HAVING RECENTLY RETURNED from the Insurance Conference Planners Association Summer Educational Forum in New Orleans, I want to share some tricks of the trade that I discussed with planners who book speakers for incentive programs.

Remember that regardless of your company culture, demographics, or size, all incentive winners share several traits: They are all bright, energetic, confident go-getters, so they do not like to sit in their seats very long, and they have a hard time with monotonal talking heads at the podium. Incentive meetings need a dynamic, energetic speaker who “rants and raves” and dashes across the stage, never staying in one place for very long. (Examples of these types of speakers are Keith Harrell, Amanda Gore, Warren Greshes, Robert Stevenson, Dan Clark, Larry Winget, and Erik Wahl.)

How to Choose

Incentive winner's eyes are always moving, so chose a speaker who:

  • Uses music, art, and/or props

  • Wears your company logo on a T-shirt or ball cap

  • Uses visuals. PowerPoint is OK, but make sure that the visuals/slides are fast moving and very simple. If the visuals are too complex, you will lose the attention of attendees within seconds.

  • Requires audience interaction, such as having members from the audience come up on stage. Incentive winners are hams and love to have the focus on themselves or on their friends.

  • Infuses humor into the program.People love to laugh and laughing keeps their attention. Studies also show that humor helps with information retention.

  • Has an accent, a funny way of speaking, or uses different intonations and an animated style.

Know Your Audience

Choosing the right speaker also depends on the characteristics and likes and dislikes of your incentive winners. If your attendees need a sales refresher, for example, get a speaker who makes it fun and delivers the information subliminally. Top producers think they already know everything about sales.

Remember that motivational speakers fall into different categories. Some groups like inspirational stories from former POWs, mountain climbers, or speakers with disabilities, while other groups may prefer a sports celebrity or a speaker who delivers a message on leadership or change.

If your attendees are predominantly male, consider whether they will enjoy a female speaker (and visa versa). For some planners this is a sensitive area, since they may feel uncomfortable communicating a gender preference to their speakers bureau. However, it is important and helps the bureau fine-tune the selection of speakers they send to you for consideration.

If spouses attend your speaker sessions, make them feel included with speakers who don't limit their talk to business or sales. Likewise, even if your boss wants you to book a well-known football legend to speak, consider whether that would lose the interest of spouses or other females in your group.

Finally, liven up your awards program by using a professional emcee. Even though awards programs are often an integral part of your incentive, they are also long and potentially uncomfortable for restless top producers. A professional emcee can infuse an entertaining mix of business acumen and humor.

Ruth Levine is founder of Speak Inc., an international speakers bureau based in San Diego with offices in Chicago and Kansas City. She can be reached at (858) 457-9880 or by e-mail at rlevine@speakinc.com. To view speaker demo videos online, visit www.speakinc.com.

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