7 Mistakes Speakers Make That Cause Bureaus To Ban Them
It always amazes me when speaker buddies have a good old rant about not getting enough (or sometimes any) work from speaker bureaus. When I ask them what they know about the speaker bureaus business model it's like I've asked them what they know about the Krebb's cycle in biochemistry (Sorry, showing off there, one of the few things I remember from my Pharmacy degree...)
I think we have to spend as much time understanding how the bureau business works as we do the businesses in our own sector.
So here are my top 7 mistakes that bureau people tell me speakers make all the time. And you’ll see they can all be bundled in under the thought of seeing them as “just another prospect instead of a partner in their business”.
1. Not Understanding Why Bureaus Are Worth Every Penny of Their Commission
If you are going to successfully partner with speaker bureaus I believe the first thing you need to do is understand their business model, and what they are REALLY paid for.
Clients pay speaker bureaus top dollar for risk mitigation.
Every time an events team spends a huge amount of money getting 200 to 2,000 people together in a room for three days, they know that the people who sign off on the budgets will be passing an incredibly critical eye over how this conference went compared to previous events.
So, understandably, the events team will be ridiculously nervous about the high level of judgement being passed on them by the senior executives. That's why they tap into the superior knowledge of Speaker Bureau Representatives to put together a lineup that will make them look good – and just as importantly, not make them look bad.
It’s absolutely vital you understand this dynamic if you want to work with speaker bureaus.
All your interactions with them, and the clients they send you, need to take into account the fact that, if they don't know you from the TV or a sporting event – and even then – they see you as a huge risk. Every single year they are incredibly nervous about how this year’s lineup of speakers will measure up.
So the fact bureau people recommend you to their clients is an incredibly valuable thing – using sales speak it translates to them "bringing highly qualified leads into your funnel". In common parlance, they're worth every penny of their commish.
2. Making Them Chase You With Your Availability
This is such a tiny thing that makes such a big difference – it would add 10-20k to my bank balance every year. And this is partly just because it shows bureau representatives that you understand their business.
Whenever I’m communicating with someone who works at a speaker bureau I always let them know that someone from my office will get back to them within half an hour when they ask about my availability. The fact that I do this, and keep reinforcing the fact that I do this, lands me between two and four speaking gigs to year.
Even just having a different voicemail message that says where you are and how long you’ll be getting back to people is appreciated. Almost all phone systems these days I have the ability to have multiple voicemail messages, so set yours up with options for days you’re not working, when you’re on stage giving a keynote, or when you’ll be “off the grid” all day – like for me when I’m MCing an event.
Agents in speaker bureaus, in fact all potential clients, quite often have to put together proposals very quickly so if they leave a message asking for your availability it’s great for them to have some idea as to how long it will take you to get back.
You have to remember that bureau people are like TV producers and book publishers, they are frantically busy all the time. Every time I go into a bureau office there are always constant phone calls, continual chatter, and piles of paper 2 feet high on every desk - yes even these days when everything is electronic. They are constantly pulled between pillar to post and don’t have time for your hissy fits. unless you are calling or emailing to help them in some way you better have a really good reason for interrupting their workflow. If you can bear this in mind in every single interaction you have with them things will go a hell of a lot more smoothly for you.
3. Offering Direct Discounts
Nothing annoys bureau people more than hearing back from a client that a speaker has offered them a cheaper fee when they have gone directly to them. You need to be totally transparent and consistent with your fees or they won’t touch you, it’s as simple as that.
I’ve had a few speakers whinge to me about this, but you have to remember they are bringing incredibly highly qualified leads into your business that you almost certainly would never been exposed to. To me, that’s worth a fee.
4. Not Helping Them Sell You
When you're put forward for an event, the bureau agent will be sending 3 to 5 suggestions to a client – often a Professional Conference Organiser – who is putting together a short list that will go to the client, who will present them to a committee organising the event. So you are three or four people removed from the ones who will actually make the decision.
You have to make sure your bio, headshot, testimonials etc make you stand out. And it's even better if you can give them some key memorable phrases from your programs that will stick in the minds of the client, and stories about any experience you have that makes you particularly suitable for this client.
In almost every email I send out to speaker bureaus, and almost every time I’m on the phone with them, I remind them that “I totally understand how ridiculously busy you are, don’t forget I’m always happy to write my page in your proposal for you.”
Firstly it shows that you understand what a small part you play in their life and they’re not sitting around all day wondering “How can I get more work for Marty Wilson?”
Help the person see you as someone who can take work off their plate, reduce their stress, and help THEM achieve THEIR goals.
5. Behaving Badly On Stage, and Off It
All bureau people have ongoing relationships with almost all the clients they put you in front of. They've worked with these people for years, so if they put their trust in you they need to know that you will deliver on the platform, and you won’t be an absolute a-hole off it.
A few agents have told me that even after three or four years working together, just one speaker recommendation that doesn’t "do the business" on stage, or is an absolute pain to work with can lose them a client.
For example there is one speaker here in Australia who talks about handling stress at work better who is an absolute pain in the backside to work with personally. I know a few speaker bureaus who just refuse to work with him because he makes them look bad.
6. Not Sending Them Repeat and Spin Off
This is the absolute Holy Grail, non-negotiable, must have, no excuses rule that you have to follow if you’re going to have a successful relationship with speaker bureaus.
If someone walks up to you at the end of an event and gives you their business card, make sure you funnel that enquiry through the person who put you on that stage in the first place.
This is not a one-off transaction, it’s a working partnership.
After every event I do, I record a little thank you video for the client where I give them a PDF of my slideshow and some links to other resources. But as you’ll see here, and also here,
I make sure I say if you want to book me for any future engagement make sure you get in contact with the person who put me in front of you in the first place. I mention them in the video, and put a link that opens up an email straight to them.
One bureau rep I spoke to said “When it comes to repeat and spin off work, we are the elephant that doesn’t forget.”
So don’t go for short term gain and long term pain. And it has to be said that all the really great bureau people I work with are more than happy to offer you a reduced rate of commission for work that you send back to them – because they see this as a partnership too.
7. Never Saying Thank You
When you understand how busy Speaker bureau people are it should be an absolute no-brainer to thank them for all their hard work – but most speakers don’t do this enough (according to friends who are bureau people).
Please understand when I say “thank them more often” I don’t mean just a little form email, I mean surprise and delight them. Everyone enjoys being recognised and appreciated for what they bring to the table in any business relationship, so send them videos, chocolates, champagne, anything else you know they would like once you’ve got to know them well. If you want to be a cynic about it it will almost certainly mean you get more work. But more importantly these people can really become your friends.
Get Access NOW!
Learn How To Raise Your Fees and Get More Speaking Gigs Using Humor from 42 of the World's Funniest - including 9 Hall of Fame Speakers
Marty has interviewed over half a million dollars of speaker talent and you can get lifetime access to the complete video interviews here: