Survey Explores Speaker and Planner Dynamics

The ‘2024 Speaking Industry Benchmark Report’ offers insights into the current state of the relationship between planners and speakers and how speaker selection factors into an event’s success.

Author: Curt Wagner       

Event organizers are worrying about increasing costs and attendance numbers at their events this year, according to responses to a recent survey conducted by AAE Speakers, a speakers bureau and talent agency. While this will come as a surprise to no one, the “2024 Speaking Industry Benchmark Report” — which includes the responses of 340 organizers planning corporate, nonprofit, academic, and other kinds of events, and 378 experienced speakers — yields valuable clues about the role organizers see speakers taking when solving for those challenges and in overall event programming.

Two out of five organizers said that staying within budget was one of their biggest priorities when booking a speaker, topped only by audience engagement (67 percent) and education for the audience (49 percent). Almost seven out of 10 of those planners chose “talent is priced well/good value” as a reason for choosing a speakers bureau, making it the top response.

Driving increased attendance ranks only fifth among organizers’ biggest priorities when booking a speaker, yet when asked what the top indicators are for an event’s success, attendance was by far the top answer — chosen by three out of four respondents. By juxtaposing the responses to these two different questions, one could assume that planners don’t see the speakers they select as critical to moving the needle on registrations.

Here are some other takeaways from the survey results:

Who Chooses Speakers?

Choosing speakers is a collaborative decision — less than 8 percent of respondents make the booking decisions alone. Nearly seven out of 10 planners surveyed said two to five people at their organization are involved in making speaker decisions; it takes more than five people for around one-quarter of planner respondents.

Budgeting for Speakers and Speaker Fees

The average overall budget for hiring a keynote speaker, according to survey results, was $22,449. The most common range (47 percent) for hiring a keynote speaker was $10,000- $50,000. Just under half of respondents budget less than $10,000, and only 9 percent said their budget exceeded $50,000.

On the flip side, the average speaking fee reported from the speaker respondents was around $14,000. More than two out of five speakers reported fee ranges exceeding $10,000, while just 3 percent charge more than $30,000. Also, six out of 10 speakers surveyed said that total audience size does not influence their fees, and eight out of 10 said travel costs are not included in their fees.

Length of Presentation

Almost 79 percent of planners are planning in-person events this year, and three out of 10 are not planning any hybrid events this year. So, it’s little wonder that one-third prefer to host speakers in person when planning a hybrid event.

Whether the event is in-person, virtual, or hybrid plays a role in what organizers see as the optimal length of time for a speaker presentation, with the highest number of respondents (nearly half) choosing 45 minutes to an hour as the sweet spot for an in-person or hybrid event presentation. Around 31 percent chose 30 to 45 minutes, and only 2 percent said more than an hour. For virtual events, 36 percent of respondents said 30 to 45 minutes is ideal; more than one-quarter said 15 to 30 minutes.

Fewer Meet and Greets

Perhaps it’s due to concerns over incurring higher speaker fees, but fewer organizers are asking for meet-and-greet sessions with speakers. In 2023, 66 percent of respondents said they asked for handshake session — only 53 percent said the same this year, although it is still the top “extra” organizers are asking for. Other asks included social-media promotion (48 percent), meeting with executives or VIPs (38 percent), book signings (34 percent), and pre-event publicity (28 percent).

Hot Topics

The top-rated speaker topics for 2024 are leadership and motivation (40 percent), DEI (38 percent), artificial intelligence (36 percent), mental health (34 percent), and future of work (21 percent). Regarding AI, one event organizer commented, “AI will be the topic that will drive engagement. Hiring the right speakers to discuss AI for a lay audience will be challenging.” A speaker respondent echoed that sentiment: “AI will cause a flood of content, and clients will find it harder to choose who really is an expert.”

Yet despite AI being ranked as the third-most popular speaking topic, when organizers were asked if they are using the tool in their work, 32 percent of organizers said they are not and have no plans to, while 26 percent said they currently aren’t but plan to this year.

Controversial Topics

In a year when U.S. elections, international conflicts, and laws concerning reproductive rights are dividing society, there is no shortage of potentially controversial content events can wade into. An overwhelming majority — more than three-quarters — of organizers polled said they would at least consider asking a keynote speaker to change a potentially polarizing presentation; 27 percent would not. Of the keynote speakers surveyed, almost all (96 percent) said they would at least consider changing their presentation if asked. Only 4 percent said they would refuse.

Working Together

Responses from planners and speakers suggest that cooperation isn’t much of a challenge, with 42 percent of organizers and 41 percent of speakers saying they have had no issues working with each other — the top answer from both groups. But every relationship has some pain points. Lack of timely communication was the second-highest complaint among speakers (16 percent) and the third among planners (14 percent). Organizers’ second pain point — at 19 percent — was that speakers don’t understand who is in the audience; 9 percent of speakers, in turn, said planners don’t accurately explain who is in the audience. Both groups, at 6 percent each, claimed the other side requests changes after contracts are signed. While 7 percent of planners said speakers are inflexible when unavoidable changes are needed, 6 percent of speakers said planners ask for extras that are not negotiated in advance.

With these challenges in mind, the survey authors offered event organizers the following tips:

  • Be respectful of a speaker’s time.
  • Negotiate extras up front.
  • Be responsive.
  • Give as much detail as you can about audience demographics and interests.

Curt Wagner is digital editor at Convene.

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