Guide on the Side – Tips for Finding a Speaker


Marie Wallace has enjoyed a fulfilling career as a librarian, beginning in 1951 in academia with the University of California and transitioning in 1971 into the private law library world until her 1995 retirement from O’Melveny & Myers. She is the 1997 recipient of the American Association of Law Libraries‘ highest honor, the Marian Gould Gallagher Distinguished Service Award. Throughout her professional life, Marie has been a guiding force in the Southern California Association of Law Libraries, Practising Law Institute’s programs for law librarians and Teaching Legal Research in Private Law Libraries (TRIPLL).

Today, Marie has commenced on a new path she terms “Life in Progress,” which enables her to pursue a diversity of interests as a master swimmer, law librarian, trainer, storyboarder and designer of wearable art. She continues to be a dynamic speaker and prolific writer on such topics as private law library management, presentations and training. She is a member of Toastmasters International and is active with the American Society for Training Development (ASTD) and in continuing education for private law librarians. She devotes her “free” time to various non-profit and civic activities. Always open to new ideas, Marie can be reached at: [email protected].

Sooner or later, perhaps as the President or Program Chair of an organization, you will need to find a speaker. Of course, you want a good one. Good being a person who “connects” with the audience, brings something unique to the subject and ends on time. A person you would like to invite back. How do you find such a person? Before you start, know what you are looking for. Speaker searching is like doing a jigsaw puzzle, where you look for pieces that fit exactly and complete the picture.

Start by lining up the edge pieces.
Clarify what you want the speaker to do for your organization.
Inform – learn about something new or different
Entertain – have some laughs about the world or a specific subject
Inspire – motivate the audience
Persuade – convert people to a new point of view or action
Note what the occasion is:
Annual conference
Continuing education
Regular meeting
50th Anniversary
Awards ceremony
Four day forum
Be clear on the type of presenter you need:
Master of ceremonies

Decide what kind of speech your program calls for.
After dinner
Panel moderator
Award presentation
Sales pitch
Know what level of speaking ability you require.
Determine the parameters of the subject and treatment.
Any topical treatment of a broad subject
Subject from specific point of view
Pros and cons of an issue
Broad or narrow treatment
Point of view considerations relating to purpose of the organization
Settle the length of time you expect the speaker to speak and/or be there
Speaking time plus questions
Is there a meal before the presentation
Is there a reception after the presentation
Do you want the speaker there before or after his presentation
Articulate the primary interests and concerns of the audience on the occasion, including:
Demographics of members
Where they live (locally, western hemisphere)
Career level(s)
What is your budget?
Can you offer an honorarium, free registration, expenses?
What is in it for the speaker?
Travel expenses
Chance to meet other presenters, vendors, wheeler-dealers
Opportunity to publish
Free registration in the seminar
Free copy of the published proceedings
Pinpoint the date options
Some programs last several days and at the early stages have more than one date option.
Know how to extend the invitation
Unlike the process of hiring a person where the position is advertised, resumes screened and candidates interviewed before a selection is made, the process of engaging a speaker is usually with the investigative work done behind the scenes before the invitation is extended. Qualifications, reputation, and affiliation information commonly come from others not the candidate. Only after you make contact, do you have an opportunity to interview the potential speaker. You do not want to be put in the position of saying “we thought we wanted you as a speaker but after talking with you I recognize that you are not what we had in mind.”

You may want to start the invitation call on a tentative note. “We are looking for XXX for our YYY, would you be interested?” This give you both some negotiation space and an opportunity to gracefully decline. As a group speakers are generous, friendly, and committed. They are usually easy to work with. Many will tell you that they are not the person for the assignment and suggest an alternate.

Two approaches to finding prospective speaker candidates

Low tech, traditional (using people connections)

Ask your colleagues and people in your organization(s)
Inventory your own recent experience
Contact the pertinent professional or business organization, many maintain speaker bureaus
Contact a pertinent government official in charge of legislation, regulation or decision maker
Pinpoint a relevant expert via publications
Ask at the local college or university
Listen to local talk shows for people who are the center of controversy
Look for local speaker directories

In Southern California, try Speakers for Free and Fee (4023 Meier St., LA 90066, 310/822-4922, [email protected] or online (see below)

Hi tech (use the Internet)

Use a speaker database designed to help locate speakers by topic, location, fee, agency and experience, such as,
Use several browsers, such as AltaVista, to search using “find a speaker” or do a search using a combination of expertise + speaker, i.e.,

genetics + speaker
globalization + speaker
airbags + speaker

(Of course, you will get some “loud speakers” as well as human ones)

If you want a big draw speaker, you can expect to pay five figures. The Walters Speaker Services website has a good discussion of fees and also a very useful worksheet for finding the “perfect speaker.”

If you are looking for a speaker for a large audience, important occasion, such as a keynoter for the Annual Professional Conference, you may want to obtain some examples of the persons speaking ability, charisma, and style. Get it on good authority that the person has done the type of presentation you are planning for, obtain video or video clip.

Next column: Care and Feeding of Speakers

Posted in: Guide on the Side, Program Planning