Every organization has a slightly different way of hiring a speaker, because every organization is unique and has unique challenges they need solved. However, something that is becoming more common in the way organizations, and especially associations, choose speakers is by using committee.
For a lot of speakers, a committee stops their sales process cold. Committees don’t usually have direct contact with a speaker, so that speaker can’t win them over with charm, charisma or their death-defying journey up Mt. Everest on a pogo stick that they’d love to share at that committee’s event.
Instead, committees meet behind closed doors if they meet at all. They are usually provided with a list of speakers to choose from, and speakers rarely take the time to understand the committee’s events, selection process or budget. That means the speaker is reduced to a name, keynote fee and a speaker reel. Often the speaker fills out a ‘request for proposal’ where they dump their information and hit ‘send’ in the hopes someone is impressed. Committees were a tough, if not impossible barrier in a speaker’s sales process.
At least they were, until now.
(Want to convert more committees in your speaking business? You’re going to want to sign up for our next FREE Masterclass. Register HERE)
First, understand that using a committee is a decision an organization makes and it’s no use in being upset about it or trying to convince whoever is leading the selection committee (usually the meeting planner or education director) that they should just select you and be done with it. Some folks like having the responsibility of selecting a speaker and look forward to being on a selection committee. Fighting the selection process of any organization is never a good idea.
Second, as we began seeing more and more organizations and associations using committees to select speakers we began asking how I could get bumped to the front of the line of all the speakers they were considering. We began by mapping out the way most speakers would end up in front of the committee and how we could set my talk apart from everyone else’s, given that I wouldn’t be able to chat directly with any of the folks who would have a vote.
The Well-Traveled Road
Let’s start by examining how most speakers will submit their information for a committee’s selection. If you’ve ever submitted an RFP on a ‘call for speaker’ page, chances are you were submitting information for a committee selection. First, if an organization is using an RFPs or speaker form, they’ll ask for generic info – your keynote topic, your bio and fee. That’s about it.
If your information is being dusted off from a meeting planner’s ‘send me your info and we’ll keep it on file’ email folder, they’ll likely copy and paste your info into a spreadsheet. Meaning that you’ll have about as much chance as any other speaker they’re submitting.
And what do committees do with that spreadsheet generated from the RFP or handed over by the meeting planner? They will by themselves or as a group decide what topics they think need to be addressed at their event and go looking for speakers who said they spoke on that topic and in the budget range they’re working with.
Do speakers know what topics the committee will be looking for ahead of time?
Do speakers know the budget range is so they are at least in the ballpark when they quote their fee?
Not at all.
And finally, what chance do most speakers have to customize any of their information to that committee or the challenge they’re looking for a speaker to solve?
Zero. Zilch. Nada.
When a speaker is finally selected, they won’t know why they were selected or how to repeat that kind of sale in the future.
If you’ve followed our work for any amount of time, you know that one-offs and anomalies don’t fly in my business. If I achieve success, I need to be able to replicate it. So what system did we discover solved the problem of not knowing the topics the selection committee would be looking for, what they wanted to see from their speakers, not being able to address them directly, and not knowing the budget range they’d be shopping in?
So glad you asked. Here’s how we’ve learned to ensure we close more speaking gigs where committees are the one selecting their speakers. Not surprisingly, it starts before the committee ever gets our information.
First, Know When They Meet
Because few committees meet perpetually, it’s important to know when the selection committee for the event you’re pursuing will be meeting. Sending information, topics, or budget prior to just before their meeting is a massive waste of time for a speaker because you’re basically entering the sale blind. There are speakers who think the earlier they submit, the better chances they have, and these speakers are also prime candidates to buy oceanfront property in Tennessee.
Second, Know What
When the committee is close to meeting/has at least had its members identified, get in touch with the committee/event chair and ask if the committee has decided on a direction or at least a set of topics they’ll be looking for speakers to address. If no topic has been decided, we’ve found it best to call back in a week or two. Once the committee or meeting planner has a topic or two they know they’ll need addressed at their event, build the bridge between that topic and your expertise if at all possible. This is one reason we advocate not pigeonholing yourself into a niche or even a singular topic like ‘leadership’ or ‘engagement’. No one knows the value of either of those topics, but if you speak to those and someone tells you, “We have a problem with employee morale and productivity,” my guess is your expertise could be a great fit.
Third, Know How
It’s vital to ask your point of contact for the committee how the committee will be selecting their speakers. Are they looking for speaker reels? The books of bestselling authors? Writing samples from blogs? Knowing this ahead of time means you can prepare and customize your materials to exactly what the committee will be looking to see. We have begun saying, “Happy to send you a speaker’s reel, but would it be more valuable if I shot a personal video for your committee, discussing how I’ll help XYZ industry members solve ABC challenges at your October event in New Orleans?” We’ve never heard ‘no’ to that question, and the personal touch (if filmed well and shows your stage presence) goes further than even the best-produced speaker reel.
Fourth, Know How Much
The most-overlooked question of any sales conversation, staying within budget is critical for a selection committee because they are tasked with protecting event resources, not overusing them. Asking your point of contact for the budget the committee will be working with can be done just as you would ask an individual decision maker: “So I make sure I’m including everything I can for the budget you have allotted for your speaker, what budget range will we be working in?” This is a basic qualification question that should be asked at the outset of any account’s pursuit, and it allows you to mention all the value-adds you can fit into your package on your customized committee selection video.
Fifth, Know When They Select
Knowing when a committee is selecting their speakers is a critical piece of the sales puzzle, because you need to know how long to keep soft holds on the event calendar dates and when to remove them if you don’t hear from your committee’s point of contact. Additionally, knowing the likely date of when they’ll decide on a speaker gives you a reason to follow up and check in with your meeting planner/committee chair.
By asking a few questions before you send over your email/submit an RFP for a committee to review, you can ensure you meet all the committee’s selection criteria:
Willing to customize and learn about their challenges
Willing to go above and beyond most other speakers
Those criteria alone will put you onto the shortlist of speakers they’re considering. But there’s one more thing you can do that’s an added touch:
If the committee’s chairs are listed on the event or organization’s website or your point of contact is willing to share them, a LinkedIn invite and/or handwritten card will go a long way and also be something most speakers won’t take the time to do.
Zig Ziglar said it best: There’s little traffic on the extra mile. Be willing to go the extra mile for your clients and you’ll be by yourself on the list of speakers a committee is considering.