The two most important initial decisions in hiring a professional speaker are: first, in hiring a professional speaker, determine if you want a speaker with content or one for primarily entertainment value. Next you will want to decide if you want to work through a speaker bureau or if you will want to work directly with the speaker.
Content speakers vs. Entertainment Speakers
While there are hybrid speakers that deliver a bit of each, you would be well served if you get very clear as to which is your primary desire. While most of the professional content speakers are entertaining and lively, they are not humorists and will generally not have your audience laughing and in stitches throughout their speech. What they will do is deliver the content of their expertise in an engaging manner. Be honest with yourself and decide between entertainment and content as the overarching reason for which speaker to select.
Speaker Bureau vs. Direct Booking
Some insight on how speaker bureaus work: most bureaus in America work on a commission and most bureaus in Europe work on an add-on basis. American bureaus take 25-30% commission on the speakers established fee while most in Europe add the amount of money they want to make onto the speaker’s established net fee. The benefit of working with a (good) bureau is that they have access to a large number of speakers which will save you time searching the Internet and will execute the contract with the speaker, again saving you time. However, if you are looking to negotiate concessions from the speaker, the bureau route is probably not your best choice.
The down side of working with bureaus is that they have a tendency to have their preferred speakers and push them regardless of the correctness of the speaker for the event. Additionally, be sure to do financial due diligence on a speaker bureau as over the last decade there has been a significant number of occurrences where bureaus use money from their separate or speaker fund account (a best practice suggested by the International Association of Speaker Bureaus) to fund their daily expenses and either do not pay speakers or pay speakers very late. This is an ongoing issue and can become troublesome for the meeting organizing organization.
Communication with Speaker is Paramount
To get the kind of speaker you want, you really do need to speak directly with the speaker at some point in your search/hiring process. You want to be honest with the speaker as to your expectations of them and the realities of the audience members to whom they will present. If there is a current industry or company crisis, the speaker must be informed. Poor communications of the primary and secondary meeting stakeholders’ expectations of the speaker will surly spell disaster.
Communicate clearly with the speaker what it is that you are looking for as to the results of your event. What is it that you expect the speaker to deliver? Be absolutely certain that the speaker understands your expectations.
In the case, and this does frequently occur, that there are opposing desires of the speaker’s performance from various stakeholders within the organization, be sure the speaker is well informed of the dichotomy.
Changing the Scope of Work
Do not assume anything. If you change the scope of work on the speaker after the contract has been executed, just like in most other industries, expect the agreement pricing to also be adjusted. As an example, you contract with a speaker for a speech and come back after and want permission to video or audio record the presentation; expect to pay an additional fee. If you change the speaker’s presentation time without prior approval, you may have a problem. If the speaker has another engagement that would be affected, you might have to pay much higher travel costs or the speaker might not be available.
Right Speaker, Right Event
To assure that you get the best speaker for you’re your event at the beat possible fee, first be crystal clear as to what kind of speaker you want and what kind of a presentation you want. The quickest way to a disaster is to think all speakers are created equally or that any speaker will do. The better you know what you want, need, and desire from a professional, the better chance that you will hire the speaker that will deliver on your expectations.
Ed is the Founder and CEO of the 501(c)(3) non-profit public charity, Cigar PEG Philanthropy through Fun, and president at Rigsbee Research which conducts qualitative member ROI research and consulting for associations and societies. He has been called “the dynamite that broke up our log jam” by association executives—rarely politically correct and almost always provocative—and from a dozen years as a United States Soccer Federation referee, Ed calls it the way he sees it. Exceptional resources at www.rigsbee.com.
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