If you’re just starting out as a pro speaker, you’ll probably assume that the people who hire you are totally on top of things and will take care of all the little details that will allow you to look great, come off as a pro, and have maximum impact on the audience.
Hahahahaaaha! Fuhgeddaboudit! Ain’t happenin’, Sparky! Pretty much everything that CAN go wrong WILL go wrong, so prepare for it, get used to it, and suck it up.
When I started, I didn’t know how meeting planners kill speakers. I assumed (also known as “Shooting Yourself in the Foot”) that the meeting planner would have a copy of the introduction I sent a month earlier, and wouldn’t introduce me while people were still eating. That everyone in the room would be able to see the slides on the screen, and that there would BE a screen. That there wouldn’t be an obstacle course of flower arrangements for me to dodge onstage, and that there wouldn’t be a frikkin’ Iranian wedding reception in full swing in the room next to where I was speaking! That I wouldn’t be performing in the darkest corner of the room, that they wouldn’t have a tear-jerking presentation of a check to a grieving widow one minute before introducing the Funny Guy, and about a thousand other hideous surprises that continue to amaze me to this day.
I’ve been speaking professionally for more than 15 years, and I can say with no hesitation that you will never be able to foresee all the ways a meeting planner can screw you up. Meeting planners kill speakers in a variety of creative ways. Ergo, your best defense is to try to foresee everything you DON’T want to happen and arrange to avoid it far in advance via emails and phone calls. Of course, I’ve crammed into my eBooks a check list of things you should take care of long before you get to the event, i.e., scheduling, staging, A/V needs, etc. But experience will teach you that you simply can’t foresee every ugly surprise. So first, do your best to set the stage in advance.
Second, work with what you have on site, and don’t complain to anybody about things that can’t be fixed. They’re not likely to move the stage from the end of the boxcar-shaped room to the middle so everybody can see you, so do what you can to make yourself seen. Is there a light that could moved, turned on, aimed differently? Can we please shut the door to the loud hallway when I go on?
Fix everything you can on site; but if perfection isn’t in the cards, do not complain or you’ll come off as a prima donna. If there are obstacles, crank up your courage and professionalism, charge onstage with a confident smile, do your best, and I guarantee you’ll get big points for being a trouper.
To see clips of me doing exactly that,