Insights from 15 Industry Leaders on Making an Impression, Booking Stages, and Getting Invited Back Next Year
Speakers are always asking us how to make a good impression with a meeting planner. How do you go from a total unknown to a booked speaker? Where should you invest your time when you’re just getting started? What are the secret mistakes that other prospective speakers make?
A few weeks ago, we hosted our first ever Mind of a Meeting Planner summit. We brought together fifteen top meeting planners, to give the inside scoop on what works for them and, more importantly, what doesn’t.
The results were outstanding. Every meeting planner brought unique insights on making the perfect first impression, standing out from the crowd, and getting invited back for next year’s event. They shared their biggest turn-offs and tore through some of the industry’s biggest misconceptions. Are you sending out a sizzle reel? Do you think you’re not famous enough for the top events? You’ll want to read this.
Dush Ramachandran has built Underground Online Seminar into an event that Forbes describes as a “must-attend conference for entrepreneurs.” Their focus is on presenting insightful, useful content to the marketers in attendance. And while they often have big-name speakers onstage, like Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh, they also regularly book small-business owners and less-known speakers.
“A great speaker is someone with a unique point of view,” Dush says. They want speakers with a unique take, who have their own insights into the industry. If it’s a controversial take, that can be even better. “We’re looking for someone that can come onstage and command and hold the attention of the audience,” he explains. In some cases, that means a well-known, big-name speaker. In other cases, he’s seen newcomers have a bigger impact on the conference attendees than headliners – by sharing their unique, compelling point of view.“A great speaker is someone with a unique point of view.” - Dush Ramachandran Click To Tweet
Pat Quinn speaks and books speakers for with Ideas Unlimited Seminars, a seminar series dedicated to helping teachers improve their classroom management skills. Their events have trained thousands of teachers and routinely sell out, as teachers, administrators, and counselors gather to learn concrete techniques from leading experts.
What his biggest turn-off? “When the first five sentences in the email ask start with ‘I’,” Pat responds. He’s interested in a speaker that’s here to help his audience, not to sell themselves. When the ask explains that they know a specific problem the audience has, and how to solve it, that catches Pat’s attention.
We emphasize this point in Advance Your Reach seminars and coachings, too. A speaker shouldn’t approach an opportunity thinking it’s about them. It’s not even really about the meeting planner, it’s about solving a problem for the audience. The ask is all about you and your, You, the meeting planner, are having a great event where your audience will come to learn the solution to a problem. It doesn’t matter what stage you’re trying to get,that’s very important.
Pat meets speakers through other conferences, especially in breakout sessions. Then, in narrowing down his potential speakers, he says, “concrete deliverables is the key.” The most important asset to send is a good video—“not a sizzle reel that’s been cut up,” but real video of you speaking to an audience.“The most important asset to send is an uncut video of you speaking to an audience.” - Pat Quinn Click To Tweet
Through ManTalks and their annual Real Talk Summit, Connor Beaton brings in speakers and guests year-round as bloggers, podcast guests, and event speakers. His guests are a mix of celebrity speakers and less well-known experts.
We asked him how regular people—people who aren’t celebrities, who don’t have a New York Times best-selling book—connect with him and get hired. “If you’re not a celebrity, for me that’s actually an advantage,” Conner says, “because then you can approach me and say, ‘Here’s the problem that I see your community facing, here’s my story and how it can engage your audience.’”
He emphasizes storytelling as the unique x-factor that unknown speakers bring to the table, a point that we dug into in our recent blog post on brand storytelling. Audiences already know the stories of his celebrity guests, so telling your personal, authentic story sets you apart. “I’m so interested when I don’t know who you are, because I’m always looking for a fresh face and a fresh voice,” Conner says. That freshness comes from bringing your personal story and perspective into your speaking.
“I'm so interested when you're not a celebrity, because I'm always looking for a fresh face” -… Click To Tweet
Heather Cazad books speakers for the National Forum on Character Education, an annual conference hosted by Character.org. This year, they had room for 50 speakers, and received closer to 200 submissions. She offers some great practical advice on getting the attention of a meeting planner when you’re just another face in a big crowd.
First, she says, make sure your proposal actually matches that year’s conference theme. The irrelevant proposals are first to go. Then, she looks at reviews the speakers received if they’ve spoken at her conference before. For new speakers, she says, “I would take recommendations from other meeting planners I trust.”
In fact, an Advance Your Reach client booked this very stage by putting their great reviews to work for them. After 3 years of trying without success, the client won the booking by sending an actual review from a previous conference, including a perfect score and glowing remarks.The meeting planner called the reviewer to verify, and that built up the credibility of this unknown speaker enough to land her that stage.
Heather has one final, excellent tip on making yourself memorable: focus on the long game. “I love the people who didn’t get selected, but they come to the event anyway, learn about the event and participate, then follow up right after.” Focusing on the organization and the conference content proves that you’re actually interested in the topics, not just self-promotion. And next year, your application will be sure to stand out.“Even if you don't get selected, go to the event anyway.” - Heather Cazad Click To Tweet
Julie May books speakers for the Joyful Living Women’s Conference, an event that focuses on bringing women together to increase personal joy, become empowered, and inspire others.
The number one thing she looks for when hiring speakers is a 3-5 minute video of them speaking. “If they catch me from the beginning and I want to do something different with my life because I watched it,” she says, “they’re a shoo-in!” This may seem like a lot to ask of a video clip, but she says it’s accomplished by keeping the video short and to-the-point. “If they can do that in five minutes, then what can they do in an hour on my stage?”
The videos you send to meeting planners are so important, we’ve even published our ultimate guide to video email. Tools like BombBomb make it easy to record and send intro videos, and to track their impact using real-time metrics. When booking stages, video is your audition. Make it count.“You win if watch your demo and I want to do something different with my life.” - Julie May Click To Tweet
For his annual event The Powerful Living Experience Live, David Bayer books speakers who will help his attendees “reignite the passion and spirit that lies dormant within each and every one of us.” He’s interested in unique, authentic speakers who fit the theme of the event and really have something to offer.
One example is Chris Smith, who we recently featured in our post on brand storytelling. Smith tells his own unique story, with a genuine passion for what he’s doing and what he’s learned. Once again, storytelling and authenticity are key—and it has to naturally fit with the event goals. “We recruit speakers who are congruent with our content,” Bayer says. “It feels good to be congruent, and it feels bad if you need to convince someone” that you’re a fit for the event.
“People need to hear your story, from you,” Bayer says. You don’t have to be a celebrity to share a meaningful story. Instead, he wants the unique perspective that only you can share. A celebrity speaker may have a similar underlying message about, say, the importance of dedication. But only you can surprise your audience with the story of your unique journey and how you see the world.“Become obsessed with what you're doing... people need to hear your message from you.” - David… Click To Tweet
Phil Mershon is a meeting planner for Social Media Examiner’s annual Social Media Marketing World conference. The enormous conference has over 5,000 attendees each year. It brings together industry leaders from the world’s top brands, subject matter and content creation experts, and professionals looking to network and expand their skills.
What do his successful speakers have in common? “A servant mindset,” Phil says. “They understand how to serve their audience.” This means not only having a deep knowledge of the subject that you’re speaking on, but being an excellent communicator who can break a topic down clearly and provide actionable tips. “We’re looking for teachers.”
Phil also looks at the reviews for speakers who presented at his event in the past. A staff member watches the recording of sessions with bad reviews and evaluates what went wrong. He’ll even give feedback—not just the scores and reviews from attendees, but his own personal, constructive feedback—but only when asked. “I had a guest last year that had bad reviews,” he says, “but I talked to her about it and she took the feedback so well that I invited her back the next year.”“Great speakers have a servant mindset, they understand how to serve their audience. Click To Tweet
Audrey Hagen books speakers for numerous conferences worldwide through her event management company, Platinum Events. Because she books multiple different conferences, she has a unique position and relationship with speakers, and has the power to make or break many opportunities.
Audrey tells us that the key to success is to “take every opportunity you can get and be gracious, you never know who’s in the audience.” Demonstrating integrity and commitment to the audience is sure to impress her. What doesn’t impress? “Having someone text me [during an event], saying, ‘I’m here, make room, let me on the stage.’ There’s no integrity in that.”
She evaluates first-time speakers along similar lines. It’s impressive when “they come from a place of heart, they’re authentic, and they’re putting the audience first.” When she sees that, the speaker stands out in her mind and is more likely to get booked for more opportunities down the road.Take every opportunity to be gracious, you never know who's in the audience. - Audrey Hagen Click To Tweet
Mindshare Summit is an annual conference that brings together health and wellness entrepreneurs. Meeting planner Karl Krummenacher books speakers who can help his attendees grow their business, with a special emphasis on speakers with expertise in the health and wellness entrepreneurs.
Carl emphasizes the importance of research. He’s looking for speakers who “take the extra effort to personalize content to the audience.” A standard, one-size-fits-all approach won’t work for his niche event, and he needs speakers who are willing to go the extra mile. “Can you take the time to weave into your presentation the language that our audience is used to?”
Research is the key to stages—not just winning them, but being successful on stage. It can require extra effort, but knowing what is going to be relevant to a specific audience makes your presentations more powerful. It can be the deciding factor in booking an event, and even more in getting invited back next year.“Make the extra effort to personalize your content to the audience. Click To Tweet
Keith Yackey found success from the start with his approach to the Amped Life seminar, which gives subject-matter experts tools to get their message out and monetize their expertise. He tells us about his approach, which focuses on generosity and long-term success. “You can tell when people are self-serving,” Keith says, and “you can just tell when people are supportive of each other.”
The biggest mistake is to reach out and make it all about you. When Keith was planning his first event, David Bayer reached out and offered to help promote it—David was excited about the event and wanted to share it with his list and audience. Instead, Keith invited him to speak. The offer to help was selfless and generous, and made Keith want to work with him and help him in return. David ended up booking that stage because he was able to “raise the level of the event,” bring in an audience, and lead with generosity.
One final tip Keith offers is to give praise and thanks to the meeting planners. The event promoters often get attention for a successful event, while the meeting planners go unnoticed and underappreciated. Set yourself apart by thanking them.“The biggest mistake is to reach out and make it all about you.” - Keith Yackey Click To Tweet
Marc Gutman books speakers for the Entrepreneurs’ Organization, a global network that hosts events ranging from small forums and panels to large, international conferences. He offers practical tips to navigate fee negotiations. He knows the topic can be touchy, but he recommends speakers be concrete and realistic about their proposed fee. “I’m always very frank,” Marc says, and going into that conversation he already knows roughly what his budget is. He’s seen speakers demand a high fee because they thought it would make them seem impressive or high-demand, even though they’re really being paid a fraction of that amount. This ultimately just slows the conversation down, and it can be a real turn-off.
Beyond that initial budget conversation, he looks for speakers to fit different roles. “There’s always room for an inspirational speaker with an amazing story,” Marc says. There’s also always room for a subject matter expert who is there to teach great tactics. Both styles can work, and his job is to find the mix of different approaches that will make the event a success.
He has an extra tip for unknown speakers. “If I don’t know you, I’m not sure I’m looking for you,” he explains, “but I’m probably only a few clicks away from an introduction from someone you know.” Speakers don’t have to be famous to be “heard of,” if they can leverage their existing networks to make an impression.“There's always room for an inspirational speaker with an amazing story.” - Marc Gutman Click To Tweet
For their events and summits, Kym Yancey of eWomenNetwork books speakers who can teach his attendees concrete strategies in marketing, entrepreneurship, and business growth.
With Kym, the content is key: “People buy topics, not speakers,” he says, so “make sure your topic is engaging.” He’s interested in polished presentations where he can immediately see the benefits to his audience. “Put thought into the title of your talk and the takeaways” in your proposal, he advises. “We’re making a decision in 60 seconds—if you don’t see it in 60, then you’re done.”
He also agrees with many of our other planners, that a great video clip is the key to booking stages. “Don’t give me a sizzle reel, give me five uninterrupted minutes.” Kym uses the video to see who you are as a speaker, and uses the proposal to see what you bring to his audience.
One bonus tip to really stand out is to do a little research on the organization first. “When reaching out, lead with something about the organization… some compliment.” It shows that you’ve done your homework and care about the person on the other end of your email.“When reaching out, lead with something about the organization.” - Kym Yancey Click To Tweet
Deanna Rogers is a meeting planner for Traffic and Conversion Summit, an event described by Inc. Magazine as “the largest, and best, marketing event you’ve never heard of.” She offers some crucial no-nos for speakers looking to break into bigger stages and book a second year.
“A big pet peeve is not being prepared to give us all the materials we need on our timeline,” Deanna says. A difficult, disorganized, or unpolished speaker may book her stage one year, but they’re not getting invited back. “It’s a big problem if you or the company that represents you is difficult to work with,” she says.
Speakers must also be impeccable in their presentation and ready to make a great first impression. Deanna will often travel to see a speaker on stage in person, and invitations to do so catch her eye. “There are things like fidgets and twitches that speakers will do that you don’t see until you meet them in person,” she says. Practice to iron out these problems before you take the stage, then take the extra step to find out meeting planners in the area whenever you’re presenting. It’s an opportunity to make a great impression and to build trust by really showing what you can do.
“Make sure you're easy to work with - fit with the meeting planner's timeline. Click To Tweet
For the California Association of Student Leaders annual conference, Sandra Kurland books speakers with special attention to the unique needs of her young audience. “With the youth, the delivery of the message is very important,” she says. “You need to grab their attention early.”
It’s important that her speakers have stellar educational content. Beyond inspiring the audience, they must provide resources to help them take action. “If they come off the stage and can teach those skills, it makes a big difference,” she says.
Speakers should have goals and plans beyond just landing the stage and giving their presentation, too. “I need someone who is looking beyond just the stage,” Sandra says, because “there will be more opportunities if they do well on our stage.” Sandra is always on the lookout for speakers who she can book for additional school visits and workshops. If a conference presentation has excellent content that really sparks the interest of her audience, she’s ready to book that speaker throughout the year. The best speakers are always on the lookout for ways they can contribute to the organization’s long-term goals.“The delivery of your message is very important, you need to grab their attention early.” - Sandra… Click To Tweet
Don Schaffer books speakers for various events hosted by the California Association of Directors of Activities, including regional and state conferences.
The relationship is very important to him when booking speakers. “The biggest thing is being willing to be a partner,” Don says. “We don’t like the blow-in, blow-out speakers. We want them to be a part of our event, not just speak and leave.” He rarely hires speakers he hasn’t already heard. A prospective keynote speaker once contacted Don’s team, letting them know that he was in town speaking, and invited them to come hear him speak. That helped build the trust needed to land the booking.
This can have a huge impact on your career. Prospective speakers should make contact with event planners anywhere they speak. Identify your dream stages, and find out who books them. Then, when you’re in town, invite them out. Take them to lunch and invite them to hear you speak afterword. It helps you stand out, puts a real face to your ask, and scores the undivided attention of someone with the power to book big stages.“We don't like the blow-in, blow-out speakers.” - Don Schaffer Click To Tweet
Time to win some stages!
There you have it. Insights and wisdom from fifteen top professionals on the do’s and don’ts of contacting meeting planners, making a great first impression, and setting yourself apart from the crowd.
What’s next? How do you take these tips and organize them into a plan, to actually win stages? Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered. Our Unstoppable Stage Campaign will give you the next steps to turn advice into action. This is your step-by-step guide to getting noticed, building rapport, and making yourself impossible to ignore.