Working Productively with Speakers Bureaus by Jeff Davidson, Time Management Expert

Posted by Alexis Washington

Speakers bureaus are strategically set in place to give customers the unique experience of booking a speaker with ease. By bypassing all of the running around, stressing, and time consuming work, speakers bureaus see too it that an event is up to date, perfect, and on track to move smoothly, providing the customer with some much needed relief. In this article, Stress Management Expert and keynote speaker, Jeff Davidson, breaks down all the myths and highlights the many benefits that come from working with a speakers bureau.

jeff_davidsonPerhaps because of prevailing myths, many meeting professionals have not tapped into the power of using speakers bureaus to identify the right speaker with the right topic at the right price, thereby saving a ton of work. Here are some of the common myths about working speakers bureaus:

1) There is a pervasive belief that somehow it is more costly to retain a speaker through a bureau than by trying to contract with a speaker directly. In rare instances this may be true, but among ethical speakers and ethical bureaus, which represent 95% of each industry, the fee of retaining a speaker is the same whether a meeting planner contracts with that speaker directly or book the speaker through a reputable speakers bureau.  For example, if a speaker charges $X,000, that $X,000 is the same to the meeting planner whether he/she pays the speaker directly or pays the bureau. The bureau takes a percentage from the speaker, so the speaker is paying the bureau’s fee.

So, why would a speaker ever want to be booked through a bureau when ostensibly he or she could consummate bookings directly? The short answer is that many speakers do not wish to engage in marketing; do not have the time, energy, or resources; and haven’t developed a long-term client base, as a good bureau has done.  The fee that the speaker pays to a bureau to be booked with a meeting planner is well worth it for the speaker. Speakers achieve lower overhead costs and spend more time on their presentation skills, subject matter development, and understanding of client industries and audience members’ needs.

2) Some meeting professionals fear that speakers bureaus will only recommend “pet speakers” – the ones that they always recommend. This might be true to a certain extent; however, if a bureau recommends the same handful of speakers over and over again, chances are that those speakers are good. No bureau would risk its reputation on continually sending out a speaker who does not do a stellar job. Sure, in some cases bureaus owned by one spouse will continually recommend their speaker spouse.  Ethical bureaus will be up front about this.

In general, speakers bureaus and their respective agents do their homework to make sure they have identified whom they believe to be the right speaker (hopefully you) for their clients. These days, with everyone having websites, you could get on a search engine, type in the word speaker, and get hundreds of hits. While it is easy to identify many, many speakers, the task of weeding out who exactly represents the right match for your needs can be a daunting task. All the more reason to turn it over to a speakers bureau.

3) Some meeting organizers fear that the speakers bureau representative can’t know enough about the industry, the audience, and the particulars to find the right person. Among the larger bureaus, however, many of the booking agents have developed specialties. Such agents can do an outstanding job of finding the right speaker based on your industry, your audience, and your particular needs. Often, such agents have a better grasp of the situation than you do because they have encountered similar situations on many occasions. Fortunately, it only takes a few minutes to ascertain if a booking agent has sufficient background to assist you in precise ways.

4) Some meeting professionals fear that if they book speakers through a bureau they will lose the interpersonal contact that is so crucial for assuring success. However, as the client, you largely get to dictate what kind of relationship you want with both the bureau and the speaker. For example, if you insist that the speaker call you directly on all matters related to the presentation, that the speaker stay in touch with you during the time leading up to the presentation, and that there be a full exchange of participant materials prior to the actual meeting date, all of this can be stipulated to the bureau representative.

If that bureau agent cares to retain your business long-term, he or she will certainly cooperate. In addition, because the contractual matters between you and the speaker are being handled by the bureau, you actually have an increased capacity for interpersonal connection with the speaker. You can dwell on your audience, the needs of your organization, the contents of the presentation, and so on, without having such a relationship muddled by squabbles over terms of booking. In that regard, your relationship with the speaker can remain more “pure.”

A World of Advantages
Beyond some of these common myths, some of the extreme advantages of working with a speakers bureau include the following:

Should the situation arise in which you are not happy with the speaker’s performance or any other aspect of your interaction with the speaker, you have a legitimate third party, the bureau, to handle your concerns. Once again, you are in a position of even greater leverage because it is in the bureau’s best and long-term interest to assure that you are happy. The bureau’s loyalty is to you – you are the customer – not the speaker they assign to meet your needs. Some speakers never quite understand that, but the bureaus have a very clear understanding of who signs the checks.

In the rare event that the original speaker cannot make the appointed date, the bureau can more easily get you the right back-up speaker than if you face this task by yourself, especially at the last minute.

Many bureaus require speakers to sign various pledges indicating, for example, that they will not use offensive or off-color language, abide by certain travel expense limitations, and so on. In this manner, working with the bureau affords many more protections than you might otherwise have when working with a speaker directly.

The bureau can also help enforce your policies regarding selling from the platform and engaging in other types of promotional behavior. A small percentage of speakers will flat out upset the tone of your meeting by using a portion of their time in front of your group to engage in aggressive marketing. The incidence of this happening when retaining speakers through a bureau is far less, and for the most part can be eliminated all together.

To Summarize
Think of using speakers bureaus in this way: You use many professional services in your organization and your life, including attorneys, accountants, bankers, computer consultants, and tax advisors. The essence of any good professional is that the price you pay for his or her services is more than justified by the benefits. As it turns out, working with speakers bureaus works exactly the same way.

Posted by Alexis Washington
Alexis Washington writes about expert keynote speakers and Motivational Speakers, as well as tips and tricks for corporate meeting planners. If you need a guest professional speaker or corporate entertainer for your next convention or conference, you can visit

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