Some things you may want to know on how to become a motivational speaker, speakers’ bureaus, ethics and how much you should charge as a conference speaker.
Let’s start with Speakers’ Bureaus
A speaker’s bureau is in essence a booking agency for professional speakers, trainers, corporate entertainers and comedians. Speakers Inc., run by author and speaker agent, Bronwyn Hesketh markets the country’s top talent to blue chip companies and Professional Conference Organisers.
Traditionally, a bureau does not charge the speakers for this marketing service, instead taking a percentage commission from each talk booked for the speaker by the bureau.
Internationally this percentage varies between 25% and 40% per talk, in South Africa it is normally 20% to 30%.
Speakers Inc. charges a 20% commission. We have a very strict policy of honesty with the speakers we work with. The speaker knows at all times what we are charging our client. This obviously avoids potential embarrassment on the speaker’s part, should the client ever raise the matter, and reduces the traditional need for secrecy about fees.
This need for secrecy with some agencies is something we have been very vocal about, and we therefore strongly encourage our speakers to feel free to ask the client what they were charged for the speaker’s services. This is the only way we believe that we’ll stamp out the widespread greed and abuse of fees in the industry.
How to become a motivational speaker – Speakers Inc. has been built solidly on our four pillars of Honesty, Integrity, Loyalty and Trust, and it is imperative to us that our speakers share our values and worldview.
Who or what is Speakers Inc.?
Speakers Inc. was started in January of 1999. It is owned and run by Bronwyn Hesketh, with the help of Gemma-Louise Wright and Duncan Hesketh in Cape Town, Jacques de Villiers in Johannesburg and Robyn Wadge in Durban.
Even though we are the biggest bureau in the country, we still act like a small agency, with a large loyal client base – in fact, we prefer to have friends rather than clients. We have done a lot of personal marketing in the last fourteen years which has paid off nicely, together with regular showcase breakfasts which afford two speakers the spotlight at a time. Invites to these events are sent out to our corporate and eventing database of over 30 000 people, so even if potential clients can’t get to the event, they are still made aware of the speakers’ profiles.
We put a large amount of effort into our websites and other online presences, which is yielding very exciting rewards: our main Speakers Inc website has between 150 000 and 200 000 hits a month and growing!
Criteria for New Speakers
Some colleagues of ours in the industry have very stringent criteria before they will even look at a new speaker. In fact, rumour has it that some of them even call it their “Please go Away Document”! In line with one of our favourite slogans “We do things differently!” – Speakers Inc. really has only six criteria.
First and foremost, the new speaker must have “IT” – that indefinable quality that makes a star. Call it charisma, passion, drive, enthusiasm, positivity, authenticity, integrity – whatever. We just call it “IT”. To us, David Grier has “IT”, as does Quinton Coetzee, Dr Graeme Codrington, Steve Barnett, Stef du Plessis and Justin Cohen, all of whom are some of our favourite people to work with, too!
The only way for us to determine whether a new speaker has “IT” is to see them in action, and until we have, we really can’t go any further.
The next criterion is that you have earned the right to stand on the stage and tell people how to better run their lives. Corporate South Africa will not pay to hear somebody talk rubbish, even if he – or she – has “IT”. You need to be well qualified in your field, and we’ll need proof of those qualifications, together with some letters of reference from people you have presented to before. You need to have earned the “Privilege of the Platform”. Content counts – more and more every day.
The remaining four criteria are very basic – human, in fact – principles:
These are the Four Pillars upon which we have built Speakers Inc and our reputation; and we are therefore practically fetishist about these – we treat our relationships with our new speakers almost like marriages. Without these four basic elements, no relationship can survive – never mind succeed – whether it be a friendship, marriage, sporting partnership or business relationship; and we like to think of all of our speakers as friends and partners, if not for life, then certainly for a long time.
What we offer
We offer a professional agency service, i.e. we will market you as a Professional Speaker, using personal marketing, advertising, sponsoring of events, organizing our own events, newsletters, a website etc..
We will issue contracts on your behalf to clients who book you, thereby protecting you in the case of cancellations. We can make all your travel arrangements for you, issue invoices and collect all the monies owing to you.
We can help with the putting together of your marketing material and advise on how best to market yourself.
All our speakers carry business cards to talks that we have booked for them, and we strongly encourage our speakers to collect the business cards of people who express interest in hearing them speak for their own companies or events. We then follow these up for you, in line with our pro-active marketing system. We use this information in a database that is exclusively yours (and ours), to market you to the best of our ability.
As an added extra we can act as a secretarial service to you for bookings that come directly through your office, ie, we will do all the paperwork (contracts, invoices, travel arrangements etc) for a small fee, usually a much smaller percentage of commission on the booking. That way you still appear professional and organized, with none of the hassle of employing staff.
Frequently Asked Questions
How to become a motivational speaker – Where do I start?
We suggest you start by getting hold of a copy of Speak and Grow Rich by Dottie and Lilly Walters. Jane Atkinson’s Wealthy Speaker is also an excellent resource for speakers, new or experienced. And, of course, in terms of the South African context, Bronwyn’s book, Speaker Savvy.
Then you could attend one of Bronwyn’s workshops called Insider Secrets to the Professional Speaking Circuit. It’s an annual three hour, Saturday morning session, wherein she answers all of the questions she gets asked all the time. It’s like a live session of Speak and Grow Rich, tailored for the South African market. Call the office to establish the date of the next one we’re hosting.
Should I do free presentations?
Absolutely! As many as you can, as often as you can. Our take on this is “You never know who’s in the audience!” It might just be that somebody’s wife is sitting at a Rotary-Ann’s luncheon (the sixth one you’ve done!) and she tells her husband and his company books you for a countrywide roadshow with major media coverage. You never know. At worst you’ll get brilliant practice and build your own brand in the meantime.
How much should I be charging?
This is a tricky one. Our standard reply is “What is your day worth to you?” We work with a number of professionals who have their own consulting practices, so their day is measurable in terms of time and money … this lawyer charges R1 500.00 per hour and that doctor charges R280.00 per consultation. So the lawyer’s day is worth at least R10 500.00 and the doctor’s day (if she sees a patient every fifteen minutes) is worth R8 960.00. Our advice is to not sell your time for less than what you value it at. You might not be a professional with such clear guidelines as to what your hours are worth, but you must put a value on your time, experience and expertise.
To deliver a paying presentation for less than what you believe you are worth is crackers, because you won’t do it with love in your heart and you’ll land up resenting your client and not delivering the best version of you on the platform. The audience will pick that up instantly and as we said above “You never know who’s in the audience!”
Should I give up my day job to pursue my speaking career?
Another tricky one. There’s a fabulous quote that says “The eagle that chases two rabbits, loses both”, but we think that unless your day job is already in the media and/or public limelight, it’s probably best to keep it until you make a really good name for yourself on the corporate circuit. It can take anywhere up to 18 months to 2 years to build your brand and awareness thereof in this market. Coupled with the fact that this is a ruthless, cut-throat industry and that we have at least two phone calls a day from people wanting to be “motivational speakers”, this means you have to be a truly exceptional speaker with divinely-inspired content to make enough from speaking to support yourself in the first six months.
Not that we want to be negative or anything, we just want to present you with our point of view so that you are better qualified to make such a dramatic decision.
Do I exclusively sign up with one agency?
This depends significantly on what the agency will do for you. All of the top agencies will market your services free of charge to you. All of us will put you on our websites (where we have them), and list you on our books. All of us will keep your information on file and if a job comes up that suits you, or somebody asks for you specifically, all of us will book you. If the agency you’re dealing with, though, is not just ACTIVELY, but PRO-ACTIVELY, aggressively and creatively marketing you as a speaker; is helping you with research and/or content; can help you brush up on your speaking skills; is helping you put together your marketing material and is out there trying to build YOUR brand and not just theirs, then – and only then – should you think about exclusivity.
Don’t be fooled into an exclusive contract with an agent who demands a percentage of ALL of your earnings for little or no work on their part. If in doubt, ask us, we’ll give you the straight answer, and as a rule, we strongly believe that ANY agreement you enter into, should not just be fair, but should be in your very best interests as a speaker.
Should I pay to be listed on an agent’s website?
This is a fairly new phenomenon in the industry. We believe there are agencies out there who are charging to list new speakers on their website. We do not. For some fairly simple (and we think, obvious) reasons. When we agree to represent somebody, we are not just marketing their services to our corporate clientele, we are also using our brand and reputation to endorse that speaker, his content, his conduct, his ethics and everything else. We are not simply selling space in the Yellow Pages! It has alternately alarmed – and amused – us to see some of the people some of our colleagues “represent”. They clearly have not seen that speaker in action (we have, in the cases we’re referring to!), or they simply don’t care enough about their own brand and reputation. Thus we don’t charge, but we do choose who is listed, not out of arrogance, but in order to protect all of us: Speakers Inc, as well as the people we do represent. What’s that old adage about lying down with dogs …?
On this note, in line with the Code of Ethics of the International Association of Speakers Bureaus (of which we were the pioneering member in South Africa) we do not list somebody on our website without their permission. We have heard of other agents (some local, some international) who use what is termed as a bait-and-switch policy, i.e. they advertise Anthony Robbins on their website (for want of a less ridiculous example), and when a client calls in to check his availability for a gig, they simply say “sorry, he’s not available, but can we recommend … so and so …?”.
I believe this strategy is reprehensible and I am delighted that the industry has started to self-regulate in some measure, to stop this. I would strongly advise you to Google yourself every now and then just to check what people are up to with YOUR name and brand ..
We hope that this piece of text on how to become a motivational speaker was helpful to you. Wishing you all the very best in this exciting and dynamic adventure!
By the way, here’s another piece of text on how to become a motivational speaker
Jacques and Bronwyn
If you’re a new speaker and want to kickstart your web presence, check out Professional Speaker Services.