How to Hire Your Next Professional Speaker (745 words)

The right professional speaker can make your meeting while the opposite can happen with the wrong choice. 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 Professional Speakers vs. Entertainment Professional 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 Professional 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.

Free vs. Fee Speakers (927 words)

As an association executive, you are continually seeking great speakers. And frequently, your board of directors expects you to do this without a budget–or one so small that the task seems impossible. I assure you, it is possible.

When is it cheaper to hire a professional than it is to hire free speakers?

The answer that many meeting planners would instantly offer is, never. The other day, I had an eye-opening conversation with the executive director of an association based in the eastern part of North America. If you answered the opening question the same way, hopefully, this will open your eyes.

The executive director said to me, “Ed, I discovered it was cheaper to hire you to speak for two days at my meeting than pay the travel and lodging expenses of the four free speakers that I was thinking of using.” For a couple years now I have been conducting multi-day for single-fee programs, and still, his comment was truly an eye-opener for me.

In an effort to be accurate, I should share some additional details with you. First, the meeting venue is Maui, Hawaii and some of the free speakers would fly from eastern North America. Second, I offer multi-day programs eliminating the need for additional speakers.

Deliver Value vs. Fill the Void

Do the people responsible for particular meetings want to offer usable take-home value for the meeting attendees or do they simply want to fill a void? In my article titled, The Conference Conundrum (www.rigsbee.com/association-conference-conundrum.htm), I detailed several of the issues that sometimes create a fearful situation for volunteer association leaders in which they just want to both be “safe” and organize a meeting “on the cheap” rather than to address the attendee and member value issue.

Last spring, a meeting planner hired me to present at her national fall meeting. Since I live in the Greater Los Angeles area, she suggested that I might want to attend her coming Western Regional meeting that was to be held in Los Angeles.

I took her up on the offer and arrived early enough to hear the keynote speaker, a local college professor of marketing. Following the keynote, I said to the meeting planner, “I thought your members were in industrial…” She responded, “They are.” And then went into long discussion about how disappointed she was that the professor was so off-target for her group.

The Real Cost of Cheap

What percentage of the attendees from the above mentioned Western Regional meeting will rush to attend that same meeting the next year? What percentage will wonder if they again want to listen to an off-target college professor, who thinks he is addressing retailers but in reality is addressing industrial fabricators? How many potential following-year attendees did the professor lose for that meeting planner? Would this situation make your meeting appear to be shoddy or inferior?

Supplier companies love to send their representatives/salespeople to speak at conventions, as it is free publicity—even if they have to pay their own way. Sometimes the meeting attendees are lucky in that the supplier’s speaker will be motivating while offering usable content. Sometimes they are not so lucky, especially when the supplier’s speaker does not take the time (like the college professor mentioned above) to either understand the needs of the audience or plan an honest presentation. Too often attendees only get a sixty-minute commercial. After a sixty-minute commercial, what percentage of attendees will break down the doors to attend the following year?

What percentage of your other suppliers would also be outraged? How excited will they be the following year to belly up to the table and again pay more than their fair share for the meeting? Fair Share? Yes, suppliers always pay more than regular members. Associations justify the higher charge since they “get business” there.

Could the above combination of situations cost you 10 percent of your attendees the following year? And again cost you another 10% of the reduced number the year after that? And what about the following year? Could this be the reason for the downward spiral many associations are currently facing?

Saving with Professionals

Professional speakers live and die on their reputation. Please do not confuse celebrity speakers with professional speakers. Celebrity speakers get paid gobs of money to speak at a meeting, not because of their eloquence, but because of the average person’s desire to be in the same room with them—to experience them live. Their job is exclusively to attract people to the meeting. When I talk about professional speakers, I’m talking about the people that earn the lion’s share of their income from speaking at meetings or conducting trainings and their related books, tapes, etc. These are the people who generally interview and research the issues and needs of their audiences and tailor or customize their proven material for each unique audience. These people are experts in their field or experienced sorry tellers or humorists.

These are also the people your attendees expect at their meeting. These are the speakers that deliver solid take-home content while also creating a motivating environment. They have to be exciting, motivating and funny—or they don’t eat!

Keeping in mind all that has been mentioned above, why in the world would you settle for a free speaker? Especially, when that choice could be the most expensive. Don’t your meeting attendees deserve the value they expect?

To Get the Best Deal, Understand What Speakers Want (1430 words)

Sure, you want the best possible speaker for whatever your budget might be. A dynamic or informative speaker generally is a stellar investment in the success of your meeting. But, sometimes your budget is not enough for the speaker you want. What’s the solution? Hire a less expensive speaker—squeeze the speaker you want for a better price—think beyond conventional wisdom?

Thinking beyond conventional wisdom might look like, limiting the number of speakers at your meeting. It is always less expensive to have a single speaker do several sessions than to have several speakers present a single session each. Not that every speaker is capable of presenting multiple sessions, however because of the multiple travel and hotel rooms cost, sometimes it is even cheaper to hire a speaker to deliver multiple programs than to have several non-paid speakers participate in your meeting. Even if these unpaid speakers drive in, thereby eliminating their airline travel expense, they will still want a free hotel room for the conference and free registration. Perhaps they were going to come anyway? You would have then received their conference registration dollars. Sometimes the true cost of non-paid speakers is staggeringly hidden.

Let’s explore the difference between a professional speaker presenting the same program multiple times vs. presenting multiple programs. The big difference for the speaker is preparation time—including: research, handout development and PowerPoint preparation. Unfortunately, few meeting planners take this key time issue into consideration. Speakers are selling both their knowledge and their time. The latter is finite, so the more you consume, the more you should expect to pay. In paying for a speaker’s time, you have to consider presentation time, travel time and preparation time. Unless of course you want a canned speech, then the preparation time is not an issue. Before you jump on the cost savings of a canned speech, remember that today, few attendees will tolerate a canned speech.

This idea of a single speaker presenting multiple presentations for a single fee is growing in the world of professional speakers but is counter to standard operating procedures for most speaker bureaus. If you like this idea, you might have to abandon the ease in speaker selection that you have enjoyed when working with bureaus.

The Bureau Conundrum

Speaker Bureaus provide a valuable outsource service for meeting planners that are time squeezed. A planner can contact a bureau, give their budget and the bureau will take it from there. For planners that have to fill a large number of conference session slots and do not have sufficient staff—bureaus can be their solution. Yet, there are many more speakers that are under or non-represented by speakers’ bureaus, than there are speakers that they recommend. Most bureaus only have a small corral of speakers that they can easily sell and therefore will generally recommend them first. Many of the underrepresented speakers are quite good and are a tremendous value.

Another component to consider is that some bureaus serve two masters. What I mean can be illustrated by a recent conversation I had with a planner from a very large biotechnology manufacturer at a meeting industry trends summit. We were chatting at the event’s evening cocktail party and the planner was bemoaning about a request for a speaker that she submitted to a very large East Coast speaker bureau. The planner went on to tell me that the information sheets for the speakers that this particular bureau sent her, had no relationship to her submitted speaker request. The planner was upset that the bureau didn’t pay heed to what she requested. I explained to the planner about that particular bureau specialized in speaker exclusives—meaning that the bureau was the only place through which a particular speaker could be booked. As such, the bureau would recommend their exclusive speakers first, and if none were selected, would then recommend other speakers—even when a non-exclusive speaker would have been a better fit. Unfortunately, this trend is spreading through the speaker bureau industry.

For most speakers, speaker bureaus are but one of the many channels by which they go to market. Speaker bureaus need to be viewed as one would view any distributor or sales agency. If two-step distribution serves your needs, and there are a number of reasons that it might, then by all means select that method.

The conventional marketing message espoused my most bureaus is that for speaker X, you’ll pay the same price through us as you would booking speaker X direct. That is a nice ideal that frequently may be true. Yet, in a supply chain where a distributor or manufacturer’s representative sales agency receives 25 to 30 percent, the reality is generally not quite the ideal. There was a reason behind Sam Walton championing the idea of Wal-Mart working directly with manufacturers, thereby eliminating the distributors. This was a necessary strategy in order for him to continually deliver low prices to his Wal-Mart customers.

Go Direct?

If you should select to work directly with a speaker, the price you will assuredly pay is time. Time both in your search and selection process as will as time working with the speaker on meeting logistics. If this route is best for you, there are a number of advantages that could make your time investment a profitable one. Some of the benefits to you could be, no lost communication through an intermediary, better negotiation possibilities (the Sam Walton dynamic) and the speaker offering programming ideas and insight that most likely would have never been transmitted through a third party.

Searching for a speaker directly has never been easier. To start, there are a number if Internet search engines that will do a magnificent job in searching for a speaker by topic or keyword. Remember to look past the first search page because that is most likely where you are going to find the speaker bargains. A great source to aid your search is the Web Site of the National Speakers Association (NSA).

National Speakers Association

NSA is an alternative method for finding speakers. NSA has an open online search capability that anyone can access atwww.nsaspeaker.org. It is true that only members of NSA are listed, which does limit your possibilities just a bit, but nonetheless you will find that the NSA Web Site a valuable source in your search for the right speaker. NSA offers its members a certification calledCertified Speaking Professional (CSP). While the CSP designation does not guarantee a speaker’s success at your meeting, the process through which a speaker goes to receive a CSP designation is not an easy one. The CSP is a good indicator that the speaker is truly a professional.

Approaching the Speaker

Never approach a speaker, out of the gate, by asking if they negotiate their fees! What the speaker hears is, “I’m calling to ask you for a discount and offer nothing in return.” That’s a turn-off in anybody’s book. Besides, everything in life is a negotiation—just assume that they will. A better approach is to first talk with the speaker about what you want—engage them in conversation. After they have affirmed that they can deliver what you want, then move into the “we have a budget issue” phase. Do this by first suggesting some of the things your organization can do for the speaker to create extra value for them. Also ask the speaker what creates value in their life. Perhaps you have value to offer a speaker that you had never realized? What do you have that costs you very little but delivers high value to professional speakers?

Keynote Vs. Breakout

Believe it or not, more speakers will be willing to talk to you about your budget challenges when you are talking general session (meaning that there is no other session competing at the same time) vs. breakout or concurrent sessions. The reason for this is exposure and product selling capability. If a speaker is going to fly across the country to speak at a meeting, which do you think is more valuable to the speaker—speaking to 40 people, or 400? Naturally, it is the 400. More people that could potentially recommend the speaker for future events and more product will surely be sold to 400 people than to 40—but, rarely do planners think about this.

In making your decision about how to acquire your next speaker, I hope the above has stimulated your thinking beyond conventional wisdom. Additionally, for more ideas on how to save money at your next meeting, please visit www.rigsbee.com/affordablemeetings.htm.

The Conference Conundrum (879 words)

In uncertain economic times, the question of how to deliver value, true ROI, to your conference attendees while still keeping the cost under control is truly…a conundrum. Determining what activities conference attendees want is like shooting in the dark. And, to add to the difficulty, the generational issues are now just that, an issue. Younger people want “Extreme” or interactive meetings while the baby boomers, who are the senior executives want golf and a slower paced meeting. All of this can be quite elusive in your effort to attract them.

What do today’s conference attendees want? First, explore the basic types that attend conferences, especially when travel is required. The old paradigm conference attendee is a bit like the good ol’ boy—attending his industry meeting regardless of the time of year, location or quality of the meeting. He just wants to meet with his buddies, network a bit, golf and drink. The conference is his well earned get-away.

Then there is the new paradigm attendee, both men and women. They are younger, have families and have the attitude that they will participate if they see the capability for synergy. Golf and partying is not their motivation, but rather the desire to obtain new strategies, tactics and the skills necessary to improve their business. They only want to rendezvous with value.

Of which group is your association’s membership tilting? Has the ratio been changing over the last few years? I bet it has been changing, but perhaps nobody noticed? Then there is the paid verses volunteer leadership element with which you must be attentive. This becomes crucial when a volunteer leader from a small company follows one from a large company.

My observation in over a decade of interviewing volunteer association leaders and speaking at association meetings is that generally (but not always) a leader from a large company tends to be more strategic in their thinking and those from smaller companies tend to be more tactical. While both are necessary, tactics without strategy is like traveling to a far-away land without a map—who knows where you’ll end up?

One tactic for reducing costs that a number of associations have recently engaged is that of inviting suppliers to present educational sessions rather than hiring experts, authors and /or professional speakers. Industry presenters usually manage to wrap their presentation around a sales pitch for their product. An important point that is rarely broached in the above mentioned tactic is what effect does inviting one company to present have on other supplier companies?

Since suppliers, or allied members as they are sometimes called, generally pay a disproportionately larger amount to attend a conference than other members, they want value too. Forcing a number of suppliers to endure a competitor’s veiled sales presentation can be considered cruel and unusual punishment. And they never forget. By the way, while I have your attention, just what are you doing to show your suppliers that they are appreciated? Hopefully not having sessions during their expo time? Hopefully doing more than just saying, “Thank you.”

What does create value for today’s conference attendees? Many attendees, especially those at national meetings, are looking to be recharged. They need and want both the motivation and tools for doing battle in the trenches for another year. What percentage of motivation verses skills? Regardless of what I have been told by meeting planners, over the years I have learned that in both general sessions and concurrent sessions alike, the scales tilt more toward motivation. This is something that a non-professional speaker can rarely deliver.

For a meeting organizer, the rendezvous with value challenge can be enormous. You say, “How in the world can I deliver all the value my diverse group of attendees demands and needs in a time of diminished registrations?” Your answer is in numbers. Just how many of your attendees demand that costly golf outing? Is it a large number or just a few that are quite vocal in their personal demands? Must you have an open bar reception? If so, cut the hours in half.

A great question to ask oneself is that of memory—what will your attendees remember? Will they remember their fourth free whiskey at the reception? Or, will they remember that the speaker from XYZ Company spent the entire hour talking about their own company’s capabilities? What will stick in your attendees’ minds that will urge them to return to the conference the next year? If they are old paradigm; they’ll just come again no matter what. But, for the new paradigm attendees, you must help them to rendezvous with value.

Currently, suppliers to the meetings industry are offering generous discounts; including hotels, resorts, airlines and also professional speakers. This is simply because of supply and demand. If you truly want to deliver value to your attendees, take advantage of the times and give them more than a free whiskey by which to remember their conference. This may take an additional effort in helping your volunteer leaders to understand the value, and, they themselves may be the ones that need the inspiration and motivation the most.

The Lost Art of Social Contact (828 Words)

Technology enhanced meetings can be a wonderful thing when the technology drives attendee engagement and learning enablement. Doing more with less and increasing the attendees’ return on registration, travel, and lodging investment (ROI) serves everyone. However, when technology becomes the controller and the audience becomes the controlled, the value of technology quickly diminishes.

Why We Meet

My research has exposed the fact that networking first and education second, are the primary reasons for live meeting attendance. Additionally this research, conducted across a wide assortment of trade associations and professional societies, has revealed the yearly sustainable real-dollar value of networking to be worth just over $4,000 in reference to annual membership. Yet, the conventional wisdom among meetings industry publications is that the networking-capable number of attendees is decreasing. This could offer possible proof that the art of social contact is disappearing.

Technology Down-Side

The drawbacks of technology can be many. Of the simplest meeting technology is PowerPoint. Unfortunately, this helpful software also enables monotone and boring presentations. It is easy for a presenter to get caught up in unsocial behavior; reading their bullet points and forgetting to engage the audience through voice modulation, story telling, and audience participation. This mechanical kind of presentation loses social contact

Risk Avoidance

From the perspective of audience members, technology driven meetings and presentations can easily facilitate risk avoidance by eliminating the need for live social contact. The use of Twitter and Twitter based application software during a live meeting can be a useful novelty however this also allows audience members to avoid expressing and defending a particular position or perspective on an issue. Much of the technology for meetings allows for anonymous participation, which is not always a good thing because it also minimizes social contact.

Technology Advantage

Meeting organizers that incorporate social networking prior to meetings can help their attendees to make live connections at meetings. Twitter postings, Facebook pages and groups, and Linkedin groups offer planners free cyber social contact enablement conduits. Meeting software, such as Certain Software, offers planners amazing integration—elements from RFPs to attendee registration to creative flexibility in developing pre-meeting special interest groups are available.

Strategies for Re-Socialization

For meeting planners that truly desire to help their meeting attendees receive the maximum ROI from their attendance, consider facilitating quality social contact pre-meeting, throughout the meeting, and post-meeting.

  • Set up a Twitter account for your meeting. Send an email invitation to constituents asking them to become followers. Then tweet weekly with new information about the meeting.
  • Set up a meeting group at either Facebook or Linkedin. Email invitations asking constituents to join the group. About six months before the meeting, start posting discussion questions weekly designed to elicit discussion among members. Closer in, start posting individual notices about each specific activity. Just before the meeting invite all the “cyber” buddies to an “organization hosted” pre-meeting live networking gathering.
  • Add to attendee badges some sort of (attendee approved) interesting information about that attendee that will cause others to ask questions.
  • Ask EVERY presenter, including the keynoter, to add an element of networking driven audience participation to their program. While this is generally much easier for professional speakers to achieve, it is perfectly acceptable to expect “invited” industry speakers to comply. Inexperienced presenters can always employ the “round table” question discussion, regardless of the room setup.
  • At the first night cocktail welcoming event, employ a networking game. The best are the games where everyone gets a sheet with a list of questions that they have to get the answers from other attendees. One answer per attendee please. If you have GREAT door prizes, most everyone will participate.
  • Be reasonable about the meeting schedule. This is the area most susceptible to planner sabotage of networking possibilities. Breaks between sessions, depending on the distance attendees must walk, need to be closer to 30 minutes than the typical 5-15 minutes.
  • Buffet meals will cause much more networking possibilities than will “served or platted” meals.
  • For served-meal events, try assigned seating. There are a number of “seating formulas” that will work, yet the important element is a diversity of meal mates at each table. Sure it is a bit of work, but this causes quite a bit of interaction among attendees from trying to find their seat to meal discussions.
  • Many organizations use the buddy/mentor system very successfully. This is where every first time attendee is assigned a buddy/mentor. The buddy/mentor is responsible to take this new person around to all his or her social networks and effectively guide the person through the meeting maze. Also the buddy/mentor does some post-meeting follow up to see that the first-timer actually implements new skills learned at the meeting.
  • Post meeting interaction can be easily facilitated through the social networking activities mentioned above. The most effective will be centered on discussions and activities encouraging implementation of the new skills learned and follow up with new persons met.

Meeting Sponsor or Strategic Partner? (657 words)

What’s Your Treatment Paradigm?

Some associations treat their supplier members like lepers while others consider their associate members to be potential strategic partners. How do you approach this dilemma? The paradigm for some associations is that of continually figuring out how to squeeze the last possible dime out of their suppliers while others seek long-term partnership.

In the meetings industry publications you’ll read about how to generate more profit from your meetings; mostly by selling more exposure opportunities to your supplier members. This by the way is a good thing as long as you keep the two way value proposition in mind.

Two Way Value

The topic I rarely see in the meetings industry publications is that of delivering value to your associate members. Sure, there is a passing quotation here and there about driving value for sponsors. But, how do you do it?

When considering the value your sponsors seek; keep in mind the number one rule. Understand that their greatest desire is to increase their sales volume. Why else would they be there? To build a better industry; okay, if you say so. Please, get real; while every supplier would like to see higher levels of professionalism and effectiveness in the supply chain and in the industry in general; their number one desire is to increase sales.

What Can Associations Do Differently?

If you want your suppliers to willingly deliver their cash to your association coffers, you must treat them like strategic partners and not lepers. How would it look in your mind’s eye if your paid staff and volunteer leaders treated your suppliers with the respect that they deserve?

  • Give them a seat at the table; meaning that one board member position should always be reserved for an associate member.
  • Conduct supplier focus groups with the only intent to better understand the specific value line items that they desire as opposed to squeezing them for more money.
  • Offer year-long strategic sponsorship opportunities, perhaps at various investment levels so all suppliers have the opportunity to play.
  • Increase your conference/expo functionally member attendance. I’ll never forget traveling to the Pacific Northwest to speak at a meetings industry association chapter meeting. While I was paid to present at this meeting, I could not help feeling sorry for the suppliers in attendance. At this particular meeting, there were 4 planner members and 25 suppliers; is there anything wrong with this picture? Suppliers want to network with people that can buy from them, not their competitors.
  • Keep your suppliers, association members or not, informed. I’m intimately familiar with an association that recently demonstrated by deed, not word, that suppliers were on the bottom rung of the ladder of importance. For this association’s convention being held in a large-city market they managed to strike an incredible deal on room rates for the convention hotel but were unable to secure a large enough room block to accommodate everyone. This association informed their members, but not their suppliers when the room reservations opened. The result, suppliers then had to seek more expensive rooms at other nearby hotels of they wanted to exhibit at the convention.

Why Does It Matter?

Business is about results, not excuses. If your association wants suppliers and associate members to play the sponsor game at higher levels, and who doesn’t? You had better play the game to win. Winning means developing long-term strategic sponsor relationships. The better in business your suppliers do, the more money they have to give your association in sponsorship dollars. And the way to help them do better is to pay attention to their needs and treat them with the respect they deserve.

In the final analysis, functionary members of an association or society have to pay one way or another. Members either must pay the real cost, without sponsor subsidies, or pay in actions by creating the correct environment for sponsor participation. The choice is on the table.

The key to safeguarding your organization’s future…is to research, embrace, and maximize…your member ROI.