Are You a Conference Speaker Douchebag?

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This weekend I’ll be speaking about Effective Social Media Techniques at the Affiliate Summit in Las Vegas with fellow panelists Andrew Wee, Keith Plocek and Brett Tabke. As you know, Shoe will also be in attendance to speak about Killer Facebook Advertising Tactics (sans Dennis Yu, it appears). If you’re attending, come bug me so I can meet new industry folks and collect some business cards in my ongoing quest to clone my own army of Internet marketers and make them follow me around and break into spontaneous yet impeccably choreographed dance sequences. (It’ll be like an Entourage/Thriller hybrid.)

I’ve spoken at my fair share of conferences over the past few years, and Shoe has spoken at countless more. We’ve presented with loads of different people — some good, some bad, and some that make you think, “How the hell did this person get approved to speak?” I decided to compile my memories of the bad speakers to come up with a Presenter Hall of Shame. Below are some unfortunate traits of a douchebag speaker, so keep your eye out for these types at the Affiliate Summit or any other conference you may be attending in the near future.

  1. You use the same presentation and case studies over and over again. I’m fine with recycling a slide deck once or twice, but I’ve seen speakers who have shared the exact same presentation with the exact same case studies and the exact same stale, unfunny jokes four or five conferences in a row. While much of the audience may think the content is new and fresh, repeat attendees and bloggers covering the event may start to think of you as a one-trick pony. As our industry evolves, so too must your presentation. Even if you’re just speaking on fundamentals, change it up every now and then.
  2. Your presentation is one giant ad for you and your services. Nobody’s come here to listen to you pimp yourself out — everyone is more interested in the session topic. If all you’re doing is shilling your company or talking about a tool that has nothing to do with the panel, people will think you’re wasting their time. If someone wanted to learn more about you or your company, he/she’d have gone to your website or contacted you privately, not paid a couple grand to travel to and attend an industry conference.
  3. You cut into other speakers’ presentation times. Going over your allotted time by a few seconds or a minute isn’t a big deal, but one time I saw someone speaking, glance at the red flashing light that signals you to stop, and completely disregard it, electing instead to drone on for another several minutes while the other panelists looked increasingly pissed off and the moderator squirmed uncomfortably. If your time is winding down but you’ve got a lot left to talk about, skip some slides and adapt somehow. If your presentation is pants-crappingly good, just offer to put it on your website so attendees can download the rest of it, or have them email you for the last final awesome tidbits.
  4. You’re rude to your panelists when the spotlight isn’t on you. Lately when I go to a conference, I see a lot of speakers who, as soon as they finish their presentation, sit down, whip out their phone and start emailing, texting or tweeting, totally disregarding and ignoring the next speaker who’s presenting. How hard is it to sit quietly and politely while someone else talks for 10 minutes? You don’t even have to actually be listening — just throw in the occasional nod and make the “Ah, I didn’t know that” face while you zone out until Q&A starts. I’ve also been on a panel where speakers have shown up late, loudly entering partway through the session and clumsily making their way to the stage, or when someone who’s spoken randomly leaves during another person’s presentation and comes back five minutes later with a bag of snacks to eat (this actually happened). Come on, people, act like a professional for one GD hour. Those gin and tonics will be waiting for you at the end of the day.
  5. You have to answer EVERY single question in Q&A. It doesn’t matter if one or two speakers gave eloquent, well-crafted responses to a question — some people just need to add their $.02, even if they’re just rehashing what other panelists have already said. You don’t have to contribute your input to every query in order to seem like an expert. It’s better to offer up insightful answers or help out with a tough question than to reword the same answer in your own way. Better yet was when I was speaking on a panel with four people and had to share a microphone with the person sitting next to me. I literally got Kanye Wested on two different occasions where I started to answer someone’s question and the person sitting next to me fidgeted impatiently before ripping the microphone towards them so they could cut me off and add their inane response. How very professional!

What other douchey things have you seen speakers/presenters do at industry events? Drop your comments below, and if you’re attending the Affiliate Summit this weekend, I’d love to grab a drink and talk shop so tweet at me or email (rkelley -at- if you’ll be Vegas-in’ it up.

About Rebecca Kelley

Rebecca Kelley is the Director of Marketing for This or That Media. She also runs Mediocre Athlete, a hobby blog about exercising and training, and My Korean Mom, a blog about her harsh but amusing Korean mother. In her spare time, Rebecca is a freelance blogger for hire, loves food and movies, and trains for marathons and triathlons.

59 thoughts on “Are You a Conference Speaker Douchebag?

  1. purposeinc

    I was just reviewing my power point presentation for tomorrow, and just came across this post.

    So I went through my presentation, and verified that I will be doing everyone of 1 to 5 above. Check, Check, Check, Check, and Check!


    1. jtGraphic

      Haha, as long as you’re doing your part. Side note: what’s the word on the street about Dennis Yu? I thought Shawn and the board for ASW were steadfast about him being there…?

  2. Sean Supplee

    Very good tips you would think people would have the common respect to follow these basic guidelines already however many do not. It is a quick way of losing trust and respect in the industry by not.

    Can’t wait to see some footage of the Summit!

  3. Chris Peterson

    When I use online presentation I will get better result with good comments but in case of off line I will not get that much result. Can you explain why it happens in case off line?

  4. Logo Design Nerd

    Lol, loved the post Rebecca. I’ve been to quite a few of these things, and I’ll have to say that number four is the all-time rudest of them all (although the entire list is laugh-out-loud funny but true). Some people are attached to their cells or their PDAs like a baby with an umbilical cord – but really – what is ten minutes of time in order to look more professional? Thanks for the list, it really puts the spotlight on what NOT to do when presenting.

    1. Mel66

      Equally frustrating is to look into the audience as a speaker and see half the people checking email and texting away the entire time. I know they’re not live-tweeting the entire thing! Why pay a lot of money to go to a conference and then do the same thing you can do in your office for free? It’s rude on either side of the podium.

  5. Kellea

    I’m so glad that someone said this outloud. I work in higher education and I attend many conferences and there are definitely some people who are out to make a buck as opposed to share valuable knowledge with others who might not get it anywhere else. I also truly believe that one should have some sort of “credentials” when it comes to speaking, and I don’t just mean degrees, I mean, what is your background, your experience, what is it that makes you a credible person from whom I need to glean this information from or could I just go read a book for free. LOL

    You hit the nail on the head. I also hate when speakers don’t really give “answers” to questions but only give generic anecdotes, that I again, can go to church to hear a sermon about for free, or could find on the internet or at the library, but instead a speaker often keeps referring us to their books, or materials, or resources. Not to dis the Tony Robbins, types, because some of them are valuable, but I absolutely, hate motivational speakers. Again, if I want to be motivated with proverbs and good feelings, I can go to church for that. I want speakers to give me some substance, some information I can take with me and apply to my business, work. Thanks again for writing this article. It’s all so very true.

  6. Johan

    I am afraid I’m a bit lazy so point number 1 hit the target for me. I suppose I tend to reuse the same material too many times. Point taken.

  7. David Griner

    Great list, though I wonder if the most guilty among us will take these points to heart. A few of my own speaker pet peeves:

    1. Quoting Clue Train Manifesto.
    2. Only showing up for your own presentation.
    3. The phrase “As I say in my new book…”
    4. Charts that illustrate “the new communication model” with little icons of people and arrows that don’t actually make any sense.
    5. Showing a “viral video” that my parents have even seen on YouTube.

  8. Nick Morton

    Hi Rebecca, Good article. Keeping it ‘real’ and fresh is vital, but it’s all too easy to go safe and repeat the same stories. I’m about to start a seminar that will require these skills, so thank you.


  9. Janet

    very useful post. I would love to follow you on twitter. By the way, did you hear that some chinese hacker had busted twitter yesterday again.

  10. Promotional Products

    Ha. Great post Rebecca! I have attended many conferences and have spoke at plenty also, I think we may have seen the same people. Funny thing is that everyone in the room knows they’re the D Bag, and they think they are convincing people of something more than the fact that they should have chosen a different speaker. Good work!

  11. Five Minute Builder

    this reminds of jerry seinfelds comedy routine.

    the funny thing about observational humor is that it’s funny because it’s TRUE

    i think for those of us who have been to any number of conferences we have all experienced these different scenarios

    #5 is the one that is most annoying thing to me people who feel they need to answer every single q&a

    drives me crazy.

    great post, made me laugh and brought back some good and not so good memories from conferences i have been to in the past

  12. Brett Borders

    One that gets me is when people lie on their bios. Yeah, I know, make yourself sound interesting… but don’t claim you’re executive director of an international marketing firm because you once sold some CDs to a guy from Canada on eBay.

  13. Miguel

    NICE post! Good thing DK was taking notes, he’s sure to provide a douchy preso now! LOL

    I do wonder how some people get these gigs at shows. It must be that the conference organizers get desperate to fill slots combined with the fact that they don’t get to see all of the sessions.

  14. Tom | Build That List

    I think that is because a lot of speakers go into conferences with a ‘What’s In It For Me?’ mentality, and all they want to do is become known and sell product. They are not their for relationships.

  15. Ricky

    Hey, I know that guy! :) Good post, Rebecca. Also, you could add “speakers with English as their second or third language with an excessive use of profanity in their presentation because it seems to sound “cool” using it (“because it does so in movies”)”. You know who you are german-guy…

  16. Ken Montville

    I was at a recent real estate technology conference and it took the moderator about 3 tries to get one of the speakers to stop. The speaker kept saying, “Just one more minute.” or “A couple of more slides.” or ” This is really important.” He finally stopped but it was painful.

  17. Sockmoney

    I can’t stand speakers that think they are the shizzo and sit on their perch giving bad advice to folks in the audience.

    There was a douche at Pubcon (unmemorable name) who kept doling out crappy advice about URL structures like he was the inventor of the web.

    I could hear folks all around me laughing to themselves about how bad the advice was… funny thing was none of the panelists called him out on it.

    Most of Pubcon’s sessions are like this… folks with half-ass knowledge talking about their one-hit wonder techniques and then cracking jokes about each other.

    [/rant] =)

  18. Rich Weber

    Never been to a douchebag presentation, but have been to a douchebag concert. Same artist one year apart, same jokes in between songs. Maybe he’s giving presentations now.

  19. laptop tray

    Hehehe, love this list. #2 is my biggest pet peeve….the arses that get up there on stage and it’s all about Me, Me, Me, Me, Me, who gives a damn about you. Good luck avoiding the douchebags this week.

  20. Paul Avery

    Google should be banned at conf. Last time i went to SES I didn’t hear any strategy about getting traffic from the SEs with the exception of the site clinics (better site, better traffic)…

    I think the people in the know were not talking because they were worried about ticking Google off and Google pulling sponsorship/not sending staff to be on panels.

    80% of what I heard was not privileged information and it WAS a sales pitch for company XYZ. Further, people were blogging the stuff right beside me… so gee, I could have stayed home and read their blogs…

  21. David Carlson

    Going over your time limit is annoying no matter what speaking event it is. You put the other speakers in a crappy position and the audience gets uncomfortable. This can really detract from any speakers presentation regardless of how good their presentation is. I’ve seen it many times and the audience leaves disappointed and the other speakers feel cheated.

  22. Bibokz

    Being a public speaker is more a talent, but somehow it can be learn also by digging information about it. And making money out of it is a genius idea.

  23. proson

    Well, sometimes it is hard to prepare public speaking. I do understand how Rebecca felt about recycling but one takes lots of time to prepare for a presentation. So I guess it doesn’t matter for a speaker to use the same case studies few times but of course it will be great if that person offers a new case after 4 times in a public.

    Anyway it is a nice read,


    Very nice post. No. 4 is very true, most bloggers in general have an ego and really are thinking about themself, and it’s half the reason don’t forget they are speaking to talk about No.1!

    It could also be because the fact that their speech was not as good as they expected and as a result are a bit nervous and it’s there way of zoning out from the crowd spotlight.

    You can’t be too hard on these guys, it’s not easy talking and smiling in front of hundreds of people unless your totally used to it!

  25. Gabe |

    Rebecca, love your list! I do a number of speaking engagements for my other businesses and you hit the nail right on the head.

    I love the one about going over the allotted time. It shows that the speaker is unprepared and/or unorganized. Additionally, much of the audience has already “shut down” when the time is up. Even the meaning of life can get lost if message can’t be delivered within the time expectations of the listener.

  26. MMA Overload

    The first and only conference I went to was PubCon Vegas ’07 and it left a bad taste.

    I noticed much of what Rebecca mentioned in her post from various speakers. I also noticed that a lot of their material was re-hashed from their blogs (to be expected I guess) or forum threads that I’ve participated in.

    I’m not knocking everybody, I remember Rand in particular having a great session… but some of these ego’s in the SEM / SEO space are insane.

  27. Frank Kerney

    Even if the speech isn’t a giant advertisement, I’m still turned off if the presentation is a thinly veiled advertisement. I think those type of presentations should be done away with.

  28. David DeMar

    Thanks for a great article! (And many flashbacks) I will now be going back to Toastmasters to practice, practice, practice my presentations. Being a great speaker only means you have to be better than the average speaker – and that is a very low bar to rise above. Thanks again.

  29. Stephen

    I love the way you have managed to draw high traffic to your blog and i have taken in every advise you present seriously in order to make money online.

  30. Avish Parashar - Motivational Smart Ass

    Great post – as someone who speaks, my personal pet peeve is the person who cuts into others time. It’s very rare that a speaker is so good that I want to sit there and keep watching them instead of moving on to the next guy, but they all *think* they’re that good!

    It’s funny I just wrote a similiar post titled, “5 Conference Speakers That c\Can Kill a Conference” that you might like:

  31. makkelijk geld verdienen

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  32. Andrew Davison

    Yeh I’ve experienced all of these at a conference. The passive aggressive attention hogs are the worst… every QA question needs their opinion added and my word… if they disagree with someone else… we’re going to hear about it.

    Obviously that hardened approach got them noticed in the industry but it’s the quickest way to destroy their personal brand… I wouldn’t do business with them.

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