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Meetings Meeting Planner Guide Selecting/Working with Speakers

Selecting/Working with Speakers

Speakers matter.

In fact, for a lot of meetings, they’re the focal point. They need to convey the envisioned message. They represent the vision of the meeting. Planners who are involved in the process of finding, hiring and working with the speakers need to follow the guidelines below.

  • Tips on where (and how) to find speakers
  • Speaker’s bureaus - If you call a speaker’s bureau, call one that you know or one that has been recommended.

    Professional associations - Become involved in a professional association such as Meeting Professionals International, the American Society of Association Executives, the National Speakers Association or the Professional Convention Management Association. Even if you don't attend their professional conferences, their education/conference departments are great resources.

    Professional conferences - Most professional speakers use these as opportunities to showcase themselves. You can hear them speak, meet them and get to know them.

    Colleagues and periodicals - Peers will give you the most honest feedback. Also find potential speakers mentioned in trade journals, business publications and newspaper articles.

    Educational institutions - Depending on your topical needs, you may want to call a specific department at a university, such as the economics school. Professors have great expertise and may be relatively inexpensive.

  • Evaluating Speakers
  • Before having them sign on the dotted line, consider the following:
    • How quickly does the speaker respond to your questions?
    • How willing does the speaker appear to accommodate your needs?
    • Gather references on the speaker.
    • In general, how easy does the speaker seem to be to work with? It's best to assess this subjectively through personal conversation.
    Ask the speaker the following questions:
    • How long have you been speaking?
    • What are your credentials and background?
    • Will you be speaking any place where we can observe your cadence?
    • Do you have any professional video, audio or written promotional materials?
    • Have you spoken for other companies or associations in the same industry?
    • Will you customize your material to my group? To what degree?
    • What kind of pre-program research will you do (e.g., ask for an annual report, talk to staff or management, find out about the industry)?
    • Will you bring your own handouts?
    • Will you be accessible to the audience, either before or after the presentation?
  • Speaker's Bureaus
  • If you use a speaker’s bureau, be prepared to answer "the five Ws" (or if you're not using a speaker’s bureau, at least know the answers for yourself):
    • Who is the audience?
    • What is the budget?
    • When is the meeting?
    • Where is the meeting?
    • Why are you having the meeting?

    You might also be asked if this the first time this meeting is being held and for a list of the speakers you’ve hired in the past.

    Be realistic in your budget and limitations. Unless you have unlimited budget, don’t dismiss a potential winner just because they’re not a household name.

  • Prepping your Speaker
  • It is almost impossible for a presentation to look anything but mechanical and canned if the speaker hasn't had the opportunity to understand the audience.

    At a minimum, make sure to tell your speaker about:
    • Audience size, age range, ratio of males to females.
    • Topic and length of presentation.
    • Session format including time allotted for audience questions.
    • Names of those sharing the platform (if any) and their topics.
    • Ancillary media events (pre- and post-meeting interviews).
    • Dress code (business attire, casual, black tie).
    • Rehearsal hours, if planned.
    • Speaker lounge or ready-room location and hours when available.
    • Whether multiple ranks will attend, or the entire audience comes from one level in the company.
    • Current issues/challenges in the company or division.
    • Subjects which are off limits for whatever reasons.
    • Names of high-profile people who will attend.
    Consider carefully whether you wish for anyone to be included by name in the speaker's remarks. Sometimes it helps to personalize the presentation; sometimes it's better left out. The speaker may:
    • Ask you and some attendees to fill out a questionnaire.
    • Want to talk to some of the attendees.
    • Want you to send material about your company, e.g., annual reports, office memos, company newsletters, etc.
  • Helping your Speaker
  • If your speaker is to speak after a meal, make certain the table service will be finished or will be unobtrusive when the speaker begins.

    The room should be set at a comfortable temperature, the podium well-lit, and the sound system in perfect operation.

    Keep any noise-generating meetings out of adjacent rooms.

    Keep the meeting on schedule, especially for that last speaker before everyone runs to the airport.

    Plan your introduction carefully. Make sure not to mispronounce your speaker's name or misspell it in any literature. If you condense the bio provided, make sure that you emphasize the important points. If the speaker gives you a specific intro, read it as is; this might be a setup for the presentation.

    Involve the speaker in the development of conference promotional materials. Most speakers welcome the opportunity to help you promote their presentations to potential attendees. Use their unique knowledge to develop a program description that helps ensure that both attendee and speaker expectations will be met.

    Make sure the speaker receives copies of all the promotional material, as well as any media invitations you have extended.

    Work with the speaker to create memorable handouts. Surveys show that conference attendees rate handouts as an essential part of the learning experience.

    Make sure the fee you pay to the speaker includes preparation of the handouts.

    The conference organizer may need to reproduce a large number of handouts required for the program. If so, make sure you have established deadlines that will work for both of you.

    Treat your speakers as part of your team. Keep them informed as the program develops. Provide them with a speaker kit outlining when materials are due – particularly as it relates to promotional deadlines. (Note: many speakers will provide you with their own kits, asking that you respond. Do so promptly.)

    Let speakers know the location of the speaker's lounge as well as the meeting room. Let them know when the speaker's lounge will be available prior to the meeting.

  • Fees and Negotiability
  • Most speakers are willing to negotiate. Here are some of the give-backs – that is, additional in-kind benefits you may extend to the speaker – that you may talk about to warrant a reduction in fee:
    • Video master copy
    • List of attendees
    • Testimonial letter
    • Referrals
    • Extra night(s) accommodations
    • Choice of time slot/date
    • Multiple performance contract
    • Extra publicity
    • Spouse airfare/meals
    • Mailing list
    • Article in your organization's newsletter
    • Two or three ads in newsletter at no charge
    Ask if the speaker offers any discounts for:
    • Certain geographical areas
    • Resorts
    • Time of year
    • Non-profit organizations
    • Multiple engagements in one city
    • Can the speaker fill more than one slot? Hiring another speaker means additional expenses for transportation, hotel and food.
  • Legal Agreements
  • The following are standard items that should be in every contract:
    • Company name, address, contact name
    • Speaker's name, phone number, cell-phone number, emergency phone number
    • Place of engagement: location, address, phone number, room where speech will be presented
    • Period of engagement:
      • Day/date of speech
      • Length of speech – e.g., approximately 1 hour
      • Time frame – e.g., approximately 1-5 pm
    • Expected attendance
    • Topic title
    • On-site contact(s): name, phone/fax numbers, e-mail address, emergency phone number
    • Fee plus any additions such as airfare, hotel accommodations, material reproduction costs, etc
    • Technical requirements: audiovisual needs, reproduction of any handouts, etc
    • Payment schedule:
      • When deposit/final payment is due
      • To whom check is payable
    • The fine print. This is to protect the speaker or bureau from liability. If you are hiring celebrity entertainment, it can be very specific down to the type of drinks the entertainer wants in their dressing room. Make sure you read this over carefully. It can mean additional dollars that you weren't counting on spending.
    • Additional riders. These usually encompass lighting, staging, special food/drink, etc., and they always mean more money. Before you make your final decision, consider the extra cost. Will it break the budget?
    • Signature and dates. A contract is not complete until it includes the speaker's/agent's signature and date as well as your signature and date.
  • Things to make sure of
  • Travel
    • Establish who makes the travel arrangements for the speaker. Most speakers like to do their own and bill you separately.
    • Let the speaker know who (name of travel agent) is making arrangements. Let them avail themselves of the same deal that may be available to your attendees, including, say, corporate discounts or group fares.
    • Speakers will try to get the client the best airfare deal possible but must have the flexibility to fly full coach, if necessary. Also, they most likely will be able to upgrade to first class with no additional expense to you.
    • Have the speaker's travel itinerary so you can have someone waiting for them at the airport upon arrival and bring them back.
    • Hotel accommodations
    • Have late arrival as an option.
    • The room should be on the master account.
    Payment
    • Speakers expect to be paid on the day of performance. Alert your accounting department to have a check cut. If you are working with a bureau, it might ask for the check in advance so the check can clear and the bureau can pay the speaker in a timely fashion.
    Recording agreements
    • Most celebrity speakers will not allow recording of their speeches. If they do, an additional fee could be required.

    Audiovisual budget

    • Is your AV budget in conflict with speaker requirements? If your budget is particularly tight, let the speaker know up front, so you can work together on achieving the right balance. For example:
      • Ask if a wired microphone may be substituted for a wireless one.
      • Ask the speaker if his presentation requires an elaborate, expensive lighting or sound system.