Suggestions for speakers:
- Stick to your allocated time. When you don't stop talking at the end of your 20 minutes, you are quite likely to be either stealing time from a later speaker or from the coffee-break or lunch time of hundreds of other people. Skilled IP practitioners and professors at the top of their professions should be able to manage this. Actually, there's no need to use up all your allocated time. If you've said everything that needs to be said and there are still a couple of minutes unused, why not say "that's all, folks!" and sit down?
- Everybody know how pleased you are to be on the program. While each speaker likes to thank the organisers, the programme planners and anyone else who is entitled to receive a little gratitude, the audience hears the same thanks many times over. A single sentence, sincerely meant, should suffice -- though the event organiser might want to make a separate web page available for longer and more fulsome outpourings of the Oscar acceptance speech variety.
- Don't accelerate because you are running out of time. You may be ticking the "I'm finishing in time" box, but the chances are that you will be speaking faster than many members of your audience can listen, and a good deal faster than most people can take notes. Unless of course you'd prefer them not to.
- Remember to breathe. A good time to breathe is when you reach the end of a sentence. You can even take two breaths when you get to the end of a topic or pause to move from one PowerPoint frame to the next one. When you don't breathe at the right time, your audience doesn't always appreciate that you may be moving from one topic to another. Speaking to your audience as though they are small but intelligent children is usually best.
- Revise your presentation. Very often speakers have to prepared their talks well ahead of time. Sometimes this is to enable event organisers to include them in conference packs or on USB sticks. On other occasions it is because they have to utilise the time available to them while juggling commitments to clients, colleagues, family and friends. In any event, if you haven't looked at your presentation for a few days before you are scheduled to give it, do take the opportunity to reacquaint yourself with it before you speak. Not only will it help you sound more fluent and confident when giving your presentation, but it will often provide a final chance for you to check references, correct patent errors and decide which bits to leave out in the event of time-trouble or possible overlap with other speakers in the same session.
- Get familiar with the technology. A surprising number of speakers had problems with the remote device for changing the PowerPoint frames. I found this a bit annoying, but the person sitting next to me was positively aflame with impatience. Try the technology out in the break before your session and then you can impress everyone by effortlessly moving from frame to frame as though you have been doing it all your life.
- The audience knows who the speakers are. Apart from the fact that most of them are quite well-known in intellectual property circles, their biographical details appear in the promotional material that those who are interested can read ahead of the event. You don't need to introduce them as though they are strangers.
- Check names. Before introducing any speaker by name, unless that name is a simple one where consensus exists as to how it should be pronounced, do ask the speaker how he or she pronounces it. The saddest start to any talk is the bit where the speaker opens by correcting the chairman's version of it.
- Be assertive. You alone have the power to speed up, slow down or curtail speakers -- some of whom might be grateful for your intervention. Use it where necessary.
- Understand the audience. If you have anything important to say, a really good joke or whatever, try to save it for the end of the session rather than the beginning if that is possible. This is because about 25% of the audience either arrive late for the session or are still fumbling around with their hand-held devices when the session starts and they're not giving you the full attention you deserve.
- Be seated on time. It can be disconcerting and disturbing for a speaker to see people shuffling around, standing up, sitting down again and then moving again because they've sat down in the wrong seat or because they fancy sitting next to someone else. Being seated on time is a common courtesy. Ask yourself: if you were speaking, wouldn't you expect others to be sitting there expectantly, hanging on your every word?
- Don't talk to your neighbour if he or she is manifestly trying to concentrate on what the speaker is saying -- particularly if your neighbour is taking notes, blogging or tweeting. This Kat lost a good deal of content in one of the sessions on account of a running commentary to which his neighbour was treating him on the presentation he was trying to speed-blog.
- Think twice when asking a question. Is your question really a question, or are you making a speech from the audience? 350 people may have been willing to pay good money and give up their time to hear the advertised speakers give their opinions on the topics featured in the programme -- but, let's face it, how many of them would pay to hear you? Members of the audience who abuse the question and answer facility by making little speeches of their own often spoil things for others who do have genuine questions to ask. Don't be selfish.
- Check the venue's internal signage. Even though you have checked out the venue, a large number of registrants and participants who are unfamiliar with it will all be arriving within a short time of one another and they may benefit from a couple of extra signs pointing them to the nearest cloakroom, toilet or whatever.
- Have a web-page for irrelevant detail. Many conference sessions, and the INTA event was no exception, contain a good deal of waffle about speakers' recreational activities, sporting affiliations and other extraneous matter which may be of interest to those concerned but which other people find tedious and which consume time unnecessarily when speaking slots are of highly limited duration. INTA could set a new standard here by setting up a special webpage on which, on a voluntary basis, speakers could list their hobbies, choice of football team, best movies, favourite books, sexual orientation and political persuasion could be featured along with baby photos and educational records. That way, those are interested can indulge themselves and those who aren't can enjoy the conference without the distractions.
- Think about WiFi and recharging facilities. Some venues are full of accessible sockets into which registrants can plug their various devices in order to recharge them; others are not. If people can't find somewhere to charge up, or have issues regarding connectivity, they will be sure to ask you so have all your answers ready first. Which leads to the final point:
- Wear a large, funny, highly coloured and preferably luminous hat. That way, people involved in the administration can be spotted at a distance by those who need their help, even if they (the conference team, that is) are vertically challenged.
Footnote: fellow Kat Neil co-chaired the INTA Conference in question, together with Axel Nordemann. Both Neil and Axel acquitted themselves admirably before, during and after the event and nothing in the foregoing comments should be taken as a criticism, express or implied, of anything they said, did, thought or imagined.