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Speaking Lessons: Learning the Hard Way

Okay, now I’m going to dish out the ugly side of the event business so that you can get an idea of what to watch out for and hopefully avoid. Here are a few bad experiences I’ve had with hosts that went terribly wrong. I won’t mention these hosts by name, but I will mention them by experience.   

First there was “The Hostage Holder.” This host held the speakers captive for the entire weekend by not telling them when they would be going on stage to speak. He did this just to keep the speakers available for the full event. Now, usually I’ll stay for the majority of an event anyway, but I don’t want to be forced to stay. The more he tried to keep control of everything and everyone, the more he lost control. He didn’t even have control of the event in the planning stages, because he filled the room with the wrong audience.

While doing my “homework” in advance of agreeing to speak, the host assured me that he was going to fill the event with business owners and entrepreneurs; yet the audience was much different. It turned out that 95 percent of the audience were cubicle workers from a high-tech company. They didn’t want to have their own business and they didn’t want to become entrepreneurs. This was not a good fit! 

The host set everyone up for a disaster. The speakers couldn’t sell and the audience was “beaten up” with high-pitch offers for days that they didn’t want to invest in. The audience and the speakers were all being held hostage!  

When I finally got to speak on the third day of the event I was not about to try and SELL this audience. My presentation went from a sales mode to a motivational talk. 

At least I was able to support the audience on what they wanted and needed to hear.

Lessons Learned: No matter what happens at an event, keep your cool and remain professional. Your job is to support the host and the audience to the best of your ability. It’s a small world in the expert business and the word gets out quickly. Therefore, your reputation is more valuable than just about any other asset you possess. Every time you speak, you have the privilege of the platform and the opportunity to touch someone deeply with your message and your expertise. 

Then there was “Mr. Big Shot” who hosted a huge event in Texas. He rented out the entire convention center for a women’s conference and told the speakers there would be 3,000 people attending. Some of the biggest names in the speaking business where invited to present. I was honored to be included as a headline speaker and it was definitely a good prospective market match for my expertise. Months in advance speakers prepared for the big event; some even flew in their entire team for sales support. I arrived a couple of days in advance to get prepared, but when I arrived something didn’t feel right. I did a “walk-through” of the convention center the day before and no one was there. Nothing and no one seemed to be prepared for the big day. 

When I arrived the next morning, the convention center was still empty. Speakers were showing up and setting up their expo booths, but the audience wasn’t showing up yet. After setting up my expo table, I took time to chat up my speaker friends, and as the clock ticked away we started to get nervous. It was now 8:30 a.m., and still very few attendees had arrived in the building. The event was due to kick off at 9 a.m.  Yikes!  

Well, you guessed it; the event was a huge NO SHOW. I got on the main stage set for 3,000 attendees at 10:30 a.m. with only 15 attendees in my audience—and most of them were my speaker friends. OMG! I’ve never seen an event disaster of this magnitude in my life. This one goes down in history. 

Lessons Learned: I do believe that there is a reason why something happens, especially in the most challenging situations. This one was not easy to figure out at first, but here’s my take on it: Don’t allow your EGO to get in the way of making good business decisions when planning your own event. Don’t expect your speakers to put “butts in the seats” for you. And one more: Don’t focus on marketing the speakers rather than the benefits the audience will receive. Of course, “Mr. Big Shot” would NOT agree with me on these lessons, because he refused to take responsibility for his mistakes. Hmmmmm…maybe that’s another lesson! 

No one was a winner here: not the host, not the speakers and certainly not the audience (because they didn’t show up). Okay, so you get the idea of what could go wrong at events, yet most of the time the event hosts do what they say they are going to do, which makes for a great win/win. One thing I know for sure is that each event has a life of its own, no matter who’s doing the hosting.

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