Do you agree that
everyone loves to hear a terrific speaker? A great speaker can make
or break events and meetings. I know. I've worked in the industry for
26 years, and I am a professional speaker, myself. It's not uncommon
for me to hear people say things like what Nicola Jones, business manager
for the Ohio Petroleum Retailers Association, said when her original
speaker cancelled at the last minute, and I found her a replacement,
"Thom you saved my job."
Saved her job. Well, if having the perfect speaker has the power to
save jobs, or in the very least, keep your clients' or colleagues' interest
rapt, then I'd like to share with you some insider information on finding
the perfect speaker. It is not, as they say, "rocket science;"
however, admittedly it can be a complicated or time-consuming process
due to some non-negotiable perimeters of the modern workplace. But,
don't let budget cuts, downsizing or the natural stress of event and
meeting planning prevent you from finding the perfect speaker.
Read on to help you demystify the process of finding your next speaker.
1. Start ahead
of time, says Anita Perez Ferguson, political activist and speaker,
Santa Barbara, Calif., "Keep an active file of suggested speakers
(and web sites) even when you are not looking for one and be prepared
ahead of time!"
2. If you
haven't been keeping a wish list, you may have to start from scratch.
No problem. Determine what kind of speaker you want, as well as what
you need them to do and present, before you begin.
There are so many messages you may want your group to hear. Ask the
right questions of the right people. Too often several committee members
search simultaneously for the "perfect speaker" wasting lots
of time and resources. The committee and future event would be better
served if you identified your criteria first. You can ask the top leaders
of the event (or ask those who will be attending) the right who, what,
where, how, when, and why type questions.
Sample questions include: Who will be attending the meeting? What do
you want to see happen due to the speakers' message? Where will we position
the expert speaker? Do we want an educational or informational speaker
expert, an entertaining speaker, a humorist, or a topic expert (and
what topic)? How much time do we have before making the final selection?
Who will actually make the decision for the perfect speaker? How
much can we afford to invest for the perfect speaker?
How about a celebrity or sports speaker? How long will the speaker speak?
Why have a speaker in the first place? How do we determine the
perfect speaker for our event?
This list of questions is flexible and could be much longer. There are
a multitude of fabulous speakers out there, so first concentrate
on narrowing down your needs. Suzie Wilson, AICI, Houston, shares, "Finding
the perfect speaker is like finding the perfect 'mate.' You have to
know what you want first."
3. Once you've
decided what you want, you then need to decide how you want to "literally"
go about acquiring that perfect speaker. Believe it or not, there are
many vehicles for finding the perfect speaker. And each has its own
pros and cons.
There are speakers associations, like the National Speakers Association
or Toastmasters International, who support the development of speakers'
skills through membership opportunities for education and networking.
These types of organizations can provide you a catalog of their membership,
or an online search engine containing their membership, for the selection
of a speaker. While these catalogs and searches are generally free,
keep in mind that associations only represent those individuals
who voluntarily join their organizations. This voluntary inclusion is
not necessarily a bad thing, as even veteran speakers may belong to
professional associations; however, because of the exclusive nature
of their rosters, you may want to include your yields here as part of
your greater search.
Speaking of searches, you can now also do an Internet search on individual
speakers in your area, or the area of your projected event/conference.
And, while this has the potential to be a good option because it cuts
out the obvious middlemen, like agents and bureaus who receive a cut
of the speakers booking fee, don't overlook the obvious: Individual
speakers are out to sell their own services and programs, often for
as much as the market will bring. Or, they may want to refer you only
to someone with whom they have a special (often reciprocal) relationship.
Individual speakers must believe their program is "perfect"
for many event planners because that's how they obtain business. If
you are contacting a potential speaker, directly, you might want to
consider talking with several simultaneously to gain some comparison
and objectivity, as well as bargaining power.
Probably the best option is to find one person, whom you trust,
to do an exclusive search for you based on your criteria.
Think about an executive search firm for a minute. If you were looking
for a new CEO of say a Fortune 500 company, you would hire a search
firm to find the perfect person for you. You would provide your key
contact person at the firm your needs and criteria and give them a timetable
for presenting you with three or more candidates, right? Do the same
when searching for a speaker.
One person acting like a search firm can save you both time and money.
He or she can potentially negotiate you a lower fee. This person
may be a staff member, one committee person or a speakers' bureau
staff person. An employee or committee member dedicated to finding you
a speaker is great because they are just that—dedicated to
you— and will most likely not request a cut. However, understand
that an employee or committee member may not always have the volume
of contacts, or the experience, as say the agent at the speakers'
A bureau keeps files current, can access any speaker quickly and
do all the paperwork to book them for you...and sometimes for less than
advertised. And, a bureau will generally do the search for free, in
good faith, contingent on you simply acquiring the speaker from the
bureau when and if you do book the speaker. The bureau must get you
the perfect speaker, or you pay nothing.
Granted, bureaus are paid by the speaker, and only get paid when you
book the speaker; however, as mentioned above, bureaus have the added
benefit of being able to negotiate fees for you. Recently, I booked
a speaker for a large group of 700 people. Her published fee—
an Olympic gold medal winner—was $10,000. We got her for the client
at $2,000. Everyone was happy. Not all speakers, however, will negotiate.
Don't mistake agents at full-service speakers bureaus for "agents"
representing one speaker, exclusively. Much like the individual
speaker who represents herself or a small circle of colleagues,
agents or speaker marketing agents can provide you with information
on their clients, but they do not, generally, provide a more broad-based
search like an agent at a full-service speakers bureaus can.
If you already have a specific speaker in mind, this may be the time
to go directly to that speaker. But, if you are looking for help in
finding a few "perfect speakers" to choose from (and
a backup for your first choice), try a channel that can yield more options,
like the entities that can provide the "Executive Search"
4. Now that
you've identified the type of speaker that's appropriate for your intended
meeting or event, as well as selected the most appropriate search firm
or person to help you find that perfect speaker, make sure you do your
due diligence and really take a look at the materials presented
to you on each of your potential speakers.
Says Karen Susman, the Denver author of 55 Ways to Improve Your Laugh
Life: "Since demo videos can be massaged to make even a lousy speaker
look swell, I suggest you take two of your bosses and two of your potential
audience members with you to experience the speaker 'live' in a session
(if possible). Spend time looking at the audience, viewing their response
and the speakers' responsiveness to the audience. Get exit reviews from
a range of audience members and the people with you."
If you don't have time to see your potential speaker in person, ask
for references—several, specific references—from event
and meeting planners like yourself, and call to see how their clients
or employees responded to the speaker you are interested in booking.
Testimonials on speaker websites are convenient, but taking an
extra moment to contact a peer can ensure your speaker dollars will
be well invested. Your perfect search person or firm should be able
to do all this for you or provide you the reference information.
So what if all that careful preliminary work doesn't yield the perfect
speaker? Well, first reevaluate your criteria, making sure that you
haven't made your specifications too broad or too narrow. You may be
missing a whole group of nearly perfect speakers by either including
or excluding too many candidates. Then, go back to the person or firm
you've chosen to help you find that perfect speaker and ask them to
come up with a few more options based on your refined criteria.
If you've chosen the most appropriate search firm or person, one who
understands your needs, has done the homework for you (to the tune of
100-plus "potentials" sometimes) or has the resources to redo
it on the spot, then trust that you have found the perfect speaker because
you had the perfect party searching for you.
And, if that perfect person searching is you— here's wishing you
A. Lisk, President, Professional Speakers Bureau