With Art Dubai, the Human Capital Forum and STEP Conference upon us, it is conference season again—which means we are getting ready for hours of plenary sessions, days of networking in high heels (unless you’re a man or, like me, you’ve given up since the day you found out that even Arianna Huffington is a self-proclaimed flat shoe advocate) and lots of running around exhibitions, round tables and pop-up happenings.
Help, I’m a flat shoe advocate on my way to celebrate a new book on the life and work of Roger Vivier, who designed the first stiletto.
— Arianna Huffington (@ariannahuff) April 11, 2013
While event organizers are going bananas finalizing their programs, speakers rejoice: it is finally time to put their public speaking skills into practice, share their latest research and reap the benefits of months of preparation.
But who are the people behind the pitch-perfect presenters on stage? Drawing from my experience managing dozens of conferences, I’ve carved out personas for the 15 types of speakers you’re most likely to come across or embody.
1. The Flake
The Flake is on every conference website…But never at the event. He’s often sick, missed a plane, finds out he has a conflicting engagement the day before the event or simply disappears.
The Flake is a bit of a legend, a rare bird that hasn’t been sighted in a while. No one has actually ever heard him speak, but there’s a rumour he was at the opening ceremony of, oh well, some event in 2008. He’s usually high-profile, and benefits from lots of press – probably because he commits to speaking at conferences with the sole aim to gain publicity.
2. The Classroom Teacher or The Coach
The Classroom Teacher is usually a coach or a consultant by profession, and it wouldn’t be surprising if he’d spent most of his career teaching children. He dumbs down every concept, talking to the audience as though they couldn’t grasp the complexity of his words. His expertise might be real, but the message just isn’t coming across that nicely when people feel patronized.
A close cousin of the Classroom Teacher, the Coach, not only oversimplifies things—but also punctuates his presentation with cheerful music, inspirational quotes, deep life-altering reflections and even possibly musical chairs. The Coach wants you to feel happy and empowered, but you end up looking at your watch and rushing out.
3. The Boss
The Boss runs the show. Much like an invading mother-in-law, he quickly forgets he’s a guest and fits in so well he’ll tell you what to do with your agenda, where the leaflets should be placed and what items should be on the menu. A very proactive Boss might even stand by the A/V desk throughout the whole event, give instructions to your team or take the initiative of ‘shifting things up a little’ in the networking area.
Beware. The Boss is always behind you. While he seems helpful at first, this type can be quite suffocating.
4. The Hidden Gem
The Hidden Gem is the humble, down-to-earth speaker that wouldn’t have caught your attention beforehand but grabs the hearts of everyone in the room because he’s relatable, humorous, kind—and doesn’t try too hard.
Tough to find, and often a bit of an introvert, the Hidden Gem usually best performs in a panel or an informal setting, where he finds the conversation to be natural. His statements are genuine and his controversy, natural.
5. The Diva
The Diva has got it down to a routine. He’ll ask for a powder room, a decaf soy latte and a red berries mix without blueberries, and roll in accompanied of his mysterious team members (that usually have a habit of not smiling). The Diva loves attention—and will require quite some time, or it might end up poisoning the show.
Contrary to common belief, the Diva is rarely ever a ‘very important person’. But, much like a demanding pop artist, he comes with a technical rider. Organizers will have to comply to deserve the show—which could sometimes be a slight turn-off, regardless the performance.
6. The Salesperson
The Salesperson is, well, always selling something. He’ll tell you about his consulting company—oops—areas of expertise, bring in a dozen brochures and plug his logo into every PowerPoint presentation.
Usually charming and presentable, the good Salesperson will know exactly when to stop. But the bad Salesperson might come across as too pushy or shallow—and getting him out of your annoyed attendees’ way can prove to be a true challenge.
7. The Entertainer
The Entertainer might as well have been trained in one of these comedy clubs. Not only does he seem knowledgeable about his area of expertise, but he gets along with e-very-one, including the creepy attendee sitting in the last row.
He masters the art of waking up a dead crowd (which can come in quite handy) by cracking up jokes at the right time. It must feel good to be him—and certainly feels good to hear him.
8. The ‘Expert’
The Expert claims to be, well, an expert, about everything. Originally specialized in Human Capital, he now delivers training in anything under the sky—from diversity & inclusion to soft skills or even finance. He usually spices things up a little according to the season, offering a special ‘Happy Workplace’ training for Happiness International Day.
Considering his wide range of specialties, the Expert usually ends up presenting at every conference, diluting his content and eroding his credibility a little more every time. Because, really, how could one be an expert at everything?
9. The Community Builder
The Community Builder is always ready to give a hand, and enjoys connecting people. He is passionate about his area of expertise and believes in helping the community. Most of the time, he’ll be the one to call you up before you even start planning the conference to make sure he’s on your books and start giving you tips.
Careful though: once you’ve let them in, there is no way back. Ever. They’ll knock on your door every year—even when they’re retired (I have examples that support that). The trick can be to draw the line, but a helping hand is always welcome.
10. The Nerd
The Nerd does his homework. He’s the kind of speaker to arrive so prepared and on time, nod enthusiastically while taking notes, make a plan and keep everyone on their toes. He probably was a bit nerdy at school but now, he’s the first in class.
The Nerd always knows of the latest industry developments and he’s always got the stats to prove any point. He makes sure to brief his peers before going on stage, he’s the one to keep an eye on the time to ensure everyone gets their speaking time (bless him) and notices hands raising in the back of the room.
11. The Socialite
The Socialite knows everyone. He’s a busy bee—always tweeting, blogging, writing and attending networking events. He can be very helpful but, unlike the Community Builder, he trades—doesn’t give it all away.
The Socialite is attracted by great content, new concepts and a good crowd. Very charismatic, they built a niche for themselves and are in high–demand—so they might need some chasing!
12. The Wannabe
The Wannabe sees the value of speaking of conferences, but has little to speak about. He’ll email organizers and speakers regularly, trying to get in—but he’s got four years of professional experience under his belt and is so busy trying to build his public profile he forgets to forge his own expertise. Everything comes in time!
13. The Trophy Speaker
The Trophy Speaker is the one every conference will brag about having caught. Usually a very high-level speaker or government leader, he has got a great job title, much influence and is well guarded. Organizers will headhunt him for years until they can finally bring him over – and then make him their sales tool for the next five editions.
Every attendee loves a good Trophy Speaker—they bring glamour to an event, attract press coverage and the ‘wow’ factor.
14. The Crush
The Crush is the speaker we will miss once he’s gone—often a one-timer, who will move on to new horizons and conquer new audiences, one engagement at a time. He’s the rare kind that balances some kind of perfection in the act and expertise in his field with genuineness and humanity.
The Crush not only masters public speaking, but also demonstrates remarkable listening skills with his co-speakers, the organization and the audience. He has a collaborative approach, the ability to ask without sounding entitled and be quietly confident. If he were a lover, he’d probably be remembered as ‘the one that got away’.
15. The Joker
The Joker is always available. He’s the organizer’s secret (or not so secret) favourite, the trick up their sleeve if anything goes wrong and, as a result, ends up speaking at every conference of theirs.
The Joker is kind, light-hearted, honest and knowledgeable. He’ll put in long hours to help out, explain new concepts, provide feedback and expect little in return. You’re lucky if you’ve got one, and you should take care of him.
All via GIPHY.