I have a speaker friend I'll just call Sally, who was scheduled to speak yesterday at this XYZ Conference, and was sitting in the lobby of the conference hotel, checking emails when she saw/heard two other women speakers (who she happens to know because they live in the same city and belong to the same NSA Chapter) approach the conference registration table and ask to speak to the meeting planners in charge. When the association employee said that the people in charge weren't on site at the moment, these two women said "they just happened to be in the area" and proceeded to pitch themselves – cracking jokes, making small talk, asking questions, and spending a great deal of time telling that person behind the registration table how they would be a perfect fit for this event.
My friend Sally was so mortified that she quickly left, so that the two speakers wouldn't see her and pull her into the conversation. "I didn't want the association people to even know I knew them!" Sally told me. "It was really kind of desperate. There was all this conference stuff going on, people trying to register, and the usual activity that accompanies a conference. And here are two speakers trying to make a sales call. And it wasn't very subtle. And they kept insisting that they would be a good fit, and why had they not ever been called for that gig? It came across as really desperate and needy. And you could tell the association staff person was not pleased."
Her story reminded me of a conference I once attended where I was the keynote speaker. And while I was standing at the registration desk, chatting with the client, this woman comes up to us and asks who she needs to speak to about speaking at this conference next year. She's standing there in the middle of 400 women trying to register, a busy staff, and waiting to have a conversation about being a speaker at their future event. They said something polite like "don't call us, we'll you" and she walked off. The client then turned to me and rolled her eyes. We both proceeded to talk about how not only was that rude, unprofessional, and poor timing on the speaker's part – it was also completely inaffective. That speaker had just made a terrible first impression – probably the same as the telemarketer who calls you during dinner.
I understand the idea of going after business. I appreciate the art of asking for what you want. But I do believe that there is a time and a place for selling and pitching yourself. And sometimes we can be so blinded by the desire to get business, that we don't see how it's coming across.