So I have over the years shared my thoughts about the industry and I am privileged that so far, whether in written prose or in conversation, I haven’t yet experienced anyone laughing directly at the things I say (admittedly there are plenty of other things to laugh at me about).
My ponderings are about the general state of the industry or more specifically about the purpose of the industry, both in terms of the role of the speaker bureau and in terms of the role of the speaker and what they can and should be delivering to the client.
So, this takes me to my current thoughts involving the client’s role in furthering and ‘maturing’ the industry. After all, it is the client who is hopefully receiving the developmental benefits of the services provided by the speaker bureau along with the quality, of course, of the speaker and the content they deliver. The flip side of this is that it is also the client who is paying for these services. So, you can quite rightly ask, why should there be an onus on the client if they have the fiscal burden?
Well, ultimately it is their conference or event and they need to be making sure they are extracting the maximum value or ROI from the conference and the external speakers or facilitators themselves.
To divert slightly from the main focus of the blog……and yes, I am fully aware that I have a track record of failing to complete a blog without being diverted but I make no excuse apart from in my head, it is an exceptional form of multi tasking, but some might interpret that as a short attention span.
Returning to the diversion, is just to point out (and I am sure I have mentioned this elsewhere already) that the value or ROI of a speaker, facilitator, event or conference is something that needs to be worked on as an industry. After all, how many other sectors are there that the goals or returns on an investment are not explicitly clarified up front.
After writing the paragraph above, I realise that the diversion wasn’t as great as I initially thought, so here goes in linking it back in. The role of the client, they have to be clear in understanding:
When it comes to their event; how do they define success? (See value/ROI point in last paragraph…I told you it would link!)
At an even more granular level:
What is defined as successful external speaker?
This question should be the starting point of any discussion about engaging an external person for an event.
Success can come in a myriad of ways: whether it is key message takeaways, validating the company’s direction, setting the scene, getting bums on seats (i.e. big name ‘pulling power’) or many others. It is almost easier to define what success isn’t.
I worry too much that as an industry, quite often, the success criteria is almost defined as just having the event. In that situation, this is both a massive wasted opportunity but also puts at risk the event being perceived - from a financial perspective - as lacking purpose.
Furthermore, as an example of not understanding what success means to you and your organisation: it concerns me that success might be defined as ‘bums on seats’ and thus the draw card is needed when choosing a speaker. It follows then, the event organiser already has a firm decision in their head as to who would work and be the crowd puller. If this is the sole definition of success and does not carry any other criteria attached to it then, in my view, it is a missed opportunity.
What do I mean? We have, in Speakers Corner, plenty of corny phrases but one I particularly like is ‘Do you want someone who everyone applauds when they walk in or someone who everyone applauds when they walk out?’ The big name has to deliver so much more than the unknown speaker as the expectation is so much greater. The client needs help to understand how the speaker can best deliver: keynote, ‘in conversation with’ or Q&A format; and the speaker needs help to understand what they need to deliver to be a success at the conference.
This measure of success should ultimately come from the point of view of the three different sets of people that the speaker (and speaker bureau) need to deliver to. We need to deliver to the event organiser, we need to deliver to the Event sponsor (whether that be internal or external) and we need to deliver to the audience. All three clients will have different views of what success is and the more the speaker bureau understands the different view points, the more they will be able to recommend the most suitable person for the event.
As always, I like to say a few words about my team, they take great pride in asking questions to a client even if the client is absolutely sure they know who they want. This isn’t always the easiest path but what we hope to bring is the service and expertise to help the client to ensure the success of the content for their event. This is part of the value that the speaker bureau bring to the table, to challenge the client and help understand what success will be at the conference from the external speaker, by doing this, the client will hopefully extract maximum value both from the speaker as well as from the speaker bureau.
This is just the starting point of what to me is a critical area in how we deliver value to clients, gathering the right information that means our recommendations and suggestions to the client are focussed. The client’s involvement or role in this is to be open to these discussions. I suppose what I am saying is that the role of the client is to embrace the engagement of a speaker as a consultative process between themselves and the bureau as opposed to a transactional basis to help ensure ‘success’ of their event.
Based on this, our constant aim and challenge is how do we - at Speakers Corner - engage our clients and what tools can we deliver up front to help the client understand how we can bring the maximum benefit to them using the consultative approach.
I always mean to say at the end of my ramblings, but have forgotten up to this point, that I really value any thoughts or comments and am very aware that my views are distilled into high level meanderings and due to trying to be brief (!!), I don’t necessarily validate completely my thoughts so please do feedback to me or always happy to chat. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org and I am on twitter @SpeakersNick so please do let me know if I am not making sense or don’t agree with me, if for no other reason than the team at Speakers Corner get a moment’s respite from me.
Colour audience shot courtesy of Wikimedia: Audience for Richard Stallman's Talk at Teatro Alvear and Wikipedia for: Fairbanks speaking in front of a crowd at a 1918 war bond drive in New York City and the painting depicting lecture in a knight academy, painted by Pieter Isaacsz or Reinhold Timm