What do Speakers Bureaus, Speakers Agents and Meeting Planners Want?

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A speakers bureau representative, a speakers agent and an meeting planner walk into a bar . . .

No joking!

Wouldn’t you like to get some of the inside speaking biz scoop from that trio?

Meeting planners often work with speakers bureaus and speakers agents because they know about the speakers and can save meeting planners a lot of time and worry.

At the final meeting of The National Speakers Association-Minnesota Chapter’s 2012-2013 Speakers Academy, a panel of professionals who connect speakers to speaking opportunities discussed current trends, what determines a speaker’s odds of being selected, what every speaker should have and best practices.


Devie Hagen, Élan Speakers Agency.  Devie is a speakers agent, who represents both speakers and meeting planners, but her primary clients are the speakers.  She looks for speaking opportunities for her portfolio of speakers, who pay her a monthly retainer plus 10% of the booking fee.

Holly Zelinsky, Nationally Speaking.  Holly’s clients are the meeting planners, but unlike many speakers bureaus, she doesn’t stay in the middle for all the communication and financial arrangements.  The clients pay the speakers directly and then the speakers pay Holly 25% of the booking fee.  There is also a one-time fee to be part of the bureau.

Sarah Ruzek, Midwest Society of Association Executives Sarah is a meeting and event planner, planning 10-12 events per year for this association of association executives, a prime market for speakers, who often are not paid to speak at events, but get “visibility.”  Speakers can join MSAE with a “consultant” membership type ($260 for 2012-2013).

Current Trends:

  • Actionable Content
  • Relevance
  • Case Studies
  • Interaction and engagement
  • Customization
  • Humor
  • No podium/lectern
  • Ted Style/innovative presentations
  • Visual PowerPoint (not so much text)
  • Book not that necessary
  • Going green.  Electronic handouts.

What determines the odds of a speaker being selected:

  • Video. Video. Video.
  • 5-7 minutes max
  • 1st minute critical
  • Show the audience you want. (large, diverse audience if that’s what you want)
  • Show audience interaction
  • Show audience laughing right away
  • Show audience engaged, nodding, taking notes
  • No music or speaker interviews
  • Show brief testimonials (OK to use your phone!)
  • 2 or more outfits in 2 or more venues (noticeably different)
  • A bad video is worse than no video
  • Full length video available upon request
  • Have a non-YouTube video option (some corporations don’t allow YouTube)
  • You can have more than one video!
  • Keep updating—fresh video, fresh testimonials

Example of a speaker with good videos (from Devie) is Ryan Estis’ website:  http://ryanestis.com/

Aside from video . . .

  • Have bulleted take-aways for presentations
  • Referrals help
  • Get your schedule on your website as you get busy
  • Showcase opportunities (such as MSAE’s—you can also get video)

What every speaker should have:

  • Video.  Video.  Video.
  • Website
  • Photos
  • Be easy to find with contact info on website

Onesheets aren’t as critical (video is the trend).  But, your one-sheet should be available electronically as a PDF (and the version for the speakers bureau or speakers agent should NOT have your direct contact information).  A one-sheet is for “the committee.”

Best practices of top-selling speakers:

  • Be easy to work with
  • 24 hour response.  Faster is better.  The meeting planner is on a mission to fill a spot!
  • Do research. Ask questions.  Find out about current, pertinent issues.
  • Tailor the program.
  • Don’t drive the meeting planners crazy.  Respect their time.
  • Ask “How do you want to communicate?”
  • Use social media to help promote the event (a video, find out the Twitter hashtag)
  • Don’t sell from stage.
  • Be at least an hour early.
  • Add value whenever possible.

The greatest value you can add is to have a good answer to the following question:  What will be different after this experience for the audience?  What will be the ROK—Return On Knowledge?