Last night I was a guest speaker for ABWA. My presentation was Speak Powerfully Sell More: Speak Your Way to More Business. One woman in the audience asked a question about how to handle a celebrity who is hired to speak and doesn't deliver. This woman went on a rant about how many of these celebrities are not good speakers and yet meeting planners continue to hire them. I explained that the reason for that was event planners want to sell tickets. An event will sell out when the keynote speaker is a celebrity.
This made me reflect on my own experience at conferences and I had to agree. I recall one convention where I signed up for the lunch event for an additional charge. The guest speaker was a well known television personality. And he was late! We had already been served the main course before he cavalierly sauntered on stage in his jeans and pec-enhanced tee shirt. I enjoyed his stories but I couldn't get past his lateness. He never made mention of it. The woman sitting next to me had booked celebrity speakers in a past job and told me that they don't care if they're late. They expect everybody to wait for them.
It seems that some celebrities don't prepare or don't know the audience. One woman media personality gave a presentation about herself and her career path. Who cares? Can you spell BORING? Some celebrity speakers trade on their name and expect to be paid just for showing up.
A number of years ago, I was hired by the National Basketball Association when they launched the NBDL (minor league team). My job was to media train the team presidents and media relations people of these newly formed teams. The media training was well-received. One woman thanked me and said that she had recently been part of the Olympic committee. The committee brought in the "big gun" media trainers who were television anchors. She confided to me that these anchors "Just showed us videos and told us stories. But you showed us how to do it."
Once again, it's all about perceived value. I'm sure I made a fraction of what they paid these anchors. But because of their celebrity status, they were considered excellent media trainers.
So what is the solution? How can meeting planners and speakers bureaus ensure that the celebrity speakers can deliver? They can't. Some guest speakers have a good reputation for consistently delivering a great keynote speech. Hire them. But let's say you want a particular celebrity for your meeting because you'll sell out your event, but you know the speaker doesn't have very good platform skills?
Don't give the celebrity the keynote speech. Instead, feature them as the main event for an interview on stage. Conduct the interview "Charlie Rose" style. Then hire a professional speaker who can wow the crowd or has strong content. The audience will get exposure to the celebrity or guest, the celebrity's ego will be intact as the main act, and you won't lose your reputation as an event planner.
When it comes to meetings and events, public speaking skills matter. The event is only as good as the speakers. The audience will pay to hear a celebrity, but if he doesn't deliver, they may not come back the next time.
If you book celebrity speakers, I'd love to hear how you ensure that they will deliver on the platform. And what do you do when they disappoint the audience? Would you hire a celebrity speaker the next time? Or would you try a less known presenter or entertainer?