Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The Value of A Speaker To The Event

A friend pointed me to the conversation stream from Monday night's #SpeakChat discussion on Twitter.  I had not participated in the discussion, but enjoyed reading the shared information.  It was a long stream to scroll through, with lots of thoughts and opinions.  However, it was laced with information about the power of having the right speaker at your event, and the value the speaker brings.

(Note #SpeakChat happens every Monday at 9:00 PM on Twitter under the hashtag #SpeakChat)

My mantra holds true: "Just because someone is smart or has done something cool, it does not mean they belong on the stage".

I recently heard a speaker, who was paid to keynote an event, start by saying "I am not really a speaker, just a person who is here to share with you....".  The meeting planner was standing next to me backstage and she said "then why am I paying him so much!".  I laughed.  She was underwhelmed with the presentation.  It was okay, but he set the expectation that he was just that..."okay".

The speaker brings more to the event than the words they utter from the stage.  The fact that we expect them to deliver a kick-ass presentation goes without saying... but most speakers at conferences fall short of expectations.  But is that the speaker's fault or the fact that many conferences are just looking for anyone to take the stage and not vetting their experience?

Many conferences these days are asking speakers to make their talks like "TED Talks", but they are not doing the same level of pre-work that TED does in speaker selection and preparation.  TED does not simply put people who breath on stage.  Speaking well is a skill, it does not come naturally to everyone.  It can be learned and improved upon with practice and intent.... but talent in this area should never be expected without experience.  

Then there is the debate of "paid vs. free" speakers.  I find it interesting that this is still bantered about, as it is not really apples to apples.  There are many people who will speak for free, but that does not mean you want them talking to an audience.  While there are many experts who happily speak for free, the paid professionals who have created ongoing business ventures via speaking provide a proven value to the event.  A speaker is not a commodity.  

The speaker's value is not only found in the presentation.  I believe that the best speakers are the ones who are engaged with the audience before and after the talk.  Some speakers feel they are just being paid to do the "stage time", but most meeting planners and audience members rave about the speakers who spend time active in the conference.  When a speaker invests in the people, they are applauded for their efforts.

I have clients who state in their contract that the speaker must attend meals and happy hours the day of their talk.  They consider the speaking fee to be for the whole day, not just the hour of the presentation. While sometimes there are scheduling conflicts, I believe that a client who pays me to speak is paying for my participation in their whole event.  Anything less (without being discussed in advance) is not acceptable.

What do you think? Email me your thoughts (thom @ thomsinger.com), or leave a comment.

As a meeting organizer.... do you want speakers to be present at your breaks, happy hours, meals?  Do you care if they "speak and run"?

As an attendee of a conference.... do you think that the speaker has any obligation to you beyond their stage presentation? 

As a speaker.... do you think your value is the presentation or more?

Have A Great Day.

thom singer


Smeske said...

Great post Thom. To answer your questions: I do not expect my speakers to 'hang around' and mingle with attendees. I consider it a luxury if they can remain during a break or for lunch right before or right after their presentation. As an attendee, it's great if the speaker offers some contact information so I can maybe ask a follow up question, but again, I don't expect that as an attendee. Finally, as a speaker, the value I bring to a meeting IS the content...delivered in a way attendees will learn and want to learn more about the topic.

Anonymous said...

I know that you are a believer in staying at an event and socializing with the attendees, so you are biased in this post. I feel I am paid to speak not schmooze.