Speakers from Hell

There are many different types of presenters and some are fantastic but there are two types that cause headaches for the audience. 

  • A presenter with no story to tell.
  • A story to tell with no presentation skills.

I attended the Campbelltown Chamber of Commerce meetings for nearly a decade. They had guest speakers from time to time. 

A presenter with no story to tell.

Let’s set the scene. In those days Campbelltown was seen as the backwaters. Hillbilly country. The media (I am ashamed to say) had blown up many stories to such a point it was now accepted that the people of Campbelltown had two heads, drank beer all day, and bashed each other. (The reality was quite different). 

Our members and their guests arrived for the monthly meeting. They gave up two hours of their time to attend. We had dinner and our guest speaker was introduced as a marketing guru from the city of Sydney. Prior to the meeting I Googled her (found nothing). I wondered how she would be such a guru and not be noticed as an expert in her field. And it seemed her only credential was that she worked in the big city. Why did our President select her?

She spoke down to the audience. There were no notes, slides or handouts. It was all done by memory – there was no common theme. To put it bluntly, it was a disaster of major proportions. Her presentation was like a Marketing 101 for people who had never worked in business. Our audience consisted of local business people – many with their own businesses. 

She presented to the sixty of us. I was horrified and felt embarrassed for her and our audience. I learned later that the presenter was a friend of the president and, as a favour, was giving her friend a ‘go at presenting’ – we were unsuspecting guinea pigs. The texts we sent to each other during this presentation were not complimentary about both of them. The President of the Chamber failed the members. But that President ruled with an iron first and the committee would never disagree as that meant an argument. 

Recommendation. When bringing in an outside guest speaker ensure they have something to say that the audience will appreciate. If you are asked to speak to an audience do your research and ensure you have something that will benefit them. And make it look professional.

The Prima Donna Presenter

I emceed an event and introduced the guest speaker. A minor celebrity. The annual event was already a draw card and the speaker made little difference to attracting numbers. On my run sheet I was given times. The guest speaker took up too much time. The organiser would not let me interrupt. 

The audience of 800 were bored shitless. The guest speaker was polished, he had notes, slides and some props. But the topic, as well as the presenter, were boring. I could see the audience shifting, texting, watching their phones, whispering. The speaker went overtime by fifteen minutes. That is a sin in my books. No presenter is that valuable that they can steal 800 x 15 minutes: 200 hours of life stolen.

Worse than that. Fish was on the menu and it arrived cold. I knew the functions manager and had a chat after the event. She was instructed not to serve during the presentation as instructed by the organiser. When I talked to the organiser about the fiasco I was told that the guest speaker didn’t want any interruptions. The room needed to stay quiet and centred on the presentation. But by going overtime the 800 meals, now ready, waited. The fish went cold and old age crept. The waiters were frustrated. The presenter, as well as boring us to death, had stolen 200 hours of life. 

Whilst this is about presenting I should mention organisers. As an organiser you must have respect for your audience. If a guest speaker goes overtime and creates havoc: create havoc for the speaker. 

Solution 1.

As an audience member I have no problem getting up and leaving if a guest speaker is an embarrassment. At home I switch off or change the channel – these days I do the same at live events. I’d much prefer to wait outside and do something constructive than listen to a moron.

Solution 2. As an emcee I have no problems making my presence known if the speaker is going overtime.  I creep slowly onto the stage. Then closer. Then closer. Then I hold the microphone to my mouth and move closer. If the speaker doesn’t get the hint then they are totally stupid. This is my technique at breakfast meetings. Everyone has to get to work, don’t let anyone steal their time.

Recommendations. As a presenter you must respect your audience – stick to your times. Ensure your presentation is well prepared and practised. Don’t be a prima-donna, there are many others waiting for the opportunity to engage an audience. Remember every presentation you make is an audition for your next job. Put yourself in the minds of the audience.