FOR SEVERAL DECADES, the language used in speakers bureau contracts has been largely based on the legalese that makes up standard entertainment law. This is because the industry never had a standard contract from which to work. Until now.

In November, the International Association of Speakers Bureaus introduced the first standardized bureau contract with the hopes that all 104 bureau members would incorporate it as the only agreement they would use to book speakers for their planner customers. You can view the contract at

The push toward using one contract for all speaker bookings follows a trend toward standardization within the meeting industry. However, while standardization may fine-tune the process of booking hotels and airline seats, a uniform contract where one size fits all is more complicated for speakers bureaus because the “product” being sold is people.

Protective Clauses Missing

So far, only a few IASB bureaus have said they will adopt the contract. Many longstanding bureau members (including Speak Inc.) remain dubious that they will use it in the future. A big concern is that standard clauses protecting the interests of the three parties involved — speaker, planner, and bureau — are missing. Omission of these specific items leaves too much open to interpretation.

The fact is that contracts are drawn up to protect all parties involved, and established bureaus have their own proven ideas about the best ways to do this. Since most bureaus offer the same cadre of speakers at the same price, planners typically chose a bureau based on the services provided and not because they want to book a specific speaker. This is a relationship business. If the bureau contract you have used in the past is seamless, why change?

That said, the new IASB contract offers a workable boilerplate agreement. If you do chose to work with a bureau that uses the new IASB contract or if you want to ask your regular bureau to start using it for future bookings, here are a few things you may want to add to your agreement so there are no surprises:

  • State that the speaker has agreed to all the provisions of your specific contract, especially the part about showing up.

  • State what the speaker attire should be. Do you really want to chance having your keynote speaker show up at an 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 reps or general agents to feel an obligation to buy expensive books and tapes at the back of the room, especially if your company has been going through downsizing and cutbacks.

  • Add in a reciprocal indemnification and “hold harmless” clause. It is when you least expect it that these clauses may become necessary.

  • An arbitration clause is already in the contract, avoiding potential legal battles in court. However, the city and state where arbitration will be held is missing. Like lawsuits, arbitration can be costly and time-consuming. If you don't state where arbitration is to be held, you could end up in court simply to argue this point.

  • State if the prevailing party will pay attorney costs should arbitration occur.

  • So that no party to the contract can scribble in changes and/or additions, add an amendment and modification clause.

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 To view speaker demo videos online, visit