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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.
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.
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.
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.