Wide Full Open: Ken Schmidt on Marketing and Speaking


I’ve been to thousands of meetings of all sizes and budgets. I’ve seen a lot of what works and a lot of what doesn’t. The stuff that doesn’t is almost always easily avoidable.

From a paid speaker’s perspective, here’s my Golden Rule, which supersedes all of my Top Ten: Always remember that a speaker gets paid whether or not the room is full, so maximize your investment by scheduling your paid talent at times that ensure the largest audience. Watching a meeting planner nervously twiddling thumbs and praying for a half-empty room to fill up at 7:30 a.m. is never a comfortable vision.

  1. Never hire a speaker that you haven’t personally seen or heard positive testimonials about. Always do a reference check with past clients – they’ll tell you if a speaker was great or not, easy to work with or a pain in the butt. You don’t want good speakers. You want great speakers. Don’t risk your career over a recommendation from a person you don’t personally know or trust.
  2. Never approach a speaker as he/she is about to go on stage and say, “We’re running a bit behind, so can you please cut 20 minutes from your presentation?”  (Think about it: The presentation’s been rehearsed and timed. Visuals are loaded in chronological order. Which parts can be cut on the fly without ruining the whole body of work? That’s an impossible burden to place on a speaker while he’s listening to his introduction.) This happens to me several times a year. If you have to cut time, do so well in advance of visuals being loaded, so the speaker has time to prepare.And…drum roll, please…
  3. If you’re hiring a professional athlete to speak, insist that they don’t attempt to combine sports stories with business metaphors; it comes off ridiculous. Just let them entertain. Plus, make sure your contract with them firmly stipulates how many autographs they’ll sign. I’ve seen a lot of broken hearts.
  4. Never open a meeting with a speaker who will present bad or unpleasant news.  The results will always be the same: bummed out people. If you kick off with a downer, it’s hard to bring people back up. For example, I’d avoid economists altogether during hard times unless they’re very well known for being superb speakers. Few people fit that description.
  5. No matter how tight the budget, do not cut corners on the A/V equipment or on-site production people. It looks amateurish. And always insist that the production staff rehearses all intros, transitions, video clips, etc. (When the A/V system goes down or a computer freezes –or the wrong video appears on screen during the chairman’s address – meeting planner embarrassment goes off the end of the scale. I see this a dozen times a year.)
  6. Avoid allowing your property managers to set up a room where a speaker is presenting in rounds of 8 or 10. Rounds mean at least half the people in the room have their backs to the speaker, which means they’re going to be twisting and squirming in their seats. Round tables are for eating.
  7. Never hire a speaker to present when a meal is being served. People are eating. Or listening. But never both at the same time. Eating makes noise, inspires table conversation and sends a message to the audience that says nothing of importance is being discussed from the podium.
  8. Never hire a speaker to present before 9 a.m. the day after a major social event (awards dinner, closing ceremonies, etc.). Unless attendance is mandatory, everyone’s sleeping off their hangovers and wandering in late.
  9. Never hire a speaker to present during the morning of the last half-day day of a convention, unless attendance is mandatory. Tattoo this on your forehead: To meeting attendees, half day is synonymous with optional. Everyone’s packing up their booths or heading for the airport.
  10. Never hire a speaker to present after a cocktail reception. Once booze is flowing and the party hats come on, brains disengage. Completely. Comedians and musicians know how to work a semi-sloshed audience. Most speakers don’t. This is a formula for disaster.


As with my Top Ten Tips for Meeting Planners, I have a Golden Rule for Speakers that supersedes my Top Ten: The meeting planner is your master. You were hired by and are present at the meeting to serve him or her. Your meeting planner is not only the most stressed-out person on the planet today, but the person on whom you’re completely dependent for your paycheck and a positive recommendation. Shower that person with love.

  1. Don’t suck.
  2. Do. Not. Do. Anything. That. Stresses. Your. Client.  Meeting planners, once on-site, are the most stressed-out people on the planet. Their burden of responsibility is enormous. The meeting planning community is small and tight-knit. What do you want clients to say about you?And…drum roll:
  3. Need nothing. Make no special requests. No green room riders. You’re there to serve, not be served. Cut the crap.
  4. Charts and word slides will kill you. If it’s got more than 10 words on it, don’t use it.
  5. Memorize the names of your client’s products.  And use them in your presentation. Same goes for your client’s competitors.
  6. Know your client’s business. Read – don’t skim — everything clients send you and pore over their websites. The more comfortable you get with their organization – in particular, the language and tone they use — the faster you’ll connect with them and their audience. You can never know too much.
  7. Speak like a human. Avoid cliché business language. The next time somebody wants to hear you recommend a paradigm shift away from outside the box thinking in the C-suite to sharpen your focus on increasing shareholder value across all channels of the enterprise to gain traction with key strategic targets will be the first time.
  8. Be extremely polite and pleasant to everyone you meet on-site. Especially everyone involved in running the event. It’s very common that a “junior” person I meet at an event one year is the senior person at another company’s event the next year – and the one who recommended me to speak. I’ve also been referred several times by A/V people, who see hundreds of speakers each year (it never hurts to shower them with praise in front of the meeting planner).
  9. Introduce yourself to your client’s higher-ups.  And sincerely tell them what a superb job the meeting planner and his/her team are doing . Unless you’ve planned a large meeting, you have no idea how difficult and stressful it can be. Executives tend to not know this, either. Therefore, praise your meeting planner to top brass. It will come back to you.
  10. Test A/V gear and on-site production teams to death. Before you go on and while the room is empty. Every major problem I’ve ever witnessed or personally encountered as a speaker can be attributed to unexpected problems or surprises with A/V equipment. 6 a.m. A/V check means 6 a.m. A/V check.

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