The Six Speakers at Every Event

Remember that time you sat down in an auditorium, and within thirty seconds of the speaker taking the mic you knew you’d made a mistake?

Previously, I’ve talked about the stereotypical event attendees one tends to run across. Today I’m turning that same sarcastic eye onto speakers, who also run the risk of pigeonholing themselves into unsavoury categories.

  1. The Ramblin’ Man

A speaker with more tangents than Pythagoras, this talk will absolutely run over its allotted time. The unfortunate part is that there’s no way to know you shouldn’t have anything planned immediately after or grab the comfiest chair you can until you get in there. Common features include anxious pacing, waxing nostalgic on everything, and a frantic organiser in the back desperately miming to the speaker that their time is up.

The Ramblin’ Man can make it hard to sift out the detritus and come away with the useful information they’re earnestly trying to impart. And for people who take notes like a stenographer, or choose to record lectures, they can be an absolute curse. But on the other hand, they’re excellent practice for business meetings, which are often full of irrelevant fluff you have to sit through to get to the meat of the subject, which could usually have been reduced to an email, anyway.

2. The Absolutist

This speaker has a method. A strategy. A road map. It’s served them well in their endeavours, and now they want to share it with you so that you can emulate their success! That’s wonderful, right? You eagerly find a seat in the auditorium, notebook and pen at the ready to capture the nuggets of wisdom you’re going to use to change your life.

That’s all well and good, except this speaker firmly believes their methodology is the one true path to whatever the end goal is. Their world is black and white; you’re either doing the same thing as them or you’re failing. It requires a certain level of arrogance to think this way, and it’s a huge disservice to audience members. No strategy or philosophy is one-size-fits-all, but The Absolutist doesn’t understand that their experiences aren’t universal, and present their path as absolute, and themselves as a complete and singular authority on the subject.

You could chalk this up to marketing (see also: posts entitled ‘The Ultimate X’), but don’t you think it kind of defeats the spirit of community and discussion these events often purport to foster?

3. The Time Capsule

Within the last three years, I’ve actually attended a session on building an author platform that suggested bulk mailing flyers. But tell me something, when is the last time you paid attention to junk mail that didn’t have pizza coupons on it? That’s what I thought. Setting aside the fact that GDPR makes this illegal in the EU (the talk was in the US), this suggestion told me instantly that this speaker hadn’t changed their presentation in at least 15 years or so.

And that, in a nutshell, is the Time Capsule. A speaker who has been resting on their laurels for so long it’s starting to show. Decades ago, you might have been able to get away with this, but because technology advances exponentially, speakers these days need to actively invest in their knowledge base and skill set in order to remain relevant.

Despite this, it seems nearly every event has at least one of these dinosaurs wandering around, advocating junk mail and telephone marketing scripts, and it’s frankly a huge disservice to the people who are coming to these talks specifically because they don’t know where to start, and therefore don’t have the background to call out these obsolete practices.

4. The Self-Styled God

An Absolutist on steroids. While the Absolutist believes their chosen method is unquestionable, the Self-Styled God takes this hubris a step further, believing they themselves to be the reason for their success. They believe their innate talent, personality, or intuition is what got them where they are today.

This often means that their advice is largely nebulous and unactionable, and is delivered as a cult leader proselytises to their followers. You can expect a heaping portion of equal parts arrogance and condescension, as well as a lot of tips and tricks that fail entirely to account for the various types of lives everyone else lives.

Despite the general uselessness of their advice and talks, these speakers do still tend to pack out an auditorium, hence why they keep cropping up on itineraries. It’s a cult of personality, somewhat by necessity, because when you believe you’re the source of your success, don’t you have to become the product?

5. The Hangover

Admittedly, this particular speaker is a more common occurrence in the fan convention scene than it is the conference scene, but not unheard of. I don’t like to discriminate between business and leisure events, so they’re in this line-up of all stars.

They show up, maybe on time, probably not, wearing the same thing as yesterday. Or they smell like a bar mat. They might even still be drunk. Organisers hate them because it’s not a cute look, and they’re notoriously difficult to corral. Both of these things, incredibly, always end up the organiser’s responsibility.

Of course, the organiser at this point will usually ask them to leave their own panel, hopefully before it starts and the room is packed out. All the while praying that this speaker isn’t a big enough of a deal that attendees will take action when denied their presence.

6. HI, BILLY MAYS HERE

I realise I’m running the risk of showing my age here, but most of us remember Billy Mays, right? Even if it’s just from internet memes and gifs? Well, for those who don’t, Billy Mays essentially was the face of OxyClean’s bombastic and obnoxious late night infomercials, among dozens of other dubious ‘as seen on TV’ products. Never has a middle aged white man been so excited about a white powder outside of a Wall Street boardroom. And he became famous for that indefatigable energy, speaking in constant caps lock, and always starting with ‘HI, BILLY MAYS HERE,’ before launching into his pitch:

They’re a dying breed, but there are still a variety of speakers out there who treated Billy Mays’ infomercials as coaches for their future careers as public speakers. The Billy Mays Acolyte strives for that same level of energy and enthusiasm. This emulation tends to pigeonhole them as motivational speakers, who are being more and more regulated to high school auditoriums, unless they can find a way to incorporate mindfulness into their routine.

One day, I don’t doubt that there will be museum exhibits about these relics of capitalism’s hey day.


If you think I’ve missed anyone off this prestigious list, or would like to see more like this, let me know!