By Ed Rigsbee, CSP, CAE
As a meeting professional, naturally you want the best possible speaker for whatever your budget might be. A dynamic or informative speaker generally is a stellar investment in the success of your meeting. But, sometimes your budget is not enough for the speaker you want. What’s the solution? Hire a less expensive speaker—squeeze the speaker you want for a better price—think beyond conventional wisdom?
Thinking beyond conventional wisdom might look like, limiting the number of speakers at your meeting. It is always less expensive to have a single speaker do several sessions than to have several speakers present a single session each. Not that every speaker is capable of presenting multiple sessions, however because of the multiple travel and hotel rooms cost, sometimes it is even cheaper to hire a speaker to deliver multiple programs than to have several non-paid speakers participate in your meeting. Even if these unpaid speakers drive in, thereby eliminating their airline travel expense, they will still want a free hotel room for the conference and free registration. Perhaps they were going to come anyway? You would have received their conference registration dollars. Sometimes the true cost of non-paid speakers is staggeringly hidden.
Deliver Multiple Presentations
Let’s explore the difference between a professional speaker that might present the same program multiple times vs. presenting multiple programs. The big difference for the speaker is preparation time—including: research, handout development and PowerPoint preparation. Unfortunately, few meeting stakeholders take this key time issue into consideration. Speakers are selling both their knowledge and their time. The latter is finite, so the more you consume, the more you should expect to pay. In paying for a speaker’s time, you have to consider presentation time, travel time and preparation time. Unless of course you want a canned speech, then the preparation time is not an issue. Before you jump on the cost savings of a canned speech, remember that today, few attendees will tolerate a canned speech.
This idea of a single speaker presenting multiple presentations for a single fee is growing in the world of professional speakers but is counter to standard operating procedures for most speaker bureaus. If you like this idea, you might have to abandon the ease in speaker selection that you have enjoyed when working with bureaus.
The Bureau Conundrum
Speaker Bureaus provide a valuable outsource service for meeting professionals that are time squeezed. One can contact a bureau, give their budget and the bureau will take it from there. For organizers that have to fill a large number of conference session slots and do not have sufficient staff—bureaus can be their solution. Yet, there are many more speakers that are under or non-represented by speakers’ bureaus, than there are speakers that they recommend. Most bureaus only have a small corral of speakers that they can easily sell and therefore will generally recommend them first. Many of the underrepresented speakers are quite good and are a tremendous value.
Another component to consider is that some bureaus serve two masters. What I mean can be illustrated by a recent conversation I had with a planner from a very large biotechnology manufacturer at a meeting industry trends summit. We were chatting at the event’s evening cocktail party and the planner was bemoaning about a request for a speaker that she submitted to a very large East Coast speaker bureau. The planner went on to tell me that the information sheets for the speakers that this particular bureau sent her, had no relationship to her submitted speaker request. She was upset that the bureau didn’t pay heed to what she requested. I explained to her about that particular bureau specialized in speaker exclusives—meaning that the bureau was the only place through which a particular speaker could be booked. As such, the bureau would recommend their exclusive speakers first, and if none were selected, would then recommend other speakers—even when a non-exclusive speaker would have been a better fit. Unfortunately, this trend is spreading through the speaker bureau industry.
For most speakers, speaker bureaus are but one of the many channels by which they go to market. Speaker bureaus need to be viewed as one would view any distributor or sales agency. If two-step distribution serves your needs, and there are a number of reasons that it might, then by all means select that method.
The conventional marketing message espoused my most bureaus is that for speaker X, you’ll pay the same price through us as you would booking speaker X direct. That is a nice ideal that frequently may be true. Yet, in a supply chain where a distributor or manufacturer’s representative sales agency receives 25 to 30 percent, the reality is generally not quite the ideal. There was a reason behind Sam Walton championing the idea of Wal-Mart working directly with manufacturers, thereby eliminating the distributors. This was a necessary strategy in order for him to continually deliver low prices to his Wal-Mart customers.
If you should select to work directly with a speaker, the price you will assuredly pay is time. Time both in your search and selection process…and working with the speaker on meeting logistics. If this route is best for you, there are a number of advantages that could make your time investment a profitable one. Some of the benefits to you could be, no lost communication through an intermediary, better negotiation possibilities (the Sam Walton dynamic) and the speaker offering programming ideas and insight that most likely would have never been transmitted through a third party.
Searching for a speaker directly has never been easier. To start, Google and YouTube do a magnificent job in searching for a speaker by topic or keyword. Remember to look past the first search page because that is most likely where you are going to find the speaker bargains. A great source to aid your search is the Web Site of the National Speakers Association (NSA) https://www.nsaspeaker.org/.
National Speakers Association
NSA, and all of its Chapters is an alternative method for finding speakers. NSA has an open online search capability that anyone can access. It is true that only members of NSA are listed, which does limit your possibilities just a bit, but nonetheless you will find that the NSA Website a valuable source in your search for the right speaker. NSA offers its members a certification called Certified Speaking Professional (CSP). While the CSP designation does not guarantee a speaker’s success at your meeting, the process through which a speaker goes to receive a CSP designation is not an easy one. The CSP is a good indicator that the speaker is truly a professional.
Approaching the Speaker
Never approach a speaker, out of the gate, by asking if they negotiate their fees! What the speaker hears is, “I’m calling to ask you for a discount and offer nothing in return.” That’s a turn-off in anybody’s book. Besides, everything in life is a negotiation—just assume that they will consider what you have to offer. A better approach is to first talk with the speaker about what you want—engage them in conversation. After they have affirmed that they can deliver what you want, then move into the “we have a budget issue” phase. Do this by first suggesting some of the things your organization can do for the speaker to create extra value for them. Also ask the speaker what creates value in their life. Perhaps you have value to offer a speaker that you had never realized? What do you have that costs you very little but delivers high value to professional speakers?
To name just a few:
- One-year membership in your organization
- Membership list
- One-Year column in your electronic or printed publication
- Extra hotel nights at your meeting…if it is a resort location
- Guaranteed PR
- Guaranteed referrals
- Purchase books
- Sub-master video of their presentation
Keynote vs. Breakout or Concurrent Session
Believe it or not, more speakers will be willing to talk to you about your budget challenges when you are talking general session (meaning that there is no other session competing at the same time) vs. breakout or concurrent sessions. The reason for this is exposure and product selling capability. If a speaker is going to fly across the country to speak at a meeting…which do you think is more valuable to the speaker…speaking to 40 people, or 400? Naturally, it is the 400. More people that could potentially recommend the speaker for future events and more products will surely be sold to 400 people than to 40—but, rarely do meeting stakeholders think about this.
In making your decision about how to acquire your next speaker, I hope the above has stimulated your thinking beyond conventional wisdom…rather than ask for a discount…ask for a value exchange.
Information about Ed Rigsbee, CSP, CAE at https://rigsbee.com/