As a speaker, there’s more than one way to get booked for speaking gigs. First is the good old entrepreneurial approach. For many speakers, this is their starting point. In fact, many of you know the struggles of this strategy of wearing the salesman, business owner, and speaker hats all at once. This practice is common in the speaking industry because of the money saved by doing everything on your own. However, you can also bring in gigs through personal referrals, connections made during events, and speakers bureaus. It’s this last avenue, speakers bureaus, that we’re going to break down here.
Across the world, speakers bureaus exist to streamline the gig-booking process. With sales teams working for them, they’re attractive to event planners in that they have a selection of speakers to choose from. They also have the speaker hiring process down cold, so they make it easy for event planners with little time. Because of their appeal to clients, speakers bureaus are also extremely attractive to speakers themselves. After all, what’s better than getting booked without having to make phone calls?
That said, before joining a speakers bureau, there are a handful of things you should know, as a speaker. Below, we’ll cover the six most important things to keep in mind. That way, if you do join speakers bureaus, you’ll have all of the facts.
You may or may not have to pay a fee to be a part of one.
First and foremost, although it isn’t standard practice, there are some speakers bureaus that require a membership fee. These fees contribute to income for sales representatives and staff at the speakers bureau. Externally, they also go towards marketing for the bureau, such as advertising and maintaining their website. That said, because of their commission structure, rarely is an entry fee required. We’ll discuss this more in the next section, but, for the most part, entry into speaking bureaus is based on your skills rather than your budget.
If you’re a new speaker, this is largely because they want to see that you have a solid speaking business plan. In other words, they want to be sure that they’re investing time and money in a worthwhile speaker, if they decide to bring you on board. Likewise, if you’re an established speaker, speakers bureaus want to see that you know what you’re doing. What has made you successful so far? What makes past clients come back to you to speak for additional events? How are you working to increase your speaking fees? All of these are key questions to answer, if you’re trying to attract bureaus’ attention. For a quick and concise breakdown of these questions and other ways to get noticed, speaker and coach Jane Atkinson’s guide to attracting speakers bureaus is a great resource.
They take a commission from your speaking engagement fee.
That brings me to the biggest thing to know about speakers bureaus: the commission. With the vast majority of bureaus, there is no membership fee because of this, as any sale they make on your behalf means 20-30% commission for them. As they’re handling most of the work to get you booked, it’s only fair that they share in the profits, right?
Ultimately, there are two ways in which bureaus can collect commission on a speaking gig. First, when you’re listed on a speakers bureau’s website, event planners can find you there and contact the bureau in order to book you for their event. When contacted, bureau reps will confirm your availability and handle the booking process. In this case, because the event planner found you on the speakers bureau website, their reps take a percentage of the fee the event planner pays. This is an example of a sale that results from an inbound lead.
On the flip side, sales can also come from outbound leads. Just like managing your own independent sales rep, speakers bureaus have sales reps to sell for the speakers on their roster. These reps may contact event planners directly or advertise indirectly in your focus industry. In this way, they get another gig in the books for you and the bureau, and they get commission for themselves. That’s a win for everyone, right?
Speakers bureau sales reps can favor speakers with higher fees.
Unfortunately, because of the commission, there have been cases in which speakers bureaus’ sales reps favored expensive speakers. According to speaker and marketer David Newman, “A commercial speakers bureau works on a commission-only basis, usually with speakers earning in excess of $10,000 per speech who are already speaking 30 or more times a year before any bureau bookings.” Because of this, for sales reps, selling for a speaker with a higher fee means more commission. As a speaker, this can mean that, unless you aren’t working towards a higher fee or currently charging $10,000+ you could get lost in the weeds.
That said, of course, every speakers bureau is different, so a lower speaking fee doesn’t necessarily mean less appeal. Especially for speakers with experience and a long list of testimonials, a lower fee could be presented as a deal for event planners, making you all the more desirable for their gig. Our advice? Test out new pricing constantly to find where your speaking fee ceiling is. Then, work your way up from there, as you get more gigs under your belt.
Many only accept applications from speakers in a specific industry or region.
The next factor to keep in mind, regarding speakers bureaus, is restriction based on location or focus industry. Although many speakers bureaus promote speakers across a variety of industries, others operate in a specific niche instead. The American Entertainment International (AEI) Speakers Bureau, for example, lists over 100 different topics on their site. From the subject of education to the construction industry, they have several speakers for hire, making their directory of over 1300 people incredibly diverse.
On the other hand, organizations like the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) focus on a single industry. In this case, rather than appeal to a wide variety of potential clients, the SHRM speakers bureau focuses strictly on human resources. Because HR is a staple in most businesses, this is an easy way for them to effectively market to companies looking for guest speakers. It also allows them to narrow their focus, so they can look for only the best HR speakers to be a part of their bureau.
Depending on your primary area(s) of expertise, this may or not be a concern for you. That said, keep in mind that, just as bureaus strengthen their sales by focusing on a specific industry, so do speakers. On the SpeakerFlow team, we like to say, “niches lead to riches.” So, if you haven’t simplified your core topics already, now’s the time.
If your materials aren’t prepared, they won’t be able to sell your services.
Moving on, the next tidbit to keep in mind about speakers bureaus is the importance of preparedness. Before you prepare for a job interview, there’s a whole list of things you can do to strengthen your position. Reviewing practice interview questions, updating your resume, ironing dress clothes to wear on the day of the interview – all of these are important. In the same way, as a speaker, there’s a handful of materials you should prepare if you want to be added to a speakers bureau. These include headshots, your speaker one sheet, and long and short versions of your biography.
In addition, individual speakers bureaus may have their own mateiral requirements. According to Executive Speakers Bureau, “We look for those with an established career, expert credentials in their field, and a professional presentation that is polished and can be customized for various audiences. Our ability to represent a speaker depends primarily on the promotional materials that the speaker provides.” In general, this rule applies to speakers bureaus across the board, so keep it in mind as you prepare. The more you can show your skill on stage (i.e. demo videos) and how happy your clients have been (i.e. testimonials), the more attractive you’ll be to a bureau.
They are of the most benefit to established speakers.
Finally, in light of these facts, we generally recommend speakers bureaus as an income stream for established speakers. Speaker and psychologist Dr. Ron Shapiro perhaps said it best when he argued, “Good speaking agents say “Don’t find us, we will find you.” If you are a very well established speaker the agents will come looking for you.” We’ve personally heard this time and time again from our clients, most recently from renowned speaker (and killer singer) Mark J. Lindquist on our Instagram page. In a post about speakers bureaus, Mark mentioned the following:
“If you concentrate wholly on the quality of your speech, continually saying something they’ve never heard before, make them think in a way they haven’t before, make them laugh and bring energy to the event… then bureaus can be a great partner. The commission bureaus charge me for the gig is something I am more than willing to pay for customer acquisition.”
So, take it from Mark, as you consider joining a speakers bureau: the more you can prepare on your own, the more it will be worth it when a bureau calls your name. If you’re just starting out, keep hustling, and, if you’re already in the game, keep working to improve. Your hard work will pay off, even if you don’t end up represented at speakers bureaus – Guaranteed. 👍
Popular Speakers Bureaus
Although there are countless speakers bureaus out there to choose from, there are several that are worth noting across the world. However, because our primary audience is U.S.-based, the list below focuses primarily on American speakers bureaus. That said, feel free to contact us if we’re missing a bureau that should be included! We’re always looking to improve our content, so we can provide the best resources possible.
AEI Speakers Bureau
The American Entertainment International (AEI) Speakers Bureau, located in Allston, Massachusetts, operates both nationally and internationally. Managed by a team of five, AIE Speakers Bureau specializes in “finding professional speakers for a wide range of corporate, private and podium events and providing entertainment for various corporate, state, federal, civic, and academic groups on a local and international level.” Of this list, AIE Speakers Bureau is the only bureau based on in the northeastern U.S.
Executive Speakers Bureau
Moving on, of the speakers bureaus in this list, there are a whopping three bureaus based out of the state of Tennessee alone. The first of these is the Executive Speakers Bureau in Memphis. Founded in 1993 by speaking and marketing expert Angela Schelp, the Executive Speakers Bureau is managed today by a team of about twenty people and caters to events worldwide. They’re also exceptional in their philanthropy, as their team routinely takes part in local charity events and causes. See their website to learn more.
Premier Speakers Bureau
The second Tennessee-based speakers bureau on this list is the renowned Premier Speakers Bureau. One of the better known bureaus in the speaking industry, Premier is another that although based in the U.S., operate internationally for certain events. With a team of twenty, their more than 25 years of experience have gained them a noteable reputation in the speaking space. Check out their website for more details.
National Speakers Bureau
The third and final Tennessee speakers bureau we’ll cover is the National Speakers Bureau. Established in 1972, it’s one of the older bureaus on this list and represents a number of well-known speakers on their roster, including Steve Wozniak, Richard Branson, and Ken Burns. They also sell for hundreds of other speakers without celebrity status, possibly including you, in the future!
Fourth on our speakers bureaus list is Keppler Speakers. Headquartered in the Washington D.C. area, Keppler is the largest privately held speakers bureau in the U.S. It’s also one of the largest bureaus, period, with more than 80 employees company-wide. Serving thousands of events each year, their focus industries are “business, world affairs, politics, entertainment, education, literature, sports and leadership”.
BigSpeak Speakers Bureau
Last but not least is BigSpeak Speakers Bureau, based out of, California. The only wet coast speakers bureau listed here, BigSpeak represents more than 2,000 speakers worldwide, including Ed Asner and Lance Armstrong. We also can’t help but share their blog, which has some useful and informative articles for speakers of all experience levels.
For more information about speakers bureaus worldwide, check out the International Association of Speakers Bureaus (IASB) website. Feel free, as always, to also contact us at [email protected] for any questions specific to your speaking business. After all, we’re always down for a free intro call. 🙂