What do you do when ‘da bomb’ bombs? Good advice for event planners who don’t live in a perfect world…
In a perfect world, every meeting would come off
without a hitch, every audience would leave enlightened and motivated, every
client would be a hero, and you would never have heard of anyone called Murphy.
But we don’t live in a perfect world, and statistically, it’s simply not possible for every event to be a success. Few people openly admit it, mind you, but every once in a while things do go wrong… and the meeting bombs. And suddenly, ‘da bomb’ that everyone was raving about on his or her website, is living up to the wrong side of the word.
I remember one such experience like it was yesterday. The knock-knock joke I opened with went over like a lead balloon, and the audience just stared at me and fidgeted in their seats. Fortunately, my kindergarten teacher was gracious about it and helped me and my classmates survive elementary school without any permanent emotional trauma.
Fast-forward 50 years or so, and here I am researching tips on how to survive the bomb for an article I’ve been asked to write. On the hyperweb – the interconnected cyberspace between computers that’s full of hype – there is plenty of information on how to plan an event; ten top tips for ensuring a successful event; and, numerous promises and personal guarantees of amazing successes…. but I can’t find anything on what to do in the unlikely event the event turns out below expectations.
So I turned to some of my more experienced friends in the business people who have seen it all. I asked them a simple question: ‘Imagine you were giving advice to a newbie event planner or bureau agent, after the event he or she just handled went south…. what would you say?’
Christine Beaumaster, President of Keynote Speakers Canada, puts it bluntly: “There is (almost) no way to recover from the damage done when a speaker bombs.”
She goes on to explain that – assuming you are using a professional speaker – the meeting may bomb for one of two reasons: a mismatch in either the speaker style or the presentation content.
“Look,” she says, “it’s not a chicken or beef luncheon choice. It’s so important to resist the temptation to just be an order-taker and book a speaker without asking enough questions. Instead, it’s important to take the time to discuss the audience, the theme and goals of the event, timing and if there will be any late-nights and alcohol… everything that might affect the program must be considered.
It’s a subjective business but strong communication, due diligence and trust will always guarantee best results.”
Theresa Beenken, Vice President of National Speakers Bureau – and recent President of the International Association of Speakers Bureaus -- says pretty much the same thing. As one of the largest bureaus in Canada for over 35 years, they’ve got the pre-planning process and speaker selection down to a fine art. I believe her when she says it almost never happens that a speaker ‘bombs’. Her credibility goes up even higher when she says, “but every once in a while, a speaker might not hit it out of the park.”
“So what do you do then?” I ask her.
Theresa: “We have been able to turn a bad situation into a better one by finding out what was missing from the presentation and then offering that content in a different form – like a follow-up article for the client’s publication, or books, etc., to help give more value/content from the speaker.
We also recognize we have three parties with a vested interest -- the event planner who booked the speaker, the audience who experiences the speaker, and the speaker him or herself. Each will have his or her own view of the experience. Our goal is to constantly improve and help everyone through the process. We know we can only do that if we get a holistic view of what happened.”
When I talk to Martin Perelmuter, President and Co-Founder of Speaker Spotlight – another leading bureau, with over 13,000 speaking engagements (and counting) arranged for clients in over 30 countries worldwide since 1995 – I’m not surprised.
An experienced bureau knows how to ask the right questions in order to match the right speaker. Check. An experienced bureau does its due diligence. Check. An experienced bureau treats its roster of speakers with the same respect and trust that it has for its event planner clients. Check. An experienced bureau is focused on building relationships for the long-term instead of looking at event engagements as individual transactions. Check.
So what happens when an event goes off the rails (even though it almost never happens, of course)?
Martin: “By all means learn from the experience. Talk to the speaker and get his or her perspective. Review the audience feedback forms to see if there’s a consistent or pervasive thread. If there is a genuine issue, chances are the audience will not want to give the speaker a second chance – so free books or a follow-up speeches won’t help no matter how ‘free’ they are.
In that case, find out what the client wants. Maybe the client wants the fee refunded; maybe the client wants an apology; maybe the client simply appreciates the effort we make to resolve the issue; or maybe there’s nothing anyone can do. Then, all we have to draw on is the trust we had previously hopefully built up in the proverbial trust account...”
Which brings us back full circle to what Christine told me at the outset. And that makes me wonder if all my interviewees secretly got together and agreed on everything they were going to say to me.
Or maybe, just maybe, the more experienced bureaus have their own unique style and personality but all follow the same golden rule, which can be summed up like this: ‘Just do the right thing.’