You can’t judge a book by its cover, as the old saying goes, and that’s especially true of speaker Michael J. Lyons, former exhibition director of AIBTM for Reed Exhibitions.
While Lyons has filled the role of meetings industry executive quite nicely in the past 40-plus years, including senior-level positions at heavyweight firms such as Carlson Wagonlit Travel, Global Events Partners and Rosenbluth Travel—as well as serving on the boards of the Philadelphia CVB and the Association of Destination Management Executives (ADME)—he’s also filled a variety of roles on the silver screen and television.
“I actually put my three kids through college on my acting income alone,” he says, adding that a long-running commercial for Advil paid for one of his son’s college education.
Lyons began his professional life as an actor while living in France as a child, even appearing alongside such legends as Tony Curtis, Audrey Hepburn and William Holden, and then gave up acting full-time to enter the business world. He has now completed the circle by getting back into performing.
His most recent acting role is as a U.S. senator in the second season of the Netflix hit House of Cards, starring Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright, which is set to air this month.
Lyons got his start in the meetings industry like so many people do—by accident.
“In my very first job out of college in 1973 I went to work for a building materials company in the marketing communications department,” he says. “One day the boss walked in and said ‘We’re having a sales meeting in Nassau in the Bahamas for 150 people. Put all the plans together and organize it.’ So, just like that I was a meeting planner. I had to learn the hard way through trial and error, but that first job laid the foundation for the rest of my career and served me well throughout the many positions I have held since.”
Citing a long commute from his home in Philadelphia to Connecticut, and wanting to make a life change, Lyons left Reed Exhibitions in August and is now dedicating his professional life to acting and speaking.
“I was the exhibition director [for AIBTM], so it was a lot of responsibility,” he says. “That was clearly something that I needed to devote 100 percent of my time and energy to, so I had no time to do these other things.”
Leveraging his vast experience, Lyons is currently making the rounds as a motivational speaker (www.michaeljlyons.com).
His main message is to believe in your dreams. One of his talks, “Daydream It, Believe It, Achieve It,” follows his own journey of keeping his acting dreams alive while walking the corporate path.
“Whatever it is that is your passion, you can pursue that on the weekends, so every day you can get up and be excited about going to work,” he says, adding that his experience of more than 40 years in the meetings industry, from incentives to exhibitions and other segments, gives him the tools to speak on topics that are very specific to the industry, too.
And if that’s not enough, Lyons is even a singer that can write customized songs for an audience, which he has done for ADME and other associations.
Maybe that old Irving Berlin song sums it up best in a variety of ways—there’s no business like show business!