When it comes to hiring speakers for your company, remember the words of Mark Twain: “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.”
Like many professions, lots of people have preconceptions about the business of being a professional speaker that just aren’t true. In fact, you probably know Twain as a writer, but in his lifetime he was practically as famous for his presentations:
Mark Twain did not read from his writings when he gave a lecture or speech. He spoke from memory. His hundreds of public performances from stages, podiums, and banquet tables were carefully crafted pieces, timed and rehearsed to fit the needs of a specific audience. They were designed to entertain.
In his lifetime Mark Twain was almost as well-known a public speaker as he was a writer, and lecture tours were a major source of his income. From early in his career, he could fill a lecture hall wherever he went. While he joked in 1868 that he was staying on in San Francisco an extra day “in order to lecture and so persecute the public for their lasting benefit and my profit,” by 1872 he was frustrated and exhausted by the demands of touring, and he hoped he could soon retire from lecturing.
Here are seven facts you probably thought you “knew for sure but just ain’t so” about professional speakers.
1. All Speakers are Full-of-Themselves Narcissists
This isn’t true, and even if it were it would not matter. First: lots of people have talked about how humility is engaging. In fact, embracing vulnerability is the a centerpiece of world-famous speaker Brené Brown. It’s what Jim Collins discusses as key in the highest level of leadership.
But it also doesn’t matter. Because speaking is a form of performance, like acting. A great speaker tells a story and makes an argument that moves the audience to action. Maybe they are a jerk on their own time, but you’re not hiring them for their home life. You’re hiring them to deliver a presentation that will have an impact on the people who are in the room.
2. Speakers Are Disingenuous and Give Unworkable or Vague Ideas
This suggestion might have been true a few decades ago, but is rapidly becoming outdated. Modern speakers are driven by hard data and facts. Many of them are PhD researchers and accomplished journalists. Take for example Carol Dweck, champion of the ‘mindset’ concept. She did her doctoral work at Yale, and has taught at Columbia University, Harvard University, and the University of Illinois. Dweck joined the faculty at Stanford in 2004.
Or, look at Gary Vaynerchuk, whose speaking style is to tell his story and explain what worked and hasn’t worked for him. He gives the honest truth, not a carefully presented version of ideas that could apply to anyone.
3. Speakers Are Expensive and Charge More Than They are Worth
This one is too easy. You should pay for the change you want to happen. We already covered how much you should pay speakers in a blog post before, so go read that one.
4. We Have a Vice President / An Outside Speaker Could Never Understand Our Unique Needs
It would be truly amazing if the problems you have in your organization were completely different in every way than every other company. But just like a doctor studies the human body and a psychiatrist studies the human mind, good speakers study the corporate organism and look for patterns, trends, and common ailments. And although the work is done for individuals, it is done based on the collective knowledge of the industry.
What makes us able to help you is what you have in common with others. Be grateful for this moment of conformity.
5. A YouTube video or Slide Deck is Just as Good
As with many professions, modern technology is a threat to the speaking industry. However, there’s an electric connection that happens with an audience who is in the same room as a person delivering a powerful message.
Plus, you have the opportunity to ask questions live, and even do so privately. That’s something a passive technology can never replicate.
6. Speakers Are Irrelevant Because They Give the Same Talk Over and Over Again
Admittedly, there are some in the industry who have been giving the same speech, word for word, for years. In part that’s because what people need. Just like we are all reading the same books and watching the same films and experiencing the same newscasts to shape our culture, we need to hear the same message across different audiences to have its intended impact.
But, a great speaker customizes. They tweak and adjust. They write something that is appropriate for the audience, and refine it with the people who hired them. You’re not “pressing play,” you’re engaging an expert.
7. Speakers are Ineffective for Motivating Employees or Inspiring Change
There are some people who are cynics and will never believe anyone with a microphone. But most of us were raised on oratory. We heard it in our churches, mosques, and synagogues. We listened to politicians and coaches and teachers. We have been to poetry readings and classrooms.
If speakers are not effective, than everywhere you’ve ever sat and listened was not effective. Great presenters move the world. They change hearts and open minds.
How about yours?