Speaker savvy

The appearance of a prominent speaker or lecturer can bring a variety of benefits to a higher learning institution and its students.

There are some 4,140 colleges and universities in America. If each spends an average of $50,000 per year in presenting speakers and lecturers–this becomes an annual investment which exceeds $200 million. In the campus public speaker marketplace, the majority of presenters receive fees and compensation of about $10,000 per engagement. Some receive $25,000+ and some earn $3,000-$5,000.

The appearance of a prominent speaker or lecturer can bring a variety of benefits to a higher learning institution and its students. Foremost is the educational experience where students, faculty, and supporters of said college or university are given the opportunity to personally see this individual first-hand and engage them. Presumably, the reputation of the speaker brings credibility to the academic organization (and a particular campus program or specialty school.)

This speaker’s presence often brings attention, outside interest, and news media coverage for the school. There seems to be increased interest from American colleges and universities to present international speakers. For example, Sugata Mitra of India talks about the future of learning. (He is the rare recipient of a $1M award from TED.) David Miliband, a recent former British Foreign Secretary now lives in the U.S., and runs the International Rescue Committee. Yang Lan is considered the “Chinese Oprah”.

Speaker trends

Consider how most elected officials and people holding government office can be invited to speak at “no charge” (sometimes they require the cost of travel, food, and accommodations). The latest trends for content include speakers talking about: sustainability, women’s issues, the future of education, and the impact of cyber technology. More than ever before, prominent figures receiving honorary degrees from colleges and universities expect to be compensated for their participation.

The selection process for these speakers is often fragmented. Many times student committees are involved. Then, there is review and sign off from administrators, perhaps, a special events director, a business manager, a vice president for finance, or a CFO. Technology has streamlined this process. Many speakers have personal websites where their past experiences and reviews are featured. Many speakers are offered through the websites of agencies and speaker’s bureaus. Web tools have made it relatively easy to watch a speaker’s entire performances, a preview or a sampling of what a campus audience could anticipate.

Six rules for signing a speaker:

  1. When engaging a speaker, be clear about the fees and any expenses. It is easy to have misunderstandings on the cost of travel and accommodations, food/hospitality, any security needs, any technical audio/visual requirements. All of these considerations can impact an institution’s budget and threatens to turn what is supposed to be a positive occasion into adverse circumstances. The arrangements for most speakers call for payment thirty days prior to the event.
  2. Be careful with provisions covering postponements, cancellations, emergencies (“act of God” conditions), substitutions, audience guarantees, and the like. Within reason, there should be a legal method for the college to recover fees and expenses.
  3. If working with an agency or speaker’s bureau, validate their reputation, seek references from other academic institutions, and check out past successful outcomes. Unfortunately, many agencies today tend to conduct one-time “transactional” business, rather than facilitating a “relationship”.
  4. Terms and conditions of presenting a speaker are placed under total control of the agent without regard to the needs or sensitivities of an individual organization. A quality agent will demonstrate concern about providing the institution with good value and a wonderful experience.
  5. Be clear about expectations: how long the speaker will be “on stage”, the monologue/dialogue portions of their presentation, the length of time they are willing to spend on the campus, their willingness to cooperatively engage with students, faculty, and the VIP’s at the higher learning organization.
  6. Some speakers and agencies encourage satellite presentations seen by audiences on giant screens in auditoriums and meeting halls. Presumably, this is much more efficient as the speaker does not have to spend time and money on travel and accommodations, resulting in a lower fee. Production people should make a comparison about the cost of communication/audio/video technology and whether this actually offsets expenses of a “personal appearance”.) However, more times than not, this experience is less powerful as a live, in-person, face-to-face engagement.

Tom Kenyon-Slaney is founder and CEO of London Speaker Bureau headquartered in london with offices in New York, Paris, Dublin, Frankfurt, Istanbul, Delhi, Kuala Lumpur, Dubai And Beijing.


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