July 01, 2001
Meetings & Conventions: Short Cuts July 2001 Current Issue
July 2001
Short Cuts:Birth of a bureau


Last November, after searching the Web for an African-American speaker and coming up empty, Norma Thompson Hollis, owner of Inglewood, Calif.-based Speakers Etc., hit on an idea. Four months later she launched Black Speakers Online (www.blackspeakers.net).

“I saw a real need for a bureau that represents African-American speakers,” says Hollis (pictured below). “And what’s really important is that people know that just because these speakers are black doesn’t mean they are available only during Black History Month.”

Inquiries from interested planners looking to book business are rolling in, she says. Jim Montoya, executive vice president of the Indianapolis-based International Association of Speakers Bureaus, says he is not surprised. “There are bureaus to fill nearly every speaking niche, and I think Hollis has found one that still needed filling.”

Black Speakers Online now has a roster of 30 men and women who cover topics as diverse as politics, religion, health and achieving personal business success. Typical speaking fees range between $1,500 and $10,000.

Those with heftier budgets seeking big names won’t be disappointed. Up for grabs (at $20,000 a pop) is talk-show host Tavis Smiley from Black Entertainment Television. At press time, new speakers to be added to the site’s directory included actor Wally Amos of TV’s Law & Order and members of the musical group Fifth Dimension.

Dallas-based Diversity Speakers Inc. (www.diversityspeakers.com) has a similar story. Formed in 1999 to promote Hispanic speakers, the bureau now represents some 70 minority presenters, including Native Americans, Asians and East Indians. “Companies know the Hispanic market is the number-one minority market today,” says founder Betty Ramirez Swinners, who counts Eastman Kodak Co. among her first clients.


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