As a professional speaker and someone who works to get paid work for speakers, I was happy to see the latest report from Meetings Outlook for the speaking industry forecast for 2018. The survey showed a majority of experts in the meeting and event industry said they predict 2018 will be a good one for growth.

One reason speakers have been struggling with free and low fee gigs is because supply has been greater than demand. But for the first time in years, demand is starting to curve slightly in favor of supply.

Over half predict favorable business conditions and slightly higher budgets in the new year. Live attendance is expected to grow approximately 1.6%. Still not enough to have full employment for speakers, but definitely a trend in the right direction. More demand than supply will also mean higher fees for speakers who are working.

According to IBTM World, the industry’s leading showcase of meetings, incentives, conferences and events, “there is significant optimism among meeting and event planners”. This is based on their Trends Watch Report, which was compiled using 25 key sources of industry data.

It seems diversity and inclusion will be on the minds of meeting planners in 2018 according to IMEX. “We at IMEX have experienced the rising importance of diversity in the industry, particularly around women in the workplace and career advancement.” The idea of having more women and minority speakers had been debated for years. Maybe it’s finally trending in that direction.

According to the 2018 SITE Index more than half of planners think their incentive travel budgets will increase. But that doesn’t mean they won’t still be watching their budget. Most will still remain frugal about unnecessary spending, especially as the costs of everything will be going up.

This means as a speaker you would be wise to continue giving meeting planners the best return possible on their investment. Even though demand is trending upward, they will still be looking for the best value for their audience.




Anyone who is in the meeting and event industry already has their finger on the pulse of what’s happening, but it’s always good to look at some statistics on paper to confirm it. The more speakers know about future trends in the meeting industry, the better prepared they will be when a meeting planner calls. Or how to get the meeting planner to call in the first place.

According to the Meeting Professionals International, the industry is moving from a sellers market to a buyers market. For now, it still remains squarely in the middle, which is a much better place to be than strictly a sellers market, at least for speakers.

68.2% are optimistic about the industry in 2017, or at least expect no negative change. Half of government meeting planners and international planners expect conditions to be worse. They expect attendance at live events to rise in 2017, and a full 23% of organizations that hire meeting professionals to increase their employees.

Here’s some very good news for speakers. According to the Destination Hotels’ survey, 37% of respondents say they have more money to spend on meetings in 2017, 57% have the same amount, and 30% say they will be planning more meetings. The extra money may not be spent all on one meeting, but will be spread out among more meetings, giving more speakers more paid speaking opportunities.

One trend that is catching on is the experiential meeting. Hands-on learning is making a comeback, along with using different styles of learning for audiences who want their information in visual, auditory, and kinesthetic ways. Remember that when you plan your speech, and consider creative ways to integrate your sponsor within them.

Security is the number one topic on a meeting planner’s mind. According to the MPI report, “Forty-eight percent of respondents to the quarterly survey said they expected the costs of meetings to rise due to the need for greater security. Forty-four percent reported that they anticipated changes to the meeting and event industry due to the increasing prevalence and threat of terrorism. Cyber security is also a big concern for meeting planners.

Planning Pod, a top events blog, feels that niche events will become a hot trend in 2017. “events focused on smaller niche audiences to sub-events or tracks focused on select attendees to smaller sessions and audience sizes, events that are micro-focused will start gaining more momentum as attendees want more personalized experiences and seek out more intimate settings to learn and connect.” This is even more of a good reason for speakers to start honing in on their niche.

Building better relationships with the audience is going to become more important to meeting planners. More time will be spent getting to know who the audience is and what they want. As a speaker who is looking for sponsorship, this is important to you as well. If you’re asked to speak for free, hopefully the meeting planner will be willing to share some of that info with you so you can maximize your sponsor’s ROI. After all, sponsors are interested in who is in the audience, and not so much what you speak about.


I was talking to a speaker the other day and asked her what topic she spoke about and she answered “whatever they want”. That might have worked in the speaking industry 20 years ago, but today’s meeting planner is looking for an expert in a topic, a thought leader who knows more about that topic than anyone else, and has a solid background to back it up.

You might think that limits your opportunities as a speaker, but it’s actually the opposite. I’ve spent some time studying the top speakers, and work with some top speakers, and one thing they have in common is that they have narrowed down their niche. They dig deep within the one thing they know better than any other speaker and they stick with it.

I know so many speakers who have incredible hard skills knowledge they could be using, but say they would rather speak on topics that meeting planners simply aren’t looking for, the speaker isn’t really an expert in, or the market is saturated with.

Meeting planners talk amongst themselves, and when they are looking for a particular topic your name should come to the top of the list. If you want to speak on branding, have you ever actually created a brand yourself? You will be competing with people who have created world class brands that are household names. Why would they choose you over someone who started a Fortune 500 company with a brand that’s a household name?

I’ve seen speakers who say they speak on the topic of social media who only have 300 Twitter followers and a Klout score below 40. Why would a meeting planner hire them to teach their employees about social media?

The first thing I look at on a speaker’s website is the “about” page. What kind of background do you have that qualifies you as an expert in that topic? As an audience member, why would I listen to you? Just because you’re passionate about a topic doesn’t mean you’re the right person to deliver that message. Your credibility is something that has to be earned.

If you look at the backgrounds of some of the top speakers, they have extensive knowledge, hands-on experience in the real world, media attention in their area of expertise, industry awards and years of training. They’ve earned the right to stand on a stage and speak on that topic.

The good news is that most of us have all of those things. It’s a matter of doing what speaker Joe Calloway calls “picking a lane”. I know I’ve used this example before, but Brene’ Brown is a good example of a speaker who picks a lane. In fact, on the home page of her site it says she has “spent the past 13 years studying vulnerability…” When a meeting planner is looking for that topic, she’s at the top of the list. And she works… a lot.

Another part of a speaker’s brand is in their delivery. If you look at comedians, someone like Jim Carey has a very different style from Steven Wright, Mitch Hedberg’s style was very different from Melissa McCarthy’s style. They all found their own audience, as you should do as a speaker.

As far as style goes, there’s no right or wrong way when it comes to being a speaker, but it should always fit your comfort level. I would never feel comfortable lecturing from a podium with a lot of charts and grafts. But many meeting planners would rather have that style, and there are plenty of speakers who feel more comfortable giving them what they want. There’s no reason to fit a square peg in a round hole. Be who you are and the audience that’s right for you will find you, love you, and hire you over and over again.


I just got back from a great week at the International Meeting Planners World Education Congress in Atlantic City where I spoke on the topic of innovation. The Speaker Sponsor concept was presented to over 2000 meeting planners as an alternative way to hire good speakers when they have a low budget or no budget.

The theme of the conference was reinvention and was held in Atlantic City, a town that has been going through a reinvention of its own. The planners of the event did a great job putting it together and sticking with the theme.

Keynote speaker Sekou Andrews reinvented the concept of a typical speaker by marrying corporate inspirational speaking with spoken word poetry. His Shakespearian/hip hop style wowed the crowd. It stood out to me because it was so unique and different from a typical speech. In a world full of speakers who all have the same style and topics, Sekou taught me that there is more than one way to present as a speaker. He literally created his own niche.

Speaker Sponsor presented the last day in the thought leaders theater. My topic was “Speaker Sponsorship: How to Get a Top Speaker on a Low Budget”. A problem I heard from many meeting planners during the week was about budget cuts and trying to find a good speaker when they really don’t have the money in the budget to pay a top speaker’s fees.

Sponsorship is a great way to get that speaker without having to break the bank. Sponsorship of a speaker means the sponsor pays the difference between the low fee and the speaker’s actual fee, or helps the speaker get paid when there isn’t a budget at all. Then meeting planners were given several ways to work with the speakers and their sponsors to make it a win-win for everyone.

But the most unique speaker sponsorship I’ve seen came from the event MC, Dena Blizzard, who did a fantastic job of keeping the show moving and interesting. During her lunch presentation, she literally had 2 sponsor’s signs taped to her butt. This was brilliant as it was broadcast on 4 giant screens across the ballroom.

One of the tricks to sponsorship is to get the audience to remember the brand that is sponsoring. Typical signage in the room is still a good way to promote a sponsor, but it’s not as memorable as Dena’s butt sponsorship. I still vividly remember both sponsors, and think positively about them because I am sure they both have a good sense of humor. Since there was nowhere on the stage to put a sign, she used her imagination and her “assets” to create memorable branding.

Speaker Sponsor is working hard to provide more of these opportunities for members in the future.

As a speaker, there are numerous ways to get paid to speak, and sponsorship is one that is clearly in your hands.

Thanks to our own sponsors, Tropicana and McCormick & Schmick’s for their sponsorship of Speaker Sponsor at the MPI World Education Congress!



Like many other industries, the speaking industry is undergoing a radical transformation. That means that the same ‘ole way of working suddenly isn’t working anymore. Most speakers who have been in the business long enough know this. Most speaker bureaus and meeting planners know it too.

But the good news is that innovation is taking its place and opening up new and exciting avenues for speakers at all levels. You no longer have to be a celebrity speaker to make a good living at public speaking. But it does mean you have to start expanding your horizons and thinking about speaking in a whole new way, which includes where you speak.

When you think of a professional speaker, the first image you have is of a speaker on a stage with a microphone. But there are some speakers who have made a living speaking on buses and planes, in barns, and in shopping malls.

My first paid speaking engagement was in a bowling alley overlooking the lanes. I made $2500 for that first speaking job because I had sponsors and went against what everybody told me was possible.

Here are some examples of other speakers who have spoken in crazy locations: (more…)

The speaking industry has similarities and differences in every country. Here is another great speakers bureau interview with J.J. Jackson of Performing Artistes, located in London:

1. Can you give us some info on your background and how Performing Artistes got started?
We started in 1992, initially putting on sporting dinners (where people buy tables and there are former sportsmen and women giving speeches after dinner). We quickly got asked to supply people for their own events, often non sport, and it went from there. That original experience of having put on events ourselves is incredibly useful when dealing with planners. We can honestly say we’ve been there!
2. How is the speaking industry different in Europe than the U.S.?
Bureaux in the States seems to be much more talent led. They are set up to push talent exclusive to them, while the European model is client/organiser led – most of us have a few exclusives, but the majority of our business is booking people independent of the bureau. We are answerable to the clients.
3. When should a speaker start approaching speakers bureaus and how would you like to be approached?
In theory, as soon as they like, however unless they have a TV profile they really need to have done a good few speeches (20 plus) to be taken seriously. Decent video footage of them speaking is also a must – it doesn’t need to be a full production, but more than a hand held camera at the back of a church hall.
4. What is the one thing you wish speakers knew about working with a speakers bureau?
That our job is to come up with ideas for speakers in the first place. Rarely do clients ring up asking for a specific person, they normally ask for a list of people who would be appropriate and take it from there, so by the time they end up booking the speaker we’ve already done a lot of work getting them to that stage. Same goes for agents, they often say “why did the company not come to us directly” to which the response is of course “because they didn’t know they wanted you until we explained why you/your client was ideal”.
5. Who is your perfect speaker client?
In terms of the talent, someone who engages with the client beforehand on a briefing call, turns up on time and is modest in their demands re staging, transport etc (accepting they want to deliver a good presentation and do require certain things). In terms of bookers/planners, someone you can develop a relationship with and starts to trust you…occasionally taking a leftfield choice because they know you haven’t let them down in the past. I always say I have never knowingly supplied a bad speaker, although that’s not to say we haven’t had to odd issue over the years!
6. Is there one book you would recommend all speakers read?
Now there is a question! It’s been around a while, but one of the original business books, How to Win Friends and Influence People takes some beating!
7. What do you see changing for speakers, meeting planners and speakers bureaus and how would you use innovation to improve the speaking industry?
The level of interactivity of audiences. The days of the passive audience are long gone, now a days the audience will be tweeting about the speech as it is happening, asking questions in real time etc. In terms of improving the industry, transparency is key. If a speaker has had a number of enquiries from rival bureaux for the same job, they should say; similarly meeting planners shouldn’t try and play us off against each other. By all means compare costs, but once you’ve decided which bureau to use, stick with them.

JJ Jackson
Performing Artistes – London
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The recent IMEX America Conference in Las Vegas was a good glimpse into the future of the meetings industry. Meeting planners and executives from around the world shared their knowledge and inside information about where the meetings and events industry is headed for 2015.

Cvent and American Express co-sponsored a survey that was sent out to global meeting and event planners from all segments of the industry to get an idea of where they believed things were headed.

The bad news is that globally meetings are predicted to remain flat, and budgets are expected to decrease. I know this isn’t what speakers want to hear. But if you know where things stand, at least you can learn how to work around it. As a speaker you’ll need to start bringing even more value to meeting planners, since they will be working with lower budgets, yet still trying to get the best speakers possible.

The outlook for North America looks slightly more positive. Though spending will remain flat, the number of actual meetings is expected to go up very slightly. The bright spot in all of this is that training and development is expected to rise. This goes along with the added value you’ll need to bring to the table. Motivational speaking isn’t going out of style anytime soon, but it has to come with good, solid, actionable content that can be delivered in multiple ways.

The biggest increase in spending comes from Central and South America. Training and development and spending are both expected to increase. If you haven’t thought about expanding your speaking business into this area, now may be a good time to start connecting with planners who work in this region.

The number of local meetings, especially in large cities, is expected to become more popular. This is one reason small business micro-sponsorship is more important than ever. And it’s one reason local speakers with their own sponsors will have a competitive advantage over other speakers.

I was talking to a conference planner not long ago, pitching some of the Speaker Sponsor speakers, and he told me that if a speaker was any good they wouldn’t need to market themselves or get anyone to do it for them. Really? Well, I guess if you’re Hillary Clinton or Tony Robbins, you can basically just sit back and let the speaking jobs come to you, but for most speakers I strongly believe you need to get out and let people know who you are and what you do through speaker marketing.

Apparently, every speaker I talked to agreed, though everyone markets in a different way. Here are some of their responses to the question on speaker marketing and how they do it:


For sure speakers have to market themselves! Especially when you’re new to speaking on your own, without the exposure that comes from a corporate position or your book publisher, you’re unlikely to be “found” by conference or meeting planners. I’ve been speaking since I was in my 20s, when I began sponsoring marketing workshops in 1979 while finishing my MBA and writing a book on small business marketing. In that era before webinars, before Skype, before audio-conferencing (and before significant continuing education budget cuts at employers), it seemed easier to market yourself. Today, people have less time for events and less money for workshop registration or travel, and there’s more competition online from free or low-cost webinars. (more…)

A speaker showcase is usually a half day or full day event where a small group of speakers showcase a few minutes of their best material to a room of meeting planners or other event organizers. The purpose of a speaker showcase is to give the meeting planners a wide variety of speaker styles and topics under one roof to choose from as they plan their events for the upcoming year.

Speaker showcases are put on by convention and visitors bureaus, speaker bureaus, association organizations, etc. The speakers pay their own travel and expenses, and sometime even pay a fee to participate. So, are they worth the time and money? We asked a few speakers what they thought. (more…)

As a speaker it’s hard to know exactly what meeting planners need and how you can best provide it. Unless you ask. That’s exactly what Meetings and Conventions magazine did recently. They polled 117 meeting planners to find out their thoughts on the perfect speaker. Here’s what they had to say:

91% of meeting planners said that relevance to their audience was at the top of the list when it came to picking a speaker. That makes sense. The audience is really all that matters. They’re the ones paying the fee to the conference and they expect to get what they pay for. Great content that speaks to them.

So, as a speaker, instead of trying to fit a square peg into a round hole, go straight to the audiences who will really, really like you. I know we would like to be able to speak to anyone and everyone, but it’s better to play to your strengths and get in front of those audiences you’re already perfect for. And the ones you prefer speaking to.

Next on the list was cost. 71% of speakers will book a speaker based on cost. 34% pay less than $5,000, 13% don’t pay speakers at all, and 53% pay between 5 and $50,000. On the list of speakers everyone agreed they liked the most, most of them were at the celebrity level. But less than 10% of meeting planners were hiring them.

As far as the type of keynote topics they prefer, industry related was at the top, with motivational still pretty strong. It seems like there are far fewer general topics than there were in the previous years. There are a lot more regulatory speakers than previous years, especially with changes in healthcare. So if you’re a specialized speaker in an industry-related topic, you’re probably going to be in demand. Looks like the light and fluffy stuff is out for now.

Knowing that this is what they’re looking for, is there a way you can brush up on those in-demand industry topics and maybe even integrate them into what you have now? Is there a certification course you can master to make yourself more employable?

Unemployed people in the job market are having to do the same thing. Just like them, every day is a job search for us too.