The Keynote Speaker – the reality

I go to a party. They ask me what I do. If I mention keynote speaking then I get a blank look from those that are not in business. Others give me a wry smile as if to say, ‘What a gig, like taking candy from a baby’. What they really want to ask is, ‘So, how much do you charge for a mere 45 minutes of your time?’ (Even my wife sometimes asks me if what I do is real work; she is a teacher and certainly earns her salary!).

What people see is business class flights, exotic locations, five-star meals at five-star hotels. Love and adoration as I get standing ovations wherever I go. And a big meaty paycheck. All expenses paid! If only!!!

Let me tell you some of the reality.

Five-star hotels and business class flights are not what they are cracked up to be. It is great to spend time alone but there comes a point where you can feel positively isolated! And, you can’t get that much work done on the road. The misery of being Johnny No-Mates eating another godforsaken Caesar Salad is simply depressing.

Visiting exotic destinations normally comprises being collected from the airport and getting whisked into a meeting followed by another then a quick sound check then a cocktail party to meet the directors. You rarely get the time to do the sights. And if you have the time then the sponsors will accompany you to make sure you enjoy their hospitality.

Alone or lonely?  You end up spending half your time trapped in the hotel room or being hustled to meet people you may well never meet again. So you have this schizophrenic lifestyle: one minute you are in a room surrounded by people you should meet and hobnob with; five minutes later you are alone in your hotel room till tomorrow!

You are almost famous. A few people know you. Some are raving fans. You walk off the stage having wowed 500 or a thousand managers and having all that attention but as soon as you leave the venue you revert to being a nobody. At least people know who Keith Richards is on and off the stage. One minute you are Johnny No-Mates eating breakfast alone, the next there are a thousand pairs of eyes watching your every move.

Anyone can do it. I was furious at a recent tweet that went, “Just done 1st paid gig. 000’s of $s. OMG. So easy. Will do more. #suckers”. Anyone can not do it. Many speakers are hugely mediocre, unprofessional, don’t know their stuff. Event planners need to select their experts really carefully. Then it looks effortless.  Of course it is not 45 minutes of your time. It is 20 years of experience plus the speaking skills plus all the prep (ignoring hours of research, interviews and discussions).

The trouble with Humphrey Bogart…  is that, after 11pm and a few whiskies, he really thought he was Humphrey Bogart. Our onstage and offstage personas are very different. Believe it or not I am not as extrovert as I may appear on stage.

It is not about the show. Too many audiences get mesmerised by the show, the performance. While it is nice to have some sizzle, the focus needs to be on the steak! What really matters is what the audience will do as a result of attending. What decisions will they make? What will they do differently? How will this impact on the bottom line? If people simply want entertaining then they should watch some YouTube videos of kittens.