I could write a novel on the subject of working with speakers bureaus. Here are the questions I hear most often about how we work.

How are speakers bureaus paid? In the same way that an airline pays a commission to a travel agency, speakers pay a commission when they are booked by a bureau. Speakers never pay a retainer fee to be listed by a bureau.

Will I pay a lower fee if I book a speaker directly rather than through a bureau? Because speakers depend on bureaus to bring them most of their bookings, they want bureaus to offer the same fee a meeting planner would get by calling direct. Be wary of a bureau rep who will not share a speaker's phone number with you so that you can reconfirm a fee. Since the bureaus typically bring their speakers dozens of dates a year, bureaus may have additional negotiating leverage. In the rare case (less than five percent of the time) that a speaker will not allow a bureau to take a cut of his or her fee, your bureau should tell you that they will be adding on a charge of 10 to 20 percent of the speaker's fee.

Why shouldn't I just go on the Web to search for speakers?

You could, but you can save a lot of time by letting a speakers bureau do this for you--for free. Your speakers bureau rep will know which speakers have the most experience with insurance audiences and will make targeted suggestions. Maybe as important, he or she can also tell you which speaker's cancellation rate is high, which sports player drank too much at his last VIP reception, and which sales motivator used bad language on the podium.

How do exclusive and nonexclusive bureaus differ? Bureaus who have speakers as exclusives have written agreements outlining the way in which all bookings will be carried out. Nonexclusive bureaus do not have overriding agreements like this and handle the details of each booking on a case-by-case basis throughout the year.

My speaker canceled--what should I do? Rely on your speakers bureau. We can find you a backup speaker even if you booked your original speaker direct. But make sure that the details surrounding cancellations are covered in your speaker contract: Can a speaker cancel for reasons beyond an "Act of God"? How will backup speakers be chosen? Will deposits be immediately refunded if you do not find an acceptable backup choice?

The planner/bureau relationship is a unique partnership. Our primary aim is to make you look good in front of your superiors and your attendees. We can give you the inside scoop on speakers we work with. We are in constant contact with you until your program is finished. We provide a place to turn in an emergency. And just think--it's all on our speakers' nickel!