Public Speaking – How To Book A Public Speaker For A UK Conference

Being given the job of picking a motivational, keynote or public speaker for your conference is a double edged sword. If the speaker goes down well, you’ll get all the credit and the conference goes down in company history as one of the great successes of the year and something to be aspired to for future conferences.

However, if you pick an unsatisfactory public speaker, or even worse, a terrible one (think – any conference you’ve attended that you wish you hadn’t , or the Psychic act hired in the Phoenix nights TV series! ) then it’s a negative note against you and you’ll be responsible for the conference being a flop.

So what are your options when booking a public speaker?

o There are lots of sports personalities available for hire. The downside is that the majority of them are actually very mediocre public speakers and some are just plain bad. Top tip; the best ones have the biggest price tags, so expect to pay in excess of £10K. There are some good sports personality speakers who can be hired for less, but there’s a good reason they’re cheaper – they’re on the way out and probably only the older members of the audience will know who they are!

o You could always book the keynote speaker that you hired last year, as they were a great success and very reasonably priced. The flaw in this plan is (as one famous high street bank found out to their cost) hiring the same motivational speaker year after year only succeeds in de-motivating your staff when they hear the same old stuff trotted out year after year!

o There are those public/ keynote speakers who have copied the style of high profile American Speakers, which would be fine provided they have the presence to carry it off and they’re speaking to an American audience. Brits are very cynical audiences and inflicting this approach on them will goes down like bacon butties at a bar mitzvah.

o Then there are people who have achieved great feats, but if falling off a mountain and surviving fails to engage an audience including women, who have endured childbirth, juggled careers and partners (who themselves are busy hammering their heads off the glass ceiling!!!) it’s going to have a negative effect. I know one speaker whose talk is based on the challenges of climbing Kilimanjaro; however these days it’s practically been worn to a path with the vast numbers of people who have climbed it. He had the wind knocked out of his sails when several people in the audience, including someone in a wheelchair, claimed to have done the same trek.

o Then you have an array of business speakers. They may not be household names although many will have books and media exposure that support their chosen speaking topics. They have much more in common with a business audience than the above options and the good ones are much more reasonably priced. For a large conference you can expect to pay between £5-10K and for a smaller conference you might even get one for as little as £2.5K. Most will have product (CD’s and books for sale) so a savvy conference organizer can even negotiate a deal on products as part of the fee, which makes a great added extra for attendees and even better value for money.

The biggest cardinal sin to avoid when choosing a public speaker.

Picking a speaker who will impress 100% of the people 100% of the time is an impossibility. Finding one who will be inoffensive to 100% of the people 100% of the time is perfectly achievable, but your speaker will have zero impact on your conference. You don’t have to have a big name to make a great conference; you just need a great Public/Keynote/Motivational Speaker. I know many famous celebrities (who shall remain nameless) who have enjoyed a successful career as a motivational speakers for years, without ever inspiring or entertaining an audience and charging thousands for each event. If you want a good public speaker then always do your homework and go by recommendation.

If you want your conference to be a great success then follow our useful 7 step guide below:

1) Keep your costs to a minimum by going direct to the speaker. Most speakers can be found on their own websites as well as speaker bureau sites. Speaker bureaus charge an extra 20% on the top of the speaker’s fee. If you’re unlucky enough to speak to the bureau that doesn’t have a direct relationship with the speaker, then you may be paying more than one lot of bureau fees. It’s also worth noting that the speaker bureaus aren’t regulated and there are many that speakers prefer not to work with them due to irregular practices.

2) Work off recommendations as anyone with some confidence and larynx can set themselves up as a public speaker.

3) Give your public speaker an adequate brief. What is the likely makeup of the audience? Mainly women? Men? Age? Backgrounds? Audience size? Details of the Venue? Equipment available?

4) As a general rule, don’t err on the side of blandness to avoid potentially causing offense. This is guaranteed to result in a bland experience for the audience. Audiences are human before they are employees and whilst you don’t want someone foul mouthed or offensive, very PC speakers are amongst the most dreaded by an audience.

5) Ask to see a show reel, blog, and testimonials. Any experienced professional will expect you to ask for them (if you haven’t been referred) and will gladly furnish you with them.

6) Be prepared to negotiate over fees, but don’t negotiate yourself out of a good speaker for the sake of a few pounds. The cost of the venue and the time of the delegates put the price of the speaker in the shade. Your speaker is going to be the highlight of your conference, so remember this when deciding to rule a speaker in, or out, on price

7) Read the small print. A good public speaker will have a comprehensive set of terms and conditions which will include a cancellation fee. You’ll usually have to book a good speaker well in advance; if they have committed their time to you in their diary then they can’t work for anyone else and they expect the same level of commitment from you. Last minute changes of date are likely to incur a fee, so ensure your conference details are secure before you book.