The recent 60 Minutes expose on “Three Cups of Tea” author Greg Mortenson has most certainly captured my attention. (And by “captured” I mean in the “car accident can’t look away” variety of attention grabbing.)
With all of the allegations about him swirling around in my head, I mostly just feel really (really) bad about the whole thing. He did much good, and now it’s all soured by the bad.
It begs that question though: do you think the recent drama surrounding the validity of Greg Mortenson‘s story will affect the way buyers vet inspirational speakers? Will talent buyers, conference and event planners be able to trust again?
As posted in the See Agency LinkedIn group, here are some viewpoints on the topic:
• I’ve been following this story very closely and hadn’t yet considered this angle. As a speaker, I’m not too threatened by it. Nor should anyone else be. If Bernie Madoff
wasn’t in prison, I think he’d be getting some speaking gigs!
In my current work as a CEO for hire for a nonprofit organization, the take is rather different. My organization, On The Ground (www.onthegroundglobal.org), builds schools, hospitals, and water infrastructure in developing nations around the world. We are examining all this news of Greg Mortenson‘s fall from grace with careful eyes. It speaks to the need for clear and transparent financial operations in nonprofits. Especially those that have the Founder as its defacto leader.
In the end it’s no different than any other business. Under-promise, over-deliver, and live up to your word.
Jennifer Cook • I don’t believe it will affect the way buyers vet any more than it did with James Ray last year or anyone before or since. The only thing that went down was the interest in that person and/or topic. Planners should vet anyone they bring in … which is one of the benefits of working with people like me … I do the vetting for them! I try to steer my client partners away from the flash and look for the ROI and what can really help their bottom line and goals. In the past 20 years in this business I’ve seen many that look great on paper (or video) but on stage and on the back end … not so much.
• If they wanted Greg Mortenson
, they were looking for the celebrity factor. I’m sure a component of choosing him was the great work he’s done- but it wasn’t the primary reason. Otherwise, get the guy who has worked at the local homeless shelter for the last 15 years. As such, I don’t think it changes one thing. The Greg Mortenson
recipe for speaking is “get a mega bestseller
.” Therefore, I can’t imagine this is more than a minor blip on the radar- if that.
• An interesting consideration. Mr. Mortenson obviously crossed the line, but sometimes that line isn’t so clear since good story-telling is the core of speaking and always involves putting a slant on the facts that will highlight what is of value. There’s going too far, but there’s also not going far enough in tailoring the details of a report to create impact – to motivate, educate, or inspire
. We love stories, we all respond to them and ultimately want them, so in a way we train ourselves to spin. And there are many instances in which we’re happy to look the other way when lies are told. I’m not defending the fraudulent behavior, but it arises out of a context that we’re culturally culpable for.
Tamsen Browne Reed
• Bottomline..it should. Had to jump in all. We are, though, a culture who forgets and loves sensationalism. Bill, you’re right, Bernie would have a speaking career, Spitzer certainly is more “famous” than before, and we cannot forget Mike Milken
, who does have a speaking career
and has gone on to be known more for philanthropy and as the “godfather” of the junk bond market than his illegal activity. Only Greg knows the truth of these allegations, the literary license taken with his story of which he has shouldered much of onto his co-author Relin, and poor management choices and financial mis-direction of the multi-million dollar organization. He will choose to either be victim and hide behind the forgiving demeanor of disorganized introvert or hero by working to rebuild his credibility and strengthening the results and legitimacy of those schools via transparency and accountability. I follow NYTimes journalist Nick Kristof
and he has written a very good piece about his friend, Greg Mortenson
. I share it now. Time will tell about vetting on both the world of inspirational speakers
and the publishing community.
Jeff Salz Ph.D.
• Interesting you should write… I just blogged about my reaction as a fellow
• I agree with both Jen and Bill, and would add – I think the damage was already done. All you have to do is check out this video:
• The lives we live and the stories that come from them are rich enough in content and life lessons without lying and pushing the envelope.
• I could throw in my “two-cents” on this on a professional level. However, I will tell you on a personal level, my 10-year old daughter was crushed when she heard about the story at school. She read the young reader’s version of his book last year and did a fundraiser for his foundation through her school. She came home in tears asking why he lied about all that he did.
• Thanks for the rich comments here — three thoughts come to mind:
• One must always solidly appraise who they’re booking, irregardless of their recent alleged unsavory actions – an engaging story is an engaging story is a satisfied audience = business as usual.
In the same way the old adage ‘All publicity is good publicity, even bad publicity’ is believed by many, sensationalism does help grow an audience, whether it’s a businessman (Madoff, Trump, Milken), politician (Spitzer, Edwards, PRESIDENT Clinton), athletes (Tiger Woods, Kobe Bryant, Michael Jordan, A-Rod), celebrities (Lohan, Sheen, Downey Jr, Paris Hilton). . . even authors – I didn’t enjoy ‘A Million Little Pieces’ any less after James Frey was “exposed” on Oprah!
Mr. Mortenson DID in fact raise money for charity, in itself a gallant and thoughtful action. Who knows what motivates someone to stretch the truth? The bottom line remains that a good story is a good story. I would wager that all of the people I mention above get even more cash for a speaking engagement after the sh*t hit the fan for them – IF you can even book and afford them.
I agree with Rick: I’m not advocating fraudulent behavior either, but today’s culture almost demands it, as it makes for a much BETTER story.