In today’s episode, we’re chatting with Annette Brechbill and taking a look into the trends of the speaking industry, the must-have assets as you grow your business, as well as an inside scoop from the perspective of a bureau.
Annette Brechbill is a speaker agent, virtual event content creator, TEDx executive producer, and member of the International Association of Speakers Bureaus (IASB).
Listen in for the first-hand scoop on where the industry is heading from here.
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✅ Learn more about Annette at https://www.brechbillgroup.com/
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Taylorr: Welcome to another episode of Technically Speaking. We’re your hosts, Taylor and Austin and in today’s episode, we’re talking with Annette Brechbill about the trends of the speaking industry, the must have assets as you grow your business, the inside scoop from the perspective of a Bureau and the future of the speaking industry. Now Annette is a speaker’s agent, a virtual event content creator, TEDx executive producer, and member of the International Association of Speakers Bureaus. Annette knows a ton about this industry, she’s a dear friend of ours here at Speaker Flow, and we’re really excited to talk to her about her perspective as a Bureau, the different content mechanisms we need as speakers, how to get in front of more agents and bureaus, and importantly, how to get in front of more prospects. We hope you like this one and as always stay tuned until the end for some awesome resources from the show. All right, we are live. Annette, welcome to the show. It’s so great to have you here.
Annette: And I guys, it’s always lovely to be chatting with you. Thank you so much for having me.
Taylorr: You got it.
Austin: It’s our honor.
Taylorr: All right. So, let’s launch this with our kickoff question, our favorite one. How did you get into the crazy world of professional speaking and why are you still here?
Annette: The why you’re still here, that’s very ominous going into 2021 right? So, my journey into the speaking Bureau, and as I’ve listened to your podcast, because I’m such a fan, so many people, when you ask that question is like, well, I kind of fell into it. And that’s kind of the thing with me as well. It’s that industry that’s like a vortex. You don’t realize you’re coming into it until you’re already in it. So long story longer. I most recently, before I joined the speaking industry, I was a diplomat at the US embassy in London. My job there was to facilitate a lot of like high-level visits coming over from the US into London and it’s obviously a very active relationship. And I really fell in love with the power of stories and words and I always say that words matter and stories will change the world.
Well, I got really front row seat to that in my work at the US embassy in London. My husband’s military so when we moved from London back to Washington DC, I was like, okay, well now what am I going to do? So, I got on Indeed and I just plugged a few things into the search engine that I was looking to do, like travel, just diplomacy, speaking, travel, it’s kind of different parts my kind of eclectic background that I’ve done in past. And this job at Washington Speakers Bureau came up and I’m like, huh, well, that’s kind of interesting. And so, I applied and was very fortunate to become a Speaker Relationship Manager at Washington Speakers Bureau. And funnily enough, it was a lot of people that I’ve worked with in active government that came over to London. There was the change of the administration so it was a lot of familiar faces coming into the speaking industry.
And I got a taste and I just loved it. To help share the value and stories of people who can give insight to help lift companies up to help better the world is just such a blessing. And as I started my own business, I’m kind of blessed to do that more intimately with a smaller group of people. And I just love it and I’m still here because I love it. I’m hooked. I can’t get out of it because what other industry is there, where you can have such a direct effect on the direction of incredible organizations that are kind of out there looking to help them world and lift each other up? I love it
Austin: Amen to that. We feel the exact same way so we definitely have that in common plus there’s never a shortage of interesting people to talk to. The very nature of being an expert who speaks is that they have an expertise of some kind and usually a really cool story to go along with it. So, not only do we get to have an impact on the world by helping these experts share their messages far and wide, but we also directly benefit from it by knowing really cool people. So, it’s both for us here at Speaker Flow. I don’t know if you relate to that or not.
Annette: I absolutely do and I leaned heavily into that in 2020. One of the speakers that that I manage Liz Bohannon, she has this incredible socially conscious fashion and lifestyle brand, and they went through a big dip in March and then she was able to pull it out in Q2 Q3, and now they were killing it in Q4. And how lucky am I that I get to work directly with her? And it was by sharing the tip and her helping me with my business that really pulled that out of me. What a blessing to have a direct connection to these incredible business people to lift up my own business and kind of keep it going and help me, dare I use the word pivot, are we allowed to use that anymore?
Austin: I don’t think so.
Taylorr: Oh no.
Annette: I don’t think so. We need to come up with a new word. But to help me sustain the health of my business through 2020. So, I completely agree with you. It’s like an embarrassment of riches for knowledge working in and around this industry.
Austin: Yeah. Agreed. Well said. So, I’m curious, you’ve been in the Bureau space and been working with speakers for a while now. What do you see today that’s different from when you were first entering this industry?
Annette: Oh gosh. There’s been a huge amount of changes. Some great, some are going to take some getting used to, but I remember when I first started in the industry, it was… Well, for a start, the biggest glaring difference is the lead times. I remember we would do date checks and confirmation and contracting for the speakers that I managed at WSB six, 12, 18 months out. That was kind of normal. And then even towards the end of my time there, that sales cycle got shorter. And what I’m seeing now is a really standard practice out there is that the sales shot cycle is measured in weeks. Not even months it’s measured in weeks. So, it’s exciting because you can just never know. If your calendar is looking a little bit bad, just hang on there because that doesn’t mean that next month is going to be terrible, there’s still definitely business to be had out there, but that sales cycle kind of shortened up.
And obviously, the whole switch to virtual, I don’t know that I ever booked a virtual event for the whole entire time that I was at WSB. It was kind of talked about and platitudes of like, wow, I wonder where the industry is going to go, and all these technologies are coming forward and maybe we can speak to audiences all over the world. Wait a little while because that’s going to be forced upon you and that’s all you saw of last year, was change and the disruption kind of happening to the industry for virtual. And I don’t know that there’s anyone in the industry that wouldn’t agree that that last summer was pretty rocky road, as far as virtual events go. There was a ton of learning, some things worked, some things we decided that we probably wouldn’t do again, but towards the fall of last year, the quality and the content of virtual events has kind of taken off and it’s so exciting to be part of and it’s so exciting to think about where that might be going in 2021.
So that is two of the big differences. There’s also been a topical shift I would say. I think that a few years ago there was definitely more of a place in the market for people who had studied the industry and take their more academic approach to what they were speaking about, whereas what we’re kind of seeing now is they want to hear from the person actually doing the thing right now. They are looking to hear from the practitioners. That was definitely something that we saw or hearing from clients last year, as everyone was trying to figure out how to keep their businesses afloat. There is certainly a lot to be said for the knowledge and experience of business leaders who had led through the last economic downturn who had led through industries that were being disrupted. But to hear from business owners that were actually doing the thing in 2020, to speak about it in 2020 and into 2021, there’s definitely a push towards that in the marketplace. So, solutions aren’t orientated practitioners is really where the industry is pushing out as far as content goes.
Taylorr: That’s exactly what we’re seeing too, it’s good to hear the validation. I was curious though, in that list that you just kind of broke down you mentioned that the sales cycle is really short and this is something we’ve seen I think probably since about July, I think is when the summer started picking up. Intro to Q3 I think people kind of realized that virtual is here to stay and we got more comfortable and I think that’s why we saw the ramp in quarter four, but it seems like that sales cycle hasn’t changed too much, it’s still measured in weeks. I’ve been always curious about this since it started, but is that because events are popping up sporadically and this is a reactive measure by the people who are putting on these events or is it just because it’s simpler for them to put it on? Do you have any context for why the sales cycle is so short? And if we can expect it to lengthen once people are maybe more acclimated to the virtual event space,
Annette: That’s a really great question. I think that particularly for full Q4, like 2020, I think that a lot of businesses, just like the speaking industry itself, businesses had kind of let go of the idea that they could just hold their breath and get through this. They realized that they actually had to take action and make some changes and get professionals in to facilitate those changes so I think that that was part of like that because I think everyone that I’ve spoken to in history, saw that huge bump in Q4 for speakers. So, I think that like from the company point of view, they realized oh my gosh, we actually really need help with this. And I think that what I’m seeing as a trend as we kind of come into 2021 is that there are just events that are kind of like popping up that the CEO or the C-suite of an organization is getting together and they are identifying this problem.
They know they need to make a change quickly, drastically now, and they need to bring someone in to do that. So that’s kind of the mentality from the client side. I don’t know that any of the clients would agree that it’s easier to put on an event because I don’t know that we’re over the learning curve yet, I don’t know that I’m over the learning curve yet. As I was speaking to a speaker yesterday, I tried to sort through a technology issue I’m like, I wonder, will we look back on this time now and think about it in the same way that we think about pages. Like it’s so our cake and how could we even have thought that that was the best way to do it. I’m waiting for things to kind of get up over that hump of [inaudible 12:33]. So, to kind of answer your question, I think that it is kind of client driven because organizations are not wanting to make plans six months out because I don’t know, six months ago, they couldn’t have guessed that they be here now and who can guess where we going to be in another six months? So, I think that they are looking at the organization more in sprints and to be able to bring in speakers for their events.
Austin: That’s a super interesting perspective. It makes sense too. I’m actually curious from your side eSpeakers recently launched a certification for speakers to become virtual event hosts. I think a lot of people heard about the virtually certified thing where you could present virtually, but actually a whole certification dedicated to running the actual virtual event in addition to speaking, that was a whole philosophy and apparently, it’s been really popular. And I can understand that because a company has to put in a significant amount of resources in order to figure out how to do this thing, whereas a speaker that being the focus of their business, they probably have more availability to learn how to do that, let’s say without as many complexities so I think that I understand that, but I’m curious from your seat and maybe you don’t have an answer to this, but do you think it’s going to stay that way? Do you find that companies are investing in their own internal ability to run events or associations or whatever other organizations might have these virtual events? Or do you think that the onus is going to continue to be and maybe even increase on the speaker?
Annette: I think that the responsibility coming over to the speaker is always going to be part of the portfolio of responsibility on that side, because gone are the days for at least the foreseeable future where you kind of just turn up and you speak on stage, and then you give the tech guys of high five on your way out and you’re done. While ever virtually exists, speakers are going to have to take more ownership and responsibility over their own technology and that means having really great Wi-Fi, having a really great camera, and having a professional setup and lighting and that part of what they do. Because what we’re seeing is I’m starting to get a few holds and bookings for hybrid events. Where the contract is written, so like sure, we’ll meet together in August maybe, but if not, here’s what that looks like.
So yes, you can plan to be there in person, but you also need to have your home studio set up and take responsibility for that technology piece of it. I love the idea of having a certification for clients to be able to book a speaker or a virtual manager, to be able to take that pressure off those organizations, because I think organizations, they’re already under resources pressure so it makes a lot of sense for at least small to medium types of organizations and businesses to outsource that portion of it. I think that’s a really positive thing and I can understand why clients will be going for that. So small to medium size businesses even in the last few years we’ve been getting less and less bookings and holds from people whose title is event coordinator or events department.
There was a lot more of its someone’s PA it’s someone within HR. So, I think that we’d already started to see that as a trend from corporate clients, their events teams are getting squeezed and squeezed. I don’t know that they’re going to want to expand them out. Yes, I would think that it’s a smart investment in any speaker to really get themselves tech savvy. And I love the idea that eSpeakers is going through. They’re a really innovative company and it’s fun to kind of watch them push out and really embrace this whole new platform of events.
Austin: For sure. Shout out to Dave and Joe over at eSpeakers.
Annette: Indeed, they do incredible work. They’re definitely part of the lifeblood of the industry.
Taylorr: Sure. So, I’m curious, just kind of on the, on the subject, certifications the event hosts the virtually certified and so on, but of course with this has come the conversation about assets, marketing collateral that people need now to designate and show their clients that, hey, I can do this thing for you. What are some of the assets that speakers need now more than ever to get booked?
Annette: That’s a great question. And I think that my answer to that comes from the experience of being in the Bureau world last summer. Because last summer, the main chatter within IASB was who can actually really land an audience and deliver in this virtual setting because some of their go-to speakers, while they’re incredible in stage, it took a very different skillset to be able to present virtually and some people hadn’t pivoted quite quickly to presenting in a virtual setting. The chatter within the industry is like, who’s killing it right now? Who can we actually push out there to be able to land clients? Because from the Bureau side, they really want to make sure that their clients are getting value for money, that they feel like when they get a contract to bring in a speaker that that’s money well spent and then getting an ROI on it.
So that’s really where Bureau agent’s kind of come from when they’re looking at the health of the industry and having, not that we want to speak about people as products, but having that solid offering from speakers to be able to push out, that was kind of clutch. And the changes came on so quickly, it’s like when you would send to clients the assets of a demo reel and speaking clips were kind of irrelevant because they did not capture what the client was actually buying. And so, there was a kind of a scramble towards the end of Q3 is like, we need to be able to showcase to our clients exactly what they’re buying. Here is how this person speaks in a virtual setting, here’s what they, the quality of the camera’s set up, here’s how they’ve set up this studio here is the way that they’re able to really nail in and capture people’s attention and be charismatic, and back to the point before, be able to run their own technology, that they can do all of these things and that their content is relevant in a virtual setting.
Because delivering what they used to do as a keynote on the stage, doesn’t always work in virtual and they used to be so much more space for stories on the stage, whereas when you’re in a virtual setting, it’s really going to be more content driven. People don’t want you to 45-minute keynote, they might want 25 and then an engaging conversation and that 25, give me all the points. And so back to your question about those assets, that’s really what agents were really hurting for towards the end of Q3 and into Q4, is these assets that they could share with their clients, to say here’s exactly what you’re getting. And it’s not really fancy editing, it is just a realistic representation of what their clients were buying which is very different to a demo reel. I love demo reels, I could sit and watch them all day because I’m that kind of geek, but it’s a very different product to a demo reel. Its very content driven, very content heavy. So that’s really what the market is looking for and will continue to look more into 2021 and beyond.
Austin: That makes sense. You need to understand what you’re actually going to get and if the videos that you have aren’t representative of the world that we’re in today, then how can you know? Somebody that does an amazing job on stage could show up with a low resolution, webcam and bad audio, and you can’t even hear what they’re saying and that doesn’t line up with the expectations of the audience either. And I’m curious from your seat, I know this is sort of tangential to this thought, but how much do you find that production quality matters when it comes to creating these types of assets? Because I think that, and I don’t mean to ask questions on top of questions, but just to clarify a little bit, like, I think that’s so many people put so much pressure on themselves to have these crazy in-home studios and don’t get me wrong, I a hundred percent think that production quality matters, but I guess my question is to what extent does production quality matter do you think?
Annette: That is a really great question and the industry would agree that great content delivered simply wins the day. It’s always the same as standing on a stage and the same now in virtual as well is so long as your content is really, really solid, that’s the first thing that you should be thinking about. As long as you do have like a professional-ish quality camera, you don’t have to spend thousands on that, ring line that you can buy on Amazon for a bit more than a hundred bucks, a decent microphone like we’re all speaking on now, is maybe 150 bucks, you don’t have to spend thousands to be able to get a quality [inaudible 22:20] system that is completely acceptable out there in the marketplace for clients. And I have seen some incredible setups, some incredible people have turned their… I think Bin Yang has turned his whole garage into these incredible studios.
He took IASB on a tour of it and I was like, wow, this is so cool. And his presentation really dynamic and it’s really interactive and that sort of thing. But then we’ve also had great presentations from people who were just sort of standing there, pouring into the camera, asking good question, delivering great content, have that charisma and that spark about them and there is a place for both of those in the marketplace. So, if you’re a speaker who is really more about content heavy, and you can deliver that without a bunch of flash and technology, rock on you. Go on with your bad self. Don’t feel like you have to feel pressured to create this whole epic in home studio, it’s not necessary. Just really pour yourself into your content. Think about the clients, make it personal, you know, doing your research ahead of time. Clients are going to remember that so much more than oh my gosh, they’ve got the brand-new camera. Nobody really cares about the camera so long as we can see you. So that’s where I would fall on, on that sort of technology side.
Austin: Well said. Thanks for clarifying that.
Taylorr: Definitely. So, one of my favorite questions to ask when we get to pick the brain of a Bureau or an agent is what can speakers do to strengthen their partnership with bureaus and agents that they work with that applies to two speakers who are looking for agents and bureaus? What’s the right way to perceive that relationship and how can they strengthen their partnership together?
Annette: I love that question and thank you so much for asking it. I think that to think about like what an agent’s main job is at the end of the day, that agent’s job is to solve problems for their clients. So, when you’re approaching an agent as a speaker, you’re not really pitching yourself to the agent, well, kind of you are; but you’re doing it with an aim to solving problems for their clients. So that is the biggest frame that they should always go into any kind of relationship with an agent with. What that means is, and you also want to make it easy for agents as well, because agents need to move very quickly. They’ve got an enormous sales funnel and they really need to be moving through what they’re doing very, very quickly. So, anything that you can do to expedite their processes, fantastic. So that really means responding to them lightning fast and that’s kind of measured in minutes, not hours.
Is responding back to them, giving them exactly what they need without speaking in platitudes to be brief, because these are sales guys, [inaudible 25:30] to them kind of like sales people. And also provide them with assets that are Bureau friendly, that they can send directly out to clients. I use the term Bureau friendly, what I mean is that it does not have any of your own branding on it. It has your photo, your content, the key takeaways, maybe some links to some of your clips and examples of what you do, but it doesn’t have your email and your phone number and your website kind of on the tail end of that. What they want to be able to do is send it to clients and then put their own branding on the back of it so the client knows to come back to them to actually complete the booking. So, making sure all of the assets that you send over to them are Bureau friendly.
Austin: Beautiful. I love it. Simple and easy and you heard it right from the source people.
Taylorr: Definitely right. Yeah, it brings up a good point. It’s just being easy to work with, if you’re hard to work with, it’s not only Bureaus and agents not want to work with you, but the clients aren’t going to end up wanting to work with you and I think the whole idea having an agent or working with a Bureau is it’s this symbiotic relationship. It’s a true partnership between two people looking to serve the client. So beautiful things can happen, but both parties need to be prepared. And I think sometimes we forget that agents are yes, doing us a service by putting us in front of big clients, but more importantly, they’re solving problems for their clients and we just happened to be good fits for them. So, thank you for expanding on all of that. Now I know as you know, we’re all about creating value for our audience, but what are some of the things you’re working on right now that our listeners can benefit from?
Annette: Thank you so much for asking. So, like many people toward the end of last year, I created like a whole new service offering in my business. I was actually chatting to one of my dearest friends Mirjana Novkovic who comes from Harry Walker agency and has this incredible background. And we were sharing a glass of wine on a Friday afternoon and kind of lamenting about how difficult it is to get really great speakers in front of clients and in front of agents and kind of show off that value. So, kind of, as I mentioned before, giving clients a realistic picture of this is exactly what you’re buying. And so, we’re like, well, if we could capture an event and create content around it and make that content social media ready, and they had blogs to go out with it and all that sort of thing.
And then we’re like, Oh, that kind of doesn’t exist out in the client world, but we can create it. And so, Mirjana and I created this whole new virtual asset creation package that is very content forward. And it is created not to take the place of a demo reel, it is created to really show audience this is exactly what you’re getting, here is the value add, here is how this speaker understands this niche that they are looking to speak to, they understand the problem that that client is having and then they position that speaker as the ideal person to be able to go in and solve that for them. And it’s been so fun and we, it’s funny, we talked about it on a Friday afternoon and we just sort of casually chatting about this to some of our industry colleagues and people that were already in touch with and within two weeks, we already had five clients.
And that should be like mind blowing, but it’s seeing a gap in the marketplace and a need in the marketplace and then filling that rich is what we coach and counsel and train our speakers to be able to do. So, I shouldn’t be surprised that it kind of worked for me because I’ve seen it work for lots of other people as well. [Inaudible 29:32] get really smart and get into the minds of the people that you’re trying to help and then figuring out what they need and then try and help them solve those problems. So that has been so fun and it’s going to be a big part of what Mirjana and I are looking to do in 2021. And I love telling people’s stories. I just geek out about that and search to do that with a broader group of speakers that is outside of the people that I also directly manage and that sort of thing, so fun. It’s such a gift.
Taylorr: Absolutely. Well, we’ll put links down below. So, if you want to learn more about that, you can. And if you liked this episode, don’t forget to rate and subscribe. And if you want more mind-blowing resources like this, go to speakerflow.com/resources. Thank you so much for chiming in. I just wanted to take a second to thank our sponsor Auxbus. Auxbus is the all-in-one suite of tools you need to run your podcast and it’s actually what we run here at Speaker Flow for Technically Speaking. It makes planning podcast simple; it makes recording podcasts simple; it even makes publishing podcasts to the masses simple and quite honestly, Technically Speaking wouldn’t be up as soon as it is without Auxbus. Thank you so much Auxbus. And if you are interested in checking Auxbus out, whether you’re starting a podcast or you have one currently get our special offer at auxbus.com/speakerflow, or click the link below in our show notes.