What You MUST Know About Using Outside Speakers
When you promote a seminar or other event you have a choice. You can either do it entirely on your own or round up other speakers to participate.
If you do use outside speakers make sure you have seen them speak before asking them to participate. I’ve made the mistake twice of asking someone to speak at an event before I heard them. I’ll never make the mistake again.
Also, make sure you give any and all of your speakers very specific instructions as to how you want them to deliver information and what their time frame will be. In the resource section of this book I’ve included a sample of what I give to speakers before they speak at my events.
Even when you do this you’ll still have an occasional person that you wish you wouldn’t have allowed a speaking slot.
Most of the time when you do a seminar or workshop, you are the sole speaker. You’re the expert people come to hear. Besides, it’s what you do.
But if you run a bootcamp or a multi-day event, or if you just want to engage in a bit of variety, you may find yourself tempted to use outside speakers. It’s perfectly alright to do so, but you need to be aware of some possible pitfalls and of how to deal with those speakers professionally and credibly.
Pros and Cons of Using Outside Speakers
There are pluses and minuses to using outside speakers at your events. If you invite anyone else to speak at your events, you are taking a risk. If the person bombs, it’s your fault. It doesn’t matter why they flop, you will get the blame. There are, as you can guess, some pros and some cons to using outside speakers. Let’s review the major issues on both sides of the coin.
Break up the monotony
People sometimes get bored just hearing one person talk continuously for an entire event. If you can find people who can add to your event, this alone almost makes it worth it to have them. Additional expertise you don’t have
You can’t be an expert on everything. People don’t expect you to be. You can deliver the best information possible to your audiences by using speakers who are knowledgeable in areas you don’t know well.
Access their in-house lists
A big benefit to using other speakers is that you’ll be able to mail to their in-house list. This should be a mandatory condition of their speaking at your event. Let’s say that you’re having a bootcamp and asking a dozen other speakers to contribute. If every speaker that you asked to speak had just 2,000 people in their email database you’d be able to mail to close to 25,000 people.
Since the response from one’s in-house list is generally a lot higher than other promotions, you’re in good shape. This will make it easy for you to pack the house for your event.
At least it’s easy if their lists are a match to the kind of event you’re promoting. If you invite someone to speak at your event on financial planning and their list consists of gardeners, you probably won’t get anyone to respond or attend. If, on the other hand, these are people who have requested information on asset protection, there is a good chance the mailing will bring in registrations.
Money from their product sales
Using other speakers will also allow you to generate more cash. Most speakers you ask to speak will have products to sell. If they don’t, you’ll want to have other very compelling reasons to invite them.
When I do events, I like to make sure that about half of the speakers have products to sell. The others need to be great speakers. I then try to alternate the two. I try to avoid having two speakers back to back who sell product. I also try to avoid having two speakers who are quite good but who may not offer products for sale.
You never know how an outside speaker might behave or what kinds of stunts they might pull. I’ve seen a speaker go nuts up in front of a group. This can severely jeopardize your event.
A lot of people are extremely difficult to deal with. They make all sorts of demands and are not “team players.” I know one very well known speaker who has been silently banned by seminar promoters due to his difficult nature. Ask other people who have used a proposed speaker at their event before you invite him or her to your event.
There are plenty of bad speakers. You don’t want them speaking at your events. Some people have such great content that you can tolerate a poor speaker. If you do this, just don’t use too many who would fall into this category.
There are a number of models for the financial relationship between you and outside speakers you invite to your events.
One way is a straight split of product sales with no expenses paid. Savvy speakers will agree to this when there will be plenty of people in attendance and when they are good at product sales. Other speakers will accept this deal if they are anxious to get practice or exposure.
In this first scenario, your speakers will be pretty annoyed if you don’t pack the house. Speakers that show up paying their own way expect a decent-sized audience to be able to make it up in product sales. Make sure to manage their expectations by underestimating the number of people you think you’ll have in attendance. It’s better to have them pleasantly surprised than disappointed.
A second option is to pay their expenses to come to your event and then you split the proceeds of their product sales 50-50. This arrangement is generally used when the people you invite to speak are in demand as speakers. A slight variation on this arrangement would be one in which you agree to let the speaker cover their expenses by keeping the first product sales proceeds until their expenses are met. After that point, you split the proceeds 50-50.
The third type of arrangement is to give speakers some kind of a minimum guarantee. You might use this approach where potential speakers are unsure about what attendance at your event will be. However, do not agree to this arrangement without having seen the speaker in action in front of another group. Never make a guarantee of $3,000 without doing due diligence to find out whether you are making a good decision. This works if you have enough people to get the numbers and a speaker who knows how to sell their stuff when they are up in front of the group.
The final way that some people get outside speakers is by paying their speakers a flat fee. Sometimes a really great speaker might be paid a flat fee and still be allowed to keep all the proceeds of product sales. But that should be a very rare occurrence, particularly in the early going for your seminar business.
There are certain celebrity speakers who will expect to be compensated for speaking at your events. In general, I’m not in favor of paying these folks to speak. The reason is simple. Most of the time it doesn’t make economic sense.
The whole area of speaker compensation is fraught with danger. Here’s a real-life example to illustrate that point.
A seminar presenter contacted me about an event he was about to hold in the New York City area. I suggested that he mail to my list of people who have attended my workshops in that area.
The deal I offered him was that we would split the registration revenue from my in-house list equally and that he would also give me a speaking slot at his event, where I’d pay my own expenses and sell my own products. He refused both. He wanted me to rent his list. This just isn’t how it works in the seminar business, so I refused.
I’m a pretty damn good speaker and he had people who he “allowed” to speak at this event that were average compared to me.
After the event, I heard from a reliable source that this guy lost close to $30,000 on this event. I frankly don’t know if that number is correct. But, his response to the disaster was to claim that it was good for his “positioning.” Positioning for what, I asked? Bankruptcy?
What’s In It For Them Besides Money?
Some speakers haven’t got the Fred Gleeck message yet and are not (yet!) big into product sales. Some of these speakers will agree to speak for you in response to the “exposure” argument. This is a bogus argument in my opinion, but many speakers will go for that pitch. Tell them how they will get plenty of it by speaking at your event.
Another reason people may want to speak at an event for no fee is to practice their speaking skills. This is dangerous. Let them do their practicing at someone else’s event.
Some speakers who are financially secure speak at events to be able to hang out with their friends in the industry. If you are in that position, it’s a serious reason to do these events.
For some speakers, there might be real value in just learning from your event, either about the industry you’re in or about speaking. This is particularly true of people who are not necessarily in the beginner class but who might still be honing their skills and knowledge.
Of course, another thing speakers who work free might be interested in is adding some of your customers to their databases. That’s OK. As long as you stay better than your competition and don’t generally invite competitors to speak, you’ll be fine.
There are three primary ways you can find speakers for your events.
Many times, people you know will be happy to speak at your event as a favor or in return for you speaking at their event. Chances are there are plenty of people in your personal network who have knowledge in the field your seminar covers. Just ask. As any good salesman knows, until you ask, the answer is no.
Another way is to find them on the Web. Go to a search engine and type in key words describing the subject matter for your seminar. Visit the Web sites that come up and do some snooping around. This will give you an idea of who the person is. If they seem like a possible “player,” contact them and see if they’d be interested.
There are some good Web sites for starting points, too. Try places like About.com (www.about.com) Experts.com (www.experts.com), Yahoo! Experts (experts.yahoo.com, or refdesk.com (www.refdesk.com/ expert.html), which provides dozens of links to sites where experts hang out.
You might also find a speaker at an event that you attend where you see them speak. Approach them after they do their presentation and ask them for some time either right there on the spot or over the phone at a later date.
You can also find people who advertise in the trade publications within your niche or someone the organization might recommend.
Speakers NOT to Invite
There are certain people who you don’t want to have speak at your events. They are the people who won’t be happy no matter what you do or how the event turns out. You can generally get a good idea as to how they will behave when you talk to them. Even if you’re sure they aren’t that way, check references on any new speaker you don’t know, even if they have a national reputation.
I have been in the seminar business for a long time. I hear a lot of stories about other speakers. Many of them aren’t very encouraging. You can call my office if you have a question about a specific speaker and I’ll give you my opinion or experience if I have any.
How to Treat Your Speakers
Treat your speakers well, particularly if you’re not compensating them. Have a special get-together the night before the event for them. Buy them dinner. Give them a nice gift when they’re done. Treat them like what they are … invited guests.
Yeah, I know this is just common sense and politeness. But you’d be surprised how often I’ve seen this advice not followed. If you already know and do this, great. If you have ever been treated badly by someone else whose event you spoke at, at least now you know that is not the general rule!