Old Grit’s vitriolic rant about speakers who sell from their stages in Issue 123 touched a nerve, it seems, amongst professional speakers. When it was posted at a portal putting event organisers directly in touch with speakers it generated some interesting responses, as below.

o From Steve Clarke
I get paid to speak… and I have no objection to being paid a handsome fee for delivering a keynote.

Agreed, nobody likes being sold to – badly. Nobody objects to someone genuinely helping them and if the audience is right and in rapport with the speaker this could result in a sale. There’s a difference, but whether we’re speakers or event organisers – we’re all in sales.

So I also agree to “showcase” but only for the right audience, but I do not just speak for free.

There are certain events that don’t pay speakers, that’s just a fact, it’s their model – unless you’re a known name that will help them sell tickets, they don’t pay.

They sell exhibition space and let poor speakers speak and promote their products and services as a reward. Often the speakers are painful to watch and to listen to. But this is their model. These events often have my target audience in attendance – therefore I will “showcase”. I don’t buy exhibition space and I don’t pay to speak.

The agreement is – delivery of solid content and takeaways – seed the talk with the idea of a follow up paid event, offer people the chance to purchase a follow up event. The return is often 10 times that of a well paid keynote. It’s not stealing paid gigs from anyone. It works if you have something to sell at the back end – I don’t mean busking for book and CD sales at the back of the room.

I never “sell” at paid events. However, attendees will often seek me out on-line and this can result in additional business. When this happens, I delight in sending the bureau that booked me a cheque for their % when they weren’t even expecting it.

We’re all in sales and frankly… need to get over it. What we must do is help speakers be better.


o From Mike Daligan
I agree with Stephen, (see below) deliver what you do best. Your client has a right to your expertise, advice and commitment, fee or no fee. Quality will out in the end. As my old aunt always used to say, “Do what you feel is right and you will get your rewards in this life.” Not entirely true although the sentiment is.


o From Stephen Howard Davis
I also find myself squirming in my chair as speakers promote themselves and their products and it always seems to have a negative reaction from the audience. So I don’t understand why speakers still do it. if you want to promote your “wares” then deliver a sparkling talk that will generate future interest. Even if the talk is a “no fee” gig.


o From Mark Lee
I’m no fan of this behaviour either and it wouldn’t suit me or my style.

Perhaps someone who feels it is reasonable for professional speakers to attempt to overtly sell from the stage during a talk will post to explain their view.

As to Stephen’s point (see above) – I can think of a number of reasons why we hear or encounter speakers doing this:

1 – They may be inexperienced and doing it for the first time, perhaps in lieu of a fee. They are unaware of the impact it has on audiences.
2 – They may not care enough about the audience in question but have an ulterior motive.
3 – They may only be interested in the odd audience member that responds positively to their sales messages each time they speak.


o From Simon Raybould
Simple solution – get up and walk out. If bad speakers don’t get that kind of feedback they will carry on being bad speakers.

Our approach here is simple: the people in the room don’t think we’re worthwhile, we’re free. There’s nothing like ‘skin in the game’ to make sure we stay focused on the needs of the people we’re speaking to… and frankly, I’ve never seen an experienced speaker do “the selling thing”, although I’ve seen plenty of them do things that could be mis-understood. Some speakers will use their £££worth as a credibility statement, so that their audience are more inclined to listen. That can backfire, badly!


o From Cindy-Michelle Waterfield
I don’t know many audiences that appreciate being sold to – unless that is the reason why they are there and have come knowing that.

When I have heard speakers doing this it is for different reasons; some didn’t realise they were doing it, others were trying to show their credibility but doing it badly and in one case, the speaker was simply excited because their latest book had just been published that day and unfortunately turned their whole slot into talking more about the book than the topic they were there for!

Speakers are sometimes to blame for this, but they also fall foul of the event organiser – especially those that think they have got themselves a bargain or saving their budget by telling a speaker they can use the time to sell and get to the audience of their dreams! They also use this trick for exhibitions giving the exhibitors ‘slots’ depending on the conference package they’ve bought. They are definitely there to sell and will do at any given opportunity! However, the big problem with this is that they don’t always turn up, leaving an event organiser with an empty seminar room with people sitting waiting for someone to appear. So what’s worse; Being Sold To or Non-Appearance?

Web: iwantaspeaker.com

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