Overcoming Roadblocks to Picking Perfect Speakers

How To "Clear" A Room


May 11, 2007

By Brian Palmer

One of the more interesting and sadder speaker selection tales I’m familiar with had to do with a large US based corporation who charged a committee of twelve to come up with recommendations form which the Chief Executive could make the final selection.  The group reviewed  one hundred and thirteen speaker videos and ended up hiring someone  (Not from our firm) who was described to me by a Senior VP as “a room clearer”. 

This is a wonderfully extreme example of a poorly designed selection process which produced a poor result.  It holds though a variety of lessons. 

1. Start the process with an end in mind and clear criteria for your speakers.  “We want someone real good” is all this committee was working with.  This group each with their own opinion had no real basis for evaluation making the process aimless and a great deal more difficult. 
 
2. A  speaker selection committee of twelve is too large.   Size was partially driven by the understanding that their work went directly to the CEO.  I’m not sure what the ideal is but I suspect it’s much smaller than that.   
 
3. Provide a budget parameter.  While it can be nice to not be hemmed in by a budget a number can provide useful focus and limit the pool of available speakers. They looked to people ranging from $5,000 to $70,000 ( The guy that bombed charged $10,000) opening the search to several thousand people that spoke within this criteria.

The Chief Executive of this company gave a lot of time to the speaker selection process.  While the speakers you put before your top people  are an important decision I wouldn’t want the Chief Executive of a company I had a large interest in spending their time doing that sort of thing  (He's since been "retired") .  Plus the committee became obsessed with making perfect  (read safe) suggestions and clearly failed in their quest.  While it's easy for me to make this observation I don't have a suggestion for rectification.  Perhaps the strongest move would be to find a way off this committee. 

In the last ten years there has been an explosion of excellent talent in the arena of speakers.  This growth has fueled an increase in quality.  It should not be difficult to find excellent speakers.  The hard part has become choosing those that are.

It Aint Easy Being Green


May 09, 2007

By Brian Palmer

It really isn’t easy being green.   Most meetings aren’t and those that do assemble large groups consume a remarkable amount of the earth’s resources.  Our industry has and will continue to improve its ability to recognize ways to reduce the negative impacts meetings can have.   

One of the fundamentals of keeping green is a commitment to procure items locally and reduce the need to transport them.  This can include your speakers and here are some ways to do it.

Let me begin by noting the struggles  many have had in their effort to accomplish this.  When your lead criteria is “speaker proximity“ it can become nearly impossible to find the right speaker.   A speaker’s proximity to your event can certainly be one of the criteria though making it the first one can make your search extremely difficult.   

But to waist the time, money  and the natural resources  to bring a group together to hear the "wrong" speaker is the antithesis of "green" and... un-wise.

Here are some places to look…

The internet was made for finding local speakers.   A simple search is apt to yield a great many speakers.

Institutions of higher learning often have a vehicle to portray those on their facility that might speak. 

Speakers Bureaus and their websites tend to sort people by home town as well as topic

The website of the National Speakers Association (www.nsaspeaker.org) can sort speakers by region and cities.   

Some creative searches can yield information about the speakers that will be in your meeting city the same time as you

As with any product or service the usual cautions are in order.  Most listings on websites are part of some sort of marketing effort.  Do your usual due diligence and make certain the speaker can do almost exactly what you want done. 

I confess to a prejudice toward reputable speakers bureaus.  They can present a group of people who meet your criteria  and standards  for you to consider.   

Your effort to hire people locally will leave several dozen gallons and a very large tank.  As this practice continues to grow the negative impact on meetings will diminish.

Survey Says...


May 07, 2007

By Brian Palmer

Last week's mimegasite survey about speakers helps make an important point. 

The question posed was, "Which type of keynote speaker is most desirable to your meeting groups these days?"  The results of the survey provided two distinct preferences.  The first was for someone who had become famous for a remarkable achievement and could inspire and or motivate.  The next largest segment expressed a preference for a keynote speaker who had worked within their same industry and whose ideas might be directly attributable to their work.

The lesson here is that  if you wish to satisfy a wide range of attendees your odds will go up if  you schedule some sort of mix.

One should also keep these ratios in mind when reviewing speaker evaluations.  Those that prefer one sort of speaker are apt to comment when they don’t get what they want. It has also been my experience that those inferring that a speaker from their industry, with practical ideas has a tendency to make their point more ardently.  I’ve seen evaluations from a thousand person meetings where 500 people filled out evaluations that were laced with praise for the speakers  and complaints from a handful that the speakers were not from their industry and, hence, not directly relevant.  Then, in an effort to eliminate all dissatisfaction the pursuit of direct relevance goes too far and  produces really bad results. 

Some conclusions from my almost daily "read"of speaker evaluations, surveys and customer feedback include:

--Audiences want an interesting speaker who will take their mind to new places and reconfirm some old notions   
--Groups adore speakers that do homework to ensure that their talk accounts for the group and  their work
--The best speakers breed some degree of discomforOccasionally the group is not too keen on the speaker that did exactly what the meeting wanted owner wanted

Having a great speaker at your meeting will never go out of style.   

"The Most Expensive Speaker I've Ever Had Was Free"


June 16, 2006

By Brian Palmer

This wise client statement came from a senior executive with a large corporation. Someone his senior secured a person of note to speak at their conference.  My client attempted to feed this alleged speaker information about the group and event and his associate dismissed the effort and suggested "I'll take care of it".  He didn't.

While at the resort the speaker pilfered the robe, found a $170 bottle of wine he loved, enjoyed the mini bar (to excess), took in some $14 in room movies, unexpectedly stayed three nights, called the company by the wrong name (repeatedly),  made fun of a figure beloved to the group and was, in my client's words, "a room clearer."

Prior the presentation the senior guy was stuck to the speaker "like flypaper."  After, well, he got real busy and looked real stupid... for a long time.

I've observed a tendency to relinquish control of one of the most apparent components of a meeting when that speaker is appearing for little or no fee.  It is important to remember that the event is not about the speaker but rather, your organization, your attendees and your objectives. 

All speakers should be handled largely according the the brilliant system you have in place designed to help your speakers directly address event or organizational objectives, and ideas that exist in the mind of your audience. Some speakers need/require/demand different things so have some flexibility in the system... to a point.    

Time


June 16, 2006

By Brian Palmer

As expensive as speakers can be the most valuable component of that session is usually the cumulative time of those in the audience.  Help make sure their time is well used.

What Gets Evaluated Gets Done


June 16, 2006

Don't let the first time your speaker might see an evaluation be when they take their seat in the front row (figuratively speaking as many are now done on line). As part of your speaker preparation send a your form, attach it to an email or provide a link to something similar to the evaluation you'll be using.  Don't make a huge deal about it but include it in the mix of items, perhaps, with a subtle distinction that makes it difficult to miss.  Concisely or subconsciously those you're suggesting your group sit quietly and listen to will recognize that they have a job to do and will be getting a performance appraisal.

Make sure your evaluation reflects and measures things important to your group and event. This can drive the way the people regard your event, is apt to alter their preparation and cause them to raise their game. 

Athletic Supporter


June 15, 2006

There's an axiom that suggests that many a wise man looses some of their sensibilities when they catch a whiff of a well used athletic supporter.  To be sure, having a revered athlete make an appearance and presentation can produce a significant desired impact on a meeting... if he or she is right. 

I've observed more then a few selection processes erode when the prospect of an athlete was being considered.  The list of criteria and quality standards can get pushed aside, as the allure gets in the way of clear thinking.

As groups and their interests grow more diverse, the odds increase that a lower proportion of your group will share an acute interest.  Listen closely for the soft voice, as it's hard to hear amid fanatic bluster.

Critical is that the chosen athlete (or any celebrity) be able to deliver a professional presentation which satisfies both the fan and non-fan alike.  Take extra care here to maintain a disciplined adherence to meeting objectives and the standards in place for the speakers you engage.

Silence Can Be Golden


June 13, 2006

By Brian Palmer

Regularly customers ask questions related to the potential to secure a speaker for less then their quoted price.  This is a reasonable question and since there are no pricing rules it’s hard to know how “good” a quoted price might be. It’s my experience that there’s a positive correlation between the stability of a speaker's price and the quality and professionalism of their presentation. Though it might help your budget if a speaker quotes $5000 and for no sustentative reason he say’s he’ll do it for $2000 I’d be concerned.

None the less one often needs to ask so here is an idea that I think will significantly improve the odds securing a speaker for less then their quoted fee.  Rather then ask if someone will do it for less make a definite offer with all the details… and then (this is very important) be quiet. Be prepared as it might be uncomfortable but doing this and the silence might end up being golden.

Dissing Women


June 13, 2006

By Brian Palmer

National Speakers Bureau clients work for organizations that, across the board, tout their commitment to diversity in the workforce and equal treatment for all employees.  When we put together speaker recommendations, we purposely provide a diverse speaker choice, a choice readily available in our market place.  But, no surprise to some of you (especially you, women speakers), men are consistently more apt to be chosen for the assignment than the equally qualified women speakers we offer.  What is happening here? 

It's extremely rare for a male to say something along the lines of: "Oh, our group won't listen to a woman." or "Our group isn't quite ready to hear the message from a woman."  Such sentiments are often shared by women.  I suggest they might be right in particular instances, but not nearly as often as they feel.  And when women speakers are being seriously considered by women, their selection too often requires a higher level of certainty.

This sort of thinking does organizations, events and those involved in the selection some harm.

I'm not suggesting one hire a speakers because of gender, I do recommend that you do not dismiss them for it.

A Little Irritation Can Go A Long Way


June 09, 2006

By Brian Palmer

…a long way to making a session a success.  I've seen lots of speakers and been witness to mountains of session and event feedback in my 26 years here.  I'm convinced that those speakers who create the very best impression -- move people in a positive way and deliver messages which are thought about long after the proceedings are over -- are also those who have a tendency to unsettle or even irritate some in the audience.  (Think back; did the whole class appreciate that beloved teacher of yours?) Choosing a speaker with strength (even controversy and aggression) can go against a natural tendency to do everything possible to satisfy every attendee.

Did the "owner" of this meeting get to his or her place by erring on the side of making everyone feel good?

You know there is a faction of attendees who won’t like any choice that may encourage new ideas or change, the ones who always have and always will complain.  They're not going to go away.  Just as the most dysfunctional family member is often given an inadvertent amount of family power, those over-critical attendees can be given too much thought and sway those planning an event toward a path of least resistance, the path of the familiar, and the path without challenge, fresh insight or worth.

Focusing first on well defined meeting and organizational objectives is far more important than the small group who might hold you and your organization back.  Toe that line.

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