The Echo Chambers Of Commerce

Occasionally I’ll get asked when I’m either speaking to a group or just having conversation over coffee: “Have you any plans to speak in front of the Chamber of Commerce?” (locally and/or nationally) Most are taken back by near immediate response of: “No.”

This is usually followed with a perplexed look then the inevitable: “Why not? You talk about everything I would imagine they not only want to hear, but should hear. I go to (then they’ll name one) and the people are great but many of the speakers I’ve seen are either boring or plain dreadful. I would think they would welcome someone like you with open arms?”

Yes, that would be a logical way to look at it however, it has been my experience from early on as to pursue it, has been a waste of my time. Not for the people who attend, but for the so-called people “making sure members get the most” by being members. i.e., The people running both the chapters as well as at the national level. It has been my experience they are more concerned with the business of “the chamber” not the business of the members.

Let me illustrate my point using myself as an example.

A few years back I thought it would be a win-win for both myself as well as some local chapters (of some prominent national organizations) if I would offer my services by ways of a topically targeted speech to answer or bring to light many concerns facing businesses as well as entrepreneurs.

All successful speakers set aside some form of blocked time as to market themselves on a pro bono basis. Depending on the circumstances, audience, and relative benefits for all I’ll allot X amount of dates during a calendar year, then once they’re filled they’re gone.

I decided to approach the local chamber for commerce in my area. I found the person responsible for the booking a scheduled a meeting. What transpired during and after I have found to be the norm – not the exception – to almost every type of similar organization.

As with any meeting I qualified my initial contact (as any salesperson worth their salt should) and this indeed was the person responsible for scheduling speakers. Then she said something that nearly knocked me off my seat. In order for me to have the “opportunity” to address their members, I needed to join and become one. I asked, “Really? You do this for all speakers?” The reply came back yes and then the yada, yada, ya.

What I had to say after that was of little consequence for I could tell it was falling on deaf ears. When I reminded her that my usual fee for a keynote started at $20,000. and I was offering to do this for free, she was undeterred. (My fee schedule has since increased)

I was told (politely, not with some attitude, this was just the way it was) if I still wanted to go any further she would have the person responsible for membership contact me and I could go from there. (On a side note, everyone I meet in these organizations has some form of title as to sound important. e.g., V.P. of ____________ (fill in the blank), Executive Manager of Shoe Placement, President of International Soda Machine Operation, Global Extraordinaire of Mirror Shining, etc, etc. It’s near ridiculous.)

During the drive home I decided maybe it would be worth while only for the point of supporting the chapter. For if they were worth speaking to then they should be worth supporting, So I decided I would proceed.

I called her back and said to have the person contact me. I knew she had my info because I presented her with all my information as to website, writings, videos, and more so she could see I was who, or what, I was professing to be.

I received the call from their V.P. of Membership (everyone has a title) and near immediately after hearing me say “hello” he went into sales mode.

I tried many times to break his concentration with: “You don’t have to sell me I’m going to join” but none the less – he kept selling.

Finally after interjecting a few more times on the reason why I was doing this in the first place, I became annoyed by the seemingly auto responsive: “Oh yeah? That’s sounds great! So let me tell you more about us…”

It wasn’t until I said, “Listen, forget it, I thought this might be something I was interested in, but I’ve changed my mind. Thanks for your time but I’ve got to run. Have a good day.” Then I calmly hung up the phone. What I realized after all this I found astounding.

No one from this organization looked into who I was. (as in went to my site or anything else.) I have analytics that would show me based on the specific info and links I provided them.

Not one time did any of the people I came in contact with bothered to check as to see if I’d be someone, or would be offering insights or something else that may be valuable for their members, but no one bothered to see if I was the opposite either. They didn’t care. It was about getting a membership fee. Not getting something useful for their members. (I also stated explicitly I was not there to sell any products and would not try like many others do)

Since then I have gone through this same routine with differing organizations and it basically played out the same way. So as of today I still don’t even try as to contact them. It’s only been shown to be a waste of my time to even try. (I’m not saying I’ll never, it’s just that’s the way I still see it today. Things change so who knows what the future brings.)

If I decide I want to do something pro bono I do it in different ways and venues. What I have done is to regularly look at many of these organizations local calendars to see their roster of upcoming speakers. What I have noticed is my first inclinations were not only correct but – they’re still true today.

With all that’s transpiring in business today between the uncertainties of financial markets, globalization, possible trade wars, regulation uncertainties and more. These organizations are doing nothing more than subjecting their members to hear the pains and whoa of their other members with the occasional local politician pitching why the other party is the reason they have these pains and whoa.

One would think during times like these they would want to hear fresh ideas, or ways that can help navigate treacherous waters. Nope, it’s been made abundantly clear to me. If one is willing to pay the dues, they can listen to the sound of their own voice as much as they like with no outside noise or disruptions.

I guess that’s the underlying true privilege for membership.

© 2014 Mark St.Cyr