Being a speaker is a great job. I love travelling around Denmark and Europe to talk about Danish culture and Danish working culture, and most of the meeting planners I deal with are smart, enthusiastic people.
But like any job, it has its minor irritations – the shaky, blurry projector that cuts off the bottom 25% of each slide; the headset mike that won’t turn on (Hello? Hello? Can you hear me?); the corporate vice president whose “introduction” goes on for 20 minutes.
Those are evergreens – they’ll probably never go away. Today, though, I’d like talk about three totally unnecessary things meeting planners do that drive speakers crazy.
They don’t give me enough detail about the audience
I just worked with a great meeting planner last month. She was in charge of a group of Italians trying to navigate the Danish workplace, and we spent at least an hour discussing specific challenges Italians face. We went from the trivial (“Why are the cups of coffee so big? In Denmark you have short breaks, but very large cups of coffee”) to the significant (There’s no lifetime employment in Denmark? You can be fired at any time? What about your pension?)
Because I had so much good information about the audience’s pain points, I was able to weave it into my presentation. The Italian listeners felt like I was speaking directly to them.
A few meeting planners, by contrast, give me only the bare minimum of information about whom I’ll be speaking to. “They’re international engineers,” is something I’ve heard more than once. International from where? Newly arrived or long-established? Single or with families? Any specific problems they’ve been struggling with in Denmark? The more the meeting planner can tell me about the people who are going to be in the audience, the more relevant my presentation will be for them.
They don’t use their unique knowledge to promote the event
While I’ll do whatever I can to help publicize a speech – provide promo text, posters, event-specific short videos – only meeting planners have access to the internal communications system for their groups. They have access to the company intranet, group emails, Slack, and posters on the lunchroom bulletin boards that can reach the people who would enjoy the event.
It doesn’t happen often, but there’s nothing worse for a speaker than showing up for an event to find 12 people sitting in an audience meant for 35, and you secretly worry that half of those 12 might be cleaning staff brought in to fill up the seats. Is it because the event was poorly targeted – should they have chosen a speaker on a different topic? – or poorly publicized?
Sometimes bad turnout can also be because of bad scheduling. One university college booked me to speak at the precise time newly arrived international students were taking an important placement test. Only the meeting planner has the important internal information that can make or break an event.
They don’t feed the audience
I’ll take an angry, hostile audience over a hungry one. There’s nothing more depressing for a speaker than to look out over an ocean of glassy eyes and rumbling stomachs, an audience with their thoughts focused not on me but on the sandwiches being delivered at the end of the room.
This is why the 11:30 am slot on the agenda is something I try to avoid.
For afternoon or evening audiences, one of the first things I ask is “Will there be cake?” (and, for my party-type events like the How to Live in Denmark Game Show, “Will there be beer?”) Cake is the unsung currency of Denmark, and probably Germany and Sweden as well. Cake means relaxation and conviviality; cake makes everything better. Occasionally a meeting planner will tell me “I can’t afford cake.” If you can’t afford cake, then maybe you need a cheaper speaker.