Avoid A “Michael Bay Moment” at Your Meeting

What association meeting planners can learn about selecting and preparing speakers from famed director Michael Bay’s sudden departure from the stage during a press event at the Consumer Electronics Show.

By now I’m sure most of you have heard, read about, or watched Transformers and Pearl Harbor director Michael Bay stumble over his words and walk off stage during a Samsung press event at the Consumer Electronics Show earlier this week. (Just in case you haven’t seen the clip yet, you can watch it below.)

What matters more is how you select and then prepare your speakers.

Bay was put on stage by Samsung to talk about the company’s new curved 4K TV and how the new, higher-definition technology would bolster the movie-watching experience. But as he started speaking, only a few sentences in, the teleprompter malfunctioned, leaving him unable to read the script. Frustrated and frazzled, he gave up and walked off the stage, even after Joe Stinziano, Samsung America’s executive vice president, who was on stage with Bay to serve as a moderator, asked him a question to try to help him out and allow him to “wing it.”

I’ll admit the first time I watched it, I covered my eyes at points, said the word “ouch” out loud, and wanted to stop it, which is my usual reaction when I see something uncomfortable. But the second time I watched it, I thought about what an association meeting planner could (or should) do if this happened during a keynote at one of his or her meetings—and what a planner could do to ensure this doesn’t happen in the first place.

Sure, Bay could have had an off day. The teleprompter may have messed up, but that’s why backup plans are necessary, as is planning for the unexpected. For instance, what would happen if the speaker got sick and had to cancel? What if the speaker failed to show up? Or what if the speaker walked off the stage in the middle of the keynote? What if technology fails?

And while these backups are important, I think what matters more is how you select and then prepare your speakers. There’s often a debate about whether to hire a big-name celebrity who will draw an audience or a professional speaker who may have the skills but not the name recognition.

A recent study, “The Speaker Report: The Use of Professional and Industry Speakers in the Meetings Market” [PDF], by Tagoras and Velvet Chainsaw, showed that while groups are hiring more speakers for events, they are moving away from big names. Only 28.3 percent of 2013 respondents believed a big-name speaker is very or extremely important for attracting attendees.

Instead, organizations are beginning to expect more from speakers than their time on stage, with 66 percent wanting them to contribute more than a presentation. These add-ons may include writing articles or taking part in interviews for content marketing purposes.

Yet for these presentations and add-ons to be successful, an association’s meeting and learning teams must take the responsibility and prepare the speaker for the upcoming event. For instance, who will be in the audience? What trends and problems are they dealing with day in and day out that should be addressed in the presentation? What are the goals of the event?

And a speaker should want this information about the audience in order to prepare and perfect the presentation. A really good one may even ask an association about the audience before applying or committing to the gig. This sentiment was echoed by Thom Singer in his Some Assembly Required Blog earlier this week, when he wrote, “If you don’t care about the audience, drop out now!”

When you’re selecting speakers for your meetings and events, what factors do you consider (e.g., celebrity, lots of experience) before making your final decision? And how do you help prepare your speakers for the upcoming event? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

(YouTube screenshot)

Samantha Whitehorne

By Samantha Whitehorne

Samantha Whitehorne is editor-in-chief of Associations Now. MORE

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