Most presenters at SATE were good communicators who had valuable observations and information to share with the themed entertainment industry. Their styles varied from theatrical to matter-of-fact, from casual to authoritative, from dead-serious to humorously self-deprecatory. Conversations among delegates touched on presenters’ ideas as well as execution and Judith Rubin took the opportunity to interview Chris Conte (general manager of systems integration for North America and Asia, Electrosonic Inc.) on his impressions.
Conte, who attended both days of the SATE conference (Story-Architecture-Technology-Entertainment, hosted by the Themed Entertainment Association Sept 18-19 in Orlando), is himself a frequent speaker at industry gatherings.
Q: What are some primary tenets of good public speaking?
A: First, know exactly who you are presenting to, and why they are there. Second, no blatant self promotion – that should come instead in the form of your being an expert speaking on a particular subject. The listening audience is there to learn about the subject at hand… not sit through an over-exaggerated commercial about your company.
Q: How did you develop your own speaking skills?
A: When I was working at Landmark Entertainment Group in the 1990s, Mark Thomas mentored me, and encouraged me to do public speaking. I gave presentations at several of the TiLE conferences in Europe and at LDI in the US. When I wasn’t on the podium myself, I would watch the audience reactions. When presenters are not communicating well, people will start reading and walking away, checking their phones, fidgeting and so forth.
Q: What do you consider as some of the outstanding presentations at SATE over the past two days?
A: Bob Rogers’ [BRC Imagination Arts] was very educational for me. He gave us new information that was intriguing. His talk was engaging and it made me respect him more. He came across as very confident. John Beckman [Museum of Science & Industry, Chicago] was also compelling. He didn’t talk about MSI so much as about what worked and what didn’t work at the museum. From his talk, I learned what tools were working – a balance between mechanical and electrical interactives that was good.
Scott Trowbridge [Walt Disney Imagineering] described the history of connecting with the guest, at Disney, from animatronics through real-time presentation. He didn’t push the Disney brand – everything he said was on the theme of connecting with people on a personal level. Al Cross [PGAV Destination Consulting] was humorous. He had personality and passion, and he was humble. He learned things and admitted to fights they had on the Georgia Aquarium project ( The Joyful Architect: Al Cross Talks about Themed Attraction Design), about why they were doing certain things. His talk was about the project, not about PGAV Destinations – about projects as examples of how to learn lessons, and he was concrete about what worked and what didn’t work. These speakers, in my opinion, presented information and insight about their topics and the industry which is why I attended SATE.
Q: What kinds of presentations have you yourself given recently?
A: I’ve been all over the US and Asia, talking about the latest emerging technologies and what tools are available for designers to use to create new and cutting edge attractions. I like to do demonstrations, where I bring something in. For instance, if I’m talking about reverb enhancement, I’ll bring in a sound system and mics and demo it in real time. At the Asia Tourism and Attractions Summit in Macau [July14 & 15] put on by Avail Corp., I spoke about using technology in creating iconic signatures for the sole purpose of drawing people to a location or venue – examples being the Eiffel Tower, the volcano at the Mirage in Las Vegas, the video towers at Chicago’s Millennium Park, the Fremont Street Experience.
Q: Any final thoughts?
A: If you die without passing on your information, you lose – we all lose. This applies to the themed entertainment industry and it’s why these gatherings are so important.