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About Vickie Sullivan

Vickie Sullivan is internationally recognized as the top market strategist for thought leaders, professional speakers and B2B professional service firms. Specializing in brand and message strategies in crowded markets, she has helped thousands of talented people outsmart their competition since 1987.

Written by: Vickie Sullivan  |  January 01, 2010

Top Trends of the New High-Fee Speaking Circuit

Originally published for RainToday.com

Many professional service firms will hit the speaking circuit hard to get their message out in an increasingly crowded market. Between the economic meltdown, the AIG effect, and the flood of free experts, the meetings industry has changed a lot. To help navigate this new normal, let’s take a look at what’s next for this year.

1. Meetings are back — but they are under a microscope.

While there’s a collective sigh of relief that the recession is over, meeting planners know we’re not out of the woods yet. Travel and entertainment is the second-largest discretionary expense in corporate America, so meetings will continue to be a target for cutbacks. Count on every meeting expense (that includes everything from travel to industry conferences) to be heavily scrutinized. Result: attendance will still be a challenge for industry conferences. For corporate meetings, the mantra is “do more with less.”

2. The AIG effect is gone but not forgotten.

Good news: the meetings industry did a great job convincing the federal government that meetings are not junkets. As a result, Uncle Sam backed off on its attack. Unfortunately, buyers are still worried about attacks by the media. That’s one of the many reasons why content will be king as decision makers tout the educational value of their events. This will raise the bar for insightful content for everyone. Reciting basic information found on the Internet and reading from PowerPoint slides will not be tolerated. What’s hot now: implemental information. In other words, they will want less theory and more tactics and ideas that can be put to use right away.

3. Tech-savvy audiences drive hybrid meetings.

Budget cuts for travel combined with “we can do this easily” technology has opened the door to blend face-to-face events with virtual interactions. Live streaming of the keynote presentation is quickly becoming the standard. If virtual event technology continues its trajectory, look for groups to go beyond the YouTube channels and Facebook interactions and into more real-time, online virtual events.

The poster child for this idea is Cisco’s 2009 annual customer conference, which featured two full days of live webcasts of over 40 sessions, a virtual exhibit hall, and unique content just for virtual attendees. Speakers who not only are comfortable with the technology but also come with an established system to play in both worlds will get the inside track.

4. Former fire sales will continue hard negotiations on fees.

When the economy tanked, buyers smelled fear and took advantage of speakers afraid of empty calendars. Because too many speakers panicked by cutting their fee to as little as 25 cents on the dollar, buyers will continue to negotiate hard, citing slashed budgets. If you expect to be paid, then be prepared for negotiation and fee resistance. Know what more you can offer, such as extra sessions and more content for virtual attendees, and when to walk away. Have a “bottom line” fee in mind so you can turn down any opportunities that won’t work.

5. Flood of free speakers will redefine who gets paid.

Free speakers are like crack cocaine for association buyers: one time and they’re hooked. The mantra for these program planners will be, “Can we get this for free?” Between authors speaking to promote their books and experts who speak to sell, buyers have become used to getting good enough speakers for free and will be hard-pressed to start paying. How to beat that competition: a compelling point of view with a strong “cool person doing really cool things” brand that is in demand.

6. Buyers now look at message first, then prominence.

During the boom times, the bigger the persona, the bigger the speaking fee. Message took a backseat to a speaker’s background. The recession changed those criteria, and buyers shifted their priority to information that met the meeting’s strategic objectives. For 2010, the buzzword is “return on attendance.” Program planners may love your notoriety, but if they don’t need your messageĀ right now, they will move on to someone else. Once you have someone’s attention, you need killer topics to seal the deal.

7. Free speech will get more popular and less profitable.

What happens when consultants want to get famous? They write a book and give speeches to promote it. What happens when publishers pressure their authors to hit the speaking circuit? Authors will speak for free to get the gig. Add a dose of tight budgets and a crowded market (see item #5) and you get a flood of folks willing to waive speaking fees for the spotlight and leads.

More doesn’t mean merrier in this case. Flooding the market with up-and-coming gurus willing to speak for free gives buyers plenty of reasons to be choosy. Even worse: association buyers have become very sensitive to pitching from the podium. And audiences yell long and loud when they get more “buy my book” pitch than content. Prediction: speaking for free will get more expensive. This will force well-known authors to start charging higher speaking fees to buyers who no longer have a big budget. Watch for the famous to not necessarily get rich.

As a result, buyers will separate experts into two categories.

  1. The ones with “nice-to-have” topics will be seen as competent and talented presenters. Buyers will tell them either “we can get this message internally (or for free)” or “we’re going in a different direction.”
  2. Experts with “must-have” topics will get a different response. Buyers will approach them with “this topic is perfect for our event” instead of “we don’t have a budget.” You’ve reached “must-have” status when program planners start talking about the “when and how” you’ll speak instead of comparing you to other presenters.

And the best news of all: we get to choose which speaker we’re going to be.

Filed Under: Speaking


About Vickie Sullivan

Vickie Sullivan is internationally recognized as the top market strategist for thought leaders, professional speakers and B2B professional service firms. Specializing in brand and message strategies in crowded markets, she has helped thousands of talented people outsmart their competition since 1987.