It might seem counterproductive to turn down speaking requests. After all, they give you a chance to promote yourself, your cause, company or career. But in the cases below, I advise you to think twice, or even turn down the opportunity.
Organizers and program chairs, listen up, lest you make these offers to your would-be speakers:
1. There are too many people on the panel.
Panels of more than three people are fraught with peril for both the speakers and the audience. Speakers know there has to be extra time for introductions and audience questions, and, knowing they have diminished time, many speakers will talk past the limit.
I once had an organizer ask me to join a panel of eight where each of us were only allowed 2.5 minutes to speak. There was no way I would join that panel.
If you’re tempted to join a large panel, ask yourself what value you can add in such a short time.
2. The format isn’t flexible.
If you prefer walking around the room instead of standing behind a lectern, taking questions at the beginning rather than the end of the presentation, or any other variation on the standard, make sure the organizers know and can accommodate you.
If the event organizers already determined the format for you, decide whether it meets your needs and lets you shine.
3. There’s not enough time to prepare.
On a few occasions—including one of my best talks—I’ve been asked to step in at the very last moment. When you get a call just two or three days before you need to speak, another speaker probably cancelled or the organizers didn’t plan far enough in advance.
Do you want to give up your preparation time? Think twice before you say yes.
4. The subject isn’t clear or changes without notice.
This is a clear sign the organizers don’t take good care of their speakers. I’ve received a few speaking invitations pegged to a specific topic that changed after I accepted. Take time to reevaluate if the topic changes, and feel free to say “I think you need to find another speaker.”
5. The preliminary negotiations last longer than your talk.
You should expect to spend time talking to the organizers before your speech about how it will go, what equipment you will need, and who the audience is. But if the logistics, location, topic, length and other basics keep changing, it may be a sign the group is too disorganized and disrespectful of your time.
Again, feel free to say “I think you need to find another speaker.”
6. The subject isn’t your area of expertise.
Be honest and say so. You may be a good speaker and the organizers may like you, but don’t stretch past your knowledge base. Consider, too, that events often ask good speakers to fill in when they’re not experts. Don’t set yourself up to fail.
7. Your schedule gets in the way.
You may have a clear calendar on the morning of your talk, but if you have to travel the night before and jet lag is a problem for you, say no. Don’t say yes when you know you will be tired, rushed or not at your best.