Speakers bureaus have been an effective way of identifying and retaining the right speakers for meetings since the time of Mark Twain. Yet some meeting planners aren’t sure how these bureaus work and have not tapped into the power of using them to find the right person for their engagement. Doing so, can save a ton of work.
Let’s first define our terms. A speakers bureau is a company that connects speakers to clients who need after-dinner, keynote and motivational speakers or, perhaps, conference facilitators. The bureau generally has a database of personalities from diverse fields who can talk about a wide range of topics.
Costs versus benefits
There seems to be a pervasive belief that it costs more to hire a speaker through a bureau than by contracting them on your own. In rare instances, this might be true. But among ethical speakers and bureaus — which make up about 95 percent of each industry — the fee to retain a speaker is the same whether a meeting planner contracts directly or books the speaker through a bureau. That’s because the speaker, not the planner, pays the bureau’s fee.
Why, then, would a speaker ever want to be booked through a bureau? The short answer: Many speakers don’t want to do marketing, do not have the time, energy or resources to do so and haven’t developed a long-term client base, as good bureaus do. By using a bureau, speakers lower their overhead costs and spend more time on their presentation skills, subject matter, and understanding of client industries and audience members’ needs.
Some meeting professionals seem to believe that bureaus will only recommend “pet speakers” — the same speakers that they always recommend. This may be true to a certain extent, but if a bureau recommends the same handful of speakers over and over, those speakers are probably pretty good. No bureau would risk its reputation by continually sending out a speaker who doesn’t do a stellar job. In general, speakers bureaus do their homework to make sure they identify the right speaker for the engagement.
Does a speakers bureau representative know enough about the meeting industry, audience and other particulars? At larger bureaus, many booking agents develop specialties. They can do an outstanding job finding the right speaker for your industry, audience and needs. They may even have a better grasp of the situation than you do because they’ve encountered something similar over and over again. Bureaus that can convey this information to you help you serve the client.
Finally, some speakers and meeting professionals fear that bureau-booked engagements choke off their interpersonal contact. This rarely happens. The meeting planner largely dictates the kind of relationship he or she wants with both the bureau and the speaker.