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Ben Stein's portrayal of a monotone high school economics teacher in the iconic 1980s movie Ferris Beuller's Day Off is likely used by teachers everywhere as a prime example of what not to do.

But teachers aren't the only ones who can learn from that. Who else? (Anyone? Anyone?) Basically, all public speakers and presenters can take note, especially those with an adult audience.

"The number one thing is to make it interactive," said Kristen Jack, Ph.D., an assistant professor of Hospitality & Tourism Management at Grand Valley State University with a master's degree in adult and higher education. "Adults do not like to be talked down to. They like to actively participate and they like to be able to share their knowledge."

"Those are key things to keep in mind when vetting speakers for your next event, whether it's a small gathering or an annual convention. A person may know the content you need delivered, but have no idea how to deliver it effectively."

Jack said speakers should avoid the lecture format as much as possible by interspersing small group discussions or breakout sessions. Unlike traditional high school or college students, adult learners bring life experiences to the table, which can greatly benefit the conversation.

Jack said she often sets up speaking venues as a round table, with attendees on an equal footing. "It's technically an educational session for them, but I do it where were all sitting at a round table so the format of the room says 'conversation' versus 'I'm going to lecture.'"

Chris Longstreet, director of learning experiences at Choice Hotels International and an adjunct GVSU professor, has a detailed system for ensuring his speakers are prepared and effective.

  • Speakers get temporary access to corporate websites and Choices learning management systems to allow them to tie their messages to specific programs, initiatives and training.
  • They meet with internal stakeholders to gain further understanding of the culture and expectations.
  • Longstreet's team reviews a speaker's materials and content within two weeks of the event to ensure accuracy.
  • He encourages speakers to interview audience members ahead of time to gain real life anecdotes for the presentation.
  • Speakers must start the sessions with music to engage the audience.
  • And he requires relevancy: What can the presentation do for the audience?

"To me, effective speakers begin with an effective relationship," Longstreet said. "I work hard to create a positive and open relationship with our trainers and contracted speakers."

Clear expectations are a must.

Did you get that? (Anyone? Anyone?)