In Part 1, I looked at the questions: What’s the job? and What’s your budget?
The next two questions focus upon the right fit and the right avenue for finding and gaining the greatest value.
2. Does the face fit?
Once you have a selection of potential candidates in the right fee range who can actually do what you are asking of them, you need to narrow down a couple of individuals to approach for a diary check.
This is the part where booking a speaker becomes more art than science.
A conference on a serious subject might need a presenter with gravitas. Or you might feel that it needs someone who has a light touch to stop the day from getting too heavy.
Will booking a comedian be seen as a ‘thank you’ or frivolous expenditure? If half the audience doesn’t speak English, would a musical artiste make more sense than spoken-word comedy?
We remember watching a very good presenter at a conference. Superb value for money, in command of the stage, asking all the right questions, but looking down the running order, he was yet another white man in his 40s, as were all the other speakers. During the afternoon session on diversity within the industry, it was hard to take the host organisation’s commitment to this seriously when the platform was dominated by white middle aged men. On the other hand, we once witnessed a speaker talking about the value of practical hands-on skills. He left the stage and the moderator’s lectern fell apart. Within seconds, the speaker was back, fixing the lectern with a flourish and proving that he was as good as his word – to a round of applause.
It’s worth checking how flexible a presenter or speaker can be in what they are offering: our experience is that clients use Jeremy Paxman as a benchmark: ‘Don’t be too Jeremy Paxman,’ is shorthand for ‘go easy’ and ‘Feel free to do the full Paxman’ means you can give interviewees the tougher questions. Some can manage to be both, and some people have the one setting. If this is the case, you need to be even more careful about balancing the tone that you want the event to have with the needs of the audience, and do your research before committing: the presenter cannot be anyone other than themselves, so if they are the wrong person for the job, it’s more your responsibility than theirs.
4. Use a speaker agency or Google?
It’s never been easier to find a speaker through the internet or social media. So why go to an agency for your speaker? There are advantages to using an agent: they will have easy access to speakers you won’t know of, and have a good idea of that person’s abilities. They will take a commission (usually a proportion of the fee) but their buying power is such that you shouldn’t pay more through an agent than you would by going direct to the speaker. The agency will also sort out some of the logistics of getting the speaker to the event on time. They also have some handy insider information, such as knowing who does and doesn’t like taking on certain roles, and whether they’ve done a similar event for a competitor recently.
If your speaker collapses with appendicitis the morning of your event (it’s happened), an agent will also be able to help source a replacement quickly. If you’re on your own, you’re going to be back at square one at short notice when there are a million other things about the event clamouring for your attention.
A good agency brings a lot of expertise to the table, so although there is nothing to stop you Googling the names they give you and making a booking direct, you probably won’t get a better deal, and you will probably be found out. Some speakers get a lot of their work through agencies, and don’t want to damage those relationships. If you try to book a presenter direct, having been recommended them by an agent, you are probably not going to pay less, and you’re putting the presenter in a difficult position. Presenters who value their livelihoods have been known to send a commission to an agency that put them up for a job, even when a wily client tried to cut out the go-between. We’ve heard of a client who drove a speaker close to tears by going back and forth between them and an agent trying to get them to undercut each other. In the end, the client booked another speaker through another agent.The service that Eventopedia provides allows you to find an agent that has been reviewed by other events industry peers, which should give you added confidence in the service and expertise you will be receiving.
You don’t have to use an agent. For example, you may know exactly who you want and have their contact details. An agent will always try to control your access to the presenter. By talking to the presenter directly, you can do your own negotiations, keep them updated with changes as they happen, and have a deeper conversation with them about your event. A professional will often bring their own expertise to the table and make helpful suggestions (we knew a speaker who had been booked ‘after dinner’ but felt that her speech would work better between the starter and the main course: after people had had something to eat and before they got too drunk on the free booze. It worked brilliantly). A conference presenter may have some input into how a day should run, and if you’re an inexperienced event organiser, this kind of input may give your event a little extra sparkle.
In our book, Insider Secrets of Public Speaking, we advise speakers to remember our three golden principles of public speaking: Authority, Audience and Authenticity. The same three principles apply when choosing a presenter or speaker:
Authority: Is the speaker a credible person within the scope of the event? Have they performed a similar role successfully at previous events?
Audience: What does the audience need? What are their expectations? What do you want the audience to take away from the event?
Authenticity: Does the speaker you have chosen ‘fit’ the event? Are they ‘on-message’ – or somehow contradictory?
Asking the right questions before you begin your search is essential because booking the wrong speaker is no fun for the audience, the speaker – or for you.