February 27, 2014
by Andy Saks
You designed the theater, wrote the script and built the slides.
Now it’s time for the biggest piece of your trade show presentation puzzle: picking the right presenter.
This is a really important task. As the most vocal and visible member of your booth staff, your presenter will be seen and heard by more attendees than anyone else in your booth. They’ll be your first impression, either attracting or repelling huge potential sales. As a result, their professionalism, credibility and personality matter deeply.
You’d think for a role this important, there would be credentials you could request, guidelines you could follow, even an Angie’s-List-type review site you could consult.
Alas, trade show presenting is a completely unregulated field. There’s no government oversight mandated, no union to join, no degree or accreditation to earn, no permit to acquire, no test to pass. Anyone can call himself or herself a “professional” trade show presenter. Unfortunately, many do who shouldn’t.
Fortunately, many talented, experienced, dedicated professional trade show presenters are available who can turn your booth into a lead machine. These are the people you want on your team.
So how can you pick a good presenter, maximizing the odds they’ll make you look good to your attendees (and your boss)?
After fifteen years and over 200 trade shows, I’ve seen the good, the bad and the downright painful. Here’s my list of five prerequisites you should absolutely positively demand from any presenter who wants the honor of playing this pivotal role:
The Earprompter a souped-up tape recorder system that lets the presenter record your presentation script audio before the show. Then when they present for you, they play the recording and feed the audio into an invisible earpiece, speaking the words as they hear them.
(Confused? Watch my 30-second Earprompter intro on YouTube.)
The Earprompter is an invaluable asset. It allows your presenter to prep your script in two hours instead of two weeks. That means you can finish the script at the last minute, or even change it during the show, and your presenter can quickly record it, practice it and deliver it.
The Earprompter is also THE tool of the trade show presentation trade. As such, it’s used as a barometer for a presenter’s ambitions. Those who are serious about presenting have it, know it and use it.
Confirm that your presenting candidate has taken a class to learn the Earprompter, has plenty of verifiable experience with it, and owns at least two full, professional kits. (Full because they need at least one backup of every component in the kit in case something breaks; professional because newbies often try to rig iPods or other unreliable devices as makeshift Earprompters to save money.)
If they don’t answer yes across the board, consider it a red flag.
Any presenter worth considering can provide links to at least half a dozen videos on their website or YouTube channel that demonstrate their experience, range and style. In fact, they should be pelting you with video links and begging you to watch them.
Those videos should show them in performance for a live audience (not rehearsal or staged) at an actual trade show (not a product launch or any other event) delivering a scripted product presentation (not rallying the crowd or handing out prizes).
Evaluate that footage carefully. Good presenters sound polished yet natural, professional yet friendly, credible yet unassuming, enthusiastic yet contained.
Do you see those qualities coming through? Can they speak your industry lingo credibly? Could they pass as a member of your marketing team? Are they compelling enough to catch and keep your attention?
If they give you excuses about lost, mangled or low-quality footage, disqualify them.
Like video footage, experienced, credible presenters should have at least three written, verifiable references from happy (overjoyed, ecstatic, ebullient) clients ready to show you.
If they don’t, it means 1) they don’t have any happy clients, or 2) they have happy clients but never bothered to get references. In either case, you probably don’t want them representing your business.
Script aside, trade show presenting is a form of live theater. Your presenter must be able to react to the unexpected, which could include anything from unsolicited attendee comments to faltering equipment.
They should also be able to initiate their own fun, unscripted moments that enliven a presentation, from rephrasing a confusing explanation on the fly, to reading an attendee’s name off their badge, to spot testing a fresh joke or rhetorical flourish, to interacting with another staffer.
How do you know if talent you’re considering has those chops? You should see glimpses of it in 1) their sample videos, 2) an improv comedy background in their resume; 3) allusions to it in their references.
If you don’t see it in any of those, be skeptical.
This prerequisite is often overlooked, but can mean the difference between a smooth pre-show preparation process and a major headache.
Your trade show presenter should be comfortable using technology in general, and proficient with Microsoft Word and PowerPoint specifically. They should also have some facility with the presentation equipment they’ll use, like slide monitors, remote controls and headset microphones.
For example, good presenters will be able to do the following without assistance:
open your script in Word and your slides in PowerPoint
make script tweaks using Word’s “Track Changes” feature
find, open, edit and run the presentation PowerPoint deck on your laptop
turn on, connect and use your wireless slide remote control
turn on and wear their headset or lavalier microphone
set and adjust their own audio levels for maximum fidelity
troubleshoot and fix simple audio/video problems
Since most clients need these skills, professional trade show presenters worth considering will have them. If your candidate tells you they’ve never used PowerPoint, move on.
I hope you find these guidelines useful. If you’re still feeling unsure, here’s my backup offer:
If you’re wondering whether to book a presenter, contact me for a second opinion.
If they’re a regular in the business, I probably know them personally and can give you my feedback. If not, I’ll evaluate your situation and their credentials and tell you if I think they’re a good fit.
No charge, no obligation, just my way of keeping the good ones busy, and the others off the show floor.
Best wishes for a great show!
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Spark Presentations is a private company founded in 1998 that provides presentation skills training and speech coaching for executives, salespeople, marketers and other businesspeople, plus booth staff training for trade show exhibitors.
Spark also books professional presenters and public speakers to represent its clients at high-profile events and marketing videos, in roles like keynote speaker, trade show booth presenter, master of ceremonies (emcee) and auctioneer, on camera host and voice-over artist.
Spark’s client list includes large corporations like AT&T, Best Buy, FedEx, Hyundai, Intel, Kimberly-Clark, Olympus, Owens-Corning, Panasonic, Samsung, Sony, and Volvo; high-tech industry players like AMD, Atrion, Citrix, Gigamon, and Symantec; service organizations like Vistage, 1nService and NERCOMP; and New England institutions like the Boston Jewish Film Festival.
Spark’s owner, Andy Saks, is also the author of The Presentation Playbook Series: Be a Most Valuable Presenter (MVP), a three-volume series of books that helps businesspeople master common presentation situations by building and running speaking “plays” like a coach or player calls a key play in a game.