“The Most Expensive Speaker I’ve Ever Had was Free” (Brian Palmer, NSB President)

Posted: August 3, 2015 in Be In The Know

Brian Palmer is the President of the National Speakers Bureau and one of the most respected authorities in the speaker bureau industry. He has served on the board of Meeting Planners International and was bestowed their prestigious International Supplier of the Year Award in 2003. Additionally, he was elected President of the International Association of Speaker Bureaus in 2013, served on their board and was awarded its highest honor, The John Palmer Award.

The Speaker Experts are big fans of Brian Palmer’s video blog and often share his insights with our clients on topics ranging from speaker introductions to event lighting. One of our favorite posts was his segment, “The Most Expensive Speaker I’ve Ever Had was Free”:

The story Brian tells is not uncommon and we, too, have heard of similar experiences many times. Volunteer committee member participation is the life blood of many associations, and having this group’s input and engagement is key to the success of the organization and meetings. However, as Brian points out, there can be pitfalls if those committee members are playing an active role in securing key general session speakers. A speaker not being compensated for his time and giving the speech as a favor to a friend may not take the event as seriously as a professional speaker whose reputation is on the line every time he walks on stage.

Here are a few tips that can help you mitigate the risk of poor performance the next time your program chair tells you, “Good news, I have our keynote speaker confirmed!”

  • Establish immediate contact with the speaker’s assistant or management. Many times the volunteer member who found the speaker based on a relationship will not want to relinquish direct contact with his find. You can work around this by being in contact with the speaker’s assistant to make sure the train stays on track.
  • Be in contact with the assistant on a monthly basis leading up to the event with updates on promotion, other confirmed speakers, and his role in the meeting.
  • Probe to see the level of commitment by the speaker by asking for an advance phone interview for promotional purposes, or perhaps a promotional clip for the event website.
  • Insist on a conference call prior to the event to insure a clear understanding of the importance of the presentation.
  • Trust your gut. If you don’t feel the speaker can pull off the desired outcome, the program (and relationship) might be salvaged with the use of a professional moderator.

By implementing these safe guards, you can keep control of your event while enjoying the benefits of a pro-bono or discounted speaker. Another option is to turn the session management over to a IASB-member speaker bureau. Not all speaker bureaus will take on such a project but many, for a nominal fee, will manage the project logistics to help insure full engagement from your speaker and achieve the desired outcome for your general session. A trusted bureau partner can serve as a professional buffer between you, the volunteer leader and the speaker. Needless to say, we do not suggest this course of action in every case but it can be an effective tool in your meeting planning kit if used at the appropriate time.

The Speaker Experts suggest you follow Brian’s video blog at www.nsbureau.wordpress.com for useful, practical and honest information on speakers and the meetings industry.

Gary McManis & Jay Conklin

  1. joaneisenstodt says:

    I’m a huge fan of Brian Palmer too! And I knew exactly where this was going. Laughing and identifying too much from all I know. Sharing this with an ASAE List where this topic came up not long ago. Thanks.


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