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Speaker ROI: Unleashing platform prowess


Jim Rittenhouse,


Much column space in this publication and others has been devoted to the ever-increasing scrutiny meeting planners are getting in delivering a successful meeting. Because budgets are tighter, more is on the line each time there is a meeting. The resulting incumbent transformations expected of attendees have become paramount to your organization’s success. As a meeting planner, you have to be a near Olympian to accomplish these kinds of goals. (And without the medals.)

Olympian or not, you can deliver efficiencies for your bottom line and help to capture the imaginations of your stakeholders both at the main office and in the seats by increasing ROI on your speaker “spend.”  By partnering with professional speakers, you will not only save precious time, but attendees will thank you for using their time wisely. Here are at least two ways to do so.

No-cost ROI: Massage the message

Employ professional speakers to create and cultivate your meeting’s narrative. Because speakers enjoy preparing audiences to receive their message, they are equally glad to help you prepare them for your conference’s themes and anticipated outcomes. The more they connect, the more valuable their participation becomes to them and to you.

•    Ask speakers to post a video or article geared toward your theme, that includes their thought leadership, whatever that might be.
•    Ask the speaker to donate books, online memberships to their educational materials, or simply a one-on-one with an attendee as prize for a registration deadline.
•    Allow the speaker to contact your potential attendees directly in a controlled email blast. Have them attach a white paper or some of their other publications. Neither you nor the speaker are giving anything away at this point except crucial enticement to attend.

Low-cost ROI: “To Emcee or Not to Emcee”
Consider negotiating with a speaker to be the emcee for the general sessions of the conference and/or for networking events. Often, the speaker will consider combining the opportunities for a mutually equitable additional amount (i.e., not twice the fee and you offer them some concessions such as advanced book sales, exhibit space, access to your attendee list.)  But beware – not every speaker is a great emcee. Though they may claim they are available for emceeing, you want to be sure to ask for references from them or your bureau partner to vouch for their effectiveness as an emcee.

One of McKinney Speakers’ longtime national association clients is managed by IAM Solutions ( Tina Bowling, CEO of IAM Solutions had attended another convention where the keynote presenter was also an incredibly effective emcee.

Tina relates, “Although having the president speak is a great way to highlight the organization’s leadership, it was not the best way to start the conference with a high level of energy. My speakers bureau was able to find someone and for just a little additional funding I was able to increase not only the return on my investment but the overall quality of my client’s conference.”

Motivational humorist Jeff Havens ( will return to his fourth appearance with Tina’s client in 2014. Havens gives a great rationale for asking your professional speaker to emcee: “Definitely don’t force someone in your organization to emcee your conference if they’re not comfortable doing so. Often the conference organizers end up being coerced into this role, and if they aren’t comfortable standing in front of hundreds or thousands of people, then it’s going to be a bad deal for everyone.

“They’ll feel uncomfortable, and that discomfort will be evident to your audience and set the wrong kind of tone for your event. It’s much better to have someone leading things who likes being on stage. For myself, I speak at 60 or so conferences a year. Unless you start throwing things at me, there’s probably nothing that could stop me from keeping things on schedule and moving smoothly. And even if you do throw things at me, I have really quick reflexes. You’ll probably miss.”

Whether you partner with the professional speaker or the representing bureau, your meeting’s ROI can be drastically enhanced by unleashing your speaker’s platform prowess on your entire event. And you might just take home some medals!

Jim Rittenhouse is president and owner of McKinney Speakers Bureau, in Louisville, Ky. ( For more than 20 years, he has helped select the finest in speakers, entertainers, trainers and celebrities to speak at meetings and events of all sizes. He is president-elect of the Kentucky Bluegrass Chapter of Meeting Professionals International ( and has been awarded the Above and Beyond Award by his colleagues in the International Association of Speakers Bureaus ( of which McKinney Speakers has been a proud member since 1991. He can be reached at 877-468-9370 or