Sunday, September 05, 2010

Re-Thinking The Role of a Business Speaker

Many meeting planners, and others who organize business gatherings, have a "check the box" attitude when it comes to hiring a professional speaker. They are concerned with getting someone who fits the desired topic, while not crossing the line of their budget. They only take into account how the person will perform on stage. However, the overall personality, business style and interpersonal skills of the speaker off-stage can also impact the success of the event.

It is not that those doing speaker selection do not understand the important role a speaker plays in the success of an event. Everyone agrees that the speaker will set the tone for the success of a meeting. While all sorts of variables add up to the audience experience, the right speaker will create a level of buzz that can not be equaled by a good creme brulee.

The issue is that individual speakers are not a commodity, and the "speaking business" is not simple to define. You cannot easily compare one speaker to the next without having experienced their work product first-hand. This is why the business is so heavily dominated by a few "celebrities" and word-of-mouth referrals. Most of my business comes via those who have seen me speak (or know my books, blog, videos, etc....) making strong recommendations to the meeting planners inside their companies, law firms and professional organizations. It is impossible for those making speaker selection to always have that first hand experience with everyone they hire, therefore there is no way to do apples to apples comparisons. Because of this, they look to "check" simple boxes to make their decisions easier.

The problem is that many rely on subjective opinions of the person who is making the suggestion, and these are only based on the speaker as a stage performer. A speaker's ability to positively (or negatively) impact an event goes much deeper.

The speaker needs to have a partnership with the event planner. He or she must do more than show up to talk for a designated amount of time and then leave. They must be invested in the program and willing to participate in the promotion of the event, actively interact with the attendees, and help with any post program follow up.

I have witnessed speakers who show up at the last minute, speak, hard-sell their books and coaching services, and then leave town right after they exit the stage. They are are aloof or dismissive to people who want to talk with them. They behave like prima donnas. This is unacceptable (unless that is all the organizers desire).

Audience members like to meet and socialize with the presenters after a speech. Those who take the stage, even if not famous, become mini-celebrities at the conference. When speakers choose not to engage in the entire event (beyond their presentation), the audience misses out.

The best meeting planners will have detailed conversations with a speaker before making a hiring decision. They explore how the speaker feels about being a partner. Will they write advanced articles? Can they help you find other speakers? (the best "partners" have built relationships with other speakers with whom they have shared the stage and will happily make introductions). How much time are they willing to invest at the event? Will they attend happy hours, meals, and other social gatherings? Will they help with some type of post event follow up? Will they refer you to people to speak next year? (even if your policy is not to have the same speakers back two years in a row). Asking only about topics and fees can leave you vulnerable to a less than desired experience.

If you are looking to hire a speaker for an event, consider that you are doing more than filling a "speaking slot". Re-think the role of the professional business speaker, and instead look to join forces with someone who is engaged in the success of your conference. If they are only worried about their presentation, your audience will come up short. Even someone with a good topic and excellent platform skills should be giving you more than a 60 minute monologue. Avoid hiring a "Sage on the Stage" and look for a partner who is invested in seeing your whole program succeed.

Have A Great Day


1 comment:

Brandon Eley said...

I couldn't agree more. I hear so often about speakers that leave right after their talk is over. I remember specifically one conference I was speaking at a few months ago. I drove in (it was a 4 hour drive) because it was less expensive than flying, spent time with attendees of the conference, even attended the breakfast when I was the first speaker and could have been in the room preparing.

After the lunchtime "keynote" I found the presenter to tell him what a great presentation it was, and ask for his card to keep in touch and get a copy of his presentation slides. He was literally running out the door. He was nice enough to let me walk him to his car, and we talked for a few minutes about speaking and advertising.

But I remember the feeling it left with me... he drove in, spoke, and left. And probably got paid handsomely for it, too. I wasn't even a paying attendee of the conference and I felt a little slighted.

I always try to stay as long as possible, and if I have schedule conflicts that will keep me from doing so, I tell the organizer of the event before accepting to be a speaker.

But what most speakers don't realize is that it's just as much in their best interest to stay as it is the conference or organizer's. Lots of people wouldn't buy a book immediately, but after a 5-minute conversation bought a book. Or they bought a book later off Amazon or from their local bookstore. It also leads to more speaking engagements later from word of mouth referrals with the people you meet.

There are so many benefits for both the speaker and organizer, I'm surprised that so many speakers still bail right after their presentations.