How Does A Speakers Bureau Work?

Cece Payne

Cece Payne

Content & Graphic Design Manager - Follow us on social media to stay in the flow!
Cece Payne

Cece Payne

Content & Graphic Design Manager - Follow us on social media to stay in the flow!
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For many professional speakers, the ultimate goal is to have speaking leads “just come to them.” Maybe it’s because of their speaking reputation. Maybe it’s because of their business acumen and the attention they’ve gained from exceptional marketing strategies. In either case, building your speaking business inevitably means bringing in more revenue. After all, greater income gives you the chance to hire people to sell on your behalf or approach bureaus for representation. However, if you’re interested in the latter, you may first be wondering, “How does a speaker bureau work?”

In the simplest terms, a speakers bureau is the “go between” for event organizers and speakers. Typically, the bureau’s marketing channels showcase a series of speakers within their niche. For event organizers, this means easy, reliable access to speakers for their event. For speakers, it means a chance to be hired without having to conduct any sales outreach. 

Because of these advantages, the act of joining a speakers bureau has become somewhat of a goal for many speakers. With that in mind, the following guide breaks down the ins and outs of bureau representation. That way, as a rising or aspiring speaker, you can decide for yourself whether or not it’s among your list of goals. 

What is a speakers bureau?

Before we dive into the question, “How does a speakers bureau work?” let’s start with the basics: What is a speakers bureau? Although they come in many shapes and sizes, most bureaus are small teams of event organizers, virtual assistants, and business professionals working together to streamline the process of hiring a speaker. They do this by showcasing speaker profiles and, by extension, providing exposure for their speaking business. Plus, by facilitating the speaker-booking process, bureaus alleviate stress and time from event organizers. It’s a win for everyone involved!

Why should I join a speakers bureau?

As a speaker considering whether or not to join a bureau, there are tons of additional benefits to consider. Below are a few of the ones we’ve heard most from our clients. 

  • Free Marketing: You won’t have to spend money or time marketing your services through a bureau. Their reps handle that internally so event organizers can find you through their website.
  • Greater Exposure: Even if your network is small, most bureaus’ aren’t. This means they can sometimes help you get in front of a greater number of potential clients than you would on your own. 
  • Reduced Sales Pressure: Getting booked through a bureau means you have to sell less, personally, plain and simple.
  • Risk Mitigation: If you need to cancel a contract, the bureau can help sort things out for you and the client. That way, they’re happy and you’re not personally liable. 

What should I know before joining a bureau?

Before joining a bureau, however, it’s also important to weigh the pros and cons. In the following list, you’ll find a few of the biggest things to keep in mind as you make your decision. 

  • Heightened Competition: Your profile isn’t the only one on the bureau site, so you’ll inevitably be compared to other speakers the bureau represents. This can be helpful but, in many cases, it can take away potential clients instead.
  • Commission-Driven Bias: Bureau sales reps collect commission when they book a gig on your behalf. So, if your speaker fees are relatively low (<$10,000), they have less incentive to sell your services. After all, if they book a speaker with a bigger fee, they get a bigger commission check.
  • Shallow Client Relationships: Communicating directly – and working closely – with your clients usually leads to deeper relationships and more referrals than you’d have through a bureau. 

Speakers Bureau FAQs

Ultimately, deciding to pursue speakers bureau representation is a professional decision. Even more important than this guide – or any content, for that matter – your best source of information will always be your speaking colleagues, and the more bureau-related advice you obtain from the speakers around you, the better prepared you’ll be. 

In the meantime, hopefully, this guide will help you weigh your options with positivity and confidence. Below are a few of the most common questions our team, as speaker coaches, hears about speakers bureaus. 

If you have one of your own, leave a comment below! We’re always looking for ways to improve and expand upon our content to provide the best information possible, so if that means sharing more bureau background info, just say the word. 🙂

What kinds of speakers does a bureau represent?

This answer varies depending on the bureau in question, and many bureaus “niche down” in order to serve a specific audience or industry. Midwest Speakers Bureau, for instance, operates out of Des Moines, Iowa. This makes them especially appealing to event organizers and speakers in the midwestern part of the U.S, such as Minnesota, Iowa, and North and South Dakota. Nevertheless, their client and speaker list includes professionals from around the country, allowing them to represent midwestern speakers looking to stay relatively local and non-midwestern speakers simply seeking representation.

Conversely, other bureaus are much more selective. Penguin Random House Speakers, for example, solely represents speakers who are also authors within their publishing company. Consequently, compared to Midwest Speakers, Penguin Random House maintains a similar client list, but their speaker list is considerably shorter.

Long story short, every bureau is different and will have different requirements or desired attributes for their clients and the speakers they represent. For the most part, speakers bureaus look for speakers that are well-established in their focus industry and have a well-organized speaking business. Once you’ve passed those qualifications, it’s best to reach out to your ideal bureaus for more details.

How do bureau clients communicate with the speakers they hire?

Most speakers bureaus function as “middlemen” between their clients and the speakers they hire, so the two parties may not communicate directly until the event itself. Essentially, all communication goes through the bureau leading up to – and sometimes after – the event. 

This is usually accomplished through two bureau roles: sales representatives and virtual assistants. Sales reps are usually responsible for communication before the client has chosen and hired a speaker. This includes explaining how the hiring process works and what the client can expect from their collaboration with a bureau. Additionally, if the client is considering a few different speakers, the bureau sales rep can help them choose. Once the event contract is complete and all parties are on board, virtual assistants are responsible for client communication related to logistics and event preparation. They may also handle low-level concerns, questions, or complaints that arise pre- and post-event. 

Again, every bureau is a little different. So, although this is the norm for most bureaus, others encourage direct communication between event organizers and the speakers they hire. If you, as the speaker, have a preference, be sure to convey it during any preliminary bureau interviews.

Does it cost anything to join a speakers bureau?

Generally, no, bureau representation does not come with any upfront costs. Instead, when a client hires you through a speakers bureau, the bureau takes a percentage of the contract value. As of this year, the average bureau commission ranges from 20 to 30%, but some bureaus may charge more, based on their digital presence or reputation. 

As always, your best bet is to contact your desired bureaus directly for updated information. Especially if you specialize in unique speaking formats – virtual speaking, for instance – the commission rate may be fluctuate to account for added work on your end. 

Remember: Partnering with a bureau is just as much about you as it is about them. If you’re saving time and effort because of the bureau, they’re making commission because of you, and the client is confident and happy in their decision to hire you, that’s when the partnership is worthwhile. The idea is to balance the effort and workload of delivering a speaking event. 

Do I have to be a full-time speaker to work with a bureau?

Not at all! Although the majority of speakers with bureau representation rely on speaking for income, many don’t speak full-time. In fact, many of the most successful thought leaders make living through their offerings outside of speaking engagements. These include consulting, executive coaching, workshops, online courses, books – you name it. Speaking gigs booked through a bureau are purely supplementary. 

Are speakers guaranteed gigs when they’re part of a bureau?

As awesome as that would be, no. The greatest things you can do to increase the number of gigs you book each year are all related to your thought leadership business. From a sales standpoint, for example, you can learn more about outbound sales. From a marketing standpoint, you can expand your content efforts to include different formats. 

As tough as it can be to hear, booking gigs comes down to you. If you’re well-organized, mindful of industry trends, and dedicated to continually improving your business, you’ll book more speaking engagements with or without a bureau. On the flip side, if you have an outdated or muddled brand and zero sales process, bureau representation won’t solve those problems. 

Luckily, if you’re reading this guide looking for a way to address issues like these, we’re here to help! Join us at SpeakerFlow University for group coaching and coursework, built with the help of professional speakers for professional speakers, and free content, shared weekly. 

Additionally, to learn more about building a speaking career, book a call with our team! Since we launched SpeakerFlow in 2019, we’ve prided ourselves on helping speaking businesses big and small. So, if that sounds like you and you’d like to join a community of thought leaders, looking to make the world a better place, we’ll (metaphorically) leave the light on for you. 😊

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