Ok, not totally. But wait until you read this true story:
I was recently at a huge event in Florida — 450 professionals brought in from around the country – to be their closing motivational keynote speaker. Nice. They asked me to include all expenses in my contract to make it easier for them. Fine. No sweat. (Can you tell that I’m leaving even the industry off to make sure I don’t step on any client toes? :)
My spot as the closing speaker was immediately following a boxed lunch. After the morning session, the attendees grabbed a box lunch, went to their seats, ate… and waited for – well – me.
I got my gear set, was all-systems-go with the audio visual team, and had chatted with the big boss (who by the way had hired me two times in the past.) So far, everything is easy and fun.
But here is where it gets hinky. I was about to grab a box lunch… I was starving and was needed calories before I spoke for an hour and a half … when I casually asked the meeting planner if I could have a sandwich. I asked her knowing it was a formality. Of course she would feed her speaker. I nearly didn’t ask.
I was wrong. She said, “Oh no, those are for the participants.” I thought she was joking. “You’re kidding, right?” I honestly thought she was joking about not feeding me.
“No, we have accounted for all of the lunches, and they are for the registered attendees only.” I was dumbfounded. I wanted to say, “Well then I’d like to register.” But all I could come up with was a clumsy, “But I’m your closing speaker.”
“Sorry,” she said. I was amazed. With 450 people there, there just HAD to be ONE extra turkey sandwich. And did she realize what it meant to me and her meeting to turn me down?
So I just said, “Ok, I’ll need to go get some food.” I left her and 4 tables piled high with ready-made lunches and left in search of a quick sandwich. There were two restarurants in the hotel, but after talking to their hostesses it was clear that I wouldn’t have time to order there. I eventually ended up at sandwich place next to the hotel and bought myself a — you guessed it — turkey sandwich. (Ironic, no?)
By the time I found this place, ordered, waited, wolfed down the sandwich, and made my way back to the convention area the meeting planner was in a panic. “Where were you?” Again, I was dumbstruck. I didn’t have anything graceful to say, so I just came out with a, “I had to go find some food.”
She looked surprised. Apparently her other speakers never need fuel before they speak. We walked back towards the meeting room and passed what was now a single table piled high with turkey sandwich box lunches. She saw me look at them: “I guess there were some left after all.”
I was silent. But inside I was somewhere between laughing and crying.
What’s the point? I can tell you it isn’t the $8.67 I spent on my sandwich. My point is that this woman was responsible for an event that cost a gazillion dollars and she threw her keynote speaker off-balance because of a turkey sandwich. I didn’t care about the money, I cared that because she was counting her pennies I was inconvenienced, and because of that I wasn’t fully in the game. Instead of eating with the attendees, getting the latest scoop on the convention, and having a chance to go over my program notes I was rushing around trying to find calories that were within reach the whole time. Maddening.
Normally I eat with my audience because that’s where I get the last-minute scuttlebutt. That’s where I hear about the most recent stresses, the talk of the meeting or convention, and that’s where I often write some of my best jokes. Not this time.
Instead of getting myself psyched up for doing a good job for her, I was trying to make it back to the hotel on time.
More irony: The meeting planner was off balance, nervous and upset because her speaker had vanished. Both of us — and the entire audience — would have been better served if I was given a sandwich.
[Hey, don’t worry. The keynote was fun and well-received — if I do say so myself. It was a great audience and I’ve done this keynote thing a bunch. It went great. But why in the world did this planner make it so hard?]
Message to meeting planners: if you are hiring a speaker, do your best to set them at ease. You don’t have to pamper us, (though we love that more than you’ll guess) but it is a good investment to remove as many headaches for us as you can. You want us to be 100% when we hit your platform. So make it easy for us to rock. Oh, and by the way, buy us that sandwich.
Are you looking to HIRE a keynote speaker? Contact me here. (I’ll even bring my own sandwich…just give me warning. :)
Motivational Keynote Speaker, Lover of Meeting Planners, Fan of Turkey Sandwiches
PS. I asked my client — not the meeting planner but the client — if I could tell this story from the stage. I gave him a brief summary, told him why I thought it was funny and how I thought that there was a lesson in this story for his specific group. He declined and admitted that it made sense but the meeting planner was “highly strung” and he didn’t think she could take it. Oh… telling that story from the stage would have been funny!
PPS. Ever had a similar experience? Would you be so kind as to leave it in a comment?
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Great story. Unfortunately, it’s not out of the usual for meeting planners. They’re so focused on certain aspect of the event that loose track of many of the “little things” like your issue or that we banquet managers can’t just snap our fingers and make all of their last minute changes happen in a minute. Take care.
So You Want To Be a Banquet Manager
A very similar thing happened to me. The only different was that the conference was at a posh up-scale resort, all the restaurants on-site were closed, and there was no food within walking distance.
Luckily, I had two power bars and a small bag of GORP (good ol’ raisins and peanuts … a staple of hikers on the trail) that I had packed in my overnight bag for the cross-country plane flight.
Whew. By the time I got through my 1.5 hour speech, finished glad-handing the crowd afterwards, got back to my room, ordered and waited for the room service to arrive … I was starving! :-)
Now, whenever I travel for a speech, I always — always — pack a few extra power bars in my bag.
Thanks for the story! :-) Best of luck in 2009!
Hi Tim. Yeah…. I was told by an airline flight attendent that she never travels w/o a bottle of water, an apple, and a couple of granola bars. Good advice. Like you, it has paid off for me many times on the trip.
I add to it: a couple bags of raw almonds and a couple of packs of instant oatmeal. (You can use the coffee maker in the hotel room to make hot water for the oatmeal.) It’s perfect food for when you are in a huge hurry, don’t want to mess with the hotel restaurant, etc.
I wouldn’t have given you the sandwich either… We pay good money to attend these conferences. And here you are thinking that you deserve the same equal treatment as a paying attendee? The nerve. Quit sponging your way around and carry a smelly tuna fish sandwich in your pocket. I’m certain you will both gain the attention of the planner as well as the first couple of rows of your audience. :)
Brad: That is too funny! I’m sitting here cracking up … but wow, it never occurred to me that I could save $8.67 by not feeding my speakers. Maybe I’ll try it! :-)
You think not being fed is insulting? I once arrived at the appointed time to give a workshop to a group of hotel personnel managers and found they hadn’t quite finished their sit down dinner in the hall where it was taking place. All the chairs at the table were occupied and the event planner didn’t see fit to organize a chair for me to sit down and just left me standing there at the side of the hall while they ate..talked and carried on for another 20 minutes.
I can tell you that after that treatment – with all the participants picking up the “just ignore the woman standing in the hall till we are ready for her” the workshop (in my opinion) did not go well. Although many participants thanked me in the end I felt annoyed throughout and was definitely not on my best game.
Yes – I can stand around, my feet work fine – but boy, yes, the event planner has to think of somthing that simple!
Great story, though. I usually turn down food before i’m about to speak, my idea of embarrasing is addressing a group with something in your teeth…
Oh! I just worked for an Air Force audience and they finished this story for me: they gave me a HUGE sandwich with 12 lbs of turkey. I’ll post the whole thing soon!
I’m laughing even now.
My gosh! Who did she think you were? A jazz musician?
I actually had a gig once where the band was taking a break and I asked the waiter if I could get a cup of coffee. He called over three other waiters and the had a 2-minute discussion. “Well,” he said. “We typically don’t do this, and musicians shouldn’t ask, but you can have a cup of coffee if you promise to drink it in the kitchen.”
“Forget it” I said. What a joke.
How easy and cheap would it have been to get the best out of their musicians: one cup of coffee. Yet they had to think, and in the end made you unhappy about playing there.
Big picture? Maximizing performance? Think free coffee for the bass player!
PS. Hey readers: heck out Andrew Hudson’s site: http://www.andrewhudsonsjoblist.com Excellent example of thinking big, doing it with class, and making a difference.