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How To "Clear" A Room

Posted on 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.


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Cara Fletcher

Some people find it really difficult to deal with this issue.I hate to do this that's why I do it when there is a necessity.


Hi Brian,

I understand what you are saying. Thanks for taking the time to share your experience. My company shares a similar experience in that meeting planners RARELY come in to the process with clear objectives for finding the "right speaker". They are often taken by surprise at the level of involvements it takes to find the right speaker.

I was thinking, however, it would probably be in the interest of bureaus and other speaker finding resources like migurus to provide a template for the meeting planner to use.

If you or someone reading this post happens to have a great template that meeting planners can use to identify the "right speaker" and are willing to share it with the meeting planning community please do so.

If necessary, I can setup a page at www.speakermatch.com where meeting planners can download this helpful resource.


Feel free to contact me at (866) 372-8768, ext. 501


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