January 01, 2003
Meetings & Conventions: Planner's Portfolio January 2003 Current Issue
January 2003 Back to BasicsPLANNER'S PORTFOLIO:

Back to Basics

By Terence Baker


How speaker bureaus can streamline the selection process and keep costs within budget

Booking a big-name speaker might seem like a coup, but the real qualifying factors should be how well the speaker suits the theme and goals of the program to be addressed, and how that person will complement the entire event.

Finding the right candidate can be a daunting prospect but that’s why speaker bureaus exist. A well-run bureau that understands the event’s goals can provide the right speaker and help take care of a host of related details, all while keeping to a prescribed budget.

For valuable advice on working with bureaus, M&C spoke with Jim Montoya, CAE, executive vice president of the Indianapolis-based International Association of Speakers Bureaus (; speaker Teresa Allen ( of Shreveport, La.; Mark Goldman, president of Oxnard, Calif.-based bureau Damon Brooks Associates (; and Philip Frankio, president of the Speakers Guild (, a bureau in Sandwich, Mass.

Before making any calls, analyze the event’s agenda to see what type of speaker and subject matter would best fit.

Ask colleagues with similar programs for recommendations. Look at the event’s historical data. Review who spoke at the last few events and whether they were well received. Then work out what you can afford to pay, since cost might exclude certain speakers from the start.

Check that the speakers bureau you choose is affiliated with a reputable association such as the Tempe, Ariz.-based National Speakers Association (

According to Jim Montoya, a bureau’s expertise streamlines the search process for planners by saving them time on securing names and checking candidates’ area of expertise, fees and more. Potential headaches are avoided in areas such as setting up insurance policies and finding last-minute replacements.

Speaker bureaus are paid through a commission from the presenter’s fee, so there is no initial outlay from the hiring organization.

Most Web sites for bureaus, such the NSA, have online databases that are searchable by speaker specialty or price range, and they include short bios. Teresa Allen recommends using the search engine of Boston-based AEI Speakers Bureau (, which has a page devoted to speakers charging less than $5,000.

Even if a presenter has all the right credentials and falls within budget, ask for videos for evaluation. If the speaker is being booked as the keynoter for a national convention, ask for references from prior clients. Trust your instincts if you feel someone is either perfect or not quite right.

Note: Speakers who have a good reputation on the circuit are always in demand. The earlier you start your search, the better your chance of booking.

When it comes to making the actual booking, it never hurts to negotiate. Can a speaker do a keynote, a workshop and serve on a panel? If the speaker charges a flat fee, then see if he is willing to do more than one presentation. Ask if a video of the presentation can be used by the organization at other events.

Make sure the speaker agreement includes the time, date and place of the engagement and what is expected of the presenter at the meeting. Also specify all negotiated items such as transportation, accommodations, food and beverage expenses, and A/V requirements, as well as cancellation or no-shows and payment policies.

Include what products the speaker might be permitted to sell at the event and whether presentations can be taped and recorded for sale or distribution.

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