by Shawn Ellis
Have you ever booked the perfect speaker? You know, the one who is easy to work with before the event… the one who graciously accepts all your phone calls asking about this detail or that one… the one who goes out of her way to understand your audience and how to tailor her presentation accordingly… the one who arrives well ahead of your event to save you the stress of wondering where he is.
Then on the platform, the perfect speaker is the one who captures your attendees’ attention from the first moment and holds them on the edge of their seats until the end… he either imparts wisdom that will impact their lives for years to come, or she generates laughter that still erupts spontaneously in the halls even weeks after the conference is over.
After the event, the perfect speaker will undoubtedly have a mass of people waiting to say “hello” or “thank you,” and she will joyfully greet every last person. Even after she leaves, she continues to impress you by sending an invoice that shows her necessary expenses were kept to a minimum.
Of course then you’re left wondering how you can possibly keep your next speaker from being a let-down, but your “perfect” speaker recommends one of his colleagues who would be an outstanding follow-up speaker next year.
The names and faces of a couple of your all-time favorite speakers are probably coming to mind right now. It’s that speaker who was a pleasure to work with from start to finish… that speaker who made you look like a hero to your attendees and to your boss… that speaker who allowed you to focus on the 101 other ingredients of a successful event because you knew he would be doing his part.
So, knowing that such a thing as the perfect speaker exists, how do you go about finding him or her for your next event? Is it purely a matter of chance that you make the magical selection or can you purposely find the “home run” speaker for your next event?
As long as humans are involved, there is hardly a 100% guarantee with anything. But this article is a compilation of six keys – or reminders, if you will – that, if heeded, will come very close to guaranteeing that you’ll close your next event saying, “Wow! That speaker was perfect!”
So let’s get to it…
- Reaching to the upper limits of your budget does not automatically bring a better speaker or entertainer to your event.Since the fees of most speakers and entertainers are set based on the law of supply and demand, it is a common and relatively safe assumption that the more you spend, the better the quality of your special guest. At the same time, I encourage you to look at your overall situation and be open to speakers who have fees less than your maximum budget.
If your budget is $5,000, for example, you’re probably not buying name recognition or technical expertise. You are more than likely looking for someone who can speak fluently and energetically, delivering a message relevant to your audience. If that is the case, you might find someone who is perfectly capable for just $2,000. Would the $3,000 saved be better spent somewhere else in your event? Maybe on one more appetizer for your dinner? Or even on an additional speaker or entertainer? If not, then it’s probably worth going for the $5,000 speaker, but consider your options.
On the other end of the spectrum, if you have $200,000 to spend on a speaker or entertainer, you are most likely looking for a solid marquee name. There are some good ones in that range, but there are also some good ones for $75,000. Again, perhaps saving a few dollars on the headliners would allow you to bring in an additional speaker for one of your dinners, or to bring in some extra background entertainment that would make your event more memorable. Also, know that some celebrities are $200,000 not because they are such good speakers, but simply because they don’t like to speak and, as a result, charge a higher fee just to compensate for their discomfort in doing the job. Those types probably will not be the most fun to work with and they may be less than heroic on stage. (Some of the tips that follow will help you determine who you do want to work with and who you don’t.)
- Have at least a 15-minute phone conversation with your #1 candidate before signing a contract. If at all possible, arrange a call with your top 2-3 candidates. “We have 10 people on our committee, and everyone has a demanding schedule, so there’s just no way we can find time to be together for one, let alone three or four, phone calls with speakers. We make our decisions based on videos.”
You may already be an advocate of having calls with your speaker candidates, or you may be one who would respond with the statements above, and that is certainly your prerogative. If you’ve had success without the phone conversations, then why change now? But if you’re looking for an “edge” in your quest for the perfect speaker, let me tell you why I am such a fan of the speaker-client phone time.
First of all, I’ll address the insufficiency of demo videos. Most of them are only about 10 minutes in length – for your benefit, because you don’t have time to look at a video of a one-hour presentation for every speaker candidate in your review meetings. In 10 minutes, though, speakers can do little more than show a variety of clips that are indicative of their stage presence and speaking style. One inherent hazard in a video of this nature is deception. Have you ever seen a movie preview that looks outstanding, only to go see the movie and realize that the preview clips were the best parts of the movie? Speakers can create the same effect with a short, well-produced video. NOTE: This is not necessarily intentional deception; it is often just a speaker’s honest attempt to represent him- or herself in the most positive light.
Also, when you’re watching these quick compilation videos, know that their greatest weakness is portraying presentation content. Since most speakers offer a variety of presentations, with each able to be customized to individual clients’ needs, their videos would be longer than The Lord of the Rings trilogy if they were to feature every available topic and every kind of event they are capable of speaking at. It is important to keep that in mind. Otherwise, you risk overlooking that potentially “perfect” speaker because you’re using a video to do something it was not intended to do. And by the way, even when you watch a video of a speaker’s full presentation, remember that presentation was probably customized to fit that specific audience.
All of that said, videos are effective tools in the evaluation process. But rather than use the video as your only tool, complement your video review with follow-up phone conversations with the speakers whose videos sparked your interest. The phone time will allow you to express your event objectives to the speaker, and the speaker can then respond by sharing what he or she can offer to help you meet those objectives. Then after the call, you and your team should know with some certainty that “yes, this is exactly what we need” or “no, that’s just not the right fit.” Either way, it will allow you to proceed through the remainder of the event planning process with peace and confidence. And by the way, most speakers are very willing to do these conference calls. It’s my favorite speaker evaluation tool.
- For each of the speakers you are considering seriously, request 2-4 letters of recommendation and call 1-2 meeting planners who have worked with the speaker in the past.“First you tell me to take time to call a speaker, and then you tell me to get testimonial letters and talk to some references? Geez!”
I know I may be recommending some extra work for you, but (a) I promise it will pay off in the end and (b) taking care of some of these things up front may actually save you some time on other advance preparations with your speaker in the end. Besides, this Special Report is about finding the perfect speaker!
It is relevant to insert here, though, that if you are working with a speakers bureau you trust, the bureau will clear several of these hurdles for you. When they recommend speakers to you, it is because they have a degree of familiarity with that speaker, so… they can tell you what to keep in mind as you’re watching John Smith’s video… they can put you in touch with past clients who have booked that speaker… and they can even share their own experience about working with that speaker on several events in the past. Because bureaus work with speakers on multiple occasions whereas meeting planners may only work with speakers on one or two occasions, they know which speakers have a track record of fitting with audiences like yours, and they know which speakers will go the extra mile to make you look good. When you develop a solid relationship with a speakers bureau, you should be able to say “this is my event, this is my budget, I need a motivational speaker and an entertainer… go!” And then your agent will come back to you with a short list of candidates of whom you could choose any and be assured of a successful event. That’s what we as bureaus are here to do: to make your job easier so you can focus on other pressing issues. But until you have that kind of relationship with a bureau, you’re naturally going to want to stay in control of the speaker selection process.
In that case, I highly recommend reviewing some meeting planner testimonials to hear from others who have been in your exact position. They will tell you if a speaker is friendly, if she does her research to understand your audience, if she is dynamic on stage, if her presentation created a lasting impact with their audience, and other key items that you will want to know. Testimonials, combined with the other evaluation tools recommended in this report, will put you well on your way to securing an awesome speaker for your event.
- Always keep your audience in mind when selecting a speaker. What do they want? Don’t just book your favorite speaker. This sounds obvious, but I’ve seen meeting planners make the mistake of choosing the speakers they liked instead of the speakers who would be best for their audience… and I’ve heard from disappointed audience members who have attended such events. Booking speakers and entertainers is difficult because much like we all have different tastes in music, and we all have our own preferences in who we want to watch or listen to. And short of allowing your attendees to vote on speaker candidates, there is no exact science in making the right choice.
I can’t definitively tell you who is right or wrong for your audience, but I can point out some areas to keep in mind. For one thing, studies have shown that people in different professions fall into different general personality types. If you are a professional meeting planner, a general rule of thumb says you may be a different kind of person than those at a meeting of sales professionals, or a meeting of engineers, or a meeting of physicians – again, we’re speaking in generalities. But keep in mind that speakers who at first glance get you excited may find no common ground with your audience. What tools do you have at your disposal to help you in this area? In your post-meeting survey, you should – if you don’t already – ask attendees what they liked and didn’t like about your last speakers and ask what they would like to see in the future. Also, when you’re narrowing down your speaker candidates, you can ask for a speaker’s past client list and see if he has spoken to audiences similar to yours. Then select some clients in your field to talk to about that speaker.
Let me highlight one other speaker selection maneuver that is sometimes bobbled. “Do I bring in an industry speaker or an outside speaker?” Industry speakers are popular because they’re free, for one thing. But often times they’re only free because they see your meeting as a chance to get in front of an audience of potential buyers of their expertise – their presentations become sales pitches instead of unbiased messages. Another reason I’ve heard for booking “expert” or industry speakers is that “our audience likes content.” Usually this is true. And in some cases the budget just doesn’t allow for a paid outside speaker. But, for association meetings in particular, have you noticed your attendance dropping off at your meetings? Or are you seeing people leave a four-day meeting on the second or third day? Look at your speaker line-up and see if this could be a contributor. While the majority of audience members do want content, and they are drawn to the opportunity to learn, they won’t learn anything if they are bored and tired. There must be a combination of energy and interactivity combined with content to create an effective learning environment. Many times outside speakers are better at this because they are professionals, whereas industry speakers may not really be speakers at all, but just “experts.” Another benefit to bringing in an outside speaker: while he or she may not be an expert in your field, he will research and tailor his comments to your audience, and your audience will also be enlightened by some outside perspectives that will bring a freshness and renewed energy to your business.
- Find a speaker who has a track record of going the extra mile for clients. How do you find a speaker who goes the extra mile? Well, you can just ask the speaker, point blank, if he or she goes the extra mile. Do you really think a speaker would tell you if she just does the bare minimum, though? You’ll find out the truth by talking to past clients of that speaker, as recommended above. As an agent and manager for speakers, I always try to go beyond the call of duty for my clients (meeting planners), and I like to work with speakers who do the same. One speaker I work with, for example, has a picture of himself visiting a rock quarry when he was preparing to speak to a pavement association. Then just recently, before he spoke to a group of public safety professionals, he arranged to ride along with a police detective in a not-so-good part of town. I also remember a time this summer when he arrived at an event only to find that another speaker on the agenda had to cancel at the last minute. To rescue the meeting planner from the ultimate nightmare, my speaker agreed to fill in at that session – on the spot, no additional fee required. That’s not the kind of thing you find in a contract; it’s the sign of a speaker who is dedicated to your success. Another of my favorite speakers invited a prospective client to his farm – before the event was even booked – and they met for a full day talking about the dynamics of this particular meeting and determining how they could create the optimal program. You can ask any speaker to do these kinds of things for you, but what you really want is to find speakers who willingly go the extra mile on their own. Past clients will tell you that, or if you’re working with a speakers bureau, your agent may be able to share some past experiences, as well.
- Treat your speaker with respect and courtesy from the moment the contract is signed – before, during, and after your event. You may be wondering why this recommendation is included in a report about finding the perfect speaker, but it really does belong. After you’ve done all of your homework and considered the lessons above, you should have found yourself a very good speaker – actually, a great speaker. And guess what – great speakers know great speakers! The community of professional speakers is really a tight-knit one. So when you find the perfect speaker, take care of him or her so you’re remembered as an “A-1” client. Then that speaker will tell other speakers about you, and she will probably tell you about some other speakers. Then you have a head-start on next year’s speaker search. And I’m sure you’ve learned by now, finding a speaker through a recommendation is much better than having to find one from scratch. That speaker who works with you this year will have an insider’s perspective on your event, so he can recommend additional speakers to you with accuracy, knowing who would or would not fit with your audience.
And there you have it! By taking note of just these six simple reminders, you’re well on your way to booking the perfect speaker for your next event! Here’s to making your next event the most successful ever! Let us know how we can help!