INCENTIVE WINNERS SHARE SEVERAL TRAITS: They are bright, energetic, confident go-getters, so they do not like to sit in their seats very long. This is not the time to choose a talking head at a podium.

Incentive winners are always seeking action and excitement, so choose 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 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; and

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

Consider 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, Vince Poscente, and Dan Thurmon.)

Know Your Audience

It's also important to take a look at the characteristics and likes and dislikes of your winners. If your attendees need a sales refresher, for example, get a speaker who makes it fun and delivers the information subliminally. Top producers tend to 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, think about whether they will enjoy a female speaker (and vice versa). For some planners, this is a sensitive area, because they may feel uncomfortable communicating a gender preference to their speakers bureau. However, it is important and helps the bureau to fine-tune the selection of speakers it sends for your consideration.

If spouses attend your speaker sessions, make them feel included by using 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 those who aren't football fans in your group.

Finally, liven up your awards program by using a professional master of ceremonies. Even though awards programs are often an integral part of your incentive, they are also often long and potentially uncomfortable for restless top producers. A professional emcee can infuse an entertaining mix of business acumen and humor. Dale Irvin and the team of Tim & Kris O'Shea are the most requested emcee names on the circuit.

Ruth Levine is the founder of Speak Inc., an international speakers bureau headquartered in San Diego with offices in Chicago, Denver, Tucson, and Kansas City, Mo. She can be reached at (858) 228-3771 or by e-mail at To view speaker demo videos online, visit

CONTRACTS: Don't Miss the Boat

Be sure the following points are included in your contract so that there are no surprises:

  • State what the speaker's attire should be. Do you really want to chance having your keynote speaker show up at an incentive event in Maui in a Hawaiian shirt and shorts if the audience is business formal?

  • State whether speaker product sales are permitted. Consider if you want your winners to feel an obligation to buy expensive books and tapes at the back of the room.

  • Add a reciprocal indemnification and “hold harmless” clause. These clauses may become necessary when you least expect it.

  • Make sure the city and state in which arbitration will be held is included in the arbitration clause, as well as if the prevailing party will pay attorney costs should arbitration occur.

3 Money-Saving Myths


Our incentive meeting is on a cruise, and we will provide an all-expenses-paid trip for the speaker to join us for the entire week. In return, we can expect him to reduce his honorarium.

REALITY: In this economy, speakers cannot afford to take themselves out of the circuit for a week. Each day on your ship is a day they must forgo another fee for speaking.

BETTER IDEA: Arrange to have the speaker open your event before the ship leaves port. Some ships may even allow you to have a speaker get on or off a ship midtrip. (You'll have to check; it depends on the ports of embarkation and disembarkation.


We are having back-to-back incentive programs at a world-class resort, and we would like the speaker to be the opening keynoter for both meetings. Since the second group comes in five days after the first group arrives, we can pay all expenses for the speaker to spend the week with us in lieu of a fee, and he can enjoy a wonderful vacation for free.

REALITY: A true vacation for a speaker is the luxury of staying home for a few days, so this offer is more of a deterrent than an incentive. As in Myth 1, the speaker's time is money, and the speaker may even charge a hefty surcharge if he is required to spend the week.

BETTER IDEA: Why not have the same speaker be the closing keynote at one event and the opening speaker for the second? Not only will this reduce the amount you pay for expenses, but some speakers offer a discount for booking back-to-back keynotes over two days.


A speaker will be willing to reduce her fee significantly if we are buying 300 of her books as pillow gifts for attendees.

REALITY: Even though you will get a discount on books purchased in quantity, very often book sales are a money-maker for the publisher only and not the speaker directly.

BETTER IDEA: Tell the speaker that you have pre-purchased books, and see if she will agree to stay 45 to 60 minutes after the presentation to do a book signing and/or a photo opportunity at no additional cost.