Writing articles from conferences, seminars and panel discussions

15th May 2019 | Posted in Articles, Blogging, Content creation

Conferences are a rich source of content.

You actually have in front of you experts from across a company and beyond, gathered in one place, to share their knowledge. It’s a wonderful opportunity to gather in-depth expertise into an article, and drop in a few industry-leading names at the same time. As they say, what’s not to like?

I’ve been the content writer for quite a few of these events recently. And what’s struck me is how many different approaches to speaking publicly there are. Not only in the style of the discourse – speechmaking, presentation, interview, panel discussion, ‘fireside chate’ and more – but also in the way that the experts deliver their wisdom.

If you’re tasked with creating content from live speaking, or the transcript that follows, here’s a rundown of the types of delivery I’ve experienced recently.

The beaut

I love this speaker. It’s not always possible to prepare completely for a live panel discussion, but this expert was relaxed, clearly-spoken, and evidently knew their stuff. Talked so logically and coherently that the story fell out as a series of ready-made quotes.

The mumbler

Or possibly not so much a mumbler as having a problem with the technology. The transcript that followed had as many blanks as I did in my notes. Probably said a lot of good things, but sadly I still don’t know what they were. Fortunately, presentations are always far longer than an article needs to be, so the only solution is to salvage as much as possible, and use your own knowledge to create a framework around it.

The agree-er

Not sure how this happened. Two panel participants and a chair, who forgot to allow the speakers to take turns in answering the questions. As Speaker 1 was extremely eloquent,  Speaker 2 could only support the view, with very little to add.  When you’re trying to give both participants an equal number of quotes in an article, “I agree” doesn’t make for the most riveting of quotes, so there was nothing for it but to “lend” some of Speaker 1’s comments to Speaker 2.

The Auntie Molly (names have been changed to protect the much cherished)

Speaking just like my beloved aunt. So much to say, and in such a hurry to say it, no sentence is finished before … And ideas tumble out in no particular … And the interviewer doesn’t have the chance to direct the ….

Weeks later I’m still trying to identify a theme and apply a structure to this piece.

The so well prepared they’re just reading it out

From my point of view, absolutely fine. With two participants taking it in turns to read their parts though, it doesn’t come across as much of a discussion. Maybe that doesn’t matter to those who are listening in.

The keynote who’s said it all before

This is surprising and it’s really disappointing. A keynote speaker, especially if they run the company, could be spending all day every day telling great stories. But as a result the audience may have heard it all before. What’s worse, the speaker is throwing out these lines regardless of the context of the discussion, and repeating what they say. Maybe they’re not even listening to themselves anymore.  This is the hardest piece to write for a company, because they’re expecting something illuminating, and what they get may be platitudes.

What can we do to turn conversation into good content?

As copywriters and content producers, we need to make sense of all this. My experience leads me to offer these tips:

  • Research the speakers and the topics before the conference starts. You may find some useful stuff that clarifies the story, and gives you useful back-up if the discussion is a disappointment
  • Agree with the client, if you have one, what the key points are going to be for the article. There is far more said than needs to be written, so you need a logical story to tell that focuses on what the client believes are the key messages.
  • Stay away from salesy copy. If you’re a practised article writer, you’ll know that delivering expertise as content is more valuable for this exercise than writing promotional copy.
  • Keep to the tone of the site for which you’re writing, while trying to give a flavour of the speaker you are quoting. Because you always will be asked to do two opposite things.
  • Hope for – and ask for – transcripts. Even though these are far from perfect, they help tremendously.
  • Conversely, don’t rely on a transcript. Make your own notes too.

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