Better Searches, Fewer Hooks For event planners who have a pretty good idea which professional speakers they're considering, SpeakersDirect.com (www.Speakers Direct.com) is just about an ideal Web site--or could be if the involvement of its planner and speaker communities continues to grow.

Launched in early March, one of the site's fundamentals is a database of nearly 1,000 speakers, searchable by name, city, state, fee, keyword, and 47 topic categories, from time management to injury prevention. Search results are generally returned alphabetically; however, the site yields to the ever-mighty dollar by giving top-of-the-list positioning to speakers who pay for the privilege. Those speakers are marked with a star.

Speaker listings are useful, including where the speaker is traveling from, a fee range, audiovisual needs, travel requirements, client list, topics, and speech outlines. Once a meeting planner joins the site (it's free), he or she can access online reviews, speaker e-mail, sample videos (about half the speakers include a video), exact fees (the cost for a one-hour keynote), and can submit an online offer to a speaker.

Two calendar functions could be among the site's most useful offerings if more speakers get with the program. One allows the buyer to see dates and sites of a particular speaker's confirmed bookings as well as available dates. Another allows a planner to search by city and date to see which speakers will be in their meeting destination. Currently, fewer than 100 speakers use the calendar function, but a spokesman says that number is growing.

Not sure an online speaker search is for you? Every time a client signs a contract through Speakers

Direct.com, he or she receives a menu from its Direct

Rewards program. Gift options include airline miles, hotel discounts, a $250 retail store gift certificate, etc. Over and above the Direct Rewards program, the site features a promotion each month. All clients who booked in May earned 10,000 miles in one of four airline frequent-flyer programs.

Speakers earning fees of more than $5,000 pay SpeakersDirect.com a 20 percent commission; others pay 30 percent. This is about 5 percent below traditional speakers bureaus, such as the firm's sister company, Leading Authorities Inc. SpeakersDirect.com recently signed an agreement allowing members of the International Association for Exposition Management to book speakers through the IAEM Web site.