May 01, 2003
Meetings & Conventions - Politics at the Podium - May 2003

Current Issue
May 2003
Politics at the Podium

Poised to talk about once-taboo subjects war, foreign policy and religion these speakers are among today’s hottest


“Today, golden tongues are not enough,” says Mark French, president of Leading Authorities, a Washington, D.C.-based speakers bureau. “There is an emphasis on substance over style.” In other words, meeting-goers want speakers who can talk some sense about current events.

“It used to be that, in polite circles, politics and religion always were avoided, but not now,” says Don Epstein, president of the Greater Talent Network, a speakers bureau in New York City. These topics need not be depressing, he notes. But caution is called for: Since nearly all groups will have attendees with varying opinions, planners should take care not to offend; they should consider hiring presenters who are able to discuss world events “right down the middle,” Epstein says, rather than advocating left- or right-wing points of view.

Bernie Swain, president of the Washington Speakers Bureau in the nation’s capital, believes many groups are looking for not only a discussion of the war in Iraq but also the impact U.S. policy will have on our European allies. “Business tends to be conservative and isn’t interested in making enemies with trading partners,” Swain says.

Francine Read, president of the Clackamas, Ore.-based rep firm Voices Inc., also underscores the relevance of domestic and global events to the business world. “Audiences want to know how to survive and even thrive in a turbulent time for business,” she says. “They want nuts and bolts and to stay invigorated.”

Following is a sampling of speakers equal to the task, along with contact information. Be sure to book early, as all are in high demand. (Also note that some speakers are represented by multiple bureaus.)

Madeleine Albright
Washington Speakers Bureau
Washington, D.C.
(703) 684-0555

Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright is the highest-serving woman in U.S. history. Involved in policy on hot spots such as Israel, Kosovo and East Timor, she has served under presidents Carter and Clinton and held seats on the National Security Council and in the United Nations.

A refugee from wartime Czechoslovakia (now the Czech Republic), Albright addresses current affairs from a perspective few others share. Using the lessons of the past as a guide to analyzing the policy of the future, she talks about world conflicts, world leaders, the United States’ role and the effects of globalization.

Joseph Cirincione
Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
Washington, D.C.
(202) 483-7600

As director of the Non-Proliferation Project at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Cirincione is active in the academic debate about how to make the world a safer place. Also a professor at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service in Washington, D.C., he worked for nine years in the House of Representatives under Rep. Tom Ridge, now the high-profile director of homeland security.

Cirincione, who co-authored Deadly Arsenals: Tracking Weapons of Mass Destruction (Carnegie Publications;, ably discusses the myriad threats to our planet, including the realities of biological warfare. Nothing is off-limits: His lectures cover Iraq, North Korea, Congress, the national defense and the global proliferation of nuclear weapons.

“People want to know how bad the weapons situation is and who has what, where and how much,” Cirincione says. “I tell them that it is a knowable, containable problem. The situation is not out of control.”

Stephen Engelberg
Voices Inc.
Clackamas, Ore.
(888) 962-5888

Stephen Engelberg is a star journalist known for an illustrious career at The New York Times. In addition, he is a co-author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Germs: Biological Weapons and America’s Secret War (Simon & Schuster; and now serves as managing editor of The Oregonian newspaper in Portland, Ore. His calendar of speaking engagements has never been more crowded.

Engelberg particularly is in demand for his in-depth knowledge of the Middle East, having co-authored a Pulitzer Prize-winning series of articles on Osama bin Laden’s Al Qaeda organization. His talks focus on subjects such as terrorism prevention, the war with Iraq, global arsenals and biological weapons. “I like them to go home sobered but not terrified,” he says. “Audiences are interested in knowing what the risks are and what they should personally be doing.”

Marc Ginsberg
Greater Talent Network
New York City
(800) 326-4211

Ginsberg, a former U.S. ambassador to Morocco and special adviser for Mediterranean security and trade policy under the Clinton administration, is fluent in Arabic, French and Hebrew and knows well the mind-set of people in the Arabic world and the Middle East. He now serves as a consultant to the Arabic Al-Jazeera television network as well as CEO and managing director of an equity company in Washington, D.C.

Ginsberg explains to groups the often complex world of U.S. defense, economic and foreign policy; other talks focus specifically on Afghanistan, Iraq and the ongoing Israel-Palestine crisis.

Richard C. Holbrooke
Greater Talent Network
New York City
(800) 326-4211

Now enjoying a respected position as a global negotiator, Holbrooke helped broker the Dayton Peace Agreement, which ended the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina. A former U.S. ambassador to both Germany and the United Nations, Holbrooke now works for a U.S.-based equity company with offices in New York City and Washington, D.C. He also is the author of To End a War (Modern Library;

Holbrooke’s topics include the need for aggressive peacekeeping and the future of the United Nations.

Walid Phares
Benador Associates
New York City
(917) 626-1266

Born and raised in Lebanon but living in the United States since 1990, Phares is a professor of Middle East studies and ethnic and religious conflict at Florida Atlantic University. He is a regular contributor to TV news programs and has published more than 200 articles.

Over the past year, people’s interest in news has risen dramatically, he says. “Before, there was no interest and no knowledge of world affairs. Now, there is lots of interest and a little knowledge.”

Phares offers audiences insights into the people and politics of the Middle East, including groups such as Al Qaeda and Hamas.

Dennis J. Reimer
Leading Authorities
Washington, D.C.
(800) 773-2537

After 37 years in the military, Gen. Reimer might have decided to retire, but his profile today is larger than ever. Currently director of the National Memorial Institute for the Prevention of Terrorism, based in Oklahoma City, he has seen active service in Korea and Vietnam, and he was the U.S. Army’s 33rd chief of staff. He also served as deputy chief of staff for operations and plans during Desert Storm in 1991. Reimer speaks with insight about terrorists’ motivations and actions, as well as the role of the United States today as a global superpower topics as relevant as the morning newspaper.

Ruth Wedgwood
Benador Associates
New York City
(917) 626-1266

Describing herself as one of the “favorite Democrats of Republicans,” Wedgwood has added much to her résumé since her days as a prosecutor and clerk for Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun, during the tumultuous time when he helped to pass the groundbreaking Roe vs. Wade legislation.

Today, Wedgwood is a member of the Defense Policy Board under Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and the Human Rights Committee of the United Nations. As of this past January, she also is a professor of law and diplomacy at Johns Hopkins University School in Washington, D.C.

A graduate of both Harvard and Yale, Wedgwood is at her best discussing armed conflict, human rights, international criminal law, peacekeeping efforts and U.N. policy.

Robert E. White
Center for International Policy
Washington, D.C.
(202) 232-3317

Robert E. White served as ambassador to Paraguay and El Salvador, the latter role ending in his dismissal by the Reagan administration due to his criticism of U.S. policy in Central America. He also has been the Latin American director of the Peace Corps and a deputy permanent representative to the Organization of American States.

Currently, White is president of the nonprofit, nonpartisan Center for International Policy, a think tank striving to better the world through the promotion of democracy, human rights, and multilateralism. Still outspoken about America’s role in world affairs, White discusses how U.S. foreign policy is becoming increasingly militarized.


Just for Laughs

“Satirists make you think before they make you laugh,” says Don Epstein, president of the Greater Talent Network in New York City. When a keynoter is hitting heavy subjects, consider balancing the mood with a master of satire such as Mo Rocca, Epstein suggests. Rocca is senior political correspondent for Comedy Central TV’s The Daily Show and a former president and writer for Harvard University’s Hasty Pudding variety show. Best known for “Indecision 2000,” a series of TV reports about the 2000 presidential race, Rocca talks candidly about world events and how the media covers them and he is very funny. Contact: Greater Talent Network, (800) 326-4211;

Proceed With Caution

Political discussions can be informative, thought-provoking and, possibly, divisive. Audience reaction often is difficult to predict, but planners can take steps to keep things civil, say experts.

Outline the agenda. When introducing the speaker, explain the content of the presentation and make it clear that questions can be raised following the address.

Plan a panel. An hour-long lecture on the state of the world can be daunting, says Stephen Engelberg, a speaker and managing editor of The Oregonian newspaper. A panel discussion can be more engaging and allows for varied points.

Consider a moderator. For panel formats, it can be helpful to have someone steer the discussion. Yet, “if it is too controlled, it will not work,” cautions Bernie Swain, president of the Washington Speakers Bureau in the nation’s capital.

Let the audience lead. Straight Q&A sessions can be cathartic and motivational, says Don Epstein, president of the Greater Talent Network in New York City. Particularly in these troubled times, he adds, “it is empowering to allow people to get out their feelings among co-workers.”

• T.B.

Money Talk

What’s the best way to ride out the down economy? Ask Arthur Levitt Jr., the longest-serving chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission. Author of Take on the Street: The Ultimate Insider Reveals the Hidden Costs and Dangers of Investing on Wall Street (Knopf;, Levitt explains what individuals and companies need to do now for financial survival. He is represented by Leading Authorities, (800) 773-2537;

• C.A.S.

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