Three Conference Speaker Processes That Will Alarm You [Free Speaker Report]


Who has the final decision making power to hire a professional speaker for an organization?

The answer may surprise you. And it may cause you to drop your jaw, raise your eyebrows and shout, “Huh?”

Recently, Velvet Chainsaw partnered with Tagoras, Inc., a leading continuing education company, to survey conference professionals about their use of speakers. Here are three findings from The Speaker Report: The Use Of Professional And Industry Speakers In The Meetings Market. (Free PDF download. No contact information required.)

Who Makes The Final Call

So who has the final decision making power to hire a professional speaker for an organization?

Not an education or learning professional! That’s one thing that’s obvious from the survey. And that’s one thing that alarms us the most.

Organizations don’t entrust the power to choose the right professional speaker into the hands of the education department. They distrust the very people that have the experience and training in education, learning and presentations.

According to survey respondents, the final decision to hire a professional speaker for a conference of 500 or more is most frequently made by:

  • The head of the organization (25.8%)
  • The board or volunteer committee (20.2%)
  • Vice president or director of meetings (15.3%)
  • Vice president or director of professional development (13.5%)
  • Staff committees (8.6%)

Well no wonder many of us suffer through so many terrible speaker presentations. The wrong people are selecting them!

The Conference Content Is Outdated

62.5% of the respondents use a call for proposal process to secure speakers for their meeting of 500 or more. Those organizations close that process eight months or more before the actual event.

How can organizations state they are offering cutting edge information and content within the context of the current economy when it’s already eight months outdated? Would you read the news, much less pay for it, if it was eight months old?

Our Conference Success Is Bad

  • 97.9% of the respondents state that they were somewhat or very satisfied with their event overall.
  • 97.2% rated their meeting as very or somewhat successful.

Yet only 41.9% measure whether attendee learning occurs at their meeting. Most do that with a post-conference survey.

What’s very frightening is that only 7.6% conduct post session evaluations of speakers.

However learning and retention are clearly the purpose of the meeting.

What’s up with that? How can we say our meetings are so successful when we don’t even assess each breakout, session or speaker? How do we know if learning occurred?

Perhaps our conference success is all an illusion designed to make us feel good.

Want more of the findings? Download The Speaker Report: The Use Of Professional And Industry Speakers In The Meetings Market. No login information required.

Which of these three processes alarm you the most and why? Why have attendees continued to pay registration fees for outdated conference content?

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  1. Jeff, really good stuff.

    A couple of thoughts:
    1. All three are concerning.
    2. I do think you have to separate out keynotes from other sessions, because of the lead time needed, the cost, and perhaps that selection won’t be always based on learning issues. However, as it relates to other speakers, I am full agreement that you need a professional educator evaluating the appropriate selection.
    3. In my experience, not all individuals in the education/learning roles have a better grasp than others in their organization. They might have moved up into the position based on good performance in other areas, etc. The on-going education of the educators/learning professionals is a big opportunity for us as well.

    You continue to raise the bar on our thoughts around terrific, effective continuing adult learning. Meetings are still “the world’s largest classroom”, and thank you for continuing to raise awareness and improve all of our efforts around that.

    1. Jeff Hurt says:


      Interesting point about separating keynote presenters from other speakers in this survey. I think it depends on the goal of the keynote. From my experience, it works both ways…sometimes you can get a good keynote presenter at a lower rate if you wait six weeks before the event, especially if they don’t have anything on the calendar. And since the survey respondents don’t believe a keynote presenter causes people to register, I’m not sure it’s necessary to book the keynote presenter a year in advance.

      Sad observation that often organizations put a non-education professional in the education department. Yet, they don’t do that with marketing or IT.

      Thanks for reading and sharing your feedback too Brad. Always appreciated.

  2. Your timing is perfect as I am sending out proposals giving event planners title, content and take-aways for 2012 conferences as well as seminars.

    While I agree, you do not want obsolete material taught, it is safe to say professionals know how to update their presentations and educational pieces to accommodate for new material.

    Question is what can we do to be part of solution as the speakers?

  3. So true. None of them were surprising to me… For instance I know the education dept doesn’t get too involved with speakers and if they do… Watch out! Whenever I am hired by education I have a bunch of hurdles, paperwork, umpteen objectives to submit…ouch!

    Maybe this does improve the quality but overall it is time consuming, payment takes a lot longer to happen and everything has to signed and reviewed over and over.

    Maybe this is why they aren’t involved… For education dept to be involved they have so many more rigid requirements.

  4. Elaine Fogel says:

    Excellent points, Jeff. A pet peeve I have is when associations put out a call for speakers and part of their criteria is that speakers pay their own travel and expenses and get a break on the registration fee. This guarantees that they will receive applications from association members and insiders who do not always make good speakers or educators.

    You get what you pay for.

    1. Jeff Hurt says:

      So true! The consummate professional speaker is going to update their presentation to keep it current and within the audience’s context. Your question is a good one too…what can professional speakers do to be part of the solution for organizations? Hopefully some readers will respond.

      Oh my! I am so sorry that your experience with the education department was one of the task masters hunting you down asking you to submit copious forms. As Brad Kent wrote earlier, usually those type people are not education professionals by administrators charged with controlling a process. Hopefully in the future you’ll get to work with education professionals that will see you as their partner in the learning experience and not a task to check off their list.

      Thanks for reading and commenting too!

      Unfortunately, having the speaker pay their own expenses (travel, lodging) and registration fee is very, very common. That doesn’t make it right though. I even know of some organizations that charge their speakers to present! Yep, that’s really going far in my opinion.

      Thank you for adding to the discussion Elaine.

  5. […] Three Conference Speaker Processes That Will Alarm You [Free Speaker Report] Who has the final decision making power to hire a professional speaker for an organization? The answer may surprise you. And it may cause you to drop your jaw, raise your eyebrows and shout, “Huh? Source: […]

  6. […] Three Conference Speaker Processes That Will Alarm You [Free Speaker Report] Is your organization guilty of these speaker processes? Source: […]

  7. Chris Reagan says:

    Thank you for ring the alarm bells. Great meetings and events require great, engaging speakers and thought leaders. Meeting professionals know this and work diligently to insure success for all stake holders no matter the hurdles placed in their way. It is up to industry professionals to help convention and meeting planners, no matter what role they play, to see and learn the correct way to select and hire speakers. Not an easy or small task. Your thoughtful research shines light on the issue. This information needs to be shared and referenced. Great meetings will lead to solutions the world desperately needs. Excellence is not an option it is crucial to our survival and continued existence. As a meeting professional, speaker bureau owner and past president of the MPI New England I know full well the issues outlined in your report. As leaders we must stand strong, challenge every RFP and call for proposal with hard questions and solutions that cannot be denied.

  8. A little late to the party here, but thank you for sharing these insights and making the study available to all. While some of the findings appear to be a little on the depressing side, all knowledge is power, and I intend to use the info to my advantage however I’m able.

    1. Jeff Hurt says:

      Thanks for reading and commenting. While some of the stats may seem depressing, you have the right attitude to turn it into great opportunities!

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