Speaking engagements require a lot of moving parts, especially if you’re traveling to get to them. As an experienced speaker myself, I know the many details involved in a engagement. Even outside of travel logistics, you want to make sure to ask questions about the event itself. Here are some questions I use after I get booked:
1. 'Could we confirm the contract logistics?'
Confirm the date and time. Instead of saying February 5, say Wednesday, February 5. Sometimes, the date and the day can get shifted around in people’s heads.
2. 'Where should I park?'
I know: It sounds stupid. But if you’re speaking downtown or on a college campus, sometimes parking can be tricky to find. The last thing you want is to arrive late because you couldn't find a spot. And, sometimes, your coordinator will forget to get a parking pass for you, so this question serves as a gentle reminder. If the speech is at a school, ask for a campus map, so you can make sure you know where the building is and where to park.
3. 'When is the sound check?'
Just because you speak at 10:15 a.m. doesn’t mean you should arrive at 10. Ask when the tech crew will be setting up the stage for the event, so you can check your microphone, PowerPoint, videos, clicker, anything with a battery or a cord. I typically arrive one hour before my start time. Doing sound and tech checks while people are filing into the theater looks unprofessional, so you want to make sure to get these tasks done early.
4. 'Who’s in the audience?'
How many people attend is not as important as who is attending. You can give the same talk to 12 people in the room, or 3,000. But you typically can’t give the same talk to high school students and to company CEOs. Ask what the demographic is in the audience so you can prepare as well as adjust the language you use to fit your audience.
5. 'How long would you like me to speak for?'
Even if the answer is in the contract, ask again. My contract specifies that I speak for one hour. At the 45-minute mark at one of my speaking gigs, I had the coordinator flash a 5-minute warning. That meant I had to whiz through my closing and cut my presentation by 15 minutes in front of 1,000 people. They said me they thought they told me 45 minutes max, but they hadn't. So, learn from my mistakes and always confirm before.
6. 'Do you want a Q&A?'
I like doing a one-to-one Q&A after my talk, not onstage. After your closing, it’s awkward to get a round of applause (hopefully, a standing ovation!) and then ask if there are any questions. So, walk off the stage in all of your glory and let people come up to you after to ask questions, if time allows. Clear this with your coordinator first, and ask what he or she prefers.
7. 'What size is your projector screen?'
Again, this seems like a silly question. But it looks really weird to have a wide screen PowerPoint on a square projector, and visa versa. If the venue offers wide-screen, always adjust your PowerPoint slides to 16:9. Your presentation looks so much more professional if it takes up the whole screen.
8. 'What is your ultimate goal for this conference?'
Finally, the most important question is: What do the organizers want out of this? Are you there to solve a problem that you’re unaware of? It’s really important that they set the stage for you, so you can kill it on stage. You don’t have to change up your whole talk to cater to a specific audience. You can make tiny little tweaks that make your remarks feel more customized to the audience, and to the goals of the conference coordinator.