When you’re organizing an event, the clock is always ticking: Months ago, a knowledgeable event strategist looked into their crystal ball, considered all the factors and elevated an otherwise obscure date to the most important day of the whole year for your team.
Looking ahead, you have many large and small tasks to accomplish. Some will be big, like finding a venue and delivering the deposit, signaling that you’re all-in on this event concept and date. There are other tasks you’ll have to complete on a regular basis, maybe several times each day, like sending an email or updating your event website.
If you’re hosting a large-scale conference and your position is focused on speakers, you probably anticipate emailing each speaker several times to set expectations and keep them up to date on changes to the schedule and technology - not to mention answering any of their questions. Any way you slice it, keeping up with speakers is a lot of work if you’re not employing the right tools and techniques.
But if you spend hours each day or week sending the same emails to the same speakers and exhibitors reminding them to take care of the basic tasks associated with their participation at the event, you need to stop right now.
If you run a conference that hosts experts or professionals, your speakers are probably very busy people who are a part of your event or conference in addition to the other tasks that encompass their careers. Email is probably a big part of that. Office workers across the world know the many problems inherent with email as a communication medium: most emails are irrelevant, inactionable or cat videos. And we get a lot of them.
An ambitious speaker manager might call each of their speakers to set expectations and deadlines for deliverables, but unless the task can be accomplished by the speaker while they’re on the phone, there needs to be some level of trust that a speaker will take care of a task, like send a headshot, at their earliest convenience within a reasonable amount of time.
Maintaining good relations with each speaker is, of course, important. Many events depend on their goodwill and investment of time and energy to operate. Bullying might get you the item you need today, but it won’t convince your speaker to do a good job on the day of your event or to return next year if they have any alternatives.
Why Not Email?
Email is the best way to organize many people with a single message, but the worst way to get one person to do a specific, important task by a deadline. Research from Carleton University studying the work habits of 1,500 people in six organizations found:
In dealing with so much email, more people seem to be developing an aversion to answering the phone, especially from unknown numbers or for uncomfortable conversations.
So how can we get people to accomplish their tasks without annoying emails or uncomfortable phone calls? There has to be a better way.
Consistency and regularity are keys in recruiting and promoting speakers. You’ll probably need a few basic items from each speaker:
After a session, you might want to collect additional items for the benefit of the audience, like audio and/or video recordings of the session, slides from the presentation deck, and other links or resources that were presented or referenced.
The more unique, complex or involved a session is, the more work has to go into describing and customizing the information around it.
It’s easy for us as event strategists to forget that speakers, exhibitors, and organizers have their own motivations for participating in our event. We need to keep in mind that their participation needs to be of mutual benefit. Technology speaker Troy Hunt summed it up well in his blog from the speaker perspective regarding the frustration of speaker events:
“Speakers get something out of conferences too and whether you call it profile or networking or exposure or whatever [...] When I go to a good event that's well-organised and it ticks all those boxes, it leaves a lasting impression on me.”
In addition to the human factors, there are some factual and scientific explanations for why repeatedly emailing speakers and exhibitors is a bad idea.
As an event organizer, it’s your job to hit your deadlines for promoting your event, and quality speakers can be a majority of the reason why people attend. People who are not professional speakers might not feel this same urgency, or may not understand the timeline of promoting an event with a launch announcement and multiple ticket deadlines.
So they may delay getting back or de-prioritize your message, thinking that you’re just being a keener rather than a person working against a deadline that will help you meet your goals. Then, things can be forgotten in the normal course of work.
Worse, speakers don’t feel empowered to complete their tasks. Emails can send information but they’re rarely a solution in themselves. If a speaker does send through a great photo of themselves or an outstanding session description, there’s still work to be done by the organizer before that satisfying final product is live and ready to be seen; There’s an unsatisfying lag.
You both have to engage in an awkward song and dance through email. Maybe you need a higher resolution photo, or the session description needs editing, or if you’re cursed with an outdated event management software, you might need to put some work into setting up the session and speaker profile.
There could be a back and forth, with each stage pushing the expected timeline out farther than it should be. Emails are working against you as much as for you.
Any person can only keep so many things at the top of their mind or “working memory”, according to an article from Fast Company:
“When working memory is filled, performance on cognitive tasks suffers. Multitasking taxes working memory by requiring you to hold in mind information about two or more distinct tasks simultaneously.”
If your event is weeks or months away, it can simply fall off the speaker’s mind because it doesn’t seem to be urgent compared with their day-to-day work. They’re switching between urgent tasks. If you send emails in the middle of day, you might be causing your speaker to jump between tasks -- an unpleasant and unproductive work habit for most people.
There’s time and attention lost as we bounce between tasks, according to an article from BBC:
“Experiments have demonstrated that when you switch your attention from one task to another, a bit of your mind is still focused on the previous task. Each time you switch back again you have to remind yourself about what it was you were doing, while dealing simultaneously with the slight distraction from the other task.
There are a million tips and tricks for writing emails that get things done. For sales and marketing, there are entire companies dedicated to this one objective. One simple but effective method is to make use of checklists: the event manager’s best friend.
Since your event is likely in the back of their mind, your speakers and exhibitors not only need to be reminded to take action, they need to reach way back in their memories to remember the stage they were at when they last got distracted.
Brains love lists, according to Psychologist and author Dr David Cohen as noted in The Guardian:
“Cohen puts our love of to-do lists down to three reasons: they dampen anxiety about the chaos of life; they give us a structure, a plan that we can stick to; and they are proof of what we have achieved that day, week or month.”
Sending repeated emails about the same tasks also fail to tap into one of the most powerful reward-givers in the brain: dopamine. Novel and exciting tasks, as well as the satisfaction of getting them done, give the brain a hit of dopamine. Doing a normal or boring task does not. The New York Times interviewed Dr. Nora D. Volkow investing the effects of dopamine on our fascination with novelty and motivation:
Dopamine is also part of the brain’s salience filter, its get-a-load-of-this device: “You can’t pay attention to everything, but you want to be adept as an organism at recognizing things that are novel,” Dr. Volkow said. “You might not notice a fly in the room, but if that fly was fluorescent, your dopamine cells would fire.”
With both the power of checklists and the dopamine-fueled hit after accomplishing a task, it’s important that speakers can see the results of their effort on your behalf, rather than just emailing into an ambiguous abyss.
Whether you’re using an all-in-one event management software, like PheedLoop, or using your own website and spreadsheets to organize your event, giving speakers the immediate satisfaction of seeing their session, photo and biography can both give them a hit of dopamine and serve as an excellent reminder to promote their appearance at your event.
One way to stop emailing conference speakers is to accept it as a necessary and unfortunate part of organizing an event and automate this repetitive and time-consuming task so that you have more time to focus on other aspects of your event.
There are many email scheduling solutions out there including common CRM solutions like Hubspot, as well as common email platforms like Gmail that have incorporated the feature. Set up your schedule and make darn sure that you don’t email someone for something that they’ve already sent over.
You might need to keep track of who has sent over what using a spreadsheet or another kind of tracker.
The best way to stop emailing conference speakers is to embrace de-centralizing your event. As the event organizer, you might feel like every aspect of your event needs to go through you or your email account, but embracing de-centralization means that your stakeholders, like speakers and exhibitors, have their own portals to accomplish tasks, update their profiles and upload relevant content.
The event organizer’s job is to set deadlines, assign tasks and oversee the entire process. You don’t need to enter every piece of information yourself.
With PheedLoop, stakeholders receive a checklist with the tasks they have left to complete, marking a very clear path to completion. No need for them to search out an email from weeks ago.
Your exhibitors and speakers can see the results of their work right away, giving them that dopamine hit of having a task truly accomplished.
New event management tools are empowering event managers to get their tasks done faster. Working in cooperation with your speakers, it’s possible to create profiles, upload photos, set session times and have your event schedule set and ready for your attendees weeks earlier than using a centralized or bottlenecked workflow.
It’s not the 1990s, 2000s or even the 2010s anymore! If you’re still leaning on email and taking on all the schedule and website work yourself, it’s time to review your practices and available tools.
The fundamentals of setting deadlines, managing expectations and being an open communicator will always serve event managers well, but a better way now exists and it’s time to put it to use.