Meeting Planner’s Perspective on Booking a Motivational Speaker

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Motivational Speaker Kelly Swanson is an award-winning storyteller, author, and comedian who teaches you how to harness the power of your story to connect, engage, and get results. In this blog, Kelly focuses on the business of professional speaking. Kelly’s post day is Friday. If you aren't sure how to comment on this story, click here.

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IMG_1461When Rejection Rears Its Ugly Head

If you can’t handle rejection, don’t become a professional motivational speaker.  If you thought high school was rough, try the competitive speaking industry. It is not for those with thin skin. I’ve dealt with rejection from day one, and will continue to deal with it. The only thing that changes is how I choose to react to it. Sure, it still stings to be the one not chosen.  But once you build your business to the point where you are actually getting business, it won’t sting so bad. But nobody likes it.

No, I’m not a meeting planner, but I have dealt with them long enough to know a little bit about how they think. So that’s what I want to share with you today – a little bit of life from their perspective, followed by some ways to help you adjust yours.

Getting Business Is Not About Stalking The Meeting Planner

They get a lot of speaker information every week. A LOT.  Delivering yours with a bright red balloon and a plate of cookies is not creative, it’s annoying. Unless you have done due diligence and determined that you are a good fit for what they are looking for, then leave them alone.

Their Reputation Is Too Valuable To Take A Risk With You

Meeting planners are not in the business of discovering talent. They are in the business of selling proven talent. Prove yourself and they will come knocking. I promise.

You Can’t Make It Personal – This Is Business

I know a woman who owns a bureau and we are friends. We party together. She has seen me speak. She loves me. But she won’t be booking me because I am not what her clients are looking for. It’s not personal. It’s business. You are not a match for every client. Nobody is.

Stop Thinking You’re a Good Fit for Everybody – You’re Not

We’ve all heard the saying “jack of all trades – master of none” and it fits in this industry too. While as keynote speakers we can speak to many different issues, it doesn’t mean we fit all audiences. Even when we do fit a group, it doesn’t mean we will fit that group this year. Meeting planners like to make sure to provide a variety of diverse speakers. Sometimes it’s just as simple as the fact that they’ve had three female speakers in a row and it’s time to bring a man in.

Sometimes It IS Personal – Get Over It

Yes, it still stands true that people do business with people they like. And if they don’t like you, they might not be that eager to book you. That’s life. In every industry. Nothing you can do about it. That’s just personality clashing with personality. Let it go.

You Might Not Be Good Enough For The Meeting Planner – So What?

It’s true. You might not be as good as you think you are. Not every comedian lands on Leno. Not every singer is a Celine Dion. So you might not get the gigs looking for a Celine Dion. Doesn’t mean you won’t carve a wonderful path for yourself everywhere else. It’s okay if you’re not the best – or even close. The pie is big enough for all of us.  Not everybody can afford Celine.

The Meeting Planner Won’t Be Selling You Until You Learn To Sell Yourself

Meeting Planners do not exist so you won’t have to do the work. YOU have to learn how to sell yourself. You have to get business. Prove to them you have something the market wants by getting the market to buy you. I know there are speakers out there who get all their business from bureaus – but they are rare, VERY good and established, and probably didn’t start out with that business model.

Meeting Planners Aren’t Here To Teach You How To Get Business

They are very busy people with a very important and stressful job. Please don’t take advantage of their time and expertise. They are not coaches. (Well, some are. So be prepared to pay for their knowledge if you want it.)

Meeting Planners Need Your Promo Stuff To Be Sellable To Sell You

It doesn’t matter how great they think you are, they need to show the clients how great you are. They do this with video, text, and sometimes sending them to your site. If it doesn’t sell well, then you are not giving the meeting planner the tools they need to do their job.

If You Want Meeting Planners To Be Fair To You, Be Fair To Them

I hear a lot of client claiming in this business where there shouldn’t be. Your client isn’t your client if your client goes somewhere else. Period. You don’t get to “call” clients. They still have a choice in how they book their speakers. They will always have a choice in how they book their speakers. It’s not up to us to educate them in how we work. It’s up to us to educate ourselves on how they want to work. That being said – be fair to the meeting planner. If a bureau pitches you for a job and you know it,  and the client comes to you directly and cuts the bureau out – do the right thing. Be fair and respectful of your bureau relationships if you want to continue having bureau relationships. Yes, there are many different scenarios when it comes to clients and bureaus and speakers, and there isn’t one answer to fit them all. We follow one motto in our office, “Try to do the right thing.”



  • This reality holds true in so many aspects of business. I love the reminder to not take it personally. I regularly watched my colleagues get up in arms if they had a “friend” turn them down for a project. Thanks Kelly!