The show behind the show: 5 lessons for managing speakers and talent at events

Photo by Michael Jasmund / Unsplash

Backstage at an event is experiential inception. From the green room to the press room, it’s a custom concierge experience with the weight of the world on its shoulders. While event producers power walk through industrial kitchens and whisper-scream at each other into their walkie talkies, speakers and other talent require a much different experience. They expect a quiet, calm space where they can center themselves before going on stage, conduct business deals and hold private conversations. Occasionally all at the same time!

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How do you ensure you can provide that for them? Plan the backstage experience for talent, speakers and press as meticulously as you would a public-facing activation. The XP Land team offers five of the most important lessons to impart to your teams while running the “show behind the show.”

1) Plan the back-of-house experience with the same care as front-of-house.

Most events are planned with the attendees in mind. You know, the people who have paid to be there, whether that be with their money or just their time. We hold them on the highest pedestal, but shouldn’t speakers and talent be given the same love? Make working with your team — from the first email to the smiling faces offering a “great job!” back in the green room — a pleasant, productive and seamless experience.

Additionally, just as you prepare for almost anything that could happen to your guests (Covid! Crazy weather! Being backstage with an arch rival! A SWAT team across the street! Yes, that’s really happened…), offer the same consideration to your speakers. Don’t say “We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.” Whatever could happen to anyone who could be backstage is your responsibility.

2) We always treat speakers like VIPs, but also treat press like VIPs (because they are).

Sure, the speakers are the stars. But remember that members of the press are the influential, intelligent, good-looking people (too much?) who will decide how the rest of the world perceives your event. So when planning your press room, take their needs as seriously as those of the talent in the green room.

Offer them the luxuries that aren’t often afforded to those covering newsworthy experiences. Seemingly simple courtesies like amped up wifi, charging stations, good coffee, guest-caliber food (not pizzas in the boiler room), proper desks and even printers go a long way. And don’t forget to give them a press-worthy swag bag.

3) Make your event worthy of their time.

We just spent two years asking event speakers to share pre-recorded content and/or Zoom from anywhere in the world. They could manage appearances on their own schedules and in their own homes. Now we want them back on planes, in hotels, and submitting expenses for IRL activations again. However, this is a much bigger ask than it was in 2019.

Attract great talent through the allure of a great, easy to access destination. No one wants to be locked in a windowless banquet hall when they could dial in from their home office, so the location can be part of the draw. Oceanside enclaves like Miami and San Diego host hundreds of conferences and festivals a year because they pull guests out of their ordinary surroundings.

And if not a sexy far-off destination, make the drop-off area private, respect their time table, and arrange for reliable transportation if they don’t have their own.

4) Foster a safe space for collaboration and business deals.

Beyond location, your event must be a true destination in which to conduct business and foster new connections among talent and speakers. These people are also hustling and looking to network, so introduce people in the green room and connect press with big-catch interviewees. There’s no bigger win than having a deal made backstage at your event.

The on-site experience should be pleasant and productive so speakers want to work with you again. If appropriate, follow up with your speakers to provide feedback to help ensure that past talents return and ask if you can use their comments in testimonials, so even more high-profile people want to sign on for your next event.

5) Remove all obstacles (whenever possible).

Be a true problem solver and confront questions or hang-ups head on, whether they come from your speakers or members of the press. A potential panel member says they can’t make the conference because they have an important meeting to lead later that day? Offer them a hotel suite or quiet room on-site to prepare for and take the call.

Ironically, the most accolade-worthy backstage experiences are rarely spoken of. When your team provides talent, speakers and press with everything they need to be successful, there’s simply nothing to say. When it’s chaotic and no one can get what they need? That’s when you’ll hear about it.

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