Don’t say another word

Why some speakers don’t get asked back and how to make sure you do.

Are you an in-demand speaker? To be fair, it’s likely that only a few speakers can honestly answer ‘yes’ to this question. But speaking is becoming a more competitive activity. Organisers need to be able to trust the speakers they bring in to deliver the experience and insight that has been promised on the programme. And speaking is becoming more mainstream, it’s value as a channel of promotion for businesses and individuals is far less hidden than it used to be.

Against this backdrop, if you’re inadvertently setting yourself up as a ‘problem speaker’ you’re risking missing out on some great opportunities to promote yourself and your ideas. What kind of things stop a speaker from being asked back, or progressing their speaker career? And what can you do to raise your chances of being re-booked and being offered bigger opportunities?

I spoke with Julia Jepps, an experienced Programme & Research Director to find out. With over 30 years’ experience of working with speakers Julia has seen the common traps that speakers fall into, that mean they don’t get asked back. Here’s her 7-point checklist with some advice on how to avoid them.

Repeating old material: When speakers arrive with the same material time and again, especially if your sector is small or you speak at several events, it’s likely that people will have heard it before. Try to adapt and tailor presentations to the audience. Revise your material by asking yourself, “What’s new?” “What’s changed? “What could I add?”

Lazy performance: When the speaker hasn’t prepared or rehearsed and ‘wings it’ – very few get away with this. This is considered disrespectful to the audience and infuriating for the organiser. If you’ve said yes, do the work.

Straying from the brief on the programme: this often takes the form of an unnecessarily long description of the speakers organisation. You can see the audience picking up their mobile phones (and it’s not to tweet the content!). Use the synopsis you provided to the organiser to form your session. By all means make a brief introduction to the organisation but one slide should do it. And then focus on your theme. That’s what the delegates have paid to hear.

Selling from the stage: If you are a supplier to the industry, any hint of a sales pitch will detract from your presentation. Delegates are very sensitive about being sold to even if you think your product is the best in the world. Let your story sell you.

Taking a repeat engagement for-granted: Don’t bank on being invited back year-in, year-out. Organisers need to refresh annual/regular events and so you may not be invited back immediately for this reason alone. It’s good for an organiser to have different speakers on annual events, with some exceptions. Reach out to other organisations.

Being a ‘difficult speaker’: Speakers who are difficult to deal with don’t tend to get invited back. Behaviour falling into this category includes not responding to emails, not engaging with the organiser or chair, failing to submit presentations, turning up late and not make an effort to network at the event. Be easy to work with and you’ll increase your chances of other opportunities coming your way.

Dropping out last minute: Unless in exceptional circumstances (such as family crisis/death; sickness; work related emergency), speakers who withdraw very late in the day attract a red flag. If you have to withdraw, make an effort to find a replacement from your own organisation or external contact.  Write a proper apology. Leaving the organiser high and dry means you’re unlikely to be invited again.

Speaking is becoming more competitive. The success of a conference turns on the quality of the speakers. When it comes to choosing between speakers of similar quality, how they behave is as important as what they say. Put simply, an organiser will choose people who both deliver as a speaker, and are reliable and easy to work with. Is that you?

Do you need to work on your approach to speaking engagements? Do get in touch.

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