If you hire speakers for meetings or conferences, or if you are a professional speaker, you’ll want to check out the 2013 Speaker Report published by consulting firms Tagoras and Velvet Chainsaw. In the report, you’ll learn how associations are using speakers for meetings, conferences and other events.

microphoneIf you’ve thought about speaking as a career, or even as a career boost, this report will provide a look inside the conference planner’s mind and world. The report uses data from 130 organizations with annual budgets of at least $5,000 for hiring speakers. 79 Percent of these organizations are trade associations or professional societies. The good news for speakers and for education budgets: organizations are spending more on speakers than they did in 2011, the last time the Speaker Report was published.

Speakers – both wannabes and professionals – should first check page 28 where you’ll find “Marketing Advice from Conference Professionals to Speakers.” The common sense advice should be familiar to anyone who knows the basics of marketing, but apparently many speakers don’t. Associations should follow these same practices when marketing to membership and event prospects:

  • Don’t “spray and pray.” Do your research. Understand the problems of each association’s audience and how you can help solve them.
  • Provide relevant samples for each association.
  • Build a positive relationship with planners by respecting their time and providing what they need to make a decision.
  • Offer additional value before, during or after the event.

The report says, “Speakers who have a strong Web presence (often buoyed by book publication and social media activity)” have an edge over others. Online activity helps in the credibility department, plus they may be more likely to aid conference marketing and attendee engagement efforts. Planners also want to see video clips of real-life presentations, not promotional videos.

Although the majority of survey participants “frequently” or “sometimes” use speaker bureaus, the blended approach to speaker selection was most common. Planners rely heavily on the recommendations of peers, members and staff. Big names don’t matter to most of the planners. They don’t to me when I’m deciding whether to attend a conference; keynoters are just one factor of many. Do they matter to you?

In the majority of participating organizations, it looks like the wrong people are making speaker selection decisions. Shouldn’t this be left to those who are education professionals? In 23 percent of organizations, it is. This is an improvement since 2011 when only 14 percent of survey participants said the education department had decision-making authority.

However, today, in 24 percent of organizations, a board or committee makes speaker decisions, and in 20 percent, the CEO decides. If members or leadership are selecting speakers, I hope the education department provides criteria for making those decisions.

I was surprised that the top three attributes of a successful speaker were:  current and relevant content or expertise, being charismatic with high-energy stage presence, and providing a motivational message. All good attributes, but where’s understanding and engaging adult learners? A boring lecturer might provide top-notch content but attendees will be tuning out after a while. And an entertaining speaker might make them laugh but also leave them hungry for more meaty take-aways.

Conference organizers are more likely to provide complimentary registration (71 percent) for industry speakers than pay for travel (40 percent), lodging (49 percent), or stipends (43 percent). I’m assuming the percentage of organizations providing real compensation is low because they’re using member speakers more frequently than professional or non-member speakers.

Considering the low compensation percentages, I found this ironic: 66 percent of organizations want more out of their speakers than their assigned session – an increase from 57 percent in 2011. 75 Percent of them want speakers to participate in other elements of the meeting. About 40 percent wanted one of these options: write an article or be interviewed, participate in an online conversation before the event, or record a promotional video. I understand the desire for more speaker involvement – it’s great content marketing – but you have to find a way to compensate speakers for their time and efforts.

To avoid the black list, speakers should read “16 Ways a Professional Speaker Can Kill Her Shot at a Referral” on page 29. Planners beware, just imagining these scenarios might give you heart palpitations.

The report covers many other aspects of the meeting experience, including speaker selection timelines, calls for proposals, speaker preparation, evaluations, live streaming, content capture, and, on page 31, a list of seven meeting trends. Set aside some time this week to download and read it over lunch.

Deirdre Reid, CAE is a freelance writer who, despite not caring about “big names,” did enjoy Susan Cain at ASAE Annual this year.