As presenters and speakers, we often take the process of getting booked for granted: we are usually the last to know about a great deal of planning that has gone into an event. But long before we turn up with our presentation slides/visuals on a stick or have a chance to inspect the green room treats for brown M&Ms*(see footnote) someone has to pick us out as a suitable person to go on stage in the first place. And that person might be you. So how do you decide who is right for the job?
It’s usually quite easy to know who you don’t want, but what are the questions you should be asking before committing to booking a speaker or presenter? (For this blog, we’ll generally be using the word ‘presenter’ and ‘speaker’ interchangeably to mean anyone who is booked to appear on stage, be they conference moderator, awards host, speaker, cabaret artist or that great catch-all: ‘other’).
What’s the job?
It’s really helpful to have a job description.
The first thing a speaker will ask is, ‘What do you want me to do?’
Being clear about this up front is going to save a lot of trouble later. Do you want your comedian to have dinner with the client before their act (most won’t) or hand out awards afterwards (most will but will want a bit more cash)? Does your presenter have to be an expert in the subject of your event (be it climate change, diversity or textiles) or do they have to be an industry ‘outsider’ who asks pertinent questions of the experts, without having vested interests of their own? Is a speaker’s job to provide information, motivation and / or entertainment? What is the event for? And who is in the audience?
Armed with the answers to these questions, you can put together a brief that will immediately make some names stand out and discount others. Some speakers are more flexible than others, but there is no single person who is right for every brief. Event briefs are very wide and varied and can include requests for:
- An entertaining yet motivational speaker after the Xmas lunch for Women Barristers Association at The Ivy.
- A host for the Car Dealership Awards at the Motorcycle Museum, Coventry.
- A conference moderator for the International Pharmaceuticals Symposium in Basel, Switzerland.
…and so on.
What’s your budget?
Presenters’ fees are usually based on their profile, so budget is something you need to think about from the get-go: if you are booking someone that everyone will have heard of, you’re likely to be looking at a fee that few people can afford: the cut off point for ‘celebrity presenters’ is generally from about £5,000 and upwards.
Having a ‘big name’ speaker comes at a price, but they are not a waste of money. If you’re saying ‘thank you’ to clients or hard working staff, the appearance of a comedian they know from TV tells them just how much you value them. If your conference is on the power of sport to bring people together and an Olympian pops up to talk about their medal collection, you’re telling the audience that your event is a serious affair. If you want your event to have gravitas, the name of a national TV news anchor or international business presenter on the invitation as conference chair will do the trick.
At the other end of the scale, there are hundreds of presenters who have an excellent reputation on the live events circuit without the high public profile. Look for presenters who regularly get repeat business from their clients – you may not have heard of them but they could be a safe pair of hands. The advantage of using such a speaker is that you don’t look like you are throwing your money around, that you have booked someone for their talent not their reputation, and you will often find that presenters at this level will put in a lot of homework to do a good job as they don’t have a celebrity status to bring in work for them.
For international events, it’s worth remembering that big names in one country can be total unknowns overseas, so the ‘profile premium’ might not be a wise use of budget: we felt particularly sorry for the comedian who was booked to do impressions of British sports personalities to a hundred French bankers who knew nothing of the idiosyncrasies of F1 commentators. As the British had trounced the French in a sporting event the day before, the timing was particularly unfortunate.
There are no fixed fees in this world, you have to negotiate between what the presenter wants and what you can afford.
Expect to pay more if:
- The event is overseas or involves a lot of travel.
- You’re asking the presenter to do several roles (e.g. host a conference and hand out awards in the evening).
- The event involves a lot of research, bespoke content, or specialist equipment (e.g. a piano plus percussion instruments for 1,000 delegates).
Ask to pay less if:
- The event is easy, straightforward or otherwise appropriate (e.g. the event is near where the presenter lives, or is on a topic about which they have a known interest).
- There are other event bookers in the audience and it could lead to more work.
- You are booking for a series of similar events (e.g. if your speaker asks for £2,000 per event, they might look at an offer of £18-20,000 for a series of 12 events).
The most powerful bargaining chip you can have as a client is to have the metaphorical chequebook open and your pen hovering over it, whilst being prepared to walk away: “I know you want £5,000, but if you say “yes” right now, I’ll make a transfer for £4,000 which is all I can afford. Otherwise I’ll have to look elsewhere”.
*The brown M&M is a legendary example of unreasonable artist demands. Van Halen used to have a clause in their contract that said they would not perform if a brown M&M were to be found backstage at their concerts. Whilst on the face if it this looks unnecessarily pernickety and diva-ish, the reasons for the clause were sound: with a complicated technical set-up, the safety of the audience, band and crew trusted the venue to competently carry out the Encyclopaedia Britannica-sized instructions to the letter. The ‘brown M&M’ clause was buried right in the middle of the contract. The upshot was that of the band saw a brown M&M in the green room, they instantly knew that there had been some skimping on the detail of their contract, and the whole rig needed to be minutely re-checked to find a potentially fatal error.