By Tim Hayes []

There ain’t no such thing as a sure thing.  One very painful afternoon in a hotel ballroom proved that to me.

Back when I was part of the internal communications staff at a major corporation, my duties included organizing an annual luncheon to kick off the region’s U.S. Savings Bond sales campaign.  This entailed a number of tasks, with securing a dynamite keynote speaker being the most important.

Working with my company’s on-call public relations agency, we brainstormed ideas concerning what we wanted in our keynoter.  This person needed to exude energy, to feel passionately about things, and most of all, had to establish and maintain a level of interest among a room full of 250 people after they’ve consumed a midday chicken-and-mashed potatoes meal.

Lucky for us, we found the perfect guy.  A sure thing.  A lock.  You can figure out where this story is headed from here.

This fellow was one of the assistant coaches for our town’s NFL team.  His antics during each week’s game had become legendary.  He ran the length of the field, it seemed, each time his players took to the gridiron.  He jumped in the air.  He hugged his guys, he shouted and celebrated along with them.  He had an electricity about him that appeared to be contagious.  He’d be a powerhouse speaker.  Or so we thought.

We called the team and booked him for the big date, sight unseen.  Hence, I refer to this episode as one of my Legendary Rookie Mistakes.

The day of the luncheon, I greeted our keynote speaker before the event began, thanking him in advance for his help.  He acknowledged my greeting, but something looked a little off.  His eyes darted like little black pinballs.  He looked a tad sweaty.  His suit hung from his frame uncomfortably.  None of this bothered me at the time, unfortunately.  My Stink-O-Meter should have been shrieking, as it would today.  But when you’re a rookie, well, that’s what makes you a rookie.

My company’s top dog served as the emcee, and once all the opening pleasantries had been taken care of, lunch was served.  My cohort from the PR agency and I glanced at each other, silently patting ourselves on the back for the spectacularness to come.  At last, the moment arrived.  The emcee read the introduction I had written for the keynoter, building expectations that not even Tony Robbins, Bill Clinton, and Knute Rockne – put together – could meet.  Looking back, it really was unfair to everyone in the room.

Our man took the podium and, God bless him, dived in.  Forty-five excruciating minutes later, he finished.  The room held an atmosphere of stunned relief, odd bewilderment, and simmering anger – almost like, “We’re so unbelievably glad that’s over and we survived it, but we’d like to stay just a few minutes longer and strangle whoever picked this guy as keynote speaker.”

Not to exaggerate, mind you.

The big lesson learned that day?  Trust your gut, but verify what it’s telling you.  We should have insisted on tapes of our candidate making presentations at other venues.  We should have done our homework a lot better.  All the things I know to do today.  Cause there ain’t no such thing as a sure thing.  Your Stink-O-Meter knows.  Listen to it.

Copyright 2010 Tim Hayes Consulting