The Professional Speaking Business Is in a Crisis

This year I have been blessed with speaking opportunities to present from Cancun to Prague, from L.A. to Istanbul: 365 days, 62 global engagements. This kind of success didn't come overnight. Two habits have served me well over the years:

  • When and where possible, I show up early or stay after my own session, just to hear others present. This allows me to ascertain how I am doing, to gauge my own growth, and identify areas for improvement.
  • I intentionally go to three or four events a year simply as an attendee, where I have no responsibility, just to sit in the audience and soak it in. (For example, I recently attended and posted about the Inc. ICONIC event in Washington DC.)

I've been on the road with my eyes wide open, and here's what I'm seeing: the speaking business is in crisis. Meeting planners for associations and corporations are trying to put compelling, interesting ideas in front of their audiences, but finding the right fit for the presenter, content, and the desired outcome has gone amok.


Frankly, right now there are a number of speakers on the circuit who have appeal but no substance. I've seen Silicon Valley types who have that Menlo Park or Palo Alto address and a VC in their title, but no hands-on experience on their resumes. Yes, they'll show up and tell you what you should do, but from what perspective? Likewise, I applaud the people who have climbed Mount Everest, but how is that relevant to my world? Or the ex-athlete who got paid millions of dollars to play a professional sport fifteen years ago, but is stretching too far to try to connect that to the common experience of the "ordinary" people in the room who are trying to run a department, a function, a business.

The business of professional speaking has gotten away from the fundamentals: It is a profession. Like any other, it requires an investment of time, effort, and resources, to acquire expertise. The true professionals have practiced, rehearsed, and delivered, over and over and over, to perfect their craft.

To maintain the health of the industry, those of us who speak have a responsibility to be good or get out. More and more, rookies are poisoning the well for the true professionals. That meeting planner who hires you has his or her reputation on the line for putting you on that stage. The more they are embarrassed by the person they hire, the more reluctant they become to give someone they haven't heard of new opportunities, and that hurts us all.

I submit the answer is in the videos speakers make available: Not just what you send in response to an inquiry, but the videos you post to your website, your YouTube channel, and elsewhere. When it comes to speakers, "What you see is what you get" is literally true. The content of your videos must tell the meeting planner that "this person is perfect for us" or NOT!

Likewise, your manner of presentation must have professional polish. If you have a mousy voice, or you pace like you have to go to the bathroom, or you cannot articulate an idea, or you tell a story and ten minutes later your audience is looking at each other like "where is he going with this?" you won't survive in the professional speaking business for long--and your videos will reveal those flaws.

Whatever you put online, make your impact in the first 30 seconds. Nobody needs to watch a 10-minute video to get a feel for your content and delivery. Can you convey your unique value-add in the first 30 seconds? If not, go back to the drawing board.

From my position as an observer as well as a participant in the speaking industry for well over a decade, I offer these suggestions:

  • If you are a meeting planner: Leverage your strategic relationship portfolio to identify those who are truly worthy of being on your stage. Stop buying the sizzle and look for people who present from a position of real expertise, not just deliver a book report.
  • If you are a presenter: Realize this is a profession. Before every engagement, do your due diligence to understand your audience and customize your content. At every speech, every event, every session, deliver your very best.
  • If you are a client: Don't lose sight of the fact that meetings are a means to an end. To find the right speaker for that opportunity, start with the end result you are after and work backward.
  • The speaking business is currently in a crisis, with the real price paid by associations and corporations that fail to achieve desired outcomes as a result of meetings and events that miss the mark.
Nour Takeaways
  1. Meeting planners are trying to put compelling ideas in front of their audiences, but failing to hire speakers who can connect with the business needs and goals of the people in the room.

  • The online video samples produced by professional speakers should convey presentation style and content in the first 30 seconds, so meeting planners can easily tell what they are going to get.
  • Meeting planners, presenters, and clients can all play a part in resolving this crisis.
  • David Nour has spent the past two decades being a student of business relationships. In the process, he has developed Relationship Economics® - the art and science of becoming more intentional and strategic in the relationships one chooses to invest in. In a global economy that is becoming increasingly disconnected, The Nour Group, Inc. has worked with clients such as Hilton, ThyssenKrupp, Disney, KPMG and over 100 other marquee organizations in driving profitable growth through unique return on their strategic relationships. Nour has pioneered the phenomenon that relationships are the greatest off balance sheet asset any organizations possess, large and small, public and private. He is the author of nine books translated into eight languages, including the best-selling Relationship Economics - Revised (Wiley), ConnectAbility (McGraw-Hill), The Entrepreneur's Guide to Raising Capital (Praeger), Return on Impact (ASAE), and the 2016 forthcoming CO-CREATE. (St. Martin's Press), an essential guide showing C-level leaders how to optimize relationships, create market gravity, and greatly increase revenue. Learn more at