The 10 Commandments for Professional Speakers

by Laura Stack, MBA, CSP, The Productivity PRO®

One of the benefits of my involvement over the years with the Meetings Industry Council (MIC), both locally and nationally, is that I frequently speak with meeting planners and association executives about partnering with speakers. They are very blunt and honest about what they like and don’t like about working with us. NSA/Colorado has a segment in our monthly membership meetings called “MIC Moments,” in which we invite a member from one of our 10 counterparts in the MIC of Colorado to speak about speakers. I’d like to summarize what I consider to be 10 of the most important guidelines to remember when presenting:

1. Dress a step above. In my pre-program questionnaire, I ask about the dress for the participants, and then I dress one notch above that. Perception counts, and you want to look credible. People expect the speaker to get dressed for them.

2. Include your contact information. Planners have complained that after a speaker gives a great speech, they have to field calls afterward on how to reach you. Every handout should include your name, address, phone, email, and website URL.

3. Don’t speak “above their heads.” Don’t throw out an acronym without giving a definition the first time. If you have inside knowledge or know a VIP, always give the name, title, and organization of the individual so others won’t feel left out. Keep inside jokes out of your speech.

4. Be appreciative of feedback. Many planners take the time to tabulate your evaluations and re-type any feedback you’ve received. Look at this as a gift, pay attention to the comments, and thank your client for the time invested in helping you improve your craft.

5. Make sure your presentation matches the program copy. Attendees come expecting to hear what the brochure promises. Plan your presentation around what you send to your client, and check it again upon arrival to ensure it’s as you expected. The brochure is your contract with the audience; it’s your responsibility to deliver.

6. No selling from the platform. Many clients will never bring you back again if participants perceive you’re there to make a buck. With prior approval, it’s acceptable to have a table in the back of the room to politely sell products, but participants didn’t come to hear your sales pitch; they paid to gain from your expertise and benefit from your expertise. If you’re good, they’ll buy anyway.

7. Be organized. Always have a handout that logically follows the order of your presentation. If nothing else, provide a copy of your overheads. Don’t read to them. Make the font large enough so that everyone in the back can see them. A flipchart makes no sense for groups over 40.

8. Arrive early. Show up an hour prior to the start of your program to set up your AV, distribute your handouts, and familiarize yourself with the room. Darken the lights around the screen. Run through some slides to make sure you’re comfortable with the equipment and the room set-up. Test the microphone. Walk on the platform and envision the audience before you. Make sure you can walk the platform without bumping into things.

9. Keep your energy level up. Keep people’s attention. Shout. Move around. Pause. Be different. Tell stories. Good presentations are a series of problems and solutions, with ups and downs, that keep people on the edge of their seat.

10. Be responsive. Answer emails and phone calls quickly. Return all requested information by the given deadlines, if not earlier. Get any handouts to them at least three weeks early for copies. Don’t change your AV requirements last minute, on-site, where extra charges will apply. Provide a special place on your website where they can get any information they might need.

I adhere to accountability standards originally established by Jim Cathcart, CSP, CPAE, and past-president of the National Speakers Association, as a personal and professional code of conduct. If you would like to adapt his code for your use, go to for my sample, and make sure to include Jim’s name at the bottom.


Copyright 2005 by Laura Stack. Reprinted with permission. Laura Stack, MBA, CSP is “The Productivity PRO.” She is the President of NSA/Colorado and can be reached at