How to be a better presenter (and look better doing it)

0E7A2014.jpgI recently covered a seminar for medical professionals in an charming Old Montreal hotel. The conference brought together experienced practitioners and researchers with their younger associates for an exchange of ideas and learning but one particularly interesting segment to me was about how to present which inspired me to put together my own thoughts and observations on the subject, culled from my many years experience observing presenters in all kinds of different fora, from meet ups at bars, to large international congresses, shared below:

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  • You are the presenter, not your slides: if your slides are full of lots of text and your presentation comprises you staring down at your laptop reading out the points with very occasional asides or additional points, than your presentation will put people to sleep. Your objective in giving a presentation is to actually engage your audience, hold their attention, and have them learn something. To do that you need to be the one delivering the message, not your screen which is there to back you up and provide impact but not be a replacement for you.
  • When presenting, never stand in front of the projector: while this seems obvious, it still happens with some frequency, particularly in these smaller, single-room set-ups.  Although I sometimes enjoy the almost performance-art type images that can occur serendipitously, the intended audience may be more interested in actually being able to see the content of your screen. (I think it would be interesting if a presenter could wear some kind of device that would trigger a silent alarm if the presenter unwittingly stands in front of the projector, but I digress.)
  • Use simple, readable fonts: arial and calibri, though a little boring, are easy to see and read, which is important if you are actually using your slides to present information as would be the case for most researchers, scientists or medical professionals who get asked to present at a conference.
  • Don’t over-animate: excessive use (almost any use IMHO) of animations are distracting, and almost always look like you just discovered them and thought they were really cool. Restrain yourself and limit the use of them, if you must use them at all.
  • Mind your body language: In theatre it’s called “blocking” and it means you’re showing your back to the audience. You don’t ever want to do that, so pay attention to where the audience is and position yourself on the stage (or in the room) where you are not blocking anyone’s view of your screen nor showing anyone your back. And when you speak and need to refer to the screen, use the arm closest to the screen, regardless of whether you are right or left-handed. Stand straight, pay attention to your posture. If you happen to be presenting in a group and you are waiting for your turn, don’t forget that you are in front of the audience and on-stage. Try not to look excessively bored, or tuned out.
  • Be careful with using videos: videos can be great entertainment but I’ve seen them used too often as a supplement to giving a thoughtful discourse. They are also impossible to connect with so they end up bringing your audience’s attention away from you and into the screen where they get lost for the duration of your video. Ask yourself how the video is making your point better than you could without it. And if it’s really an integral part of your message, limit the use and maintain your presence and commentary so that you still “own” the room when the video ends.
  • Be yourself: it’s wonderful when a presenter has natural charisma, makes people smile and laugh through their sheer presence and can keep the audience chuckling with well-placed witticisms and seemingly off-the-cuff jokes. But that’s not everybody. That’s not even most people. Rather than try to be overly entertaining or extroverted if it is not in your nature, just be yourself.
  • Know your stuff: double down on learning your material and be so comfortable with it that you’re able to talk naturally to your audience without relying heavily on notes. Practice in front of a mirror, record yourself and improve on what you notice doesn’t work when you see yourself.
  • Speak calmly, clearly and be conscious of “filler” sounds: um, if you are, um, trying to make, uh, the, uh point, about the uh, graph over on the uh, left, uh, side of the screen, um there…You get the picture. Record yourself, practice and listen to your speech patterns. If you are prone to sounding like that, then rehearse more until you’re not.
  • Be on time: I’ve never seen a conference planner who wanted their speakers to go overtime. If you’ve been given a 20-minute slot, make sure you end on 20 minutes and no more. And if you get a 2-minute warning, but have 10 minutes left of material, don’t rush. Pick the key point and finish there. No one wants to see you fly through 20 slides in two minutes and no one will retain anything from it.
  • Use eye contact: look up from your notes/the screen often and for more than a flickering second. Look at the whole room, not just the few front rows that you can actually see well.
  • If there is a podium, don’t grip it and hold on for dear life: podiums are terrible for photographers. They crop your body in half and if you are not tall, they leave just a bit of space to capture a good shot of you. They also distance you from your audience. If you are at a podium feel free to stand beside it, or to step away from it now and then to break up the monotony of the lectern and to give your audience – and grateful photographer – a few opportunities to see more of you than what shows up behind the microphone.
  • Use hand gestures, but don’t gesticulate wildly: hand gestures add dynamism and can create some great mid-action shots. Just don’t over do it, especially if you are using gestures that don’t come naturally to you.
  • Laser pointers: Ugh…(1995 called and wants its laser pointer back…) If you must use them, be sparing. You don’t want your audience to feel like you’re playing that game with your cat where you make it jump around all over the place chasing after that dot of light because it’s just so funny.

  • Be flexible: technical issues arise far more often than you’d think warranted given how little audo-visual presentation technology has changed in the past 10 years. We’ve got devices in our pockets that can let us video chat with someone around the world, but getting a microphone to work in a small room can still be a challenge. Prepare a Plan B, just in case the slides don’t show, or the sound fails. Being familiar with your material means being able to talk it through even if you have to abandon your slides altogether.
  • Smile: smile often, and naturally. Particularly if there is a photographer in the room. When you pause, smile. It only takes a second for a pro to get that great shot of you. And your audience will instantly feel more connected to you.
  • Stick around after the gig: if you’ve been invited to a conference to speak, if possible, don’t just jet in, do your thing, and whisk your rolly bag offstage to your waiting UBER to the airport. Sometimes it can’t be helped, but if you’ve got a bit of time, it’s courteous to your hosts and beneficial to your audience members to make yourself accessible after your presentation to meet with people one-on-one and be available to answer their questions.
  • Taking questions: keep the conversation moving, repeat the question of the questioner (if there is no audience microphone) so that everyone understands and hears it. If you don’t know the answer, say so. There’s nothing wrong with saying you will find out and have them connect with you after ward so you can let them know. Don’t skate around the topic and try to fake an answer. And if you’ve got a bully in the room who’s trying to throw you off or asking deliberately obtuse or aggressive questions, take back control and simply say (with a smile) that rather than waste the audience’s time with too much inside baseball you’d be happy to meet and discuss this after your talk.

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It looks like a lot to think about, but the best advice is to remember that you are there to deliver a message. Keep the message simple, stay on point, and remember that communication is not just about the language you use, but how you use it, your tone of voice, and how you make your audience feel. Engage with them, connect with them and be approachable and friendly. Know your material and practice.

And don’t forget to smile a lot and often. Your audience, and photographer, will thank you for it.

The difference between taking pictures at an event and covering an event

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Too many chefs?

Is it necessary to hire a photographer to cover your event? When virtually all staff and every attendee is equipped with image capturing devices, social media accounts and motivation to share the experience, in real time, what value lies in hiring a pro who will charge you for coverage that you will already be getting for free from multiple sources?

No, of course it isn’t necessary. If you want to rely on crowd-sourced images and dimly lit, shakily held videos, random tweets and multiple viewpoints for the narrative surrounding your event, then it’s probably not even advisable.

But I’ve encountered few professional organizations – companies, brands, conference organizers and event managers – who are so laissez-faire with their brand image and marketing of their events.  Most professional teams choose to work with professional suppliers simply because it is more efficient, more effective and more controllable than any other option.

Everyone enjoys taking pictures at professional events. They do it to show that they are there, to participate in the dialogue and share learning and information gleaned from sessions they attend that appeal to them and their distinct personal and professional networks. They do it for fun. But one thing they don’t do it for is the company putting on the event. While some of the content they generate may well wind up being retweeted or shared across the organizing company’s social channels, it can only ever be the result of good luck and good timing. Unsurprisingly, most of the professional organizers I’ve worked with are reluctant to stake their reputations on good luck and timing.

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Professional event coverage is a skilled trade. It requires attention not just to the visual elements transpiring in real time – what slide is shown on stage, the type and quality of the lighting, the instantaneous emotional responses of audience members, etc – but also the content and theme of the event, and the brand of the organizer itself. And the coverage includes everyone and everything. It doesn’t just focus on the big highlight moments or the fun times people have around the bar or at networking cocktails (though that is included). It is comprehensive, including every speaker, every session, and most if not all attendees in some context or another.

Additionally, the coverage is being captured and recorded with professional grade equipment designed to be adaptable to changing light conditions, and multiple scenarios that even the best of phone cameras can’t handle. It’s not too challenging to take a beautiful photograph outdoors in bright natural light in a beautifully laid out setting. It’s not quite as carefree when the subject is a wan looking speaker with thinning hair in a beige-walled, dimly lit conference room who rarely looks at the audience. But he’s part of the event and needs to be included, and not just included, but has to look good too.

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As a line item in an overall event budget, photography is going to come in under video and frankly, have much wider applications than videography. While everyone loves video and video marketing continues to rise in influence and reach, the uses of video are still rather limited. You may put a highlights reel from an event on your site advertising similar upcoming events, but once it’s been viewed once (and it’s highly unlikely anyone will watch it through to the end no matter how short it is given that humans now seem to exhibit attention spans shorter than a goldfish), it probably won’t be rewatched, while photos have multiple applications. They can be used throughout a website, in headers, as templates for advertising, as content in blog posts and as a virtually inexhaustible supply of pictures for social media feeds. They can also be printed, used as profile pictures, put into sales decks, emailed out as gallery links to sponsors and generally be shared more easily and widely because they are lighter and require even less of an attention span than a 30 second video.

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Having an event covered by a professional matters to other professionals. It translates into higher quality, more reliable, deliberate and usable content that can be leveraged by good marketers to build and maintain momentum for companies whose business models rely on hosting regular, well-attended events. If that’s not you nor aligned with your goals, than no, you don’t need a professional to cover your event. Just task a junior staffer to do it on their phone and hope for the best. You’ll for sure get some fun pictures, and maybe even a tweet or two.

Ideas for optimizing your event sponsorship investment

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How an event photographer can help optimize your event sponsorship investment.

I cover a lot of large conferences and trade shows that are largely funded by sponsors. Sponsors pay to have their company logo, brand message and business development professionals gain access to the targeted audience attending the event. Sponsorships take the form of brief presentations, banners, swag bag stuffing, mentions on the big screen in the pre-roll before the conference day kicks off, as well as areas like lounges, or massage stops, or juice bars. Sponsors pay for the wi-fi access, and brand the room keys at the hotel where the event is taking place. They cover virtually every meal, reception and sometimes outings for guests. It is not unusual for a sponsor to spend upwards of $50k on sponsorships for an event that may last at the most a few days.

A few busy days where attendees are bombarded with information, exposed to branding and logos from hundreds of companies, gather fistfuls of business cards and all while being slightly jet-lagged, hungover and still trying to keep up on their work email.

As an event sponsor, are you getting the most for your money?

As an event photographer I am used to covering sponsored events and of course take the time to gather a set of images that are for the sponsor. These include the room set up with and without people (if they have sponsored a reception, or a dinner), all branded elements (takeaways, gifts for attendees, bags, sponsored areas like lounges, or interactive stations), as well as the speakers and company representatives if the sponsorship includes a segment of air time at the event.

But I think a creative sponsor could get more leverage by actually sponsoring the event photographer directly. Event organizers could work with the photographer to identify areas where direct sponsorships make sense and either split the fee, or leverage the sponsor to cover the photographer’s fees, saving costs for the organizer.

There are obvious sponsorship opportunities like photo booths, but I would recommend thinking “out of the photobooth” box to the more wide-reaching impact an event photographer can have.

Consider: the event photographer is going to be seen by virtually every guest, and interact with almost every one of them at one point or another during a multi-day event. What other sponsorship opportunity can guarantee face time in front of every single guest?

But who pays attention to the photographer, you might say. He or she is just there to document the event and be as unobtrusive as possible.

If you believe that your event photographer should remain in the background, like a liveried wait staff in a posh restaurant, then yes, perhaps you are better off taking a more conventional approach to event sponsorship.

But if you understand that part of what a good event photographer does is engage and interact with people – as a function of doing the job of getting fun and interesting photos of your event – than you may also recognize that adding a layer of sponsorship to that activity can possibly further your sponsorship goals for the event. And it could be far less expensive than a big branding opportunity but reach as much, if not more, of the same target audience.

A few ideas come to mind that wouldn’t cost more than a thousand dollars (which is small change for event sponsorship budgets):

  • Why not consider asking your event photographer to wear a sponsored blazer or jacket?
  • Or design a sticker or logo to attach to the photographer’s flash body which is always visible?
  • Offer branded instant prints to your guests.
  • Plunk a portable instant printer down in the centre of the conference room tables, “Sponsored by YOUR BRAND” and let guests have fun snapping and printing their own photos with their phones

Branding at events is always a bit of a guessing game and it’s hard to know if the money is having the desired impact or if conference warriors suffer the same kind of banner blindness to event sponsors that most of us do when seeing an ad on our phones. Thinking creatively about new ways to leverage your event sponsorship budget is at least worth considering, given the amount of money at stake and the opportunity for increasing your impact.

Urban innovation and smile tech

I was covering a conference the other week in Montreal for the New Cities Foundation Summit 2016 which offered an illuminating tour of the latest trends in urban technology and visions of cities in the future. The New Cities Foundation is a non-profit organization established in 2010, focused on bringing people together around the central theme of urban technology and innovations that are shaping cities around the world as we enter an increasingly urban age.  It is estimated that by 2050, 6.5 billion people will live in cities, up from 4 billion today. Sustainable solutions to our transport, energy, waste management and housing needs are essential and core to living healthier, safer lives on a healthy planet. It was a real pleasure to be in attendance, and have the upfront opportunities to experience some of the inspirational speakers and provocative presentations at the conference — one of the perks of being a conference photographer.

Some of the highlights for me were the series of presentations from Global Urban Innovators (GUIs), a group of international startups building companies around urban innovations to address the needs of people today and into the future:

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Chummy Agarwal, Co-Founder and Chief Technology Officer presented his company Jugnoo, an on-demand auto-rickshaw app based in India.

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Niamh Kirwin, Marketing and Communications Manager, shared her exciting startup, Foodcloud, that focuses on reducing food waste in cities by bringing surplus food to those who need it.

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Steven Ramage, Strategy Director, What3Words, really blew my mind explaining how his company has developed a new address system for the world given every 3 square meters on the planet a three-word name such as “Banana Car Giraffe” to give everyone everywhere a usable address.

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Raphaël Gindrat, CEO and Co-Fuonder, Bestmile, taking a truly forward looking view is building an ecosystem to manage autonomous vehicle fleets: a fleet management software, a smartphone application, a system for traveler information and solutions for the control of smart infrastructure, creating a platform that works like a “brain”,  enabling the control of many autonomous vehicles at the same time.

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Geert Houben, Founder and CEO, Cubigo, addressing the problem of an ageing population, social isolation and loneliness, has developed “one app to rule them all” that integrates a suite of apps that helps older people with restricted access and mobility live more independent lives.

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Chris Gourlay, Founder and CEO, Spacehive, talked about the platform he and his team have developed to help engaged citizens access funding for their civic projects so they can transform unused urban spaces (anything from parking lots to empty mall space)

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Aaron Lander, Co-Founder and CEO, Popupsters, shared his passion for the platform he and his team are building to connect artisans, vendors and makers with events.

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Arielle Guedes, Founder & CEO, Urban3D is aiming to do nothing less than radically transform the construction industry, creating a new process of building and developing new materials using 3D printers to create natural materials, that do not require metal reinforcement or cement.

CK4A2910.jpgChong-Wey Lin, Founder, OurCityLove, a Taiwanese based social enterprise seeking to increase and improve accessibility in the urban environment for mobility challenged people.

“I use technology to help bring more smiles into the world.”

While later mingling with the audience as they were engaged in networking and exchanging ideas and business cards, I was approached by one of the attendees who asked me to send through some of the photos I had taken of her with her fellow attendees. I am often asked by guests for access to their photos and I try to accommodate people who ask me as best I can, with my clients consent. Part of what I love about my job are these opportunities to meet interesting people from around the world. In this case, when I asked what she did I was told that she works for an organization that uses technology to help bring more peace to the world. That’s a pretty awesome thing to be involved with and when I was asked about my work, I responded, “I use technology to help bring more smiles into the world.”

It was a quick and playful response, of course, but on reflection, it is actually an accurate description of what it means to be a photographer of people. Photographers at events can be seen as a nuisance, or an interruption but in my many years experience what I’ve learned is that we also provide a very valuable service beyond mere documentation and the images we deliver to our clients. When I see a group of people talking slightly awkwardly together in that business networking conference attendee way before the second cocktail round, I approach and ask them to stand together and smile. It only takes a few seconds, and I usually proffer some kind of light banter to make them laugh a bit. It works beautifully for getting a nice photograph, but I’ve notice the effect lingers and the smiling usually persists after I’ve buzzed away. It’s just human nature to feel more open and accepting of another person who is smiling at you and though I don’t take much credit for it, I do believe that the thousands of such small interactions I’ve instigated have, over time, produced many more smiles than might otherwise have happened.

Call it the butterfly shutterfly effect, a photographer’s contribution to making the world a better place.

4 tips for managing herd scatter at events

IMG_9697If you organize conferences you are familiar with what I am calling herd scatter: your presenter stands before a too large room with lots of white empty spaces between seats of attendees. Since your goal in hiring a photographer to cover the talk is to make the room look full, the attendees engaged and the presenter interesting, having a lot of empty seats in the images is counter-productive.

Here are four tips that can mitigate against that:

  1. Book a smaller room: if you only have 80 registered attendees and the room the conference centre or hotel has given you sits 400, you’ve got a problem. Often these rooms can be divided in half, or if that’s not possible, ask about any alternative spaces where your guests can still fit but the dead space is cut away.
  2. Block access to the back of the room: if you can’t switch spaces then cut off access to the back of the room where some conference attendees like to sit because it provides easy access to escape. It also virtually guarantees that your room will have big white holes in it where people avoid sitting too close together or up front. If you want a full looking room, you need to limit the seating options to where you want people to sit.
  3. Ask people to sit in the front: just like in school when the teacher tells everyone to sit closer, a very simple thing to do is to ask your attendees to move closer to the front as they are entering the room. Most people are easily persuaded to move as they know that the reason they are there in the first place is to pay attention and participate.
  4. Use engaging presenters: if audience engagement is what you are after, than pay some attention to the ability of the presenter you put in the front of the room to actually engage their audience. Reading long texts, reeling off bullet points and old clip art style graphics do not usually elicit strong reactions from audiences, regardless of subject matter.

Keeping people interested is a challenge when most conference goers hold in their hands a device with infinite capacity to distract. It is impossible to keep everyone’s interest corralled when people get pulled into work emergency emails, but these simple tips can help conference planners manage the way their events look when the pictures get delivered.

It’s how you make them feel that matters

tribe 11I’ve attended a lot of digital marketing conferences recently, and noticed that a type of fatigue sets in to the hard core road warriors who fly from city to city, and conference to conference. While the topics change and conference organizers work hard to bring interesting and useful content to their attendees, inevitably an example used in one presentation on brands doing it right (think: Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty) pops up in another, or a deep dive on one topic (It’s all about moment marketing! It’s all about micro-moment marketing!) is unfortunately only a buzzword apart from another session they’ve just attended. Attention sags with heads at tables as the attendee half pays attention to what’s being said while Snapchatting with one hand and answering a deluge of work emails with the other.

Even those paid to attend and be attentive can only stretch their minds so far around another insight into the benefits of programmatic media buying, a topic they’ve heard discussed ad nauseum (particularly if it happens to be an early morning session) even if opinions diverge on how best to deploy it.

tribe 2And yet, I see the same faces from one event to the next, and hear tales of other events people don’t think they’ll ever return to. So what keeps them coming back? What makes an event so memorable and worthwhile it engenders a kind of tribal loyalty that other events fail to elicit, though marketed to the same core group?

In my observation as a photographer and someone professionally required to look at people and intuit their emotional states, I think the “secret sauce” of a conference that wins people’s hearts and minds is how it makes them feel.

While content is still the reigning monarch of the internet and a central theme at gatherings of marketing people discussing it, just getting content right is not going to win over the road weary, besieged brand manager with more money to spend than energy for another vendor’s kick at the can. Buyers, people with budget and the decision making power to pull the trigger on test spends and innovative new technologies, are always going to be high in demand wherever they are.  Winning them over takes more than delivering a slick presentation, and beautiful infographics showing massive growth and uplift achieved on campaigns – even if it comes served with a mimosa.

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Don’t try this at home

What keeps people coming and makes them feel a little sad to leave behind, is the feeling they get when they are there. A feeling that you are with your people. You have found your tribe. You will get into conversations that stimulate your mind, and motivate you to do and be more. You’ll stay up too late and experience life illuminated only by outdoor firepits and empty glasses and you won’t be tired. You may even learn to walk on fire if you’re really, ahem, fired up.

Being with like-minded people, who want to talk together, drink together, laugh, joke and create something together around a fire is really about as primal as it gets.tribe 6  And it works. Yes a beautiful resort location helps, and yes, balmy eternal-summer evenings don’t hurt. Yes, the agenda has to be well structured and yes the presenters have to be engaging and smart, but in the end, what keeps people coming long after their biology suggests they should still be on their feet, is that warm feeling inside when you realize you are right where you belong.

Achieve that with your next conference and you’ll soon find you need a bigger venue.

What you should — and shouldn’t — expect from your conference photographer

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Seth Godin presenting at the Cisco Partner Summit 2015 in Montreal
Seth Godin presenting at the Cisco Partner Summit 2015 in Montreal

Conference and trade-show photography covers a wide spectrum of photographic specialities and serves a few different purposes.

A conference and trade-show photographer can reasonably be expected to:

  • Cover all onstage action from a few different angles. Good lighting is important as speakers can often get washed out or take on a yellow or orangey cast from the stage lights if not adjusted for. As well you should expect to get shots from the back of the room, as well as both sides, wide and close shots, and a few from the speakers point of view showing the room, preferably filled with a rapt audience.
  • A couple of posed shots of speakers at podiums or in front of their branded presentation on-screen
  • Candid, “pick-up” shots of attendees doing what they came there to do: meeting people, shaking hands, networking and socializing
  • At trade-shows or scientific congresses where your exhibitors are presenting products or academic posters at least one shot of the booth with attendants, and one without for reference
  • Room and set-up “beauty” shots, particularly for any gala or VIP event
  • Signage, interior and exterior, for reference purposes and to provide proof and lift to any sponsoring entities involved
  • Provide all images with a standard usage licence that allows the client to use the images for their intended purposes (websites, promotions, emailers etc)

Add-ons that can be accommodated on special request would include:

  • Provision of a photobooth for any cocktail or evening activity
  • Drone flyover videos of your outdoor party or gatherings
  • A mobile studio set-up with seamless white or grey paper backdrops for headshots of attendees or key executives
  • Time-lapse images of rooms or in the case of trade shows, the set up, action and tear down of the booths
  • Shoutouts, Tweets, Instagrams, etc. using your conference provided hashtags and social media handles
  • Immediate turnaround on images – making at least highlight reels available for the next day to post during the conference and feed voracious social media channels

In terms of scheduling and availabilities:

  • Full day coverage, starting out before the conference opens straight through to the end of the last event. 12 hour days are not uncommon and since conference attendees tend to work hard during the day and socialize at night, your photographer should be there to capture all the action wherever and whenever it happens

What shouldn’t be expected is:

  • Free headshots for guests – if your photographer agrees to do it, that’s fine, but a lot of “Hey buddy, I need a new LinkedIn profile shot” requests to just grab a quick headshots isn’t really appropriate
  • Accommodation to unbudgeted big scope change requests or bringing in a mobile studio after the contract is concluded
  • Supernatural knowledge of schedule changes – if your main event is shifted to another room or there are key aspects of a particular presentation (like the handing out of awards) that you want shots of, be sure to communicate what you need clearly with your shooter before the event happens
  • Photo and video coverage of the same event at the same time without budgeting for the necessary resources
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Conference attendees

The best thing to do when looking for a conference or trade show photographer is be up -front with your requirements, have a fair budget available for the hours you need coverage for and communicate the schedule clearly. Hourly and daily rates can vary considerably depending on the city your event takes place in. Familiarize yourself with the going rates in your destination before setting expectations based on other markets and once you’ve agreed to a contract, expect to pay a deposit or at least be on the hook for one should you be required to cancel for whatever reason before the event takes place. As in any skilled trade, you will find a range of providers with a range of pricing. Caveat emptor!

Leverage conferences for updating new corporate portraits

Conference organizers know that a lot of planning goes into creating a program of interesting and relevant content and attracting a strong roster of speakers, panelists and breakout session leaders. Effort is usually spent creating a detailed shot list for photographers to make sure that nothing on the agenda is missed and the investment in hiring a professional shooter to cover the event pays off with a load of marketable images of attendees and conference activities to help promote next year’s event.

conference-portrait 1Conferences often pull together people from within and across organizations that are otherwise rarely all in one place at the same time, and this creates an opportunity for updated group photos, corporate headshots and bio pictures that is often overlooked by organizers with heads full of conference planning details.

Often the venue itself will provide interesting and useful on site backdrops and your photographer will also have the necessary lighting and equipment to set up a small mobile studio in one of the many spaces occupied by the conference. You’re paying for it already so why not leverage the space to either update your firm’s set of portraits or offer the service to your attendees as an added value for attending your event? conference-portrait 5

Everyone needs a headshot these days – something I’ve written extensively about in posts on personal branding and profile pictures  – but organizing one can be a tedious task often dropped due to other more urgent priorities. If you can offer the service conveniently and quickly to attendees who are already on-site and available, you are providing a useful service and alleviating a pain point preemptively for both your attendees and perhaps the marketing team within your own organization.

While candid photos are always good to have, there is still a need for planned, posed and conventional headshots. I am often approached by conference attendees – people not paying me directly for my work – who say things like, “I need a new LinkedIn photo” or “My headshot is ten years old, can you do a new one for me?”.  Aside from essentially asking a working professional for a freebie, these kinds of requests would take time away from what I am hired to be doing and are rarely accommodated for.  They reveal the demand though, which could be better met by including an on-site portrait option within the general conference coverage contract.

Wconference-portraithy not leverage the inherent social nature of conferences to turn a portrait session into a networking opportunity in its own right? You could promote the on-site photo booth as a place to meet other attendees, leverage its presence by offering another component a sponsor could brand, or embed it inside a collaboration or meeting lounge space that conference attendees can pop into when they have a spare five minutes.

When planning the shooting schedule and generating a shot list for your conference photographer, consider asking about including a mobile photobooth for corporate and group portraits. You’ll save time and provide yet another added value to your attendees.

Why you want a social photographer to cover your event

Most conference, summit and corporate event planners these days try to cast a virtual net by linking their event to a centralizing set of social media hashtags – mainly for easy findability and shareability on Instagram and Twitter. Making sure your event photographer is aware of these unifying communication tools and using them appropriately can help you get maximum value from your conference or event photographer.

Photographers are all seeking to cultivate their own realm of influence in social media. One mutually beneficial way to reach into different networks is to provide bits of snackable content generated by events as they happen.

Personally I’ve grown to enjoy using Twitter and Instagram to jot down insightful things I pick up while observing conferences or to help my client broaden their event footprint by creating and quickly sharing images guests and attendees will want to reshare.

It’s not always a perfect fit – while covering the Governor General Performing Arts Awards press conference (#ggpaa) in Montreal this month I actually tweeted out the name of a recipient BEFORE the official announcement (deleted 2 minutes later after a politely urgent message from Ottawa) but when it works, it helps spread the excitement and generate buzz about the event.

Not all photographers are going to want to multi-task for you, but it doesn’t hurt to ask for their social handles and add them into your network, while sharing with them the hashtags and IG names they should reference when getting social with your event images.

And sometimes, sharing is also really funny. Like this old SNL clip of Fr Guido Sarducci’s 5 Minute University that I saw at a recent conference on autism I immediately had to go find and watch. Screen Shot 2015-04-21 at 3.25.37 PM

Essential shotlist for conference & tradeshow photography

One of the most important things to keep in mind when hiring a shooter to provide conference or trade show photography is to think about the value the photos create and how you will get the best use out of the images.

There are multiple audiences for good conference and trade show coverage. Here are a few that come to mind:

  • Past and present attendees
  • Prospective and future attendees
  • Speakers & presenters
  • Corporate communications teams
  • Marketing and sales teams
  • Event planners and event management companies
  • Experiential marketers
  • Venue owners

What is the value of these types of images?
Depending on who the end client/user/viewer of the images is intended for, the value can be:

  • Showcase a successful event – large filled rooms, happy smiling people looking engaged, looking like they are having a good time, connecting with each other, doing business
  • Highlight successful positioning of branded signage and collateral
  • Highlight the breadth and scope of an event to attract future attendees
  • Show off quality of speakers and content
  • Boost employee morale and drive engagement
  • Sell tickets / drive attendance rates for future events
  • Builds content for your social media channels and web properties

So which types of shots are the most useful and critical to get right?

le Windsor room set up
le Windsor room set up

1. Set-up and room décor
Ideally rooms should be shot from multiple angles, but preferably with a wide enough lens to capture the breadth and feel of the space. The best time to capture the room set up is just before it will be opened up to the public, when the lighting is set up and the room is like a present waiting to be opened up.

2. People networking
This is an easy one to get done but requires attention and fast reflexes. You must anticipate handshakes, smiles and friendly greetings and capture the exchanges without interfering. Every conference has built in networking sessions even if they don’t call them that. More festive social events will also leverage the socially enlivening effects of alcohol. Depending on the industry, the drinks and bars themselves will have branded sponsors. Embedding into this environment requires a special blend of sociability and detachment so you know when to step back and capture images of people as they begin to loosen up.

We mix business with pleasure
We mix business with pleasure
Size matters
Size matters

3. Speakers on stage – front and side views
Getting good images of people on stage is trickier than it looks as the stage lighting can often cast unwanted colours or distortions on your subject. As well, not all speakers are to the podium born and some spend more than ninety percent of the time looking down at their notes. The best shots will come from both telephoto and shorter lenses, shot from the front of house and close to the sides. I usually aim to capture a few images of speakers with fun or illustrative slides behind them if they are in the midst of a slide show, but also make sure to get a few clean and clear ones just them, eyes open, faces smiling and mouths preferably not mid-word. It can be a bit of trial and error but the end goal is really just to get a handful of great shots of each speaker.

4. Views of room from speakers p.o.v
This is really a hybrid categories as it touches on both speakers and rooms, but it is worth having a few of these shots usually angled from the side or sometimes above the speaker, showing both the speaker on stage and the audience to whom he or she is speaking. This is a fun photo for the speaker themselves to have later one and helps promote a sense of attending an interesting, worthwhile event.

Life's a stage
Life’s a stage

5. Big and wide shots of filled rooms
All event planners, conference organizers and companies hosting events want to see their event as a success – and nothing says success better than showing a room full of people. There will be different kinds of such rooms: some will be general sessions with people sitting in their seats, others will show the room in states of transition before or after an event. Sometimes the big room is where an opening night reception is being held. Other times it’s just a general overview shot to show the look and feel of the full space. These images should be taken with big, wide angles, but can also be augmented with candid portraits drawn from the crowd shot on telephoto lenses so the subjects are truly at ease and may not even realize they are in the photos.

I'm paying close attention
I’m paying close attention

6. Engaged audiences in sessions
Diving a little deeper into the idea of showing full rooms, these shots pertain primarily to smaller breakout sessions common at many conferences. Here the rooms are smaller, the speakers usually just standing at a the front of the room, sometimes with but often without podiums, and the aim, as always is to capture images of people paying attention, eyes forward, smiling and asking questions. Depending on the nature of the conference and industry, it may be helpful to have a few shots of people taking notes or texting on their phones, but the majority of images should show people doing what they are supposed to be doing in the room – learning something.

7. People smiling, having fun and making connections
The social side of business confabs is in some industries the most important part of the event. In businesses where making connections and doing deals is important (and when isn’t it) conferences can provide ideal locations for meeting a large number of high quality prospects/partners/future employers. This is the value to the people attending. The value to the people organizing these events is showing that their event is where business gets done and connections are formed. I love these kinds of events and have a lot of fun weaving in and out of the crowd soliciting, eliciting and noticing great photo ops. Selfies, photobombs, generic groupings of twosomes and foursomes (or more) will all happen in here so working with a short and flexible lens is key, but I also carry around a long lens to take sniper type shots of people across the room, trying to avoid detection so that I can capture real emotional exchanges and genuine reactions.

Deal!
Deal!
Seeing the forest for the trees
Seeing the forest for the trees

8. Interesting details, close ups of on-site marketing collateral, giveaways, promos
Finally, throughout the conference you’ll want to make sure you have images showing any promotional item provided by a sponsor, as well as just a set of fun, creative, interesting, artistic even, shots of details that emerge as salient to the event. Judgement and skill is required here but over time it becomes clear what these elements are. No-brainers include shots of program covers, branded spaces, signage, banners and products (in the case of trade shows).

9. People interacting with displays/products
This one pertains mainly to trade shows but can be relevant to conferences that host vendors in common areas as well. The main goal here is to showcase the brand, the product or service on offer, and lots of images of people engaging with the display or items. Interaction, engagement and as always, smiling faces are key here. Closeups on pertinent details and any interesting visual elements available should also be captured.

The laser pointers were a hit
The laser pointers were a hit

The key to covering the keynote speaker

Sergio Marchionne, Keynote Speaker at ASABE 2014 conference in Montreal, July 14, 2014
Sergio Marchionne, Keynote Speaker at ASABE 2014 conference in Montreal, July 14, 2014

I was hired this morning (yes, sometimes the last minute is literally the last minute), to cover a keynote speaker at a conference at the Palais de congrès in Montreal. While I didn’t know the speaker would be someone quite as famous as Sergio Marchionne (currently Chairman CNH Industrial, FIAT Chairman and CEO of Chrysler, amongst several other roles) my method for covering a speaker is always the same. As much as possible, I try to shoot the speaker without a flash setting my camera to the type of lighting on stage (almost always tungsten). I position myself up front and shot with both a long (70-300mm) and short lens (24-105mm) stalking the speaker as a hunter would a wild animal, waiting for smiles (mouth and eyes) and eyes wide open. If possible, I also like to do a fake shot or two with the speaker at the podium before the event to be guaranteed of a great shot, though of course this is not always possible and certainly wasn’t in this case.

A few other elements I’m always asked to include by my clients are:

  • Shots of the speaker showing some of the slides in background 
  • Close up shots of the speaker
  • Shots of the speaker showing the audience (speaker’s p.o.v.)

Not all speakers are easy to capture as some don’t look up very often, or smile, or both. In Mr. Marchionne’s case, he was a calm, engaging and relaxed speaker but clearly the stage lights were quite bright in his eyes as he tended to squint a bit and did not look out at the crowd for longer than a few seconds at a time. Luckily we also had a few opportunities to get more candid photos after the speech when Mr. Marchionne visited the CNH Industrial booth.

Sergio Marchionne at CNH Industrial booth
Sergio Marchionne at CNH Industrial booth

Providing photographic coverage of conferences, trade show booths and speakers at events, is a key function of an event photographer and something I am doing more and more of these days. Companies spend a lot of money on attending conferences, sending over staff, often hiring marketing companies to help with the booth and signage, and getting professional quality photographs from the event can help a firm leverage that spending. Images captured at conference can be used in trade magazines, on corporate websites, in emailers, even product brochures.

Other important shots to capture while covering a conference or trade show are:

  • booth setup shots before crowds arrive. It’s important to get these kind of clean set-up shots early on as they are useful for showing off the brand(s) showcased without any distracting elements.
  • any promotional items/giveaways
  • signage clearly showing logos
  • any products on display
  • booth staff smiling, posed and engaging with visitors
  • visitors engaging/interacting with products/staff
  • booth from afar showing full size as well as close up of specific elements

Ultimately, good conference coverage is much like covering any other live event with a few extra details to keep in mind. The lighting tends to be a bit tricky and important visitors will whisk in and out of the site very quickly so you have to be on your toes.  Most importantly, as a conference photographer you have to keep the customer’s priorities in mind always. The kinds of shots they are looking for and the client’s purpose for hiring a professional photographer in the first place should be the key reference points for all photography coming out of the conference.

Creative conference coverage

Chris Malone, Author of "The Human Brand", speaking at the iMedia Canada Summit, April 6-8, 2014, Montreal
Chris Malone, Author of “The Human Brand”, speaking at the iMedia Canada Summit, April 6-8, 2014, Montreal

Covering a conference or trade show is not as easy it would seem. While it may look like all you have to do is wander around, point your camera and shoot, the process of getting really good conference photos is a little more complex than that. As a photographer, it is critical that your images capture both the feel of the event but also convey the organizer’s messages and help them to achieve their marketing goals.  When covering a conference, then, not only do you need to contend with variable lighting, from hot stage lights to fluorescent breakout session rooms, but importantly your professional mandate as discussed with your client.

Typically, a conference organizer wants to show their event off in its best light possible. While this is almost a truism in event photography, the conference (or trade show) is a little different than your regular corporate gala or fundraiser event, as the images generated from this year’s show are going to be used to help sell attendance in next year’s. So it is important to show future attendees the benefits they will get from attending in addition to all the well-curated content and knowledge they will gain. Photos should show people smiling, of course, as much as possible, but also doing the things they will be expecting to do, like shaking hands, exchanging business cards, listening to engaging speakers etc.

 (Julian Haber | 514.757.7657 | events@julianhaber.com, Julian Haber | 514.757.7657 | events@julianhaber.com)With corporate travel budgets constantly under pressure, the investment in sending one or a handful of employees to a conference must be clear. The images captured should also show the full range of activities at the event. All conferences follow a fairly predictable formula: large general sessions with keynote speakers, a few panel discussions, smaller breakout sessions and a lots of networking and socializing time in between the set menu to allow the attendees to make or renew contacts and actually enjoy themselves. Photos, shot from a few different angles of all these experiences are absolutely critical and will be key to delivering a set of images that will make your client happy.

Other shots required for a conference photographer should also include:

  • Good headshots of all the speakers: I often try to get a few before the speaker actually goes on stage by hanging around when they are setting up. This helps ensure you have at least one good image where the speaker is smiling and looking right at your lens as once they get going, you may have to snap many shots to make sure you have enough of the speaker talking with eyes open and mouth not that the conference organizers will be able to use in their promotional materials.
  • Posed groupings of attendees smiling and looking at the camera: these shots can be a little challenging if you are a shy or fly-on-the wall type photographer. As the professional, your work here is to interact and engage with the guests in a way that makes them feel good and willing to work with you to get a good photo, but to be quick and efficient at the same time. Ultimately, no one is at the conference for the photographs – they are there to learn, make contacts and hopefully do some business. As professionals they also want to look good in any images you make of them so you have a responsibility as the official event photographer to ensure that they do, without wasting their time when shooting,
  • A limited number of scenic shots shot from interesting angles: It is important to showcase the venue, usually a hotel, and give a sense of the rooms and ambience of the space selected by the organizers for the event. You don’t need a tonne of these kinds of shots, but a handful of representative images will help complete your set of deliverables to your client. These shots can usually be taken in between other events on any downtime you have during the conference.
  • Full rooms, engaged audiences: when covering any general sessions or breakout rooms, only shoot seats with smiling, engaged looking people in them. No one, not your client and not future attendees, wants to look at a conference with a bunch of empty seats. Abundance sells, so make sure your room shots look full and people look interested. Quality over quantity counts here as a few winning shots are all it will take to make the event look like a success – and bring smiles to your clients and hopefully repeat business when the conference becomes an annual event!

A final word on working as a conference photographer: Timeliness matters. Many organizers post the images from their conferences on a daily basis. This is great because once the first batch of images is up, attendees start to perk up and really make an effort with you to look good for the shot, knowing they too might end up featured on the conference organizer’s website. Take advantage of this almost real time streaming to be diligent in your shooting. Edit out dud images before the upload to save time and be ready for an end of day upload to make sure the client has good images to work with for the next day.

You can check out some of the shots I took recently for the Imedia Canada Summit, here.

iMedia Canada, Day 1

iMedia Canada, Day 2

iMedia Canada, Day 3