This is the 2nd installment of professional speaker, Graeme Codrington’s article on how to get more bookings from professional speaker agents.
One of the best ways to get noticed by professional speaker agents or bureaus is to have a speaker who is already trusted by the agent recommend you. (NOTE: Not just a speaker who is LISTED with the agent, but one who is booked regularly and liked by that agent).
This brings me to a side point here. As a professional speaker, it is really worth your while to develop good relationships with other speakers. Yes, there are times when these people might be competition for you as you all vie for one particular speaking job. But over time you’ll find there is huge benefit to being friends with other professional speakers. You can recommend each other for jobs, promote each other in the industry and just enjoy together what is otherwise an often lonely profession. I have joined Professional Speaking Associations for just that reason.
How (and why) they choose you
Professional speaker agents sole and only purpose is to sell speakers to paying clients with the least amount of work on their part (that’s just for efficiency purposes, I am not saying they’re lazy). As a speaker, you therefore need to understand clearly the nature of the relationship between the agent and their clients (the event organiser).
Typically, a speaker agent will be approached with a specific request. The reason the client has gone to an agent is because (1) they don’t know who would be best (if they had a specific speaker in mind, they’d probably go direct), and (2) they want protection if something goes wrong (many clients see the agents as providing this protection, such as the ability to provide a substitute speaker if their first choice pulls out at late notice).
So, they come with a request. Often it’s vague. “We need someone to speak at our annual staff conference on leadership. They need to be funny, it’s the after lunch session on the 3rd day. Who would you recommend?”. Agents typically give three recommendations, most often in order.
The professional speaker agents select these choices based on at least the following:
- Because they know you. An agent has to know what you speak on, what your style is, how much you charge and whether you’ll connect with the client and the event. How well do the agents know you (and whatever your answer to that question, I’ll ask: how do you know)? When last did you send an update to an agent? How often do you stay in touch? This is mainly a thought for speakers with established bureau relationships – don’t forget to keep the agency current with your latest work and positioning. If they don’t know you, they can’t sell you.
- Vague fit with client brief. This is obvious, but important. There must be a match. Make sure you know what you should say NO to – that will also give the agent confidence to try and sell you more often. But I will talk about this more below…
- Your fee and fit with client budget (there’s no use promoting a £ 10,000 speaker to a client with a £ 2,000 budget. But equally, there’s no value in it for them to promote a £ 2,000 speaker to a client they know is prepared to pay £ 10,000. After all, the agent gets a percentage). Some speakers think that agents want them to offer cheaper prices – that is not so. Agents will always push their higher priced speakers. As long as you’re worth it. And as long as the client is prepared to pay. Be negotiable on price – but not TOO negotiable.
- How impressive you will be for the client. If the agent gives a client a dud speaker, they will probably lose the relationship. The agent is only as good as you are, so they need to be sure you’re good. And that means good on stage AND off stage. How well do you do with client briefings? How professional are you? Do you adapt yourself to client needs and requests? Do you handle stress well?
- How easy you are to work with. If they send a request to you for availability, how quickly will you respond? This is vital – they want to get three speakers who are available, and get back to the client TODAY! If you consistently take a few days to respond, they’ll stop asking.
- How good your follow through is. After the event, do you give them immediate feedback (they need this in order to make contact with the client – remember your job is done, but they’re trying to pitch for the next conference. Help them look good in front of the client)? Do you even say thank you after the event? (It’s pretty rude not to, don’t you think?).
- How good are you. If they get good reviews when you do work, and if clients rebook you, then that’s all you need.
- How loyal you are. Can they trust that any follow up bookings from an event will come back to them? If they don’t trust that you will ensure they get the business they’re entitled to, then they won’t book you.
- How much they like you. It’s true.
The bottom line is these two things: sometimes you’re just not what a client is looking for or needs, so don’t blame the agent for not booking you; and, until you know what you’ll say NO to you don’t really know what you’re good at (and until you know what you’re good at, most speaker agents will be slow to sell you).
Being good enough
I have to be careful here, but let’s be honest, there are lots of terrible speakers in the world. I’ve sat through many of them at conferences, and I think ‘how on earth do you make a living doing this’? Speaker agents see countless videos from speakers who really are not good enough to make it on the professional circuit. They also see speaker packs from speakers who don’t have anything to say. This is especially true of the speakers who fall into the ‘motivational’ category. But maybe it’s true of you too.
Do you know what you would say NO to?
Are you really world class in your area of expertise? More important question: how do you know? (Who have you benchmarked yourself against? When last did you go on a training course? When last did you get someone who really knows what they’re talking about to critique your work?)
How much do you really know about the area of expertise you speak on? My view is that if you get to speak for an hour on stage and tell the audience more than 10% of what you know, then you don’t know enough. Put another way, for every 15 minutes you speak, you should be able to comfortably host a 3 hour Q&A afterwards – a Q&A session that goes deep and technical and needs specific and practical outcomes from you. If you can’t do that, you are not an expert. The good news is that you can become one – on any topic. But it does time and effort.
Do you do everything? You’ll speak for $500 or $50,000? You can speak on leadership, supply chain management and the social media implications of Middle Eastern political change? You can speak for 15 minutes or 15 hours? You’ll speak before breakfast or after dinner or anytime in between?
It’s good to be flexible, and to have a topic (or two or three or more) that allow you to customise for your clients. But until you know what you WON’T speak about, you won’t have credibility with agents. I know of at least one agent who early on in a relationship with a speaker will test the speaker by asking them to speak on something they are definitely not an expert on. If they say, “Yes”, they’ve just ruined it with this agent. You’ve taken time to build your expertise and reputation – keep it in tact by knowing what we can and can’t do well. If you won’t be the best speaker the client has ever heard on a topic, rather don’t accept the job.
Which leads to the next obvious point. Why do you think a bureau would be interested in getting you started? There are some agents that might want to represent you from the start, but you can bet they’d prefer to be management and take a much bigger slice of your fee. Most agents and all bureaus are there to represent established speakers. They have no incentive to take a chance on a newcomer. I know it’s a “chicken and egg” situation, but unfortunately you’ll have to build your own reputation up before agents will be really interested. Don’t go to the agents until you have some clients testimonials, some video snippets and a track record of adding real value to a few clients.
What I’m really trying to get you to do is to be honest with yourself about how good you really are. Agents only really have time for speakers who are really good. If you’re not that good yet, spend your time speaking to smaller groups and getting paid less. Build up your ability and reputation, and then go to the agents. Bureaus are not there to help you build your career from scratch. They’re not there to help you get better. They’re there to help good speakers get bookings.
This is the different mindset you need when working with an agent. You see, if a client books you for their annual conference, you’re only likely to ever speak at that event once. No matter how good you are this year, they’re unlikely to rebook you next year. So, maybe (just maybe) you can get away with doing something outside your specialty and expertise as a once off with a single client. But an agent needs to book you again and again. You can’t afford to not be your very best for every one of their engagements.
Click here for the 3rd and last installment
Click here for the 1st installment