen- ters better on the most applicable connections between some of their key points and the current
room sings a few bars, and people turn around to locate the music’s source. Soon other singers join in, each positioned somewhere among your audi- ence. They continue harmonizing, and unite on stage to complete a rousing opening number. You probably have an expected flow for your
general sessions.Nowis the timetochange that pat- ternsowhathappens isunexpected.Whosays logis- tics announcements have to start off a confer- ence?Whycan’t they bedoneat theendofasession, when people are most thinking about logistics andwhat comes next?Andwhy don’twe do bor- ing announcements in amemorable orhumorous way? Change the order, change the emphasis, and you’ll change the energy. Makethemmorepersonal. The more person-
al segments of your general sessions must be less scripted (or at least come off that way). Do the chair’s words of welcome really have to be speci-
Change the order and emphasis, and you’ll change the energy.
challenges and aspirations of their members. Anddon’t assume participants will seehowto
apply a keynoter’s content to their specific chal- lenges. Include a reactor panel of major players from your own industry who offer the “so what, nowwhat” implications of the speaker’s content. Have a moderator interview the speaker about the connections between his/her content and your industry. Offer breakout sessions that further explore the keynoter’s content for specific positions or issues in your profession. Makethemmoresurprising. Imagine a dark
stage.The lightscomeuponawell-knownkeynote speaker who launches immediately into his talk with a provocative assertion that gets everyone’s attention.Andafter doing so, he drops in the brief self-introduction that someone else normally would have done at length to start the session. Or perhaps a lone voice from the back of the
fied in the text? Can’t she do that in her own lan- guage and style? And while we certainly want to ensure that an awardwinner’s accomplishments are acknowledged appropriately, reading them off like a grocery list is hardly the most memorable way. If we want people to keep meeting face-to- face, the faces we show them need to be more human. I love the way the Screen Actors GuildAwards
programbegins with the camera zooming inondif- ferent actors in the audience. Each tells a brief and very personal story explaining what acting means to him or her. Each intro ends thesame:“Myname is ___. I am an actor.” It’s a powerful way to use the voices of the community to reinforce the pride in the profession. Instead of startingwith the pre- senters on the stage, it startswith the practitioners in the audience. Imagine your annual meeting’s opening session doing the same.
ON_THE_WEB: View a “speaker-free” video presentation about the PCMA Education Foundation that aired during a PCMA 2011 Convening Leaders general session at http://bit.ly/eAWq7Y.
38 pcma convene May 2011 ILLUSTRATION BY JEAN TUTTLE
Jeffrey Cufaude is a former higher- education administrator, meeting planner, and association executive. Currently he designs and presents high-impact learning experiences, including engaging conference keynotes and workshops. Learn more abouthis work atwww.idea architects.org or follow him atwww.twitter .com/jcufaude.
Take It Up a Notch Instead of throwing in the towel because you can’t come up with something appealing forthe 10 or10,000 people at your general ses- sions, see the logisti- cal realities as creative constraints begging foran inno- vative response. Let’s design general sessions that crackle with the energy of a rock concert, but offerthe intimacy of a coffeehouse—and that offercontent for the entire community that feels like it was written just for me.