professional speakers

Professional Speaking: How to Work with Speakers Bureaus

Palmer-20130729-00569 The dream of most professional speakers is to be represented by a speaker bureau or lecture agent. Unfortunately, professional speaking is like the acting industry. You can't get an agent until you're known. Bureaus have more than enough speakers. What they want most is more clients who will hire their speakers.But, if you have a unique and compelling message and a track record of excellence they may take a chance on you.

What is a speakers bureau? It's a middle man, or broker, for speakers and entertainers. They market to corporations and associations and match them with the perfect speaker for their event. They take an average 25-30% commission from the speaker's fee. The bureau or agent owns the client and any spinoff business.

Brian Palmer. President of the National Speakers Bureau in Libertyville Illinois, recently spoke at the NSA convention. He shared with us what buyers have told him about working with speakers. These are the mistakes they see, which he passed on to us. Here are a few of the highlights from his talk:

1. Pricing.

a.) Scrutinize your price and get it right. b.) Have a written policy under which conditions you'll alter your fee. c.) Measure the gap between your fee and what you actually book each month.

When you say you won't lower your fee, the average response from the buyer is "I had to ask that question."  Brian tells his clients if they want the speaker to lower the fee, they must put the offer in writing. "Make me an offer". It changes the equation.

2. Too many topics.

Have no more than three topics with great titles and descriptions. You can test topics, but don't list a bunch of topics. Customers care how you dress, how you speak, how you listen, table manners, interacting with the audience, your behavior. Be extra polite. It matters what happens off the platform. Companies want you to be aspirational.

3. Missed or ineffective pre-conference calls.

Brian calls these "hurdle raisers". Most of the time the conference calls are missed by the speaker. Don't do it. Prepare for the call and don't use a cell phone. The number one issue is talking too much when being briefed. It's important to be excellent on those calls. Be lively. Brian lost his client because the speaker was a "zero" on the phone.

4. Lack of personalization.

Companies bring you in to achieve some business end. Build your business around helping them achieve their goals. They don't hire you to hear what you have to say.

5. Selling too much.

Asking three times on the phone if they want to buy books is a bad sign. Don't go over their heads. He cited Joe Calloway as someone who gets hired over and over again. Joe gets brought in for consulting after his speeches. Don't ask before you go on stage if you can mention your book.  When you pitch, it takes away from your message. And, Brian cautions, "Don't add people to your mailing list unless they ask for it".

6. Image.

How you answer the phone, your responsiveness, impacts whether a bureau wants to represent you. Show up, be on time, be prepared.

7. A presentation that does not include both head and heart.

Phyllis Diller analyzed her laughs. Motivational speaker, Walter Bond, aims for less than a minute between big laughs. Every two or three minutes there should be a laugh. It could be a nodding moment, but there must be an emotional connection!

8. Poor quality demo videos. A speaker demo video should be longer rather than shorter. A three minute video scares people. Include audience shots and enough footage so the client can see a flow. Customers want an excellent speech.

The goal is to have a great video of a great speech. Brian mentioned Amanda Gore's 2004 preview speech as being one of the best. It was 20 minutes long and there was a thunderous ovation at the end.

9. Not being authentic.

People want to hire smart people that happen to speak. It's not good to have a website that's filled with speaker poses. Your website should not look like a speaker site.

While there may be many opinions about how to work with speakers bureaus, Brian gave the audience some good food for thought and valuable tips for developing a good relationship with speakers bureaus.

Gay Marriage: Can a Presentation Change Minds?

Even when the subject is controversial, it's not hard to admire a perfect speaker. Professional speakers know how to marry the timing and the humor, so it all comes together into one neat, perfect package. The best motivational speakers make it look easy, so we think, "I could never do that. How could I have any impact?"

But it's important to remember that YOU are the message. When you speak from passion, people will forgive the foibles and faux pas. Case in point: watch this video presentation of Diane Savino who is the New York State Senator from Staten Island. She gives an impassioned speech in the Senate in support of gay marriage.

When she begins, she's playing with her pen. Later on, she tugs on her ear for a while, which is distracting. An executive speech coach would fault her for that. Yet, the passion and clarity of her message overshadows the imperfections in her presentation. While many politicians waffle, the most persuasive presenters take a definitive stand. Whether or not they agree with her position, the audience is drawn in and listens.

When it comes to public speaking, passion trumps perfection. Forget about perfect delivery, and focus on your passion and your message. You'll be less nervous and more persuasive.

What do you think - does she make a convincing case? Why or why not?

TEDx Comes to Times Square

Karol Ward at TEDxTimesSquare Yesterday, I attended TEDxTimesSquare, which is an independently organized TED event in New York City. The theme was Openness: Exploring the Limits and Possibilities of Open Culture. TED stands for Technology, Education, and Design, and is a forum for public speakers to share ideas worth spreading.

It's a wonderful platform for professional speakers to gain exposure and for the audience to experience a wide range of speaking styles and fascinating topics.

One of the best presenters was Karol Ward whose presentation was called, "Claim Your Inner Voice". She was the epitome of professional speaking. From the message, to the timing, to her movement, to her story, to her slides - they all worked together to create one seamless message about the mind-body connection.

Another fabulous presenter was Mark Taylor who spoke about "The Enemy of Openness". He shared that the secret to conflict management is triads. With two people, one is right and the other is wrong. With three people, it's easier to accept feedback. Now I know why my mastermind group of three people works so well.

Amy Goldsmith's talk was titled, "Yours, Mine and Ours? Legal Limits of Openness." She shared some fascinating information about intellectual property. We think of intellectual property as literary or musical. But did you know that you don't own your own blood? Once someone draws your blood, it's considered waste material and a researcher can obtain a patent for use of your DNA or cells.

Event Planner Annette Naif with Diane DiResta at TEDxTimesSquare

It's not enough to have good presenters. For an event to be successful, it has to be well-organized. TEDxTimesSquare ran smoothly due in large part to event planner Annette Naif.

Other people in the program included:

  • Jim Estill - From Zero to $2 Billion Through Openness
  • Tim Piper - Why Goodness is Good for Brands
  • Christopher Bishop - Open Technology for 430,000 Employees
  • Kitty Pilgrim - International Openness
  • Guy Geier - Open Architecture
  • Collin McCloughlin - Chasing Dreams
  • Andy Cohen - Magical Assumptions Behind Openness
  • Greg Harper - The Future Through Open Technologies
  • Aliza Licht - The Power of Being Real
  • Peter Shankman - Nice Finishes First

TEDx Silicon Alley Tells Public Speakers to Keep it Simple stands for technology, education, and design. Some of the top and most innovative public speakers can be seen on youtube giving an 18 minute presentation on new and creative topics. It's very competitive to get a speaking slot at a event, so many presenters are opting to organize and speak at local events called TEDx. I recently attended the TEDx Silicon Alley event in New York City. The theme was "Rise of the Machines," but what stood out to me was the connection between technology and human presentation. One of the presenters, Ken Segall, represented the agency that worked with Apple. He was the man credited for naming the iphone and ipad. He spoke about Steve Jobs and his focus on the simplicity principle. The presenter showed an effective ad for McDonalds coffee. It stated: Any size for only $1.00. It was elegant in it's simplicity.  Da Vinci said, "Simplicity is the Ultimate Sophistication."

I continue to focus on the K.I.S.S. principle when I speak to audiences. Whether you say Keep it simple stupid, or Keep it super simple, it's not easy to do. When I coach public speakers I tell them to create a short and long version of their presentation. They discover that's it's easier to create a longer presentation. As Ken explained, "Simple can be harder than complex".

My clients realize they have to work harder to get the message clear enough to be simple. They quickly learn that I act as "the lowest common denominator". These presenters must be able to speak so that I understand the message without being an expert in their industry. One presenter told me that when he worked in a law firm they would give a memo or letter to the assistant to read. If she didn't understand it, they rewrote the letter until it was clear.

The more complex the idea, the crisper the message needs to be. This is especially critical when speaking to the media. Professional speakers have a harder time with media training. Motivational speakers are master storytellers so they must make a shift in their presentation. I show them how to speak in sound bites. The average sound bite is about 10 seconds. If it's not short and simple, it won't land and the audience will check out.

Many of the TEDx Silicon Alley speakers focused on technology, from text to speech to algorithms to flying robots. Whether it's face-to-face or virtual, we can't get away from the need for good presentation. How do you tie these two worlds together? The thread that runs through both is simplicity. Steve Jobs said it best when he said about simplicity: "it's worth it in the end because you can move mountains."