3 Ways To Tell If Someone From The “Speaker’s Circuit” Is Legit

Ben Martinez Ben Martinez, Conferences 8 Comments

A few years back I became aware that there was a “Speaker’s Circuit” for HR people. The more I became aware of it, the more it sounded like a wonderful place to be. You have done everything in your career and now you are being paid hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars to travel the world and…..speak.

I later noticed many industries (i.e., sales, marketing, technology) had their own version of a “Speaker’s Circuit” and because my job required me to interact with and recruit with these speakers I got to know these speakers really well.

Like anyone, many of these speakers had some skeletons in their closet but I noticed a core breed of the good speakers had one thing in common: they can’t hold a job, or rarely do their job. Sure, they can speak and ignite an audience about all their cutting edge ideas and philosophies in life, but I wasn’t seeing much work happening.

Here is the deal. You see the speakers in your industry. Every industry seems to have them. Even the coffee industry. I often wonder how many speakers on the circuit are actual ballers and good at what they do or just good speakers trying to get likes on social media. I think the people who are getting shit done are too busy to speak at events and travel the world. There are so many people out there who are low key and do incredibly well at their profession. They are not trying to be “thought leaders” or “influencers” – they are not on a speaking circuit and probably have no idea a speaking circuit exists.

The next time you are at a conference and wonder if the speaker is a baller at their job or just a speaker seeking fame, ponder these questions:

  1. Do they have a job? If you are the speaker, do you have a job?

  2. If they have a job, will anyone from that job come watch them speak? Will they vouch for their skills, or not bother to listen to them speak?

  3. After they speak, do they go back to doing their job? It seems like the real ballers would be too busy to take selfies and sign autographs after their speech because they have work to do.

I run a podcast (HT Secret Tech Sauce Podcast with Ben Martinez) and struggle with finding guests to know if they are ballers or fame-seeking speakers. Speakers can speak. Ballers can speak and work like a baller. Listen often, work more, speak a little, then get back to work.

Ben Martinez
Ben Martinez is a self-proclaimed family guy, exerciser, and HR & recruiting journeyman. He has successfully worked in various HR leadership roles around the US and Mexico for Fortune 500 companies (specifically Pepsi, Honeywell, and Energizer Holdings Inc.). Most recently he was the VP of People & Culture for HireVue, where he hired 500+ people in almost five years using video, social media, and created the employment brand, VueNation in partnership with HireVue. Ben now runs his own consulting company, Secret Tech Sauce Talent, where he offers workshops, audits, and individually scoped projects to define, align and implement human capital strategies, programs and practices for your business. But wait...There's more. Ben is above average when it comes to drinking coffee. He not only wrote the book on coffee networking, he founded a company focused on re-imagining coffee in the workplace and home - Sumato Coffee Co. His team will only roast your coffee beans within 48 hours that you order them and Ben will personally meet with you to make sure your HR and Talent needs are met along with incredibly freshly roasted coffee. His home base is in the Salt Lake City, Utah area.

Comments 8

  1. Ben, you’re itching me where I scratch…gotta be careful I don’t offend some folks I consider friends but if your main job is “thought leader”, I’m just not interested in your advice. Same dynamic as an ex-ballplayer critiquing current “ballers” – shaddap already, the game is different now, you’re just trying to sell soap.

  2. Would the listeners pick a speaker who has a job outside of speaking or a speaker who’s full time job is speaking? The answer should be obvious. We need more people who are currently in the field to get up on stage and do the talking. Yet, somehow, not enough people say that out loud 🙂
    Loved the piece.

  3. Okay, I’ll bite, Ben.

    This is mostly bullshit.

    First, there’s an expectation with your premise that someone who has a job has the ability to hold the stage and speak, which most do not because they don’t have the practice or desire to speak publicly. Also, most professional speakers actually did have a job at one point and were really good at what they did. So good, that while employed, people asked them to come and speak for free, and this continued until that person had to make a decision, do I keep trying to balance all of this, or do I just go out and speak professionally, because it seems like people really like what I have to say. I rarely, if ever, meet a speaker, who started out a speaker, or was a failed employee who just happens to be really great at holding the stage and getting people to believe what they had to say.

    Also, the reality of speaking at a conference is you probably took the full day to attend the event and traveled to a location. So, if a speaker stays after to ‘sign autographs’ (which never happens at a professional conference) or takes selfies (which does happen for like 3 people who you finally get to meet in person) it doesn’t mean they aren’t grinding their asses off when they aren’t at a conference.

    All of this sounds a bit like sour grapes, to be honest.

    I fit your description of a ‘legit’ speaker. I have a job. My staff comes to see me speak. And I usually try to get back to the office to work as fast as I can. Oh! On the Ben-scale, everyone should come see me speak! The reality is, great speakers, come in all forms and fashions. I usually find that ‘practitioners’ suck at speaking. They do fewer events and usually only can talk about one thing, what they are currently doing at their job. This can be very interesting, but I find most aren’t polished enough to hold the stage.

    I really like Ben. Ben is a strong HR pro/leader, who can also speak and hold a stage. I find this take disrespectful to the good professional speakers in our industry who work their butts off to educate and entertain, and who made the courageous jump to trying to do this full time (I never would, but good for them). It’s a super hard road where you constantly have to grind and renew yourself to make it work.

    Every good professional speaker I know in our industry was a baller before they made the jump.


    1. Tim/Jim – no disrespect meant to anyone working their tail off and trying to earn a buck by speaking. Get after it! As for Bill Clinton – politics not on the same scale with my post but I’m sure there are a few slick Willy types on the circuit.

      My experience is dealing w/ “influencers” in the sales space and I know they exist in the HR space too. I once hired a guy (not going to give his name) who was known to many as a top speaker and influencer and he was/is a good speaker. The main problem was that he could never seem to do his actual job, which was sell software and lead people, he did more speaking and less leading and selling but lots of speaking. It only made me wonder if all his philosophies on stage were legit or not. I heard him talk a lot about closing deals but never saw it play out.

      The more I got into the speaking scene, the more I saw these scenarios play out in others and after a while found it hard to figure out who was good at speaking versus their doing awesome in their job. Lately, I have been putting more time/energy into my job and less into speaking. I recently got asked to speak and I’m struggling with the “why” behind anyone speaks when they are busy doing their job. Not being sour about speakers, just have always wondered and struggled w/ this.

      Some of the pro circuit speaker types remind me of good actors/actresses. Like Winona Ryder – great actress but behind the scenes, she is a klepto – we only see the good acting but the people behind the scenes who get to deal w/ her kleptomania know the real Winona. Same with good speakers that go back to work and everyone sees the real deal.

      Cheers – Ben

      PS – buy some freshly roasted coffee at Sumato Coffee Co. – I know a guy.

  4. Ben, interesting post. I side with Tim a bit on this. A great speaker is simply someone who can engage, entertain and educate the audience. How they got there is a different journey for everyone. Also, not all ballers are created equal. Grinding and hustling is great, but what is the value you bring to your stakeholders? And where are you in your career? Those with acquired wisdom will often sacrifice their time and energy to share that. It doesn’t mean, that because they don’t “look” or “act” busy, that they aren’t. Never assume outward calm or enthusiasm is an indication of that. I’m sure on the youtubes there is video of Clinton from his presidency spending time with the crowd. Don’t tell me the President isn’t busy. I’ve learned alot from speakers that weren’t active practioners and those that are, but just as often have been left bored and flumoxed by both.

  5. Great post Ben, I agree with your viewpoint and am glad that someone had the “balls” to say so. Yes there are speakers out there that hold a real job and do so for a long time, but you also point out that there are people who cross the line or are close to the line of speaking for the sake of speaking rather than sharing great practices.

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