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Inside the Mind of a Meeting Planner

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

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.

Photo of meeting planner Dush Ramachandran with quote, "A great speaker is someone with a unique point of view."

[bctt tweet=“A great speaker is someone with a unique point of view.” – Dush Ramachandran” username=”advancereach”]

Pat Quinn

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 to 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 the real video of you speaking to an audience.

Image of meeting planner Pat Quinn with quote, "The most important asset to send is a good video - not a sizzle reel that's been cut up, but real, uncut video of you speaking to an audience."

[bctt tweet=“The most important asset to send is an uncut video of you speaking to an audience.” – Pat Quinn” username=”advancereach”]

Connor Beaton

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 peoplepeople who aren’t celebrities, who don’t have a New York Times best-selling bookconnect 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.

Photo of meeting planner Conner Beaton with quote, "I'm so interested when you're not a celebrity, because I'm always looking for a fresh face and a fresh voice..."

 

[bctt tweet=“I’m so interested when you’re not a celebrity because I’m always looking for a fresh face” – Conner Beaton” username=”advancereach”]

Heather Cazad

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.

Photo of meeting planner Heather Cazad with quote, "Even if you don't get selected, go to the event anyway - learn about the audience, participate, then follow up right after."

[bctt tweet=“Even if you don’t get selected, go to the event anyway.” – Heather Cazad” username=”advancereach”]

Julie May

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.

Photo of meeting planner Julie May with quote, "A speaker is 'a shoo-in' if they catch me from the beginning of their demo video and I want to do something different with my life because I watched it."

[bctt tweet=“You win if watch your demo, and I want to do something different with my life.” – Julie May” username=”advancereach”]

David Bayer

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.

Photo of meeting planner David Bayer with quote, "Become obsessed with what you're doing and stick with it... people need to hear your message from you."

[bctt tweet=“Become obsessed with what you’re doing… people need to hear your message from you.” – David Bayer” username=”advancereach”]

Phil Mershon

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 feedbacknot just the scores and reviews from attendees, but his own personal, constructive feedbackbut 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.”

Photo of meeting planner Phil Mershon with quote, "Great speakers have a servant mindset, they understand how to serve their audience."

[bctt tweet=“Great speakers have a servant mindset, they understand how to serve their audience.” – Phil Mershon” username=”advancereach”]

Audrey Hagen

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.

Photo of meeting planner Audrey Hagen with quote, "Take every opportunity you can get and be gracious, you never know who's in the audience."

[bctt tweet=”Take every opportunity to be gracious, you never know who’s in the audience. – Audrey Hagen” username=”advancereach”]

Karl Krummenacher

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.

Karl 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 stagesnot 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.

Photo of meeting planner Karl Krummenacher with quote, "Make the extra effort to personalize your content to the audience."

[bctt tweet=“Make the extra effort to personalize your content to the audience.” – Karl Krummenacher” username=”advancereach”]

Keith Yackey

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.

Photo of meeting planner Keith Yackey holding child, with quote "The biggest mistake is to reach out and make it all about you."

[bctt tweet=“The biggest mistake is to reach out and make it all about you.” – Keith Yackey” username=”advancereach”]

Marc Gutman

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 a 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.

Photo of meeting planner Marc Gutman with quote, "There's always room for an inspirational speaker with an amazing story."

[bctt tweet=”“There’s always room for an inspirational speaker with an amazing story.” – Marc Gutman” username=”advancereach”]

Kym Yancey

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 secondsif 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 a 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.

Photo of meeting planner Kym Yancey with quote, "When reaching out, lead with something about the organization or the audience they serve."

[bctt tweet=“When reaching out, lead with something about the organization.” – Kym Yancey ” username=”advancereach”]

Deanna Rogers

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.

[bctt tweet=“Make sure you’re easy to work with – fit with the meeting planner’s timeline.” – Deanna Rogers ” username=”advancereach”]

Sandra Kurland

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.

Photo of meeting planner Sandra Kurland with quote, "With the youth, the delivery of your message is very important, you need to grab their attention early."

[bctt tweet=”“The delivery of your message is very important, you need to grab their attention early.” – Sandra Kurland” username=”advancereach”]

Don Schaffer

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.

Photo of meeting planner Don Schaffer with quote, "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."

[bctt tweet=”“We don’t like the blow-in, blow-out speakers.” – Don Schaffer ” username=”advancereach”]

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.

How I Built A Sales Team From Scratch

The phone was ringing incessantly…

I rubbed my eyes and looked at the clock. 6:12 a.m. Who could be calling at 6:12 a.m.?

I let it go to voicemail and rolled back over.

Another call came at 6:31. And another at 6:45.

Was this the new normal? My phone ringing around the clock?

It was after 7 am in the Central time zone and people were starting to show up at their offices.

…starting to show up and call me.

A few days earlier, I was in Texas and had secured my first big stage. Actually, it was 2 stages right next to each other on the calendar.

I was working with a speaker that had a message for educators, and we were thrilled at what these 2 stages would mean for our growing business… no more calling individual customers and trying to convince them to book us… we were going to where they were hanging out.

They were a Safe and Drug-Free Conference and a School Safety Conference, both in Texas. They were, in short, “dream stages.”

The events had gone really well, and a lot of people were looking to bring us into their schools. They loved what they heard at the conference and knew it would impact their students.

(Funny how the right message to the right audience at the right time can make all the difference. It can birth and grow an organization…)

Over the course of the next few weeks I had hundreds of highly-motivated, well-funded leads to follow up with.

I thought to myself, “this is really going to work…”

But I needed help. I had figured out how to crack the code of getting on dream stages but needed help on the administration and coordination side.

I had someone in mind to help me get started. She was sharp, a recent college grad, and I knew she needed a job. I sat down with her and explained the opportunity.

I told her how many leads I had coming in. Leads I couldn’t service. People were hungry for the message we had to offer, but there were not enough hands on deck to book, service, and administer them.

And, full disclosure, I made her an offer on the spot: 10% commission on programs sold.

For the short term, I knew I had enough leads that we could both work. I would continue to book “dream stages” and she could help service and book lead on the back end. She could also help build the systems (i.e., sales reports) and strategize around research for the next big dream stages.

She accepted, and in that next year she booked hundreds of thousands of dollars in stages… and also set up vital systems for our organization to grow.

Furthermore, I taught her everything she needed to know to book more dream stages. So she wasn’t an order taker for long… she quickly originated and closed her own leads.

This was working…

In the next round, we brought on 3 (yes, 3) more salespeople. They were all full-commission (10% of sales). They were also young, hungry, and anxious to book as many stages as possible.

Our team now consisted of me (Chief Rainmaker, unofficially), my first hire was still doing sales and admin, and 3 more sales reps.

Our main source of leads continued to be these “dream stages.” As this was the heartbeat of our business, we began calling these stages our “bread and butter.” This was what we went to when all else failed.

Running out of leads? Book a dream stage!

Don’t know who to call? Book a dream stage!

(Side note: this varies for your business. If your customers are entrepreneurs, then book yourself at entrepreneurial and business conferences. If they are teachers, book educational conferences… you get the idea. We will post our in-depth strategy on how we do this soon).

We had some turnover throughout the years, as does every organization. At our height, we had 9 salespeople on the phone selling over $6 million of stages… all for the same speaker. They had obviously grown beyond a “speaker” and had themselves become an “organization” with some serious traction in the educational space.

1

Here are the 3 steps to hiring and growing a sales team for your speaking business:

  1. Start with a booking assistant. This should be someone who is a go-getter, comfortable on the phone, can do some research, and start to build your systems. The easiest pay, in the beginning, is full-commission, and pay as much as you’re comfortable. 20-30% is standard, but if they help you get stages, you never would have had in the first place, start them higher than that. We cover this in a FREE training.
  2. Hire a motivated sales specialist. If your first hire was more admin/sales combo, make this one more sale driven. Someone you can train and mentor under you. Show them how to book the stages you want. Push each other; hold each other accountable. In that “round of 3,” I talked about, I had this guy that was a mini-me. He completely ran with the “bread and butter” idea and was eventually booking more “dream stages” than me. Well, almost. 🙂
  3. Rinse and repeat. Once you have the winning formula, grow your team as you are comfortable. For us, this is when we have generated too many leads and events to adequately follow up with. There is no set formula (though I wish there were). Start to divide up the country into regions, giving each rep a part to work with. (At one point we had multiple reps working all over the country… it was a disaster… everyone was fighting over leads and who “saw them first.”)

It’s definitely an art form. A lot of speakers today can get by with #1 on that list for a loooong time. That’s fine. You might not ever want a sales team or a team of speakers. No problem.

But a team of skilled assistants, researchers, and salespeople can help grow your MESSAGE and turn it into a MISSION. How cool is that?

Pete Vargas
Founder, Advance Your Reach