A Perfect Fit

The article below, recently featured in the April edition of MPI’s The Meeting Professional, outlines how to strike the important balance between speaker fit and effectiveness. Reposted with permission.

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By Brian Palmer, CMM

With careful use of a ruler or another measuring device, determining the perfect fit of something with easily defined dimensions is possible. But when an equation includes a human on one side and another human or a committee of them on the other, achieving a great fit becomes infinitely more complex. Yet the people managing a selection process often take weeks or months working to achieve that fit, often subordinating the objectives for the event and the effectiveness of the speakers they are seriously considering.

When was the last time someone raved about how well a speaker fit?

A client in the moving business sought to engage a motivational speaker who had at some point in their work life been a mover. I wasn’t aware of anybody that met that criteria and I offered to make alternative recommendations. He wanted to stay on that course and I wished him well.

I later learned the committee reviewed 113 speakers over three months and ended up securing someone I knew of and had long ago decided was not strong enough on the platform to be worthy of our customers. The client was THRILLED that the speaker had worked as a mover one summer while in college.

Following the event I was impressed by my client’s honesty when he suggested the speaker would be a great fit if ever a client called wanting someone who could help clear out a ballroom.

Another client approached us about a program with the theme, “You’re All Rock Stars!” They wanted a rock star as their keynote speaker. I had a small group of what I thought were excellent recommendations of people on the periphery of the rock music business, though no actual rock stars. A key issue in this instance was their budget. While $20,000 is a lot of money, it does not buy much rock star these days.

In their expanded search, they had come across the lead singer from their “president’s favorite band in college” at twice their planned budget. They asked to see a recording of a past speech and received a music career highlight reel. Sight unseen, they secured him and his rock ‘n’ roll rider (Tic Tacs) and placed this fellow before 500 of the organization’s most important people. “It’s his debut corporate speech. The president is so excited.” When it was over, he wasn’t so excited.

A sound planning process begins with an understanding or a vision of what you want to achieve overall with that session and meeting.

Booked on a Feeling

Speaking of rock ‘n’ roll, one of the hit songs of 1968 was B.J. Thomas’ rendition of “Hooked on a Feeling.” In a discussion about speaker selection with former Yahoo! executive Tim Sanders, he cleverly changed the song’s title to describe a speaker-selection process driven by a speaker feeling right: “Booked on a Feeling.” While gut reaction to someone certainly does have value, hoping that someone who fits will do an excellent job is not sound planning practice.

Begin With the End in Mind

A sound planning process begins with an understanding or a vision of what you want to achieve overall with that session and meeting. Commit this vision to writing. It’s powerful to have a solid written basis for decisions and have it agreed upon by those making the decision and referred to when things “drift.”

It’s also useful to have agreement that the fit should be close, not perfect.

It’s common that someone’s ability to help attract attention and attendees be part of the selection strategy. This topic can be an article of its own. My brief advice: A quality presentation should always be the leading criteria.

A Good Tailor

Once you have a set of speakers to consider, check references and ask specific questions about the degree to which they listened, understood your group and event objectives and personalized their presentation. Lack of presentation personalization is the No. 1 source of criticism read in speaker evaluations.

If you get the chance to speak with the speaker beforehand, ask them to be very specific about the ways they go about learning about the audience and the objectives for the event. Not everyone who says they personalize the presentation is very good at it.

Groups usually don’t hire speakers so much to hear what they have to say, but rather to help them achieve some objectives. There are plenty of speakers who have an excellent story with little room for personalization. Good story, well told, can be enough in some situations, and you will recognize it when you see that.

It’s a lot of work to develop a solid keynote presentation, and many of the people who might be perfect for your event may not have much experience speaking or may not have taken the time to develop their platform skills. It’s become far more acceptable in recent times to invite such people to your events and have them interviewed, answering questions relevant to your group and your industry. My advice in these situations is to make sure your interviewer has solid interviewing experience.

Connection moves hearts and minds. A close fit with a bit of tailoring can help make it happen.

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