Dear Event Planner, We Hate You. Sincerely, Your Speakers.

There are a lot of things event professionals do that annoy speakers big time. Here is how to avoid them and keep a healthy relationship with your speakers.

Speakers management

I feel in a privileged position. In my career, I’ve been an event planner and a speaker. I know both worlds. UPDATE: The follow up post, Dear Speaker, I loathe you. Sincerely, your Event Planner is here.

I know you guys (eventprofs) very well, you make me proud every day by coming back and reading more.

Lately I’ve been on the other side of the fence. In the last year I’ve been travelling the world speaking at several events. In fact I am writing this very article 6,000 miles away from home, after speaking at a great conference.

I’ve observed the relationship between event planners and speakers carefully. While my experiences have almost always been positive, I cannot say this is always the case.

I believe that event professionals are sometimes unfair to their speakers. This is something that needs to change.

Before you read on, I must warn you. This post may be frustrating and uspetting to some. Yet the message is so needed that I couldn’t pass on writing it. I hope you can see the bigger picture of this article.

Speakers Need to Be Protected

If you asked me why people attend conferences I would list two reasons: networking and speakers.

We all agree on the importance of a sound programme with great speakers. Yet often times we seem to forget that our event performance is tied to these guys and how we interact with them.

I’ve witnessed a lot of mismanagement of speakers that has resulted in poor sessions and bad relationships.

While the industry seems to be focused on giving you advice on how to suck more and more value out of them, nobody seems to be stimulating a sustainable and healthy speakers management.

In my humble opinion, speakers are part of the service you sell and you cannot treat your creation with disrespect. You cannot take advantage of it.

You know I like to be the defender of lost causes (even though I’ve won a few) hence why I’ll tell you more about why your speaker hates you.

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Control Freak Who?

If you are an event professional and you are not a control freak there is something wrong with you. Even if you are the most laid back person on earth, you’ll become a control freak doing this job.

You want to see perfect things. You want to see a plan unfold the way you thought it.

You want the smallest details to reflect the picture in your head. This is what it is all about.

Yet this kind of over controlling, super attentive way of working can seriously impact on the relationship you have with your event performers.

In fact, in the next few paragraphs I’ll give you some examples of recurring behaviour that upsets even the most peaceful and undemanding speaker.

‘Let Me Check The Slides’

Oh c’mon seriously? If you need to check the content that the speaker you carefully selected will talk about, it can only mean two things.

Either you haven’t carefully selected your speaker or you are trying to control the message. Both are seriously flawed practices.

Let’s say I am a concert organiser and I book an artist I am sure the audience will love to perform at my event. I will never ask him to sing her songs in a different way or to change some of the wording.

If I am not too sure of how the performance will come together, it means that my research was poor. A good speaker will have a sound portfolio of events, Slideshare channel, blog or YouTube Videos of their performances.

Not trusting the speaker’s content means not trusting the speaker. Stop doing that.

‘I Can’t Pay You’

I am not even talking about professional speakers here, because you will inevitably get a no from them without a budget.

But if you plan to make money on other people’s free work, this is not a good practice.

Don’t try to sell me the ‘you’ll get exposure’ thing.

A decent speaker will take at least 7 working days to create the slides, they will lose 2 or 3 days of work to come to your event. That much time cannot be committed for the hope of meeting a good contact.

You are getting the benefit of engaging your audience and the speaker is getting nothing.

A good speaker will always say no to this request.

‘I Will Pay for Travel and Accommodation’

A sound speaker will often times say no to this kind of offer. Unless your event is really high profile or there is a tangible business networking opportunity involved.

Once again you are asking this person to dedicate a lot of prep time to perform for free, this cannot lead to a good performance.

‘Ok but I have no budget’ you may think. If you have no budget for a good speaker, I would seriously question the quality of your event to begin with – this is unless we are in a no-profit context.

‘The Audience Is Great’

Innumerable times I’ve asked the organisers for details about the audience. I am just upset about the lack of collaboration I’ve received.

This is consistently the one item where most planners fail.

A real event pro works together with the speakers to make them understand their audience. She gives them as much information as possible on the audience background, their expectations, their seniority level and confidence with the topic.

Laziness is unacceptable. Technology gives the opportunity to know a lot about the attendees before the event, yet I struggle to understand why event pros forget to use this information to deliver a better education programme.

Next time instead of asking for the slides, try to work together and brainstorm with your speaker on how to deliver a great experience. Everyone will appreciate.

‘I Want You to Tweet 15 Times’

I am a big fan of the ‘let’s ask more from our speakers’ movement. Especially when it gets to social media and content generation.

On the other hand asking for a specific commitment is against any good social media practice.

The task of event professionals should be to hire highly motivated speakers that believe in your event. Not to force someone to tweet.

A highly motivated speaker will tweet, blog and share the awesomeness of your event, without the need of silly contract clauses.

At the same time it is important for event professionals to remind speakers of the importance of being on board with the whole event, to support it and share it with their networks. It’s a matter of coherence.

‘I Heard Your Session Was Great’

Lack of feedback is very insulting to a good speaker. This is both, positive or negative feedback.

Generic feedback is not acceptable anymore. Most events have the tools and technology to give speakers in depth feedback.

A professional speaker would want to know about how they performed in detail.

I gave up on this one personally. I always spend some time after my session asking attendees what they tought about it. It is the only way to make sure next session is going to be better.

A speaker not committed to pursuing customer happiness is a poor speaker.

‘What Do You Usually Talk About?’

That question usually adds insult to injury. If you are considering hiring me I would expect you to at least know what I am up to, what my presentations are about and what I usually cover.

If you are not sure about what I do, it can only mean that I am either a speaking noob still unsure of what to speak about or that you have done poor research.

A lovely event professional would at least know what I am expert about. I don’t need for them to read each and every post I write but at least to have a general understanding of my flare.

In Conclusion

This post won’t necessarily make you feel happy. There will surely be a bit of frustration associated with it.

Yet it carries a powerful message. Speakers are the core of your meeting or conference experience. You should nurture them, spoil them and request action when appropriate.

Your duty as a professional event planner is to carefully select who will perform at your event and to fully support their content.

Your attendees perceive how much you believe in the speakers and will react accordingly.

I will follow up with some guidelines for speakers as well, but in the meanwhile have a think about the above points and try to change the way you deal with speakers. It’s win-win – trust me.

About The Author
Julius Solaris
Julius Solaris is the editor of EventManagerBlog.com, he is an international speaker, author and consultant.
Comment Policy Comments
  • Anne Thornley-Brown

    Excellent points Julius I would add one. It’s called “Can you do it in half the time?”

    As a professional speaker or facilitator, while flexibility is important, we do know how much time we need to achieve results. When you keep cutting the time of your speakers short, don’t be surprised when the event is short circuited and results are disappointed.

    Better to have fewer speakers and high quality, interactive content than a cast of thousands and wall-to-wall talking heads while participants seated in rows fall asleep.

    • Super true Anne

      • disqus_jM0vc5Jnew

        Great points Julius! And many I have encountered as well. I agree with Anne about “Can you shorten your time?”

        This has happened too many times to count as I’m frequently a CLOSING Motivational Keynote speaker. Because of this, I’ve since changed my Slide Deck and my handouts to be more flexible to accommodate the event professional and audience.

        But the worst example of this happened two weeks ago, when I was asked to shorten my 40 minute keynote to 5 MINUTES because the event was over an hour past their end time and the venue had another event coming in.

        I did it, I was still paid in full, and happened to receive the highest marks of the day from the audience.

        Was it the “best” for anyone though?

        On the speaker side, keeping within your given time allowed will make the event professional’s life easier AND allow time for the speakers and events after yours!

        Thank you Julius for your point of view!

    • tracibrowne

      Or how about finding out a week before the event your time’s been cut by an hour…I learned my lesson…I should have put my foot down and said no the the changes and walked…I didn’t and guess who got the blame for a not so great session?

      • I hear you Traci!

      • Anne Thornley-Brown

        It has happened to me on the day.

        I asked for 4 hours for the briefing and business exercises that were an integral part of a team building simulation. Despite my protests, it was cut down to a challenging 2 1/2 hours.

        I was assured there would be no break before I spoke. The 2 speakers before me went over time….cutting my time down to 1 1/2 hours with a hard stop as the group had to be taken by bus to a reception and dinner. Yup they took a break. By the time I came back from the break, I ended up having 1 hour and 10 minutes. Yes, there were complaints that I did not cover the topic in much depth. LOL

        There was also pressure for me to do the debriefing after the simulation the next day in 10 minutes instead of 1 hour. I was relieved when I was told the next morning they weren’t going to bother with the debriefing. It saved me looking utterly ridiculous.

        I ended up putting in months of work to do a 1 hour and 10 min. talk for which I was flown to the other end of the earth twice…once for the location scouting in the desert and the second time business class for the actual team building session.

        I have since met someone who used to work for the company and I was assured this was par for the course and not to take it personally.

        This and similar experiences inspired this blog post:

        Shortcuts Can Short-circuit Corporate Event Effectiveness http://t.co/gTZMuwC1

    • peggyduncan

      Absolutely, Anne. Lots of panels with sponsors making sales pitches.

  • Some fantastic points & a lot I had never really considered. It surprises me that people would not give back feedback in regards to how it went or discuss the type of audience attending – surely the event planner wants the speaker to really understand the audience they are speaking too?

    • Thanks Caitlin – it has happened to me several times

      • Alfred Poor

        It’s happened enough to me that I now ask if there will be written feedback requested from the audience. If not, I offer to provide my own forms for my session, and to share the results with the planner. (This also gives me the opportunity to show the planner that I delivered on my promised results.)

  • Hotel Desk

    What an interesting and potentially controversial post! I also see things from both perspectives and could debate each point (very amicably I might add).

    Experience dictates there should be a mutual balance of speaking requirements, content expectations and delivery objectives between both parties – as you say to be scoped and agreed in a pre-event brainstorming session. This allows both parties to establish a good working relationship based on trust and empowerment to deliver a great speech.

    Over the years, I have witnessed some real disasters when it comes to speakers – including those by professional speakers who have come at a hefty fee. Some have stood infront of a corporate VIP audience and referred to them by their competitors’ name. Some who have refused
    to send copies of slides in advance but arrive at the event late with no
    rehearsal time and slides in the wrong format, leaving the tech & AV guys
    desperately trying to reformat with seconds to go. Last minute speaker
    cancellations etc, etc. These sort of problems can make or break an event and ultimately cost an event manager their client’s contract and individuals their job.

    However, this is the world of event management – being able to put right the problems that go wrong along the way so that events run smoothly and successfully. This means a bit of contingency planning but always within reason – it is certainly not best practice, nor effective to have speakers feeling this way.

    I do hope your speaking employers take note of your post as I value your blog and content and look forward to your speaking engagements at their best at future industry events!

    • Hey Joanne,

      what you say is very true and something that I’ll definitely cover when I’ll do a post looking at the flip side of this relationship.

      Yet I have to point out that there is an opportunity cost in selecting speakers-> we forgo a speaker for someone else.

      I believe that speaker selection should not follow the fame or the popularity of a speaker. Choosing a speaker that likes the event and is really motivated towards it may actually work better than getting an household name.

      I am saying that because those that engage in the behaviour you mentioned are usually the ones who feel more like rockstars than actually part of your event.

      I believe that speaker selection needs to be outside of the box and does not have to substitute a well designed event concept. I am not obviously saying this is your case but I’ve seen a lot of times a complete education program consisting only on selecting one speaker that attracts crowds.
      I would prefer a strong concept involving speakers sold on the project, rather than bored professional speakers that prepare slides the night before the event (I’ve seen this a lot of times).

      • Alfred Poor

        My primary goal is to be the most professional and easiest speaker the planner will ever work with. Then comes delivering a great speech. It doesn’t matter how great I am with the audience if I leave behind a planner who never wants to work with me again (and will share that with the world). As a result, I’ll do just about anything to help make the event a success (and that includes picking up trash and moving chairs and tables).

        • I understand Alfred – the intent of this post is to actually make event professionals realize that it is not cool to get speakers to move chairs (once again I exclude unconferences or no-profit events).

          I believe that speakers need to be protected and treated with respect, and vice versa obviously – but that is another post 🙂

          • Alfred Poor

            Agreed! Too many people in business these days seem to forget that respect works both ways, and when you try to take advantage of the other party, everyone is likely to lose.

      • Hotel Desk

        Thanks Julius – Some great discussion points here. I do actually agree with your perspective and look forward to your follow up post on the flip side.

  • Fred Moore

    Great article, it’s nice to hear from both sides of the equation. Having been in both worlds you have a unique perspective on this.

    I’ve always felt that dealing with “interesting” event planners is par for the course. It’s customer service for speakers and the “customer” is always right…even when they’re wrong.

    My favorite phrase, and usually becomes the event planners favorite too; “that’s not a problem…”

  • I require the slides in advance, but it’s not to check the content. I want to be able to test it on our laptops. We use PCs and despite making it very clear that slides should be in PPT, I always get some Keynote files.

    Also, some people use fonts, video, etc. that are not properly embedded and while they work on the speaker’s local machine, they don’t work outside of there.

    I find it’s essential to troubleshoot these things in advance for the flow of the conference, the ease of the speaker(s) at the session, and the experience of the audience.

    • That makes sense Shawn, it’s part of that brainstorming element I mentioned.

    • Alfred Poor

      …and then there’s the question of 4:3 or 16:9 aspect ratio. As a speaker, I sometimes have a hard time finding out from the planner which format they’ll be using.

  • RLMorgan

    Julius: Good points!

    Having been an international professional speaker for 3 decades as well as an event planner, I understand why planners ask to see the slides. I often speak at events where 90% of the presenters slides are horrible. Poorly designed, too-small fonts, way over crowded w/info. The challenge is how to tell the speaker their slides are bad? So many speakers shoot themselves in the foot — even professional speakers — with their really bad slides.

    • Hi Rebecca,

      I hear you but let’s go a step backward. If you check the Slideshare channel of a speaker you have a feeling of their slides, right?

      If they don’t have a Slideshare channel, either they are highly inspirational, slideless performers (which I love) otherwise they are are a risk to hire in my opinion.

      What I am trying to say is that if you reach the stage where you need to check the quality of the slides, I would question the choice to begin with.
      I also realise this is not always possible and sometimes we have to find a compromise, but a proper speaker does not make the planner feel nervous.
      What do you think?

      • RLMorgan

        Hi Julius:

        Within the last 2 months I spoke at several conferences around the world where 90% of the speakers’ slides were poor. They were invited to speak because of their expertise. Most, I would guess, don’t have a presence on Slideshare — I’d say only a small percentage of my professional speaker colleagues do.

        I agree that any speaker should not make the planner feel nervous. Perhaps a compromise is for the speaker to *ask* the planner to review the slides to help us customize with proper jargon, or offer company examples. Or if the planner is requesting the slides, maybe they could use that as their excuse. 🙂

        • I don’t know about that. Don’t get me wrong, your points are super valid but being a speaker without having some form of presence online sounds odd.
          Let’s say we drop Slideshare, in 2013 I would expect a speaker to have some form of online portfolio, blog or website. That should really help planners to make an educated decision.

          Once again, if the speaker is highly inspirational or charismatic maybe slides are not even needed.

          Nowadays I decline every request to see the slides, as my content and the way I design it is all over the web. I do not expect every speaker to have such a presence, but if someone does this for a living it leaves me puzzled if they don’t have any form of content presence online.

          Anyway I like having this discussion with you as it is making me think about the tips I will give to eventprofs on the next post looking at the other side of this relationship.

          • RLMorgan

            Hello my new BFF: 🙂

            I didn’t say speakers don’t have an online presence. They’d pretty much be out of business if they didn’t. I was specifically commenting on Slideshare. In fact, I think I only have one or two pieces there as nearly all of my presentations are highly customized so the content is proprietary.

            That said, nearly all professional speakers have video clips on their site, YouTube, etc. However, many of those clips don’t show their slides.

            I nearly never get asked for my slides in advance. However, having seen so many poor slides, I think if I were a planner, I would. It just sucks the life out of the room if the slides the speaker frequently references are unreadable. LIke you, I’d rather see a speaker w/no slides than bad ones, assuming competent delivery skills.

            In the conference spoke out most recently, there were easily 100 speakers, some of whom were professionals, some were industry SMEs. The latter often didn’t have strong enough presentation skills to offset their poor slides so people left the room in droves. If I were an even professional, I’d want to avoid that at all costs, as those people leaving will spread bad word of mouth potentially affecting attendance at the next conference.

            So, while I may not be thrilled with being asked for my slides in advance, I think there’s a way to turn it into a win/win. Especially if the planner would give me some good suggestions on how to customize my presentation even more. I think we need to be open to this practice as it will only make the presenters and the conference better.

            Rebecca Morgan, CSP, CMC
            http://www.RebeccaMorgan.com

          • It’s a good perspective, I like it.

            Great to be your new BFF 😉

          • Excellent comments Rebecca, I agree 100% with what you say! I’m a speaker but also hire speakers for conferences (for event planners). And if I bring a professional speaker that has got a slide deck online, etc. I trust him/her and won’t ask for slides. But many times I also have to bring event professionals who don’t usually speak in public, but have got a good story, expertise, etc. In this case, I work with them to design a good presentation, send them guidelines, etc AND ask them to send me the slides, just to make sure they are not as you mention. We also offer them the possibility to have the slides designed by us (and it’s not about adding our company logo, just the look!). I always try to set expectations in advance and be very polite, as you say, it is very hard to say to someone ‘your slides suck…’

  • Jennifer Kane

    The slides thing always gets me because my slides have very little
    text on them. You have to listen and watch to understand what they’re
    saying, which i do purposefully to keep the audience engaged. So event
    planners are rarely thrilled with what I send them (and most of the time
    I just refuse to do so, explainng that they’d make no sense out of
    context.)

    It seems like planners who are asking for slides in
    advance are in fact wanting to see an OUTLINE of the presentation. But
    if you can get a sense of the full outline of someone’s topic from
    previewing their deck, that’s probably because there is way too much
    text on the slides (in other words, the more comforting the slides are
    for the planner, the more boring the slides are likely to be for the
    audience.)

    Also another pet peeve is planners who throw
    in presentation follow up requests at the last minute. Like the audience is
    applauding and you’re walking off stage and someone hops up and says,
    “Jennifer’s slides will be posted on our website this evening.”
    (Um…say what? First I’ve heard about that.) Or the time an event manager, actually copied my slides onto a drive (without asking) while I was still on stage doing Q&A and then posted them publicly (also without asking). Or event planners who promise some sort of educational handout to go with my session (again, usually announced from the stage) that I did not agree to create.

    • Fully agree Jennifer, thanks for contributing

    • Alfred Poor

      Jennifer, I agree with what you say, but I’d point out that there are options besides refusing to cooperate with the request. For me, this is an opportunity to probe a bit; what do they intend to learn from seeing my deck? Is it to test it for compatibility? Do they want to understand my outline? Are they checking for something else? A little dialog at this point, coming from the spirit of “I really want to give you what you want; what is it that you’re really asking for?” might give you the opportunity to over-deliver and score some points.

      • Jennifer Kane

        “refuse” was probably a poor choice of word. I don’t do it in a bitchy way, but in an educational one — using it as an opportunity to find out what they’re really after and how I can address those concerns (which usually results in me not sending slides but doing something else like talking through an outline.) Believe me, “over-deliver” is my default. 🙂

  • peggyduncan

    I’m really surprised when groups want you to actually pay a registration and your travel. Wow, they’ll pay for the hotel, catering, etc., but not the educators.

  • Perk Idea

    I can relate to the part where you wrote ‘I Can’t Pay You’. I take into consideration that speakers are not volunteers but they are meant for a purpose. You got a valid point here “You are getting the benefit of engaging your audience and the speaker is getting nothing.”
    the speaker does not benefit much if the organizer is not paying him.
    Time is money, Commitment is money. Great post written. I think just a note to all event professional, research is very important before inviting the speaker. Research in terms of the audience, budget, whether you have enough budget to do a successful event where people look forward for your event.

  • Completely agree with you 100% on everything you said so well Julius—except the slides. (Techs need slide decks in advance to check they’ll display OK. I’ve been on both sides of this one.)

    Please don’t get me started about paying speakers. I wrote the following post last month:

    http://www.conferencesthatwork.com/index.php/event-professionals/2013/05/why-dont-meeting-conferences-pay-speakers/

  • Heather

    Great article! The bottom line is to work hard and do your best — take time and do the research, don’t be cheap and remember the speaker is a person, not just another element of your event. Thank you for the advice!

  • Jennifer Collins,CMP

    Good points. Although, I think the end of your article was most important about guidelines. We’ve developed a set of these given the experiences we’ve had selecting talent. So I can understand your thoughts from both sides. But I do feel the groundwork/research done beforehand is the most critical. It may not always catch a “rogue” speaker, but I do believe through thorough research, conversations, etc. that you can pick up on areas of potential issue in listening to their consistency – or lack thereof.

    • The level of comments reinforces that research is paramount. Agreed!

  • Peter Cook

    “You’ll get exposure” is in fact the greatest clue to saying no as a speaker. I can simply take my clothes off in public to achieve that 🙂

    Good post – well written

  • Dagvoorzitter.nl

    Great post and in many ways so true. But in defence of the event-planners: I can imagine them being somewhat ‘overprotective’ of their event and their budget, given the fact that so many speaker do not live up to your dream-perspective.
    About 90% of the speakers need to be controlled over and over again, since they’re not professionals! Many speakers have the arrogance to think they do not need te prepare, not need to tailormake their story to fit the audience’s expectations. Only when the vast majority of speakers prove to be able to really understand the goals of a meeting and their specific place in every single event-architecture, event-planners might be able to let go …
    So, in the real world both event-planners and speakers in my opinion need to take the next step in bringing the event-profession to a higher level.
    JJ

  • maryannebobrow

    Associations are the worst at this. Seems most have moved to a model that if you are not a keynote (sponsored by a speakers bureau or someone else) then you may have the privilege of speaking at a conference that makes the association a ton of money and in return, you must pay for your own travel and lodging. If you are lucky, you may get your conference registration comped.
    What if all the presenters simply said no?

    • That is a very bad practice although it’s always difficult to generalize. It seems to be a virus spread in very different organizations.

      • maryannebobrow

        It is more prevalent than you might think.

        • It is very common indeed – does not mean it is the right thing to do

  • omegaeventrentals

    You are right that speakers are at the core of many events. But, I think the underlying theme is that you need to build good relationships with everyone that you have to work with to pull off an event. From the caterer to event vendors and the keynote speakers, each one plays a role in executing the event.

    • I agree, it’s part of a delicate mechanism but you wouldn’t say I have no budget to the caterer or the AV person. Why is that such a common practice with speakers?

  • tracibrowne

    I love the “exposure” theory. Come speak to my audience for free…you’ll get some great exposure. Quickly followed by, use our slide template (um…I use Keynote or Presi…not PP) do not put your branding, contact information on the slide or even remotely mention what you have done for clients in your presentations because we consider that selling. So where is this exposure?

    There is a difference between a one hour sales pitch and giving real world examples/case studies to educate the audience. And…the least you could do if not paying your speakers is give them 60 seconds to give their “elevator pitch”.

    Of course there are at least another 30 reasons why “exposure” is ridiculous compensation but I’ll just leave it here.

    • Well said Traci

    • François Jullien

      nowadays “exposure” seems to be replaced by “what a great networking opportunity for you”… except you are being flown away 15 minutes after your speech with no time to shower or change… thanks lad, appreciate…

  • François Jullien

    Hi! you are the brave kind Julius. As you do, I organise, speak, produce… not at the same time although it may have happened.

    I just want to follow up on the ‘speakers need to be protected’. Yes they/we do… How often you find yourself on a poorly lit stage where the planner looks at you with disdain when you suggest improvements from the light director. Try to read your cue card when you can’t barely see your feet.
    It is hard to admit but our face value is all we have. I was asked recently to put together a video of my moderator/speaker assignements and from the 25 or so filmed jobs I did i could only show one video… I would not dare to show the rest. So yes, we need you. Bad…

  • Hey all,

    the promised follow up post is here https://www.eventmanagerblog.com/annoying-speakers-conferences

Julius Solaris
Editor, Julius Solaris

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