Just who is kidding who?

I’d like to tell you a true story about something that happened to me recently..

The postman isn’t the only one who always rings twice

I received a call from a well-known, well established, event management organisation. Greeted by the cheery voice of a guy on the other end of the line, he set out to ‘woo’ me with great feedback from my presentation at last year’s Flood Expo

He’d got my details from Flood Expo’s marketing literature and was calling because he’d been tasked with setting up an exciting, exclusive, invitation only event, on behalf of two well-known, UK public sector organisations (I could say government but that might be indiscreet)

Flattered, he had me on the edge of my seat. Kind of

The calling

After a few minutes of nice words, Mr Cheery asked the question I’d begun to wait for — would I like to speak at his event… there would be many influential people attending, each paying around £400 to attend purely to hear speakers such as myself. Flatter-me on overdrive, I was in!

I explained that my style of speaking mirrors my articles and (many have said) I represent a more modern approach to resilience. Personally I consider myself to be part of the ‘Renaissance Resilience’ movement

Everything seemed to be going well. Mr Cheery said he would send me the event details by email

Somewhere in the flatter-me haze of self brilliance, Mr Cheery said a fifty-minute speaking slot would cost me £8000. At first I thought my mobile signal had been interrupted

‘I’m sorry, for a split second there I thought you said I would have to pay you£8000 to speak to some (potentially), influential people?’

My mind ran back over that figure again in ‘slow mo’ as I waited for his response… E.I.G.H.T. T.H.O.U.S.A.N.D P.O.U.N.D.S.?

Gonna make you an offer you can’t refuse

Mr Cheery’s reply was a firm, ‘YES’. Although, there was also the option to speak for 30-minutes for just £6000’

Of course, if I didn’t want to speak, there was also the option to be an exhibitor…

After I got over my first thought — what a bargain this business opportunity was for KCL — I decided my next course of action should be to speed dial our Director of Finance (Mrs K) and say we’ve struck the big one!

An event organiser wants us to pay upto £8,000, so I can share my multiple-years-of-blood-sweat-and-tears-in-the-field experience, of why some key governmental people need resilience. Obviously they’re interested; they’ve paid £400 to attend the event and they want some key takeaways in between the coffee and the lunch sessions (other than a Danish in a paper napkin, stuffed in the front of their bag, for the journey home)

It makes sound business sense… but who exactly, does it make sense to?

Alert: here comes the moral and ethical part of the story

Who is kidding who and just who does win from this arrangement?

I, like you, have been to many events over my career and seen many a great speaker. Ok, lets be honest, a few brilliant, some great, some good enough. We’ve both also been to the events where the buffet and the take home gift bag of goodies outweighs the speakers or anything they regurgitated for us that day

For me, it doesn’t matter how much someone pays to attend. The strength of an event is based on the information attendees receive and the knowledge and new ideas they take away

No more I love you’s

My question to you is: who wins if a speaker’s prepared to pay £8000 to speak at an event attended by influential people?

  1. Does the resilient speaker win?
  2. Do the interested-in-resilience attendees/delegates win?
  3. Do the public and the communities they go back to serve win?
  4. Does the event organiser charging everyone to be in the room win?
  5. All of the above
  6. None of the above

Question for you: are we getting the right people, in the right place, at the right time, to educate ‘influential people’ using this event strategy? Or is it purely a case of getting the people who are prepared to pay the price?

Is it really top class speakers with exciting messages to convey? Or is it just companies with budget, saying whatever they like because they’ve paid to be there?

I was a public sector employee for thirty-two years and as an influential and recognised leader in my field, I never had to pay to speak at such events (except maybe for travel)

I never realised the private sector subject matter expert, who was also on the speakers list, may have had to pay for their slot to educate the rest of us. Does that explain some of the vanilla experiences we get? Because we are not actually getting the best of the best, as the event marketing literature had us believe

Possibly because of my rank, I’ve been to the upgraded events; hot and cold buffet, finest biscuits, the whole works. Is that what the speakers’ fee pays for? Is it to upgrade the catering? And if so, is better food enough to disguise the fact that not all of the speakers are truly inspirational?


I am in no way blaming the speakers. There needs to be a platform to pass on their messages, experience and wisdom; especially in the resilience profession. We need to take the opportunity to help others, by influencing changes in thinking and keep the resilience profile high, to achieve the resilient future we all wish to be part of

I am also not diminishing any speaker’s right, to pay to be part of an ‘exclusive event’ — as was the case in question

My concern is the true values of building and enabling resilience as an event’s first and foremost target is severely hampered — if not totally diminished — when speaker criteria is the size and openness of their wallet

Incidentally, in case you were wondering, I declined the offer to speak

I hope those who were willing to pay bait money, catch a big enough fish. As the French soccer player, Eric Cantona once proclaimed:

When the seagulls follow the trawler, it is because they think sardines will be thrown into the sea

I will leave you with this thought: next time you attend an event think about the list of speakers you are going to ‘educated’ by. Are they the best of the best? Or just the ones with deep and open wallets, looking to bait a sardine?

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Originally published at kudrayconsulting.com.

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