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Three signs a communication conference speaker is selling you something you already have

We've all been to a lot of conferences over the years. Then why do so many conference speakers behave as if we haven't? For instance:

1. The speaker opens up by sharing some Googlepuke about how many kajillions of megabytes of information people receive every day "these days," and claims the average attention span is now less than five—oh look, a shiny thing!

And you know what's coming. After the statistics and the honed anecdotes and a strategically placed swear word to give the whiff of authenticity, the speaker is going to promise you that by using her special technique, yours can be the one message that gets through to the helpless, info-saturated, benumbed bobbleheads that make up your target audience.

At some level, you realize that this sales gambit is older than social media, older than the Internet, older than television. It's about as old as Times Square.

Raise your hand and ask her: If people now have the mental focus of raccoons, then why are Hollywood movies still the same length that they were back when people had the attention spans of Job? Do movie directors use your special communication tricks? Or do they simply tell stories interesting and true enough to keep people from checking their phones every five minutes? And wasn't that the really the problem all along, the one consultants can't help with: Your organization's leaders have nothing interesting to say.

2. The speaker argues that any communication that does not create "behavior change" is a "missed opportunity."

The speaker frames his point as "provocative," creating the implication that if you don't like the message, maybe it's because you're part of the problem. You're just another one of those complacent communicators, who go around saying a bunch of junk for no reason at all, not knowing or caring whether it's advancing the wise and glorious strategic plan. You're just drawing a check, like some kind of corporate communication welfare queen.

And maybe you are a corporate welfare queen. But the speaker/salesman cares about the health of your company even less than you do, because he doesn't know what your company is, as you are just another face in the crowd. So then why does it pierce his tender heart to think of your chief executive giving some remarks somewhere to an audience not perfectly aligned with a key business driver?

Look, if you could measurably change behavior every time you communicated, you'd start at home. And you'd be so lovingly waited-on, well-fed and oversexed, you wouldn't have the motivation to go to work at all. You'd be a real welfare queen!

3. The speaker offers everything in threes.

There's nothing wrong with conference speakers who are selling you something. In fact, business conferences are in large part sales events—chances for all speakers, and all participants, to sell themselves and their services, to anyone who might be hiring.

But when a speaker is making a pitch you've heard a thousand times before, you should not be naive enough to expect that the speaker has ideas you haven't also tried a thousand times before. —DM

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