For the third time in the past couple of months I’ve been in the running for a job as a keynote speaker at a conference only to lose out to a name celebrity keynote speaker. When I heard who they booked I realized there was no way I could compete with that type of name. As someone who has worked in the entertainment industry in many different jobs, such as development, distribution and casting, I’ve been on the other side of the celebrity hiring myself, so I didn’t take it personally.

In the film and TV business, celebrities sell shows and raise money for films. Having a “name” attached to your project will get you in the door and get people to listen to you.

If you were to look over the casting sheet that lists the characters a production company is looking to fill, most of the really good, meaty roles are all the staring roles. And those plum jobs go to names. The rest are supporting roles, quite often filled by character actors. Then down to roles like “girl #1 – includes nudity”. In other words, the booby prize. Pun intended.

So when a meeting planner said “I’m sorry, but the keynote position was given to a celebrity speaker, but would you consider doing a breakout session?”, I didn’t think it was such a bad idea until she said that the celebrity fee took the whole budget and they didn’t have any money left over to pay breakout speakers. That’s when I took it personally. I was being offered the booby prize, and I wouldn’t even be getting paid union scale for it.

The reason I started Speaker Sponsor in the first place was because I realized there were SO many free jobs for breakout speakers, and usually only one job for a keynote speaker per conference. And it looks like more and more of those positions are going to paid celebrity keynote speakers, with all the other speakers left to eat the crumbs.

There isn’t much I can say about it because I had to do the same thing myself when I was casting or looking for talent to get distribution for a film. And just because someone was a name talent that didn’t necessarily mean they were a better actor, just like a name celebrity speaker might not be the best speaker. But having a name is more than that. It’s all part of the marketing and sales of a project. So don’t take it personally.

How do you feel when a celebrity keynote speaker gets the whole speaker budget and breakout speakers have to speak for free?