From Louise Durej, CMP, event planner at The Hartford in Hartford, Conn., and Kara Leodler, manager, conference and travel services, Kansas City Life Insurance Co.
1) Louise Durej, CMP, event planner at The Hartford in Hartford, Conn.: Rely on a Local Partner
“I’m always in planning meetings with clients as they are beginning to make decisions for meetings and determining objectives. And I’m all ears,” says Louise Durej, CMP, event planner at The Hartford in Hartford, Conn.
At that point, she says, there are often several different people with several different opinions, so she has to dig deeper. “It requires probing questions and listening to nuances. Who is the ultimate stakeholder?”
Durej books speakers for The Hartford’s larger conferences, ranging from 400 to 1,000 attendees. She hires high-profile keynoters as well as motivational, inspirational, fun speakers for incentive meetings, and business-oriented speakers for sales conferences.
“There are thousands of speakers. Where do you begin?” Durej asks. It’s a rhetorical question for her, as she always begins with Diane Goodman at Goodman Speakers Bureau, whom she uses because she’s local and she has developed a relationship with her bureau.
“I go to Diane early. We talk about who will be in the audience,” Durej says. “She really catches on to what we like. That’s why we like to work with one speakers bureau. Also, she might know that other divisions of The Hartford hired a particular speaker that they liked or didn’t like. Goodman Speakers Bureau becomes like part of the company. I’ve had Diane on conference calls with clients.”
Durej also plans a conference call between the speaker and her internal client or business partner regarding customization of a presentation. “They tell the speaker exactly what the meeting is meant to convey. Customization is very important,” she says. “We want them to sing the same tune we are singing.”
2) Kara Leodler, manager, conference and travel services, Kansas City Life Insurance Co.: See Them in Action First
Kansas City Life Insurance Co. holds a kickoff meeting in January for about 80 members of its field force to reward them for their hard work the previous year, introduce new products, and motivate them for the year ahead. In odd-numbered years, the company also holds an education and incentive conference for 175 producers and spouses.
It’s hard to overstate the importance of the atmosphere at those events and the emotion that Kansas City Life wants to stir up in the attendees. Choosing the right speakers to do that is the job of Kara Leodler, manager, conference and travel services.
“The theme for meeting drives a lot of how I choose speakers,” Leodler explains. For the education and incentive program, she needs to fill two distinct requirements: her keynote speaker has to motivate and inspire, and she also needs a speaker who will educate and share insights on the state of the industry.
One rule of thumb: Leodler or someone else in the organization has to have seen the speaker live in order for him to be booked. Watching the reactions of the audience, she believes, is critical to understanding what kind of impact and effectiveness a speaker will have. It’s something you just can’t get with a video. Leodler works with Ruth Levine at Speak Inc. for suggestions, a committee at Kansas City Life offers its suggestions, and ultimately Leodler sends the short list to her boss for a final decision.
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