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How to Hire a Professional Speaker

Ed Rigsbee,

The two most important initial decisions in hiring a professional speaker are determining whether you want a speaker primarily for content or entertainment value and whether you want to work through a speakers bureau or directly with the speaker.

Content Speakers vs. Entertainment Speakers
While there are hybrid speakers that deliver a bit of each, you would be well served to be clear about your primary desire. While most of professional content speakers are entertaining and lively, they are not humorists and will generally not have your audience laughing and in stitches throughout their speech. What they will do is deliver their expertise in an engaging manner. Be honest with yourself and decide which speaker to select based on whether you want entertainment or content.

Speakers Bureau vs. Direct Booking
Some insight on how speakers bureaus work: Most bureaus in America work on a commission and most bureaus in Europe work on an add-on basis. American bureaus take 25-30 percent commission on a speaker’s established fee while most in Europe add the amount of money they want to make onto the speaker’s established net fee. The benefit of working with a good bureau is that they have access to a large number of speakers, which will save you time in your search. A speakers bureau also will execute the contract with the speaker, again saving you time.

However, if you want to negotiate concessions from the speaker, using a speakers bureau is probably not your best choice.

The downside of working with bureaus is that they have a tendency to have preferred speakers and push them whether the speaker is right for the event or not.

Also, be sure to do financial due diligence on a bureau. Over the last decade, there have been a significant number of incidents where bureaus use money from their separate or speaker fund account (a best practice suggested by the International Association of Speakers Bureaus) to fund their daily expenses and either do not pay speakers or pay speakers very late. This is an ongoing issue and can become troublesome for the meeting organizer.

Communication with Speaker is Paramount

To get the kind of speaker you want, you should speak directly with the speaker at some point in the search/hiring process. You want to be honest with the speaker about your expectations of them and the realities of the audience members to whom they will present. If there is a current industry or company crisis, the speaker must be informed. Poor communications of the primary and secondary meeting stakeholders’ expectations of the speaker will spell disaster.

Communicate the results you expect from your event clearly with the speaker. What is it that you expect the speaker to deliver? Be absolutely certain that the speaker understands your expectations.

Often there are opposing desires of the speaker’s performance from various stakeholders within the organization, so be sure the speaker is well informed of the dichotomy.

Changing the Scope of Work
Do not assume. If you change the speaker’s scope of work after the contract has been executed, expect the agreement pricing to also be adjusted. As an example, if you contract with a speaker for a speech and later want permission to video or audio record the presentation, expect to pay an additional fee. If you change the speaker’s presentation time without prior approval, you may have a problem. If the speaker has another engagement that would be affected, you might have to pay much higher travel costs or the speaker might not be available.

Right Speaker, Right Event

To assure that you get the best speaker for your event at the best possible fee, be crystal clear as to what kind of speaker you want and what kind of a presentation you want. The quickest way to a disaster is to think all speakers are created equal or that any speaker will do. The better you know what you want, need and desire from a professional, the better chance that you will hire the speaker that will deliver on your expectations.

One of America’s most prolific authors and speakers on partnering and strategic alliances, Ed Rigsbee is a consultant and adviser to world-class clients such as Toyota, 3M, Dun and Bradstreet, BE Aerospace, George Fischer Signet, Mead, Siemens, Roland, Best Buy and others. He travels internationally to assist organizations in building alliance relationships and to improve their effectiveness and profitability.

When he takes the platform to deliver keynote presentations, he delivers twice the value. First is his high-level content, gleaned from his books and more than 1,500 published articles. Second is his naturally playful and humorous manner, which he uses to relax and disarm his audience. The result is his distinctive ability to move people into action and to do better and be more effective in business and life. Ed Rigsbee, CSP, may be contacted through or