Celebrity or Anonymity?

In one British newspaper, there’s a regular celebrity interview column that always asks a question I love: “Celebrity or Anonymity?” Without exception, every famous person answers this question with ‘Anonymity’. It seems those who are most famous would rather they weren’t.

And yet, the opposite seems true for many others, where achieving fame or notoriety seems to be one of life’s greatest goals. This celebrity obsession is also true in the speaking industry. Visit any speaker bureau website and you’ll be hit by a tsunami of familiar faces from TV, sports, and the media. And there, buried somewhere on pages 18-97, you may stumble upon some less famous names, like mine

This isn’t a rant about how relatively easy life is for celebrities. It makes perfect business sense for the industry to promote people who are instantly recognisable. Someone who gave up their youth to win a medal, had the resources to climb a mountain, or knew the right people to get a royal honour must be an easy sell to an unthinking client. No convincing is needed, no cognitive effort is required. But it saddens me that many talented speakers without a celebrity backstory don’t always get the same opportunities. Imbalances like this are rife across many sectors, and it’s on all of us to correct bias and prejudice wherever we find it.

Here’s what I’ve observed. I’ve been lucky to see hundreds of speakers, and the most memorable are people who have spent years learning to be fantastic at one thing: speaking. They make the complex accessible, take audiences on epic journeys by weaving clever stories together, and are always there for the client, not for themselves. I’ve also seen some famous and semi-famous speakers who seem to go through the motions, giving off the vibe that they would rather be anywhere else. I’ve always imagined that the imposter syndrome must be close to unbearable, knowing that your name or past are worth more than your talent for the job you’re hired to do. And yet they do it; I guess they need the dollars.

Next time you’re hoping to book someone to take to the stage at a company conference or industry event, spare a thought for the little people who never got to choose between ‘celebrity or anonymity’. A sparkle of celebrity fairy dust might be just what your event needs, and some famous speakers are insanely impressive. But most audiences I meet are made up of ordinary people, living normal, hectic lives. And they always seem to learn more, change more, and do more after hearing from dedicated professional speakers who just do their thing really well. Anonymity has its upsides.