Business leaders—and the association meeting planners who are planning their annual conferences—are facing confusing and confounding times. In the quest to find answers, associations are focusing on content over celebrity when it comes to booking keynote speakers.
Over the past year or so, Bernie Swain, chairman of the Washington Speakers Bureau has noted a shift toward speakers in three broad areas: world affairs, current events, and business. About 85 percent of his speakers are being booked in those areas, up at least 20 percent from a few years ago. Meanwhile, say Swain and other experts, the popularity of motivational, inspirational, athlete, and celebrity speakers is decreasing.
Why the shift? During times of adversity, people are looking to make positive changes to adapt to the changing environment.
From politics to the economy, from technology to demographics, association members face tough new questions and challenges both at home and abroad. Speakers who offer business insight and in-depth information beyond the media sound bites or headlines provide the most value to today's meeting attendees.
They want innovation, ideas, and strategies to survive in the present economy and grow in the future, says Swain.
When the economy is healthy, it's just the opposite. “We tend to be very superficial about how we look at things,” he says. “Why change when things are going well? If it works, don't touch it.” Three or four years ago, he says, association planners wanted big-name speakers to attract attendees. They weren't overly concerned with the content of the speech.
Now, that big name better say something that's relevant to the audience and helps them in their field or they're not interested. “Today planners say, ‘I need to bring in a Bill Clinton or a Tony Blair, and I need them to talk about this,’” says Swain.
Tom Neilssen, chief executive officer at BrightSight Group, Princeton, N.J., agrees. During the 1990s and most of the 2000s, keynote content was secondary because, for the most part, businesses were doing well. “It's always nice if the audience can recognize the name of the speaker, but in the end, it really is about content over celebrity,” says Neilssen. “Many organizations are recognizing that if they are going to bring a speaker into their meeting and take up 60 minutes or two hours of their attendees' time, the message better help the attendee become a bit smarter, a bit better at what they need to do to navigate these challenging times.”
Five years ago, Michael Frick rarely got requests for economists as speakers. “All of a sudden, they are the hottest group,” says Frick, president at Speakers Platform in San Francisco.
And the economy itself remains a hot topic — especially, says Swain, when speakers “talk about how to get something good out of this economy.” Business leaders, innovators, and visionaries who can help attendees succeed in their jobs are all in high demand, speaking on topics such as innovation, leadership, marketing, and globalization.
Ethics is another hot topic, according to Frick, because of a general breakdown in the trust of institutions, such as government, big business, and Wall Street. Associations with members who are dealing with this consumer uprising and issues of mistrust are looking for speakers to address those concerns.
And this being a particularly volatile mid-term election season, politics is hot right now. However, experts caution association planners to book politicians and political analysts carefully. With a big-name political speaker, you always run the risk of alienating a portion of the audience, so make sure you know your audience, says Frank Candy, president, American Speakers Bureau, Orlando. “Some members might be ecstatic while others might boo them out of the room.”
One way to mitigate that risk is to follow another trend: political roundtables or panel discussions where two or more media or political analysts discuss the issues from the right, left, and center.
Diversity, generational dynamics, andalso are high-interest topics now. “Speakers and associations alike have to make decisions about what — if any — social media presence they want in meetings, says Andrea Gold, president, Gold Stars Speakers Bureau, Tucson, Ariz.
It's not just social media, says Candy, but technology in general that people want to know about. “Most of the technology that will affect our daily lives in the next 30 years has not been invented yet,” he says.
“Associations are definitely more concerned in general with budgeting for speakers,” Gold says. “Some groups have not skimped. Others have made drastic cuts in their speaker budgets. I have not found a predictable pattern yet among associations.”
Swain says associations aren't moving away from the big-name speakers with direct relevance, but he is seeing them cut back on the number of speakers. Where a few years ago they might book three name speakers, now it's one or two.
In addition to budgets, associations are concerned about accountability, says Frick, with members wanting return on investment. Rather than spend $100,000 on a blockbuster speaker, members would rather see money spent on two or three lesser-known but more compelling presenters.
For a small addition to their fee, keynote speakers can be asked to moderate panels, present workshops, host awards presentations, do a breakout session, or emcee and speak at small VIP sessions, says Tracey Adams, senior account executive at Speak Inc. in San Diego. This way, the association saves on travel expenses. Some associations are even asking speakers to do pre-event webinars, perhaps to promote the upcoming presentation at the live meeting.
Several bureaus say they are seeing an increase in short-term bookings.
For planners, it comes down to efficiency, productivity, and profitability — getting the right speaker who delivers the most.
Continue to Page 2: Speakers Bureau FAQs
Sidebar #1: Speakers Bureau FAQS
A strong speakers bureau relationship can mean better speaker selection, meeting after meeting. Not sure how the process works? We asked Diane Goodman, founder of Goodman Speakers Bureau (www.goodman speakersbureau.com) to review the basics.
Is There a Charge to Use a Speakers Bureau?
Typically, bureaus earn their fees as a percentage of the speakers' fees, which means planners get the expertise and guidance of a bureau without additional costs (similar to a travel agent). A downside is that some bureaus focus on booking higher-priced speakers so they earn larger fees. That is why it truly is important to know that the bureau is placing your needs first.
What is the Average Cost for a Speaker?
A typical range for a professional speaker is $7,500 to $15,000. Celebrity or nationally known speakers range from $20,000 to $150,000 or more. The cost varies based on experience, skill, and reputation. Travel, hotel, meals, and out-of-pocket costs are additional to the speaker's fee.
Do I Have to Arrange Travel and Lodging for the Speaker?
We work with planners and speakers directly to coordinate travel. Many clients offer a speaker a flat fee for airfare. Recently, many speakers have begun offering an airfare-included fee structure because most prefer to arrange their own travel as their schedules change from day to day. Accommodations usually are billed to the association's master account.
What if We Have a Small Budget?
Spending a lot of money does not always mean you get the best speaker for your event. There are speakers whose fees start at $3,500. Good bureaus give several suggestions, along with a rationale for each. This can help you “sell” the speaker to your stakeholders (and sometimes justify one who is on the high side of a budget).
Continue to Page 3: Speakers and Social Media: The Pros and Cons
Sidebar #2: Speakers and Social Media: The Pros and Cons
Speakers who use social media in presentations generally are using Twitter for feedback, or texting for instant polls. And while the majority of speakers do not have experience using social media in keynotes — especially high-end keynotes — many association meeting professionals are wondering if the time is right to incorporate social media into presentations at their meetings.
I have found that when I mention social media, some speakers light up with excitement and others groan. While some prefer to connect in a more personal way during a presentation, with raised hands and eye contact, others love the ability to sort through tweets and choose the questions they want to address.
And while some speakers consider tweeting and texting during their talks to be rude, others understand today's multitasking mentality and are fine with it. (Some, in fact, monitor social media for themselves to check on what people are saying about them as they are still speaking!)
If you are faced with determining the use of social media at your meetings, consider these pros and cons:
- Encourages more interaction
- Keeps an audience engaged
- Could prompt creative thinking and problem-solving from the speaker/audience interaction
- Works well for the Q&A portion of a presentation
- Could disrupt the intended message
- Adds the risk of technical glitches
- Could result in real-time negative feedback about the speaker or topic
- Could prompt off-topic questions
- Attendees may miss some “connecting” in-person
- Attendees may miss part of the presentation while tweeting, reading tweets, or texting
- Requires a speaker who is fluid enough to manage the questions/comments flying at him or her
Social media is not right for every presentation, every audience, or every speaker. Planners should ask themselves: Will the use of social media add something to the presentation? Will it benefit the audience or the speaker? Could it help to engage this group? What is the average age of the audience?
Realize that a speaker needs to be very conversational in style to adapt to social-media interaction. Not every speaker can do this. Taking a speaker out of his or her element could compromise the quality of the presentation. So your first step is to ask your speakers if they have ever used social media in a presentation and if they would be willing to use it during the talk at your meeting. Many have not and will not.
If you decide to go for it, consider a moderator to manage the real-time questions and feed them to the presenter periodically. This can keep the speaker and the conversation on track.
Andrea H. Gold is president of Gold Stars Speakers Bureau, in business for 21 years, which provides speakers, trainers, and celebrities worldwide. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit her Web site, www.goldstars.com.
Continue to Page 4: Finding the Right Speaker: 10 Things to Know
Sidebar #3: Finding the Right Speaker: 10 Things to Know
What do you want the speaker to communicate? Is your focus motivation, entertainment, education, or some combination?
What time of day and length of talk do you need? Not all speakers excel at all speaking formats.
Avoid the “champagne taste on a beer budget” syndrome. Be realistic. And remember to budget for travel expenses!
Do you specifically require a man or a woman? Is age important to the group? Must it be an author with a book? Do you require a book signing? Does your group need someone with an interactive speaking style or some other specific characteristic?
If you can find someone based near your meeting, you can lower or eliminate travel fees. Speakers who include travel in their presentation fees may lower those fees when they don't have to travel.
Be clear on how many presentations you want from a speaker. Offerings and fees may change depending on the number and length of talks required. You usually get better pricing if you use a speaker multiple times on the same day rather than over the course of two or more days.
Are the speakers you are considering available when you need them? Don't spend much energy on anything else until you get this answer, or you could be wasting your time!
Communicate your expectations before you book a speaker to make sure everyone is in agreement and that the speaker can do what you want. For example, not all speakers allow or use social media during their presentations, while others don't permit recording for any purpose.
Do you want a speaker who will draw the biggest audience possible or a speaker who can best help members in their business lives? Associations often walk a tightrope between these goals. Think through the purpose of the particular meeting and the needs of members.
Working with a speakers bureau can save you time. Give the bureau your criteria as clearly as you can, and list the speakers who have been successful for your group in the past.
Source: Andrea Gold, president, Gold Stars Speakers Bureau, Tucson, Ariz. www.goldstars.com
Continue Page 5: The Bureaus Speak: Today's 40 Hottest Business Speakers on the Association Circuit
Sidebar #4: The Bureaus Speak: Today's 40 Hottest Business Speakers on the Association Circuit
Washington Speakers Bureau Top 10
Mark King, CEO and president, TAYLORMADE/ADIDAS GOLF
JIM STENGEL, former global marketing officer, PROCTER & GAMBLE
SIR KEN ROBINSON, internationally acclaimed expert on creativity and innovation and author of Out of Our Minds
MIKE ABRASHOFF, former Navy commander and author, It's Your Ship
LOUIS V. GERSTNER, former chairman and chief executive officer, IBM
ANNE MULCAHY, former chairwoman and CEO, XEROX CORP., and chairwoman, SAVE THE CHILDREN
WILLIAM TAYLOR, founding editor, Fast Company, and co-author, Mavericks at Work
JIM COLLINS, business management guru, author of Good to Great and Built to Last
DANIEL PINK, behavioral expert, author of Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us and A Whole New Mind
TOM PETERS, author, In Search of Excellence, and one of the most influential business thinkers of all time
Speakers Platform Top 8
BILL CAPODAGLI, management consultant and author, The Disney Way: Harnessing the Management Secrets of Disney in Your Company
CHESTER ELTON AND ADRIAN GOSTICK, “the Carrot Guys.” Elton and Gostick are VPs at THE CARROT CULTURE and co-authors of The Carrot Principle
BRUCE WEINSTEIN, “The Ethics Guy,” who writes a column on ethics for Business Week
TODD BUCHHOLZ, former White House Economic Director, hedge fund manager, economics professor at HARVARD UNIVERSITY, and author
ROBERT KRIEGEL, former advertising executive, expert on change management and leadership, and author of If it ain't broke…BREAK IT!
MITCH DITKOFF, co-founder and president of IDEA CHAMPIONS, a management development firm specializing in breakthrough thinking
DAN COUGHLIN, management consultant and author of several books including The Management 500: A High-Octane Formula for Business Success
ROBERT GENETSKI, economist, investment adviser, and author of several books including, A Nation of Millionaires and Taking the Voodoo Out of Economics.
Brightsight Group Top 10
BILL GEORGE, professor, HARVARD BUSINESS SCHOOL, former CEO of MEDTRONIC, and author, True North: Discover Your Authentic Leadership
CHIP HEATH AND DAN HEATH, Fast Company columnists, co-authors of Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard
BERT JACOBS AND JOHN JACOBS, co-founders of LIFE IS GOOD
FREDERIC MISHKIN, former Federal Reserve Board Governor and a professor of Banking and Financial Institutions at COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY GRADUATE SCHOOL OF BUSINESS
CHIP CONLEY, CEO, JOIE DE VIVRE HOSPITALITY, California's largest boutique hotel company and author of Peak: How Great Companies Get Their Mojo From Maslow.
DAN ROAM, author of The Back of the Napkin: Solving Problems and Selling Ideas With Pictures
GRETCHEN RUBIN, author, The Happiness Project: Or, Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun
ROBERT SUTTON, professor at STANFORD UNIVERSITY and author of Good Boss, Bad Boss: How to Be the Best … and Learn From the Worst
JOHN HOPE BRYANT, founder, chairman, and CEO of OPERATION HOPE, co-founder of GLOBAL DIGNITY, and one of the World Economic Forum's Young Global Leaders. Author of Love Leadership: The New Way to Lead in a Fear-Based World
ROBYN WATERS, former head of trend, design, and product development at TARGET and author of The Hummer and the Mini: Navigating the Contradiction of the New Trend Landscape
Speak Inc. Speakers Bureau Top 12
ROSS SHAFER, former comedian and talk show host turned motivational speaker with a focus on customer service. Author of Customer Empathy
MARK SCHARENBROICH, motivational business speaker and author of Nice Bike: Making Meaningful Connections on the Road of Life
JASON DORSEY, “The Gen Y Guy.” Speaker on generational dynamics and author of My Reality Check Bounced and How to Y-Size Your Business
ERIK WAHL, artist and motivational speaker on THE ART OF VISION
STEVE GILLILAND, comedian, storyteller, and author of Enjoy the Ride
ROBERT STEVENSON, entrepreneur, business leader, author of How to Soar Like an Eagle in a World Full of Turkeys
SCOTT KLOSOSKY, expert on leadership and technology, CEO of three successful startup companies
LIBBY GILL, branding and public relations expert
DOC HENDLEY, founder of the nonprofit organization, WINE TO WATER, which brings clean water to people around the world
JEANNE BLISS, customer experience expert, author of I Love You More Than My Dog, Five Decisions That Drive Extreme Customer Loyalty in Good Times and in Bad
MIKE MULLANE, astronaut, expert on leadership and teamwork
MIKE STAVER, business coach, leadership consultant
The Big Names
On World Affairs
TONY BLAIR, former prime minister, Great Britain
GEORGE BUSH, former U.S. president
GORDON BROWN, former prime minister, Great Britain
ALVARO URIBE, former president of Colombia
COLIN POWELL, former U.S. secretary of State
CONDOLEEZZA RICE, former U.S. secretary of state
MADELEINE ALBRIGHT, former U.S. secretary of state
JAMES BAKER, former U.S. secretary of state
ALAN GREENSPAN, former head of the Federal Reserve
BILL CLINTON, former U.S. president
JAMES WOLFENSOHN, president of the World Bank
JOSÉ MARÍA AZNAR, former prime minister of Spain
On Domestic Issues
SARAH PALIN, former Alaska governor and vice presidential candidate
RUDY GIULIANI, former New York City mayor
THAD ALLEN, retired U.S. Coast Guard admiral and national incident commander for the Deepwater Horizon oil spill
T. BOONE PICKENS, financier and well-known energy entrepreneur
DAVID PLOUFFE, a campaign adviser to President Obama
ROBERT REICH, former U.S. secretary of labor
JEB BUSH, former Florida governor
BILL BRADLEY, former New Jersey senator
Source: Washington Speakers Bureau