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When Choosing a Speaker for your Event do you want a Worm or a Strawberry

During one of my customer focus workshops I use the cunning ploy of asking my audience if any of them like strawberries. About 90% of the hands go up, then “Who really really likes them?” Only a few hands go down at that point. Then the whole NPS routine “Would they recommend strawberries to a friend?” Plenty would.

The next step is to suggest a fishing trip – clearly the best bait to set on the hook would be a delicious juicy strawberry. This provokes considerable protest “But fish don’t like strawberries.” “Then what should we bait the hook with?” The answers range from sweetcorn to maggots, but worms are universally the most popular choice. “Oh” I cry, “so you like worms?” “No, but fish do!” My master stroke, “Then stop trying to sell customers what you like and find out what bait attracts them.”

As a professional speaker I cheerily used this story without seeing how it applied to me. Whilst working with some strange propeller-heads on how to improve our online presence they said the key is to zero in on your specific customer by name, address, shoe size and blood group if possible, so as an exercise I tried to identify my customer. The result was disturbing, my audience are people who really enjoy what I say but can’t afford me and the people who hire me do not tend to be my audience, but are, for instance, trade association chair-people, franchise founders, conference organisers and bosses who want to gee up their staff. Now who should I try and appeal to, the paymaster or the audience?

Professional speakers need feedback, but are they being scored by the audience or the organiser? I do my best to custom-build my presentations to delight, inform and change my audience and to that end the briefing call is vital, but it is difficult to get the background and the goals and aspirations without spooking the client. My frustration reaches boiling point when I share the stage with Martin Marrow who sailed round the world in a bin bag, triumphing over adversity with power-point, video and the final thirty seconds with some waffle about teamwork. I see the organisers glow and glad-hand whilst the audience shuffle and yawn.

So when next choosing a speaker for your event, do you go for your much loved strawberry or delight your audience with a delicious juicy worm.