Working with a Seasoned Professional Speaker

How do you know that you’re bringing in somebody to speak to your audience who’s going to do the right job, deliver the right message and offer take-home value? In short, how do you know when you’re working with a seasoned pro?

While there’s no foolproof way to know, here are ten signs that the speaker you’re thinking of retaining will be just fine:

1. Is highly accessible. A professional speaker recognizes the importance of accessibility and thus offers you a direct phone line. Going further, many speakers also offer their home number. If you need to get in touch with someone, these can be essential.

2. Has a speaker agreement form ready. Professional speakers save you time and energy by submitting their speaker agreement form to you, rather than asking for you to concoct a letter or agreement yourself. Such agreements clearly spell out such information as the speaker’s fee, expectations, audio-visual needs, how educational materials will be handled, and how travel arrangements will be completed. The ideal agreement uses large print, simple, straightforward language and can be read and understood by anyone.

While speakers do need to protect themselves as much as you need to protect yourself, watch out for any speaker agreement that goes on for pages and pages, is laced with fine print and legalese, and otherwise causes you undue concern. A speaking agreement is a simple document. You want the speaker to come speak at a certain time and date. The speaker offers to come speak at this time and date. The only real concern is what happens if either party, for whatever reason, cannot perform. Even this information, however, can be spelled out in one simple clause.


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3. Has supporting materials readily available. Undoubtedly, before the event, you’ll need a biography, an introduction, a write-up of the presentation, and perhaps a photo of the speaker. The seasoned pro has these items, and others, readily available. These aren’t things he or she has to go round up; indeed, professional speakers offer such elements online so that you can examine them at will.

4. The speaker’s responsiveness. From the first time you made contact until the time the speaker actually makes the presentation, to the follow-up, is this speaker responsive? You can gauge a speaker’s level of responsiveness best, obviously, prior to the presentation. Are the materials that you requested promptly submitted or readily available? Does the speaker readily return phone calls? Or is the speaker in hiding and generally inaccessible before the presentation? You can gain a sense of this immediately from each interaction after your initial call.

If you sense that the speaker’s level of responsiveness is less than you desire, be wary. This may be a clue as to how the presentation and overall interaction with the audience might go. What was supposed to be a customized program may only be tailored. What was supposed to be tailored may only be a slight modification of off-the-shelf. Responsiveness and attentiveness prior to the big event is the best clue that you’ve chosen the right speaker for the job.

5. Having a pre-speech questionnaire. Does the speaker have a pre-speech questionnaire, which is usually a document of one or two pages that he submits to you far in advance of the presentation? While you might look upon this document as busy work, it’s actually a key tool in ensuring that the presentation comes off as planned.

The professional speaker has taken the time to craft a document that includes questions that will help him or her to better know your audience, your organization, what you’re trying to achieve and what message you want to have delivered. Most importantly, it helps the speaker to understand what participants should know and how you’d like them to feel by the end of the presentation. The professional speaker can send this form to you via e-mail or might have it available online. The speaker should also be prepared to review this form with you on the fly, over the phone. Often, this will be the most convenient way for you to handle this task, and the speaker needs to be accommodating in this area.

6. Professional presentation materials. There is no reason why you have to endure unattractive black and white overheads or slides when the digital world of full color is available. Today’s professional speakers use sophisticated presentation software to craft audio-visual materials that are easy to read and understand, pleasing to look at and right on target for his or her message.

It makes perfect sense to ask to see a speaker’s presentation materials in advance. Thus, you both get to discuss and agree on what your audience will see before the meeting. Most meeting professionals agree that ‘no surprises’ is the best way to go. Why have surprises when it comes to presentation materials?

7. Will arrive well in advance. It might be semi-comforting to retain a speaker who’s very busy. After all, if many other groups are hiring this speaker, he or she must be good, right? Not necessarily. If the speaker doesn’t arrive the night before, or at least two to three hours in advance of the presentation, watch out. The most professional speakers arrive in advance, work out the room logistics, meet with the production and audio-visual personnel, walk the room, give equipment a test run and, in general, make themselves thoroughly familiar with the meeting venue.

No matter how good the speaker may be, if he or she expects to get off a plane, jump into a taxi, and make it to your site with moments to spare, be on guard, for you may get a performance that is not quite up to par or doesn’t fit the needs of your audience.

8. No off-the-shelf programs. Today, every audience requires at least some form of a tailored presentation. There are no more off-the-shelf programs that fit every audience, every time, even when the topic is as generic as management, leadership or stress. The speaker has to take time to know the audience, what they’re specifically facing and their daily challenges.

The true professional speaker will spend more time asking you about your audience than conveying the essence of his or her message, at least at the outset. Be wary of any speaker who claims to have just the right message but who does not ask you a lot of questions.

9. Respects your audience members. There might be some mystery and allure surrounding the speaker who doesn’t interact with audience members prior to the speech. Increasingly, however, attendees want to see the speaker as a fellow professional, certified member of the human race—someone who is accessible. Is your speaker willing to meet with audience members prior to his or her actual presentation? If they’ll be attending your conference or convention, are they willing to rub elbows with members or staff in the hallways, at other meeting events, just prior to going on stage and afterwards, if time permits?

The functionally competent, oratorically stirring speaker who is aloof to your audience before and after presenting does not win over hearts and minds in the way that the fully engaging, personable and accessible speaker does. Ask about this consideration when you’re in the negotiation stage.

10. Instills you with confidence. Finally, the speaker simply engenders within you a sense of confidence that all will turn out well!


Jeff Davidson is “The Work-Life Balance Expert®” and the premier thought leader on work-life balance issues. He works with organizations that want to enhance their productivity by improving the work-life balance of their people. Jeff is the author of 65 books, among them “Breathing Space,” “Dial it Down, Live it Up,” “Simpler Living,” the “60 Second Innovator,” and the “60 Second Organizer.” Visit www.BreathingSpace.com or call 919-932-1996 for more information on Jeff’s keynote speeches and seminars, including:
         * Managing the Pace with Grace®
         * Achieving Work-Life Balance™
         * Managing Information and Communication Overload®