The speaking industry was hard hit by the pandemic, with live events coming to a screeching halt for over a year. However, as society opens up again, people are eager to connect in person. Speaker bureaus that adapt to serving hybrid and virtual events in addition to live ones will thrive.
I recently interviewed Angela Goble, President, Midwest Speakers Bureau, Robin Wolfson, Founder and President of Robin Wolfson Agency, two of the top speakers bureaus, and Christa Haberstock, Founder & President of See Agency, a speaker management agency, to get their perspectives on the post-COVID opportunities and challenges.
Opportunities for Speaker’s Bureaus
All three highlighted opportunities around the return of live events and rise of virtual and hybrid events. As Wolfson said, “we are excited to assist buyers and the return to live events as welcome opportunities to reconnect after years apart. Audiences are embracing speaking engagements as shared experiences with experts and friends.”
Goble concurred, noting “people want to attend conferences. The number of attendees are continuing to grow at events and many are experiencing record attendance.” Haberstock added, “the rise of remote work has created a huge demand for virtual events and webinars, which are less expensive and more accessible. Virtual is the new vertical for bureaus and speakers alike.”
Challenges for Speaker’s Bureaus
Of course, the shift to virtual and hybrid events brings challenges. According to Wolfson, “event rules vary by institution, organization, and speaker. Mask rules top that list.” Goble highlighted travel challenges, stating “speakers are having to have multiple back up flights in place and even then it is still hard to get to the location on time. Some speakers are coming in 2 days in advance just to make sure they don’t have any flight delays.” Haberstock noted additional challenges around budgets and competition: “The post-Covid world is likely to be highly competitive, with many speakers and agencies vying for a limited number of opportunities. Speakers Bureaus that can provide flexible and unique value-adds are likely to succeed in the post-Covid world.”
To address these challenges, speaker bureaus must provide flexibility to serve clients through any format. As Wolfson said, “like work, we live in a new hybrid world. Speakers and agencies must be flexible and available for all meeting opportunities.” Haberstock concurred, stating “The demand for virtual and hybrid events has skyrocketed since 2019, and speakers who can deliver engaging presentations in these formats are in high demand. Bureaus that can adapt to these changes and provide high-quality virtual and hybrid speakers are likely to thrive in the post-Covid world.” Goble noted that “most of our clients have gone back to onsite conferences; however, we have a few that have ongoing virtual training sessions. During COVID, one of our clients started having Training Tuesdays. Every month they have a speaker do a 90 minute virtual training.”
Speakers Working With Speaker’s Bureaus
How should speakers work with bureaus in this new environment? Wolfson recommended that speakers “demonstrate the talent for connecting with audiences, underscored by preparation, practice, and flexibility. We work easily with any speaker offering these abilities.” Goble advised speakers to “tell me what their takeaways are and how they can relate their content to a specific audience. They also should be able to describe their delivery style and how they engage with an audience.”
Haberstock provided additional recommendations for speakers: “They should research the agency’s focus and clientele to ensure that their expertise and client-base aligns with their needs. Speakers need to figure out if they are throwing good emails after bad and if the speaker’s brand doesn’t fall into a specific bureau’s focus, focus on the bureaus who do. The relationship is always with agents, not a whole bureau. Build relationships with individual agents and let word of your greatness spread from there.”
She also noted that “Speakers should be open to adapting to new formats and technologies, such as virtual and hybrid events, and work with the Bureau to ensure that they are well-prepared for these formats. They should have a polished reel for both in-person and virtual presentations, and a strong online presence to showcase their content, speaking skills and credibility. Social media – in particular Reels on YouTube and Instagram – are increasingly important for the next generation of agents and planners.”
Given my own speaker experience as an in-person keynoter, it wasn’t easy to switch to virtual during the pandemic. However, after the initial hurdle, I found it had some benefits over in-person, such as the ability to do easy polling, screen sharing, and audience engagement in the form of chats and breakout groups. Now, I do about two virtual talks a week, and about two iniperson keynotes a month. And it helps that I cultivated a national brand as a future of work expert – thus, The New York Times called me an “Office Whisperer” and “Hybrid Expert,” which really appeals to keynote audiences.
Future of Speaker’s Bureaus
The future remains bright for speaker bureaus that adapt to the hybrid world. As Wolfson concluded, “speaker bureaus are as relevant as ever, elevating events with highly regarded speakers offering important insights. We advise clients with broad knowledge of experts who match event themes and needs. We take care of behind-the-scenes details, negotiating contracts and checking logistics with steady communication to all parties.”
Goble agreed, stating “We are busier than ever since COVID. We are seeing an influx of new speakers too. I think the more speakers there are the greater the need for bureaus. We can help narrow down all the options to the ones that are the best fit. If a client is booking a speaker direct and the speaker gets sick or has travel issues, a bureau has access to other speakers for a backup. If a speaker gets stuck in the airport, there is not much that speaker can do to help find a backup speaker.”
Haberstock concluded that “The future of Speakers Bureaus will continue to be dynamic, innovative, and highly competitive, with those that can adapt quickly and provide unique value propositions standing out from the crowd. But this is nothing new! Bureaus are a highly adaptable bunch.”
In summary, while the speaking industry faces substantial challenges emerging from the pandemic, leading speaker bureaus are well-positioned to adapt to the rise of virtual and hybrid events. They provide vital value to both speakers and event organizers in identifying top talent, handling logistics, and ensuring successful events, whether live, virtual or hybrid. The future will reward flexibility and service, which these bureaus have demonstrated in spades. Audiences are eager to reconnect, and speaker bureaus stand ready to facilitate these meaningful shared experiences.
Speaker bureaus are thriving in the digital era by adapting to virtual and hybrid events, providing flexibility, and delivering high-quality speakers…>Click to tweet
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Originally published in Disaster Avoidance Experts on April 28, 2023