I was sitting at an HR conference last week next to my friend, Laurie Ruettimann, listening to someone talk about something they did at some company and made this statement:
“You know, you only see three types of conference speakers.”
We were bored. We start talking in the back like the bad kids in class. So, she played along and asked me what the three were.
Here’s my take:
1. Mr. or Mrs. Case Study – These speakers are usually one trick ponies. They did something good, once, at some company that has a big name, and now they get invited to speak at conferences. The basic speech is nothing more than them running down the path of what they did.
The entire breakdown is this: We had a problem. We came up with a solution. We implemented the solution. That was five years ago. Yes, Google does actually have bikes we can ride on campus.
It’s rare that case study speakers ever make it past this stage. Most aren’t that good at speaking, they just have this one thing and a corporate brand. Their skill was being at the right place, at the right time.
2. Mr. or Mrs. We Here To Pump You Up – These folks come in two flavors: 1. My own bullshit, and 2. I had bad shit happen to me, but hey! I’m still alive! First, let me say, I’m not dumping on these folks, they’re usually by far the best speakers you’ll see. This is their life. This is how they make their living.
I’m always amazed at how motivational type speakers truly believe in their own B.S. It’s really the only way you can do it. Can you imagine going from city to city, basically saying the exact same thing to people you know will never change, until one day you find yourself in a Holiday Inn Express in Cedar Rapids, IA with a gun in your mouth, sitting next to an empty bottle of gin. (Oh wait, I just described my last week)
3. Tomorrowland and The Sniper – These are the futurist/specialist type speakers. Everyone wants to hear what’s going to happen in the future, unfortunately, it’s all one big educated guess. On the specialist front, it’s also nice to hear a really talented specialist tell you how you should really being doing something. Unfortunately, most of these folks don’t keep doing it, so the ‘special’ advice they’re giving you is from five years ago!
I put these two together because you usually see these folks doing the same thing. It’s easier to talk about what you should be doing, instead of how to actually be doing it. Those the are the case study folks, but like I said above, they only know how to do it one way, with one company.
I will tell you, as one who has been to a few conferences, you’re most likely to walk into a disaster when it’s a case study speaker. They usually get invited because they come from a great company, but know one knows if they can actually speak or not. The biggest train wrecks come at this level.
But, I also have found some of my most favorite speakers at this level, because you just don’t know! Everyone starts somewhere. The basic equation of any of these three levels is three solid stories, some good laughs, and one ‘oh, you got us’ moments. If you can make that happen, people will leave happy.