How to hire anybody (including me) to give a speech
by Josh Bernoff
I spend 80% of my time now writing books and giving speeches. As you can imagine, I get a lot of speaking requests. Usually, the prep and the people I work with in organizations are great. But every once in a while -- ok, actually more often than that -- I'm surprised or disappointed in some of the actions of the people who want to hire me. It's little things. Much like asking for help in an email, asking somebody to give a speech is far more likely to succeed if you understand how speakers work and what they're looking for.
I'm not a prima donna -- I don't need my own case of Evian water, or a chauffeur-driven limo to the airport. But there are a few simple things that will make things go much better. These rules apply to me, but they also likely apply to anybody else who gives speeches regularly -- and that includes most authors who are moderately successful. In writing this, I'm hoping that sharing the perspective from the speaker's point of view may be revealing for you. Let's begin . . .
- Great to meet you. Let me introduce you to the people who help me with speeches. Right now, my speech requests go to Belinda Simmelink, who is one of our excellent PR people and indispensible to me. Belinda and I decide jointly which ones to do. Most popular speakers have a speaker's bureau or some other sort of helper like this. Going "around" the helper if you get a "no" isn't going to change the answer -- but it's certainly going to annoy the speaker.
- Yes I charge for speeches and I also do them, unpaid, for exposure. But we make those decisions. I've delivered unpaid speeches to groups from national advertisers to business school students. We decide based on the size and composition of the audience (yes, we're going to need to know that) and how easy or difficult it is to get to (I don't do many free speeches in Tasmania). A speech to corporate employees or clients is typically going to require a payment -- because those groups can pay, and because the promotional value is limited. I often agree to give a speech to an organization with a broad audience, just like many other speakers, just to get my ideas out there. If we can't do your event for free, we'll be delighted to do it for a fee -- and yes, we already are aware that we may be passing up your incredible promotional opportunity. By the way, if it's a paid speech, the date is not committed until you sign on the dotted line. This avoids the "but we talked about the second Monday in June, don't you remember?" conversation. My schedule changes every day.
- I'd be delighted to talk to you about your audience ahead of time. I actually customize my speeches (including the data and the jokes) based on where your audience is from, what industry they're in, and what topics they need to know. So sure, let's set up a time to talk ahead of time. If you give me more than 4 weeks ahead, the results will be even better. This will also help me to get you a title and description, which you can put up on your Web site.
- No, you don't own the content of my speech. Yup, that's obvious. Except that people are always sending us speaking agreements that say they own the content (and typically, long after the speech is committed). I won't sign it, because I'm not an idiot. 99% of the time people say, "forget it, you don't actually need to sign it" -- so why did you send me the silly agreement in the first place?
- Don't assume you can record and post it, either. The challenge here is not that people want to record and post the speech -- I understand that. It's that they assume it's fine. Some speakers have no problem with this -- others do. In my personal case, I'm going ask that you put up no more than an excerpt, or put it behind a password where only your members can see it. And for a free speech, we're going to make the slides available on the Forrester site, not on your site. So when you send me the agreement that says you can record me and do anything you want with the results, I won't actually be signing that. And if you tell me as I arrive on site that you want to record it, I'll say no to that, too. That disappointed look on your face is breaking my heart, but frankly, you really should have mentioned it when you asked me to speak.
- I'd sort of like to keep the slides in my own format. I can take the time I spend preparing for your speech customizing it to make it perfect for your audience. Or, I can take the time moving around graphics to get it to fit into your template, which probably means things won't look quite right and won't build quite right. Yes, it will fit in with all the the other pretty slides in your conference, but is that really the most important thing to you? The people at your event already know what event they're attending, they don't need your logo to remind them.
- And the early slide review is a bit of a time-sink. Again -- much better to spend the time learning about your audience than reviewing the slides. Trust me (and this is true of almost any good speaker), you can't really get what's in the speech from looking at the slides.
- You want books? Let's figure that out ahead of time. We can work with 800-CEO-READ if you want to buy them at a discount, and I'll gladly sign them (but remember, signing 200 books takes about an hour). You can arrange to have a local bookseller on site, many will be happy to do that. But please don't assume I can provide free books for your attendees -- and in fact, by contract with my publisher, I'm not allowed to sell you books. And in case you think selling books to your attendees is how I get rich, keep in mind that if you buy 100 books, I'll get around $500 from my publisher 9 months later. That's very nice, but I'm much more excited just to get your audience talking about my ideas.
- Other than that, just tell me where and when to be and we're set . . . for that time slot. This part most people get right, but it's worth repeating -- the date, the location, the time, and a nearby hotel recommendation are all worthwhile. And while you can feel free to invite me to some sort of dinner the night before, lunch with your top clients, a session with the press, or a book signing, please check ahead of time to make sure I'm open to your ideas about the day. Please don't be offended if I dont' attend the rest of your conference -- my schedule may just not allow it. We'll even do a workshop with your people, but of course, that takes work and it costs money.
If there's a theme here, it's simple: don't assume, check ahead of time. And in case you want to cut and paste it, here's a paragraph with all the tips in one place.
Great to meet you. Let me introduce you to the people who help me with speeches. Yes I charge. Yes I charge for speeches and I also do them, unpaid, for exposure. But we make those decisions. I'd be delighted to talk to you about your audience ahead of time. No, you don't own the content of my speech. Don't assume you can record and post it, either. I'd sort of like to keep the slides in my own format. And the early slide review is a bit of a time-sink. You want books? Let's figure that out ahead of time. Other than that, just tell me where and when to be and we're set . . . for that time slot.
Inspired by Seth Godin's speech policies (read them, you'll learn something about how one of the best speakers on the planet does his thing).
Photo credit: lostium project via Flickr