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Booking Speakers for Your Meeting: The Benefits & How-Tos

HelmsBriscoe Quarterly: Adding a guest speaker to your meeting agenda can be a great way to bring excitement and new perspectives to your event, but how do you select the right speaker for your audience? [HelmsBriscoe] interviewed Danielle Pierre, Vice President for The Elite Speakers Bureau, Inc., to shed light on some of the benefits of having a speaker at your meeting, as well as offer advice for selecting a speaker that is a good fit for your attendees.

What value can speakers bring to an event or meeting?

A keynote speaker brings tremendous value to an event. They are there to deliver the message you want delivered to your attendees in an effective and impactful way. Are you hosting a motivational event for your sales team? If so, a speaker who can inspire and energize the room will engage your audience around your messaging in a more effective way than a typical video presentation or slideshow. Is the event about domestic violence prevention or another sensitive topic? In this case, you are going to want a speaker on stage who evokes emotion from your attendees and really motivates them to want to get involved or make a change. You want a live person who can engage with the audience and who is open to Q&A after their presentation. The right keynote speaker can make an event come to life and have your attendees talking about it for weeks, months, and even years to come!

What is the best way to select a speaker that is a good fit for your meeting or event attendees?

Choosing the right keynote speaker is imperative to an event’s success. A few key questions a meeting planner should ask themselves to help focus and narrow down their speaker options include:

  • What is the main objective of your event?

  • What do you want the takeaway to be for your attendees?

  • Does this speaker’s message align with your main objective and desired takeaways?

  • Will this speaker draw high attendance?

What would you recommend to a meeting planner looking to find a speaker for their upcoming event or meeting?

When browsing for a speaker, not only should the meeting planner answer all of the questions mentioned above, but in order to make sure the right speaker is selected, they should also look for a speakers bureau or speaker agent with a high rating and who is easy to work with. Not all bureaus will have a rating on their website or on Yelp. Look at their website and see where their speakers have presented previously and contact them for feedback on their experience. Call the speakers bureau/agent and ask them some questions. For instance, most speakers bureau contracts include language that protects the bureau if there is a cancellation because of circumstances beyond the speaker’s control (weather, death, illness, etc.), and it typically doesn’t give any recourse (in writing) should that unfortunate occurrence take place. When talking with the speakers bureau/agent, find out if they have a backup plan in the event a speaker were to cancel, including cost. You don’t want to be in a position a week before an event in which a speaker cancels and there is no backup plan in place with the bureau/agent, especially if it’s a ticketed event. In addition, make sure “Plan B” doesn’t mean you have to pay more money. A good backup plan should include an alternate speaker who is agreed upon between the parties, and whose cost is covered by the agreed upon speaker fee.

This is an important part of booking a speaker that is often overlooked, and this is also why it can be easier to work with a speakers bureau rather than with a speaker directly. When you work directly with a speaker, they typically will not have a backup speaker to send you in case of emergencies. While speaker cancellations are very rare, you want to work with a bureau/agent that will see your booking all the way through to the end so that your event goes smoothly and you don’t lose money.

What questions should meeting planners ask speakers they are looking to book for their event?

When booking a speaker, it is important to make sure everyone is on the same page and clear about the main objective of the event. Some questions that should be asked prior to booking a speaker, whether booking directly or through a bureau/agent, include:

  • How long has the speaker been speaking professionally?

  • Where have they spoken before?

  • If necessary, is the speaker willing to modify their presentation to fit the main objective/desired outcome (as long as it stays within the same context)?

  • Does the speaker have a video clip they can provide? (this will give you a preview of how they present)

  • Does the speaker’s fee include travel expenses?

  • What are the speaker’s A/V requirements?

  • What are the speaker’s travel/meal preferences? (if applicable)

  • Is the speaker willing to have Q&A after the event?

  • Is the speaker willing to attend a meet and greet?

  • Is the speaker open to doing a radio interview/other interview prior to or following the event?

What should meeting planners budget for when booking a speaker for an event?

This will vary depending on what was negotiated when booking the speaker; however, typically – aside from the speaker’s fee – travel expenses will usually include airfare, hotel accommodations, ground transportation to and from the airport and the event, meals, and parking fees (if any). At times, the parties may also opt to include travel expenses in an all-inclusive total speaker fee.

What items should a meeting planner provide for the speaker?

In terms of travel, the speaker will usually need hotel accommodations, ground transportation and meals. All of these items are typically discussed and decided upon during negotiations, and if meals are included, the meeting planner should ask if the speaker has any specific dietary needs or preferences (allergies, diabetic, vegan, etc.). The speaker’s A/V requirements range depending on the type of presentation, and those items should also be discussed and listed in the agreement. If they are not listed, the meeting planner should make sure to ask what the speaker’s A/V requirements are in advance. For instance, if the speaker has a video clip or PowerPoint as part of their presentation, it is crucial that the meeting planner be aware of this ahead of time in order to provide the necessary equipment.

What if a desired speaker is outside of the meeting planner’s budget?

This issue arises more often than one would think. At times, the meeting planner finds a speaker they believe is a perfect fit, only to find out the speaker’s fee exceeds their budget. Depending on a few variables, the meeting planner may be able to negotiate a lesser fee. For example, where is the speaker traveling from? Oftentimes, speakers will be willing to reduce their fee if it’s a short distance. Traveling across the country means a 45-60 minute presentation is actually three days for the speaker when you include the travel time. On the other hand, if they are traveling within the state or to the next state over and the flight is only a few hours, they can fly in the night before or that morning (depending on the time of the event) and fly out right after the event. There are multiple other recourses an event planner can consider when a desired speaker is outside of their budget, such as partnering with another local organization to book the speaker a day before or after the meeting planner’s event. This would mean a lower fee for both parties as they would share in the travel expenses and each would get a significant discount on the fee. There may also be the possibility that a local agency/business or partner will sponsor the speaker in exchange for promotional material being distributed at the event, or another type of marketing agreement.

To explore ways to enhance your next event or meeting, be sure to contact The Elite Speakers Bureau today!


HelmsBriscoe is the global leader in meetings procurement for a variety of corporate, association and government clients. Spanning more than 55 countries, their highly respected network of 1,300 procurement specialists booked 6.4 million room nights, resulting in $1.275 billion in room revenue, last year. By using their proprietary technology, collective market knowledge, and volume-based purchasing power, HelmsBriscoe streamlines the meeting planning process by managing the time-consuming task of researching, contacting, and evaluating venues for their clients’ events. HelmsBriscoe facilitates the venue research and contracting processes, thereby mitigating the risk and increasing the return on their clients’ meetings. For more information, visit