Speaking for free, working with a speaker bureau and other trends

The topic of speaking for free is widely discussed in our industry and I am extremely passionate about it as a speaker, planner and as an attendee. Unfortunately the answer for this question is not that simple so in the following article I want to present few arguments and trends I came across in the last couple of months.

Let’s begin with accepting free speaking opportunities and asking others to speak for free at your events. I can clearly see both sides of the arguments and have mixed feelings about the topic. As a speaker I know how much time goes into preparing the talk, the slides, researching the audience and the event and missing work being out of the office. On the other hand, speaking at an industry event gives me brand exposure, enhances networking opportunities and drives more traffic to my blog. For example, my latest talk at The Meetings Show increased my traffic on that week about 200%, so I do consider it successful outcome even though I wasn’t paid to speak at the event.

Should speakers speak for free

The answer is – it depends.

It depends on your expertise, on your reputation, your experience, your marketing budget and other individual factors.

“You will get exposure to relevant audience” organises say when they contact me. I do realise it and appreciate it. Nothing is free today, so while suppliers pay for exhibition space, you get the platform for free to address potential clients and share your expertise.

Speakers mainly complain about the fact that speaking for free doesn’t get them business. But there is more to ROI and it isn’t just about getting you business. It is also about exposure, brand awareness, staying relevant, networking and associating your brand with the event. Of course you are not there to sell but provide content – but if your audience sees you know your stuff people will contact you when they will need your services.

So if speaking for free will benefit other areas of your business rather than the bottom line, it is worth it and event recommended.

When organisers should pay speakers

Times are changing and marketing is moving to digital and some speakers have very strong presence on social media. One tweet from them can make your event hashtag start trending on Twitter and sell more tickets. So back to the exposure argument – speakers whose business is doing well already and they have big social media outreach will bring YOUR event exposure – that is when you need to reconsider your strategy and start paying your speakers. These speakers won’t accept you making money on their behalf, not remunerating them for their time, talent, knowledge and social currency.

Working with a speaker bureau

Last month I attended Square Meal Venues & Events where they had a session called Speakernomics about the current trends in booking speakers in the UK, based on a study composed by the speaker bureau Speakers Corner. This was a panel discussion hosted by Nadine Dereza with Nick Gold Managing Director of Speakers Corner and Tim Chudley, Managing Director of Sundial Group. By attending this session I was interested to know what role speakers’ bureau plays in assisting organisers to find the right speaker, except of providing the “big names”.

Personally I think key note speakers are extremely important for the success of an event and choosing the right one can be your USP. At the same time I understand it can be a challenge. I listened to few high profile speakers who were exceptional, others I was extremely disappointed as it seemed they recycled their presentation from previous events and just couldn’t connect to the audience.

Current trends

According to Nick, companies that approach them want speakers that can help them manage risks better, foster creativity and innovation. From the data collected over the last year they were able to draft a report showing how the events industry is mimicking the business environment and it showed that the events industry is not fully exploiting the opportunities available out there.

Currently there are two main trends. Firstly, very often, clients get an internal speaker, primarily to keep costs down but there might be two downsides to it. Firstly, they might be senior and inspirational, but too often they are not great speakers. Secondly they tend to repeat themselves when they have to speak at multiple internal events couple of times per year, giving a positive spin on events and economy.

On the other hand, external speakers bring something new and different. It is suggested to hire speakers from a different industry but which is similar in terms of maturity, regulations, market scope etc. Because bringing someone from the same industry to talk to employees might come across as “the speaker is better than them”.

Second trend is moving from the big name and the “wow” factor. Organisers have to ask themselves what is the value and ROI of a “celebrity” speaker. These speakers are in the press but do they really understand the change and impact company is looking for? Nick suggested asking yourself the following questions:  “Do you want someone to applaud when they walk in the room or when they walk out the room”.

Before the recession hit, customers tended to book high profile speakers, and after the recession they wanted the same person for half the price. Therefore, speaker bureau started to challenge customers and ask what they wanted to get out of the speaker. Economists became popular for example, clients asking to give a positive spin on the economy, then current affairs, futurists and technologist.

Lead times

As you probably already know, speakers are often last to approach, but organisers need to change this mind-set. Speakers’ value to the conference is the content they can deliver and while content delivery on the day is the easiest part, there is a lot of preparation to be done prior to that. By missing this opportunity clients are missing on not extracting the full value of the speaker.

Nick suggested that the speaker needs to spend time understanding the client and the audience and good speakers are ready to get involved so far in advance to prepare themselves. Nick also recommended that clients should insist on a face-to-face briefing or a call with the speaker and brief them. The client pays a lot of money, which is for the whole process and not just for the delivery.

Speakers’ responsibility

For speakers it is also important to remember that they have four clients.

First one is the event manager, so come early to the event, let them brief you and have the slides ready. Second is the CEO or decision maker who holds the money and signs-off the event. Third is the audience, whom you never met and who might be looking for something completely different from what the event planner briefed you, so try and meet the audience beforehand at the coffee break and understand what their expectations are. Lastly is the bureau that booked you and if all goes smoothly they will recommend and book you again.

Nadine added that sometimes the speaker doesn’t get the briefing because clients don’t know what they want (especially if they are not event planners) so it is speakers’ responsibility to come up with content they believe the client wants and just do it. In some cases speakers will be more experienced in delivering the talk, an experience the client can rely on.

Last note to organisers

The main problem I have is not as a speaker speaking for free, I get speaking engagement outside the events industry which pay very well so few times per year I can fully commit and speak for free and in addition I find it a fantastic way to give back to you, my readers.

The problem I have is as an attendee. The events I usually attend, targeting event planners, have the same speakers, same content, same slides, another panel discussion, sales pitch, session cancellations and no innovation from the previous year. And I can guess it is similar in other industries that don’t pay their speakers.

If you as an organiser don’t pay your speaker, you can’t expect anything back in return. So please be considerate of your audience and start paying and don’t be afraid to demand more from your speakers.

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Comments (2)

  • Breck Lewis 9 years ago Reply

    I really like how you explained when speakers can be hired out for free or not. The reputation has everything to do with how much a speaker is worth. I’m currently trying to train some sales people and I need some good motivational speakers. Thanks for sharing this because it gave me a lot of things to considered when hiring a speaker.

    The MICE Blog 9 years ago Reply

    Thanks for the feedback Breck. Hope it goes well and you’ll find excellent speakers!

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