Tag Archive for: how to become a professional speaker

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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

Macfadden Protech

A conversation about hiring professional speakers with Linda Keith

Macfadden ProtechA conversation about hiring professional speakers with Linda Keith, CMP, Vice President,
Meetings & Conferences, Macfadden Protech, producers of Pizza Expo® Tradeshows and Conferences and Pizza Today™ Magazine from Louisville, KY, Interviewed by Ed Rigsbee, CSP, CAE.

ER: For how many years have you been hiring speakers?

LK: About 38 years; first in the tobacco industry, then in healthcare and for quite a few years now—the pizza industry. We produce one to three shows a year and at our big event, the International Pizza Expo, we have about 6,000 attendees yearly.

ER: How many speakers do you hire each year for the International Pizza Expo?

LK: I hire about 30 speakers to fill about 50 seminars.

ER: Do you work with speaker bureaus?

LK: I used to but have not used a speaker bureau for about eight years.

ER: How do you feel about speakers selling from the platform?

LK: Keep it pure! We have a firm policy that seminars are to be educational, and not for selling. As a matter of fact, some of our exhibitors have requested to conduct educational seminars but if I allow one, then I’d have to allow them all. The same goes for content experts, share just your expertise. Otherwise rent a booth. I had a situation a few years ago where it was stated on three or four evaluations that the session was mostly about the speaker selling their product—I haven’t invited that speaker back.

ER: Does the Certified Speaking Professional (CSP) designation hold a meaning for you in selecting speakers?

LK: Yes, because I have earned my Certified Meeting Professional designation.

ER: How many CSPs did you hire for your last International Pizza Expo?

LK: CSP does not trump expertise; however two of the 30 speakers were CSPs.

ER: What role does the Internet play in your search for speakers? Do you do online research to find experts in a given field?

LK: Generally I rely on speakers submitting proposals rather than searching the Internet for specific content speakers. I do use the Internet to learn about speakers that have contacted me through mailed proposal, email introduction, and over the telephone.
ER: Many speakers author an electronic newsletter, do you actually like to receive these newsletters from speakers or are they a pain?

LK: I do enjoy receiving speaker newsletters and try to read as many of them as time permits.

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

LK: Things are important top me.

  1. Convince me that your seminar, workshop or keynote is relevant to the pizza industry.
  2. Assure me that you will customize and be relevant, especially for pizza restaurateurs.
  3. I have to fill quite a large number of educational slots, can I afford you? It would be helpful if speakers posted their fees on their Web Sites so I could more easily determine if I could afford them.

ER: What do you typically pay a professional speaker for a 90 minute session?

LK: Three to four thousand dollars per session. I try to have a speaker deliver more than one presentation at the International Pizza Expo and generally negotiate with them for a discount on additional sessions. Generally seven thousand for multiple presentations by a single speaker is more attractive and cost effective; fewer speakers mean fewer hotel rooms and airline tickets.

ER: In selecting speakers, what percentage of familiar speakers as compared to new speakers do you choose?

LK: Since the International Pizza Expo experiences approximately 40% first time attendees each year, I try to add one or two new professional speakers into the mix for each expo. A new speaker might be one that we’ve never used or possibly one that we had used several years past.
ER: Is there an honorarium fee level below which you don’t even consider speakers, believing they must not be any good if their fee is that low?

LK: No, I don’t consider any fee too low. As a matter of fact, I use a large number of pizza industry executives because of their expertise. I pay their expenses and provide them with a modest honorarium to reimburse them for their time.
ER: Which is more important to you in your decision making; Web Site content and streaming video or direct personal contact with the prospective speaker candidate?

LK: I prefer direct contact first because I feel that I can learn more about the speaker by talking with them verses watching a video of their work. If the speaker is of interest to me following our talk, I’ll then ask them to send me a DVD. I prefer receiving a DVD over watching their footage via the Internet because much of what I have viewed via the Internet is still a bit jumpy.
ER: Given the fast changing audiences to whom we speak; how do you rate the following in order of importance, considering first that the speaker is rated excellent as a partner to meeting producers (original content, new ideas, audience involvement and interaction, entertainment, presentation skills, contrarianism, humor, political correctness, and fee)?
LK: First I want the speaker to be specific to the pizza industry, and then:

  1. Audience involvement
  2. New ideas
  3. Presentation skills
  4. humor
  5. Fee

ER: Generally speaking, in your opinion what should paid professional speakers better understand about you?

LK: I do not want to be overwhelmed with a box of books, DVDs, and your other promotional materials because there simply is not enough time to go through everyone’s unsolicited materials. I simply want to know if you can deliver your material specifically customized to the needs of the pizza industry and if I can afford you. Let’s talk, but first please turn off your ego. I don’t need you to repeatedly tell me how good you are but would rather hear about what you’ve already done and who you have served.

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