The animal welfare organization I once worked with was the lead organization for international emergency rescues including following Hurricane Katrina. Each week as that tragedy unfolded, we’d get hundreds of animals that needed temporary shelter as their owners sought the same. It left us completely depleted so our boss decided to bring in an expert on animal-welfare burnout to ease our pain. The speaker seemed perfect—years in the business, experience with harrowing rescues and a calm and soothing demeanor. But he spent the first 20 minutes of the talk that was supposed to make us feel better telling us his first debilitating experience with euthanasia—the last thing we needed to hear. Needless to say, by the end of his speech, we knew who needed to be “put down.”
Sandro Forte is a founder member of the Professional Speakers Association and is a sought after speaker as well as a strategic and personal development coach. He has served as the Million Dollar Round Table (MDRT) program chair, to design the motivational program for more than 10,000 top sales professionals who attend their annual conference. We sat down with Forte to find out the different types of speakers available and how to pick the right one for your program.
What’s the best way to find the right speaker for your audience?
First know what you want the speech to accomplish. Then start looking for who will meet that need. For big events like the MDRT, we want to create lots of different moods. We have a program committee that sleuths speakers 18 months out to unearth cutting-edge topics and pertinent speakers. They peruse magazines, read best sellers, watch TED Talks and study the talk-show circuit to find approaches to living a better life.
What are the different types of speakers?
Humorists must be able to play to a large and diverse audience because our number one goal is to be relevant. By relevant I mean the speaker has to translate. I’ll give you a specific example: In the UK, we’re known for our sarcasm, which is great if you are British or American. But some cultures don’t get certain types of humor so you can lose big parts of the humor on audiences if you haven’t thought it through.
Motivation speakers are very interesting and most everyone latches on to the great things they have to say. But I’m a believer stories can create a positive mindset but it is messages behind the stories that are more important than the story. A great storyteller can create that positive mindset, but it may only make you feel good for about four hours. We want messages our attendees can apply to their own lives, not just stories.
Some celebrities have terrible egos that enter the room before they do. Sometimes they just give the talk, take the check and leave. What’s worse is they are not always prepared. Celebrities don’t do research; don’t build relationships with meeting planners or [program] committees. Some are exceptional but it’s about how well their experience translates with the audience.
Industry speakers may be experts in their trade, but not be good speakers. What makes you good in your business and what you put in a speech are two very different things.
How do you find the right speakers specifically for your audience and program?
One golden rule, if you do all the hard work in the beginning of the process, you will get good results. Just start with Googling the type of speaker, like humorist, and you’ll find lots of leads. Working a year out gives you time to do a lot of research and find people pertinent to what you are trying to convey to your attendees.