Professional Speaking Rules to Break
Reprinted from the Canadian Association of Professional Speakers:
Ask the Expert : What “Golden Rules” Can Be Broken?
by Alan Weiss
The speaking business has changed significantly in the past decade, but the people in it often seem not to have noticed, as if watching jet aircraft from the insular comfort of their stagecoaches and thinking there’s nothing odd about that. I’ve seldom seen so many antiquated ideas bandied about as if still contemporary. I’m sure it was useful at one time to know the best way to kill a Tyrannosaurus, but even if the approach still made sense, the great beasts were last seen tens of millions of years ago.
I’ve been asked to report on what “golden rules” can be broken. I assume we’re talking about speaking and not Commandments, so here are my nominations:
1. Working through intermediaries.
It is ethically and pragmatically necessary to establish a relationship with the person who is making the investment in the speaker. That is never a bureau, a meeting planner, or an event manager. We must find the individual whose objectives and evaluation are critical, because it is their investment. The better bureaus and meeting planners readily facilitate a meeting with the true “buyer.”
2. Acting like a “hired hand” and ecstatic to have the business.
I actually heard an NSA convention speaker say that he was a “hired hand” who would help a client move tables or set up recording equipment. I’m not a hired hand, I’m a highly skilled professional, and I’d no more help with non-speaking activities than my doctor would help find an oil leak in my car during my visit, even if he knew about cars. We must stop undermining our value.
3. Thinking that stage mechanics and movement outrank words and meaning.
There have been bogus citations of “research” purporting to show that non-verbal behavior has more impact than words. This has been perpetuated by those who either never looked at the “research” or don’t know how to use words. Words are the tools of our craft. I’ve listened, rapt, to people who speak well even if they choose not to—or can’t—move at all.
4. Believing that audience evaluations are important.
“Smile sheets” are just dumb. The audience members are the last people you want to ask about success. We’re often called upon to make them uncomfortable, to shake them out of lethargy, to accept radical change. We don’t need for them to like us, we need for the buyer’s objectives to be met (see #1 above). You’re not in this business to be loved. If you need love, get a dog. (And within the profession, I’m bored to tears of undeserved standing ovations.)
5. Maintaining a fee schedule.
You should stop looking at a speech or training program as an “event.” Think about what you can do prior (e.g., interviews, surveys) and what you can do at the session (e.g., handouts, coaching), and what you can do after the event (e.g., newsletters, email access), and you now have a project instead of an event, that is worth ten times your “speaking fee.” The problem is that you probably “throw in” most of those extras for free to prove your value! (And bureaus demand “fee schedules” because they treat speakers like an ongoing cattle call.)
6. Thinking you have a “message” and this is an avocation.
This is an occupation, and unless you are meeting a market need (or creating one) no one cares about your “message.” It’s great if you overcame some challenge or learned some cosmic lesson, but unless you can interpret that into practical improvement for others, it’s just a nice story over cocktails and nothing others want to pay to hear. (No one will pay to see your vacation slides.) This is a business, not a hobby.
7. Listening to “experts.”
Unless the ski instructor is six yards ahead of you on the hill doing exactly what you want to do, the instructor is a fraud. Drinking brandy in the chalet is insufficient. Only listen to those who have done what you want to do repeatedly and successfully. Most people at conventions lie to each other about how well they’re doing, and too many people giving advice are solely “advice-givers,” with no real credentials of success.
Feel free to break all of these rules. I have. So do the people I coach. Now, follow me down the slope….
© Alan Weiss 2009. All rights reserved.