A 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?
- Dynamic personality that projects a presence on stage.
- Gets buy in from the group to the point that the attendees stay on the edge of their seats.
- 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.