September 9th, 2014 by Bob Bly
In a recent essay, I complained about an association that asked
me to speak for free. They would not cover my expenses. And the
worst offense: they even wanted me to pay to attend my own talk!
Although most of my subscribers agreed that this was a raw
deal, a couple of you suggested I could make it pay off by
selling my services, my books, or both during my talk.
Well, this doesn’t work for me, because I will not, under any
circumstances, pitch my products or services from the platform.
Yes, I am aware many speakers make a lot of money selling their
books, CDs, and coaching programs from the platform or “BOR” –
back of the room.
I do not condemn them or say it is wrong. Indeed, BOR selling
is a time-honored method of income generation for professional
speakers. There are books and training on how to do it. But it
is not for me and never will be.
There are a few reasons. The first is that, for me, it has a
sleazy feel. I know it is a legitimate method of revenue
generation for speakers. But to me personally, it is distasteful
… and in 35 years of speaking I have never done it, not even
Second, and worse, your audience has paid to be there. So they
have a right to expect that if they paid to attend your hour
session, every one of the 60 minutes is dedicated to you
delivering the content you promised — and plenty of it.
You are there to educate the audience on how to do a task or
improve their mastery of a skill — and not convince them to hire
you for consulting or coaching or to buy your tapes.
The only “selling” takes place when the meeting coordinator
reads your 1-minute bio right before you go on stage. The bio
explains why you are a credible speaker on the topic, and by
extension, makes the audience want to know more about what you
can do for them.
I intensely dislike it when speakers take 5 or 10 minutes out of
their hour talk to deliver a rehearsed, canned pitch on buying their
products, with special offer packages that are good only that
My informal surveys show that half the audience is OK with this.
But to the other half, it demeans you and causes them to lose
respect for you. Who wants that?
The worst offenders are “pitch fests” — events where sponsors
actually take a cut of the speaker’s product sales from the day.
To maximize their profits, these event producers pressure
speakers (it has happened to me, and of course I refused to
participate) to sell expensive packages of books, info products,
coaching, and other services while on stage … and to push them
As a result, many speakers push the product throughout the talk,
and in doing so hold back valuable tips, telling the audience
instead “this is in my book.” In some of these events, virtually
the entire presentation is a thinly disguised sales pitch.
This is the cesspool of professional speaking. To be fair, many
embrace and profit from it. And to them I say: You can have it.
But if you are a meeting planner, please let me know in advance
so I neither speak at nor attend your event.