With so many speakers and lecture topics flooding today's meeting market, how do you choose the presenter best suited for your company's event?

At Nationwide Speakers Bureau, we book an average of 45 speakers each month. The average time it takes from the first inquiry to the ultimate decision is three weeks.

Meeting executives from Pepsico Food Systems and another major food-service company recently embarked on the journey with us to find the right speaker for their message. Let's analyze the challenges these two different groups faced.

CASE STUDY: Pepsico The Challenge: Long after Pepsico Food Systems (PFS) had planned its March 1997 Sales Conference at the Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island (FL), Pepsico sold the division. Rather than pull the plug on the meeting, PFS framed the sale as an opportunity. Instead of servicing only Pepsico restaurants, the thinking went, the company could reach any and all quick-service restaurants.

PFS needed two speakers to help relay this message at the meeting: One would have to get the sales force thinking like marketers, since they would have new customers; the other would motivate the troops.

The Solution: The review process for Samantha Crosby, senior director, marketing communications at PFS, culminated in a two-hour conversation with Martha Rogers, author of The One-to-One Future and Enterprise One to One, whom she hired. Rogers's message: Treat different customers differently. Success, she says, is measured not by market share, but by share of customers--one customer at a time.

Another series of conversations and faxes yielded The Afterburner Seminar, led by F-15 fighter pilot Jim Murphy. With his team of fighter pilots, Murphy taught the PFS sales force that "business is combat" and that they should embrace change in an optimistic way, like fighter pilots do.

CASE STUDY: A Major Food Service Company The Challenge: The 1,100 attendees at this company's September 1997 National Sales Meeting in Orlando, FL represented all levels of the corporate hierarchy: top and middle managers, account managers, sales reps, and support personnel.

The Solution: The meeting organizer needed an opening keynote speaker and two presenters to lead breakout sessions on the second day. The keynote would have to be relevant for all audience segments, emphasize teamwork, and inspire the reps to "go out and sell." The company reviewed more than 50 tapes before deciding on The Afterburner Seminar.

The breakouts had more specific objectives. The first would address life balance, stress management, and personal growth. The company chose David Essel, a corporate fitness guru whose presentation is called "Achieving Balance in Life."

The second breakout needed to address managing teams, working together, and resolving conflict. They chose Don Hutson, author of The Sale. The meeting executive had been impressed by a video of Hutson, but the deal was sealed after a telephone interview with the speaker. *

1) Know your theme--Skilled speakers will adjust their talks to fit your needs, but make sure you're looking in the appropriate speaker category to begin with.

* Need to push your salesforce to seemingly impossible achievements? Try speakers who have broken barriers of their own, such as astronaut Jim Lovell.

* Want to emphasize teamwork and a winning attitude? Check out Mike Eruzione, captain of the championship U.S. Olympic hockey team.

* Facing downsizing or reegineering? Look to business futurists such as Daniel Burrus to explain why the marketplace must be ever-changing.

2) Consider humor--How about considering a speaker whose sole objective is to provoke gut-busting laughter? The hottest humorist out there today: Scott Adams, creator of "Dilbert" and author of several best-selling business books. Adams is quick to admit that his presentation is delivered for entertainment, not inspiration--and it includes a slew of cartoons, including some that never made it past the editors.

3) Use a speakers bureau you can trust--A reputable bureau can confirm any speaker at the same price you'd get if you searched out the speaker directly. You should not be asked to pay a "speaker search fee"; it's the bureau's job to find the best speaker for your needs. Also, if there is an emergency, the bureau will have backup speakers on hold.

4) Use every facet of the preview process--Review videotapes, request a list of your peers who have used the speakers you are considering and call them, preview the speaker live if you can, and ask for a personal telephone call between the speaker and you or your team.

5) If you like the speaker, hold the date--Popular speakers get many inquiries for the same date. Place a hold on the speaker's calendar, or you might lose him or her.