How to Utilize a Speakers Bureau With Shawn Hanks

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Grant Baldwin: Welcome back to the Speaker Lab podcast. My name is Grant Baldwin. Good to have you here with us today. Got a great show for you. We’re going to be talking with the president of a major speakers bureau, and we’re going to be going into.

All kinds of depth about speakers bureaus, what they are, how they work, how they operate, what you need to know, if you can get in with them, all of that jazz. This is going to be a lot of fun.

Today we’re going to be talking to my buddy Shawn Hanks. Shawn is the president of Premier Speakers Bureau. It’s a major speakers bureau here in Nashville, Tennessee. And Shawn and I actually got connected through a mutual friend of ours. Turns out, we live like a block away from each other in the same neighborhood.

I’ve hung out a couple times, and he’s really sharp, especially whenever it comes to speakers bureaus, and has been in the speaking industry for many years, has a lot of experience, and has a lot of goodness to share with us today.

Let’s get right into it. Here is my chit-chat with the president of Premier Speakers Bureau, Shawn Hanks. Enjoy.

What’s up, Shawn? How are you man?

Shawn Hanks: I’m doing great, man. How are you?

Grant Baldwin: I’m doing delightful.

What is a Speaker’s Bureau?

So you run Premiere Speakers Bureau. There are a lot of people that listen to this who are speakers, a lot of people that are interested in speaking, and we’ve heard about bureaus and it seems like this magical utopia that book speakers and passes out dates. And so give us a high level view, like what is a bureau? How does a bureau even work?

Shawn Hanks: Yeah. Grant, if there was one question that I’m asked the most often it is, what is a speaker’s bureau? So that’s a great place to start. Ultimately we partner with speakers, and our job is to take their momentum and multiply it.

Those are intentional terms. We can’t create momentum for speakers. We take speakers that have some momentum, multiply that out.

We’ve got great relationships with event planners all across the country from about every different market you could imagine and think of. And our job is to continually present new and interesting speaker ideas to them as they’re going about their duties of planning events.

So that’s a high level view. But ultimately our job is to find interesting and fresh speakers and put that content to the event planners. Ultimately, we make the decision if they book that speaker to speak or not. But our job is to make them aware and put that information in front of them when it’s timely.

Grant Baldwin: So in some ways, you guys are, not in a negative way, the middle man. Connecting speakers who exist and are, “I have a message and I want to speak and I’ve got some momentum behind me.” to a lot of event planners and conference organizers out there that say, “Hey, I need a speaker on X”.

And you’re able to bridge the gap and connect the dots for people. Is that the nutshell?

Shawn Hanks: Yeah. That’s it in a nutshell.

Throwing Gas on the Fire

Grant Baldwin: Cool. All right. So one of the things that you said there that I think is really key is you can’t create momentum for speakers. So talk a little bit more about that.
What do you mean by that?

Shawn Hanks: Sure. One of the questions I’m asked often is, how do you start speaking? How do you create it? And to be honest, we don’t have the exact answers. You’re great at that and coach people in that space. Our job is to capture a speaker or connect to a speaker when they have a book that’s popping or a fresh story that’s really getting national attention. That’s where we can really step in.

For someone that’s at a local level, maybe even a regional level, we’re not able to assist them in the best way because we’re talking to a national and an international audience, specifically when you’re talking about event planners. So when I say people with momentum, that book that’s hitting a topic that’s really exploding, and they have become the go-to guru on that content. At that point, we can really take that momentum and multiply it.

When I say multiply it, where they may be able to put it in front of three or four hundred eyeballs, for event planners, we can put it in front of five or ten thousand.

Grant Baldwin: You’re able to throw gas on the fire when someone’s already got something going.

Backend Services

Shawn Hanks: Exactly. And then the next step is to really provide the backend services of handling calendars. Obviously we handle all the financial pieces, so I tell speakers often their job, when we represent them, is to say yes to an invitation or an offer and be incredibly well prepared. Get on a plane and go speak. Our job is to do everything else.

Our job is to coordinate the contract with the event planner, who typically we have a great relationship with, so that we’ve got history with them at that point. Good working relationship. We do all the travel and event logistics. We have a team of four that do all those logistics, literally airfare.

We’ve got a pretty detailed event questionnaire. The organization or the event planner completes for the speaker. We collect everything from hotel confirmation numbers to what phone number you call to get the ground service there. Those types of things. And the speaker’s job is really to go do an amazing keynote and come home and be compensated for them.

Grant Baldwin: Which is hugely valuable for speakers because I personally don’t mind the detailed stuff, I like that side of the business as well, but there’s a lot of friends of mine I know that it is a miracle they get to any event to speak. They’re amazing on stage, but they are so scatterbrained on the details and figuring stuff out.

I remember several years ago I had lunch with a buddy who happened to be speaking in town and I had lunch with him after I went and saw him speak. Then he’s like, “Any good hotels around here?”

Do you not have a hotel booked? Like, you’ve been here and you don’t even know where you’re going? So there’s definitely that value there for bureaus providing that service for speakers.

What Speakers Do You Represent?

So what speakers do you represent? You talked about the people that are on some type of national momentum. So does that mean you’re looking for people that are some type of celebrity or pseudo celebrity or they have a bustling book or they’re in the national media, or what would that look like?

Shawn Hanks: Grant, that’s a great question. This is a really broad brush or idea to start with, but there are really two. I think of it somewhat as a continuum, right? On one side you have the celebrity speaker, and that’s not a negative or pejorative term. Celebrity, meaning you know them. You’ve seen them on TV or on Fox News last week or whatever it is. MSNBC, CNN. They were on Oprah.

Celebrity is that they’re visible and recognizable. And then the other side is content speakers, right? There are a number of great speakers that you know because they write great content, not because they were on a TV show or they had an amazing event in their life.

You’ve got the end of the spectrum celebrity or a recognizable name. The other side is content speakers. Now, the perfect marriage of a speaker is one that can do both. You start out because they’ve got an interesting story. But they’re amazing communicators. Which, I always start from the vantage point of that’s a skill and that’s a talent that you guys as speakers develop. And that really is a talent.

So I recognize that immediately. But ultimately someone who either started on the content side and built a brand for themselves, so when someone says “speaker X” people go, okay, I know that name. Or on the celebrity piece, okay, I know that story.

And then the content comes once you’ve opened the attendees mind because it’s a unique story that they want to hear about.

Audience and Topic

Grant Baldwin: Gotcha. Are there any specific industries or fields that you guys try to focus on? Are you looking for speakers that can talk to tech, to healthcare, to nonprofits, to faith-based, or all over the map? So is there anything that you’re looking for?

Shawn Hanks: Yeah. I mean I look for interesting speakers and content first. Now it has to be, they do have to have some hook? That’s a music term I guess for how do I know this person? That being the event planners, one of their first questions.

Whether they verbalize it or not, that’s what they’re asking because they know that ultimately the event attendee is asking that question on some level.

But it really is all over the map. We have the opportunity to really work on a number of different fields. So pretty often when speakers ask me, “Hey, what content is hot?” I tell them, it’s whatever you’re great at, right? Don’t create content to hope to hit a market.

The two biggest buckets that we are always asked about are leadership and teamwork in the corporate association, education spaces, and even nonprofit. Whatever the content is, even if they drill down deeper, they being the event planner, they want to at some point hit some leadership and teamwork content.

Now, you and I know those are really big ideas, right? What that looks like… it depends. Maybe you’re a tech speaker and you’re talking about how to use social media effectively. That ultimately hits on leading a team of people and trying to get either leading up or leading down people in the company to do that.

So those are the two biggest buckets. But in the business sectors, it really is all over the map. Corporate space. The association market, which is a really large one. Education, a very vibrant space. Healthcare. And then the nonprofit space as well.

Grant Baldwin: So if I’m listening to this right now and there’s a bunch of different topics and a bunch of different markets that I’m interested in, how much should I be considering? Which things are in more demand or less demand versus others versus I want to talk to this market about this subject and hopefully we can make it work. What are your thoughts?

Shawn Hanks: It’s always better to fish in a bigger pond than a smaller one, right? I would say your content being universal is a great idea, not at the expense of, is it valuable, right?

When the event attendee is hearing you speak they need to have some valuable takeaways or you won’t be a speaker very long because the market will dry up for you. But the more universal the content the better, and that’s the reason I encourage speakers to have two or three keynotes.

You need to have your fastball so that people know you. When people say Grant Baldwin, there’s a certain something you want them to know when they think of your name. But you can apply that across several different business sectors.

So a speaker’s hardened, strongest content might be focused in the education market, but you can develop some content, not recreating what you would share or the content you’re passionate about.

You can repurpose that and rebuild it for the corporate market and turn it into a different type of keynote. So I tell you there are many speakers that are very successful that maybe have two or three really strong, I call them fast balls, to use a baseball analogy, but they have morphed it 20% to really work in a university crowd. And then you change a couple illustrations in the story or joke or two, and all of a sudden that’s a corporate presentation.

Grant Baldwin: I would totally echo that as a speaker, that there’s a lot of stories and bits and things that I know work. And so I may speak to a college market, but I could take that same talk, tweak a few things, maybe swap out that example or that illustration for this one, and pretty much 80-90% of it works really well in a totally different context.

So you mentioned leadership and teamwork are some of the big ones. Those are the ones that are always going to be there. And I know that other “hot topics” and in demand topics change over time depending on what’s happening in the world.

Are there any others that tend to come up on a regular basis? Things that you’re noticing?

Shawn Hanks: Those are the two biggest, and I would say those are probably more umbrellas than they are topics. There are certainly great speakers out there that speak on leadership and that is their mainstay.

But I would say for most speakers they’re using that as an umbrella. And then what’s your content inside of there? Is it how to manage your staff better? Obviously that’s a leadership and teamwork message, but it’s not ” leadership and teamwork”. You would give some very specific takeaways for how to do that.

But sales training is always a strong space because whatever the market, if the market is down, people need to sell more. When the market’s hot, they’re staffing up and they’re bringing in new team members, and they need to train and educate them. Sales is always a very strong space.

And then it probably does dig into the specific market. If a speaker said, I really want to kill it in the college space, that is going to be much more heavy on humor and some of that content.

Right now you’re talking to an 18, 19 year old, that content looks very different than when you’re talking to a room full of 45, 50 year old sales leaders. So at that point, depending on the type of market that a speaker would want to get into, that would really impact what their content would look like.

Why do clients use speaker’s bureaus?

Grant Baldwin: Let’s talk about the client side for a second. Why do clients come to you guys? Why don’t they go to the speakers themselves?

Shawn Hanks: I don’t know if you’re familiar with a speaker named Donald Miller. Donald’s amazing. The guy’s got some simple ideas that I think are revolutionary because they are that simple. And I often steal from him his view that ultimately when you’re in any capacity, such as the speakers bureau, you’re a guide.

We’re not here to sell anything. We’re not the hero in the conversation. Our job really is to spend 5 or 10 minutes on the phone with an event planner, and probably do that multiple times, but understand what their need is.

If you’re an event planner and you Google motivational speaker or keynote speaker, you really will get more results than I think a human could look at in one lifetime. There’s a galaxy of speakers there. They look to us as a resource.

We’ve done this a few thousand times per year when we’re in year 21 now. We bring some expertise and background and experience to the equation. Let us help guide you through the process. And ultimately that’s the approach we take.

And I think that’s part of the reason people continue to come back to us. We’ve had such a great return rate with our event planner partners because they see us as an asset and a guide versus someone here throwing out speaker ideas, hoping one catches.

Grant Baldwin: It sounds like you’ve been through StoryBrand.

Shawn Hanks: Oh man. We come in and train our staff on it. I’m that passionate about it. Disclaimer, we represent him as a speaker, but I would be saying the same thing to you if we did not, and I was a fan. His content is pretty remarkable.

Grant Baldwin: We’re talking about Donald Miller running a couple of day workshop here in Nashville called StoryBrand. I went through that last summer and it was amazing. Really, like you said, very simple, but very practical and a new way of looking at marketing and business in general. So a really good bonus shout out there for Don and what he’s up to.

Okay, let’s talk about this for a second. You talked at the beginning a little bit about how bureaus work, but how do bureaus get paid? Are the clients paying for your service or the speakers paying for that? Is there some type of fee? How does that work?

Shawn Hanks: That’s a fair question. No, there’s no fee on the front end.

We do work off of a basis with the speaker, and that’s individual to them, and we have those conversations with each individual speaker, but ultimately the clients don’t pay anything. What we provide is a service to the speaker ultimately. So the benefit to us comes out of their speaking fee in terms of the services of all the backend and everything that we do.

But when it comes to the client’s perspective, the fees are the same. If you’d call a speaker’s office or go through a bureau, the costs are made the same.

Grant Baldwin: So one of the things that I think some speakers may have heard and some speakers may be familiar with, is the idea of being exclusive with a bureau. How many bureaus exist in the world?

Shawn Hanks: We’re very active in the International Association of Speakers Bureaus. And if you’re ever inclined, go to The parallel would be National Speakers Association, NSA, and Speaker Space.

So I have a little bit of intel, being very active in that organization, being on committees and teams there, there’s somewhere in the space of 140 speakers bureaus, and that’s international, so quite a few of those are in other countries outside of the US. And so there are all different sizes.

Grant Baldwin: For me, I’ve worked with, I don’t know, maybe four or five bureaus over the years. There are some that are mom and pops shops and some that are bigger operations.

Shawn Hanks: Yeah, that’s a fair description. I would say the majority of them are smaller and maybe 1 to 3 team members in terms of the bureau size, the staff size, and then there’s a handful that are larger operations, with larger teams and facilities, those types of things.

But I would say on average the bureaus are smaller in nature and typically run by people who have been in the event planning space for many years and understand the industry really well and go to another side of the industry and start a bureau.

And typically those are smaller bureaus that are able to provide great service because they are dependent upon their core group of clients.

Exclusive vs. Non-exclusive

Grant Baldwin: We started to touch on a speaker being exclusive. So what are the different arrangements that a bureau might have with a speaker? What are the pros and cons of each?

Shawn Hanks: Yeah, that’s a great question. And those are the two big tags in our industry, exclusive and then non-exclusive. There are certain situations where one’s a great fit and then one is not a great fit and they really are contingent upon the speaker, where they are, what they’ve done career wise.

If they’re in the middle of a news story that’s popped recently, it’s smart on that level, I think, to go exclusive with a bureau, because you go from not knowing what a speakers bureau is — and what is a speaking offer?

How does this work? — to maybe overnight after a news interview or two, all of a sudden you have a thousand emails in your inbox and people are asking you to speak. Well, that’s a pretty daunting and intimidating situation to be in. It’s a good one, right? We’d all nod and say that’s good, but it does have some negative sides.

Exclusive, quick definition, meaning all roads lead to that. Bureau Premier has about 71 or 72 exclusives. If you go to their website, if you call their house, however you hit them up, on Facebook, Twitter, ultimately they’ll send you our direction and the benefit for them is that they’ve got one place to call home.

Our team of 32 people wake up every day and think about them. What do we do to generate and create new business and opportunities for them?

A non-exclusive speaker would be a speaker that’s in great relationships with many different bureaus, and I’ll tell you, that’s where the vast majority of speakers live. They’re on many different bureaus websites. They’ll get offers from all those different bureaus. And maybe the downside to that is there’s not one bureau that wakes up and feels ownership of that speaker every day, and at that point, often those speakers are building their book of business themselves and then also working with bureaus in a non-exclusive way.

Choosing speakers to work with

Grant Baldwin: We touched on this a little bit earlier, but how do you choose what speakers you work with? You talked about those that already have some level of momentum and that you guys can’t create momentum, but we both know there are people who have the name, but maybe they suck as a speaker.

So how do you differentiate? What are some of those other factors that you may be looking for?

Shawn Hanks: On one level it’s a gut feeling, right? And it is not only down to our gut, but all of us have met with someone or sat in a room and seen a speaker deliver a presentation that you think this person, they’ve got it. Whatever it is, it really is a gift. And I applaud the hardest in the room anytime I see a great speaker deliver a great speech, because it is an impressive thing.

But having a national platform, some type of following, tribe, brand that knows who you are, that’s a great starting point. And I mentioned the national piece again, that is not as we want you to be famous, but having some awareness in California and in Oklahoma and in Florida is an important thing because, for what we do, it is a national and international thing.

But in terms of looking exactly for a speaker, I would say for me, a starting point would be a speaker that has a strong, well-produced speaking video. That’s a benchmark that tells me this individual takes speaking seriously.

This is a career for them and not something that they’re hoping might work. Having a well-written speaker bio, having defined keynotes, scripted out — and scripted not being the full keynote — one paragraph description of what those things would be, having some solid reviews from past event planners. There’s some of those basic things.

I think some speakers that are listening say, hey, those are really basic, and I’ve got all that in my back pocket. That’s great. You’re further down the road than maybe a speaker that’s completely new and they’re building those assets as they go.

Grant Baldwin: It’s helpful for you to say those things because I know in a lot of what we’re teaching with a lot of new speakers, and even people that are been doing a lot of free things, when they’re trying to figure out how to get paid, the bottom line is you need those basic things.

You have to have a video. You have to have a website. You have to have a menu of topics that people can look at. You need some recommendations. You need a bio. And the bottom line is this is a relationship business, and people do business with people they know and trust, and you have to show that you’re a normal person.

So let’s talk about the video. That’s a key component that I think a lot of people get stuck on, but it’s really important. What do you look for in a video? Give us some of your high level views on videos. Length and what it should be? One event? Lots of events? What setting? Any thoughts on that?

Shawn Hanks: Yeah, absolutely. And I would encourage every speaker to have two videos, and that’s not to create more work for you, but know that for an event planner… And to take a step back for a second, to give a quick snapshot of what an event planner goes through.

It is an incredibly stressful job. You’re almost earning your job With every single event, right? You do ten great events, terrific. You have one bad one, and everyone thinks, where did we hire this person from? But event planners, their initial job is to weed through all these options that they’re looking at who could be a good fit for this event.

I feel like having a really strong three to four minute punch video of “this is what I do”, that’s what will be viewed first. You could be amazing — they’re not going to sit and watch an hour of you speaking when they’re on the initial level of reviewing speakers.

They may be looking at five to ten options. An hour for each of those would be a lot of the work week for them. Yeah, so a short video that highlights this is what I do, three to maybe five minutes max. And I think even when you look at your metrics, people will skip through them and look for highlights.

Then you do need a long form type of video that’s 30 to 40 minutes and maybe not a full keynote, but something close to that. And it can be clipped up, different clips from different presentations, but you need to have two options there.

The option, giving people what they want to see, when they want to see it, and the actual mechanics of the video, I always encourage speakers to have multiple shots. It’s great to have crowd shots.

And I know some of these are expensive and take time to develop, but having some crowd shots. Don’t forget to mic the crowd or get the crowd response. I can’t tell you how often speakers will tell me, “Hey, I told this joke or told this story.

I really got a huge response from the room and then you watch the video and it’s dead silence. They’re remembering what happened. But I can’t see that from the video because all I see is a video of a crowd sitting there.

Different attire in different rooms. Different clips are great. That communicates to an event planner I’ve done this more than once. And then the quality of the video all around. If it looks slipshod and half done, obviously you’re communicating something to the buyer, the event planner at that point. So quality. It doesn’t have to be produced like a movie, but the better production value you have, the better impression it makes.

Grant Baldwin: I would totally echo all that. In fact, one of the things we always say is to work with what you’ve got, do it with excellence, and improve as you go.
My first demo video was horrible. I’m speaking to a small group, about 40 people, with a little handy cam on the side of a room on a tripod. And we’ve improved. Our current demo video was shot and edited by a guy who’s done videos for Tony Robbins and Richard Branson and Tim Ferris, and it’s a really good video, but that’s not what you have when you’re getting started. Again, work with what you’ve got and improve as you go.

Getting on a bureau’s radar

So let me ask you this. So let’s assume that there’s going to be some speakers that are listening and they’re “Okay, I’ve got the video, I’ve got the website, I’ve got the topics, I’ve done some speaking. I’m getting a little bit of credibility. I’m slowly building an audience.” How does a speaker even go about getting on a bureau’s radar? I assume you guys get inundated with, ” will you please book me?” So how would that work?

Shawn Hanks: We have the opportunity to make a lot of new friends every day. How I look at that , I try to always couch it in any conversation I have, any speaker in a conversation, whether it’s in a meeting, phone call, email, whatever it is.

There are times, and hopefully this doesn’t sound trite or cliche, there are times that we decline amazing speakers because we don’t have a place to put them. When it comes to certain content, we’re heavy in that space, and I would rather ” miss on a speaker” from time to time than to add everyone and hope something works. That’s not our approach.

I don’t think that benefits the speaker. I don’t think that benefits the event planner. We would be drowning in information, and we wouldn’t be good as guides or trying to direct advice to event planners.

So really the advice I give often is, for a speaker, do what you do. Speak as much as you can. Continue to speak. To your point earlier, collect the video from every presentation. You might get a 20 second clip out of one presentation that was worth that video.

But ultimately, it is as we bump into a speaker in the market that in one way communicates to us momentum is building. When an event planner tells us, I used this speaker as a last minute option, whatever it was, they were great. That signals to us, okay, this person has traction.

I lean heavily on recommendations from other speakers. Or one of our speakers shares a stage or speaks at a conference and sees another speaker communicate, and I’ll get an email at 10 o’clock at night saying, I watched Speaker X and they killed it. Of course the next thing I do is Google, who is Speaker X, because I want to know who they are and bump into them.

So to be frank, the cold press of, I’m going to mail my materials and hope they get seen… that’s a hard way to do it because we do get inundated with packages. A phone call or an email is great.

We’re not always able to respond back with that same — someone calls me, I try to call them back, email, email them back — but ultimately it’s a slow persistence in building that relationship and over time it will develop.

Grant Baldwin: Yeah, totally would agree with that. That if you blindly mail packages to a bunch of people, the shotgun approach, and hurry up and wait, typically doesn’t open doors.

And I like that you mentioned that a lot of referrals come from speakers because good speakers are really tough critics of other good speakers. When people ask me who’s the best speaker you’ve ever seen?

And there’s a handful of people that come to mind, even some people that are really good, but, I don’t know, we all have that expectation bar that’s pretty high. So if you get that recommendation from another speaker, that can definitely go a long way.

Types of speakers

One of the things I want to touch on here is, you’ve mentioned keynotes before. Do you primarily focus on keynote speakers or breakout speakers or seminars, or what are the different types of speakers that you guys typically do business with, or even in the market in general that you see opportunities for?

Shawn Hanks: I think there is a market for each of those. I would say the bureaus, we definitely do book more keynotes than anything else. And that’s because I think on some level, that’s how conferences are built, right? They’re built for a 60 minute slot here, a 60 minute slot here.

We do see more and more organizations asking, can they be our keynote headliner, especially for associations or corporate groups that are opening a multi-day conference, but then can they deliver a breakout later in the afternoon and unpack and really dig in more, a more roll up your sleeves and “what about this? how does this work?” type of approach.

So keynote definitely is still the mainstay, and that’s what we are most of the time asked to provide. But more and more groups are asking for both, right? They want someone to keynote and then break out.

We rarely have an organization say they want to book a breakout speaker. And I think that’s a function of cost, right? We’re often maybe in a space where fees are higher for those types of groups, or speaker fees are higher for those keynotes.

So breakout, I do think groups may look for more local or smaller fee type of speakers, maybe newer speakers to the market to fill that content. And then the keynotes are more of the headliner or name or content speakers.

Grant Baldwin: Gotcha. That makes sense. Let’s talk about this then we’ll wrap up here. So you work with speakers and then you also work with clients. Since you work with literally thousands of clients each year, what are things that you do to make the client’s life easier?

Because I think a lot of speakers who may be listening to this are “I would love to work with the bureau. It may not happen, or it may not be on the radar for a while. So I’m both the speaker, “the talent”, but I’m also running the business and trying to provide a good customer service experience for our clients.”

And I know for us, and one of the things that we’ve learned over the years, is that the easier you are to work with, the better their experience. And so I always jokingly tell my assistant, if you kill it on your side of the customer service and you provide an amazing experience, then even if I’m a mediocre speaker, they have a good experience. They write recommendation letters, and they’ll mention her by name because she was so good to work with.

So give me some feedback there for speakers that are: when we’re working with clients, how do we have those types of experiences that make it a win for the client that we’re working with?

Shawn Hanks: Sure. I’d tell you from the speaker point of view, I tell speakers this all the time, and there are a lot of people who will laugh when they hear this because I say it too much, but an amazing killer keynote is the starting line. That’s not the finish line, right? If you get paid to speak, you better be great at it, and you better get on stage and deliver an amazing keynote.

And while yes, we ask for recommendations and people are gracious and they give them and say, Grant did an amazing job, he delivered an amazing keynote, that didn’t impress anyone because they expected that. But the thing that you can really impress with is that very thing, like you mentioned. Your assistant blows people away.

We aim for that. We have a very robust backend system. It’s all web-based people. Our clients, event partners, and speakers, they sign e-contracts and there’s no paper being shuffled around our entire advance process. People can log in on their phone sitting in bed at night.

They can go in and fill out all the event information, the whole questionnaire on their phone. It’s all web-based. We can log into it, the organization can, and the speaker can. Those are really simple things.

We do a lot of gifting throughout the process, cool little things to say, hey, thanks. We really take the approach, and it would benefit any speaker listening if you take the approach that the event planner is really the hero in this conversation.

They’re ultimately putting their neck on the line for you as a speaker, and they’re doing that most often through us as a speaker’s bureau. We want them to get the win, right? We want a standing ovation.

Them to be able to sit on the front row next to the CEO and bask in a little bit of glory for putting all of this together. So when you take that approach, yeah, they want a great keynote, but man, that’s the starting point. That’s not the end all.

Grant Baldwin: Yeah, for sure. I always jokingly say, yes, if they’re hiring you as a keynote, you’re a key part of the conference, but remember, you are one very small part of a lot of moving pieces and a lot of details that they need to keep.

So whenever you show up — and I know for clients when they tell us oh, you’re so easy to work with good, that’s the way it should be — I don’t want to be the primadonna needing my red skittles or something, or my European imported water at a certain temperature before you can go on. Be low maintenance, and it makes their life so much easier.

Shawn Hanks: Grant, I tell you, the thing we get comments on more than anything else isn’t “the speaker was great”. Obviously they say that, but the thing people comment on the most is “that speaker, it seemed like they genuinely cared.

They wanted to do a pre-event phone call to discuss content. I asked them to be there at 8:30. They got there at 7:45 to make sure their PowerPoint was there. And they picked up a chair and moved it because they saw it needed to be moved.”

Those types of things. And I’m not saying move into manual labor, but at the same time the impression that, hey, I’m not a hired gun. I’m not rolling in and speaking for 60 minutes and then I’m out the door. I’m investing in your conference.

And I’m talking about maybe 30 minutes. You don’t have to give them a whole day, but you show up 30 minutes early and say, hey, let’s talk through this one more time because maybe something changed after a presentation yesterday afternoon.

You want me to tweak a little bit or lean into something else. Is there anything like that? The answer to that is usually no, we want what we’ve talked about, but it makes a big difference to them, right?

Grant Baldwin: All those little nuances make a huge difference.

It can’t be worse than this

All right, last question here. I didn’t prep you for this, so I’m going to put you on the spot, but I always like to hear from speakers and people in the industry a time where it can’t be worse than this. All right? Now, a lot of times we hear from speakers about some story about they bombed, and they were doing a talk and it went off the rails.

You come from a different perspective. So maybe, I don’t know, maybe you had some type of travel hiccup with getting a speaker to the right place or I don’t know. Anything comes to mind in a go-to story that it can’t be worse than this?

Shawn Hanks: Oh, Grant. Weather is the ultimate bug in what we do, right? Hopefully, through heavy counseling, I’ve shed all these painful memories of airports frozen, and especially when it hits the Northeast and there are speakers stuck.

I’d say, I mean, the best time to prove value is in the worst moment, right? When we recently had a speaker, a very recognizable name you would know, who has some health issues and had to cancel an event.

That was a really painful phone call for us to make. But man, compared to what the event planner is going through… We’re calling to tell them, two months out, the big name that you’ve been marketing and talking about is no longer going to be there. And that doesn’t happen often, maybe once or twice a year, but out of the few thousand events each year, the numbers catch you.

But yeah, that’s the moment when you can shine, right? You can either cower and say, this is awful. Or you can say, all right, let’s deliver in a big way. And you find a great speaker to step into that spot and you solve it. And ultimately that’s how you deepen a relationship. And people remember that. They remember, hey, five years ago, you really pulled me out of the fire.

I tell you, the one event that comes to mind is this. We represent a lot of the people in media, a very recognizable media figure you would know — and I won’t say his name, it would embarrass him — had an event in, I want to say it was San Francisco, somewhere on the west coast, and his plane had to land in Vegas at about 1:00 AM.

He was flying through the night to get there. And these are the cool moments where you say, man, we represent some really cool people because we have a team on staff that stands by, and when that happens, you call them and they help you out and solve the problem.

The guy landed in Vegas. Connected with a car service, got in the back of the car, went to sleep and drove through the night, showed up at the event the next day. The event planner had no idea he had delivered a 9:00 AM keynote that next morning.

And then he let us know after the fact, hey, I did this. And it blew me away that a guy that certainly you could explain away, hey, the plane was grounded, what are you going to do? But when those types of things happen, that starts out as a couldn’t be worse than this, it ends up a great story that you talk about for years to come.

Grant Baldwin: Yeah. I’ve had two times where I had to drive through the night and you do what you got to do to get there. So that means there are times where it’s not glamorous and you’ve got to show up and deliver.

Shawn, thanks for the time, man. Really appreciate it.

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