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Free vs Fee Speakers: What Professional Speakers Need to Know

If you are, or want to be, a professional speaker, you must understand the people that hire professional speakers and learn how to talk to them.

Association executives are continually seeking great speakers. And frequently, their board of directors expects them to do this without a budget–or one so small that the task seems impossible. I assure you, it is possible.

When is it cheaper to hire a professional than it is to hire free speakers?

The answer that many meeting planners would instantly offer is, never. The other day, I had an eye-opening conversation with the executive director of an association based in the eastern part of North America. If you answered the opening question the same way, hopefully, this will open your eyes.

The executive director said to me, “Ed, I discovered it was cheaper to hire you to speak for two days at my meeting than pay the travel and lodging expenses of the four free speakers that I was thinking of using.” For a couple years now I have been conducting multi-day for single-fee programs, and still, his comment was truly an eye-opener for me.

In an effort to be accurate, I should share some additional details with you. First, the meeting venue is Maui, Hawaii and some of the free speakers would fly from eastern North America. Second, I offer multi-day programs eliminating the need for additional speakers.

Deliver Value vs. Fill the Void

Do the people responsible for particular meetings want to offer usable take-home value for the meeting attendees or do they simply want to fill a void? There are a number of fearful situations for volunteer association leaders in which they just want to both be “safe” and organize a meeting “on the cheap” rather than to address the attendee and member value issue.

Not long ago, a meeting planner hired me to present at her national fall meeting. Since I live in the Greater Los Angeles area, she suggested that I might want to attend her coming Western Regional meeting that was to be held in Los Angeles.

I took her up on the offer and arrived early enough to hear the keynote speaker, a local college professor of marketing. Following the keynote, I said to the meeting planner, “I thought your members were in industrial…” She responded, “They are.” And then went into long discussion about how disappointed she was that the professor was so off-target for her group.

The Real Cost of Cheap

What percentage of the attendees from the above mentioned Western Regional meeting will rush to attend that same meeting the next year? What percentage will wonder if they again want to listen to an off-target college professor, who thinks he is addressing retailers but in reality is addressing industrial fabricators? How many potential following-year attendees did the professor lose for that meeting planner? Would this situation make your meeting appear to be shoddy or inferior?

Supplier companies love to send their representatives/salespeople to speak at conventions, as it is free publicity—even if they have to pay their own way. Sometimes the meeting attendees are lucky in that the supplier’s speaker will be motivating while offering usable content. Sometimes they are not so lucky, especially when the supplier’s speaker does not take the time (like the college professor mentioned above) to either understand the needs of the audience or plan an honest presentation. Too often attendees only get a sixty-minute commercial. After a sixty-minute commercial, what percentage of attendees will break down the doors to attend the following year?

What percentage of your other suppliers would also be outraged? How excited will they be the following year to belly up to the table and again pay more than their fair share for the meeting? Fair Share? Yes, suppliers always pay more than regular members. Associations justify the higher charge since they “get business” there.

Could the above combination of situations cost you 10 percent of your attendees the following year? And again cost you another 10% of the reduced number the year after that? And what about the following year? Could this be the reason for the downward spiral many associations are currently facing?

Saving with Professionals

Professional speakers live and die on their reputation. Please do not confuse celebrity speakers with professional speakers. Celebrity speakers get paid gobs of money to speak at a meeting, not because of their eloquence, but because of the average person’s desire to be in the same room with them—to experience them live. Their job is exclusively to attract people to the meeting. When I talk about professional speakers, I’m talking about the people that earn the lion’s share of their income from speaking at meetings or conducting trainings and their related books, tapes, etc. These are the people who generally interview and research the issues and needs of their audiences and tailor or customize their proven material for each unique audience. These people are experts in their field or experienced sorry tellers or humorists.

These are also the people your attendees expect at their meeting. These are the speakers that deliver solid take-home content while also creating a motivating environment. They have to be exciting, motivating and funny—or they don’t eat! Keeping in mind all that has been mentioned above, why in the world would you settle for a free speaker? Especially, when that choice could be the most expensive. Don’t your meeting attendees deserve the value they expect?

Attend one of Ed Rigsbee’s upcoming Selling to Associations Intensives in Las Vegas

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Bypass the Gatekeepers

Association and society gatekeepers, as you already know, do a great job of keeping speakers out. Make your life easy and be more effective by calling the association editor. It works like this:

1. Write articles based on your expertise and/or book(s). Be sure they are quality work at the level that editors will publish the article.

2. Skip the gatekeeper, call the association publications editor, sometimes the title is director of communications, and give your articles to the association publication. Be generous; make plenty of relationship bank deposits, as it will pay off quickly.

3. After your conversation with the editor, use the “Colombo Close” to leverage the relationship by asking, just before you hang up, who decides on speakers for the organization’s events. Generally they will say something like, our meeting planner is Suzie. Then you thank them and ask, does Suzie actually make the decisions on speakers or is she mostly the logistics person. If they say yes, she decides. Bridge relationship to Suzie by asking to be connected. If they say no, actually Jane makes the decisions, she is our executive director. You say thanks and ask to be connected. An internal transfer gets through far more frequently than an outside call.

4. Last, you ask the decision maker about their speaker selection process. Sometimes they are currently selection, or selected last week, or will be doing so in four months. From this point on traditional effective selling is necessary. It generally takes 5-10 call backs to seal the deal. So…sell, sell, and sell, your speaking services.

Attend one of Ed Rigsbee’s upcoming Selling to Associations Intensives in Las Vegas

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How to Use the NTPA Directory

The directory that so many professional speakers have purchased is the “National Trade and Professional Associations of the United States”, a.k.a., the NTPA directory. I did not state that the speakers have used them much as the book or online service is overwhelming. With approximately 7,500 national associations and societies listed, where does one start? That’s the challenge for most speakers. Start at the “A’s” or start at the “Z’s”, either way is not the best approach.

The NTPA directory also includes indexes. This is where you mine for gold! The Subject Index is the first place to start. The Subject Index has a little over 400 subjects (categories or industries). You should look through the index and find the subject (categories or industries) that you most resonate with. Which industries have you delivered home run presentations? Pick one and start here.

Start contacting the association editors using the “Bypass the Gatekeeper” method discussed in an earlier blog. Leverage to the decision maker and start your selling process.

Before you contact the association, take a look at their Website for the most current personnel, meeting, and chapter data. Yes, the chapters. For every association you contact, there might be 30-300 chapters—some having meetings and needing speakers. Contact all the chapters. If you use this strategic and methodical approach, it might take you several months to exhaust your first Subject Index list. When exhausted, select another and take the same steps. You have several years of prospecting, going deep in each industry, by correctly utilizing the NTPA.

Attend one of Ed Rigsbee’s upcoming Selling to Associations Intensives in Las Vegas

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Speak at State Societies of Association Executives

An efficient and effective way to grow your association business is to speak at state societies of association executives (SAE). Speaking at an SAE’s annual meeting generally puts you in front of a few hundred association executives. The association for most of the state SAEs is the Association Societies Alliance:

Rather than giving a handout during my keynote or workshop, I rather wait 10 minutes into my presentation when I see people taking notes and say something like, “Let me make your life easier. Give me your card after the presentation and I’ll email the PowerPoint to you.” I look at it this way; if they give me their card, that’s permission to contact them. After a couple weeks I start making calls. My follow up questions for executives and staff after speaking at a state SAE:

  1. Have you used the info from my workshop? If so, how?
  2. Have you accessed my article bank?
  3. Did you join the LinkedIn Member ROI group?
  4. Is there a possibility that we might do business sometime in the next 12 months?
  5. Would you be willing to recommend other association executives that I should contact?
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The first three questions are non-aggressive and put the executive at ease. After they are “a bit off-guard” is when I’ll get into the last two “selling” questions.

Sometimes you’ll get paid and sometimes not. Regardless, you are keynoting in front of a couple hundred association executives that can hire you for their meetings. If you do not get paid, a great concession you can ask for, that does not cost the SAE any money, is a complementary one-year membership in their organization. The membership gives you access to the SAE’s entire membership list.

When contacting these association executives, remember to sell up and down the vertical; when talking to a national association executive, ask about the chapters and when speaking with a state association executive, ask about how to speak to the national organization.

Attend one of Ed Rigsbee’s upcoming Selling to Associations Intensives in Las Vegas

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Connecting with Association Executives on LinkedIn

To grow your association business you would be wise to spend 30 minutes a day on LinkedIn connecting with association executives and staff. Sometimes a LinkedIn direct message is the only way to get through. It is really quite easy if you are connected to someone that has a large association LinkedIn network like me.

When I present at chapter meetings of the National Speakers Association and when I host my two-day “Selling to Associations Intensives,” I always tell the attendees to connect with me on LinkedIn which will give them second degree access to thousands of association executives and staff. This is truly a no-brainer!

Ed Rigsbee's Las Vegas Selling to Associations Intensive
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If you pay for the Premium version of LinkedIn and have access the number of second degree connections, that being connected to me gives you, you can grow your association executive connections exponentially. This makes selling to these executives much easier. The paid Premium version of LinkedIn simply allows a greater number (per-month) of searches which is necessary.

I use the “all filters” mechanism to do my searches. Put in the industry “non-profit” and put in the job title “CEO” or “Executive Director” and you’ll be amazed how many association executives appears in the search that you will be second degree connection. To connect to even more association staff like director of communications and others, simply fill the executive director’s or CEO’s association name into the standard (top left) LinkedIn search box. Then when the company’s page (not group) comes up, click on it. When at that page, click on the “company employees” and you’ll see how many you are already second degree to and connect with them—using your pre-written standard request to connect.

I have a standard request to connect (for second degree connections) in a Word Doc that I simply cut and paste. I always type their first name in to personalize it:

I’d appreciate connecting with you. I’m the CEO of a small non-profit & the author of several books including “The ROI of Membership” & “Developing Strategic Alliances”. Growing our connections, I believe, will be mutually beneficial. Thanks, Ed Rigsbee, CAE

After the association person connects with me I follow up with:

Thanks so much for the connection. If I can ever be a resource, please let me know what I can do for you.

If you are interested, and/or would like to share access with your board… articles adapted from my book, “The ROI of Membership” are available at and articles from my several books on developing strategic alliances are available at

Please feel free to help yourself for personal use or publication.

And, if you ever need a speaker on the topics…please keep me in mind. All the best, Ed Rigsbee, CAE

The key is to notice that I’m not directly selling but rather making relationship bank deposits and the very last line above is a soft-sell letting them know I’m a speaker. From this point on, I have several different strategies based on a number of factors. However, this method should give you a jump-start and is to be used in conjunction with my telephone calling strategy—not in replacement of calling.


Attend one of Ed Rigsbee’s upcoming Selling to Associations Intensives in Las Vegas

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Call Reluctance is REAL!

By Ed Rigsbee, CSP, CAE

Recently I was speaking privately with one of the speakers in a mastermind I run...he says, "I don't have call reluctance, calls just have not been a priority." Really? This is classic denial call reluctance at its purest form.

If you want to make it in the business of professional speaking...somebody must regularly be on the phones doing outreach. If not you, then hopefully you'll have a go-getter staff person to make the calls. Sure social media presence and Website SEO help, and calls still deliver results faster than any other method of outreach.

It is so easy to "get ready to get ready" in doing other, generally more fun or creative activities. And if you do this, you are lying to yourself. Fear not, there is an antidote...structure.

Here is your plan...set aside an amount of time each morning that is realistic. Also, pick a time to start that is realistic. Have a list and make a personal commitment to yourself to do it. If you are calling associations, pick a vertical that most resonates with you and your message. A great place to find such a list is within the pages of the "National Trade and Professional Associations of the United States" directory. Look in the Subject Index...there are over 400 subjects listed. Pick the industry (subject) that most resonates and you will find anywhere from a few dozen to several hundred associations listed in that subject. This is your vertical-specific prospecting list.

If you live in the west, you'll most likely want to start your calling at 7 AM as a great number of the associations will be in the east. If you live in the east, then you'll most likely want to start at 9:30 AM. Pick a time and pick a length of time (perhaps an hour or two) and make the daily COMMITMENT! You will be amazed at how much starts happening...bookings and interest in you...when you systematically get on the phone.

Information about Ed Rigsbee, CSP, CAE at

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The Fortune is in the Follow-up By Tod Novak, CSP

The Fortune Is in The Follow Up

By Tod Novak, CSP

Why A Follow Up Program?

There are four stages of the sale process; prospecting, presenting, closing and follow-up. Most
salespeople are good (or great) at one, two or sometimes three stages of the process, but not
all four stages. This usually depends on their experience, personality type or selling style.
Successful sales professionals must be great at all four stages of the sales process to gain
maximum results. In my personal experience training and coaching sales professionals across
the country, I have found that follow up is the key to sales growth and retention. Unfortunately
over 90% of the time follow up is the weakest link in the sales process.

Follow up facts:

58% of all salespeople quit completely after a single call on a prospect.
20% make two calls before giving up.
7% make three calls.
15% make five calls or more.
The 15% of the salespeople that make five calls or more produce about 75% of all the business.
A consistent follow-up program creates a predictable and profitable stream of customers that buy, as well as generating referrals.

Following up with potential and current customers is how repeat business and referrals are
generated, but most companies are lacking a program that can be followed consistently.
Referrals are the number one key to a six-figure income for the sales professional.

7 Touch Follow Up Program:
It’s great when a customer buys a product or service on their first exposure. However
marketing experts tell us for most customers to remember (and buy) a product or service they
need 5–7 exposures. It’s important to touch the prospect by following up 5-7 times in the first
30 days. It is not realistic for salespeople to think that everyone is going to buy the first time
after they are exposed to a product or service. Mr. Novak has developed a 7 Touch Follow Up
Program to maximize results for the sales professional.
Customer Retention:

Harvard Business Review reported that companies could increase profits by up to 85% simply
by reducing their loss of current customers by 5%. Follow up plays a major role in customer

Why is following up negative to sales professionals?
Let’s face it, follow up is avoided and even dreaded by most sales professionals. It is not on the
top of any “to do” list. When I ask sales professionals what they think about follow up, I
consistently get ONLY negative responses. Some say it’s painful for them, others respond “I
think I am bugging them”, or “if they were interested they would call me”, or “they’ll think I am
pushy”, or “maybe I did something wrong during the last call or meeting”. Mentally sales
professionals conjure up negative thoughts in their mind about what response they will get,
when in fact they have no idea what the person’s reasons or response will be. Many sales
professionals however will follow up on a hot lead but will stop when it turns cold.
Salespeople have admitted to me that whenever it’s time to follow up, the excuses start coming
up like red flags in their minds. For example, “I need to go get my dry cleaning’,
“I have to go to Starbucks”, “I have to walk the dog”, and “it’s time to eat”. Human nature kicks
in because follow up is uncomfortable and most sales professionals will subconsciously do
anything to avoid it.

Follow up is not negative:
People have many reasons for not immediately making a desired purchase or giving the desired
response. Prospective clients may be shopping around, or procrastinating. Others may be very
busy, distracted, or having cash flow issues. They may have just forgotten, or misplaced your
business information or it just may be wrong timing. Most often it takes developing
relationships with prospective clients so they feel comfortable in making the purchase.
Human nature also shows us people respect a business or industry that is organized enough to follow up in a professional manner. It shows the client that the business is interested in them
and cares enough to contact them. Following up will separate you from your competitors
because most companies don’t follow up. The bottom line is when sales professionals follow
up, they build relationships and they win customers and sales.

Benefits of a Follow Up Program to Sales Professionals:
• A consistent productive way to follow up that brings financial rewards and becomes a
• Generate repeat business by keeping in touch with current and prospective clients.
• Develop trust, rapport and long-term relationships with current and prospective clients.
• Separate your company from competitors because most companies don’t follow up.
• Build customer loyalty by providing customer service and assuring customer
satisfaction. 68% of customers that don’t return to a company say that the company
never contacted them, was indifferent, or had a poor attitude.
• Generates referrals by showing you still care after the transaction.
(the sale starts after the sale)
• Create and generate positive and ongoing word of mouth advertising about your
company. Follow up tells your customers that they are important and then they spread
the word. It gives the opportunity to get, or ask for a referral.
• Identify problems that customers have but they didn’t complain about. This allows the
salesperson to resolve problems, resulting in keeping a customer that would have been
lost. Marketers tell us that it costs 5–8 times the amount of money to get a new
customer than it does to keep an existing customer satisfied.
• Up to date knowledge of where a prospect is in the sales process. Staying in contact
with the prospect allows the sales professional to find out where the prospect is in the
sales process. This increases the odds that a client will take action because of correct timing.


This article may be reprinted provided it appears in its entirety Permission to Reprint: Tod Novak, President of The Novak Group, © copyright Reprinted by permission of Tod Novak. For additional information about The Novak Group services, and for free resources, visit or email us at