I’ve spoken at hundreds of conferences over the years, and one of the things I see occur over and over again is the hesitation (and sometimes fear) of working with a speaker’s agent. I assume the conference organizer believes an agent will make his or her speaker more expensive, demand perks, or be challenging to work with. However, time and time again, I’ve seen the opposite, as agents help with negotiations, scheduling, and, in some cases, actually make the speaker more affordable. I’ve worked with talent agents in the entertainment world for decades, so I thought I’d ask a highly respected speaking agent – Jessica Lalley of Voices to Connect to explain what speaking agents do, how the process works, and how they can help take your event to a new level. Here’s what she said:
1. First, we forge a strong relationship with the event planner by learning about you and your organization. We want to know about your mission, values, goals, and challenges in order to make a well-aligned match to the speaker appropriate to that particular audience. So it’s much more than just filling out a contract and sending the speaker they request. We also try to connect the event planner to other helpful resources (books/websites/people) and match them based on topic and budget.
2. A good agent will take the time to vet the speaker for content and character. You won’t want to be embarrassed by a speaker, so we go beyond having an event planner watch them on a YouTube video. I’ve met the speaker many times – including their spouse and family. I’ve witnessed them speaking in person to see firsthand how they interact with the audience during and after the engagement. I want to ensure they aren’t prima donnas and will be accessible at a book table or reception. In other words, I want to ensure the speaker is cooperative, likable, and engaging.
We also take time each week to get to know other speakers and best practices, and our team is constantly evaluating talent. Some potential speakers are what we call “untouchables” – meaning high-level people an event planner would have great difficulty reaching through normal channels. Still, by the nature of our business, we have access.
3. Great speaking agents follow up on logistical details and go the extra mile. We often do a walk-through of the venue and communicate back to the speaker weeks before the event, which helps make the speaker more comfortable. We help set expectations on both sides, including advocating for more value to the planner. We orchestrate a pre-event call with speakers and event planners and counsel on the best way to allow attendees to interact with the speaker or book table set-up. These details can save conference planners time with issues like transportation, timing, accommodations, and sometimes security. We can also receive feedback after the event to share with the speaker.
4. We provide advice and counsel to event planners. This reduces stress and answers questions planners often have about speakers they have never met.
5. Good agents are more accessible than most speakers. After all, in-demand speakers are busy, while we are much more accessible and usually reply back within a business day. We can offer marketing tips for promoting ahead of time as well as video taping the event.
Basically, we can ask the speaker for “extras” that help develop a relationship, drive attendance, and create a call to action for the attendees. Because we have a personal relationship with our speakers, we know more about areas where they might be flexible. Plus, we can help set expectations on both sides and ask for things the planner may not be comfortable asking for directly.
Here are three brief stories to illustrate what we do:
A recent client almost overpaid one of our speakers by $5,000 because they thought that by bypassing the agent, they could “get a better deal.” The problem was, the speaker’s website had some “speaker requirements” the client didn’t realize were actually negotiable, like the fee, airfare, and access to the speaker the night before.
So by not going thru the agent, the event planner would have paid $5,000 more than they should have. Plus, after we stepped in we were able to negotiate a coach versus a First Class airline seat and talked the speaker into flying in at no extra cost the day before for a private dinner with the sponsor’s leadership team.
At another recent event, it was going to be too much of a hassle for the speaker to bring books with him, however, he was a successful author and the crowd of 600 was going to be expecting his books. The volunteer event co-chairs would have had to pre-buy the books from the publisher so I worked behind the scenes with the speaker’s assistant and publisher to make books available in a way that wasn’t a burden on anyone. We were able to get the books shipped direct from the publisher (accurately assessing how many books to ship without any leftover.) As a result, the attendees were able to engage personally with the speaker for a photo opportunity and book signing afterwards. That way, the attendees were much more connected to the speaker and content beyond the 45 minute keynote.
Finally, a corporate client wanted a lunchtime keynote speaker for an inaugural women’s leadership event with 200 women from 6 states. After a personal meeting with the CFO and hearing more of their actual needs and desired outcome, we recommended a format where the keynote was the kickoff, then 3 simultaneous case study breakouts, finishing with lunch and a mini report of the feedback obtained. We could have easily just sent a contract for the lunch keynote but we cared about the outcome and the call to action to move the needle in women’s leadership.
If you’d like to find out more about Jessica’s speaker line up or how to work with a professional speaking agent, you can find her here.