The meeting industry spent $120 billion on professional speakers in 1999, according to the National Speakers Association. Why? Because professional speakers can raise the level of a meeting. The good ones do extensive work with companies before they step into the spotlight so that they know their audience, they know the meeting's goals, and they know what company executives want employees feeling and thinking when the speaker leaves the stage.
Finding the Perfect Speaker
Visit the National Speakers Association Web site at www.nsaspeaker.org for a directory of nearly 4,000 speakers that can be searched by topic, location, name, and other criteria, along with a complete guide to finding a good speaker. Here are just a few of NSA's speaker-search tips:
Start looking for a speaker as soon as you finalize your meeting date. Many speakers book engagements up to a year in advance.
Make sure a potential speaker has addressed groups similar to yours. Ask for a biography, testimonials, and videos of their presentations (preferably before a live audience).
Speakers bureaus locate and book speakers according to your specifications. Many bureaus specialize in particular types of speakers, such as authors or athletes. Bureaus can be found in the Yellow Pages or via Web search engines. Or try the International Group of Agencies and Bureaus or Marketplace NSA at the NSA Web site.
Speaker Searches on the Web
Search, preview, select — and never leave your desk.
Using the Web for speaker searches can save you lots of time and phone calls. Find a speakers bureau Web site with a user-friendly search engine and you can quickly come up with a list of speakers that match your meeting theme, topic, and speaker budget. You can even search for speakers who live close to your meeting site or are already booked near your site around your meeting dates.
If you know exactly who you want, you can also visit that speaker's own Web site. Either way, look for the following content to get the most out of your search:
real or streaming audio or video clips
a schedule of upcoming live preview opportunities
speaker's calender of availability
complete contact information
Once you have a short list of speakers, continue your online pursuit by e-mailing the bureau or speaker's office to request full-length demo tapes. (Full-length audio and video tapes are not yet readily available online due to bandwidth and storage complexities.) You may also request a telephone call with one or more bureau reps, speaker reps, or speakers themselves to ask specific questions.
Once you have selected a speaker, continue your virtual quest by doing the booking online through an exchange of digital information. Many sites will post or e-mail instructions on how to make an offer to a speaker. Once the offer is accepted, you will be asked to fill in a series of booking questions so that a digitaland invoice can be e-mailed to you along with the promotional materials you will need to publicize your speaker in brochures and introduce him or her properly on stage.
You may still make some calls, but now the Web can do a lot of your work for you.
Source: Ruth Levine at Speak Inc. Speakers Bureau, www.speakinc.com
Frequently Asked Question
Q. When I put a hold on a speaker, am I assured of getting that speaker for my event?
A. Holds allow you flexibility to make your decision without the obligation of signing a contract or paying a deposit. Unlike contracted dates, holds are not binding until a speaker accepts your offer and you enter a contract. To protect against holds that fall through, speakers typically accept up to five holds for the same date. Holds are given priority based on the order in which they are received. First holds are given the first right of refusal (24 hours from the next business day) when a second hold makes a firm offer for the same date. A third hold on the same date would automatically lose the date if the speaker accepts an offer from his first or second hold. Likewise, if a third hold makes a firm offer, then the first hold is given the first 24-hour right of refusal, and if the first hold declines, then the second hold is given the next 24-hour right of refusal. The best way to book a speaker who has multiple holds ahead of you? Make your decision ASAP.
Source: Ruth Levine at Speak Inc. Speakers Bureau, (858) 457-9880, www.speakinc.com
Speaker Sampler: Steve Rizzo Rates Higher Than Hawaii!
Bet that got your attention. The claim, posted at Steve Rizzo's Web site, comes from a testimonial letter. Kathy Kelley, second vice president, marketing and sales communications, at Fortis Benefits Insurance, wrote that salespeople at her President's Conference rated Rizzo's talk at 98 percent — higher than any other element of the meeting, including the location: Hawaii.
After 20 years as a stand-up comedian, Steve Rizzo made the switch to professional speaking five years ago. Just as his own foundation is humor, Rizzo's talks turn on the theory that humor can get you through adversities, large and small. “The only way to overcome them is to know you have a choice in how you approach them,” Rizzo says. “The things that upset us most are often the funniest. It's a matter of perspective.”
Sound too simple? Rizzo does offer his audience tools in addition to concepts. He works closely with executives and meeting planners to customized presentations, asking for the meeting theme, attendee make-up, what issues attendees are facing, and what the executives want the attendees to walk away with. You can book him for a keynote address, half-day or full-day workshop — or even as an emcee.
Columbus, Ohio — based Nationwide has booked Rizzo for the second time as emcee at its Conference of Champions, which hits the MGM Grand in Las Vegas in early July. “This is Nationwide's biggest incentive conference,” says Christy Corey, meeting planner. “This is the first time we've had the same emcee and speaker two years running.” In addition to his emcee duties, Rizzo is charged with motivating 750 qualifiers and their families.
His first appearance at the conference was last year at Atlantis Resort, Paradise Island, Bahamas, where he went out of his way to get to know the qualifiers as they registered. Corey says, “We're always looking for someone new. But the executives wanted to bring Steve Rizzo back this year.”
Steve Rizzo is represented by Diane Goodman, Goodman Speakers Bureau. Call (800) 875-2893 or go to www.goodmanspeakersbureau.com.
Speaker Sampler: Rulon: Get Him While He's Hot!
A proud U.S. watched with awe and delight when wrestler Rulon Gardner toppled Russian Alexandre Karelin, the Olympic champion since 1987, to win the gold medal in Greco-Roman wrestling at the 2000 Games in Sydney. Now the athlete has hit the speaker circuit to share a message of determination, hard work, and overcoming obstacles.
In January, Gardner impressed attendees at Kansas City Life's General Agents Meeting. “I've been in this business 29 years and I can tell when speakers are talking from the heart,” says General Agent Tom Cooper. “Rulon spoke from the heart.”
Kelly Bissinger, an associate general agent, was equally taken with the young Olympian. “His story is fantastic. His unbelievable work ethic is the key to his success,” Bissinger says.
Gardner is represented exclusively by the Washington Speakers Bureau, Alexandria, Va. Call (703) 684-0555 or visit www.washingtonspeakers.com.
Speaker Sampler: Gary Coxe: School of Hard Knocks
When Gary Coxe addresses your attendees, he gets their attention immediately with his own story: Pulling in $100,000 a year as a teenager, Coxe lost all of his money — and a lot more — by the time he was 21. His wife had a baby that he found out wasn't his, his father was murdered, his uncle died in a plane crash, his grandfather and stepfather died of cancer. Those lessons in the school of hard knocks give him the credibility to talk about succeeding despite limitations and obstacles, Coxe believes.
“What limits us is our thought process,” he says. “I re-program people.”
He demonstrates that “re-programming” dramatically, by bringing on stage an audience member with a phobia — say, a fear of snakes. When Coxe is through, the person is on stage holding a snake. “I change their thought process in order to change their feeling,” Coxe explains. He does that by working with the person on the reason they want to take control of the phobia, and then getting them to remember that reason when the snake comes out of the cage. Meanwhile, audience members are working out their own fears of literal and figurative snakes.
Coxe can deliver everything from hour-long programs to customized full-day seminars. Call (800) 64-POWER or visit www.garycoxe.com.
A Must-Read for the Non-Professional Speaker: Your CEO
Some CEOs are naturals on stage. Most aren't.
The Coleman Center, a Manhattan meeting site, has published a brief guide designed to improve the skill of occasional speakers. A few of the tips:
Change your tone of voice throughout your talk. Emphasize certain passages by raising or lowering your voice. Pause occasionally.
Put emotion into your speaking style. Consider voice or acting lessons.
Look up at your audience, occasionally gazing directly at individuals.
For a free copy of the speaker's guide, call (212) 541-4600 or send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Six Ways to Cut Speaker Expenses
Ask your speaker to fly coach before you make a firm offer for the date. Your speaker will be more willing to negotiate at this time than after a contract is submitted.
Try to piggyback with another group that has your speaker booked in the same meeting city.
Book a speaker who is based in your meeting destination.
Propose an all-inclusive fee prior to going to contract with your speaker so that you have a predetermined cap on expenses.
If your speaker will not agree to an all-inclusive fee, offer a reasonable per diem to cover everything in addition to airfare and hotel room. Typically a per diem will cover meals, tips, and ground transfers.
Clearly state in your contract exactly what expenses you will cover so that there is no post-conference confusion over miscellaneous expenses.
• Source: Ruth Levine at Speak Inc. Speakers Bureau, (858) 457-9880, www.speakinc.com