Dear Vistage Chair:

Thank you for the invitation to speak to your groups. I look forward to meeting you all! My first request of you is to send me the meeting location as early as possible. This will prevent any travel mishaps and ensure I can arrive as planned. Since I started speaking for Vistage in 2012, I have gained insights into what makes my Vistage presentation most valuable.

As the speaker, I take seriously my responsibility to make the session time well-spent for your members. I have found that the best Vistage presentations always occur when the Chair and speaker work together as a team. Based on my experience from over 300 Vistage/TEC presentations and counting, below are some key points on how we can partner together to maximize the value to your members.

For quick reference, the 10-point summary follows, with detail on each below. You can also click on any of the numbered items, as they each link to the appropriate detail in the body of the document.

1. Do check-ins after I leave.

While it’s possible there may be a “nugget” I glean from check-ins that might be useful to mention during the presentation, this typically doesn’t add much benefit and in my experience, pre-presentation check-ins cause me to start late more often than not. My part of the agenda goes more smoothly when I can arrive early to shake everyone’s hand, get set up while they are doing something else (like arriving and chatting in the case of a morning presentation, or having lunch in the case of an afternoon presentation), and then be introduced and get started.

2. Prior to introducing me, share with your members why you invited me.

This will give them context for why you think it will be relevant and useful to them. Did another Chair recommend me as a good speaker? Or did you hunt me down to address specific group needs? Was it my scores and feedback comments that convinced you? If so, feel free to share a specific example or two.

3. Be enthusiastic when kicking off the meeting and introducing me.

You set the tone for the entire meeting. If you convey excitement about having me there, your members will be more engaged. You know that the leader sets the tone for the culture of an organization. The same is true for Vistage meetings, and here, you are the leader. Participate actively. Listen, take notes, and stay off your devices. In other words, model the behavior you want to see from your members. The best presentations occur when the Chair makes the group feel that the speaker presentation is the most important thing going on at this moment; the Chair is genuinely excited about the presentation, and wishes to help not only their members but also the speaker to be a success.

4. My introduction document is not my bio. Please read it as written.

It was crafted with intention. Please share any other thoughts with the group before you read the introduction. The best format is for me to jump right in immediately when you conclude my written introduction.

5. Recognize that it’s the speaker’s stage.

You have control of the group, but speakers are in control of the presentation. Allow me to control breaks and give me a bit of leeway with the length of my presentation. Mine is optimal at usually about 3 hours and 15 minutes if the group is chatty, but can be as short as 2 hours and 45 minutes. So if you can make the time in the agenda, I’d like to have a window of 3:15 to flow as I see fit. If you have a shorter window with a hard stop, it helps to know this in advance.

6. Act as a great facilitator.

During my time in front of the group, your best and highest use is to help relate the content to what you know about the members’ specific needs and challenges. I invite you to ask questions of genuine interest to yourself and your members. Please also interject comments that relate the members’ issues to what I’m saying whenever possible. For example, “Bob, can you view the challenge you discussed last time through this lens? Does that give you any additional ideas?”

I welcome disagreement when relevant, or clarifying questions if you feel that there is dissent in the room. I’m usually pretty good at reading a room, but you know your members better than I do.

I can also handle a combative member, but if it happens, I welcome your intervention, with a comment like, “Bob, I’m sure Maura would be happy to discuss this with you offline. Why don’t we allow her to move on now?”

7. Acknowledge the fact that speakers are ultimately there to sell themselves.

We all know the cardinal rule for Vistage speakers — pretend you are not in business! But did you know that according to a survey done by Vistage speaker Dave Nelson, Vistage members who hire Vistage speakers for their services are more likely to stay in your group?

After the closing of my presentation (it’s a big finish!) consider posing the question, “Maura, I know you’ve worked with hundreds of Vistage member companies. How do they typically engage you?” I will take just about 30 seconds to answer this question, and it’s a win-win-win:

  • Members and their companies benefit from valuable services
  • Speakers earn more than their modest honorariums
  • Chairs achieve longer member retention and more stable groups

8. Encourage the host to follow the catering suggestions.

When it comes to breakfast (or lunch) fare, healthy is the word. As a speaker, the last thing we all need is a bunch of sugary carbs laid out on the table, as wild swings in blood sugar will make it physically difficult for your members to stay alert and engaged for the full day. If you must have doughnuts, bagels and other “goodies,” have them cut in quarters so people can eat as much (or as little) as they would like, without feeling as though they are being wasteful. Include some protein to balance the carbs. A plentiful supply of fresh water is a must. Coffee is usually appreciated.

9. Enforce the “no cell phones” rule, and encourage your members to take notes by hand.

Handwriting on a digital device is fine, but they will be more engaged and retain more if they don’t type their notes. Also, having their phones out “lowers their cognitive capacity.” Simply having a phone within their line of sight distracts them, so encourage them to keep it out of sight until breaks. After all, isn’t Vistage about teaching members to build the business so it can run without them?

10. Summarize:

Do a “rapid recall” at the end, where you ask each member to share their most important take-away or action item. You can use this to follow up with each member in your next one-to-one, but regardless, it helps to cement the learning if they articulate some commitment or lesson out loud. I welcome constructive criticism from members, but this is best shared in private. After my workshop, I’d appreciate if the focus in the room be on the positive rather than the negative.

Thanks for taking the time to review this.
I’m excited to meet you and your members!

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