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Opening Keynote

Thursday, March 16, 2017

When the Meeting Planner Hinders - Opening Keynote

As a speaker, every once in a while you encounter a meeting planner who doesn't give you the fundamental information that you need to be successful. This happened to me at a speech in Winnipeg to an insurance support group.

I was scheduled to speak for 90 minutes. Prior to my session, attending salespeople would be returning from lunch at the company's headquarters. There would be some announcements and a few awards before I went on.

Predictably, the lunch ran a little long. People continued to arrive back at the conference until just before the afternoon session; everything was going to be pushed back 15 to 20 minutes. I wasn’t concerned, because I had experienced this many times.

I took my seat in the far right of the front row. When the introducer mentioned my name and that I was going to be presenting that afternoon, I stood up and positioned myself along the wall adjacent to my seat, waiting for him to conclude his remarks. Instead of concluding, he gave several brief announcements for a duration of more than five minutes. He then cited several individuals in the room and called others up to hand out awards. The award ceremony lasted for more than 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, I was still standing along the wall, smiling, and politely applauding along with the audience. My energy was dissipating. It had been more than 25 minutes and I had no idea when it was going to be my turn to speak.

After even more announcements, I was finally introduced, but now this after-lunch audience had already been in their chairs for 30 minutes. This, of course, was a disaster in and of itself. Most people need to go to the rest room 60 to 90 minutes after lunch. With them being in their seats for 30 minutes and me planning to speak for 90, it was a guarantee that by the end of the two hours, people would be dying to go.

As I began, I realized I needed to ramp up my energy level. The audience was already in a slump, and now I was not my normal, high energy self. The session went fairly well, but it wasn't one of my better performances.

The meeting planner was oblivious to the whole situation, and there was no opportunity after the fact to converse. In retrospect, I suppose I should have sat down once I realized how long the award ceremony was going to take. It seemed, however, that it was just about to end, mostly because the people giving the awards were not adept at what they were doing.

Hereafter, for after-lunch sessions, I will grill the meeting planner about the precise agenda and timing.

Every speaker experiences some seemingly unavoidable misunderstandings. Perhaps that is one of the many reasons why public speaking is one of the least desirable activities among adults. This far into my career of paid, professional speaking, a situation of this sort should not have happened. I suppose it could have been worse.

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Jeff Davidson, MBA, CMC, Executive Director -- Breathing Space Institute  © 2014
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