Positioning Your Business

Positioning Your Business-9 Key Questions (936 Words)

Positioning Your Business for Success

Vendors are a dime a dozen but partners are hard to find; positioning your business for success is crucial. This statement is continually in the minds of your customers. If you would like to develop a business strategy based on quality relationships, take a look at how your customers currently perceive your business. Ask your customers what they think of you through surveys or simply by word-of-mouth. The conversation they have with themselves about you is their reality.

Positioning for Influence

You can greatly influence your chances of success in an uncertain economy if you position yourself as a partner to your customers. Learn to get on their side of the table. Learn what they perceive as valuable to them and what is not. When you are clear about how you want the market to perceive you, you can then drive this positioning strategy throughout the many silos of your business. As all the areas of your business drive the same consistent message in both word and deed, you will own that position in your marketplace.
Before I consult with an organization, I generally ask the management team to answer the following positioning questions. Answer them for yourself. Do this and your chances for success will dramatically increase.

1. Who are my customers?

This positioning question sounds quite simple but this is a critical first step. To better understand the question, explore these sub-questions:
a. Who do I want them to be?
b. What must I do to get them?
c. Who has chosen me?
d. What are their demographics?

2. Where are my customers? 

a. Geographically?
b. Industry segments?
c. Social/economically?
d. What publications do my target customers read?
e. What media format are they likely to frequent?
3. How do my customers find me? 

a. Word-of-mouth, drive by or walk by traffic, snail mailings, e-mailings, phone solicitations, yellow pages advertising, local cable station/national networks, radio, newspapers, specialty magazines and cross promotions are possibilities.
b. Maybe they’ve heard of you through a media interview or article?
c. How about the Internet? By now, your organization should be somewhat web-centric.

4. How do my customers perceive value (benefits) when selecting a supplier/vendor with which to partner? 

Technological capability, knowledge, overall service/unbundling of services, integrity, selection, price, geography and a cadre of other factors will affect their selection process based on your positioning. Additionally, there are the positioning supply/procurement considerations:

a. Traditional brick and mortar.
b. Mail order/catalog.
c. Click and brick.
d. Click only.

5. How do my customers prefer to do business? 

a.Do they walk the partnering talk or just talk it?
b. Can I live with their reputation?
c. Can my company survive the potential pitfalls?
d. Ethics is a big consideration. Additionally, ethnic and cultural concerns are critical factors in today’s diverse society. Are you willing to “walk the extra mile” to understand and fulfill your diverse customers’ desires and needs?

6. Who is my competition? What’s their positioning? 

Generally, any business that can pluck dollars from the pockets of your potential customers is absolutely your competition! Specific to your situation, who has similar products and/or service capabilities? Who is willing to make a stronger commitment to offering the greatest total value package?

a. Explore your direct competition.
b. Explore your indirect competition.

7. What are the benefits that my competitors’ customers believe they are receiving from my competition? 

Spending time thinking about solutions to customers’ problems and challenges from your competitors’ point of view will serve you well in developing your positioning strategy. Know how your competition thinks and acts. You can learn from them! To win customers, you must know your competition better than they know themselves. That is how Pepsi gained shelf space from Coke in grocery stores in the 1960s. Pepsi changed the rules by offering 8-packs and one-liter bottles. Be careful not to select copycat positioning—rarely is it successful. Adapt rather than adopt.

8. What is it about my company that really gets me excited? 

Find your company’s uniqueness and passionately sell through that window with all your positioning energy. Can’t find it? Either you’re not looking hard enough or you’re in the wrong place! Those with purchasing power will seek out specialists who can solve their customers’ problems by truly fulfill their customers’ needs, wants and desires—physically and mentally. Decide to position your company in this select group and then make the necessary commitment to get there.

9 What is my personal uniqueness?

a. What is it that you bring to the table?
b. Is it your personality traits, the area in which you excel or the one thing about the way you do business for which customers are always complimenting you? Find this and you’ve struck gold!
c. People prefer an original whenever possible—can it be you?

The answers to the above nine questions will assist you in defining a positioning strategy upon which you can successfully increase sales and build your business. This may well be a new strategic direction or simply an adjustment to your current sales and marketing strategy.

Entire industries are giving way to new technologies resulting in a new or dramatically changed paradigm for their industry. Where fragmented industries once existed in comfort, consolidators and roll-ups are devastating the playing field. As an example, you will not find the number of local independent stationary stores, bookstores and drug stores that once spotted your city streets—just big boxes that look, smell and feel all the same. Regardless of your specific industry, it’s changing whether you like it or not. It is happening before your own eyes. Can you see it? Communicating a clear positioning message to your market will put you far ahead of your competition.

Professional Speaker

Public Speaking for Dollars and Sales Increases (2473 Words)

Public Speaking For Sales Increases, Speak for Dollars

Public Speaking for Dollars and Sales Increases

Public Speaking

Public speaking is a great way to connect with your current and future customers. Present your ideas at a public or a private venue. Presenting to a targeted audience is an accelerated way to stimulate business. Sure, speaking to groups of people can be a frightening prospect, but you do want to increase sales, don’t you? Why do so many people have this fright, do you suppose? Perhaps, if the audience doesn’t like what you have to say they’ll call the police in and have you taken off to jail for disturbing the peace? Just kidding, it’s not too likely that will ever happen. So, what is it? Maybe it’s an imposter syndrome fear? A fear that the audience will discover one is not as smart as one might pretend to be? No! They already know that. Then what is it?

I believe many are afraid of presenting because of low self-esteem. Let’s not confuse brash egotism with quality self-esteem. When you feel good about yourself you are willing to take a risk and be vulnerable. Yes, I said vulnerable! This is when a perceived weakness can become a real strength. Think back and visualize in your mind a presenter, one at which you attended their live presentation. Now that you have the presentation in your mind, ask yourself, “How real were they?” Your answer will most likely be: “They were very real. I felt like they were speaking directly to me.” This is because they allowed their self to be vulnerable. You thought they were there for you actually as your guide or mentor.

There are three basic ways to use public speaking to market your products and services:

  1. Speaking to community and service clubs.
  2. Holding information specific seminars.
  3. Doing demonstrations; out in public and in-home party style.

First, we’ll look at speaking to your community organizations. This idea is great when you primarily market to your local community, otherwise you’ll be doing quite a lot of traveling. Here’s an easy way to start: Prepare a 25-minute presentation about the value your industry provides for consumers. Make it non-commercial and non-specific to your product or service. Do this, and you’ll receive acceptance.

Your speech will be the most effective if you have an opening grabber to break the preoccupation barrier that most people have. Try something humorous about your business or in your industry. Another grabber can be controversy, but be cautious. Develop a transition to the body and then cover only three to four key points. Keep the presentation body fun, informative and positive. Next, summarize and have a call to action. This is the suggestion for your audience to stop by your place of business to see, hear or learn more. Conclude with a quotation or a short meaningful story. Just relax you’ll be a hit.

Book a Public Speaking Engagement

Contact your chamber of commerce for a list of community organizations. Contact all of the groups on the chamber list. Offer to speak at their meeting. You’ll be surprised at how many will accept your offer. Don’t try to sell the audience anything at their meeting except yourself. Be a giver a giver of knowledge and business will come your way. Remember to send out news releases to the local media every time you speak. While you’re out speaking, look for an organization to join and get involved. Being active in your community is an excellent way to show you’re a community partner and to get noticed.

The second way to use public speaking is to hold seminars. Check your newspaper, usually the Sunday paper is best. Look for the ads advertising free seminars—you should find one or two. The common seminars you’ll notice are for Wills, Trust & Estate Planning, Real Estate, Health and Fitness, and a variety of other offerings. The plan is to get the prospects in the door. You do this by providing them with a small amount of dynamite information (useful, of course). Then, at the end, offer your products and services for sale or lease.

Record your seminars, and when you deliver what you consider to be a great one make, it into a “for sale” product or use it as an incentive product…most likely downloadable content and products from your Website will work out best.

Elements to Successful Public Seminars

Advertise your seminar with the local media. Sell people on attending the seminar, make truthful promises of value and benefits for all who attend, let them know what’s in it for them. Remember that the attendees are giving of time and energy to get there. Be sure to have some helpers there to take your new customers’ money, credit cards, etc. If you are not great at closing the sale, consider partnering with a professional sales person to increase the volume of sales.

The seminar can be held at your place of business or a rented location such as a hotel/motel conference room, park, school, or anything you can think of—be innovative. Wherever it is, make it comfortable for about an hour stay 45 minutes for the information, 10 minutes for your sales presentation and the five minutes just because.

The third way to promote your business through public speaking is through the demonstration method. You can do this in public gathering places like fairs and carnivals, at trade shows and in a private home setting. Demonstrations in public can be as brief as five minutes or up to 15 minutes. Any longer than 15 minutes, you’ll have people stop by and move on. At these public demonstrations you’ll need to be prepared to answer questions and possibly sell your products. You can probably partner with another person or group to help you do those tasks.

In-home public speaking demonstrations can be effective. I remember growing up and going out with my mother when she gave consumer product parties at people’s homes. It seemed like every year my mother would switch to a new company. Take my advise stick to one thing and you’ll surely make lots of money it’s advice nobody gave my mother or advice she never took. Companies like Tupperware are synonymous with this method and it works!

Personal Publicity through Public Speaking

Personal publicity will help you to become more secure and confident. People that appear to be of value are the ones companies seek to become integral with their organization. Our economy is dynamic and ever changing. Companies can no longer afford to keep on the deadwood that in an era gone by was possible. Make a commitment to yourself here and now to be a person of value. This means you’ll have to bring more value to your workplace. Also, you can more easily find new employment for yourself if necessary.

Many American companies have gone through excruciating change and downsizing. They are looking to their star performers to keep the business afloat. These stars came to the attention of management by intelligently and subtly publicizing their accomplishments and heroic efforts throughout their company and industry. You too, can do this. Yes I understand that it’s not your way the problem is that “your way” may create a one-way ticket to oblivion. Many people need someone to give them permission to do something that their parents once told them was not “our way.” I hereby give you permission to promote yourself to the world!

As a colleague, Mark Victor Hanson, coauthor of the “Chicken Soup” books, has often told me, “Let your inner knower tell you what to do.” Your inner knower can help you to see your true value to the economy in which you participate. Let go of your negative “stuff” on self-promotion and move on to fulfill your potential!

Listed below are three typical reasons professionals and business leaders are hesitant to self-promote. Do these ring true for you?

  1. Feel it’s too self-important, pompous, pontifical, pretentious, stuffy, grandiose, ostentatious or stuffy.
  2. Not in keeping with the professional image they want to project.
  3. Believe promotion costs more then the value they receive.

Truly, the only restraint that keeps you from having the public image and stature that many enjoy is the conversation you have with yourself about the additional possibilities for your life. Dislodge those old tapes in your head that have been immobilizing your efforts to get ahead. Launch them right out of your consciousness.

Ways To Get People To Notice You

  • Promote free booklets/reports on ideas and information related to your business or service.
  • Author a book. You become an instant expert.
  • Do your own radio show, perhaps a Saturday or Sunday morning public information type.
  • Publish a printed or electronic newsletter.
  • Stay in touch with clients and prospects by mailing them articles you clipped.
  • Become an expert resource for local and national media reporters.
  • Welcome new people to your town.
  • News releases are an inexpensive way to get your name in print; always include a photo.
  • Write a weekly or monthly newspaper or magazine column.
  • Congratulate people on promotions you read about in the local paper and in trade pubs.
  • Give great public speaking experiences to others.
  • Public seminars sponsored by your company or another company with which you partner.
  • Word-of-mouth happy clients and happy employees talk!
  • Host power breakfasts for local business leaders.
  • Get on, or even better, host radio and/or TV talk shows.

Crashing Past Gatekeepers of the Media To Get Your Foot In The Door

The various kinds of traditional and social media exposure can make the difference in your success in gaining speaking opportunities and/or help you to fill the seats of your public events. While social media is about…showing up regularly…traditional media takes quite a bit more work.

  • Controversy sells in all forms of the media. Media is drawn to it like insects to a night light.
  • Relevance to a current event is important. Make your story connect to what is happening now.
  • Hope, it does not sell as well as controversy, but it does sell. The media is looking for ways to show that progress is being made in solving today’s social problems.
  • Simplification of life, for most, life has become too complex. Show how people can save time, improve the quality of their lives, find enjoyment and fulfillment, and generally be happier.
  • Overcoming Adversity is a regular media winner. America has always cheered for the underdog. Show how you have done it and become a media darling.

Partnering with the media can be your secret weapon if used well. Develop relationships with as many local and national reporters and editors as possible. The more you can do to make their life easier the better the chances you’ll get coverage.

To Better Connect with the Media, Make a Favorable Impression

  • Take the Eight “Cs” approach: Be Concise, Candid, Correct, Conversational, Clear, Compassionate, Controversial, and Calm!
  • Use the name of your company or product rather than saying, “The widget or The Company.”
  • Give your main point first, in a concise, positive, and complete sentence.
  • Remember that the best defense is a good offence.
  • Be honest.
  • Relax and smile.
  • Make a public interest viewpoint.
  • Become an “industry” source.
  • Be as prepared and knowledgeable as possible.
  • Watch or listen to the show or read the publication beforehand.
  • Radiate confidence and energy. Energy plus Enthusiasm equals Excitement!
  • If you really do not know, say “I don’t have the answer now” . . . and explain rather than, “I don’t know,” or “No comment.”
  • Keep your cool.
  • Believe to the core of your being, that you have something of value to offer their audience.

Things You Will Want to Avoid

  • Do not repeat negative or “Loaded” words.
  • Do not say anything “off the record” because there is no such thing in today’s media.
  • Do not make exaggerated claims or predictions.
  • Do not lie, mislead, or try to bluff because it will come back and bite you in the rear.
  • Do not discuss your personal finances.
  • Do not lose your temper. If you do, the host will make a monkey of you. I once saw Ted Turner lose his temper on Donahue and Phil made Ted look like a . . . Well, you know.
  • Do not wear checks, plaids, stripes, or large prints before a camera because you will look    terrible.
  • Do not look for the “on camera” red light. Instead, talk directly to the reporter or    interviewer.
  • Do not nod affirmatively to a question with which you disagree. Instead clearly show that you are not in agreement with the interviewer or other guest.
  • Do not be defensive.
  • Do not use jargon that few will understand. Rather than appearing bright, you will appear smug or arrogant.
  • Do not leave your humor in the waiting room. Humor is one of the best ways to win over the audience.
  • Do not try to be someone you aren’t. Your insincerity will show through like a red flag.
  • Do not forget to say “Thank you” to the show’s host.

If You Want to be Asked Back

  • If you show up in person, DRESS TO IMPRESS.
  • Be prepared.
  • Always be in time for the interview.
  • Your materials should be up-to-date.
  • Smile before, during, and after the interview, even if you are not in-studio.
  • Arrive early so you don’t appear rushed, but not so early that you’re in the way.
  • Listen intently to the host.
  • Answer question asked, even if you do move a little off their subject.
  • Answer to the point and be concise.
  • Answer with enthusiasm.
  • Do not answer a question with a question, a simple yes or no, or “yup.”
  • If you’re unfamiliar with a question, simply say so.
  • If you don’t clearly hear the question, ask them to please repeat it.
  • Call the host by name and thank them briefly on air.
  • Send a postproduction thank you note to the host and producer.

Public speaking is an awesome way to grow your business. You have just discovered the tools to get to the media. If you made the commitment I asked for earlier all that is left is to go into action. Don’t get derailed moving from the idea phase into action. Your own perception of your worthiness is what will block or empower you into action. If you didn’t make the commitment, what can I say, but good luck? It is how you say it and how you do it. Share your ideas in public and gain increased stature for yourself and your business. It is a fun way to boost your business. Learn how to sell your speak services to trade associations and professional societies

Additional Resources: Toastmasters International  —  National Speakers Association


Beverly Laing

A conversation with Beverly Laing

Beverly LaingA 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 Website?

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?

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.

Note: Unfortunately Beverly passed away on Friday, Nov. 28, 2014.

Business Partnering

A conversation with Maurice “Moe” Desmarais

Business PartneringA conversation about hiring professional speakers with Maurice “Moe” Desmarais, Executive Vice President, SmithBucklin Association Management, Chicago, IL

Interviewed by Ed Rigsbee, CSP, CAE.

ER: Moe, how was it that you got into the association management industry?

MD: In the early 1970s I was a part-time instructor for the Professional Insurance Agents Association and they ended up offering me a job, Director of Education and Convention Services. After that I held the position of executive director for the American Supply Association and later President of Association Management Services, an association management company located in Massachusetts . For the last 10 years I’ve been with SmithBucklin, an association management company with 220 client associations.

ER: At SmithBucklin, what do you currently do?

MD: I’m the Executive VP for three associations; (contracting) Building Service Contractors Association International (BSCAI), (distribution) the North American Association of Floor Covering Distributors (NAFCD), and (manufacturing) Battery Council International (BCI) and a senior director at SmithBucklin.

ER: What drives you crazy about working with professional speakers?

MD: When a speaker walks into the meeting room and has a fit that things are not set up how he or she wants them. This even happened right in front of me several years ago when I gave a presentation to the New England NSA Chapter. The other speaker had an “emotional breakdown” about the room. Sometimes for a variety of reasons, the meeting room might have to be a bit different from what one desires. A professional should be flexible enough to adjust. 

Second, when a speaker is not timely in getting program descriptions, photos, and other requested information we request to us when needed. Third is when a speaker that does not take the time to learn about his or her audience. As an example, the Battery Council audience members are manufacturers of large lead acid batteries, not the batteries that go in your watch or flashlight. It makes for a better presentation when the speaker knows that, and doesn’t provide examples that don’t fit the audience. A speaker loses credibility when he/she is not properly prepared to address his audience.

ER: Currently, what is your process for selecting professional speakers?

MD: First, I’d like to differentiate between professional societies and trade associations. Professional societies tend to be more volunteer-driven when selecting speakers as they are looking for specific technical information and trade associations more staff driven in speaker selection. For BSCAI, we generally hire keynoters that are inspirational or customer service driven and breakout speakers that are content driven and professionals within their industry. There is a volunteer committee that will suggest topics. The paid staff then implements their recommendations.

At SmithBucklin we have the luxury of a substantial experienced convention services department that maintains an in depth speaker list so finding the right speaker(s) is not terribly difficult. Since I administer a manufacturing and distribution association, I participate in both “NAW” National Association of Wholesale-distributors and “ NAM ” National Association of Manufacturers. They both maintain list serves where I can put out a question about a specific speaker or inquire about a speaker on a specific topic. I find it very helpful to receive speaker information from my colleagues from other associations.

ER: Tell me more about the trade associations.

MD: In the past with trade associations, we’d usually start on the following year’s meeting just after the current year’s event. The economy has caused us to have shorter lead times in selecting venues and shrinking meeting length. This reality has caused shorten lead times in selecting speakers. Today, we are dealing with fewer attendees at meetings so meeting cost is such a huge issue and I expect budgets to remain challenging through 2010.

ER: Any specific industry trends that you have noticed?

MD: Trade associations are currently focused on economy, cost reduction, and green topics. Motivational speakers are currently taking a beating, unless they are specifically tied to a particular industry. Software user group meetings have just recently started to see an attendance drop-off. On the bright side, healthcare groups seem to remain solid in attendance numbers.

ER: What changes have you seen recently in professional speaker fees with the groups you manage?

MD: Huge changes. From 2006-2008, budgets for keynote speakers ranged from $10,000 to $35,000 and now for 2009-2010, the budgets are basically being cut in half. We are trying to ease the pain for speakers a bit by trying to add additional value to the contracts by offering expo booths, book sales and signings, and article placement in our magazines.

ER: What about speakers that are presenting break out and concurrent sessions?

MD: The same pattern follows, from 2006-2008, we’d generally pay $5,000 to $15,000 for those sessions. For the 2009-2010, are budgets are half. All of the SmithBucklin account executives have been instructed to ask speakers to work within our budgets. Some speakers agree and some do not.

ER: Tell me about the type of professional speakers you are currently hiring.

MD: As I stated earlier, unless a motivational speaker has very specific content or positioned him or herself in an industry, they are not getting hired. Also less of the entertainment type speakers are being considered because the volunteer leadership and attendees are thinking about survival in this economy. Meeting attendees want specific answers to their problems and challenges. In 2009 & 2010, it is content, content, content!

ER: How can a professional speaker start to build a speaker relationship with SmithBucklin?

MD: There are four avenues to building relationships with us: first, connect with our “CTS” Convention Tradeshow Services who in some cases are responsible for speaker coordination. Second, is our “EPS” Education Program Services staff who handles a large volume of our speaker contracts.  And third is to connect directly with the account executive, the executive director, of our smaller client associations. The fourth is to visit us. While knocking on doors might be time consuming, the benefits are amazing. We receive so much direct mail and cold calling, you need to differentiate yourself from the masses.

ER: Moe, what are your thoughts about working with speakers directly verses through bureaus?

MD: I’m not booking many speakers through bureaus these days. I’d prefer to work directly with a speaker, eliminating that third party filter. The third party filter tends to slow things down a bit and we want our speakers to have direct contact with the leadership so that they understand who they are delivering their message to.

ER: How important is a professional speaker’s web site today?

MD: I’ll generally take a look at their site, and perhaps the video clips, testimonials, etc but their web site is only part of the criteria for selection and definitely not the final determination.

ER: When you have narrowed your speaker selection down to the final two or three, what’s the determining factor?

MD: In the past there was more of an even weighing of content and price. However, today the weight leans more toward price. The speaker that offers more value added gets pushed up in consideration.

ER: Since value added is important, are you asking speakers to do more at your events?

MD: Yes we are. With an across the board 50% budget cut, if a speaker can fill more slots in the program (keynote and breakout) that is very helpful. That reduces our total travel, AV, and lodging costs as well.

ER: What makes a professional desirable to you?

MD: Here’s my partial List:

  • Rich content
  • Easy to work with
  • Accountability in getting materials to us on time
  • Learning about the industry
  • Stays a while after the talk rather than running for the door
  • Minimal travel cost
  • Minimal AV requests
  • Multi-day presentations at my meetings; having the ability to do more than an hour and the skills to be interactive enough to hold an audiences attention for several hours

ER: Moe, thank you so much for sharing your thoughts with the members of the National Speakers Association.

More Customers

A conversation with Jane Esparza

More CustomersA conversation about hiring professional speakers with Jane Esparza, Owner of Esparza Speakers, LLC. of Arlington, VA. Interviewed by Ed Rigsbee, CSP, CAE.

ER: Jane, when I first met you in 2003, you were the Director of Education for the Health Industry Distributors Association (HIDA) and now you own a speakers bureau; please tell me about your journey.

JE: I started my career of coordinating and booking professional speakers in 1982 as the Executive Director for the Forth Worth Chapter of Certified Public Accountants then moved to the state office, Texas Society of CPAs. After a stint with a national employment training organization, I spent eight years with FSLIC and FDIC, where I managed internal meetings but didn’t need to hire speakers.  After that I spent ten years with HIDA, where we met when I booked you for one of my conferences. I left HIDA in 2006 to be a partner at Cornerstone Speakers and then started my own speakers bureau, Esparza Speakers, LLC, in the fall of 2008.

ER: With the economy in bad shape, it sounds like an odd time to start a bureau?

JE: To the contrary, this is a wonderful time to offer a different approach; high value (cost ratio) Professional speakers are in demand and that is my specialty.

ER: How long do you think the current meetings slowdown will last?

JE: The quick answer is two to four years. As long as companies are streamlining there will be tight budgets. Organizations can either reduce the number of their meetings or look for speaker bargains; lower cost and higher value. There are currently some wonderful opportunities for NSA members because of tight budgets.

ER: For over 25 years you have booked speakers; how has that helped you in your new effort to sell speakers?

JE: My insight to the challenges and issues of those that book professional speakers is strong from my quarter-century of doing their job. I understand what goes into their decision making process. I understand their life and that gives me credibility—allowing me to connect with these folks quickly. I approach my discussions with them as colleague, rather than a sales person, and I hope our shared experiences gives me more credence.   

ER: From your experience, what is the biggest mistake that professional speakers tend to make when trying to sell their own services?

JE: They contact the economic buyer and expect to turn it into an immediate sale. In the association world speakers are generally hired before the conference marketing materials are published creating a long lead time prior to the meeting. Many speakers do not realize the actual planning cycle.

ER: What’s the biggest mistake that professional speakers generally make after they have been hired?

JE: We all want confident speakers who know how to present to audiences, but some speakers tend not to trust the input of planners. I cannot tell you how many times I had to argue with a speaker about the customization needs for my groups—and how many that did not customize for my groups at all.

ER: I’ve had my share of receiving the wrong audience information from planners. How can a professional speaker tell if the planner knows their stuff?

JE: Communication, communication, and communication. After the initial ice has been broken in the planner/speaker relationship, have several conversations with them and others in their organization. Ask how long they have been with the organization. That can be an indicator; if 5-7 years or more, chances are strong that they know their group and can communicate their group’s needs. Additionally repeat what you hear. For example state, “You said that you wanted (this and such) do you mean (this and such) or (such and that)?” This exercise will always be helpful.

ER: In your opinion, how has the Internet changed the process of hiring Professional speakers?

JE: The Internet has made the process so much faster. No longer does the meeting planner have to wait for the speaker or the bureau to mail a video or DVD, or any other marketing collateral for that matter. Since most speakers have their video footage online; one can review their work instantly, even when while on the road. Video and PDF formatted brochure URLs can be emailed to committee members for their immediate review. Reading about a speaker is good and instantly experiencing them at work is far better.

ER: While on the subject of online professional speaker videos, what gives any speaker the best opportunity to be selected?

JE: First, I would never watch a video unless their topic was correct for my meeting. Then in the video:

  1. How well does the speaker connect with their audience? Will they grab me with an idea, humor, or a story? I can tell if the audience is clicking.
  2. Is it a canned speech delivered beautifully or is the speaker live in the moment with their audience? I generally prefer a speaker that is in the moment. I feel like I can trust them. If they are “live” they can better adjust if there is a problem than can one that has a canned speech.
  3. Shorter clips (5-8 minutes) tend to be best especially when I have to review quite a number of speakers. I just do not have the time to watch much more. However after I’ve narrowed it down to just a couple speakers, the longer video was usually important to my boss, just so they could be sure of the speaker.
  4. Higher quality videos tell me a speaker has been around long enough to spend the time and money on a professional production. Low quality might indicate they are newer to the circuit or their venues have been smaller.  While I usually would not book a “newbie” for a high profile keynote, I would seriously consider them for breakouts. The quality of the program recorded is more important than the quality of the recording.

ER: When you get down to just a couple speakers being considered, and with most elements being somewhat equal; how do you decide which speaker?

JE: I’m not too sure if you are going to like my answer; it is the empirical knowledge gained from so many years that gives me a “sixth sense” about which speaker will be best. (Not just speaker knowledge, but an insider’s perspective about what is going on at that moment with my organization and the audience.)

ER: What can a professional speaker, or their staff, do to help a planner get that speaker approved by a convention committee?

JE: Add value, look at financial considerations, and offer other benefits or goodies for the attendees.

  1. Offer your book at a greatly discounted rate when the sponsoring organization buys for all attendees
  2. Offer the same with your DVD or CD products
  3. Offer to post on your speaker web site a special page for the meeting attendees to answer survey questions or pose questions to the speaker for program consideration—it helps guarantee a ‘spot-on’ presentation, and meeting planners love a sure thing!

ER: How important are hard DVDs and printed speaker materials?

JE: Not as important as in the past. So much either gets lost in files or thrown out. Most planners are happy to print speaker PDF formatted brochures from the Internet and distribute to conference committee members.

ER: What did speakers do that would drive you crazy?

JE: Absolutely not pay attention to what it means to customize or would show up 15 minutes before they were to go on and want to change the whole room—I don’t think so! Some speakers would deliver a great program but be so difficult to work with that I’d go to my room at the end of the day so exhausted that there wasn’t anything left for the next day.

ER: What did speakers do that would cause you to not want to hire them again?

JE: What I mentioned above; and speakers that were top of the top in selling but after they made the sale, they forgot what was important—wow the audience. Don’t just focus on the sale, deliver what you promise.

ER: What did speakers do that would cause you to want to hire them again?

JE: They would satisfy my audience, stay flexible, and not make my life difficult. From the planner’s perspective, make me a hero for hiring you. Be a team player. I’d always want to bring back speakers that were a delight.

ER: Jane, can you put on your bureau hat for a moment and tell me the fee levels at which you are currently seeing the most action?

JE: For corporations, with layoffs and such, this is a risky time to spend money and make the wrong impressions (think AIG). For associations, many do not want to give up the number of meetings and are trying to keep registration costs affordable; they are looking hard for better value. There are more opportunities for a speaker with a fee in the neighborhood of $7,500, than for their colleagues at $25,000. I know there are lower to mid-priced speakers that can perform at a level far beyond that which they’ve been given credit. In the end, the planner must stay within their meeting budget. Now is the time for the $5,000 to $15,000 professional speakers to shine and grab the market.

ER: From your perspective as a bureau owner, in this difficult economic time, should professional speakers be lowering their fees?

JE: No, it is not necessary. What is necessary is for speakers to offer additional value that will help planners to stretch their meeting dollars. Consider the following:

  1. Offer flat-rate travel fee
  2. Offer two presentations at one event, for the price of one or perhaps just a few dollars more
  3. Offer multi-event or multi-year deals
  4. Offer a complementary webinar; pre, or post convention
  5. Having flexibility is better than trying to undercut other speakers
  6. No surprises; first class airline tickets or extravagant expenses should be avoided—or a the very least discussed openly in advance

ER: Jane, thanks so much for your time and insight.

Anthony Trombetta

A conversation with Anthony Trombetta

Anthony TrombettaA conversation about hiring professional speakers with Anthony Trombetta, Director of Sales, ISSA, The Worldwide Cleaning Industry Association.

Interviewed by Ed Rigsbee, CSP, CAE.


ER: For how long have you been hiring professional speakers for the International Sanitary Supply Association (ISSA)?

AT: About 9 years ago I took over as ISSA’s Director of Education and that is when I started. Two years ago I was promoted to Director of Sales and the education department remained under my umbrella. Currently, my Director of Education and I work together on speaker selection.

ER: I understand that ISSA hires only one keynoter for your annual educational meeting?

AT: Yes, we generally want a household name for our keynoter. We select celebrities and political figures. We want our attendees to have a memorable experience. We also hope that by having a highly recognizable keynoter, they will help draw attendance to our meeting. Recent keynoters have included Jim Collins and Rudy Giuliani.

ER: May I ask the fee range for your keynoters?

AT: Sure, the fees for our keynoter start around $50,000 and climb to $100,000.

ER: For you’re your general sessions, how many do you offer and please share with me the fee range?

AT: Every year we put on about 20 to 25 general session programs, using 15 to 20 speakers. The fees for professional speakers range from $2,500 to $7,000. For a non-professional speaker we offer a stipend of about $500. Most speakers only present one session but about 20% present twice at our meeting.

ER: How do you go about selecting your general session speakers?

AT: I belong to a number of industry groups including NAW & AEA. At these meetings the topic of speakers is always on the agenda. I get recommendations from other association Executive Directors, I am fortunate to see a number of speakers present live, and we work with speaker bureaus. When none of these avenues yield the right speaker for a topic, we go to the Internet and search.

ER: How do you like working with bureaus?

AT: When they provide really good service, I enjoy working with bureaus. We ask a little bit more of our speakers than do many other organizations. We request three articles and a video session of about half an hour outside the meeting room. The bureau folks that help us facilitate that really do offer good service.

ER: Tell me about your own professional speaker searches.

AT: We will use the typical search engines, visit bureau sites and the like. When we visit a speaker’s web site; first we want video immediately available, second we are looking for content such as program titles and descriptions, and third we look for recommendations from past clients. I’ll overlook a less pretty and easily navigation able web site if I see in the speaker’s video that they are good and engage their audience.

ER: What kinds of general session presentations wow your attendees?

AT: Since ISSA moved from being only a distributor, to an industry organization, our meeting stakeholders are much more diverse. Attending are distributors, manufacturers, contractors, agents/reps, and end users. Therefore, we offer a mix of motivational, inspirational, interactive, and high-content general sessions.

ER: If a professional speaker or one of their staff wanted to initiate building a relationship with ISSA, how would they start?

AT: The first step would be to email a short note with a link to their video. I look at the video, and if I believe there might be a fit, I’ll bookmark archive the link and go back to it in December when we start our speaker selection process.

ER: Anthony, what is it that professional speakers do that simply drive you crazy?

AT: At the pre-hire stage, sometimes speakers will spend 30-40 minutes going over the content of their program. In my mind they are already hired and I just need the two-minute overview. Then at the meeting; I’d like things to go seamlessly. When speakers do not respect our process and system and want things like their room to be moved closer to the expo, want extra chairs brought in when the room is already over-capacity, or handouts distributed a certain way, it makes my life and the lives of my staff difficult.

ER: Why do you use professional speakers?

AT: For the quality of their programs; you get what you pay for.

ER: What topics do you see emerging where there is a need for more speakers?

AT: We are in an environmental age and there are very few recognizable names beyond Al Gore specializing in this area; sustainability and green topics will be more in demand in the future.

ER: What changes have you notice in the profession of speaking over the last decade?

AT: More professional speakers are willing to truly customize their programs for my meeting. Jim Pancero is an excellent example. I can have a two-minute talk with Jim about what kind of a program I need and he gets it. I have no worries; he will show up with just what I want.

ER: Does the Certified Speaking Professional accreditation have any meaning for you?

AT: Yes it does, especially when searching and finding a speaker that I do not know. If their video proves that they are good and they have the CSP logo on their Website, it puts them higher in my level of consideration.

ER: Anthony, thanks so much for your time and insight

Larissa Schultz

A conversation with Larissa Schultz

Larissa SchultzA conversation about hiring professional speakers with Larissa Schultz, CMP, LJS Meeting Strategies, LLC . Interviewed by Ed Rigsbee, CSP, CAE.

Larissa J. Schultz, CMP has been in the meeting management business for over 13 years and currently reside in the Los Angeles area. Throughout her career she has been fortunate to work as a full-time meeting planner for the California Association of REALTORS®; International Council of Shopping Centers; and ING Advisors Network. In 2008, she founded and started LJS Meeting Strategies, LLC, to focus on bringing strategic meeting planning management to her clients. With her professionalism and high level of service she is able to serve her clients both domestically and internationally.

ER: In your past life at ING, what were the percentages of speaker types that you hired between celebrity speakers, professional motivational keynoters, and professional content experts?

LS:  Most of the meetings and conference I have helped plan have been educational-content focused. Therefore, professional content experts were generally hired to assist with meeting the goals of the conference and meeting. Knowing, however, that motivational speakers bring a balanced approach to both personal and professional lives—which help the two, work together; professional motivational speakers were hired when there were multiple general sessions over a few days for meetings.

ER: Looking toward the next 12-18 months, what trends to you see for the hiring of professional speakers?

LS: Over the next 12-18 months I see the need for more professional content experts to be hired.  As meetings have recently come into the media focus, somewhat negatively, corporations and associations are looking to prove the business ROI that meetings provide. I think that many of these organizations will feel the way to do that is show how there is direct correlation with the content required and the individual providing the content. This could prove to be short-sighted, but the current perception of meetings is the current reality.

ER: Why are live meetings important to the American economy?

LS: Meetings bring people together for common goals and common purposes. On a pure basic level, meetings occur each and every day. When more two or more people ‘meet’ to discuss their common purpose, goals or to come to an agreement; a meeting has occurred. From that level; meetings are important in order for all of us to achieve something better than what we have.

From an economic standpoint—live meetings stimulate the economy. The amount of industry’s that live meetings touch and economically influence is extraordinary—this is why the hospitality and tourism industry is a major factor in the national economy, as well as the global economy.

ER: How much lead time do you plan prior to searching for a speaker?

LS: I would say we generally book 9-12 months out. However it generally has to do with the planning of the meetings and currently in today’s economic climate meetings we are seeing a shorter lead time, similar to 3-6 months out.
ER: What role does the Web play in your search for speakers?

LS: The web is an integral part of speaker research. I find the web is a great way to learn more about a speaker I may be interested in as well as being able to utilize it to find a speaker about a specific topic. I tend to use multiple speaker sites as well as individualized speaker sites in order to gauge a balance of biased information.
ER: What’s the best way past the clutter and into the final four?

LS: In today’s world it can sometimes seem that a speaker is a dime a dozen. The best way to move past all the clutter is the ability and opportunity to see the speaker in person at another conference or meeting. However, due to scheduling and timing in today’s world that is a very difficult task. Therefore the next best option is an unedited video of the speaker. The unedited part of that statement is crucial as editing can lead to an unfair overall assessment of the speaker. When a speaker is hired you are looking for the overall; not just the “high points.”
ER: Which is more important in their decision making; website content and video, or direct personal contact with the prospective speaker candidate?

LS: In the decision making process you can’t just go with one or the other—you need to take both the website content/video and the personal interaction with the speaker into play. Any planner who hires a speaker without both has not thoroughly done their job.

ER: What are the top 3 considerations that sway you to hire one speaker over another?


  1. The content matches the need of the conference.
  2. The speaker can actually bring the ROI to the group – it makes sense to hire them.
  3. The speaker is the industry expert on the specific topic.

ER: Given the fast changing audiences we speak to, how do you rate the following in order of importance (given that the speaker is rated excellent to work with). Original Content; New Ideas: Audience Involvement/Interaction; Audience entertainment; Presentation skills; Contrarianism; Humor; Political correctness; Fee.
LS: It is hard to list the importance as with each group and conference the important needs can change dependant on why the speaker is hired. Sometimes it is for pure motivational purposes only.  Sometimes it is for the “star power” of the event. Other times it can be for and educational need where the keynote speaker is the only educational component of the event. Therefore, to try to list the importance of each would be impossible without knowing the objectives of the conference or meeting.

ER: Is there a fee now below which you don’t look at speakers, feeling “they must not be that good if that is their fee?”

LS: No—there are many speakers out there who are competent in their message but just new to the scene and therefore, are offering a reduced fee to help build business. Then there are many speakers who have large price tags but don’t deliver the message.

ER: What really makes you angry with a speaker you hire?

LS: Someone who promotes themselves differently than what they actually deliver.

ER: What are your thoughts about working directly with speakers verses through a bureau?

LS: Working with a speaker you get a genuine feel for their personality and work ethic. Also the message you are communicating about the conference, meeting and attendees is potentially better delivered than running through the “telephone game”. It is not always guaranteed that a bureau or agent is going to expressly explain to the speaker the importance of what the meeting is about and what to highlight or not. 

ER: It seems that today every professional speaker authors an electronic newsletter. What are you’re your thoughts about receiving them—joy or pain?

LS: I find electronic newsletters a pain due to the amount of them I receive on a daily, even hourly basis. I generally work on referrals.

ER: What is more important; hiring a speaker who will deliver great take away value or one who speaks on the selected subject and is available at the budgeted price?

LS: Take away value. This is the reason the speaker was hired.

ER: What’s your quick thought on speaker bureaus?

LS: At this point in my career, a speaker’s bureau is somewhat like Orbitz to me—it can provide me a great search engine, but in the end I tend to like to work directly with the individual. However, during a very busy season of planning meetings I have also found a speakers bureau to be a huge asset—but this is only when I have a contact with the bureau who specifically understands the group’s needs that I am working with. Speaker bureaus can be a great asset to a meeting planner if the relationship is set up correctly in the beginning.
ER: How do you search for speakers on the Internet?

LS: Through bureaus if I am looking for subject— through another search engine or the speaker’s main site if I am looking for a particular speaker.

ER: What do you look for on a speaker’s website?

LS: Video examples of live interactions with an audience—preferably unedited. I like to see the delivery of the speaker and how it is received by the audience.

ER: How much credence do you give to the speaker’s promo or speaking reel?
LS: It depends on if it has been edited or not.

ER: What aspects of a website turn you off?

LS: No videos. No examples. And most importantly—no clear, definitive subject matter. I search for speakers that are knowledgeable on one or two main topics. A speaker than can speak on anything and everything is not of interest.

ER: Do you look at the blogs of speakers?

LS: No, but mainly it is due to the fact that I am not a “blogger” by day.
ER: What proves to you the value of hiring a professional speaker?
LS: Proven experience on the topic and successful outcome of that topic. Any one can talk on anything for any amount of time. However those individuals that are talking about something they personally experienced and sharing what they learned from that experience…those are more valuable.
ER: What is the number one qualifying factor that you look for in hiring a professional speaker; hiring a speaker someone can vouch for, 3rd party testimonials, speaking promo or reel, most popular/in demand, or word of mouth?

LS: Word of mouth is huge. Getting a referral from someone that I respect as being credible is better than any press release or unknown testimonial.
ER: Are you generally open to new speakers contacting you about upcoming/pending events?

LS: No. I get more than enough emails and phone calls on speakers.

ER: What do professional speakers do that drive you crazy?

LS: Call too often and not take the time to learn about the type of meetings and conferences I do.  Not every speaker is good for every event. Figure out where you or your speaker works best and focus on those industries or those types of events

ER: What do professional speakers do that make you not want to work with them again?

LS: Not take the time to understand and meet the audience needs.

ER: What do professional speakers do that make you WANT to hire them again?

LS: Take the time to meet and understand the audience needs. Being professional and really bringing it to the table.

ER: Some other surveys are pointing out a dichotomy for planners between executives who want a celebrity name on a program, and participant feedback saying they want practical substance instead. The planner can be trapped on being evaluated in part on participant feedback on one hand, and being pressured to create a piece of program they know participants will pan. Are you seeing this?

LS: No—at this point the “celebrity name” isn’t working in this type of economy. Spending $40,000 on a retired athlete just doesn’t cut it on how that can impact the education of the attendees.

ER: For an association planner, how do the dynamics of a selection committee play into the final decision? Does it make a difference if one or more of the people on the committee have heard a speaker?

LS: Definitely input from committee members is important if they have seen a speaker. Again, receiving credible referrals from known entities is better than working on unknown testimonials.  In my experience generally selection committees, if they don’t have their own recommendations, look to the planner to provide speaker ideas.

ER: For the corporate meeting planner, how has the planner role changed with regards to speaker selection? As a planner, are you more involved or less involved in influencing the decision?

LS: It can be the same as associations in a lot of sense. You can be just involved in recommending speakers if none are recommended.

ER: Are there any words, phrases, or descriptions that groups feel really uncomfortable about?

LS: Depends on the group—you cannot provide a blanket statement/response to this one. It is important for the speaker to take the time to get to know the audience before interacting with them.
ER: What criteria do you use when looking at a stack of media kits and DVDs from speakers?

LS: If the planner works with the group on a regular basis for a long amount of time—they generally have a gut instinct on whether it will work or not.  And for each meeting, with the same audience, some speakers may work for one but not another….

ER: What is the unwritten rule on speaking fees? Do you consider it appropriate for speakers to have different fees for different client groups?

LS: No—if the message is the same, the fee should be the same.

ER: Larissa, thanks so much for your time and insight.

Randie Pellegrini

A conversation with Randie Pellegrini

Randie PellegriniA conversation about hiring professional speakers with Randie Pellegrini, 

L.A.’s Planner to the Stars, Independent Meeting Organizer. 

Interviewed by Ed Rigsbee, CSP, CAE.

ER: You organize meetings for social scenarios and entertainment companies, when and how did you start?

RP: In 1993, I returned in California after being in New York for 14 years—I landed a high profile event and INSTYLE Magazine became quite a support as well as many other magazines. I proved myself in the entertainment field—I had a style that was very different, which set a new standard. And in return I was very lucky and became very much in demand. Talk about pressure!

ER: You mentioned that you head the whole event inclusive of design, sponsors, PR, security and all the basics: catering, entertainment, transportation etc….you do high profile events—top execs, entertainment headliners, networks mostly. Would it be appropriate to ask you to name drop? Who are some of the famous people and entertainment companies for whom you’ve organized meetings?

RP: BMG Entertainment, Sony Entertainment, Fine Living Network, Creative Artist Agency, Paramount Studios, Donna Karan, Sharon Osbourne, Real Simple Magazine, Humane Society of the United States.

ER: As it relates to professional speakers, what percentage of meeting budgets go for speakers and how are speakers used differently in your meetings as opposed to the more traditional corporate or association meetings?

RP: Budgets vary—it really depends on what other entertainment is involved in the event and then we keep all the components within the set budget. I tend to go for setting a platform so it doesn’t always look like a speaker…so using recorded voices in character or using impersonators asking the questions and the speaker discussing or a huge intro of audio or video and tons of lighting, special effects…or working backwards…saying the result…then someone else saying why we need it.  Just thinking out of the box is what I go for.  Want the speaker to shine and the message to be clear…so I work with the design team and speaker to create something that has never been done before. It’s a win win that way!

ER: Since time is of the essence for you when you need to book a professional speaker, do you prefer to work with speakers bureaus or go directly to the speaker yourself?

RP: No preference as long as they work in a timely matter.  It’s really about finding what the client wants—so I go to whatever source that may be to deliver.

ER: To serve your kind of meeting planning, how could speakers better make themselves available to you in a timely manner?

RP: Bottom line: “work with me”…be kind, flexible, return calls immediately and top of the list—“Be a team player.” Turn offs:Bad Attitude, not result driven, bad follow up, not a polished appearance, talking bad about people, being tired, being late and not being totally prepared.

The greatest gift that would be so helpful in working with my kind of events…is to be comfortable with all last minute changes. Be secure enough that you can handle any curve I would need to throw at you with absolute no fear. The entertainment companies change concepts and messages at the last minute 80% of the time…and when that happens; all concept of the platform have to conform to that.

So; inside tip…take improv classes!  They teach you to never deny anything—to assume all scenarios and go with the flow so to speak.  It’s a great way to start to trust change.

ER: Tell me about the challenges you have in putting on meetings for the entertainment industry? How does ego and last minute “change in meeting direction” play into what you do?

RP: Challenges consist of having very very small windows to pull off very high profile events inclusive of press…on paper—impossible. 

Other challenges: dealing with pyramids of people to get every answer only having between 24 hours and 2 weeks to pull off 500+ people events. Dealing with press to keep things confidential and keeping the waters calm with all the venders’ needs and personalities.  And at the same time to be sensitive that they are working with no sleep to very little.  Also knowing that after we get the answers and everything is in place that you’ll probably get at least half a dozen changes to re expedite.

I take a deep breath and know this is the norm.  I keep a very optimistic approach and then speak the truth and treat everyone I work with as a team player to complete all the tasks. I work with amazing people who get it….we work as a focused exciting group to make the client and message totally shine.

ER: In selecting professional speakers, what percentage would you guess is client requested verses planner determined? And has this percentage changed over the years?

RP: 20% client requested. No change over the years.

ER: What do you do when a client requested speaker is not available?

RP: It depends; most of the time I’m able to make it work—if not: I present a few options with a different angle or possibly pre- record and show at event.

ER: For the times when you determine the best professional speaker for a meeting, please tell me about your selection process.

RP: I just present pictures and clips for them to review or just give them my opinion on each speaker I present.  Or most of the time…they just trust me to place.

ER: For you, when you are searching for a professional speaker, what turns you off, and what turns you on, about a speaker’s Web Site?

RP: I look at the momentum, there body language, their appearance, how they hold the crowd, their humor, their heart, their soul…..something that makes them different! As well as their reference list, the vibe of their web site…I want to feel like I took something home that I don’t know about the topic. The entertainment co’s are the pioneers that set new standards.  Nothing can be the same old same old…it’s got to be fresh!

ER: You are on TV, radio, and you speak. You writing columns and have a blog. You do much of the same activities as full-time professional speakers. In your opinion, where do professional speakers go wrong in gaining publicity for themselves?

RP: I do all those platforms to gain credibility in my field. All publicity in some way or another seems to pay off…you may not realize it at the beginning but usually down the road; you’ll get a client that says—I saved the article you wrote knowing when my company plans a party and has the budget to hire an event planner—I was going to call you.

Everything you do in life is publicity…always be kind, ethical, helpful and it all comes back over and over again giving you great opportunities.

ER: What would be your advice for professional speakers attempting to gain access to the markets you serve?

RP: It’s tricky, such a tight circle. Personally, it makes my life easier to get quick newsletters or eZines so your name is always in front of my face and at holidays send me a card so I don’t forget you. 

In general—through people you know—have them make an introduction for you and then follow up with email with a link of you speaking…and then maybe have lunch with the mutual friend so you create a comfort level with the client…and then you have a base.  Then continue with newsletters etc….so your name is always in front of them.

In closing….I work in a very unpredictable circle of great, brilliant, demanding clients….it’s so important to always be calm, focused, overly prepared anticipating every possible challenge knowing what to do just in case and pull out all the creativity you can imagine to set new motivating trends for the entire world.

There are no rules except to be ethical, timely, kind, respectful, and make the client so darn proud. I feel that the great speakers speak in ways that allows your soul to sing!

ER: Randie, thanks so much for your time and insight.

Unfortunately Randie passed away on September 5, 2010.

Bruce Quinn

A conversation with Bruce Quinn

Bruce QuinnA conversation about hiring professional speakers with Bruce Quinn, Operations Manager at Serve Pro Industries. Interviewed by Ed Rigsbee, CSP, CAE.


In June, I met Bruce Quinn, Operations Manager for Serve Pro Industries at the Successful Meetings University in Vail, Colorado . Serve Pro is one of the giants in the restoration and disaster clean up industries. Serve Pro has 1,500 franchisees in the United States . I took advantage of our guy bonding time with some excellent cigars, having Bruce captive, he answered a number of questions about two large, 12 mid-sized, and several smaller meetings that they’re responsible for on a yearly basis.

ER: Bruce, how long have you been hiring speakers for SPI, and what did you do before that?

BQ: I’ve been planning events and hiring speakers since 2000. Before that I had an exciting and storied life in Naval Aviation including time working with government contracts around the world. Fly NAVY!

ER: Who have you hired to speak at your events that has been memorable?

BQ: Nido Qubein, Larry Winget, Mark Victor Hansen, and Mike Rayburn.

ER: Is there a fee now below which you don’t look at speakers, feeling that they must not be that good if that is their fee?

BQ: Not really; we’re more focused on presentation style and content.

ER: What are the top 3 considerations that sway you to hire one speaker over another?


  1. Dynamic personality that projects a presence on stage.
  2. Gets buy in from the group to the point that the attendees stay on the edge of their seats.
  3. They are authentic and engaging. Fee is always a consideration.

ER: What do speakers do that drive you crazy and/or make you not want to work with them again?

BQ: How about the speaker that referenced our company’s name, incorrectly, a number of times? We probably won’t have them back again. Or the speaker that presented some ideas, that happened to be diametrically opposed to the direction we had been moving corporately. We probably won’t bring them back either. Call it a hunch. Perhaps they should have read some of our company literature before they arrived to give the speech?  

ER: What do speakers do that make you WANT to hire them again?

BQ: Engage us! When we have 2,000 attendees sitting in silence, wanting and waiting to hear the next words the speaker has to offer—Wow!

ER: How do you rate the following in order of importance (given that the speaker is already rated excellent): Original Content; New Ideas; Audience Involvement/Interaction; Audience entertainment; Presentation skills; Contrarianism; Humor; Political correctness; Fee.

BQ: First presentation, then audience entertainment, audience involvement, and new ideas. The rest are not quite as important to us.

ER: How much lead time do you plan prior to searching for a speaker?

BQ: Generally 9 months, plus.

ER: How do you determine who you want to take a closer look at? What’s the best way for a speaker to get past the clutter and into the final four?

BQ: Make sure your Website is up to date and has excellent quality video—and in front of a crowd, not just in the studio. We generally search out and review speakers online before we contact them. You might never know that we looked at you. We frequently contact the people that offer testimonials for speakers, to determine just how good they really are.

ER: Tell me more about your online research.

BQ: For us the Web plays a huge role in speaker selection. We do keyword searched for our meeting topics, review speaker bureau web sites, and generally do most of the leg work online. Sometimes we find an excellent speaker that is not exactly in our search and then change the focus of the meeting so we can use that particular speaker. 
ER: At what point do you want to actually talk with the speaker?

BQ: Only after we have seen a sample of their work—that’s the first cut before a live interview. Generally, if a speaker does not have great online video, they generally will not get through the first cut. We rarely have time to wait for a requested video. I want what I want, when I want it. Online video achieves this for me.

ER: How often to you engage a speaker bureau to help you find the right speaker?

BQ: Almost never.

ER: Do you like to get newsletters from speakers or is it a pain?

BQ: We have great spam filters so the speaker eZines are really not a problem. However, many of our employees do SIGN UP for eZines, regularly read and enjoy them—sometimes an employee will forward one to me for consideration and I’ll then look further.

ER: What proves to you the value of hiring a professional speaker?

BQ: We’ve used professional speakers, internal speakers, and a few minor celebrities (can’t remember their names). The greatest value a professional speaker delivers to SPI is a different perspective. The pro speaker might say something similar to what the executive management team has been saying for months, however the pro speaker wraps the message differently or offers it through a new window—and our people listen. Our attendee buy in comes from a pro speaker offering new, fresh, and different.

ER: What criteria do you use when looking at a stack of media kits and DVDs from various speakers? Is it different for each event? Do you follow your gut? Or do you have a minimal list of elements/characteristics that you are looking for?

BQ: Again, we mostly use the web. Then if we’re interested and a speaker makes it through the first cut, we’ll take a cursory look at their collateral marketing material but that is not huge for us—the online video is.

ER: How important are third party testimonials to you?

BQ: Third party testimonials are most valuable to us when they come from a trusted source.

ER: Bruce, the cigars are coming close to the end, is there a question that I should have asked you?

BQ: I bet you want to know, how we know that we selected the right speaker for the meeting? When a year has passed and our people are still quoting things the speaker said, listening to the speaker’s CDs, and reading the speaker’s books, we know we’ve selected the right speaker.

ER: Bruce, thank you so much for your time and insight.

Joseph Thompson

A conversation with Joseph Thompson

Joseph ThompsonA conversation about hiring professional speakers with Joseph Thompson, CEO at Thompson Management Associates, LLC, ( TMA ) Annapolis, MD. 

Interviewed by Ed Rigsbee, CSP, CAE.


ER: How many client organizations does TMA manage?

JT: We manage four different not-for-profit trade associations and two educational alliances sponsored by 44 wholesale trade associations.

ER: For how long have you been hiring professional speakers?

JT: I’ve been hiring speakers for about 20 years.

ER: Over the last five years, what has been the fee range of the speakers that you’ve hired for your various associations?

JT: I’ve used speakers at fees as low as $3,000 and up to $25,000. Fees are relative to the event and my client’s needs.

ER: Who have you recently hired at $25,000?

JT: One client has hired Jeffrey Gitomer on two occasions.

ER: How do you approach hiring a professional speaker?

JT: Once I’ve decided to consider a speaker, based upon referrals or personal observation, I try to weed through the issues I don’t want to put up with, such as canned or irrelevant topics or presentations or the degree to which a speaker will do what they say they will do. Then I consider the minimum performance that I’ll accept, and finally, what makes me happy as to the speaker’s attitude, style, and content.

ER: Would you expand on your last thought?

JT: What makes me happy with a speaker encompasses four basic areas:

  1. When my understanding of the content that the speaker offers matches with what I believe my client needs.
  2. A speaker that has the personality to keep the audience awake.
  3. Make my life easier, I don’t want to receive a 12-page pre-program questionnaire—I’ll never get to it.
  4. Beyond simply delivering content, I prefer speakers when they make the extra effort to connect with the audience. This is generally done through interviewing audience members and visiting their Web Sites prior to the talk. Then the speaker will better know what’s going on in the industry and be able to better speak to the needs and issues of my client’s members. Additionally, I appreciate a speaker putting in a bit more effort than just showing up, speaking, and hitting the road. Following up their presentation with additional outreach to the attendees is always appreciated, even if it’s just posting their handouts on their web site for audience access afterwards.

ER: How do you generally find the professional speakers that you hire?

JT: Mostly I contact the speaker direct based on a recommendation from a colleague or prior contact when they have called my office.  I do occasionally use speaker bureaus, mostly when a particular speaker prefers that method or if they have an exclusive arrangement with a bureau. Sometimes I see a speaker at an event where they are showcasing for a particular bureau. In that situation, I’ll book through the sponsoring bureau.

ER: What else do you do in the area of selecting speakers?

JT: I’m involved with the 20 year-old Association Education Alliance (AEA) where we, association executives, gather twice a year and one of the topics covered is speakers—participants offer their feedback on speakers they’ve recently hired. The AEA also maintains a speaker rating listing in the “members only” section of our web site. Additionally, I’m active with NAW, the National Association of Wholesale-Distributors, where they also have a similar speaker listing that includes ratings. In situations where I’m not familiar with a speaker, third party endorsements are very important.

ER: What is your lead time before an event for selecting a professional speaker?

JT: In most cases it is from six to twelve months before the event that I need to select and hire my speaker.

ER: What role does the Internet play in your speaker search and selection process?

JT: First, speakers need to have a Web Site that offers more than fluff. I tend to check out the bio section to determine if the speaker has the depth of knowledge to serve my group. I also pay close attention to the “clients” section, especially when the planner’s contact information is included—frequently, I will call the planner and talk to them about the speaker’s performance. Then the program descriptions must be descriptive enough to give me a good idea as to what the speaker will deliver. And last, I hate crummy video. Speakers should spend the money to have quality clips, five minutes is fine, on their Websites. I’d rather watch high quality studio video than low quality live video with awful sound and jumpy and grainy frames.

ER: Why do you hire professional speakers rather than to use industry speakers that come to you at little or no cost?

JT: First, because they are professionals. Industry speakers generally have excellent content that is specific to the needs of my audiences; however they are generally not skilled presenters. For some of the breakout sessions, industry speakers are the best choice. For other sessions, especially general sessions or keynotes, I want the commitment that a professional speaker brings to the platform—they add an emotional element rarely found in industry speakers.

ER: What do you expect of professional speakers?

JT: I expect them to be on time, delivering the right content and humor for my audience at that particular point in time. I want them to share their passion and knowledge in a way that moves my audience members. I expect a professional speaker to keep my audience interested and engaged for the duration of their talk. It’s all about a speaker connecting with his or her audience, that’s what makes me, and my members, happy.

ER: Tell me about your organizational process for selecting speakers.

JT: Unlike a number of trade associations that use the committee process, my clients (trade associations) trust that the association management staff, I and the associates, will select the right speaker for their meetings. We’ve been doing this successfully for quite a number of years. Each event is crafted differently and may require using recommendations, bureau catalogs, or an online search to find the correct speaker.

ER: In dealing with you, what could a speaker do to create an advantage for themselves over another speaker?

JT: Like all of my peers, my time is at a premium – do the translation for me. Spend time at the Websites of the associations that I manage, visit the Web Sites of some of the members and figure out for me how your presentation will make a difference in the lives of my meeting attendees—don’t expect me to figure it out from cryptic marketing materials. The speaker that helps me to cut through the clutter by addressing how they can truly meet my members’ needs has the upper hand in my book.

ER: What is the best way for a speaker to initiate contact with you?

JT: Let me know that you understand my client’s industry and issues and how you are able to deliver compelling business value through your presentation. By doing your research before you call me, you send a message loud and clear that you have something of value to share. Your Web Site is mostly to legitimize yourself to me and present yourself in a way that assures me that you can deliver on your promises. And finally, when listing you own clients on your web site; include a brief description of their industry or profession as well as the types of content that you presented.  

ER: Joe, Thank you so much for your time and insight