The Truth About Public Speaking
Every time there is an event, there is a small war over the speaker NOT doing something from perceived snubs to unreasonable demands and very, very seldom do you hear from the speaker about what is going on. Since I no longer work that circuit and am not trying to get jobs I can tell you the truth. It look glamorous but it is no fun, at least in the USA.
Most of the time, the venue that has hired or invited you to speak is more than anxious to have everything go off well for them, the speaker, their and maybe your staff (I say maybe because that is usually one friend or spouse), and the audience. Unfortunately, for you, the audience, it really is in that order so take note. I probably should put the your (the speaker's) staff in quarantine because they really hate to have a second person they have to deal with or bully or may act as a witness.
You see, it is really easy to bully the speaker. If you don't show up on stage, it is your fault even if they have you tied up in the back room. If you are late going on stage it is your fault. If you don't answer questions even though they have forbidden it, it is your fault. Whatever happens, except everything going off flawlessly, is going to be your fault and if you don't cooperate or agree with the blame, well, they are in control of whether everyone in the hiring part of speakers even bothers to consider you for another job. Speakers can be canceled and substituted at the last moment and as usual, it is the speakers fault.
Believe it or not, technical equipment like microphones and computers are not in the speakers control. We don't drag an entire sound system or computer display around. We might have the Powerpoint presentation on our laptop but the screen and interface are not ours. When faced with a $29.99 karaoke on sale at the El Cheapo outlet for a sound system in a huge auditorium, you can be assured the people in the back row can't hear anything or understand anything and there is nothing the speaker can do about it. They will be blamed for poor diction and not projecting. This is also why some speakers that use computer generated graphics for their speeches tend to get a little crazy when they arrive for an engagement and demand over the top checks of equipment. They have already been burned. One speaker told me the equipment she was shown and checked out before her lecture was pulled and given to a bigger name speaker at the event and she found herself with equipment she had never seen or operated when she was let into the room minutes before her lecture. Everyone in management had disappeared, too. Once again, it was all her fault. Personally, I won't touch anything but a microphone and good old paper handouts for that very reason. I have been sabotaged by the very people who hired me and now they have very little room to do it.
The next biggest thing is the speaker wouldn't answer questions. That is 100% under the control of the people who book you and 90% of them have nixed questions. You see, they want you and your audience out of that room so they can bring the next paying group in for the next speaker or the clean-up crew. These rooms rent by the hour. If there is no next speaker, check to see if there is an expensive reception or meal you could have bought a ticket for because there is no reason to attend that if you get a free interaction with the speaker at the lecture and the powers that be know that. See the speaker leaving with that little group of people and feeling left out? That group of people are usually the friends and backers of the people who hired them and they have a iron grip on the speaker. If you are speaking as part of as show, the people running the thing do not want a large number of people congregating in the show hall and blocking the entrance to the booths that have paid a pretty penny to be there and you can be assured, will be complaining if that happens. You, as a speaker, are competition to the booths.
Unless the setup is very unprofessional, every moment of the speaker's time is accounted for and booked from the moment they enter the venue, which is why most of us run for the bathroom to start with. It is the last time we will have a free moment.
Speaking is stressful and the degree of stress depends on the person. I have seen what should have been professional actors with loads of experience shaking like leaves before a minor speaking engagement that was following a script and introducing the other speakers. It does make me wonder why they chose this profession. I can't see any degree of fame or adoration being worth puking my guts out for a half hour before uttering a half dozen sentences. I have zero stress speaking or acting. I happen to love the stage and I am a rare minority. Keep that in mind. A lot of speakers are nervous wrecks by the time they get off the stage. Watch for the ones really smiling broadly. They are usually five seconds from running, throwing up or passing out. Always remember that writers are usually bad speakers. That is why they write.
Try to look at it from the speaker's view, physically. Here is one person looking at dozens of people trying to get their attention and they are trying to not trip over their own feet and land face down getting off the stage and out the door. Yup, looks a little different from that view. The equally ugly part is height. You do this too, so don't deny it. People tend to see the people who are their height or greater. If you are in a wheelchair, scooter or just plain short like I am, people look right over the top of your head and don't see you. That is the second biggest reason you get ignored. The biggest is the speaker has been given a list of people they are supposed to recognize and fawn over in the audience who happen to the backers for the event or potential money people. Now we are talking stress. The speaker probably has seen this person for a second tops or been given a description like they are wearing a blue shirt, that helps, and in addition to remembering your speech, gauging the audience reaction for where to go, where to pause and where to expand, not tripping over your own feet, choking on water or going dry mouth, you now have to play salesperson to people unknown as soon as you finish speaking and usually patiently answer truly idiotic questions for someone with more money that brains. It is just so much fun that the speaker is in a real good mood.
So dear audience try to remember that 90% of the problems when you attend an event lay at the feet of the organizers and it is their rules. Very seldom does a speaker, unless you are talking the big guys, get any input at all into what will happen at the lecture. You can divide the rest of the blame between the audience and the speaker.
There are things a speaker truly loves in an audience: NOT. Number one is the person who has decided to spend 10 minutes in the lecture and has another appointment they must get to so they take the front middle seat where they cause as much disruption as possible exiting. Every moment of a lecture is planned and when the audience disrupts the lecture, something has to go out of it. Then there is the hard of hearing person who loves to sit in the back row and complain about not being able to hear. I have actually had people do that and refuse to take a seat in the front row when offered. After all, the lecture revolves around them and their disability. You aren't getting any sympathy because I can't hear diddly squat and I pay for the front seat knowing that. Then there is the always late crew that either have paid for the front row or will actually drag a chair through the entire audience to get to the middle of the front row and don't you dare utter a word because most of the time they are disabled. Keep in mind, they could have gotten there early and made arrangements before you have a sympathy attack. There is always at least one person in the audience who wants to be the center of attention and the speaker has to deal with it because the management is going to disappear right then and that person has a whole crew supporting their bid for attention. That pretty much leaves 99% of the audience as unhappy spectators in this little game. They will complain and it will be the speaker's fault for not being able to deal with it.
Things look a lot difference from this side of the microphone, don't they. Now put the cherry on this sundae. During this entire fiasco, the speaker is wondering if they are going to get another job which is how they put food on the table. That kicked the stress level up another 20 points.
Then there are the mistakes made by the booking agents at the beginning. A speaker can find themselves booked into a totally inappropriate crowd just because someone read and misinterpreted the title of a lecture. I tend to provide, when I am given enough notice, a transcript of the lecture and there are few deviations. Like I said, I depend on good old paper and ink. I know one speaker who lost loads of engagements and pretty much a book deal because the venue complained loudly to the entire world she had arrived inappropriately attired for the event. First of all, the event was in another part of the country and how was she to know what the attendees were going to look like and secondly, did they read the book? This was like booking a biker for an accounting convention and then being shocked he showed up in leathers rather than a button down shirt and tie. Even though I dress conservatively, I have been sorely out of place at a few meetings. I always advise people to make sure the people booking them know what they are getting. Send a picture and be prepared for the simple fact that no one pays attention.
There are other things the speaker is just not responsible for and that would be the air conditioning or heating, seats and venue. Most of the time the speaker hasn't even seen the room until they walk into it. I tend to explain that after 78 degrees I tend to pass out and that doesn't make for a good lecture. Most speakers never think to warn the management. At one lecture/booth, everyone involved in that aspect of the program came in from other states and were used to a very professional set up. What they got was an auditorium with such excellent acoustics every breath was magnified an unbearable volume, no air conditioning in 90 degree 100% humidity weather, concrete floors without carpeting and a really cheap assortment of folding tables that wouldn't hold any weight. I thought the psychic across from me was going to pass out and it turned out her standard attire was a suit with an insert rather than a blouse, so she couldn't remove the jacket. She was dying. Even the people from Australia next to me were dying and you know how hot it gets there. Not only that, but there was no food or drink available for the 8 hour event if you didn't bring your own and the closest restaurant was a few miles down the highway. That was the last time that event happened but everyone who bought tickets, usually 2 day tickets to see and hear speakers in rooms divided by sheets with the prerequisite karaoke machine that you couldn't use or you would blow the guy behind the next sheet through the wall, proceeded to trash the exhibitors and speakers. Trust me, I still get some fall out from it. I deny all knowledge of being there.
You see one of the problems in this profession is the organizers and the people making the money are invisible. They are often franchisees that use a national name on all the advertising. You never see them. Even when I have worked crew for big events, I have not known the actual organizers and could have fallen over their bodies and not known who they were. If the audience had gotten a hold of them, I would have been falling over their bodies. The national organization may drop the person but because they have the bucks and the venue, they just open under a new name with the same problems usually caused by skimping on everything possible to bring in the biggest amount of money. They get the booths because the vendors buy 4 booths and number 5 is free. The vendors like to travel a circuit as close to home as possible because they are dragging merchandise with them. And thus, for the first time, they pack a show hall. The second time just never happens.
The last complaint is the speaker was trying to sell books, tapes, cd's or products and the audience feels they paid for a lecture not a sales pitch. Now for reality my friends. You don't get on that stage with anything that isn't approved by the management. Believe me, start selling your what have you and you will be removed from the stage, immediately. I have asked speakers about this and the answer is always, we weren't being paid and the advertisement part of the lecture was our payment. You see, I never had anything I was selling when speaking so I had to ask the so-called offenders and that was the answer I got 100% of the time. One speaker even told me that the subject of his lecture was to be readings he provided and the management was going to do the booking and take a cut of the money. He spent the night eating chips and watching TV in a hotel room because there were no bookings and he was being trashed at the after dinner for being a money hungry advertiser. That was, by-the-way, the whole purpose of having him there. People with money will often spend a lot to get back at someone they think has done something to them. That also works for eliminating possible competition. There are few dirty tricks I haven't seen pulled in my 40+ professional years.
I had noticed at one event speakers were whisked away instantly, sometimes before they finished their speech. I had an expensive membership for this organization and then you only got discounted tickets for the events.
When a friend was booked I waited to find out what was really going on that the rest of us who paid money to get in were treated like third class citizens. It turned out the speaker was whisked to a dinner meeting where after driving from 5 AM to 6 PM to get there, she was expected to give her lecture again and then do readings for at least 40 people who had never been near the public event. This was what was really going on. After that, she would have any readings that were booked from the main event. Unfortunately it was after midnight and much to her dismay the next morning she found she also had to pay for the hotel room. Did she get paid for the event? Heck no. She was supposed to make her money off the readings booked from the main event. She tallied up over $300.00 worth of expenses because the rental car to get there turned out to be on her, too, and this was 40 years ago. Today that expense would be a thousand dollars or more as she had no control over the rental or the hotel. I don't need to tell you she didn't have the money. You might ask what the deal was with such an elaborate plan. The powers that be were selling real estate in a psychic community to the chosen at the dinner at a minimum of $40,000.00 a pop investment. In today's world that would be a few hundred thousand but you have no idea how many psychics and con artists would put up their life savings to live in a protected community with their own psychic kind and how people with more money than sense would pay millions to live there, too. The problem was the real estate didn't belong to them and was in a trust that could not be broken. I know because I had tried to buy the same land a year before. The public lectures and organization, that was using the name of an organization across the country that never heard of them, was a cover for the real estate con. Hence, folks, you never really know what is going on at these events. I could write a book on it. Hmmm... it might be a best seller.
Fortunately and thanks in a good part to the Internet, speakers are pretty wise to games that get played with them footing the bills but the blame for everything from the audience's antics to the weather is something speakers are still having laid at their feet.
Now, you the audience, have an idea of who is really at fault. So next time you have a really bad experience instead of blaming the wrong person, find out who is really running the event and then use their name in a complaint to the National Headquarters. Because no one ever does that, the National Headquarters may not find out what is going on for a two or more years. If it is an event with exhibitors, they will be filing the complaints before the end of the show because when you pay $600.00 or more for a booth you get a little testy if you are very uncomfortable. Also complain to the landlord. The odds are if the venue is very inappropriate for the event, the landlord was lied to about what was going on. Yes, you are going to get people in trouble, but they shouldn't be running events to start with and you will often, when you ferret out the culprits, discover they have no interest or connections to the theme of the event at all. They are con artists that move from venue to venue putting on events and lining their pockets while everyone else suffers. Landlords will put a quick end to that because they have organizations they belong to and the word travels fast.
Just a word to speakers so listen up. Nothing makes for better advertising than a feud between speakers or authors and it works to the advantage of the booking agents. If no one is comparing notes, people can get away with murder. Always, find out if the offending person actually said or did what they are accused of doing or saying. The whole thing may be a coverup for bad behavior on the part of the people hiring you.
Oh and a word to the wise to event organizers, do not feed pigs in a blanket to starving vegetarian authors. They will upchuck on your stage. Just saying.....