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10 Tips for Finding and Delivering the Right Speaker for Your Association Event

June 1, 2006

1. Know what your audience wants
In order to select the right speaker, it’s essential to have a thorough understanding of your group. Does your speaker need to ensure that the audience leaves with specific information required for continuing education credits? Or, do you need someone who will motivate and inspire? Try including a few questions on your registration forms, such as, ‘What do you hope to learn from this program?’ Or, ask for more specific information, such as, ‘What computer software do you use at home?’ Answers to these questions will help the speaker understand the expectations and experience of the audience.

2. Plan ahead, and be flexible
Timing is very important. Start looking for a speaker or trainer as soon as possible. Many speakers book engagements up to a year in advance. Also, consider how much time you have to fill and where that time falls in your overall program. If you’re offering a program for three hours of continuing education credits, be sure the speaker has at least that much material. If your time slot is flexible, a speaker can often make recommendations about time allocation and order of presentations. Factor speakers’ fees into your annual budget early. Your search for a speaker can be narrowed or broadened on the basis of your budget.

3. Match your speaker to the needs of your audience
A speaker’s expertise in a given field may be the big draw, but a well-known name doesn’t guarantee a professional presentation. High prices don’t always mean high quality, either. Consider whether your audience and the overall program will benefit most from a celebrity, an expert in the field, a best-selling author, or a professional speaker who has knowledge of the topic. If speakers are engaging but lacking in specific knowledge, consider having them moderate a panel discussion with topic experts. Similarly, if issue gurus lack presentation flair, partner them with a lively staff person or member to facilitate the program.

4. Network in person and online to find speakers
Personal referrals are a great way to narrow your search. Ask colleagues and other associations for recommendations. Speakers’ bureaus can also be a valuable resource, saving you time and effort by locating and prescreening specific types of speakers (celebrities, authors, or athletes) as well as quoting fees. Of course, the Internet is also a great way to find speakers.

5. Interview speaker candidates
Ask your speaker candidates for references. If they’re speaking in your area, request to observe them in action. Ensure that potential speakers have addressed groups similar to yours and discuss their experience in that capacity. Ask for a biography, testimonials, and videos of their presentations, preferably before a live audience. Ask the speakers if they belong to professional associations and what awards and/or certifications they’ve earned. The National Speakers Association’s designation is the Certified Speaking Professional (CSP).

6. Stay within your budget and within your neighborhood
When selecting your speakers, keep in mind that you’re not only paying for the time they’re on the platform, but also for the hours spent researching, preparing, and customizing the presentation. Some speakers may negotiate their fees when they’re doing more than one program or are allowed to sell their products. Ask about your options. When it comes to the intricacies of real estate and related topics, asking a local expert to present a seminar can work in your favor. Successful local REALTORS® can be more of a draw than well-known speakers, especially when they promise to divulge their secrets to success. Another advantage of local speakers is that they often waive their fee in appreciation of the opportunity to network with potential clients and gain referrals.

7. Get it in writing
Once you’ve chosen a speaker, whether it’s a professional or a local expert, write a contract that clearly outlines the expectations of both parties. The expectations may include such things as: travel arrangements and transportation; accommodations and meals; expense reimbursements and payment terms; required speaker attendance at social networking events; details regarding speaker options to sell products; details regarding audiotaping or videotaping of the presentation for use or sale at a later date; cancellation and no-show policies; audio, visual, or Internet access requirements; and any legal implications.

In addition, include a statement in your contract about appropriateness of language, advising the speaker to refrain from using any ethnic, obscene, profane, religious, sexual, or political humor or content in the presentation. Inform them that failure to observe these rules could result in cancellation of their speaker’s fee and the termination of the relationship. For a sample speaker contract from the National Speakers Association, go to www.nsaspeaker.org

8. Educate your speakers
Your speakers need to become as knowledgeable as possible about your association so that they can customize their presentation. Even if you’ve chosen members to conduct classes, don’t assume they’re familiar with all association policies and goals. To help speakers get a feel for the audience, send them your newsletter; remind them of the correct pronunciation of reel-tor; and provide them with anything else that might help, like names of key people in the industry, association buzzwords, and insider news and views, for example. Give the speaker a clear outline of what you expect and be specific about the size and demographics of your audience. Let the speaker know in advance about other speakers on the program—that will give the speaker the opportunity to build on (and not duplicate) what the other speakers say.

9. Set the stage
Make sure the room conditions are optimal. Consider the number of chairs and how they’re arranged. Also consider room temperature, lighting, and things that could detract from the presentation, such as coffee or lunch service.

10. Evaluate the results
Have your audience complete multiple-choice ranking forms and evaluations on every speaker, trainer, and educator in your program. If your response rate is low, call members and ask for their input. This will allow you to gauge your results and plan for future programs. Send copies of the evaluations to your speakers.

-- adapted from the National Speakers Association