Help! I need a speaker!

  • Author: Bronwyn Hesketh
  • San Diego, California, United States

Help! I need a speaker! But why use an Agent? The value of a good agency… The conference and business tourism industry is worth billions of dollars on a global scale every year. And for many of those conferences and industry seminars, the highlight of the event is the keynote or closing speaker. With so much […]

Help! I need a speaker! But why use an Agent? The value of a good agency…

The conference and business tourism industry is worth billions of dollars on a global scale every year. And for many of those conferences and industry seminars, the highlight of the event is the keynote or closing speaker.

With so much money being spent on these events, how does one ensure that the chosen speaker will deliver the necessary message with the required “oomph”, punch, pizzazz and flair to add that finishing touch and make the whole event memorable?

Much has changed on the Professional Speaker and Speaker Agent landscape of late… Google has come along and changed our lives – forever. It’s so easy to find whoever you’re looking for now, it’s a joke.

“So why bother with an agency?” I hear people ask, more and more often.

With the image of agents in this country having been sullied by unethical operators who charge fortunes of commission on the sly in the past, and then having had that image further tarnished by some speakers who have expressly – and publicly – gone out to “put the agents out of business” (with some level of justification in some cases, I must concede), it’s small wonder that clients have started believing that all agents behave the same way, and thus shouldn’t be dealt with, unless absolutely necessary.

But, let’s think about it – how many times has some very smooth, clean-cut, silver-tongued “motivational speaker” sat opposite you and convinced you that he (or she!) is the absolute best speaker ON EARTH for your next conference or gala dinner?

That no matter what your theme, he can tailor-make a talk just for you – even if it’s about Purple Mountain Goat Farming in Outer Mongolia! And you’ve believed him: after all, he’s a very good communicator (obviously!!), he’s so charming and his brochure is fabulous!! Why, it says there, right on the cover: “USA’s Number 1 Speaker!!!!”

Help! I need a speaker!

Why wouldn’t you believe him (or her!)?

And yet – on the day – he wasn’t quite as good as you believed he would be … and his talk about Purple Mountain Goat Farming turned out to be … well … not quite what you thought it would be … In fact, perhaps he even stood up and did his usual “canned” presentation, with a few references to your company thrown in (if it occurred to him), which is his interpretation of “tailor-making” his presentation?

This is exactly where a good agency comes in.

A good agency like Speakers Inc – Africa’s largest Bureau doesn’t represent just anybody, there’s a whole process they go through with the speaker before they’ll start marketing them, not least of which is seeing them actually present a talk. It’s disconcerting just how many so-called “agents” market speakers they’ve never seen in action!

In fact, this seems to have become a somewhat alarming trend – agencies basically selling space on their websites to anybody who will pay for it. To me, this defeats the object of being an agent.

At Speakers Inc, we firmly believe that Rule No 1 of Professional Speaking is that one must be a “Passionate Expert on Your Topic”, to quote Dottie Walters. Anybody who claims they can speak about “anything!!” makes us more than a little bit nervous.

In this way, an agency worth its salt will know who will be the best speaker for your event, based on your needs and your audience demographic. This – we strongly believe – is a good agency’s value to the client: their experience and intellectual capital. Such an agency appreciates that it’s their reputation on the line and will not put somebody forward who will put that hard-earned name at risk, not to mention the organiser’s or client’s!

So the question then becomes, how does one know the good “agents” from the rest?

The simplest way I can think of is to simply ask them whether they’ve actually seen the speaker they are recommending, deliver a presentation.

A few further leading questions about the content of the speaker’s message and presentation style, as well as how and why they believe he or she will fit in with your specific conference theme, should help you establish fairly quickly whether they know what they’re talking about or not.

You could also establish whether that agency belongs to any professional bodies, both locally and internationally. Local bodies would include SAACI (the South African Association for the Conference Industry) or MPI (Meeting Planners International) and then there’s also the IASB (the International Association of Speaker Bureaus).

Agents who do run ethical businesses, who have the best interests of their clients and speakers at heart and who are concerned with the life-time value of a client, will not jeopardise all of those things for a quick buck through a once-off booking, and these are the guys and girls you should be happy to work with.

A last, sure-fire way of sniffing out those greedy sods who behave without conscience is to ask the speaker directly, at the first available opportunity, (with grace and discretion, naturally) what his fee is.

If they have been instructed by the agent not to do so, that’s a very large warning bell. Be warned, he might just mention a figure way, way lower than what you’ve been quoted, and both of you will be angry, but wiser, about the people you’re dealing with.

As a rule of thumb, speakers pay agents 20 – 25% commission from their fees, so if you’ve been charged more than that, you’re paying too much.

Then again, he may mention a figure that sounds right and you’ll both be reassured and happy to work with that agent again.

So what exactly is the value of a good agent? I would say that a good agent is someone you can rely on to provide you with un-biased, honest feedback on the speakers who are available on the corporate circuit; sound advice on which speaker will be best suited to speak to your delegates; and who is happy to work on a basis of transparency about the speakers’ rates – after all, if the agent doesn’t recognise their own value enough not to hide it, why on earth should you?

Speakers Inc is in essence a booking agency for professional speakers, trainers, corporate entertainers and comedians.

Speakers Inc. markets the country’s top talent to blue chip companies and Professional Conference Organisers.

Traditionally, a bureau does not charge the speakers for this marketing service, instead taking a percentage commission from each talk booked for the speaker by the bureau.

Internationally this percentage varies between 25% and 40% per talk, in South Africa it is normally 20% to 30% depending on speaker agency as a couple will charge more.

Speakers Inc. charges a 20% commission. We have a very strict policy of honesty with the speakers we work with.

The speaker knows at all times what we are charging our client. This obviously avoids potential embarrassment on the speaker’s part, should the client ever raise the matter, and reduces the traditional need for secrecy about fees.

This need for secrecy with some agencies is something we have been very vocal about, and we therefore strongly encourage our speakers to feel free to ask the client what they were charged for the speaker’s services.

This is the only way we believe that we’ll stamp out the widespread greed and abuse of fees in the industry.

Speakers Inc has been built solidly on our four pillars of Honesty, Integrity, Loyalty and Trust, and it is imperative to us that our speakers share our values and worldview.

Speakers Inc

Speakers Inc was started in January of 1999. It is owned and run by Bronwyn Hesketh.

Even though we are the biggest bureau in the country, we still act like a small agency, with a largely loyal client base – in fact, we prefer to have friends rather than clients.

Speakers Inc – Africa’s largest Bureau have done a lot of personal marketing in the last fourteen years which has paid off nicely, together with regular showcase breakfasts which afford two speakers the spotlight at a time.

Invites to these events are sent out to our corporate and eventing database of over 30 000 people, so even if potential clients can’t get to the event, they are still made aware of the speakers’ profiles.

We put a large amount of effort into our websites and other online presences, which is yielding very exciting rewards: our main Speakers Inc website has between 150 000 and 200 000 hits a month and growing!

Criteria for New Speakers

Some colleagues of ours in the industry have very stringent criteria before they will even look at a new speaker. In fact, rumour has it that some of them even call it their “Please go Away Document”! In line with one of our favourite slogans “We do things differently!” – Speakers Inc. really has only six criteria.

First and foremost, the new speaker must have “IT” – that indefinable quality that makes a star.

Call it charisma, passion, drive, enthusiasm, positivity, authenticity, integrity – whatever. We just call it “IT”. To us, David Grier has “IT”.

The only way for Speakers Inc to determine whether a new speaker has “IT” is to see them in action, and until we have, we really can’t go any further.

The next criterion is that you have earned the right to stand on the stage and tell people how to better run their lives. Corporate South Africa will not pay to hear somebody talk rubbish, even if he – or she – has “IT”.

You need to be well qualified in your field, and we’ll need proof of those qualifications, together with some letters of reference from people you have presented to before. You need to have earned the “Privilege of the Platform”. Content counts – more and more every day.

The remaining four criteria are very basic – human, in fact – principles:

These are the Four Pillars upon which we have built Speakers Inc and our reputation; and we are therefore practically fetishist about these – we treat our relationships with our new speakers almost like marriages.

Without these four basic elements, no relationship can survive –  never mind succeed –  whether it be a friendship, marriage, sporting partnership or business relationship; and we like to think of all of our speakers as friends and partners, if not for life, then certainly for a long time.

What we offer

We offer a professional agency service, i.e. we will market you as a Professional Speaker, using personal marketing, advertising, sponsoring of events, organizing our own events, newsletters, a website etc..

Speakers Inc will issue contracts on your behalf to clients who book you, thereby protecting you in the case of cancellations. We can make all your travel arrangements for you, issue invoices and collect all the monies owing to you.

We can help with the putting together of your marketing material and advise on how best to market yourself.

All our speakers carry business cards to talks that we have booked for them, and we strongly encourage our speakers to collect the business cards of people who express interest in hearing them speak for their own companies or events.

We then follow these up for you, in line with our pro-active marketing system. Speakers Inc – Africa’s largest Bureau use this information in a database that is exclusively yours (and ours), to market you to the best of our ability.

As an added extra Speakers Inc – Africa’s largest Bureau can act as a secretarial service to you for bookings that come directly through your office, ie, we will do all the paperwork (contracts, invoices, travel arrangements etc) for a small fee, usually a much smaller percentage of commission on the booking.

That way you still appear professional and organized, with none of the hassle of employing staff.

Contact us at Speakers Inc and view WeSpeak Global

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