Just like Fight Club, Bettakultcha has a number one rule: NO SALES PITCHES. As regulars to Bettakultcha know, everyone who attends an event fiercely observes the rule. We don’t vet any of the presentations beforehand so we rely absolutely on the common sense and integrity of the presenters. And as our presenters are audience members too, they are equally keen to keep the event as entertaining and informative as possible.
This strategy has worked well and no one has ever turned up trying to blatantly sell a product or service.
So far, so good.
Then, at one event a couple of years ago, someone ‘pitched’ a charity event that was to take place in Leeds. It was all for a good cause and no one made any money out of it etcetera but the feeling in the audience was that it was a ‘pitch’ in intent.
This had disturbing ramifications for the ‘no sales pitches’ rule. If charitable events were exempt, where would it end up – presentation after presentation for non-profit, good causes? Um, borrrring …
Then, at the recent Importance of Failure event (hey, this is so apposite!) Mark Shayler did a presentation about an organisation he’s involved with, The Do Lectures.
I knew of Do Lecturers from long before our event was planned and had enjoyed some of their videoed talks so when I eventually met Mark I invited him to speak and I was delighted when he accepted. I wasn’t sure what he was going to talk about as each presenter had an open brief about failure. Unfortunately, Mark wouldn’t have the opportunity to experience an actual Bettakultcha event before he spoke at one. I suspect this fact is critical in explaining what subsequently transpired.
Basically Mark describes a successful not-for-profit event (the Do lectures) that is then deliberately broken to produce something more interesting. In order to make this apparent reckless behaviour more dramatic, Mark emphasises the previous success of Do. I think it was this aspect that some people found to be a pitch especially as Mark is involved with the organisation.
Personally, I have no doubt that Mark told his story with genuine integrity and honesty (he’s heavily involved with Good for Nothing too) and I’m grateful that he took the time and trouble to present at Bettakultcha. However, my beliefs are irrelevant when it comes to an audience interpreting a message. What a speaker attempts to communicate needs to be measured against what the audience understands from the presentation. As several people mentioned to me afterwards that they thought Mark’s presentation came close to being a pitch I have to conclude that a misinterpretation had taken place somewhere in the communication – for whatever reason.
The question that this raises is ‘what is a sales pitch’? Perhaps Bettakultcha should just shorten the rule to ‘no pitches’? But would that resolve the issue? Should it be a rule that people can only present once they had attended an event so they can get a feel for the audience expectation?
As ever, this incident reminds us that the golden mantra of ‘it’s not about me, it’s about the audience’ should be repeated by all presenters before putting any kind of speech together.
I invite honest and respectful comments from our audience so that we can try to clarify the issue. Thanks.