Dishing The Dirt: The Social Speaking Circuit

I Have A Secret - SideraWorks

I Have A Secret

I’ve been speaking to audiences professionally since 1994 when I gave my first paid talk on the societal implications of Internet Relay Chat to a large audience of leaders in higher education. Eventually I flowed through the ‘tech speaking circuit’ at large events like Comdex, down to closed events with just a few hundred folks.

Then, other than a couple of pro bono gigs locally, I took a 7 year hiatus. The internet bubble had burst, I had moved on and was focused on a company I’d founded which really didn’t benefit from me having a higher public profile.

About four years ago I dove heavily into studying the implications of social media which led me into the work I do in social business over at my current company SideraWorks. I also dove headlong back into speaking at events, this time mainly on the ‘social circuit’.

I was in for a bit of a shock. The experience of dealing with conference organizers, getting paid, the amounts being paid, the level of respect given, the lackadaisical approach to logistics, the expectations, the contracts, the venue setups. Virtually everything I’d come to know about speaking professionally was…different.

But I’d look around me and see all of these other speakers, speakers I respected and thought vastly more talented than me, dealing with the same system and not complaining so I figured that perhaps it was just me. Maybe I’d been lucky and just coddled a lot in my earlier years. Maybe I just needed to suck it up and play along like everyone else.

But to be blunt, this year has been the straw that broke this camels back.  At SideraWorks we focus more on the internal side of organizations. Company culture, internal education, executive workshops, processes, scalable social structures, etc, etc. You get the picture, we reach a pretty holistic audience. That means we speak at a much more varied set of events both public and private in areas like HR, Legal, IT, Business Leadership, and so on.

Why is that relevant? Because those events have been like a breath of fresh air. The speaking industry hadn’t changed. The social circuit just didn’t conform.

In the spirit of full transparency, let me give you some real data from 2013 alone (so far) in regards to the ‘social circuit’.

  • Five events which we were contracted to speak at went under before they ever got started. Three of those involved partnerships to provide our workshops at their event.
  • Two events wanted to change the terms of our agreement within three weeks of the event itself.
  • One event failed to include us in their onsite printed agenda for the attendees
  • One event decided one week prior that they could only accept PowerPoint and insisted there be no multimedia in the presentation (which presented an issue since there was six minutes of multimedia in the presentation). Yet the person who went on immediately after had a ton of multimedia in their presentation.

I’ll stop there, but you get the idea. Of the events that went under or that we pulled out of because we refused a last minute change to pre-agreed terms, there was a monetary loss in the very high five-figures. In addition, we had bought our non-refundable airfare ourselves so were out those dollars as well.  The opportunity cost of having blocked out that time on our schedule instead of selling it to clients is also close to six-figures, although to be fair we were able to rebook some of that time if there was enough advance notice.

Guess how many events that weren’t on the social circuit we had an issue with? Zip, zero, nada. In addition, I think it’s worth stating publicly that most software/user conferences do a pretty stellar job, even if they are in the social space.

So why don’t you hear more about this? Because the social circuit is a pretty incestuous little space. We all like each other. Even after getting screwed, many of these folks are friends (not to mention the fact that if you depend on speaking on this circuit for your income it’s probably not wise to bash the events).

There are a million reasons why this particular circuit evolved this way, not the least of which is the fact that there were plenty of quality speakers out there willing to work for free and the fact that many of the organizers had never run events like this.

But I’ve always been pretty good at reading the writing on the wall, and if you’re an event organizer in this space let me assure you that we have passed the top of the maturity curve. ‘Build it and they will come’ will no longer continue to work (it’s already failing). You *have* to get ahead of the game financially. You must be able to fund the next event in advance of the event itself (that includes paying your speakers). Pushing the risk to everyone else but yourself is not how it works in the real world.  Robbing Peter to pay Paul is not a business model, it’s a shell game.

We’re lucky, because of what we do at SideraWorks we have a bit of luxury and diversity in the type of events we choose to speak at. Otherwise I’d be just as afraid to write this post as the next person.

I don’t want a lot of specific bashing of events in the comments, instead I *would* like for speakers to tell others what events they work with where they have great experiences. I think that would be as helpful as anything, it certainly would have benefitted me over the last few years.

P.S. – If I’d listened to Scott Stratten and C.C. Chapman when they warned us about a couple of events I’d also be a lot richer. So I highly recommend checking around before accepting a gig, and more importantly…*listen* to what they say.

P.P.S. – I was going to just add this in a comment. But I can’t express enough how important the tiny little details are where speakers are concerned. I’ve never forgotten a welcome basket waiting in my hotel room when I checked in. Or a handwritten followup thank you note, etc. They are cheap, they are superficial, they feed the ego…but they make you feel appreciated and that colors everything about the memory when the speaker looks back on the event.


Matt Ridings - @techguerilla

  • C.C. Chapman

    Sadly, I’ve run into numerous events that have done similar things or treated me and other speakers poorly.

    Off the top of my head the OTA Sessions and SocialFresh come to mind as events that are in this space, but respect every person that they invite to their stage and make sure that everything is in line and works out great.

    • Matt Ridings – Techguerilla

      Jason Keath is a standup guy and has a healthy regard for both his and his events reputation. It makes a difference. Don’t know much about the OTA Sessions but you’ve never steered me wrong in the past.

    • Christopher S. Penn

      I second CC’s recommendation about SocialFresh. Jason’s a good guy.

    • Jason Keath

      I agree with CC. Can I pay to promote his comment somehow?

  • Tom Martin

    Excellent and brave post my friend.

    I did Hubspot’s Inbound conference this year and I was pretty impressed with everything. Like many conferences they wanted the preso’s early — but unlike most – they actually reviewed them. In fact, I had to jump on a GoToMeeting with Mike Volpe to go through my slides.

    They did require Power Point — which is a pain because I work in Keynote — BUT they provided a very good Power Point template that made the recreation of the decks in Power Point damn near painless.

    All travel was handled efficiently and overall — a great experience. They even went out of their way to help me promote the new book, even though it wasn’t yet out, which I was a bit surprised by but thankful for.

    • Amber Naslund

      That’s interesting, Tom, because NOTHING frustrates me more than being a) given a template and b) having my slides reviewed editorially. If you’re bringing me in as a professional, treat me like one. I think the arguments events make for those things – mostly around weeding out poor content – are about US as speakers bearing the brunt of other people’s shoddy work and the event’s poor filtering of qualified speakers, and it’s now in my contract terms that slides will NOT be provided in advance, nor will they conform to templates.

      Maybe that makes me a diva, maybe it means I’m limiting my options, but that’s totally okay with me.

      • Matt Ridings – Techguerilla

        My problem with reviewing slides is that both you and I tend to build visual slides. Without context they mean absolutely nothing.

        • Tim Washer

          bingo. also, if you have a slide that is a visual punch line based on some absurd slide, you might get a concerned phone call from the organizer. I agree with @DavidGriner:disqus that it’s important to clear out the “bait-and-switchers” however, I’ve been to many events where the slides have been reviewed, but the vendor pitches still make it in. Just replace the social network architecture slides with a picture of two hands shaking.

          • Matt Ridings – Techguerilla

            I’m a big proponent of simply telling the audience “We encourage booing and throwing of soft fruits if blatant unrelated pitching comes from the speakers mouth”. That seems to take care of it in most cases.

          • Tom Martin

            I miss the geek tech days when the audience was given those little clickers and invited to click them when the speaker got off topic, started selling from the stage or just plain started sucking.

            They were a most effective tool.

        • Jason Keath

          In addition to reviewing slides, Social Fresh also tries to review an outline too.

          To be completely honest, reviewing outlines and slides only really happens for our least experienced speakers, but still. It bridges this visual/context gap you point out here.

          • Cara Posey

            Having been on the side of choosing speakers for events, the outlines oftentimes help more than the slides since it provides more information about the speaker intends to cover…especially if the slides are more visual vs. text on screen.

      • C.C. Chapman

        I’m right there with you on reviewing. It is something I don’t do.

        • Jason Keath

          And even when it is accidentally included in a speaker contract, CC is still pretty gracious about it.

      • Tom Martin

        And normally I’m totally with you on that Amber… but this review was strictly a “make sure you’re not mailing it in” kind — editorial thoughts were provided but simply as thoughts.

        And we did it via GoToMeeting — which is good because like you, Matt and CC — my slides tend to be copy light.

        Biggest issue I have with sending in slides early is that everything I do is custom… so when I send in the slides early — I often forget why I had certain slides where I did, etc.

        Agree on the filtering thing — too many conferences simply go for “big names” even if those big names aren’t great on stage. Which is another pet peeve of mine. Conference organizers would do much better if they’d concentrate on finding amazingly helpful content and taking responsibility for marketing their event vs securing the highest profile speaker names and relying on that halo to convert into audience.

        • DavidGriner

          I’ve talked to event organizers who created review mandates because they got “bait-and-switched” by presenters who changed their topic without any notice. But like most of the people in this thread (I’d wager), I’ve found that it’s rarely a hard-and-fast rule for those who present often.

      • Meg Tripp

        The idea that you’d let me speak but get picky about the slides I use to guide people through my talk visually just seems weird. If they fit my talk, they fit my talk.

  • JenWojcik

    This is why I got out of the social conference service provider business. My last deal (which ended up costing me well over $15,000 in unrecoverable sunk cost as I had underwritten it) was the final straw. No more, no thank you, I am done. I also don’t blame you one tiny bit for your attitude about how speakers are treated. Because you are right.

  • Matt Ridings – Techguerilla

    Offhand, two really positive experiences that I remember this year was the Marketo event and the CreativeLive sessions. I was able to watch from the sidelines vs. being wrapped up in the event themselves and it was great seeing everyone being so professional not only to the speakers faces but also when they didn’t know someone was watching.

    • Amber Naslund

      Seconded on both. They were awesome.

    • Jason Keath

      I’ve heard horror stories about CL. Love that they are innovating a new model though.

      • Matt Ridings – Techguerilla

        I should mention that I think the sessions they were doing that I witnessed were a first for them in regards to the biz model and how it was produced. That said, the people and the experience were top notch.

        • Jason Keath

          They are new, and their model is new, so I will definitely give them some time to figure out the right process for them.

      • Amber Naslund

        They were utterly amazing to work with. Friendly, professional, engaging. One of the better speaking experiences I’ve ever had.

  • Cara Posey

    Do you feel that some of these events are trying to use you or take advantage of you or were they all simply ill-prepared and/or not well funded? Given that there is a tight-knit group of social media speakers, does the word get around quickly about good or bad events, or does everyone feel pressured to keep quiet or not complain?

    I am glad that you are encouraging dialogue about the speaking circuit and the inside processes. Event organizers and speakers alike can certainly learn from each other. And regular feedback and discussion will help the industry.

    • Matt Ridings – Techguerilla

      Cara, often there is a hesitancy to openly speak about bad events. Privately it occurs with close friends on the circuit, but otherwise you have to remember that many of these organizers are *also* people we consider friends (I know, it’s weird) so you feel bad bashing their event and you delude yourself into thinking “It was a one off experience, it’ll be better next time”. Publicly you don’t want to complain because it just seems like sour grapes, or petty and regardless of your experience you still have a lot of friends who want to speak no matter the circumstance and you don’t want to ruin it for them because of their association to you.

      The real issue in my opinion is one of business model. They typically aren’t funded *at all* at the time they are making their commitments to speakers, so there are a myriad of high-likelihood things that can fall through (sponsorships, competing event on same day, attendance, etc.) which makes the odds of either a cancelled event or a ‘less than desirable event’ pretty high. The business model is to play all three ends against each other as interdependent elements. To the sponsor you talk about attendance and speaker lineup, to the speaker you talk about attendance and sponsors, to the attendees you talk about speakers and sponsors. We all know you can’t do all of those 3 things at the exact same time, but that’s how they’re run.

      My business philosophy is pretty simple. If you make a commitment, you follow through on it, regardless of its cost to you. I fully expect to be paid, even if it means you go into the hole. But many organizers turn *their* problems into *your* problems. If I treated my clients that way I wouldn’t be in business, but it seems to be more the norm way of looking at things on the social circuit.

      I’m a handshake kind of guy. I grew up in the south. If I make a commitment to you that handshake is worth more than any paper contract. And it saddens me that I now have to depend so heavily on negotiating a contract.

      • Cara Posey

        Wow, thank you for the excellent response. As an occasional speaker and former conference organizer, I have some definite thoughts on this situation.

        The mixed blessing in this is that there is a huge market for events about social and digital everything. Companies and professionals still need to learn and maintain skills in this “new world.” Because there is an active market here, it seems there are obviously people entering the event organizing business who aren’t exactly versed on “the way things work,” such as MPI standards that many event organizers in other industries adhere to or follow.

        While the social and digital events are still riding the wave of entry level consumers looking for education, the event organizers are banking on signing someone like you or @AmberCadabra in the hopes that it will ensure the ticket sales and sponsorships. That’s a lot to sign on for as a speaker!

        Amber and I have discussed some of these things before in that I believe in transparency and respect when it comes to events. Speakers should be negotiated with upfront and event organizers should not expect that speakers will speak for free (unless there is substantial incentive for them from a business perspective.) Once fees are agreed to, these costs can’t be renegotiated later! That’s just bad business. If anything is to be secured first, the sponsors are where it’s at.

        For event organizers, once you have a budget, then you know how much you can put towards a keynote, session speakers, food, events, etc. It also sets the scope of how big or small the event can be and still be successful. Oftentimes locations need to be booked a year or more in advance. This means you’d better be pretty certain about your event’s probable success long before you start ticket sales.

        Then we get into the whole side of event preparation with speakers and executing the event. The reality is that most speakers make changes until the last minute on their presentations, making rules on templates and reviews difficult to uniformly enforce. I appreciate WOMMA’s model of just asking us to leave a copy on the desktop of the laptop after the session. Then everybody has the most recent copy. If you want to invite speakers to incorporate a logo or hashtag, fine. But worry more about the content and the experience of the event as a whole than the consistency between every presentation.

        Finally, my last point would be that the events industry thrives on word of mouth recommendations. Whether that’s in the speakers who may participate next year, the volunteers who serve on committees, sponsors who provide the cash, or attendees who take it all in. If any one of these groups stops seeing value, your event is going to have a problem. For those looking to build a sustaining event rather than to potentially make a quick buck, they should take a page from the rest of the world and look at best practices within the events industry. Sure, there may be things that the events industry can learn from the social & digital crowd, but there are definitely things we can learn from them, too.

  • Deb Ng

    I was happy to read your post today, Matt, but I’m also torn. As someone who (very) occasionally speaks at events, but also who has worked with conferences, I understand how both sides work. That’s not a defense. I’m not here to defend anyone, but I’m not throwing anyone under the bus either.

    When I was heavily involved in a conference, the one thing I tried to stress first and foremost with our team is “are we showing respect to our speakers?”

    While I feel, without question, that speakers should be paid for their travel and expenses, to me what’s most important is, again, “are we showing respect to our speakers.”

    If an event is constantly taking and giving very little in return, making lots of unfair last minute changes, and making it clear that they are doing the speaker a favor by letting him or her give a presentation, that’s not what I consider being respectful.

    I do feel more conference organizers need to remember that speakers spend upwards of $2000 for travel and hotel costs alone. Add to that incidentals, time spent on a presentation, as well as the time taken away from business and family, and we’re talking about a major expense – in both time and money.
    So when speakers are expected to fill out a twenty page agreement, provide five blog posts, three videos and a first born, there are lines being crossed. That’s not what I consider showing respect to speakers.

    I don’t know why it’s like this for the social circuit only. I think it’s because so many speakers were willing to present at no cost in order to promote their businesses, books, etc. Hopefully with more posts like this all conference organizers will understand what your time is really worth.

  • DavidGriner

    Joining the chorus of praise for this post.

    One issue at the core of many of these problems is the nature of the event organizer itself. Many local/regional events (and some larger) are organized by consultancies or other businesses that are pretty blatantly trying to build a reputation in the digital marketing space by co-opting the cachet of their speakers. Once your name/photo/bio are on the site, they cease to care about whether you have a productive or even tolerable experience at the event itself. These are usually the events where logistics fall apart and speakers walk away with little to show for it.

    Great idea to reach out to peers and friends like CC and Scott before accepting a gig. I don’t get many chances to break away from work for a speaking opportunity, so it’s especially frustrating when it doesn’t work out. I should definitely vet these opportunities through friends first.

  • Jason Keath

    One very important question… Are you smelling her sunglasses?

  • Peter Kim

    If you see Paul, please tell him that I’d like to have a word.

    But seriously — there’s not a lot of dirt in here, Matt. I assume that you’ve self-edited many details that would’ve made this a great post. Contrary to your statement, “I’d be just as afraid to write this post…” I think that by not including details to back up a statement like “pretty incestuous little space” you are indeed afraid to write the post that would be mind-blowing.

    • Matt Ridings – Techguerilla

      Do you really need details to know that the bubble is a pretty incestuous space? I’ll make a deal with you, you go find 3 social media conference agendas in the last six months where at least two of the main speakers don’t overlap in some way and I’ll name some names. Fair enough?

      This isn’t TMZ, the dirt is that we never have this conversation about just how bad (as a relative percentage) social media events are. Gossip is fun, but maybe improving an industry is at least productive. Sorry if the mind wasn’t blown.

      • Cara Posey


      • Peter Kim

        I see — I think I understand now — I’m outside of this bubble, so I have a tough time understanding.

        • Matt Ridings – Techguerilla


      • Jason Keath

        Tell me more about overlapping main speakers? Expertise or content? Curious.

    • Amber Naslund

      Is the implication here that the only thing that makes a “great post” or a valid argument that you lob bombs at someone specifically and personally? I think Matt is challenging the principles and practice here, not necessarily seeking glory in throwing specific people under the bus. And I’m not sure I see what value that would add to the discussion.

      Even if you remove the “pretty incestuous little space” comment and consider all the other points here, there is plenty of meat on this bone to chew on.

      • Peter Kim

        No Amber, that’s not what I mean at all. As mentioned above, I’m on the fringe of this “social circuit” if not entirely outside and it’s difficult for me to take away lessons away without more context and details.

  • unmarketing

    Great post my man.

    I’ve been doing this a long time in different industries and you’re spot on, for the most part. I few things I’ve learned as well:

    1. Yep, social industry is one of the worst, besides predatory MLM and get rich quick conferences. The Internet Marketing industry is a joke as well. Take the social industry, but never pay for anything, so speakers are all there on their own dime, and the only way to recoup is to sell from stage. And the event organizer takes half of your sales.

    2. This post is one of the main reasons I stopped speaking in the bubble. I love seeing people like you, @AmberNaslund:disqus, @cc_chapman:disqus @jasonkeath:disqus and many others, it’s the only actual reason I do go to the rare ones, but preaching to the choir does nothing for my business, nor my bank account.

    3. Contracts enforced. We had an event a few months ago that wasn’t following our “50% up front, 50% remainder 7 days before the event.” So, 7 days before the event they were reminded by my assistant about the policy and were told if it wasn’t received in 24 hours, I don’t get on the plane. Amazingly, we were wired the money the next day.

    4. The audience promise: back when I waived my fee or partially for the dreaded “exposure” I would be promised this GRAND audience of potential buyers in the hundreds or thousands. The last one I did years ago promised 300 C Level, there ended up being 35, G level.

    Sometimes you gotta say enough is enough. A great gig can fill your client funnel for a year, but it doesn’t seem worth it with so many bad ones in between.

  • Jason Keath

    When we started Social Fresh I think one important thing to point out is that most of our speakers where not “speakers”. They were practitioners.

    And practitioners are still our focus. Secondarily (and a very close second) we look for people with presentation skills/stage presence. So when we are searching for speakers, many of them are actually not looking to get paid. Their motivations, more often are a mix of:
    - build their personal brand
    - professional development
    - networking (looking for a new job?)
    - getting out of the office
    - brand awareness (client side)
    - client/lead acquisition (agency/vendor side)

    There is a lot of value in that list, at least for the folks we most prefer on our stage.

    Our policy for paying speakers is to ask for them to speak for free but to never expect it.

    If a speaker can bring more value than just the content on stage, then they are worth us paying. If a speaker is not bringing in ticket sales though, and they want to make $5k to speak, then I will look for someone with the same knowledge sharing ability and a lower price. And I will find them. At least today.

    If they can bring ticket sales (either through name recognition, or through marketing support) then we consider paying more.

    This is a new industry with plenty of practitioners that have good reasons to share their expertise.

    Supply and demand. There is a large supply of potential social media “speakers”. And not very many high quality events for them to speak at.

    Also, keep in mind the other side of the equation. How many “professional” social media speakers are there really? It does not take much to write a social media book these days. There are a lot of events with speakers and content that I would not call professional, some not even that helpful. There are some great speakers out there, but even most solid social media speakers are not really professional speakers. Most of them are not going to put a ton of work into their presentation.

    Ask me privately, for instance, how many speakers have broken contracts for our events and how much money/hours/reputation that has costs us in the past.

    Meaning. I can see paying for “professional” speakers. And I understand not paying for speakers that are less experienced on stage.

    Quality tends to rise to the top. When it comes to the speakers and the events.

    • unmarketing

      I know one professional social speaker…………… ;) And your event has one of the best reputations around. That’s a hell of a lot of effort to get that, well done man

      • Jason Keath

        Thanks @b85ac29f88ef3372c042601ee6ce1be6:disqus (Scott Stratten). Kind words.

        Clearly there are some great professional social media speakers out there. But to give you an idea of the numbers we deal with check this out.

        In 2013 we got 300 applications to speak for 30 speaker spots (that was in about 6 months). We also review an additional 50 folks that are our targets. Out of those 350, I would say 20-25 of them speak more than half a dozen times a year. Most of them are not pros. Which is fine. But it is a good context to be aware of for this discussion.

        * These are just our numbers form one time period. Not implying they will translate to the industry as a whole.

        • unmarketing

          Oh trust me, I know :) Even the professional speaking industry has a huge lack of professional speakers. Did I mention their annual conference make speakers who are speaking at the event, pay for an event pass? Awesome.

    • Cara Posey

      I’m so glad that you mentioned focusing on subject matter experts or practitioners. There are still many, many people out there with important information to share that do not consider themselves professional speakers.

      I work with many companies that never do events where there speakers are paid. And then there are professional speakers who expect to be paid. It really depends on the event and what the people are getting out of it on all sides.

    • Amber Naslund

      There’s no question that there’s value in having practitioners present. I’m glad you do that.

      But Matt’s post here isn’t a debate about the value of paying speakers or not, or whether there’s a “professional level” speaker available in this world (the ones that are true pros, btw, will likely argue that their expertise is MUCH broader than “social”). There’s plenty of good, convincing arguments on both sides, on behalf of both speakers and events. Bottom line there: as a speaker, set a standard. Find events that fit it, or adjust it. Same with event organizers. Set the expectation. You’ll find people willing to meet it.

      The real issue here is in how business dealings are handled REGARDLESS of what you’ve agreed upon. Our issues have been much less about the potential revenue (which of course we value highly) but much MORE about events essentially putting their problems of disorganization, lack of funding, and logistics issues in OUR lap, and giving us attitude about it to boot. For example, we get recruited (recruited mind you, not something we applied for) to present a workshop with specific terms around content, revenue, etc. Your event partner pulls out. You tell us the terms we negotiated with them WHILE THEY WERE AN AUTHORIZED PARTNER WITH THE EVENT are no longer your problem, and gee sorry, take it up with them but we can’t deliver on that. Two weeks before the event is to take place.

      Why on earth would I want to work with people that treat anyone like that in a professional setting? Ever? Why is that considered acceptable in ANY industry as a standard of work?

      THAT is what galls me. And even in the nonprofit industry where budgets are hell, most people are amateurs with a cause and everyone is rolling up sleeves, I’ve never experienced the level of unprofessionalism that I have in this “space”.

      • Jason Keath

        All great points. Every speaker and sponsor should be treated respectfully.

        Now I’m really curious what events these were. But completely understand not naming them.

  • unmarketing

    On the flipside, I also understand why a lot of events ask for slides to go on their templates, ask for rehearsals, etc, even though I hate it. It’s because most people who speak, aren’t people who do it all the time. Their powerpoints are train-wrecks, they can barely walk around on stage without messing something up, but since they’re a vendor/sponsor, they get time on stage. (This is a lot of outside of the social bubble events)

    It’s why I have my own contract that states I don’t send slides in advance, I don’t use their template and I will arrive an hour before my talk at the venue if they want to sound-check.

    • Cara Posey

      This is the exact reason why more event organizers should view videos of presenters or see sample slide decks before considering a speaker. Too many events are planned by people sitting around a table asking “who do you know” and then no one follows up on whether they have the ability. So people like you, who clearly *can* speak and prepare a great presentation, are penalized. Event organizers should verify expertise upfront and not micromanage.

      • Matt Ridings – Techguerilla

        I should mention that there are a couple of sources that are notoriously *bad* at evaluating a speaker.

        Social media chatter about a speakers performance: Worse than useless
        A misalignment of speaker to audience (it happens): When a speaker designs a talk for one audience and a different one shows up, well…it aint pretty. But it’s also not necessarily a reflection of the speaker.

    • Jason Keath

      We also now require video of past speaking

      • unmarketing

        That should be mandatory for anyone at any event who has no one on the selection committee witnessing on stage talent.

    • Jason Keath


  • Anita Hovey

    I may or may not have been involved in one of the events mentioned above in someone’s comments as being “not so great” and I was completely embarrassed by how our speakers were treated in some respects. I went out on a limb, begged people to speak and then some of them had bad experiences. It doesn’t bode well for the future of the event. Now I’m in the position of trying to decide whether or not to cut & run, or stick around and try to make it better going forward.

    • Amber Naslund

      From experience, Anita, I’ll tell you that acknowledging all of the above to the speakers involved and telling them how you plan to improve – even if they aren’t there the next time – goes a long way toward good will and future reputation.

      It’s not the mistakes we remember. It’s how they’re handled that counts most.

      • Anita Hovey

        The question is…. is the rest of the organizing committee willing to make the changes I see as necessary to win back that trust. I’m honestly not sure. It’s good to hear we can be forgiven, though :)

  • Matt Ridings – Techguerilla

    For the record, usually *we* are the ones looking for insight. Insight is most appreciated. That’s different than the ‘review’ exercise most organizers pretend to have. You can ask Zena Weist for example when we keynoted Expion’s event last year. We wanted to know about the audience, the level they were at, what would have the best balance between meeting the audience and Expion’s needs, how did Expion want to be perceived, etc, etc. *THAT* is valuable, and we customize a deck to accomplish that. Reviewing what I’ve already done after the fact…not so much.

    • Jason Keath

      Makes sense. You guys are pros.

  • Amber Naslund

    This is where I think having a speaker reel/presentations available for organizers to review is key.

    You can see me speak. You know I know my stuff. You can see that I don’t pitch, that my slides don’t suck (I’ve even had several decks professionally designed at my own expense).

    If you want to pick and choose who to do this hand holding with as an organizer, that’s your prerogative if you aren’t confident in what they can deliver. But I have to be honest that it’s a HUGE turnoff for someone who’s earned their stripes to be asked for a review like this.

    I realize we’re playing to the odds here, and not to me personally, but it’s a very fine line that organizers tend to apply much, much too broadly.

    If it’s a matter of not having duplicate content and/or understanding nuances of audience, a) I think it’s a big speaker responsibility to ask those questions themselves to start with and b) a responsibility of the event organizers to be very clear about expectations, other talks on the agenda, and the audience profile. That can be accomplished in a call to discuss the talk like partners, not like the all-knowing event person that is there to tell the speakers how to do their jobs.

    The points you make above seem to be to be much more applicable to inexperienced speakers, and I know you clarified that, so I think there needs to be selective application of such a process (and I’m still not totally convinced of its merits overall, but I get where you’re coming from).

    • Jason Keath

      Yeah, most of the folks on this thread would be exempt I imagine. And we do convey all those points ahead of time. And many speakers ask the right questions, especially lately.

      This process has definitely raised the quality of content for Social Fresh.

  • Carol Spieckerman @retailxpert

    I speak on retail and brand dynamics and all of my speaking contracts specify that I retain editorial control/no previews and that I use my own templates. Certainly I’ve experienced some push-back along the way but I’m happy to push through knowing that, based on history, it will be a non-issue post-presentation. Yes, sometimes it is the speakers who ruin it for everyone, mainly by forgetting that all kinds of “information” is a click away these days and that the standard for bringing real insight and forging new connections has therefore never been higher. On the event coordinator side, Cara’s “who-do-you-know” observation is spot-on. All too often, event organizers are flattered by various speakers’ participation rather than setting standards and enforcing adherence to event themes. Personally, I love crafting presentations that promote event themes and threads. Audiences appreciate it and know it when they hear it.

  • Jason Keath

    I will also throw out Dreamforce, by Salesforce, as a really well done event from a speaker perspective, and every perspective really.

    Last year I tweeted out to see if anyone could check to see if there was a slide remote in the room I would be speaking in and got a tweet back from conference community managers that were near by and confirmed for me in minutes.

  • Steve Woodruff

    This post is an eye-opening public service. Good on you, sir.

  • LynetteRadio

    I was a ‘professional’ (as in getting paid a nice fee EVERY time) speaker well before hitting any sort of ‘social circuit’ speaking gigs. Social doesn’t pay – and I don’t just mean fees. It’s very hard to land a good number of well paying clients from the stage because you are usually not allowed to pitch from stage (nor would I want to). Even with event ticket prices being in the thousands, somehow there is never enough money to pay speakers their worth. I’ve also seen that decision makers (those who would hire me to speak or consult) are not the ones sitting in the audience either, making this ‘fishing’ process less profitable for me.

    When I first started speaking in this space, I was told “events don’t pay speakers”. Well, that is simply not true. I made a good part of my income from speakers fees but in other industries.

    There are very few social speaking gigs that pay (well) and those are locked up pretty tight with cliques of friends/speakers that make it really hard for anyone else to break into.

    My $0.02

  • JasonFalls

    I’m kinda disappointed the dirt wasn’t truly dished, even though I’m 100% certain some of it would have been dished my way, from Matt and from commentors alike. I’m a big boy. I can take it. Heh.

    My perspective on this is probably very different. I’ve been a speaker (the perspective Matt offers here). I’ve been an organizer of large and small events for other people and I’ve been the owner/operator of a small to medium event. It’s hard for me to be critical of any event because I know that no matter what, I don’t know 3-4 dozen factors that are at play.

    And yes, other industries don’t have this problem. Because other industries don’t build events with their friends. I built events in the social space with people I wanted to be around. People I cared about. People I hope cared for me. The event business almost left me bankrupt as a result, of money and of friends. Many of the friends who didn’t put me in that situation asked for more money, ridiculous travel accommodations, whined about the food, whispered to their friends that I was too cheap to buy speaker’s gifts and ego ego ego ego ego ego.

    I don’t much hold it against them. They didn’t know I was losing my ass. But because of my pride (or foolishness), I thought people I knew and liked would be less needy children when it came to helping a friend. So I lost face. I lost some friends in the process. But I went to bat with people I cared for. So, I’d probably do it again.

    Stupid me.

    I admire the hell out of people who can make it in the event business. The margins are narrow. The profits are hard to come by. The friends quickly whisper behind your back and become enemies … or at least not friends. Jason Keath is a goddamn saint. I admire him for what he’s done. But I promise he can probably tell you that balancing the business of running events with the incomparable egos of people you think are your friends ain’t fun work.

    Too many people in this business are focused on what you’ve done for them lately vs. what they mean to you over the long haul. There may be immaturity in the event space here, but that’s not where it ends.

    Yes, we’re in a business. No, we shouldn’t give give give and never get in return. But I promise you Matt, and anyone else in this thread, every event you can complain about is one you have no earthly idea how or why things were the way they were.

    • Matt Ridings – Techguerilla

      I’ll tackle a few of these. I’ve got nothing negative whatsoever to say about you. The events that I’ve attended of yours seemed very well run, and you seemed to have found a niche of condensed content with low price point. That may surprise you to hear given other occurrences this year but I’m happy to talk to you offline about why there aren’t any issues between us.

      Now. That said, it’s easy for me to be critical and I *know* there are dozens of things behind the scenes that cause issues that I’m not aware of. I can do that because quite frankly it’s not my problem. When your telephone stops working you don’t think about all the issues that eventually happened to cause that occurrence, behind each one of which is a good human trying to do something about it. Your telephone still isn’t working, and that’s the service your pay for.

      If you’re in a friendly relationship and a business relationship, it can definitely strain things. There are some who will take advantage of that (dump them immediately) and some who feel a greater sense of responsibility because they don’t want to let you down (embrace them). I’ve let things go further than I ever should have without a contract because the person was a friend and kept saying ‘trust me’. And I wanted to. And I’ve been screwed several times in the process. Yet I will continue to do it my way.

      I don’t have a lot of issue separating the business from the personal. Many do. That person will still be my friend, we just won’t ever do business together. They cost me a lot of money, yet want me to be sympathetic to the reasons behind why they cost me that money. (I’m in no way talking about you here btw). I find that point of view entitled and frankly it stuns me when it occurs. I was quite *literally* told last week by an event organizer that they could not believe that I wouldn’t change my terms for them at the last second (that would cost me money), “issues had arisen on their end and I didn’t I realize how hard this was for THEM?”

      That’s not business, and it’s not leadership.