Speaker Idol

My first attempt at a little AI art, Made with Open AI Dall E 2.

This was a write-up I did for my company to explain what Speaker Idol was and how it could be used to get more speakers for our internal training at the company. Since I was writing it up for internal use, I would also go ahead and make a blog post.

Speaker Idol is a concept/idea that allows a group to gather more speakers for future events.  If you are at a meetup and you are trying to fill your speaking roster for the year, this gives you a method to do that.  It also helps to grow your speakers and help new speakers get started.  The goals of Speaker Idol are simple. 

  1. Give a new speaker the chance to speak in a safe, supportive environment, and with minimum preparation time.  This removes the barrier to entry for new speakers. 
  2. Grow the speaker pool you have available to you as an organizer of events. Whether that’s a user group/meetup/conference.  
  3. Teach new speakers with constructive feedback about how to improve the session. 

This is not a new idea, I do not take ownership of coming up with this idea. I used this successfully in a few user groups I’ve run and have continued to use it.  It is another tool that community individuals can use to grow the community around them.  

What is a Speaker Idol presentation? 

Put simply it’s a full presentation where you only present one portion of it.  

New speakers tend to have a big idea! Perhaps something like “RDBMS Internals”.  This is a little large for a first-time speaker to be taking on. It could literally be hundreds of presentations to make that concept work. But if they can think of one specific idea like, “Pros and Cons to clustered indexes”. This is something that could be one part of a presentation called “Indexes in an RDBMS”, in that larger presentation you might be talking about many different types of indexes and you intend 1-2 slides on the “Pros and Cons of clustered indexes”.  Perhaps you had a demo to show the advantages and what’s good and bad about them.  

This is how you would break down a speaker Idol presentation.  For a brand new speaker, we can coach them that they just need 1 idea, 1 demo, and a few slides to talk about the presentation. Once they have gotten over this hurdle they can then present the full presentation. They also have the building blocks and time to build the rest of the presentation.  

Grow the Speaker Pool

Once someone presents a short presentation at Speaker Idol the goal is to have them come back to the group and do the full presentation. Consider the short presentation as a preview of the real thing. This helps to grow speakers, it also gives organizers more presentations to fill out the year. It is your responsibility to keep fostering that new speaker and encouraging them to come back and do the full presentation. Most of the time when a speaker gets over the initial hump of presenting they want to keep doing it.  This is not true in all cases though so please don’t push people that they are required to do the full presentation.  Presenting might not be for them and most importantly you still want to keep them as a member of the community.  

Constructive Feedback 

The best way to improve as a speaker is good feedback from your audience. Speaker Idol is designed to help with this for speakers. The beginning of every Speaker Idol session starts with a quick 5 minutes on how to give “constructive speaker feedback”. The key items are listed below, you can change these as you need. 

  1. Please be detailed in your feedback and tell me how we can improve. Good examples:
    1. “Speaker needs to talk louder”
    2. “Speaker needs to engage the audience”
    3. “Speaker should be better prepared and have tested demo to make sure it worked properly”
  2. Bad Examples:
    1. “Speaker sucks” (Tell what they did wrong)
    2. “Boring session” (Tell why it was boring)
    3. “Worst session of the day” (Tell why and what went wrong)
  3. Tell the speaker what you did/did not like about the session. “Good examples”
    1. Loved the jokes/comedy, I really wished you would have reviewed this query in more detail.  
    2. You had great attention to the audience but kept forgetting to repeat the question, Please do so in the future. 
    3. I was really hoping to see X information in this presentation since that’s what I got from the Abstract.  

We use a simple google form that allows for audience members to leave feedback.  I know that in most presentations you don’t get a lot of this. That’s why Idol has to focus on it and mention that people should go fill out the form while the next presenter is getting ready. If you are in person’s hand out the forms and say a drawing will be based on the forms handed in. Even if it’s online create a drawing for the audience based on the feedback.  This greatly improves the chance of getting feedback. It’s critical that whoever is running speaker idol reminds everyone to give feedback.  

The Rules (More like “guidelines” adapt as you see fit)

  1. Each presentation should be longer than 5 minutes but less than 15 minutes.Q&A is included in the time.  TIP – focus on one topic and one demo, you are trying to get one key point across of a bigger idea. 
  2. You still will need an Abstract and Bio for the presentation.  TIP – This is a common practice in presentations and you should get used to writing them. 

That’s it,  Pretty simple, right?  Here are some more tips. 

  1. If you have 1-hour meetings schedule 3 presentations.  This gives your audience a good mix of presentations and if you have a big list of participants you can get through. It should give you enough buffer time for feedback and talking as well. 
  2. Plan a speaker gift!  Originally we had this as a competition and crowned a 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place winner. You are welcome to do that. I found in later years I really just wanted to grow speakers and grow the community so I moved this to a speaker gift for those that took part.  This is entirely up to you.
  3. Plan an audience feedback drawing.  As mentioned above feedback goes better if you have a drawing for it.  Plan to get a couple of gift cards or something that you can draw from the feedback.  
  4. Give the feedback quickly to the speakers,  If you do an online form and you have to do any parsing/work to get the data out of the form make sure you do it quickly after the presentation. The more immediate you can make the feedback to the presenter the better.  
  5. DO NOT open up the session for public feedback and discussion.  If you are a small internal team in a company this is OK, if you are a meetup/user group/public meeting with many different people make sure this feedback is done through a form method.  
  6. Do an “Introduction to presenting/Speaking 101”  presentation for the new speakers before the event.  Typically about 2-3 weeks before so they can adjust the presentation if needed.  I have videos I’ve done on this in the past you can use or you can create your own. <link to past video I did for this. Apologies for the not great audio>

I’ve found in years past this is a great way to kick off your year as a user group leader.  It gets people excited and gets a lot of future presenters for you to work with.  Hopefully, you can use this concept to grow your community! 


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s