Communicate Clearly: 10 Tips for Meetings Success
by Harvey Chipkin /

Meeting planners have to communicate properly if they’re going to be successful – and so do the speakers at the meetings they plan.

That’s the message from humorist Todd Hunt, who speaks about communication to groups. Todd is one speaker who actually knows the meetings business well, having addressed more than 15 Meeting Professionals International audiences.

Last week, Hunt, a former advertising executive turned professional speaker, addressed the New Jersey chapter of MPI. He wrapped his communications message into Will Rogers-style observations, including poking fun at meetings themselves.

Why do people “get a case of the stupids” when attending meetings, Hunt asked. He said planners have told him they’ve actually been asked questions like: Is the cash bar free? What time is the noon lunch (the title of one of Hunt’s books)? Is everyone invited to the general session? Where will the webinar be held?

Hunt’s credo: “We hear half of what’s said to us. We understand half of that. We believe half of that. And we remember half of that. That’s why we use repetition in the advertising business.”

In an interview with Travel Market Report, Hunt offered the following tips for successful communication for planners and speakers.

Reconsider PowerPoint. “If you’re using PowerPoint, you should have a backup plan. Also, consider the fact that if you can have a backup plan for PowerPoint, maybe you don’t need the PowerPoint, which is misused 97.82% of the time. It’s most frequently used as notes. Usually the audience is looking at the side of the speaker’s head as he or she reads the slides.”

(Hunt said he frequently creates panic among meeting planners who ask for his presentation and he doesn’t have one to give them.)

Know your responsibilities. “Communication is key to whatever we do. Our responsibility is to communicate not just so clearly that we’re understood, but so precisely that we cannot be misunderstood.”

Preserve in-person events. “Virtual meetings are hot and they’re fine for an update on the tax codes. But when it comes to really communicating, there is no substitute for face to face.”

Avoid distractions. “Wait until people have eaten and the servers have left the room before a speaker begins. Otherwise the distractions of serving and eating are too great.”

Verify quality. “Just because a speaker is expensive doesn’t mean he or she will be be a great communicator. I’ve seen one very highly paid celebrity speaker read his entire speech.”

Customize with care. “Customizing a speech to an audience is not always a good idea. There’s always the chance of mispronouncing an acronym or making another basic mistake. What if I came here and referred to MPI as ‘Empy’? Attendees would rather hear a killer general speech than a mediocre customized speech.”

Don’t go overboard. “I recently addressed a group that had rented out a movie theater in a multiplex. I was told I would be thrilled to see my presentation on a 60-foot screen. I told them I didn’t have a presentation. Instead we had people in stadium-style seating far from the stage who couldn’t really see the speakers. And even speakers who had PowerPoint presentations spent their speaking time craning their necks as they tried to read the slides from the 60-foot screen.”

Put down your gadgets. “Don’t forget to think. We’re so wrapped up in our phone and iPad screens, that we don’t step back, breathe and think. Also, why do they call individuals starting at their own individual screen social media?”

Lure them down front. “Encourage audiences to participate or at least sit up front. (Hunt gave $5 bills and Starbucks gift cards to those sitting in the front rows.) If a planner doesn’t have a budget for that, put a sign in the back rows reading, ‘Reserved for Audience Volunteers.’ Inevitably, attendees will move to the front.”

Use your photo. “You need your communications materials to support your communications. Send them ahead with a picture of yourself on the boxes. Invariably, you will show up and the folks at the convention center will say, “Oh hi, you’re the guy on the boxes. Here they are.”

We hear half of what’s said to us. We understand half of that. We believe half of that. And we remember half of that.

Todd Hunt, humorist and professional speaker