I got the idea for this post last week, and before I could sit down and write it I caught The Yes Men Fix the World on HBO. It so beautifully exemplified my point that I felt I had to make a shout out. For those of you who are unaware, the Yes Men are a group of activists who set up fake websites and pretend to be various big corporation spokespeople. They get mistaken for the real deal and often get invited to speak at numerous conferences and trade shows under the guise of representing companies and organizations like Dow Chemical, Exxon, the WTO and HUD.

In 2004, the BBC contacted the Yes Men after coming across their fake Dow Chemical website and, thinking they were actually Dow representatives, invited them to speak on the 20th anniversary of the Bhopal disaster, arguably the world’s worst industrial disaster in history. In the interview, the fake Dow spokesperson said that Dow was prepared to accept responsibility for the chemical spill and liquidate Union Carbide’s assets, using the money to provide restitution and health care to the thousands of victims of the spill as well as clean up the still-contaminated area (watch this video for the full interview). While millions of people felt that Dow was finally doing the right thing by acknowledging responsibility and using their profits to help mankind, Dow’s investors apparently didn’t share the same sentiment: as a result of the hoax, Dow’s shares dropped three and a half percent, costing its shareholders $2 billion in the span of about 23 minutes.

This isn’t the first time that the Yes Men have been invited to speak at a press conference, interview, corporate event, conference or trade show, and it likely won’t be the last. These conference organizers embarrass themselves by not doing their homework and checking to see if the people they invite to speak are actually a) who they say they are, and b) qualified to speak on the particular topic. While I watched the documentary, I couldn’t help but think about our own little Internet marketing industry and various speakers who seem to pop up at every event reeking of something…


Last week Shoe wrote about how, in his opinion, Incisive’s conference value is rapidly declining. I haven’t been to an SES in a while (SES San Jose in August will be my first SES show in the past year or two), but I can say that after having attended and spoken at numerous conferences in the past four years and upon looking at the agendas for dozens more shows, I think that a huge problem is the list of speakers who somehow manage to get approved to talk to thousands of paying customers and spout off complete and utter nonsense and bullshit.

I’ve seen people who have no experience doing social media marketing sitting on social media panels looking like smug pricks and offering misguided (and often vague and incorrect) advice to the audience. Folks who don’t know a thing about affiliate marketing but somehow show up at affiliate shows to ramble through a slide deck and pass out business cards. People who are friends with the conference organizers and are well connected enough to get a speaking spot but don’t have the actual knowledge or experience to be doling out advice. Guys with impressive-sounding titles who put on a good charade but have little to no relevant, real-world experience.

There are people who I know are full of shit and not only know nothing about Internet marketing, but shouldn’t even be running a business period…yet there they are at each and every goddamn conference, flinging bullshit to the audience. They get mocked by the Internet marketing community, receive poor speaker scores, yet there they are at the next event. I blame the organizers for this irresponsible laziness. Sometimes they just want someone from a big name company so they settle on whoever they can get, even if the person they’ve invited to speak is woefully underqualified to talk about marketing. Other times they’re just lazy and just slap someone they know onto a panel in order to fill in the gaps, regardless of how many times the speaker has given the same tired old presentation before.

Regardless of the reason, I’m sick of seeing people who have no business talking about Internet marketing showing up and speaking at these conferences. You want to know why you’ve never seen me on a paid search panel, or why I’ve never given a fifteen minute presentation about hosting issues? It’s because I’m not an expert on these topics. I’m humble enough to know my limits and to respect that the paying audience deserves to hear an actual expert speak to them, not some asshole who’s there because they know a guy who knows a guy who organized the event and needed a spot to fill.

I know I’ve blogged before about faking it until you make it, but that’s to help get your foot in the door. At a certain point you’re either an expert or you’re not, and if you pretend to be something you’re absolutely not, you’ll end up losing the respect of your peers and getting called out by the actual experts in your niche. In the meantime, hey conference organizers: get off your asses and find some real, qualified people to speak at your shows — maybe then more people will find value in your events.

By 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.

77 thoughts on “No, You Are Not Qualified to Speak at Conferences”
  1. Shoe,

    I think the problem in a lot of cases I have seen is that the person actually knows something and has somewhat of a name built up but then the conference organizers ask them to speak or be on a panel just because of their name and not because they know that specific topic!! I hav seen severalnpeople I have spoken to in real life and know their stuff about topic a and then somehow they get on this panel about topic b and it’s non sense. My 2 cents!

    1. Justin buddy
      Rebecca Kelley is the author for this particular post. By the way Shoe is on Holidays …lol

  2. There are a few sides to this, i have seen many speeches at many conferences, most are just BS tips of info that most people already new, most of it seem tailored for total newbies.

  3. As the conference director for Blog World Expo this could not be spot on more than I can say. I am dealing with this now as I pare down all of the speakers for Blog World in Vegas. It is tough to go over every single speaker but we are doing it to make sure we have current content, current experts, and people that actually provide expertise and information that is beneficial to our attendees. Now we also are balancing the needs of sponsors and wanting to get the most people in the seats as possible, but I think that can be done with a little effort.

      1. I agree as well. It is difficult to put together a well balanced group of speakers who are highly knowledgeable while maintaining everyone’s wants and needs. But it is worth the extra time and effort to make sure that the speakers are qualified.

  4. Are you qualified to write about financial matters?


    “Dowรขโ‚ฌโ„ขs shares dropped three and a half percent, costing the company $2 billion in the span of about 23 minutes.”

    This was not a cost for the company, but for its shareholders. Big difference. The real ‘cost’ of something like this is much more difficult to calculate…

    1. Ha, you’re right. I’ll fix that in the post. (No, I am not a finance expert. :P)

      1. Now that is the comment from someone who knows about their field and can speak.

        We would love to get similar people with similar talent in our industry as well.

    2. I had the same point. The only thing the company maybe lost was a small slice of their image.

  5. I kind of agree with Justin, the organizers are partly to blame. There have been various occasions where companies have asked me to be a presenter/speaker/panelist and I have to say, “What the hell do I know about this?! Surely you can ask someone more qualified. Here are some names….” and they end up ignoring my list & bringing in some egotistical schmoe who is even less qualified to speak (but thinks he’s the most, of course).

    1. Man, that’s terrible and totally shameless–even when you’re handing them a list of better qualified people. You’re essentially doing their job for them, and they still manage to screw up.

  6. The problem is not the event organizer here and there but the industry itself, thus every single person being of it, that accepts this kind of behavior and never call out Mr X, Mrs Y and 55 year old magazine owner Mr small ego who want to take over the internet.

  7. Knowing our limits and understanding it fully is very important ..
    But I still could not believe that the Yes Men did that … wohhh ….

    1. Some people are more interested in trying to get recognition than they are in knowing their limits.

  8. Knowing our limit is the best thing we could do before shamed on ourself soon or later. I just wondering how did they passed the screening to give a press conference

      1. Or may be you have to just roam around with famouse SEO or internet GURUs and people will accept you as well … lollzz

  9. Nice post Rebecca! I think people are getting to a point where they know what SEM/SEO/Social are, but are looking for more value and not the same speeches over and over again.

  10. Like Bob said—-names or it didn’t happen. No one needs to read more foulmouthed and mean-mouthed complaining without seeing the author is brave enough to stand by their words by providing examples of what they’re complaining about. Else it’s just not to be taken seriously….

  11. ahh yeah… well, I spoke for the first time at SES Toronto a couple of months ago, a relatively small event even in the relatively small world of SES. I appreciate that there is a mixed bag of speakers at these events, and I was determined to not suck completely – but I fell into the same trap of wanting to present some advanced material, while knowing the audience, in general, wasn’t too advanced.

    I ended up pushing through a lot of material in a short amount of time, and laying on way more technical stuff than the other speakers on my panel – not exactly what a speaking coach would recommend I’m sure – but the audience liked it, and I got a really good speaking score.

    So if anyone else is being asked to speak at SES or other search conferences, my advice is to not dumb the material down too much, expect something out of your audience and give them some meat. It will make the conference better for everyone involved, with the exception of audience members who don’t get it at all – give them something too, let them know when they’re not heading in the right direction, but do it after your 15 minutes on stage, use the stage to do more than talk about generalities.

    1. Naoise, you may be too critical. The audience includes different kind of people, but there is for sure some, who liked your style too.

  12. […] No, You Are Not Qualified to Speak at Conferences […]

  13. I went to Blogher this past weekend and the best part of the conference was the after-parties and the networking opportunites with people like John Andrews of Collective Bias, etc.

    The sessions I went to were mediocre at best and even though I’m no expert on every topic they covered, I still felt like I could do a better job.

    People were speaking (not all, but a lot) that were really nobodies in their niche. They simply had the right connections.

  14. While I’ve seen a few presenters that are as you described, I’ve seen far more either offer sales pitches, offer generic information which while not that valuable isn’t actually “wrong”, or just plain speak poorly / be boring.

    Now I have spoke to conference attendees that have spouted off incredible BS…but fortunately, they never got to the podium.

  15. i have never went to a conference yet, just read the articles and reviews of it on the blogs like this one.

    also, never knew that someone can fake it to make it at bbc, the hosts sure should do more homework before inviting people ๐Ÿ˜ฎ

  16. I agree with you 100%. Since this is a guest post, I am unsure if I will get a response but what did you think of the line up at Affiliate Convention? The rooms were filled and the list to me was quite impressive.

    Now for other conferences that have been around for awhile, I know they have had stellar people in the past but do you want to see the same people over and over again? That being said, what about giving some new people a chance maybe they are ready maybe they are not, but these conferences could be testing the water a bit rather than handing it’s attendees the same old stuff.

    Just a thought!

  17. That’s interesting, it’s kind of like celebrities being spokepersons on the environment, business, politics or whatever just because they’re famous. No, it doesn’t make someone an expert just because everyone knows who they are.

  18. With a lot of conferences it seems like its either about the persons Title or Company. I myself work for a large corporation but would I expect my VP to know what I’m doing down in the trenches on a day to day basis and be able to explain it to a room full of professionals? No

    I think to many times these organizers go for whoever sounds good on paper to sell conference passes only to disappoint once people get there. How about going reaching out to people who are doing this on a daily basis and not simply rehashing what people down the totem pole are doing in their company. This is what will actually help people and make the conference worth the time and money.

    1. Recently conferences has made ton of value addition as far as blogging and affiliate marketing stuff is concerned. People across the internet have started learning a lot & started putting it in to practical practice.

  19. I cant understand why the corporate people do some of their homework before actually calling these people in their premises

  20. Agree with you Rebecca…and I think most people will. The problem is that we need to start outing these people – for the online marketing world to keep growing we need to weed out the BS’ers.

    1. True true. But it seems the best BS’ers are the least detected. I know some of the best BS’ers who are also very well known Marketers online – millionaires – and they are so darn charming and charismatic that people seem to feel hypnotized by them. They get away with so much because of the hype they’ve built up…some of them are pathological liars or have other issues that are so severe people cannot see through it without knowing them extremely well. Anyway, the honest marketers will prevail!

  21. hahaha. You would think they would check credentials before inviting people to speak.

  22. Some new blood on the speaker circuit would be nice. Tired of hearing the same shit out there as well.

    1. Still the same thing is happening here unless and until few other people will come up with the new and attractive ideas.

  23. See now this is the quintessential reason why I love reading the posts here.

    Rebecca (and Shoe) you’re frickin awesome.

    Balls and all, tell it how it is, no bullshit and call em out.

    I love it.

  24. actually, truth be told, alot of you guys (internet marketers) just ain’t good speakers in the first place! you sound like ass-hats whether you know marketing or not.
    That is the problem. If you don’t know anything, at least entertain me until I can get to happy hour will ya?

    1. Interesting Allyn. I think it’s half true and it depends on how many marketers you have heard speak and who you’ve listened to. Some are great public speakers – like Stephen Pierce for example – is AWESOME and a genuine amazing guy and marketer. Many others I’ve seen unfortunately have seen laser focused on the dollar’s not obvious to everyone but those who see it can see through the BS.

  25. O.K. Rebecca. I know you wrote this post pointed directly toward me! I am totally offended! ROFL!

    You want names? How bout me? I’ve been asked to speak on things I did not know jack about many times. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Then on the things I truly am an expert, I have begged, and begged, to speak on, but not been allowed to.

    Honestly, most of those that I know in the know pretty much never sit through sessions, but instead get together in the exhibit halls, the lunches, and the dinners, and the parties, and in alleys, sidewalks, etc. and share the important stuff.

    That is why I am so pumped about the Elite Retreat, started the thinktank, and am so stoked to go to Azoogles Playboy Mansion party. That is where the real info gets leaked, and your individual problems get fixed.

    Just ask Shoe how many sessions Shoe has sat through during the past year in all the conferences he has gone to.

    I am begging this year for Pubcon to be given a session for a big workshop where I can help everyone help each other. Sooo much more fun than listening. IMHO ๐Ÿ™‚

  26. The Yes Men Fix the World goes on to offer other examples of similar performance-arty actions and inappropriate reactions.

  27. Rebecca, you sure do not pull any punches! The so-called experts that manage to deceive the uneducated masses are legio, and standing up and pointing this fact out takes guts. Great relevant post, deserving a big thumbs up from me! Keep them coming please!

  28. Interesting points Rebecca! Maybe the organizers do not have an image with which they could be able to get the best speakers. And maybe the audience people should also know the images of various speakers.

  29. I totally agree with you! I am sick of all the get rick quick promises of the self-professed marketing ‘gurus’ when in fact they do not have much experience or income to back these ideas and product effectivity up. I mean, come on, be true to yourself!

  30. you don’t necessarily need to be an expert but to be perceived as one and for such you’d need some proof

    I’m not talking about income earnings screen shots and stuff like that. Social proof which is more powerful than income claims.

  31. Great article. I remember the accident in India. Since most of the worlds population is under 45 many never heard of it.
    I guess what I get out of this is to be skeptical of anyone who claims to be expert. Most true experts in any field let there work do the talking and they don’t boast.

  32. yeah,,,sometimes they qualify coz of fame…most of the speeches ive seen are very much less informative …and no one reveals the homerun !

    1. No one is going to reveal the home run unless you get private coaching. The best thing to do is read tons of blogs like this one, get a few good ebooks, read forums and figure out how to hit your own home run.

      1. Yeah Gold coins and also use trial and error method as well. Through this way you will learn more than a private coaching.

        You just have to keep everything in your mind at the right place …. lollzz

  33. I read the post by email, and then came here to comment, only to find it was written by Rebecca! Holy crap Rebecca, I’ve never noticed those big balls before!?!

    Seriously, While I do agree to an extent, and I seldom find a ton of personal value in the presentations themselves, I don’t often hear actual BAD or incorrect information, Far more often there is too much sales oriented and generic stuff, which I agree is frustrating.

    I do agree with Bob Jones (names or it didn’t happen) and INCORRECT info should be called out, and Shoe’s blog seems like a good place to do it… care to elaborate, Rebecca?

    but also

  34. So very true this is. Cant agree more with what you have said, only thing being that companies should not take anyone for granted.

  35. Hey Rebecca,

    Good Post, it was interesting.

    Thank you,


    PS: Tell Rand I said Hello ๐Ÿ˜‰

  36. What about freedom of expression though? What about the Constitution?

  37. Well it’s an age old Epistemological debate isn’t it, how does anyone know what they know? Can anyone possess certainty? What makes anyone an “expert”?

    In many people’s eyes it seems being an authority is defined by how high profile your blog is. And sure some of these people are doing well for themselves but you end up wondering – how much better would they be doing if they REALLY knew what they were talking about rather than just riding a historical wave of success that came from being at the right place at the right time?

    But conversely, as someone who has worked quietly in the industry from day one, has worked closely with the likes of Google and leading UK websites, I know many people who really do know their stuff who have no voice (and perhaps no interest) to share their knowledge and even if they did – no one would listen.

  38. Always the same in every industry,
    SEO is no different to any other.

    But you are right about the social media guys.
    Its pretty scary to think a lot of them are actually consulting to companys and getting paid for it just because they spend 24/7 on twitter or facebook.

  39. Way to call it Rebecca! One problem I’ve found: just because someone is an expert on a subject doesn’t make them a good speaker or teacher. Their social and presentation skills may suck.

    It’s rare to have someone who knows what they’re talking about who isn’t boring as hell. Or painfully nerdy. That’s why people like Shoemoney – he’s neither.

    How about a follow-up post on people you’ve heard who are the real deal. My friend Mat Siltala is one.


    1. Good point Janet. But I’ve found the opposite. Just because someone is a good salesman and public speaker – doesn’t mean he should be using that to “fill a slot” and teach others about Internet Marketing and self-growth – things he is actually not an expert in. I previously dated a well-known Internet Marketer and learned too quickly that HE and his business partners were not as they appeared to be. He, in particular, knew so little about internet Marketing and self-growth, yet was so charming and charismatic that people were almost mesmerized by him. They all fell for it and paid a lot of money to hear him and his biz partners speak. I’m sick of the scammers and agree with Rebecca’s post.

  40. […] No, You Are Not Qualified to Speak at ConferencesSHARETHIS.addEntry({ title: “No, You Are Not Qualified to Speak at Conferences”, url: “” }); Tweet This Post July 30th, 2009 | Category: E-commerce […]

  41. Absolutely true, also as a smart attendee, it pays to check the organizers and have some run through the event to make sure it’s worth your paying for.

  42. Your quality of expressing your view is also important. There are many talent who knows how to do a task but when they have to teach such task to other people they fail.

  43. […] 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 […]

  44. […] 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 […]

  45. […] 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 […]

  46. […] of seeing the same shitty speakers at 15 different SEO conferences throughout the year. People who aren’t qualified to speak at conferences are somehow getting multiple panel spots year after year, which makes me start to wonder about the […]

  47. […] of seeing the same shitty speakers at 15 different SEO conferences throughout the year. People who aren’t qualified to speak at conferences are somehow getting multiple panel spots year after year, which makes me start to wonder about the […]

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