Conference Organizers Top 15 Professional Speaker Pet Peeves

18 February 2009

Recently, Velvet Chainsaw partnered with Tagoras, Inc., a leading continuing education company, to survey conference professionals about their use of speakers.

One question asked respondents to share their biggest pet peeves regarding professional speakers.

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Here are their top 15 most disliked pet peeves about professional speakers.

1. Arrogant, prima dona or diva-like behavior.

Unconventional requests from professional speakers or their agents. Demands to fly 1st class and companion requirements. Lack of humility

2. Self-promotional behavior.

Some respondents used the words self promotional buffoon! Openly selling products and services to attendees.

3. Using a canned speech.

Not customizing for the audience and their needs. Lack of deep understanding of their audience.

4. Poor visuals.

No visuals. Reading from their slides.

5. High maintenance or needy.

Requiring a lot of attention, time and hand-holding. Continual questioning and pressure for specific requests.

6. Employing inept handlers and assistants.

Inability to get questions answered from assistants. Not completing necessary paperwork or online documents for the conference. Not returning calls.

7. The speaker not letting organizers know that they have arrived onsite.

This one give most meeting professionals a lot of stress.

8. Waiting until the last minute to show up for the presentation.

This is another stress-maker for many meeting professionals.

9. Unwillingness to allow the presentation to be recorded or shared.

This one is becoming more of a deal breaker today.

10. Over-promising and under-delivering on commitments.

It’s better to under-promise and over-deliver!

11. Last minute requests for audio visual, travel or other needs.

Most conference organizers have a process including forms to request AV, travel or other needs. Don’t want until the last minute to make those requests.

12. Lack of responsiveness to the conference organizer.

Conference organizers usually ask professional speakers the best way to communicate with them: email, text or phone. If they contact you, at least let them know that you received it!

13. Lack of flexibility with contract clauses, riders and terms.

Some contracts read like the demands of kings and queens with outrageous riders!

14. Leaving immediately after the presentation.

Meeting professionals prefer is the speaker will stay around for a while to answer questions and even lead a post-presentation continue the conversation.

15. An attitude that the speaker is the customer, not the organization and its audience.

What are some of your pet peeves in dealing with professional speakers? What can professional speakers do to add more value to your meeting?

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  1. justin locke says:

    well i don’t get it, if these people are so unprofessional, why do you hire them?

    that may be ingenuous, so . . . shall i assume the client wanted them, and so you the organizer had no choice but to deal with them? or is it something else? if someone has made a “name” and are in high demand, not much you can do, is there? – jl

  2. Love this post Jeff. You cover it all!I have been guilty of several of these before. Naughty Me. I used to hesitate to have my presentation recorded but everyone keeps asking for this. Often now I show up not knowing they are recording it, they hand me a sheet of paper to sign just before I speak that says “its ok to tape and distribute this” and I feel trapped in a corner, what am I going to say… no? I hate to have conflict before giving a motivational speech.
    There is a bit of a conflict of interest if I am selling that same “material”and packaging it different ways.

    I have not put this into contracts so far- I just deal with it as the requests come around. I like to be flexible so usually I acquiess and am aware of how they are using and distributing the material.

  3. justin locke says:

    well re: permission to record, it is a little unprofessional for a presenter to ask for that permission just as you are about to walk on stage. if a presenter wants to record and distribute intellectual property, that is part of the value and the overall deal and should be part of the original contract negotiations, not a last minute “oh by the way.” on the other hand, it would be amazing if they managed to get anyone to watch a video from their conference by a non-famous presenter, and there is a lot to be said for the promotional impact of recordings. the grateful dead let anyone record their concerts and it did not hurt ticket sales. so there is no right answer except to say everyone should be up front and open minded, and each situation is unique. it is easy to get possessive of a single presentation’s content, but if one only has a single hour’s worth of unchanging content and not much else, the speaking career is in trouble. hopefully one grows personally, and content offerings grow along with that.

    1. Jeff Hurt says:

      Why do meeting planners hire professional speakers that have some of these traits? Lots of reasons. Often, it’s a marquee name and the more famous the person is, the more challenging it can be for the planner. In other situations, often you don’t know if the speaker is unprofessional in their behavior until after you’ve signed a contract and then you’re stuck. I’ve even had well-known professional speakers tell me that I must move their general session time on the morning they are speaking because they have to catch an international flight. I’ve had a professional speaker breakdown on stage due to a divorce. I’ve had them forget to show up or show up drunk. It’s not as “professional” as the term applies! And sometimes politics are in play like they are a must hire from the chair of the board or the boss. It’s more complicated than you’ll ever know.

      When I present, I always allow people to record except when the recording won’t make sense to the listener due to audience activity. Having been on the planner side, we didn’t make money from selling videos or audio recordings. We did it to cover costs and to offer members who could not attend but wanted the content a way to receive it. It was actually a deal-breaker for me. I agree that asking at the last minute before the speaker goes on stage is unprofessional yet often the organization decides at the 11th hour that they are going to record items.

      I rarely find a speakers intellectual property that worthy of purchasing or selling these days. Way too much free information online. Good speakers provide both content and an engaging experience that can’t be replicated in a recording…just sayin’. And, I find many conferences that do have others who watch a recording of a presentation…especially if Word Of Mouth has spread that it’s relevant and engaging. Will they pay to watch that recording…depends upon if they need it for certification or not.

  4. thom singer says:


    I love this topic, as it hits home (since I am a speaker).

    I would love to see more comments from speakers and meeting professionals with advice on what speaker CAN do to make a positive impact.


  5. It definitely left a bad taste in my mouth when I saw a speaker stop what they were doing (presenting) and call out a person in the audience who was recording them. It seemed pretty egotistical to shut someone down because it might devalue your presentation to have snippets “out there.”

    Great post – definitely a good reminder of what not to do if you want to stay in a meeting planner’s good graces.

  6. As an entertainer and speaker myself I’m surprised that these things happen from a professional entertainer. I do know some prima donas out there, but I was surprised at some of the others. I’m glad to see these are things I would never even think about doing.

  7. justin locke says:

    well for what it is worth, in my experience there are 2 kinds of prima donnas out there. one is just an average performer who is compensating, indulging in fantasy, and generally avoiding reality by abusing people who have to take said abuse. the other is a much craftier variety. They play a prima donna role for the purpose of raising energy levels of folks around them who might otherwise just phone it in. i assume everyone knows the van halen blue M&M story? there is a certain excitement of being around celebs and this obligates them to act like celebs and let people faun over them, it’s not just them. but yes, those who are only wannabe stars and are just being jerks to make themselves feel important (and are actually driving down focus) are a common problem– altho many times their “jerkiness” can lead to greater press/promotion/notoriety. knowing how to deal with both types is part of being a planner i guess.

  8. At least you know that for those that act like this, they will only be hired once by that company and next time they’ll hire someone else. Kind of like when someone hires a bad magician. Yes it does make them a little jaded the next time they need to hire someone, but at least that person won’t be coming back. Besides, in our business word travels very quickly, soon they’ll put themselves out of business.

  9. […] Read the Velvet Chainsaw  report on “Conference Organizers Top 15 Professional Speaker Pet Peeves“. […]

  10. Al Getler says:

    This is a great list! I just sent it to a conference organizer (and an old friend) that booked me. Let’s see how I stack up to this list.

    As for recording the presentation, listen to the podcast listed below by Michael Port (that is how I ended up here). Christa Haberstock and Michael talk about the need for quality and quantity of video for demo purposes.

    I agree to video with the further agreement that I will receive a copy of the raw file. That is a win-win especially when there is a full production crew on site.

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