How to make a good guest speaker suck
Just a few tips on ruining a speaker’s effectiveness.
How to Make Your Speaker Bomb
By Michael Broome
As a motivational and humorous speaker I have addressed over 2,900 audiences. The vast majority of meeting planners do an excellent job preparing for presentations. Unfortunately, a few seem determined to create environments totally unsuited for a speech; if they hosted an Olympic event, sprinters would run on an ice skating rink. As a service to sadistic meeting planners, I offer these ideas to assist in the sabotage of my competitor’s speeches.
- After-dinner speakers should be introduced while dessert is being served. Most speakers begin with a few jokes, and people don’t laugh with a mouth full of chocolate mousse. Causing the speaker’s first jokes to fail sets the mood.
- When the desserts are finished tell the waiters to clear the tables – and to take their time. The banter of waiters, the clanking of dishes and silverware guarantee distraction. The fact is, audiences think a minimum-wage worker carrying a tray piled with plates is more fascinating to watch than a $10,000 an hour speaker. And sometimes they’re right.
- Always leave the kitchen doors open. This allows audiences to be entertained by the boisterous conversations of kitchen staff. Hallway doors should also be open so the audience can monitor cell phone conversations of people in the lobby. Which reminds me, never tell audiences to turn off their cell phones. A sadistic meeting planner’s favorite weapon is a cell phone’s ring tone of “The Lone Ranger.” During the speech, over the meeting room speakers, crank up the hotel’s elevator music (musak).
- Do not suggest that the audience take a restroom break before the speaker’s presentation. Attendees will squirm in their seats and those over 50 will avoid laughing because it could make them pee. If you decide to offer a restroom break, make it very short and introduce the speaker before people return. Straggling in at different intervals creates a continuous disruption.
- By all means, serve lots of liquor. Ideally, have a 90-minute cocktail hour with free-flowing wine throughout dinner. This guarantees a mentally dull audience. And leave the bar open while the speaker is talking. The only thing more interesting to an audience than a bumbling busboy is a drunk stumbling to the bar for another shot.
- Make sure the thermostat is above 80º. What goes better with liquor than a hot, stuffy room? This combination transforms an energetic group into droopy-eyed zombies. To assure low attendance at breakfast meetings, leave the bar open until 2:00 AM. The cost of the extra booze will be covered by having to provide so few breakfast meals the next morning. For the bleary eyed people who show up to hear the morning speech, provide generous servings of Bloody Mary’s, especially for the speaker.
- When watching a sports event, play or movie, the best seats are in the center. The same is true for a speech. Destroy these seats by putting a bar or buffet table in this location. If you are not having a meal, you can achieve the same effect by dividing the audience with an isle down the middle that’s wide enough for Jumbo the Elephant.
- If spouses are attending the conference, announce that anyone with young children is welcome to attend, especially those with infants. Encourage them to sit in the middle of the audience so that everyone can equally enjoy the squalling child.
- Here’s an important tip: if the speaker is animated and relies on facial expressions, keep the ceiling lights pointed everywhere but at the speaker. It’s best not to use a spotlight. If you do, use one bright enough to completely blind the speaker. The light beam should give the speaker the sensation of being run over by a Harley at night. Also effective is a photographer who jumps up just before the speaker delivers a punch line or concludes an inspirational story. The camera’s flash and the photographer’s movement ruin the moment. Additional flashes leave the speaker with enough sight to step off the stage into the orchestra pit.
- Another technique is to display giant potted plants around the podium. This keeps the speaker properly camouflaged. If it’s an option, choose a room with numerous large Roman-style columns and arrange the tables so that the speaker is out of people’s line of vision. To further block the view, always use monstrous table arrangements utilizing such classy items as helium balloons and plastic pink flamingos.
- Book a hotel where there will be loud and energetic groups meeting in the room next to yours. Particularly effective are Shriners, college fraternity parties, and religious groups that speak in tongues. Next, make sure the meeting rooms are separated by a worthless, accordion shaped, “soundproof” movable wall. This enables your audience to listen to several speakers at once – like a “Three-Ring-Speaker’s Circus.”
- A simple law rules the psychology of group dynamics – “People respond more in a packed house.” So if you’re planning to seat 200 people theater-style, book a room with at least 500 seats. This guarantees that the front rows will be empty and everyone will spread out to the rear. A no-man’s land between speaker and audience destroys any sense of intimacy.
- Let’s talk sound system. It’s amazing how some hotels spend millions of dollars on a meeting room with beautiful murals, chandeliers, carpets, and curtains, and then shell out twenty-five bucks for a microphone. Book a hotel with this philosophy. While you’re at it, don’t bother checking out the sound system or having a second mic on hand. And make sure the PA system creates ear-shattering feedback when the speaker tries to be intimate and moves closer to the audience. In all likelihood, the speech will be over by the time someone arrives to correct the problem. Most importantly, never check to see if the microphone’s battery is fresh. Low batteries cause the mic to cut in and out making every fifth word inaudible. To avoid blame, just say you were trying to watch expenses and a new battery cost 50¢.
- Never limit the time of those addressing the group before your professional speaker. Tell them it’s okay if they haven’t worked on their remarks. You just want them to say whatever comes to mind and speak from their heart.
- Seat VIP’s on the stage far behind the speaker so their hearing is impaired and they can only see the speaker’s back. With diminished sight and hearing, their reaction to the speakers’ comments will be minimal. Since the audience can see the VIP’s muted responses, it says the speaker is a dullard.
- If your attendees are flying or driving home at the end of the day, stretch out the meeting and introduce the speaker at the time you were to adjourn. Tell the audience things are running late, and traffic will be getting more congested, but the speaker refuses to shorten his speech. Say that you had to pay a ridiculous speaker’s fee so you might as well try to get your money’s worth.
By following these suggestions, you can be one of those frustrated meeting planners who say, “You know, for some reason the speaker wasn’t able to connect with our audience.” Or, “That’s the last time I’ll take that bureau’s suggestion for a speaker.”