How to Work with Speakers Bureaus

By Jane Atkinson

speaker-03Many speakers are scratching their heads and wondering how to break into the elusive speakers’ bureaus network. Either the bureaus never call them, or they call and place holds and they never get booked. Here’s a little insight from someone who has worked for both speakers and for bureaus. Perhaps this will help you get your foot in the door.


Most speakers’ bureaus (with a couple of exceptions) are not going to launch a speaker’s career. They will most likely start paying attention to you after you have already built a name for yourself.

To see if you are ready to work with bureaus, ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Have I given 30 or more paid speeches per year for at least two years?
  2. Is my fee high enough? ($3K is an average minimum).
  3. Are my materials ready (demo video, one sheets, etc) and do they sell me?
  4. Am I really good? Let’s face it – every speaker has been told that they are great. But the truly great speaker gets an average of 2-3 “spin-off” engagements after each speech.


The best scenario is for the bureau to have heard your name 3 times (preferably from clients or from other speakers) prior to your calling them. So have your clients and speaker buddies call on your behalf. Most bureaus post their requirements for getting listed with them on their websites. Check out the website first, then call and make sure your topic and fees are in line with what they book. And if they give you the “thumbs up”, then send your materials. Write “as requested” on the outside of the package. Check back with them to see when your materials will be reviewed and get their feedback.


Phone: Calling to touch base during their sales hours is probably not ideal unless you have something important to say, but leaving after hours voicemails could be effective. Email: The average number of e-mails a bureau agent gets per day is around 50. So when sending an e-mail: 1) Make sure it has value for them 2) Keep it short with links to more information 3) Monthly is better than weekly. Mail: Postcards and notes via old-fashioned snail mail also work. Timing is everything. In Person: Visiting a bureau’s office or inviting them to see you speak can really help build the relationship – social settings are even better.


If a bureau has placed you on hold more than 10 times without a booking there could be two issues at hand. 1) They don’t know how to position and sell you or 2) Your video is not competing in the marketplace. If it’s the latter, then you will hear this from more than one bureau and know that your video (and possibly your speech) needs some work. If its #1, then you might ask if you can spend 15 minutes on the phone with the sales team to help improve the closing ratio.


I’ve heard bureaus say that speakers are competing with them. And its true, speaker’s staff are on the phone calling the same list of clients as the bureaus. That’s why success in this industry, no matter which side you’re on, comes down to relationships. If you, or your staff, call a client who says that they work with a bureau, tell them “great, let us send you our video packet and we’d be happy to work the contract through that bureau”. Inform the bureau of the conversation and your intentions. If you get booked, the bureau does the contract (keeps the client) and everyone wins.


To work too closely with the client, without the bureau agent’s involvement is not true partnership. Keep them in the loop at every stage of the preparation for an engagement. After the event, try to introduce the bureau agent to the decision makers that you have met on site and allow that relationship to unfold. The bureau may get opportunities for business that they would not have gotten without your introduction.


Recently, many bureaus have said that they are not getting much spin-off from their speakers. This could mean that a) the speaker is not getting leads while at the event or b) the bureau is not getting the spin-off back – which is a big no-no, so I doubt it. The best way to get spin-off is to be really good – we’ve already established this. But you also have to ask your audiences to help you. Here’s a line you can use from the platform: “if you know of any company or association that could benefit from my presentation, please hand me your business card after my speech”. Then, after gathering information (event dates, contacts), send those cards back to the bureau for follow up and keep tabs on them. You should not close a deal and just send the bureau a commission. That client has long-term potential for the bureau and they want to build the relationship.


If you have a reoccurring issue with clients about travel or a/v expenses, try to address them up front. Right now, air travel that costs over $1,000 is a big issue for clients. Let the bureau agent know what your travel is going to cost (roughly) at the time of the booking so that they can educate the client. The last thing you want is to have your final contact with the client be one that is negative.

Bureaus are a great way to build your name recognition in the industry and create demand so that your fee goes up. Once you get to the top, don’t forget who helped you get there. Keep the lines of communication open, stay in touch, and operate in the spirit of partnership and you will have brilliant bureau relationships that last a long time!

For a list of speakers bureaus, go to IASB

See you soon, Wealthy Speakers!

Jane Atkinson