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Those Crucial Questions You Should Ask Before Hiring Your Next Keynote Speaker

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Michael Sinnhuber has seen his fair share of bad presentations across the globe. In his third great article for us he explores whose responsibility it is to make sure that the speaker delivers and that the audience gets their money’s worth.

 

8.55 a.m. The room is fully packed and the audience is waiting in anticipation. The conference is about to kick-off with the keynote speech, held by a well-known expert in his field. Many of the people in the audience have come from away and paid a high price to see him live and to be part of an inspiring day full of interesting topics. He steps on stage and starts to talk. The first sentences fill the room and all of sudden the audience seems to freeze.

What’s that? Is he really reading his words one by one from a script? No, this can’t be true. But it is!

Instead of an inspiring talk all he does is hold a lecture, and a very boring one indeed. It doesn’t take long until the first people start to fumble around on their smartphones, typing messages on their social media profiles. Just a few seconds later, these messages pop up on the large twitter wall for all (around 450) people in the room (and everybody on twitter) to see. And they state what everybody in the room is thinking.

  • “This years keynote speech is a keynote read. What a start?!” #fail
  • “I just thought I heard my grandpa reading fairy tales? But I never paid him 500 Euros.” #iwantmymoneyback
  • “If I want to read a book, I’ll buy a book.” #Cheaper
  • And so on…

 

Pay money to receive pain?

I must admit, that this example is a pretty extreme one, that rarely happened to me. But I have experienced a lot of similar presentations at several occasions & conferences in the last couple of years. In most cases the presenters read their slides out loud, which doesn’t make a big difference to reading from a script.

 

Reading slides is not presenting

And if people want to read from slides, there are cheaper ways to do so.

How do people react to that kind of “lecture”? The results are always the same. Attention drops to a minimum and the presentation mutates from gain to a real pain. But if you pay a lot of money to attend a conference, you don’t want to sit through painfully boring presentations, right? And from an event organiser’s point of view, I am pretty sure, the last things they want people to remember from their events are pain and boredom.

 

Being an expert does not make you a good presenter

So why do such things happen again and again? I guess, because event organisers only check the expertise of their speakers. But being an expert doesn’t make him/her a good speaker/presenter.

So why do event organisers not check the presentation (slide design) skills of their speakers? I have no idea!

 

Quality management for event organisers

Let’s face it – speakers are the main assets of any conference. Their heads are on any piece of marketing deliverable. From website to social media, from brochures to PR kits. Speakers are the lead magnet for the event. And you don’t check the quality of your main assets? Why?

If you hire a catering company, you try the food before you buy. There’s a technical check for all the technical equipment. Before you buy a new car, you take it for a test ride. Why not asking your speakers for a test ride – in public speaking and/or slide design?

Stakes are high for both. But I guess there is a lot more at stake for the event organiser. If a speaker is really bad, he won’t get a lot of future invitations to speak. Unless he’s a professional speaker, this will not harm his business. But if the feedback about the “bad quality of speeches” of an event gets viral, this could kill the credibility of the event and the organizers and lead to economic ruin – in worst case.

 

Reputation

Nobody wants to ruin his business with bad products, right? So I tried to find out what event organisers think about that issue. The outcome pretty much confirmed the thoughts I had in mind.

Although all organisers focus on building a good reputation, none of them had a quality management in place, checking the quality of their main assets. Why? Because most of them said, that “the expertise of a speaker” stands for itself. “And, it is not possible to ask a well-known expert for a test-ride.”

 

Conclusion

I completely disagree!

As a production company you are fully responsible for the quality of your products. If you outsource production, it’s still you who’s responsible. As an event organiser, the speakers are the main parts of your product. If you don’t check their quality upfront, you are fully responsible if the end product is of bad quality.

Dear event organisers – If you want to put your reputation & business at risk, go on like you did in the past. But, if you want to make your event business future-proof, you should take TED as a role model. You will never see a bad presenter stand on a TED stage. Why? Because TED really cares about the quality of their speakers. And so should you!

 

Michael Sinnhuber

Michael Sinnhuber

Founder and Owner at mcprezi
Michael Sinnhuber is founder & owner of the presentation design & training agency mcprezi and the presentation platform Presenter.world. His main purpose is to save this world from boring presentations – one at a time. Besides that, he was handpicked by Prezi to be one of only around 40 “Prezi Independent Experts” worldwide.
Michael Sinnhuber
2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Oliver

    1st July 2016 at 2:53 pm

    Yes! Emphatically! And yet… no.

    There are sometimes concerns that force you to bite the bullet, like it or not.

    A few years ago, I was organizing a conference where my then-employer invited customers to point out the fact that we had bought our local distributor but all that meant was even greater and more direct care for our customers. Now, we were in the healthcare business and some of the most powerful thought leaders are the heads of learned societies in pertinent medical disciplines, and we had invited some of them as speakers. It was just that one of them s*u*c*k*e*d. Big time. He arrived with a humonguous number of slides for a brief keynote. I managed to talk him down to the equivalent to 2-3 slides per minute. Still too much, since there was too much on those slides, too. But he described in his keynote how he deployed our products at his laboratory in the presence of delegates from the ministry of health, and he evidently was very proud of that.

    We DID a QC of the event and our customers were of one mind “That speaker sucked but the event was great”. Had we not invited him or forced even greater changes to the presentation, we would have had to deal with an important opinion leader being rendered hostile by our conduct. NOT a good way to push business. So we ensured that the overall event swept our customers off their feet and that one presentation was seen as chiefly the presenter’s fault.

    So yes, those presentations are a disaster and if possible, such speakers should be avoided. But when encountering such a presentation, please consider the possibility that the speaker may just be too important not to be invited to speak.

    • Michael

      Michael

      2nd July 2016 at 10:06 am

      Hi Oliver,

      and thanks for your comment. Of course there can always be some tactical reasons behind the lineup of speakers. But what I was talking about, was the organisation of an open event or conference not an internal one with a tactical business goal in mind.

      At the end of the day, the outcome speaks for itself. If people really said “that speaker sucked”, then maybe he’s no longer the “opinion leader” he thought he might be, meaning bad presentations can also ruin your credibility as an expert. And if he really sucked bad time, as you said, chances are that nobody in the room remembered anything he said. So – as great as his experiences and actions might have been – he couldn’t get his point across in that keynote. And the only thing that people remember is, that he really sucked onstage.

      If you only have one out of 10, that’s still fine for your event. But I have seen too many events, where 1 out of 10 was a good one. And if you organize an event with 10 so called experts and only one is a good speaker, then you’re in big trouble as an organizer, right?

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