Sunday, February 15, 2009

Hiring A Public Speaker

In 2008 I had the honor of speaking 47 times around the United States.

I was a keynote speaker, master of ceremonies, trainer, expert panelist and served as "The Conference Networking Catalyst". Audiences ranged in size from as small as a dozen people to well over 1000 participants.

Because of this experience I have recently had several people ask me several questions about how they can find the right speaker for their company meeting, industry conference or organization sponsored events.

Here are 12 questions that I think anyone should ask themselves before beginning a search to hire a professional speaker for any presentation. Regardless of if you are looking for a free speaker for a Rotary luncheon or if you have a large budget for a major event.

1. What is my budget? Be aware up front that professional speakers are professionals. Just as you cannot expect a doctor or lawyer to provide their services at no charge, most speakers will expect to be paid. Many will do pro-bono or discounted presentations for local non-profit organizations, but will expect for-profit organizations to pay their established fee, much as any company should expect their clients to pay them for their work. Be upfront with a potential speaker right up front about your budget and payment expectations. (If their fee is higher than you can afford, ask them for referrals to others in your price range).

2. Does the speaker have references? There is a big difference between someone with fame, experience or a good resume and someone who has the ability to captivate an audience from the stage. Speaking is a skill, and not every speaker is equal. How many talks did the speaker give in the last two years and are they willing to supply the entire list to you (making them available for reference checks)? I am amazed when speakers will not share their client lists with people who want to hire them. If a speaker is hiding information you should be concerned. The "secret" client or one who would prefer not to be "bothered" with reference calls is the exception...not the rule. I have only had one client who ever asked that I not share the details of speaking to their company.

3. Will the speaker customize his or her presentation to fit your meeting? Many speakers have canned presentations and do not do any research on their audience. I am amazed when I see speakers who have no idea about the composition of their audience, but it happens all the time.

4. What is the expectations of my audience? Will those in attendance at your event expect to be educated, motivated, entertained or all three? Are there certain topics that are more meaningful to the audience? Be clear about the needs of your audience before you begin looking for a speaker.

5. If hiring a speaker for a business event will they make themselves available for questions after the event? Will they attend other parts of the conference if asked? Some speakers are premaddonas who think they are important "celebrities", and will not mingle with the common folk. I have heard of some who make pop music divas sound tame. You want to hire professionals who will engage in discussions with your audience and add to the overall positive feelings of your event even after they leave the stage. If you want a "celebrity", there are lots of those available for hire.

6. Does the speaker try to sell from the stage? Many speakers use their speaking opportunities to sell expensive programs to the audience. While speakers who have books and other products should be making them available to those who are interested, the hard sell can kill the mood of any presentation. Ask your speakers directly about what they offer for sale and communicate your preferences with them as to how to handle this at your meeting or conference.

7. Does the speaker ever use bad language, religion, politics, sexual innuendos, and controversial subjects in their presentations? Many meeting planners are surprised when "F-bombs" or other words fly from the stage, only to learn later that this is part of the speakers "shtick". If you don't ask, you cannot blame the speaker.

8. How does the speaker handle travel costs and other incidental charges? Surprise charges are often shocking for those who hire speakers. They do not read the fine print in contracts only to discover that they are way over budget when the speaker submits the additional charges for first class airfare, limousines, steak dinners, bar tabs, etc... Discuss all possible charges up front so there are no surprises.

9. Do you like the speaker's personality? I have seen many jerks who give great talks on stage, but they are so hard to work with that the meeting organizers and audiences are unhappy with the overall experience. If you find them hard to work with up front, think twice about hiring them. Additionally, check with references and ask about more than just their performance.

10. Is the speaker willing to help with other parts of your conference, such as serving as "Master of Ceremonies" for a dinner or awards presentation? Will they do this at a reduced fee or as part of the main presentation charge? Speakers who are flexible and willing to help you make your event a success without nickle and diming you at every turn are going to make your experience better. If they are already going to be flown into town for your event, they should be open to participating in more than just their session.

11. Will the speaker meet with the organization's senior team before the meeting (in person or on phone)to make sure the presentation meets all the needs? Always have a pre-meeting call with all speakers in advance of your event. You will never regret scheduling such a meeting.

12. Can the speaker provide me with ideas for other presentations for my conference? As a speaker I have the opportunity to witness many other presentations. Do not ask anyone to give you names that would put them in direct competition for your business (that would be awkward for everyone), but once you have made a decision to hire them, they should be willing to help you find other speakers to fill in the rest of your program. The best speakers create real friendships with others in the business and are happy to help you meet other talented professionals. This is especially useful for subsequent years when you want fresh faces, so last years platform speakers are not on your short list for the new year program. Call those who spoke for you in the past and request their help in finding others that will be ideal for your program.

I hope this list is helpful. Feel free to email me with any other questions, regardless of if you might want to hire me - or someone else. I am happy to share my thoughts to help you find the ideal speakers for your program.

Have A Great Day.



Ricci Neer said...

Very nice Thom. I'm sending a RT.


john moore (from Brand Autopsy) said...

Thom ... beyond asking for references, meeting organizers should ask a speaker for a demo video. If a speaker expects to get paid, they should have a sample video to use as a marketing tool.

Amelia Brazell said...

Great suggestions. I have found that the better the meeting organizer, the better I am as a speaker.

I'll send RT.

Thom Singer said...


Yes, a video is also a great tool. Here is a link to the SHORT version of my video: