Down with the canned keynote, up with the original speech

A couple weeks ago I attended and spoke at the World Conference of the International Association of Business Communicators, and was chagrined to hear a keynote address from someone other than a professional communicator.

In a post about the conference on my personal blog, I wrote:

The opening keynote Sunday was an utterly content-free motivational speaker named Kevin Caroll, who shared the spit-shined story of his hard upbringing and his subsequent unlikely rise to become … a motivational speaker traveling the country with a trunk full of red rubber balls. If he could only reach one person in IABC’s audience of 1,300-plus with his message of—what was that darned message again?—then it would all be worth it, he said. So, still alive is the IABC tradition of using members’ money to pay for speakers to condescend to members by telling them not too convincingly that they have the power to change the world through the use of red rubber balls and stuff. And of course Caroll got a big ovation here, just as he probably will next week, at the National Convention of Industrial Battery Salesmen.

Caroll has balls all right.

As a proponent of constructive communication, I object to the very idea of an association bringing in a speaker from completely outside the business of that the association members are in. As I often say when I speak—always to communicators, never to battery salesmen—a speech should feel to the audience as if it could have been delivered by no one else to no other audience at no other moment in history. Now, how’s a speech gonna feel like that if it’s being delivered by a professional speaker to a different audience very week, year in and year out.

Now, if IABC wants to bring a big name writer who hasn’t thought much about corporate communication but has spent her life trying to get ideas across? Sure. Just as, if the Industrial Battery folks want to hire an illustrious chemist to talk about long-term advances in the search for new acids, or whatever.

I’m not saying keynote sessions have to be delivered by industry drudges. (Because then, who would conduct the breakout sessions.) But paying speakers to come in and say pretty things to professional audiences—it seems wasteful of both money and a huge opportunity to galvanize a whole profession around something meaningful and someone sincerely devoted to the endeavor.

You disagree? Then let’s discuss. —DM

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