Disclaimer: Speech titles are fictional, used for demonstration purposes only. Any resemblance to actual presentations is entirely accidental.
As an incoming speaker coordinator, I am responsible for finding and booking speakers for a monthly event, with an audience of 40-80 people. Over the last several months, I have attended many events, observed and spoken with many presenters, and been given advice by several more experienced coordinators. Through all of this, a common theme has made itself apparent; speakers do not always present on the topic they propose. They do not always deliver on the promise of their topic.
I’ve seen this phenomenon a few times myself in recent months, and heard of more from other coordinators. The process begins when the speaker submits an information sheet, detailing the title and content of the proposed speech. The title sounds right, the message seems relevant to the organization, and the speaker comes with glowing recommendations from other chapters or groups. I confirm the date, the information is posted on our website, and our members pay money to hear a speech on this topic. Everything runs like clockwork.
On the day of the event, I show up with my introduction and anything else the speaker has requested. When the time comes, I stand up in front of those 40-80 people, and introduce the speaker and the topic, based on what the speaker submitted on his or her information sheet. Then, I sit down, and wait with bated breath, hoping that the next few sentences will not contain a variation of the phrase: “Well, I called the presentation this, but it’s actually about [insert something only vaguely related here].”
As a member of Toastmasters, and an aspiring speaker, I can understand the temptation to use the title that sounds better. I understand the impulse to stretch to include just one more key term, or to slip in one more buzzword. And I understand that the speech may not have originally been written for my audience, and it may have to be tweaked in order to sound more relevant. But please, understand me too.
When I book a speaker, I put my name up next to theirs. I stand up first, and tell our members that I have chosen this speaker and this message for them. They choose to pay their money to sit and listen to my choice, and they make that choice based on the information presented to them. If I book a speaker to give a speech entitled “How to Start Your Own Business and Make Millions,” and the actual speech is on how to get an angel investor to buy in once the business is started, I have lost credibility to my members. It doesn’t matter that I can produce glowing recommendations. It doesn’t matter if the speaker gave a phenomenal presentation on angel investors. My members came to hear one subject, and they got another.
So next time you sit down to fill out a sheet, and you write down the title and a synopsis of your speech, please pause for a moment and consider how well it actually reflects the content. And when someone books you to speak, please do a very simple, yet incredibly important thing,
and say what you said you’d say.
Stephanie Hotchkin is the Speakers Bureau VP for the PMI Institute and also has the responsibility of bringing in guest speakers for her Project Manager Organizational Chapter.