Why some meetings, conferences and speakers are terrible.
4 Lessons for ALL speakers and meeting professionals to ensure success at the next event.
Many people know me as a business leader, CEO, author, or speaker, but back in the early 2000s, I was also a meeting planner and event designer. During that time in my career, the company I owned worked with top speakers, clients, and event designers to build some amazing events, and leadership off-site gatherings. (If I do say so myself) Now, as a speaker, I interact with many professionals in the event management and meeting planner space. However, I have taken some of the many lessons I learned back then to hone my skills, interaction and overall partnerships with meeting professionals all over the world.
Below are my top 4 lessons for all speakers and meeting professionals to ensure a successful event every time.
1) Use It – Be someone and ONLY book someone who can turn a stressful situation positive. One of the key frustrations I always faced as a meeting professional was the speaker who could not stay positive. Some of the glom and doom environments created by the speaker both on and off stage would wear down my team. The key I discovered was the mentality that no matter what happened, my team would simply “use it” to make something happen. Even back then, I would never hire a speaker unless they knew their presentation so well that they could handle ANY equipment failure or hiccup. For example, if a slideshow or overhead went out during the presentation, could the speaker simply continue, or would they berate the crew from the stage? As a speaker, I follow the same principle in that I know I can handle any situation. If my mic fails, I “Use It”. If my PowerPoint or Keynote presentation technology fails, I “Use It” and keep going. If you are a meeting professional, be careful that you only hire speakers and presenters who can manage any adversity to build a truly memorable event, without the drama.
2) Customization is Key – I am asked all the time to customize presentations. Yet it often surprises me that even in my more expensive category of speakers, that there are still some professionals that will not customize a presentation. Let’s be clear about what I mean with regard to customizing. When I was a planner, I would always ask for presentations to be relevant and customized, but often the speaker would simply add the company logo or a few quips about the “sales team numbers” etc to establish the “customized” feel. This is not customization. Customization in my mind is to fully understand the company, the division, the leadership or any other relevant content about the company and utilize this into a speaker’s many metaphors, explanations, and learning content. Speakers, regardless of the fee, should really focus on what matters most, the customized relevance and context of the audience, because if they don’t get it, you did not get it right.
3) The budget is the budget, and the fee is the fee - Don’t try to up-sell the planner and don’t try to lowball the speaker. This drove me crazy as a planner. When a speaker would constantly work to up-sell me on additional services, selling of material, or some other sneaky sales tactic to get more and more fee increases from me. I would not bring back a speaker who was always in the up-sell mode. Now, as a speaker and for all my fellow speakers, I suggest a different approach. Set your fee and stick with it. Sure if the planner asks for a workshop, then you will increase the price, but avoid the nickel and dime approach because it’s very frustrating for the meeting professional.
If you have a book and you want everyone to have one, then either charge a higher fee and provide copies, or ask the planner up front if they want to purchase them for the team. I always avoid the back of the room book sales pitch because it cheapens the presentation. If you are a meeting professional, please stop attempting to get the speaker to charge less and sell books at the back of the house. This looks trashy, and it lowers the speaker’s value. Set a budget (and please tell us what that is upfront) then accept the fee or don’t. You are not buying a car here with many features. You are buying a person (so to speak) who has spent many years working, writing, honing the presentation, and working to be a professional speaker. Honor that with an acceptance of the fee presented. Together we can stop the madness of convoluted negotiations, which never work toward the betterment of the people who matter most, the audience.
Also, STOP ASKING US TO SPEAK FOR FREE!!! Would you ask your doctor to perform surgery for free? What about your dentist? Would you get on a plane expecting that every person working there is doing so at no charge? NO! It's the same for professional speakers. Your video footage of our speech is a given, not a selling point. So get ready to pay and work it into your budget.
4) Only choose speakers who walk the talk. – In 2002 I hired a speaker for motivation and inspiration. He was a very well known person at the time, and the fee was over budget. I hired him, however, because the company had experienced a very difficult year, so they needed motivation and inspiration. During the presentation, the speaker was powerful, on point, and received a standing ovation. Job well done….or so I thought.
It was brought to my attention by a large group of participants, and even the CEO of the company, that the speaker was a terrible resort guest who was witnessed yelling at the lobby staff, screaming at the spa employees and even pushed past a group of executives, unbeknownst to him, to rush onto an elevator. Needless to say, the standing ovation was severely overshadowed by the speaker’s negative attitude.
My lesson here is to all you speakers and meeting pros. You must only work with people who walk the talk. If you hire a motivator, he or she better be congruent in all aspects of life, especially at the hotel. I always follow very strict personal rules as a speaker in that I am who I say I am at the venue and on stage. If a guest wants to spend an hour with me after the presentation to talk about it, I do it. If the group wants me to hang out at the resort and talk to everyone, I do it. This is especially true if I have been invited to remain at a resort for a full week. I am there on the client's dime so I will accommodate them. All speakers need to really pay attention here! You must check your ego at the door and step up the positive and sincere attitude in every aspect of the event, not just your presentation.
Whether you are a meeting professional or a professional speaker, you need to heed these four guideposts to success. This is not a game we are playing but rather an interaction with people, the audience, who has one most valuable asset, TIME. If you follow these simple rules, you will ensure that neither the meeting pro or the speaker does not waste any of it.