Get Your Act Together: Speaker & Entertainer Advice

With the possibility of high fees, diva-like demands, and the act completely tanking, working with speakers and entertainers can be daunting. To help planners, the first panel at the July 17 Virtual Meeting World event, organized by MeetingNews and sister magazine Successful Meetings, invited industry experts to discuss "Entertainment Strategies: Learn How to Deal with Speakers, Entertainers, and Avoid Potential Pitfalls."

To combat budgets, Marc Reede, president of Nationwide Speakers Bureau, recommended giving a bureau your total budget and number of slots and letting it be creative. Instead of saying there is $10,000 to spend on a performer and $5,000 each for three speakers, tell the bureau you have a total budget of $25,000 and need to fill four spots. You might be surprised by the magic bureaus can work, Reede said.

All panelists advised using outside experts during the selection process, and Mark Sonder, chief entertainment officer of Mark Sonder Productions, related the value of a speaker bureau or an entertainment agency by using an analogy. Just as planners know they should hire a caterer even though they cook every day, or hire a florist even if they like to garden, they should hire a professional to select and manage the entertainment, he said. And, MN managing editor William Ng reminded that if something goes wrong—perhaps the speaker had one too many cocktails, or the comedian ignores a request for a PG-rated routine—the bureau can arbitrate on behalf of the group.

Lisa Carnemolla, VP of Goodman Speakers Bureau, added that planners should vet a bureau or an agency like they would a speaker. Looking at accreditations, industry involvement, and specialties can help a planner choose an ideal partner.

When beginning the speaker selection process, Carnemolla suggested not jumping straight into the two-minute clips online. First, read about the speakers or entertainers to get some sense of their backgrounds and messages, and then go to their videos and websites to learn more about their styles before discussing impressions with the bureau. Once choices have been narrowed down, planners should check references or ask a bureau to do so. And, if any sensitive company information will be presented at the event, ask for a background check on the speaker or ask that he or she sign a confidentiality agreement.

Preparing an evaluation form ahead of time and sending it to speakers gives them an idea of the criteria on which they will be reviewed; more often than not, that information bumps the level of the presentation up a notch. Carnemolla recommended using detailed evaluation forms that go beyond "on a scale of one to 10, how did you like the speaker?" to be specific on the length of presentation, style, use of humor, and other elements.

Originally published Aug. 11, 2008