I recently conducted a survey of meeting planners asking them what drives them batty when it comes to professional speakers. (For you survey stat nerds, here’s the numbers: I surveyed somewhere between 2 and 17,486 meeting planners. The results are accurate plus or minus 4000%, 37 and a half times out 93, except for Newfoundland where the results aren’t due in for another half hour.)
So I now bring you the most perplexing meeting planners’ pet peeves, and, in my never-ending quest to serve humanity, my solutions to de-peeve the peeves.
1. Speakers who don’t return phone calls promptly. (43% flagged this as “frustrating, in an annoying sort of way.”)
Solution: Never return their phone calls. If you return their phone calls late it makes you look poorly organized, unresponsive and uncaring, whereas if you never return the meeting planner’s call, you not only position yourself as an uber-celebrity speaker and thus above all that “phone business,” you also send the message to the meeting planner that “you trust that they have everything under control and respect the fact that they are insanely busy and thus was doing them a huge favour by not filling up their day with puerile chitchat.”
2. Speakers who don’t send in their handouts or slides in a timely fashion, such as before the event. (36% flagged this as “annoying, in a frustrating sort of way.”.
Solution: Don’t use handouts or PowerPoint. (You know, this really isn’t rocket science.)
3. Speakers who show up at the last minute. (29% noted this as “frustrating, in a frustrating sort of way.”)
Solution: Arrive at the event at least a week early on the client’s dime so there is absolutely no concern over missing your sound check. This is especially critical when the event is in Hawaii, the Caribbean, or the south of France.
4. Speakers with extravagant travel demands. (27% of the meeting planners noted this was upsetting, mostly because they had to fly coach.)
Solution: I thought hard about this one while returning from a speaking event aboard Donald Trump’s newly refurbished $ 100 million private luxury jet, and to be honest, I really couldn’t come up with an adequate solution to this one. (Please accept my apologies, but it’s not like I didn’t try. I even asked my jet chef, limo masseuse and personal pillow manager who accompanies me on all my trips for suggestions, but, I don’t know, maybe it was all the champagne we had, we just kept shooting blanks!)
5. Speakers who make last minute outrageous room or audio-visual requests. (24% said this was infuriating, while 1% said it reminded them of Mr. Johnson’s gym class—a mysterious response, granted, but statistically valid.)
Solution: Professional speakers need to quit being prima donas and learn to work with the room they are given. So what if the meeting place is actually a “barn”? (And by “barn”, I mean barn.) So what if your presentation will only be considered a barn burner if the barn actually catches on fire? So what if your presentation will be completely ineffective and the entire event a waste of everyone’s time and money? The important thing is to never stand too close to the horse stall.
6. Speakers who go over their allotted time. (21% cited this as an “ulcer-inducing, stroke-creating, aneurism-generating, heartburn-festering, toe-stubbing, stomach-churning cluster-funk.”)
Solution: There’s a few options here. One is for the speaker to end their talk when they actually said they would, but let’s face it, the chances of that happening are about the same chance that Bob, the emcee from accounting, isn’t going to go 20 minutes over time regaling the audience with his impersonation of Dan from accounting.
Another solution is for the speaker to start before their allotted time. I’ve done this a few times myself by simply lurking on the side of the stage and waiting for the speaker before me to pause to catch their breath (a totally amateur move by the way) and then seamlessly streaming into my talk as I nonchalantly edge towards the center of the stage.
A final option is to simply do away with the notion of “allotted time.” After all, isn’t setting a prescribed length beforehand putting the cart before the horse? Shouldn’t speakers focus on results, not artificial metrics that measure quantity over quality? How would you feel, for example, if your brain surgeon said he only allotted 45 minutes for your surgery, so “he’ll try and wrap things up on time”?
And the beauty of not having an allotted time is that it works in both directions. So if a speaker really isn’t enjoying the audience or the venue arranged by the meeting planner, they can always wrap up their hour keynote in ten minutes and call it a day.
The partnership that exists between professional speakers and meeting planners is much like the symbiotic relationship between algae and fungi found in lichens: fragile; often up a tree; sometimes colorful; always at its best when the two parties are deeply connected and sucking nutrients from one another. I hope that in some small measure I have helped strengthen the nutrient-sucking bond found within the heart of the meetings industry.
Michael Kerr is a very funny Canadian motivational speaker who has, indeed, spoken in a barn. www.mikekerr.com ; firstname.lastname@example.org
“Just wanted to say “WOW!” Our group has had many speakers over the years, but none the likes of Mike Kerr.”
Richard Dansereau, President, NAPA Autopro BDG
“Michael Kerr is one of the best speakers I have seen. I highly recommend him!”
Veronica D. Bouvier, Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer, Aspen Properties Ltd.
“Mike held the full attention of our senior management team for a full FOUR hour
presentation – no small accomplishment!”
Martine Rothblatt, CEO, United Therapeutics
“Our participants rated you as the speaker with the highest quality and relevance.”
Lana J. Larocque, Alberta Human Resources