By: Jeffrey Hansler
The downturn in the economy is the catalyst for people shifting from a What do I need? mentality to a What can I keep mentality?
Considering the excesses that ran rampant during the wide swing of the pendulum to the abundance side, it's not a terrible thing to cut out the unnecessary. Come on, when a book that says all you have to do is think abundantly to attract abundance hits the best seller list and gets turned into a movie, you have to consider that things are a bit out of whack.
(So what the big Secret about that!)
Unfortunately, now the pendulum has swung too far the other way and individuals and corporations are cutting their own lifelines in the name of frugality. One of those lifelines is contribution to others. While this is bad on an individual basis, it is compounded a hundred fold on an organizational basis. Yet, this is what committees that are involved with meetings and speakers are being asked to do: cut meetings, cut costs, and at the same time increase value for the benefit of the organization and, as much as possible, re-establish and manage confidence. The problem is increased value and managing confidence can't be measured and cutting costs can.
So which do you think they focus on?A few wisely look for value to save money, unfortunately many look for cheap, because money is a tangible that can be measured. Unfortunately, as you may know from experience, going cheap, especially with a large group of people in attendance, can be a recipe for disaster. The problem is until it happens to someone, they don't quite understand the repercussions, and after it happens, they usually aren't involved with picking speakers again. And the list of people to take their place, who also seem to feel the need to learn that lesson, is endless.
Let's put money aside for a moment, and the fact that the word is out on the amount of money some speakers get paid for one hour of work, which is bound to attract people to the industry. Let's just talk about the world we live in where you don't get 15 minutes of fame, you get a lifetime of fame: Facebook, YouTube, realty TV, American Idol, Obama Girl, Miss California etc. and it's all posted on the internet forever where Google can bring it up at anytime. This has changed how people perceive the act of speaking. For a time, there was a great fear of speaking in front of audiences for most individuals, now it seems that the number of individuals that are willing to fight for the opportunity to speak before an audience has grown exponentially. In today's world, the business of speaking has generated a great deal of attention and with attention come the numbers: More people wanting to speak and more people seeing speaking income as an additional revenue source.
I've worked for many years to perfect my craft and deliver great content, new information and perceptions, and entertainment. Yet when you do a search on Twitter for sales speakers and trainers, it becomes obvious after viewing the millionth sales speaking and training expert, that if you've bought a coffee in the lobby of a hotel hosting a sales seminar and sold something at a garage sale, you're a sales speaking and training expert.
That is a noise level that cannot be competed against. It's like trying to pick out a good musician during a clash of bands playing all at the same time.
You know that price is a poor determining factor on the result. Others charge a small amount and deliver great value. The problem is in a tough economy, committees are in search of a criterion to measure the overload of speakers, and often turn to price and often go cheap.
Technology has changed the dynamics
Technology has created a perfect storm that is affecting speaker bureaus, speakers, and the speaking industry itself. It's important that each of us takes positive action so that all of us will enjoy continued success.
Corporations will turn to alternate media for motivational and educational sound bites, and while there are a limited number of speakers that can keep a live audience involved for an hour or two.
On the other hand, low barriers has had a good effect. As the radio and the record industries squelched independent artists in the past, so have the speaker industry experts viewed speakers through a very limited peep-hole and pushed aside many speakers with a vision that could have contributed greatly to audiences around the world.
For some speaker bureaus, it was just easier to work with a known speaker than an unknown. What clients really want from speakers' bureaus: The knowledge to find the speaker(s) that best deliver the content, the program, and the entertainment that exactly fits their venue.
It was safer to place a known speaker, than to place an up-and-coming speaker that would stretch the audience, if they brought tools for improvement or change.
In this economic time, organizations are hungry for new ideas and new speakers. They can do their own searches on the internet for speaker thru a speakers' bureaus catalog.
The fact that technology has given organizations and committees just about every tool they need to find speakers has created a misperception that they can pick the right speaker. As I mentioned before, committee decisions for speakers can be based on all sorts of criteria that has little to do with delivering a great program.
So what are you (we) going to do?
I say it's time for speaker bureaus to get some positive control back, and my recommendation is to focus on what you (we) can affect.
NOTE: As a speaker bureau, before you start using the following suggestions, I believe it is your responsibility to strengthen your ability to evaluate speakers for different audiences, and it shouldn't be based on book popularity, or speaker industry involvement, or familiarity. Speaker Bureaus would do well to shift from scripted safe speakers replaying time-tested programs to speakers that can withstand twittering during their program.
(Do speakers really believe they will turn off their cell phones!)
By focusing on specific measured criteria to match a speaker to the audience, speaker bureaus can work to address the real need that remains: How can you tell if a speaker is good or not for that event?
(That's another article though.) Because rank in a search engine isn't a good indicator at all.
Change your client arrangements
One of the most obvious changes, is more organizations are making their decisions with committees? And within these committees there is a worrisome trend: There is a distinctive lack of loyalty by these committees to speaker bureaus? They are working either openly, covertly, or inadvertently with multiple sources for speakers. In most cases, they are working with multiple speaker bureaus, in some cases they are working with the speakers themselves. In a few cases, they are assigning each member of the committee to do their own speaker and speaker bureau search and come back with their finds. This is a disaster because several studies show that increasing the choices for a committee decision reduces the quality of that decision.
(Findings from research I did years ago for a client.)
It was bad enough when the committee was at least focused on one speaker bureau and the president of the organization swooped in with their speaker find. And maybe that's the reasons, committees stopped being loyal to speaker bureaus, they had so many instances of executives pulling in speakers at the last minute, that they decided they should be looking outside a speaker bureau anyway. And why not, bureaus for a variety of reasons ignore some great speakers.
So how do you stop this trend with committees?
You're first sale is not the speaker.
Your first sale must be to control that committee.
That means education and agreements.
You need to educate the client on an arrangement that works for both of you and you need to formalize that arrangement in a contract: A contract that is agreed to by all on the committee.
Your reason for this upfront agreement is to protect committees from themselves. The members really want to protect their jobs, unfortunately, most of the committee members are not in the job of picking speakers, so if they pick a bad one, they can go right back to their own job.What they don't realize is a bad speaker can jeopardize the entire company and therefore jeopardize their job indirectly, especially in the current economy.
If you are bringing speakers into the mix at the end, you're making a mistake by not leveraging what you are selling.
First, get in touch with the speakers you're considering presenting and let them know who you're presenting them to.
Why? Here are just a few reasons:
1) If you present the speaker and the committee contacts that speaker directly, the speaker has no idea of your involvement.
2) As a bureau, by working with a speaker directly, you gain an opportunity to discover if it were someone you'd want to work with.
3) Your speaker's expertise and knowledge if brought to the table with the client can help you close the deal and maybe speed up the process as well.
The only reason you wouldn't want to contact the speaker and let them know who the client was would be because the speaker would become a rogue and call the client direct or take the information you gave them to close the deal with the client without you. If they do that, you don't want to work with those speakers anyway, trust me on that.
The hardest part of bringing a speaker into the client discussion is giving up some control of the conversations they are involved in. Again, if you are willing to risk this upfront, you will discover, much happier clients as a result of the programs put on.
A speaker brings content, style, and perception, and if these don't match on the phone, they are unlikely to match with the audience.
Change your selling arrangementsThe following is my outline with a few selling tips on how you should be selling as a speaker agent or bureau. The purpose is to control the process and keep a watchful eye on your only true asset - an asset that cannot be saved, stored, or locked up -, your time. I have highlighted and underlined the concept words that have meaning in the sales world far beyond what you might expect and are the contributions I bring to an audience looking to enhance their persuasive abilities.
1) Make your best CONTACT.
2) Build your TRUST with that contact
3) QUALIFY that contact
4) Make your first sale: an introduction to the committee via a conference call at their next committee member
5) Walk the committee through a NEEDS / TRUST ANALYSIS
6) Guide the committee to an upfront AGREEMENT (see attached)
7) Outline the plan for moving forward to contract with a speaker
This entire process is driven with questions, and you will be happy to know that a great many of the questions are ones that you've been asking all along:
What do you want as a result of the speaker and the meeting?
What are some of the topics that you'd like to see?
What are some of the speakers that you've seen in the past?
How did that work out?
What type of speaker do you want?
Where does the speaker fit in the meeting to accomplish what you want as a result?
What should be avoided at all costs is taking this information and throwing out answers and speakers. This is just exasperating the situation between committees and speaker bureaus. You want an upfront agreement.
Here are some of the HARD questions to ask:
Do you have ideas on speakers you'd like?
Have you talked to them?
Would it be OK if I became the point person in working with them?
Oh, by the way, do you have any calls to other speaker bureaus?
Is there anyone outside the committee that can usurp your decision or bring in another speaker?
What will be the terms of our arrangement?
What is the next step?
The outline for controlling the committee is the answer to solving the problems with committee/bureau arrangements. While it won't bring every deal in, it will at least let you know exactly where you stand with that committee and your likelihood of getting the sale, and you will be using your time effectively.
The hard part is communicating in a manner that will guide the committee through that outline and to the result you want.
"Let World Class Speakers & Entertainers enhance your next event by providing the appropriate speaker or entertainer to fit your program and budget requirements."
- Joseph I. Kessler, President
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