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Interview with Roy Sheppard

A specialist international conference facilitator/moderator, Roy Sheppard has a background as a network BBC TV and radio journalist, reporter and presenter. In this interview, He goes through his top tips for networking and why it is so important.

You are a specialist conference facilitator, how do you prepare for a facilitating engagement?

At the outset, I help clarify as precisely as possible what the client is hoping to achieve from the conference. Then I listen a HUGE amount to everyone involved in the lead up to the conference. I ask loads of searching questions. Many of the answers remain private and confidential, but they need to be discussed. By the time I go on-stage, the audience will probably think I must work for the company somewhere because it’s obvious I know so much about the organisation, the business, the key people, challenges, opportunities, products and services. You can’t fake that knowledge. MCs don’t need to know that much. Facilitators do. I use those insights to guide the event towards the previously agreed objectives.


What types of unique experiences have you had as a result of your profession?

I get paid to bring people together and build bridges between businesses or entire industries. It’s a fantastic opportunity to learn from so many world leaders in their fields.

Once, I had a bizarre experience on-stage. Facilitating a major international technology conference, a third party vendor gave a presentation to the 1,700 delegates. In the middle of it, she ‘froze’ – she mentally left the building. I’d experienced this during my training as a therapist, and had to go on-stage, signal the audio guys to cut our sound, then with my back to the audience, I had to ‘bring her back’. Thankfully this only took a short while. She had absolutely NO recollection of what had happened. It was weird. I earned my fee that day!


What do you think is the key ingredient to a successful conference?

Harnessing more of the energy, knowledge, insights and wisdom from the audience. As brilliant as so many speakers are, it takes a conference to a whole new level when the audience feel part of it, rather than merely spectators. So, creating an environment that encourages members of the audience to take part – whether that’s a serious role, or a light-hearted one.


Why is networking important in business?

As much as speakers like to think a conference is about their content and performance. It’s not. It’s often more about who you connect with over coffee, or indeed, at 1am in the bar! Face-to-face networking is more important than ever before. As humans we crave ‘connection’. Being able to look someone in the eye, gives us an opportunity to find out if ‘strangers’ deserve to become trusted friends. Technology can then be used later to keep you in touch. For the past 15 years I’ve given talks at the beginning of conferences either as a standalone speaker or as part of my role as a facilitator. Giving people encouragement and ways to meet new people always succeeds in creating a ‘buzz’. Those are always the best conferences.


What would be your top three tips for networking successfully?

1) Decide to put aside any nervousness you might have aside and choose to find more strangers you can turn into new friends.

2) Listen and learn more about those you meet, rather than try to ‘sell’ yourself or your organisation by talking too much.

3) Find genuine reasons to follow up and be of value to those you meet, by sending them relevant information based on your conversation – that has NOTHING to do with your company!


How do you tailor your approach to events on a large scale in contrast to maybe more intimate events?

Audience interactivity is not limited to the number of people attending (or viewing online). Huge events, require a far more larger-than-life ‘theatrical’ approach. But its amazing how you can create a sense of intimacy at large events by including relevant stories and open questions that reach deep inside a person.


What would be your top three tips for a holding a truly interactive event?

1) REALLY think about the event from the audience’s perspective during the planning stages.

2) Ask what do they want/need to know should be more important than what you want to tell them.

3) Once you’ve created the best environment for your audience to share, or contribute –make sure they know you are listening very attentively to what is being said.


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