Ask More of Your Conference Speakers

Author: David McMillin       


WNBA Champion and Olympic Gold Medalist Tamika Catchings speaks at the 2019 PCMA EduCon in Los Angeles. The star power of a celebrity can compel attendees to register for a conference. (Jacob Slaton Photography)

Choosing speakers who will attract potential attendees — and inspire, entertain, and educate them on site — is no easy feat. And once you’ve decided who you want on your program, you should be equally strategic about negotiating with them. Tim Mathy, senior partner at Speak Inc., a nonexclusive speakers bureau, advises event organizers to consider every last detail in the negotiation phase. “Ask for more on the front end,” Mathy told Convene. “If you choose not to do [something you requested], that’s fine. The speaker will be okay if you decide to skip a photo op or a book signing, but they will be less amenable to adding one once a contract is done.”

Asking for more, though, does not necessarily mean you’ll get it. Mathy divides speakers in two categories: professional speakers — which include those who present for a living — and celebrity speakers who earn their riches in politics, sports, entertainment, or other public fields. While the star power of a celebrity may compel attendees to register for a conference, it also may mean that you are limited in terms of live-streaming or videotaping their presentation, sharing their talk on social media, or other efforts to show those who didn’t come what they missed and make those speakers’ time on stage create greater impact.

“Some organizers are asking speakers to tweet a few times before an event or make a short welcome video, and professional speakers are usually happy to participate,” Mathy said. “But celebrities are generally a no. It can be a pain, but that’s the game when booking a celebrity.”

Mathy also mentioned another potential downside to hiring celebrity speakers: They “may not be as compelling,” he said. “You might be paying for the name and the picture instead of the speech.”

The speech component is a crucial point to clarify in the contract process, too. They might be listed as “speakers” on a website, but that does not always translate to a 30-minute solo presentation. Getting a speech from a celebrity “is a big deal,” Mathy said. “Plenty of them will prefer a moderated discussion. If that’s what your organization really wants, it needs to be spelled out in the contract to avoid surprises before they go on stage.”

Become a Member

Get premium access to provocative executive-level education, face-to-face networking and business intelligence.