A client called me on a Saturday morning. She was working on her agenda for her employee engagement conference, and was having a hard time finding the right leadership speakers. Finding a leadership speaker is not as easy as she thought for this complicated event. She had a limited budget and needed a speaker who is experienced and would be guaranteed to “wow” her audience (and her boss).
I had been the keynote speaker at this event two years ago. While I tried to see if she would have me back (my new content “The Paradox of Potential” would be perfect for here meeting, as it helps those in leadership identify and navigate potential). She was clear with me that she always waits 4-5 years before repeating a speakers.
I Always Offer To Help Clients
This is a wonderful company and the meeting planner was awesome to work with. She remembered that immediately after the conference, and in my follow up correspondence I always offered to help her identify keynote speakers (even if I was not who she was looking to hire). I have taken to making this offer to all my clients, as finding the right speaker can be difficult.
This event is has about 500 attendees and includes all the leadership and management of the company. It is important to this meeting planner that the motivational speakers who she hires are very experienced, but she cannot afford the top leadership speakers in the world. It is true that the famous speakers are too expensive for some clients. However, at any budget an organization can find amazing presentations. You never have to settle.
This company has become accustomed to only having high energy presentations from leadership speakers / experts, but they do it on a modest (but fair) budget. Helping them find the right leadership speaker was a fun challenge.
Know The Desired Topic
During out chat she told me that her CEO was interested in customer service and sales topics for this years meetings. They need someone who has experience in business, and they were not seeking a bestselling author or anyone else with a fancy title. Their company is over having high paid gurus who give them canned presentations. They wanted a peer who had a great story to share about leadership.
Knowing the parameters of what is desired is the first step to finding the right speaker. I think of it as if someone said “I want to go to a beach on vacation”. Well that is a good start, but the more information we have the easier it is to figure out where in the world to start. A beach in New Jersey is just different from a beach in Australia. Not saying one is better or worse, it just makes for a different vacation. The same is true in finding a “leadership speaker’, the more details of what they wanted, the easier it would be to have inspiration.
She was seeking someone with the speaking skills of a famous speaker, and the hands on experience from a consulting firm or other leadership institute. For this keynote they needed a normal person who has high-level real world company experience. Yes, that sounds hard to find, but there are many who meet that description.
Peer To Peer Leadership Speakers
The list of what she wanted in a leadership speaker was very specific. The speakers they had over the past few years that had resonated the most (myself included) were not famous and did not play long “brag videos” before the talk. She pointed out that her CEO hates video introductions full of TV worthy experiences. They had tried Olympic athletes and adventure racing world champions, and that was not the right fit for their crowd. They did not want a “sage on the stage”, they were looking for a business peer who knew how to use storytelling in their speeches.
To Find A Speaker – Ask A Speaker
This phone call was fun. She was fired up to ensure this year’s conference was remarkable, and she was clear that a lot of what she needs was tied to discovering the right speaker. I was thrilled she took the time to call me (on a Saturday to boot). This company was one of my favorite clients, and helping her find the right leadership speaker was an honor. Most speakers that I know really do enjoy referring others. Those speakers who are active in the National Speakers Association have a long list of friends who present on any number of topics. If you are seeking any type of speaker, be sure to call another speaker.
This experienced meeting professional said she had tried a Google search for Leadership Speakers, only to find pages of paid ads from speakers and speakers bureaus, and more marketing lists of the “Top Leadership Speakers in the World”. None of them helped her with her highly unique search. She was skeptical of calling a random person, and decided that she should got ahead and call someone who lives and breaths the speaking business.
I accepted her challenge and promised to help her vet leadership speakers over the coming month. To begin with I sent her to a page I created that lists the professional speakers who I recommend regularly. This list is made up of about 20 speakers who I know always knock it out of the park for their clients. This group met many of her requirements, as they are not famous. Each person on this list is someone I know personally and believe in their talents.
Know Your Budget
The issue at hand was her budget. She needs someone willing to meet her price, and she was clear with me there was no room for negotiation. This eliminated some of the people who first came to my mind. While her budget was fair, and not so low that established leadership speakers would roll their eyes.
Pricing for business speakers can be all over the map. There are many things that go into the price that a speaker charges. Level of experience and fame are the two main contributors to the fee. However, topic and type of events where they usually present are also factors. It is true that some speakers will negotiate their fee. If you are booking inside of of a 4-6 week window from the event you can get someone for less, as speakers sell dates. If the date is open, many will work with you. But, that means some of your first choices will already be speaking somewhere else.
My recommendation to her was to be upfront with her budget and just ask. You are not offending someone by offering them your best available budget. They can say yes or no.
Speakers Bureaus Are A Great Option
I also suggested she call one or two speakers bureaus and I sent her some names of people I know would be excited to work with her in finding the right speaker. While my own experience with bureaus is limited. My speaking career was built though word of mouth. Working with a variety of bureaus has taught me that like any industry, there are different speakers bureaus for different clients. Since her budget was small I pointed her to a couple of boutique firms that work with smaller clients.
The great news is that people who work in speakers bureaus are amazing people. It is a people business, so jerks never succeed inside the industry. She had not head of these types of companies, and I assured her that speakers bureaus are a great option.
Finding A Speaker Is Not Easy
It is hard to find the right speakers for an event. Leadership speakers are all very different. A speaker is not a commodity. You cannot just plug anyone into the agenda. What is a “leadership speaker” to one person is not the right fit to another. Plus, depending who you talk with they use different terms: Leadership Speaker, Keynote Speaker, Plenary Speaker, Motivational Speaker, etc…
The right speaker sets the tone for the whole event. Thus you have to take the search very seriously.
This is an exciting project for me. Helping her find the right leadership speaker has reminded me how much I love the meetings business and all the little details that a planner must consider to host a killer conference. I have always thought that if I was not a speaker, I would want to work for a speakers bureau or manage other speakers. This business is so much fun.
As a leadership speaker, I love talking like this with meeting planners. It is easy to view the meetings business through your own lens, and miss the bigger picture. She also appreciated the conversation, as she can only see the world through her planners eyes (she did not know she could negotiate a fee with a speaker).
Take a look at that page of Recommended Professional Speakers that I linked to above. Do you know these speakers? Who are the Top 10 Leadership Speakers you would recommend?
Read this post on how to Find A Speaker.
Thom Singer is a business motivational speaker and emcee. He is the host of the Cool Things Entrepreneurs Do podcast and the author of 12 books. To book Thom to speak at your next event, visit www.ThomSinger.com- or contact your favorite speakers bureau.