A conversation about hiring professional speakers with Beverly Laing, CMP, CTC, Planner, Condico Corporation, Los Angeles, CA.
Interviewed by Ed Rigsbee, CSP, CAE.
Beverly Laing, CMP, CTC, held the position of Senior Account Manager at Irvine , California based JNR, Inc., a company that runs meetings and incentive programs for Fortune 500 clients through December 2008 and is now employed with Condico Corporation, a global meeting and incentive management company located in Los Angeles . Beverly was named 2007-2008 Meeting Planner of the Year by the Southern California Chapter of Meeting Professionals International. She also sits on the MPISCC Board, as Director of Professional Development.
ER: For how many years Beverly , have you been hiring professional speakers?
BL: I’ve been hiring speakers for about 15 years. I started my career as a meeting/event planner with the U.S. Golf Association but did not start hiring speakers until I moved to the International Council of Shopping Centers where the volunteer committee heads had quite a bit of influence over speaker selection.
ER: While working at JNR, Inc., a third party planning organization, approximately how many meetings a year do you plan where you use professional speakers?
BL: For four major clients, I produce about eight meetings yearly; half incentive and half more education driven. Many of these meetings are multi-day affairs. At the incentive programs, I generally use more entertainment and sometimes a keynoter. At the other meetings I’ll hire both keynoters and concurrent session speakers.
ER: Can you share with me the fee range for speakers you’ve hired?
BL: Over the last five years I’ve hired keynoters as high as approximately $70,000 (Kathy Ireland) however the average fee paid to keynoters is closer to $25,000. The average for concurrent session speakers is around $5,000.
ER: What is your decision process for selecting professional speakers?
BL: First there is the program theme, and then I look for a keynoter related to that theme. Clients generally want a celebrity but when they do not have the budget, I recommend professional speakers who offer a similar theme. I tend to recommend more professional speakers that are also successful authors. I have my own data base of professional speakers and quite frequently use the Meeting Professionals International (MPI) Platinum Speaker Series List. From my data base and/or the Platinum Speaker Series List, I’ll offer only two or three speakers to my clients at the start. I keep the list of speakers to a minimum because many of my clients use committees to decide—if I offer too many speakers, they sometimes have difficulty making a decision.
ER: Beverly , how does a professional speaker go about getting on MPI’s Platinum Speaker Series List?
BL: Visit www.MPIweb.org; posted at that website one will find:
How do I become a Platinum speaker?
[The posted answer] To become eligible for the Platinum Program, speakers must first present at a MPI International Conference and obtain an evaluation score of 4.5 or higher. Once eligible for the Platinum Program, other criteria are evaluated for each session and those chosen will be invited to participate in the program.
ER: Beverly , based on my experience speaking at two national MPI meetings, my long-time belief is that MPI is predominately made up of planners that do not hire speakers, am I wrong?
BL: At the National or International level there might be some credence to what you are suggesting, however at the local level you are misguided. At the local MPI chapters, especially in the large markets like Los Angeles , New York , etc. the regular attendees of the chapter meetings consist heavily of actual planners that hire speakers. These planners can more easily get half a day off for a local MPI chapter meeting while getting off for several days to attend a national meeting can be quite problematic.
ER: Beverly , how do you search for speakers when your personal data base and the MPI Platinum Speaker Series List is not enough?
BL: First is the Internet. I generally prefer to work directly with speakers or their office as opposed to working through a speakers bureau. I believe that my high level of participation in MPI has helped me to better select the correct speaker on my own. I like to check out the speaker’s Web Site for demo videos, Blogs, and other information that will help to decide if they are a suitable match. For the speakers make it to my final list and I contact them through their Web Site for additional information and a full-length, high quality, DVD. On a scale of 1-10, 10 high—speaker Web Sites, for search purposes, rank at about 9.
ER: How important to you is it for a speaker to have quality video on their Web Site?
BL: Nice, but not absolutely necessary. However it is very important that a professional speaker have a high quality video that is of a length greater than most speaker demos. I want to see the speaker for a sustained period of time, demonstrating their knowledge of their subject and their ability to relate to an audience.
ER: What is it about the speaker you select versed the ones you do not? What’s the little bit of difference that allows one to become victorious over another?
BL: My first answer would be presence and personality. I’ve booked speakers in the past that I thought would be wonderful, but upon their presentation found them not to have the presence and command of the stage for which I had hoped. Their presentation was acceptable but not at the level I had expected. Knowledge of their topic is also a huge issue. Generally I’ll determine this through my research and then an interview with the speaker.
ER: What can a speaker, or their office staff, do to cut through the clutter in connecting with you and demonstrating the value they can deliver?
BL: Contact my first with an email, then a phone call. I recently hired a professional speaker because their staff person kept in touch with me. Speakers that will be presenting in my area should invite me to their event so I can see them live—always the top choice for me.
ER: How will the economic down turn affect your meetings and speaker selection for 2009?
BL: This might be difficult to stomach however; “Take care of me now and I’ll take care of you later” is becoming more common among my clients. Sure there is no guarantee on this but the reality is that budgets are being cut. For 2009 the speakers that are willing to work with my clients’ budgets will most likely be the ones that get hired.
ER: What is it that professional speakers do that drives you totally crazy?
BL: When they are so busy that I do not hear from them for weeks, when they don’t have, or take, the time to respond to my emails—especially on simple issues like travel logistic matters—it really makes my job difficult.
ER: What’s different today about using professional speakers as compared to when you first became a meeting planner?
BL: There’s so many now; more variety in types and message, and more competition for engagements (great for planners), that a speaker has to be at the top of their game to get hired.
ER: Are professional speakers a commodity?
BL: [Pause], Yes.
ER: Beverly , you mentioned earlier that you prefer to work directly with speakers as opposed to working through bureaus, why is that?
BL: First, I know that working through a bureau affects the speaker’s income. While a bureau can make a planner’s life easier by answering most of the questions about a speaker up front, they also tend to continually push the same speakers. The bureau folks should take more time to do their research in recommending various speakers that are better suited to a particular client or event.
ER: Beverly , is there a question I should be asking you?
BL: Let me ask you this Ed, what does the National Speakers Association (NSA) do for its members? Shouldn’t NSA be getting more information about their members out to planners like me?
ER: Wow Beverly, you’ve got me there. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts with the members of the National Speakers Association.
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.