Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Voluneteer, but don't think your involvement means you "own" the organization

Being involved on the board of a business or charitable organization it is a great way to boost your visibility in the business community. It also helps promote the common good. Shoot, it is often fun and educational at the same time!

While it is common that organizations do not put direct competitors on the same board, your participation does not mean that you "own" the group where you volunteer. Sure, you might have an exclusive to serve on the board (which is fine), but you cannot and should not think that your position will eliminate your competition from participating in events or from ending up as a speaker for the group's meetings if they are well suited for giving such a presentation.

I recently heard of a local business professional who had a fit when one of his competitors was the presenter at a meeting of an organization where he volunteers. He felt that the programs committee should have asked him to speak or skipped having his industry represented at all on the panel discussion.

I have also been passed over for speaking opportunities and told that while the organization thought I was a great speaker who could benefit the group, they did not want to make my competitor mad by giving me the publicity.

With this philosophy, nobody should ever be asked to speak at any event, as somewhere they have a competitor who might be bent out of shape!!!

I see many groups tip toe around whom they can have as panelists for fear of offending someone else, rather than looking for the best speakers possible. When organizations have great programs, they have better attendance. The big name company, individual or topic makes or breaks the success of a meeting. I think organizations should seek out the most qualified speakers they can and not worry so much about what individual member or volunteer might think.

Mr. Spock said it best at the end of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan; "The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few".

While I hate to see my competition on a panel where one of my team could have been featured, at the end of the day, the world is not a zero sum game. There are lots of chances for everyone who is qualified to have their time at the podium. Sure it hurts egos, and you can wish it was you on stage....but for the love of Pete.... do not run around complaining about it. Your membership in a group or your volunteer hours does not equal ownership of an organization. Maybe your competitor was just a better choice for that presentation!!!

Remember that if you complain about the publicity the organization ("your" organization) gives the competitor...those who hear your whining will provide you with LOTS of "word of mouth marketing" (the bad kind) when they tell others all about your tirade. Best to seek out your own speaking opportunities than to try to stop your competitors from having the spotlight (or complaining when they do).

I was recently very impressed when an executive that I know recommended that her direct competitor be included in a local program / presentation. She was involved in the planning, but a set of circumstances came up that made sense for the CEO of another company in her industry to share the platform. In this unique case she knew it was the "right" thing to do to be inclusive. Sure, it meant some stage time for the competition, but she did not let that impact her desire to make sure the event was executed properly (I am purposely being vague, as I was told of this situation in confidence).

I am involved in several business organizations and I do prefer to see that my company would have the limelight and PR from my involvement. However, on those occasions when my competitors are in the spotlight, you wont hear me complain (although I still want to).

I am confident that my firm will outshine all others in the long run.

A note to organizations and planners.... do not give your sponsors and volunteers the impression that their time and money can buy your integrity. News organizations have a wall between editorial and advertising to protect their credibility. Once you sell yourself for the money or time, you will forever cheapen your value to everyone. Yes, there are times when exclusive sponsorships make sense, as those whose dollars support the event want something in return for their sponsorship, but beware of how far you are willing let their money dictate your actions. It is a fine line.

Can sponsorships buy speakers slots, yep...it happens all the time. But be sure that it is clear to your audience, or you run the risk of looking cheap. If your group offers exclusivity to your sponsors but does not make that clear, then those who find out will think less of your organization.

Have A Great Day.



Cliff Allen said...

I'm frequently surprised at the decisions that speaker selection committees make. Having served on several of those committees, it's interesting to see them ask questions like "Has anyone seen this person speak?" and "Will this person draw more registrations?"

I'm always glad to see a committee select a local member instead of someone who may be better known nationally, but would have to travel to the event -- as long as both are truly qualified to speak.

As a speaker, getting selected is a lot like selling -- the more you pitch, the more you close.

Thom Singer said...


Thanks for your comment. While I do agree that selecting a local member is good...NOT at the expense of the quality of the event.

Many people are crummy presenters, which is why someone has to have seen the person speak before, or know their reputation.

My point is not that they should not pick the local member (they should when it is appropriate)... but that when they do NOT pick the local member, that member is best served by being a good sport about it.

We have all been to meetings where the speaker is unskilled and thus makes the whole event painful.

There is such a fine line on this topic I almost did not write this post, but I am glad I did.

Zita Gustin said...

Hi Thom,

I have had the experience of dealing with people who were unhappy that they were not selected to be speakers and I can tell you it is not a pleasant experience.

There are so many people who want to speak and yet they don't understand how to properly approach an event planner to request a speaking opportunity. Like is your topic relevant to the group? What will the audience learn from your presentation? Do you provide great content that leaves them wanting to know more?

Too many people come at speaking from their own agenda and forget that the organization has an agenda as well.

I had one lady call me and tell me that she is aware of our organization and wants to be a speaker. She also let me know that our group is not her target market but in this one instance she has a new client who does target "folks like us" and was hoping to get more clients from our group through her speaking to our group. Clearly she was not intending to come and give value with her presentation, she was wanting to come to get something for her new client.

As you can imagine, she will never present to my organization.

I have also had members who wanted to speak to our group "because they are members" and as you pointed out so well in your post, just because you are a member does not mean that you are qualified to speak or that your topic is one that folks would want to hear.

And finally, remember that the people who make the decisions are people too. If you come at me with arogance demanding to be a speaker, you more likely than not will never be seen behind the podium at one of my events.

My grandmother always used to say you can catch more flies with honey. People who want to be speakers could do well to keep that in mind.