Ms. Smart E. Pants: Spice up your General Sessions


A: The sure, fast way is to try heavy-hitting speakers and topical issues targeted at your specific audience. These attract attendees to the general sessions. A sure-fire way to keep your attendees in the general session is to mix it up. It seems easy, but in reality, it becomes challenging. The most important thing to do is define your objectives for the meeting and stick to them in your general session.

Here are some ways to create a great general session:

1. Pick the right keynote speaker. Speakers come in all different types, topics and budgets. The biggest question to address is what speaker can meet your meeting’s objectives? You should also consider: Who can you afford, who motivates and informs your attendees and who recommends the speaker?                         

I personally believe in speaker bureaus or speaker houses like Washington Speakers Bureau, Five Star Speakers and National Speakers Bureau to give you suggestions on the speakers they represent. The biggest meeting flop would be hiring a keynote speaker who bombs at your general session.

Better yet, go see the speaker in action, if possible. Either you or your boss must see the speaker before you sign the contract. Do not rely on videos—live and in-person is so much better. Be sure to account for the expenses of the in-person speaker visit when putting a budget together for your meeting. Another option is select a speaker who has a good business references whom you trust. Ask around. Try the various meeting professional chat rooms on LinkedIn or other sites for ideas as well.

2. What is hot? Controversial industry issues and trendsetters build momentum in the general session. Everyone is curious to know something new and hot. Find an issue or trend that will bring your organization to the forefront. Create a buzz in anticipation of the event. Advertise your general session on your selected topic. Hot topics draw attendance.

3. “You Gotta Change!” You have to change the format of your presentations throughout the day. A straightforward lecture will only draw yawns and moans. Mix it up. For example, give one of your corporate sales pitches in a talk show format with special guest appearances of your VP of marketing, president, etc.

4. Try an audience response system to keep the attendees engaged in the meeting. Audience response companies like Pantelis, Inc. work with you to write the questions and collect the right data from your audience. The hand-held response keypads are easy to use and give the attendee something to do—they keep your attendees engaged! You gather valuable data that would have been lost otherwise.

5. Try a game show right after lunch. Everyone begins to nod off after a high-carb lunch. So, bring the attendees to the stage. Make them the entertainment. Many attendees like to be in the spotlight—pick them! Leave the shy ones in their seats, as they will resent you in future meetings or may not attend at all.

6. Workshops work well in general sessions. Start out with an informational speaker who then has the audience break into smaller groups to resolve issues, find solutions or create something.

7. Bring in entertainment. Why not have a local high school marching band wake everyone up by marching in the CEO? Or possibly, jazz up the session with an off-stage band that performs as walk on and off background music throughout the day. Before you start booking general session entertainment, make certain that the selected entertainment does not make a mockery of the importance of the information being presented in the general session. Less is always better for general session entertainment.

8. Design a stage. With the media so prevalent in our lives today, stage design is paramount. Jazz up a podium with a logo at least. Change the color of drapes from black to a color that brightens up the stage. Frame the screen. There are so many ways to make the stage outstanding for big bucks or for a little money. Use your imagination. Hire a staging, production, decorating or audiovisual firm to help you. Successful staging companies know what will work in the ballroom you have chosen.

The general session is the focus of your meeting. Do not let those eight hours of your time be wasted. Get your message out to your audience in a fun, upbeat and inspiring way. Remember everyone learns differently. Some learn from visuals, some from lecture and some from hands-on experience…incorporate all of these learning styles into your general session.

You are bound to be a success if you follow these simple steps.


Ms. Smart E. Pants

Ms. Smart E. Pants is none other than the energetic Denise Baran, CMP, CMM. With 25 years of planning experience under her stylish belt, Denise is our in-house planner and Co-Owner/VP of Operations of Spectrum Events. This meeting magnate has planned events all over the globe for associations and corporations, with groups ranging in size from 10 to 5,000. Have a burning question for Ms. Smart E. Pants? E-mail us at